Tag Archives: faith

A Taste of Convent Life

3 Mar

When Akiko and Fumiko arrived at the Trappist° Convent of Our Lady of Imari in the Saga Prefecture° (northwest of Kyushu island in Japan), they were not there to join the Order. They were not casual visitors either. They had set aside three months in their lives for a program in which they would live with the Nuns as temporary members of the community. The Convent started this program to give young people a chance to make prayer the center of their lives, not only during their stay but in their lives later too. The Convent sits on a mountain overlooking Imari Bay in Saga Prefecture, some 940 km west of Tokyo.

Prayer is like the pulse of this convent. The first prayers begin promptly at 3:50 am, and the day ends with a Marian hymn at 7:40 in the evening. The traditional form of Christian devotion at Our Lady of Imari focuses on the Mass° and the daily office°. Akiko and Fumiko joined in this experience and devoted more than four hours to prayer each day, in addition to three and a half hours set aside for study and about three hours for manual labor.

Fumiko (23), who lives in Fukuoka Prefecture (Kyushu Island- southern Japan), heard about this program by word of mouth. ‘I was in a tough spot psychologically, so I wanted to get to know God and find my path in life,’ she says of her motivation to participate. Akiko (28), from Aichi Prefecture (between Osaka and Tokyo), had embarked on a career but maintained an interest in the consecrated life. She learned of this opportunity during a chance visit to a church that she did not usually visit. She quit her job, persuaded her non-Christian family members to give her decision their blessing, and filled out the application.

When they first joined the program, the two women primarily worked in the garden ‘with a sickle in the hand, morning and afternoon,’ says Fumiko. ‘It was really hard at first,’ she added with a pained laugh. Under the Nuns’ instructions and supervision, Fumiko and Akiko not only helped grow rice and vegetables for the community’s table but also assisted with the production and packaging jelly to be sold.

It was about a month into their participation in the program before they were admitted to the private cloistral living area of the nuns and, thus, into the innermost communal life of the convent.
The two had bedrooms on the second floor. ‘Really, there’s the bed, and there’s the dresser, and that’s it,’ says Akiko. In this new life, they exchanged cell phones for simple poverty. They prayed from early morning until night. It is a life they could scarcely have imagined before, but it helped them turn toward God. As with all Benedictine orders, the Rule of Saint Benedict° governs life here. ‘I don’t really know much about the specifics of the Rule,’ says Fumiko, ‘but I can see it is aimed at helping people love both God and man.’

For Our Lady of Imari Convent, the program was something of a trial run. Sister Setsuko Shibuya, Prioress at the Convent, says, ‘The life of this community is something that you can’t really grasp just by thinking about it. We take joy in coming together to praise God; that’s really what it is. We think of it as ‘getting close to God,’ but that’s something that you can’t do if you don’t make space for it.’

That is why the Nuns made this ‘wholehearted’ decision to open a portion of these ‘religious practices dating back to the sixth century’ to women who are not consecrated. For Fumiko, occupying the space provided by the program had a crucial impact on her faith. ‘When I was working, I would not even go to Mass on Sundays. But now, I really understand the meaning of the words, Happy are those who are called to his supper.’

[Edited for TRODZA by T.D’Souza: taken from ucanews.com –Sept 2013]

Notes: [signposted at these words in the text with a ° sign]
Benedict: Sant Benedict (480-547 AD), is the patron saint of Europe. He founded 12 communities of monks in Subiaco, Italy (about 60 km to the east of Rome). His main achievement is the ‘Rule of Saint Benedict which has precepts for his monks, which later influenced many religious Orders.
Mass: the main liturgical function, held daily, in the Catholic religious belief and practices.
Office: a set of psalms, readings and prayers: said seven times a day –basically a call to prayer.
Prefecture: an administrative division in Japan, with a Governor at the head.
Trappist: The Cistercian Order had become lax in their observances in the monastery in La Trappe, in France, and so the Abbot there enforced stricter discipline. Later, all monks and nuns who follow these new revised laws are called Trappists. Ordinarily the Cistercians are also known as Trappists.

