... in the Holy Rosary
Today I found God in the Holy Rosary as I was driven from Kyoto, where I work, to Osaka, where I live, by Monica, my colleague and unlikely friend.
To begin with Monica, she is twenty years younger than myself, in her words, an Irish Canadian cradle Catholic, a University English teacher because that is what many English speakers do in Japan, although she is at heart a mathematician and scientist. Monica had decided that we would say the Rosary, and we did.
I on the other hand am a new Catholic (although not a convert), a vocational pedagogue and language teacher of fifty years and a rather go with the flow type so I can go along with what others tell me to do if it seems right.
Monica, right though university in Canada had prayed the Rosary with her family, coming home for the occasion and going back out again. I asked her how that had felt. “I had to go home every evening, then go back to university. What do you think!” She had replied. She still now says the Rosary with her daughters, but in the car.
As for me, having been brought up in a non-faith family, I was unfamiliar with the Rosary until I saw one in Evita’s hands in the theatre performance in the Haymarket, in my late forties. I thought it was beautiful.
More than twenty years later, I was called to be baptized into the Roman Catholic Church and had what is traditionally known as “Instruction” for two hours every Sunday for a year. But there was nothing traditional about my time with Assumption Sister Dominique, then in her late eighties. Soeur Dominique is French speaking and so am I and that was what we spoke. One time she had mentioned the Rosary “Le chapelet” in French. It was a new word for me. I had warmed very much to Soeur Dominique and was eager to connect with my instruction and tell her that we’d seen the last episode of David Suchet’s Poirot and Poirot had died with the Rosary between his fingers. “Le chapelin”, (Chaplain), I’d said instead of “Chapelet” for Rosary. “ Somewhat difficult!”, Soeur Dominique had said with her wry sense of humour.
She said that the kind of repetition one did with the Rosary was particularly important in the Eastern Church. Rather hastily I said I did not go for that, and we went on to other matters. There was, and will be more than enough for me (or anyone else) to learn about our faith for the rest of my life.
In Far Eastern cultures, rote learning and memorization are still the order of the day. All Japanese are trained that way, and the result is that while all study English in school for six years, only about five per cent are today proficient in it. I can truly say after teaching language and teaching teachers here for nearly thirty years that the traditional system is the enemy of the day. I was projecting my struggle against it onto the Rosary.
At the time of my Baptism, I had twice said the Rosary with my husband, himself a cradle Catholic, at the Jesuit church of Saint Ignatius in Tokyo. The first time, I could hardly follow, but some kind Filippino women pointed to the beads to help me. I keep a warm memory of that, of their wishing to include me in their regular practice. My husband later gave me a little booklet and that made it easier the second time. In our own Japanese-speaking church community I have twice attended the Rosary, in our little side chapel, with Mrs. Toyota, mother of two priests, among possibly the last Japanese to be ordained here, and one or two Assumption sisters, including Sister Agnes, the former Head mistress of the Kindergarten my daughter attended when we first arrived. The atmosphere is intimate and while I would be hard put to translate the Rosary, there are many Japanese phrases that also pop up in the Mass than I am familiar with.
My husband was educated at a Jesuit school and I trust his criteria in matters Catholic. I’d asked him what was special about the Rosary and he had said the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary was particularly interesting and lovely. In it, Mary receives beautiful reverential titles such as” Morning Star”. That was what I wanted to hear.
To return to Monica and the car, “Let’s start!” she said, “Or we won’t get through before you have to get out!”. “I’m not sure I can do it”, I said, having forgotten my rosary and the booklet”. “You know the Our Father, don’t you?” Monica said and we started, Monica at break-neck speed, the way she was used to saying it, snapping an Amen as I was about to begin the doxology I’d recited at my (Anglican) school.
It was refreshing to be using my mother tongue, since at Mass, I use Japanese, which I can manage but it’s not the same, or Spanish in which I am bilingual, but don’t remember the same way I do the English.
Since we were driving through a typhoon, there was sometimes no visibility at all. Monica prayed for the lives of cyclists. In moments of crisis, I am paralysed, and simply trust in God and all the Saints, but do not do petitionary prayers for myself, perhaps a leftover from my Presbyterian mother. At one point, Monica’s Rosary wrapped itself around the steering wheel. Since she was unfazed I did not look or let myself imagine what might be.
We completed the Rosary, and by the end were in perfect unison, and I could remember every phrase.
So where was God? Through His grace, in everything: In my encounter with this very different lady, in her telling me what I was going to do, in my accepting, in the newness of this kind of rapport, forged through a pink plastic rosary in a car in the middle of a typhoon, in my sense of wellbeing at having prayed the entire Rosary by the end, in unison with Monica, at my feeling more Catholic, confident that I would now be able to pray the Rosary with any Catholic, anywhere, an increased sense of inclusion and connectedness, a sense of satisfaction that has stayed with me that I recall every day, and in my hope and expectation of praying the Rosary with Monica next time and every time from now on. Thanks be to God.