平和. 평화. שלום.
Heiwa. Pyonghwa. Shalom.
Peace is a beautiful word, but an agonizing one as well. It’s something we desire, something we feel should be, but like Mayuri Shiina reaching up toward the sky, it’s impossibly out of reach. World peace is a dream. Inner peace may be, too, but that doesn’t stop many of the world religions from making this a (or the) focus of their faiths.
However, peace doesn’t instantly come to mind when thinking of some religions. Islam carries the weight of a violent connotation associated with its religion. I’m reading a book (when I say reading, I mean I’ve read about a chapter a year for the last 7 years) about how Islam is really a peaceful religion; the fact that such books even have to be written tells us something about how nonbelievers feel. The same can be said of Christianity, which has been forever stained with violent events like the Crusades and the Inquisition.
Nonetheless, the actions of people in the name of religion often tell us more about them and their society than about their faith. And in that vein, I’m here to say that in a significant way, Christianity is all about peace – within ourselves, with other people, and most of all (and all trickling downward from), peace with God.
When I think about peace in terms of anime, one character rises in my mind above all – Ashitaka, the noble prince from Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Princess Mononoke. In his journey, Ashitaka makes peace in each of the three ways mentioned above. Hit the jump to read more about the third fruit in our “Fruits of the Spirit” series: peace.
Peace with God
There are many gods in the world of Princess Mononoke, but we’re concerned with just one, the forest spirit, whose providence is life and death. As Ashitaka’s journey to seek a cure to the curse given him by the demonic board god begin, he finds out about the forest spirit from two-sided Jito. Ashitaka wants the spirit to heal him; however, the spirit is unconcerned with man’s wants – it’s concerns are much higher. The cursed Ashitaka approaches the forest spirit full of anger and having killed others on his way to his goal. But the forest spirit is concerned with life – the two represent opposite sides.
Ashitaka is the forest spirit’s enemy.
However, in a very short time, Ashitaka is transformed, as he chooses the way of life over death, demonstrated when he stops San and Eboshi from killing one another and later begs San to choose “life,” even as he lay dying. Ashitaka has now changed sides.
The Bible is clear that before we come to know Christ, we are God’s enemies (Romans 5:10). Our curse (sin) puts as at odds with Christ and our wants don’t usually align with His. To “accept” Christ means to surrender. We, as His enemy, completely surrender to the general’s (Jesus) terms of peace. We agree to give everything up and live in the way He asks us to. In return, we are given peace. No longer are we at war – we are now accepted as citizens in Christ’s kingdom and can enjoy all that entails. The most important perk is the same as the one the forest god offers – life.
It’s also important to note that Ashitaka is not perfected yet. As his bullet wound is healed at their first meeting, so are ours; but Ashitaka’s curse is not taken away at that time – he still must grow, as Christians must after accepting God’s grace.
Peace with Ourselves
Even though Ashitaka is generally on even keel, neither getting too happy or too angry in any situation, he is still seeking peace within. Inside him, the curse of the boar god, which touches him at the beginning of the film (in one of the great opening sequences in anime history), is driving him toward death, and in various moments throughout the film, the almost stoic Ashitaka blows up in frustration.
Physically, we see signs of the struggle with oneself, as when Ashitaka’s arm spasms uncontrollably upon first seeing the forest spirit. This is reminiscent of New Testament demons that react violently and fearfully upon encountering Christ.
And as I mentioned, while Ashitaka generally has a calm demeanor, there are signs that inside, he is being torn apart. Besides the unmistakable proclamation that his soul will first be torn apart before his body, Ashitaka also visibly expresses frustration. Jito sees this at their initial meeting, addressing the pains of life in his speech at the destroyed village.
Eventually, Ashitaka finds inner peace when doing the right thing for the forest spirit. He no longer cares about his curse at this point – he cares more about the spirit’s life-affirming purpose. And without looking to be cured, he is given freedom and peace.
As with the film, finding peace with God leads to finding peace with oneself.
Peace with Others
A major theme of Princess Mononoke has to do with finding peace among people and other living creatures. At one point, Ashitaka tells Lady Eboshi that he wants to “see with eyes unclouded by hate,” but when he tells her that, he hasn’t yet achieved that state.
In moments just previous, his arm spasms again as he burns with hatred against Lady Eboshi thinking about the boar god’s death. Ashitaka’s hair rises as he chastises Eboshi, declaring, “If it would lift the curse, I would let it tear you apart.”
But as Ashitaka moves more and more toward finding peace with the forest spirit, he does the same with all those around him, including Lady Eboshi. Likewise, San and Eboshi achieve peace with each other through Ashitaka. Though San says she can’t forgive Eboshi, she at least heads down that path, helping her enemy escape the poisonous globules of the forest spirit because of Ashitaka’s actions. This scene occurs after Ashitaka has achieved peace with the forest spirit.
The application is clear – when we find peace with God, we can forgive and love others, finding peace with them. And this love can move others to find peace as well.
The irony of this essay is that it’s about peace when Princess Mononoke is easily Hayao Miyazaki’s most violent and disturbing film. But then again, perhaps that’s not so strange after all. If the difficulties we endure within ourselves, with others, and with God manifested themselves in animation, we might, too, see bloody battles, limbs and heads dismembered, and wormlike demons. Peace is powerful because it is the calm for these horrible storms. You often can’t avoid these storms, but you can meet them with confidence knowing there is peace – and He is Jesus.
Please return every Wednesday for the next several weeks as we detail another character that embodies one of the Spirit Fruits. In addition to Ashitaka and peace, I discussed Sasami Jurai and joy last week and R86 began the series the week before, writing about Honda Tohru and love.