As the year draws to a close there are so many things that we might think about. There is of course the holiday gatherings that are more possible now than a year ago. We have discovered ways to spend time with family and friends who we have not been able to see other than on video calls. We are still cautious. Caring for the health and well being of others as we modify our behavior; fist bumps and elbows, masks indoors unless we’re from the same pod. We adapted. We found new ways to express our love for one another. Even if that means being separated. Things that would seem backwards under different circumstances, now are expressions of love and concern.

When I was growing up, our family would gather for Christmas and New Years. We would sit on the floor around long boards with homemade supports that served as a table. Some of the food was on the table, within easy reach. Lots more was arranged on other tables but you had to stand up to get something. If someone was getting up to get something you could always ask them to bring something back. People would come and go. Cousins would stay for awhile then they would be off to another party somewhere. Uncles and aunties talking story, I wish I had asked questions and listened to the stories they were telling. The uncles and aunties of that time are gone now. Those gatherings are wonderful memories that still bring feelings of family and belonging. Much has happened since those halcyon days. 

At a recent conference I was asked if the way I presented Jodo Shinshu might be discouraging for young people. I had just stated the importance of Amida’s vow deepens as we recognize our imperfections. When I was growing up I used to think Jodo Shinshu was for old people. Going to Sunday School or joining the YBA was different. That was to have fun. Jodo Shinshu was about going to the Pureland when I died. At least that’s how I thought about it. And if we young people were going to be seriously involved things would have to change. The Hongwanji would have to become relevant. I should have been paying closer attention. Maybe that was not possible. Things had to change. 

Most ministers are far more knowledgeable than I am. My knowledge follows a track that began a long time ago. When I read through my writings, it’s there. Maybe not very clear but in bits and pieces what forms my understanding is there. But it’s a bit like “which comes first the chicken or the egg?.” Did the bits and pieces bring me to an understanding or is my understanding defined by the small collection of bits and pieces? However uncertain my studies have been I take heart in the example of the myokonin whose appreciation of the Nembutsu is simply possible.

Whether young or old there is no difference in what the Nembutsu is. How we view the Nembutsu can change how we engage the world. I am changed. Not the world. Not the Nembutsu. Perhaps my understanding that Jodo Shinshu is not just for old people is only because I find I have somehow become an older person. Is my appreciation of the Nembutsu now because I am now older or is it because I am older now that I appreciate the Nembutsu?