Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Faith In Action: Beauty All Around Us

Preparation for Activity

  • Choose an outdoor site on your congregation's grounds and plan the group's "site visit."
  • Talk to the congregational grounds committee or a staff member involved with the grounds and property to get ideas for projects and permission to proceed.
  • If the group has talked about Shinto in Workshop 3, Indigenous Religions, plan how you will help the youth connect this activity with their previous learning.

Description of Activity

Participants apply principles of Shinto to design and implement a project bringing beauty to your congregational environment.

Say, in your own words:

Another Eastern religion is not on our fact sheet today because it did not originate during the same time period. In fact, no one knows when it originated or who started it. It is a nature-based religion. Does anyone know the name?

Wait for answers. Then continue:

It is Shinto. Shinto began in Japan. It may be as old as Hinduism, or older. Today, modern Shinto is followed by many people who also follow Buddhism, so there is a link between these two.

Explain that Shinto was practiced for quite some time before followers began to develop a formal practice around the first century CE. Shinto's followers believe divine energy causes events in nature and manifests itself in the forms of kami, which are gods or spirits. Kami can inhabit living organisms such as people, animals, and plants as well as inanimate things, like rocks and art. For years, until World War II in the mid-20th century, Shinto was the official state religion of Japan.

Some followers visit temples to worship, pray, and perform rituals in honor of specific kami, yet Shinto practices are part of everyday life in Japan. For example, new construction jobs often start with offerings and prayers onsite led by a Shinto priest.

Tell the youth that four affirmations are core to Shinto belief: families and their traditions; physical cleanliness and purity; love of nature; and matsuri, which is worship and honor given to kami. Ask the group which of these affirmations seem to be ones Unitarian Universalists also hold dear. Point out that many Unitarian Universalists hold reverence for nature and believe the natural world deserves our protection. We may not believe the trees hold spirits inside, but the concept of nature as holy or sacred may not seem familiar to a UU.

Bring the group outdoors. Tell youth that most Shinto shrines are made of wood and located near flowing water and sacred trees. Ask: How did the builders of our congregation choose the location for the building? Perhaps you rent space; perhaps the founders lived long ago and you do not know their thoughts. Look around the site your congregation occupies. Can you find beauty in it? You do not have to be in a pastoral spot to find beauty. A lawn or patio can look warm and inviting. Trees provide shade and homes for songbirds, as can bushes. Nearby buildings can be architecturally pleasing. Are people outside? This sign of life itself can be holy.

Decide as a group on a way to beautify the congregation's grounds. Be creative. You might plant a small garden or clean up the parking lot, wash windows, or install (and maintain) bird feeders. A fun project might be to arrive early before a worship service and chalk pretty, welcoming images on the sidewalk. Discuss your plans with the grounds committee or a member of staff before proceeding.