Yesterday we drove to Fukuoka City (in the olden days this major metropolis was called Hakata) to see a seven-artisan joint stained glass exhibit. As we were about to leave the exhibit on the 8th floor, someone told us that the street was lined with people getting ready for the race-parade of floats that are a traditional part of what is called the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival. We moved over to the window and saw people galore lined up on the streets yelling and cheering the myriad of Japanese men racing down the street carrying a huge mikoshi (portable Shinto shrine). The portable shrine was carried on the shoulders of scantily clad men by means of long poles as they raced down the street. These kinds of shrines can weigh up to a ton! It is said that when the shrine is carried down the street, moving from right to left, that it purifies, or neutralizes evil spirits and spreads blessings on the people and businesses that line the street.
Yesterday’s experience of being in the midst of so many people and this festival reminded me of a song we used to sing in church many years ago on Sunday nights: The Ark Is Coming Up The Road!
It was a song that we sang with as much vigor and life as the multitude we saw in the race-parade. It was a song that brought the Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit into the meeting. We would march around the auditorium, moving to the right and left, singing, clapping and rejoicing in the Lord! That Presence was, and still is, very REAL. Unlike the Yamakasa Festival’s once-a-year rejoicing, the Presence of God can be experienced EVERY day, 24/7!
Hakata Gion Yamakasa (山笠), held for two weeks each July, is Fukuoka’s oldest festival with a history of over 700 years. Teams of men (no women, except small girls, are allowed), representing different districts in the city, race against the clock around a set course carrying on their shoulders floats weighing several thousand pounds. Participants all wear shimekomi, which are traditional loincloths. Each day of the two-week festival period is marked by special events and practice runs, culminating in the official race that takes place the last morning before dawn. Tens of thousands line the streets to cheer on the teams. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukuoka#Festivals)
A man and his little son help an injured comrade to a place away from the buzzing activity of this major summertime event. On the back of the mens’ happi coats is the distinctive mark of their team affiliation. What is the distinctive mark of your affiliation with God? “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” Yep, it don’t need washing, ironing, changing like these happi coats. It’s always there; it is a very, very, very distinctive mark!
Why not this coming weekend put on your happy coat, head for church and get blessed?