Monday, February 19, 2018

And above all these put on love

“Sit up straight,” said the Voice.

“Really? Is that all you want to tell me?” I responded, a bit nonplussed. “Are you my ballet teacher?” I still remember the comments on my bad posture and a particular piece of “art” on the wall of my dance studio as a child: the slogan, “You are what you eat” illustrated by a drawing of a slob holding a piece of pizza. This never stopped me from wolfing down a huge plate of Mexican food, slathered in cheese, every week after dance class. I guess that’s not the same as pizza, so it doesn’t count, right? Exercise increases one’s appetite. But I digress.

The previous day, I had gone for onsen and a massage, having strained my back clearing snow from in front of our house to make a space for tea-party guests to park their cars. (Lifting while twisting seems not to be the right way to haul snow around.) I didn’t realized how slouchy I had become until the massage therapist stuck her knee into my back and then pulled back on my shoulders… and my shoulders didn’t want to cooperate. Ouch.

With those thoughts in mind, I set aside my irritation and sat up straight, or as straight as I could. I noticed that the strain in my lower back eased a bit. I thought back to the previously mentioned tea party; of course I had been wearing a kimono. While I had it on, I completely forgot about my strained back. An obi, properly tied firmly but not too tight, is a wonderful support. I can’t slouch even if I want to.

A friend once asked me if wearing a kimono changed the way I think or act. At the time, I said no, but as I consider that question again, I think the answer is probably yes. There’s something about being forced to sit up straight, to take small steps, to move slowly, carefully, gracefully, deliberately. People who feel shame, I read recently, are likely to slouch, perhaps as a self-defending sign of submission. By straightening me up, my kimono restores my dignity, or at least the appearance of it.

Obi (帯) is an interesting word, and an interesting garment. It is several meters long, made of stiff brocade fabric. It is the sash that holds the kimono together; a kimono has no buttons or strings or snaps, so without the obi, the kimono cannot be worn. To wear an obi, you wrap it twice around your waist, and then tie it in an elaborate bow, completed with several other decorative strings.

A friend from my kimono circle practices tying an obi in a particularly festive way
When I was preaching from Colossians 3 last spring, I came across the word “obi” in my passage. Here is Colossians 3:14, in English and Japanese:

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (ESV).

「そして、これらすべての上に、愛を着けなさい。愛は結びの帯として完全なものです。」 (新改訳聖書第三版) (Taking a stab at a literal translation of this, I would suggest “And then, over all of this, put on love. Love is, as a binding obi, a perfect thing.”)

God’s love, wrapped tightly around me, is what keeps me from falling apart. God’s love holds me up straight and restores my dignity when I am bent over with shame and despair. God’s love, supporting me, reminds me that I am not alone; the battle is his to fight, not mine. God’s love wrapped around us holds us together as his people even when separation seems like the better option.

“Sit up straight” turned out to be quite a good suggestion, after I unraveled what it meant.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

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