WINDMILLS AND TORII GATES
“Windmills and Torii Gates.” Two massive structures from two very different countries representing two very different cultures Windmills are early factories. They harness the energy of the wind and use it for flood control or for milling grain. Windmills can be found throughout the world, but are often identified with the Dutch. Two thirds of the country of the Netherlands lies below sea level. They used windmills to pump water out of the low farmland and back into the sea. During the Industrial Revolution windmills were replaced by new sources of power, including the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, and electrical power. Windmills have made a comeback in recent years,and travelers may well spot “windmill farms” on their journeys.
Torii gates are unique to Japan and the Shinto religion. They are often found at the entrance to a sacred shrine. They have only one purpose: to separate the sacred from the secular. When a pilgrim walks through a Torii Gate, she enters sacred space. This blog is about the connection between Windmills and Torii Gates. The connection between the secular world of factories and human cultural development (Windmills) and the sacred space of religious belief, faith, and the Divine (Torii Gates). I choose these two symbols because they represent two cultures that have had a formative influence on my life. I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a center of Dutch American culture. I was raised in the Christian Reformed Church, a faith community with deep roots in the Netherlands. Thirty-seven years ago a group of pastors and elders representing this faith community laid their hands on me in a small town in South Dakota, ordaining me into my life’s work as a Christian minister. Dutch Americans, symbolized by the secular Windmill, placed on my shoulders the mantle of representing the sacred.
For twelve years I lived out this vocation in sacred spaces, serving Christian Reformed churches in South Dakota, Michigan, and Texas. Then, at age 39, my life took a dramatic turn. I began living out my spiritual vocation in the secular environment of the United States Navy, where I commissioned to serve as a Chaplain. I was now both ordained and commissioned. My ordination represented my spiritual calling, symbolized by the cross on the left lapel of my uniform. My commission was to live out that vocation in the secular world of the United States Navy, represented by the rank on the right side of my collar. Ordained (sacred) and Commissioned (secular). My task was to bridge the divide between the two, to bring the sacred into the secular spaces of ships, aviation hangers, and the war zone in Iraq.
For twenty years I lived out of this dual identity and responsibility. For seven of those twenty years I was stationed in Japan, land of the Torii Gates. Japanese culture, symbolized by the religious Torii Gate, has also been a formative influence on my life. I am now retired, living in Holland, Michigan, within walking distance of DeZwaan(“the swan”), the oldest authentic, working windmill in the United States. This 300-year-old windmill, which was heavily damaged in World War II, was moved from the Netherlands to Holland Michigan in the 1960s and restored to its previous working condition. Every year in May I enjoy the city’s “Tulip Time” Festival, when tourists come from all over the world to view the massive plantings of these Dutch flowers and enjoy the authentic Dutch dancers in the streets and the Dutch food available in both the restaurants and on the streets.
But I am no longer completely at home in this world where I began my life. My service in the Navy gave me the opportunity to see the world, and to live cross-culturally in Japan. I now live cross-culturally in Holland, Michigan. I am now a citizen of the world. I write from that perspective. I write as a world citizen. I write as someone influenced deeply and appreciative of many cultures, including my own Dutch American culture. I write as someone who was ordained to represent the Christian faith in a multi-faith environment. I write about Windmills and Torii Gates.