TRODZA – THE BLOG – Contents

3 Jan

What’s in TRODZA the BLOG ?

1 TRODZA – Contents [A list of all the entries in the BLOG ]
2 TRODZA -the Blog- is about Life Situations [A brief summary about entries in the BLOG.]
3 A Bumpy Ride [Bk1: about how Ralph survives through dysfunctional management.]
4 The Singh Saga [Bk2: how an ‘outsider’ can undermine family values and systems.]
5 Anastasia Redeemed [Bk3: about a girl in Kenya who struggles through discrimination.]
6 The Silence beyond the Pain [Bk4: how resilience & faith overcome discrimination.]
7 Petals and Pebbles [Bk5: a re-edit of a fascinating book with stories and parables.]
8 Boyhood Trials shape the Chindit [Bk6: about how Charles comes through a difficult life.]
9 Flight to Bangkok [Bk7: published Sept 2016 (a romance)]
10 The Story of a Dream [His Dreams led him to a Vision – his Legacy today.]
11 They called him Capo [He spread goodness & cheer – was loved by all who knew him.]
12 The unbroken story of Louis [He reached for realms where few men can or dare to go.]
13 The call that changed a life [She had to hear the call: to give her love and her life to God.]
14 The Lady and the Jars [She saved lives and yet received no recognition for her services.]
15 Voice of Peace [She was young and fearless: she fought for a cause.]
16 Home is where the heart is [He felt the call. He left everything to serve others.]
17 Airline lunches [Life is about love and serving others: all the time. It doesn’t cost.]
18 One of the bravest [No greater love a man show! The heart will go where it wants to go.]
19 Outsiders and Insiders [Society keeps devising systems that people don’t always follow.]
20 Modern Parables [There is always a pattern in the way people live their lives.].
21 Yoga and the Heart [What really controls the human being? Is Yoga or Zen the answer?]
22 Go to Joseph [An Apostle for our times: showing exceptional goodness and service.]
23 ‘Wow’ is for Readers ‘Now’ [A book for leaders, teachers, preachers: who might face ‘mission impossible’ dealing with teenagers.]
24 Elephant heroics [A real-life breath-taking incident: facing an elephant in real life.]
25 Selfless in Adversity [A true story about a 12-year-old facing a terminal illness.]
26 The Final Interview [A tribute to those who fight for our liberty and rights]
27 Indian Treat in Charleston [A musical talent thrives in the USA]
28 A Taste of Convent Life [Two Japanese women who experience life in a Convent.]

The ‘Unbroken’ Story of Louis

27 Dec

War and Faith

A New York best-seller
Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken, was New York Times’ best-seller for three years long before Angelina Jolie made it into a film adaptation that was released on Christmas Day 2014. It is the unforgettable story of Olympian and American war hero, Louis Zamperini. The narrative records his experiences as an ‘untamable’ child, an Olympic athlete, a prisoner of war and a distraught veteran on the brink of a divorce, who eventually found God.

Zamperini grew up in Torrance, California, and loved to get into mischief. He found structure and success in running, which led him to the University of Southern California and, eventually, the 1936 Olympics, where he was placed eighth in the 5,000 meters. His hopes of competing in the 1940 Olympics were crushed when Europe exploded into war. Louis Zamperini was drafted into the army and became a bombardier for the American Air Corps.

During a rescue mission to search for an American plane that had disappeared over the ocean, the plane Zamperini and his crew were flying had engine failure and crashed into the ocean. After suffering 47 days floating in a raft, he was taken captive by the Japanese military. Zamperini spent two years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps where he was beaten, starved and tormented by the guards.

Zamperini survived the camps and made it back home to his family but not for too long. He passed away on July 2, 2014, just six months short of the release of the film on December 25. He died from pneumonia at the age of 97.

