Written by Jeff Woodard
The Rev. Joan Ishibashi has no reservations about the spiritual significance of a still-speaking God. But even God, she suggests, pauses now and again.
"We are often in conversation with one another, and we know that God is still speaking to us," Ishibashi told worshipers May 12 at a service titled "Building Bridges: Interfaith Encounters With God," held in the Amistad Chapel of the UCC's national headquarters. "But even God is silent sometimes. There is truth in silence as well as in speech."
The service was presented by Pacific Islanders and Asian American Ministries to help mark Asian Heritage Month, lifting up the growing presence, unity and influence of Asian American communities. The celebration continues May 22 with Cleveland's first Asian festival, where more than 40 exhibitions, Asian cuisine, performing artists, children's activities and a health pavilion will be featured in the heart of the city's AsiaTown district. Event planners estimate that 5,000 visitors from the region, including local authors, athletes and media personnel, will attend.
Ishibashi, the Minister for Lay School, Credentialing and Commission of the UCC's Western Reserve Association, began with a step-by-step explanation of the service. "It will not be based so much on word, but rather a vibration – a feeling of our whole bodies resonating with spirit. Just feel the tonality and resonance."
Fashioning a white kihei (KEE-hay) – a sash with a painted design applied with tea leaves and symbolizing the green Pali Mountains in Oahu, Hawaii – Ishibashi explained the garment is worn "during spiritual moments as a sign of life-giving." Worship leaders wore striking "butterfly" dresses, including a beige dress made of pineapple fabric and covered with sequins.
A colorful array of handmade and embroidered fabrics, designed for Asian and Pacific Island royalty and young people alike, were displayed on the table in the center of the chapel. Relics symbolic of each language in which Psalm 31 was read – Chinese, Tamil (Indian), Tagalog, Japanese and English – also decorated the space.
Ishibashi led a five-minute Zazen (Zen) meditation after which worshipers filed past the chapel's baptismal font, dipping their fingers into the water, blessing themselves and praying silently. They proceeded to a table covered with small metallic hooks and foot-long strips of white paper neatly cut into a zigzag shape. One by one, worshipers took a piece of paper – signifying heaven above – affixed it to a hook, and hung it on a ficus tree, which represented earth below.
Ishibashi, who was ordained in Honolulu, and served the UCC in Hawaii for 15 years, then approached the tree, stopping to offer a reverential bow and three resonating claps of the hand.
The benediction by Lutie Lee, Minister for Children and Families with the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry team, concluded with a question of God that permeates with the Asian-American community – and well beyond.
“Is the life I am living the same as the life that wants to live in me?”
For more information on the Cleveland Asian Festival,, please visit <ClevelandAsianFestival.org>; email email@example.com; or call 216-539-4634.