Presenting yourself as someone who ‘has it all together’ is important in Tokyo – a city full of those who, by all appearances, appear successful. But if you dig below the layers, there is an emptiness that engulfs the soul. The product of this is the salaryman or student trying to find rest on a busy commuter train, with their eyes closed, head back and mouth wide open. Much like the shock of seeing ourselves in a picture (wow, do I really look like that?), I wonder how these commuters would feel if they were shown a picture of themselves at those moments. Would they want to change their lives? Would they care?
I also learnt to conceal how myself, despite my highly expressive face. While in Australia, if I was upset at something, it almost impossible to hide my disdain. Now, in Tokyo, I was presenting a front to the world that – despite having a foreign – had it all together. It was an emotionless face I showed the world. Don’t you think that despite our best efforts, people can often read our faces better than we can? Roger Scruton in The Soul of the World, makes this interesting observation about the face:
“In a sense you are always more clearly aware than I can be of what I am in the world; and when I confront my own face, there may be a moment of fear, as I try to fit the person whom I know so well to this thing that others know better”
And there’s also that saying, The eyes are the window to the soul. There’s a lot of truth in it. What do we see when we make eye contact? Do we feel embarrassment? Attraction? Boredom?
Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health physically just as you are spiritually. (3 John 2, HCSB)
An elderly friend said to me a few weeks ago that I looked much better. When I asked her what I looked like before, she simply said: ‘tired’. This is because I was carrying high standards for myself in the job (which was also of considerable size), but I was also bearing the load of previous failures, and hadn’t yet learnt to stop shouldering them. What she didn’t know was that it was just days earlier, when I was asked at church to give some kind of reflection on my time in Japan, all I could say was ‘It’s been crazy’ before I began choking up and unable to speak. There was a prayer for me, and then we began playing the next song in worship but I could barely see the music in front of me.
I may have said it earlier but in Tokyo, I rediscovered God’s wonderful grace. The kind of grace Jesus showed to the woman caught in adultery, where He didn’t stone her for her sin but told her she was forgiven and to go and sin no more. That disarming sense where God welcomes you back and wants you to walk in a new way that is happier and more satisfying (dare I say, this is repentance?). Where we default to the expectation of punishment but are met with love. Many things went wrong and I was not shown grace, and in this kind of atmosphere of overwork and harassment, I began to see how transformative and supernatural grace is. (I also admit to not always showing grace in moments where I was wronged either).
But back to the idea of the face as a site for understanding and addressing one another. Well, it appeared that I looked better (having also lost a ton of weight) but also internally was in a much better place, having reconciled and acknowledged past events. As beings with a mysterious combination of internal and external elements working together, it makes sense that these two realities would reflect one another. When the soul is sick, we look sick.
Too often we bear far more than is necessary. It is a subtle thing, but a default in our frail human nature. I completely agree with Augustine when he says:
I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful, but I have never read in either of them: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden.
The rest of the quote from Jesus is ‘and I will give you rest.’ God wants us to rest. I loved that part of how I explained the God of the Bible to the Japanese was that God is a God that rests. He took a day off after He created the world, and part of that rhythm is something He has placed in us. Japan doesn’t rest, and neither does its gods. Sydney doesn’t rest either, and neither does its gods.
Meeting God again in Japan and learning about how to take care of my soul in Him is something only He could have orchestrated, given the circumstances. Rest in His love and finished work is a significant part of our healing. He can and will handle all of our mess, and only those who rest in Him have a different look in their eyes: a lightness, and life in their face.