Performing Arts

Sophia, God's Wisdom.
A figure symbolizing rhe revealation of the God's will and the Buddah nature, which is iternal Love.

St. Chiara (left); Teishinni (right)

Teishinni (left); St. Chiara (right)

(03/17/2001)Please check the INTRODUCTION on the publication of WINGS OF LOVE and its author, by Dr. Masao Takenaka

ACAA special edition on PERFORMING ARTS
With photographs by courtesy of Kokodo
In response to the request of Prof. Masao Takenaka

A report of the performance of WINGS OF LOVE , a Christian Noh Drama,
with the author's comments and people's response including media.

The First Performance of WINGS OF LOVE
A Noh Drama on Ryokan and St. Francis of Assisi in a Feminist Perspective
By Dr. Yuko Yuasa

On the 170th anniversary of Ryokan, a popular Zen priest, a Christian Noh drama WINGS OF LOVE was first performed in Niigata, the birthplace of Ryokan.
Arai Man, a prize-winning popular novelist, witnessed and wrote about the performance in a newspaper: "Teishinni, a special disciple of Ryokan, and St. Chiara, a special disciple of St. Francis, encountered on the beach of Niigata. Being spirits, they could cross over the barriers of time and space. They came back to this world to tell the stories of their teachers. At first I was astonished with the bold setting.
Soon I became absorbed by the drama. At the end I was deeply moved and found myself clapping enthusiastically." (8 July 2000, the Kyoto Shinbun).

Here I share the creating and staging experience of WINGS OF LOVE under five headings: 1. Context; 2. Theme and synopsis; 3. Christian Noh drama, its strength and tasks; 4. The public and media response; and 5. The outcomes and future scope.

1. Context
The performance of WINGS OF LOVE was initiated by Prof. Masao Takenaka when he published his book "Ryokan and Christ" in 1998. In the celebration he said, "What about holding an international symposium on Ryokan, as a powerful and positive message from Niigata?" The response resulted in the effort of the National Ryokan Society and Niigata City with the fruit of Ryokan Festival in 2000 commemorating the 170th anniversary of his passing. On the first day "WINGS OF LOVE, a story of Ryokan and St. Francis of Assisi" was performed in the beautiful Noh stage of the Niigata City Performing Arts Center. The players troupe was headed by Mr. KANZE Hideo, holder of the highest National Artists Prize and a descendent of Zeami, the top Noh dramatist in the 14th century. The principal role was performed by Mr. KAWAMURA Nobushige, a Noh player with distinction and a popular TV exponent for his multiple talents as singer, dancer and actor. Another support came from Mr. YAGIMOTO Yuji, director of Kokodo Publishing Company, who published the bilingual script with the author's comments in a perspective of feminist theology, which provided the spectators with background materials.

2. Theme and synopsis
The theme of WINGS OF LOVE is this: "Both God and Buddha are love itself. They want us to respect each other as well as all other lives, and live together in peace." This common message of Ryokan (1758~1831) and St. Francis (1181~1226) is presented by Teishinni and St. Chiara, the special disciples/friends of the two monks.

The synopsis scene by scene is as follows:
  1. ACT I. A traveling monk arrives at the shore of Niigata, Ryokan's birthplace.
  2. Two beautiful women, Teishinni and St. Chiara, special disciples and friends of Ryokan and St. Francis, appear in their spirits' form.
  3. They pay their respect, in a mysterious gesture, to the sun touching the horizon. The traveling monk asks them why they do so.
  4. They tell him of the stories of their saintly teachers/friends, Ryokan and St.Francis. They sing, "Once there were two saints who endured solitude, talking with birds and meeting with flowers. How miraculous it was that their abode stood side by side in spirit, though wide apart in time and space!"
  5. Dressed in their saintly friends' garments, they dance and become one with their friends. They praise the mysterious love that unites them with the two saints, and also unites the two saints each other beyond the spacio-temporal boundary.
  6. During the interlude a local resident relates the stories of two sets of friends. He tells the monk to wait for the revelation in a dream.
  7. ACT II. The monk waits for the dream in which God's wisdom reveals the truth of eternal love.
  8. Accompanied by a happy music, God's wisdom, in the form of a beautiful maiden named Sophia, appears singing and dancing of the Truth of the Buddha nature and God's will. To a powerful music, the principal role named Eternal Love appears. This figure, dressed in a shining robe, sings and dances the theme of WINGS OF LOVE; "As both St. Francis and Ryokan show us, both God and Buddha are love itself. Their wish for us is to respect each other as well as all other lives."
    Sophia and Eternal Love dance the climax dance of blessings; "Imago Dei and the
    Buddha nature shine together. Live together in peace and enjoy the voice of Shalom!"