Religious Faith steps in
Though Zamperini didn’t grow up a practicing Christian — he was described by Hillenbrand as being “thrilled by the crashing of boundaries” — there were multiple times throughout his ordeal where he recognized the hand of God.

The most significant moment followed the crash of the Green Hornet, the plane Zamperini and his crew were flying on the rescue mission. As the plane hit the ocean and began to sink, Hillenbrand writes, Zamperini became entangled in plane wires. He passed out underwater and then awoke only to find himself sinking deeper and deeper with the plane but no longer tangled. Zamperini managed to kick up to the surface with the help of his life jacket.

“If he had passed out from the pressure, and the plane had continued to sink and the pressure to build, how had he woken again?” Hillenbrand asks. “And how had he been loosed from the wires while unconscious?” Hillenbrand and Louis himself see divine intervention playing a role. Whatever the interpretations, for Louis, the seed for religious faith was planted.

Zamperini’s faith continued to grow as he spent 47 days — dehydrated, exhausted and starved — on the raft with fellow soldiers Phil and Mac, the only other survivors from the crash. The life-threatening conditions led Phil and Zamperini to turn to prayer. Zamperini was heard, more than once, by his fellow survivor to say and promise that if God would spare his life, he would serve him forever.

One of those prayerful promises is depicted in the film when the men are fighting a storm, trying to keep their raft afloat in the middle of the crashing waves.

According to Hillenbrand’s biography, it is this promise that Zamperini remembered when attending a sermon by the evangelical preacher, Billy Graham, years after returning from the war. In an interview with the Faith Community Church in his old age, Zamperini talked about the moment he recognized the hand God had in his life and was filled with faith, humility and forgiveness.

The Book and the Film
It is difficult to know why Jolie tells a beautiful story but leaves out some vital details. In fact the turning point of the book never made it to the film. So, perhaps Hillenbrand’s bestseller might not sell to audiences if they knew the whole truth, because the film story is incomplete, even though the film is a classic. Yes, Jolie, who directed the film and the Coen brothers who wrote it left out the most important part of Zamperini’s story.

There have been many World War II stories told in film depicting triumphs of personal courage and survival. The story of Louis Zamperini is one such story, but with an added dimension. Zamperini, who died earlier this year at age 97, came home an angry man. He became addicted to alcohol and cigarettes and verbally abused his young wife as he wrestled with his inner demons. The skeleton of his story is in the film — the plane crash at sea while on a rescue mission; the 47 days floating on a raft before being picked up by a Japanese ship and thrown into a prison camp; the relentless torture and eventual liberation at the end of the war.

After returning to Los Angeles we see Zamperini hugging his brother and parents, but the story ends there, in the film. Director Angelina Jolie attempts to put some flesh on the bones at the end of the film with some still shots and words that tell us that Zamperini’s faith led him to return to Japan on a personal mission of reconciliation. In media appearances, Jolie has refused to discuss why the most remarkable part of Zamperini’s story was excluded from the film. That would be the night he was converted at the 1949 Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles.

As Hillenbrand tells it in her book, Louis came home, poured his alcohol down the drain, threw out his cigarettes, was reconciled to his wife and became a new man because, he said, he had asked Jesus Christ to be his Saviour.

As stories about faith have made a recent comeback on TV and in movies, attracting high ratings and large ticket sales at the box office, it is puzzling why the film leaves out the most important part of Zamperini’s story. Once word gets around that Zamperini’s conversion, which was so faithfully and beautifully chronicled in Hillenbrand’s book, is not in the film, one would suspect that many who share Louis’ faith will not buy tickets. Apologists for Universal Pictures say people can always read the rest of the story in the book. Yes, they can, but then why should they see a film that highlights only half a life?

Just before he died, Jolie showed Zamperini a rough cut of the film. He seemed humbled by the portrayal and did say that it didn’t force religion down people’s throats.

[T.D’Souza –adapted from Wikipedia –Christmas 2014]