3. Christian Noh drama, its strength and tasks
Christian Noh drama is a form of inter-religious dialogue. For the public it is a drama, therapy and an theatrical art that lifts them from daily life to the height where they can glimpse eternity. For a Christian it is a sharing experience as a Christian neighbor to people of other religions.
In the central narration of WINGS OF LOVE the chorus sing; "On the cross the Son of God forgives the thief saying, today you will be with me in Paradise." Then echoing the lyrics, Teishinni sings a famous Haiku by Ryokan; "Left behind by the thief, this moon in my window..." The chorus follow the poem by connecting the episodes common to the two saints; "Even in sickness the saints turn sorrow into joy, praising the eternal source of light." The art of linking verses continues; " Shall we light the light of life?"
Thus Christian Noh drama connects the people of non-biblical cultures to the Biblical message by the resonating power of lyrics and drama. The tasks include sharpening the alertness to discern potential fields for the seeds of Gospel in other cultures. In Kwok Pui Lan's word, it is a project "discovering the Bible in the non-Biblical world." The key is the respect for other religions. A proof for Christian integrity is the treatment of non-Christian cultures. If other religions are utilized to show off Christian superiority, the performance will fail to reach people. Christian Noh drama is a response to Jesus Christ's imperative;"Love your neighbors," practiced in performing arts.

4. The public and media response to the performance
At the 170th Anniversary of Ryokan, the International Symposium headed by Prof. Masao Takenaka was a great success as a landmark in the history of transaction and cross-religious dialogue. Distinguished scholars from China, Russia, USA, France and Japan read their paper. It was a moving surprise that various media, e.g., local and national newspapers, TV broadcasting, journals and magazines responded the first performance of a Christian Noh drama with enthusiasm. The Asahi, a leading national paper, too, had substantial articles with photographs twice. Tera to Seikatsu (Temples and Life), an influential Buddhist magazine had an entire volume of reports in full color. Chugainippo and The Kirisuto Shinbun situated WINGS OF LOVE as a major contribution in the performing arts of 2000.

5. The outcomes and future scope
Mr. Yoshiaki Hasegawa, the Mayor of Niigata, told the people at the reception;
"When the video WINGS OF LOVE" is complete, we would bring it to the birthplace
of St. Francis. Through Ryokan and St. Francis, Niigata and Assisi might become sister cities." Now I completed the video superimposition of lyrics in Italian and English . The two versions of videos are available with books of Japanese/English texts. If requested, I will make versions in Asian and other languages. With the video and the bilingual script book, peoples of various cultural background will visit each other and talk about the common message of Christianity, Buddhism and other traditions of spirituality, which is love and respect of life and creation. Now the real drama starts.



Imago Dei
Latin word meaning "God's image." From Genesis 1:27. God created humankind in the image of God. Its meaning can be rendered as "the original state of creation, ability to love, free from ego-centricity."
This theme has been a subject of theological discussion, e.g. "Whether or not the image of God is retained in real human nature now after the Fall." Classic debates include the one between E. Brunner (Dogmatik, Natur und Gnade) and K.Barth (Nein! Antwort as Emil Brunner). Now it tends to be understood in the context of human responsibility in various relationships.

Sophia is the Greek word for "wisdom" (Hebrew hokma). Biblical scholars use the designation "wisdom literature" to certain books in Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha. The term is important for feminist theology, because in Proverbs and other literature, the concept of "wisdom " is literary personified as a woman who has significant relationships to both humans and God. Recent feminist use of Sophia as a way of naming God has occasioned a backlash of accusations of "goddess worship," i.e., heresy. Elisabeth Schuessler FIORENZA has further elucidated the importance, building on her work in In Memory of Her, to both the historical and the contemporary church, of understanding Jesus as the messenger of Divine Sophia (Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet, 1994).
Adapted from Claudia V. CAMP'S "Sophia," an article in Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, ed. Letty M. RUSSELL and J. Shannon CLARKSON, Westminster John Knox, 1996. Here it may be sufficient to understand Sophia as an expression of "feminine nature" of God, based on certain feminist theologies. Its foundation is biblical texts, e. g. God's spirit that hovers on the surface of water at the time of Creation. The same spirit appears at the time of Jesus' baptism. Before, the female attributes of God have been suppressed or subordinated in certain traditional schools. But now the "feminine nature" of God has been established in the academic world, as a result of efforts of scholars and theologians, including the leading works mentioned above. Here Sophia appears as a symbol that embodies God's assurance and empowerment.

The Buddha nature
The nature which is to become buddha. This nature is believed to be in all. The relationship between Imago Dei, the image of God, and the Buddha nature has been one of the major subjects of cross-religious studies. According to ISHIGAMI IAGOLNITZER Michiko, the conclusion of her team of scholars, the Imago Dei and the Buddha nature are deeply related, despite the unsurpassable dogmatic and doctrinal differences between the two religions. The way of Buddha's nature is to save others before oneself. The way of the Cross is to love one's enemy. Ryokan and Francis lived sincerely pursuing their respective belief. The love of Teishinni and Chiara relays the truth of their lives to us.


Fransiscus From Assisi
(by Gregorius Sidharta Soegijo, Indonesia, 1986 - bronze sculpture,
202 cm height)

We find spiritual serenity in his sculptures which adorn many churches in Indonesia included this one in the campus of the Atmajaya Catholic University Jakarta. The spiritual struggle and the faith of this Catholic artist who was born in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 1932, blended together in his effort to create new symbols which derived from the Eastern artistic tradition to his work paintings as well as sculptures we can recognize the West and the East blended into unified artistic expressions.
After his retirement from teaching at the Faculty of Art and Design at Bandung Institute of Technology he now lives in Yogyakarta. However his creative spirit does not diminish and he continues his creative works.

© ACAA - Asian Christian Art Association