CLEARWATER — Forty people braved intense storms Thursday evening to attend an interfaith service in memory of the victims of the recent devastation in Japan.
Five local members of the clergy, as well as singers and musicians from various religious traditions, brought readings, music and personal reflections to the service.
The 80-minute program, held at Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater, opened with a recording by folk singer Harold Payne called Kimi no Soba ni, the title of a Japanese song that translates as We'll Be There For You.
The Rev. Leddy Hammock of Unity Church of Clearwater, along with the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi of the Unitarian Universalists, organized the event. Hammock likened the intense suffering of the Japanese people to the plight of the long-suffering Job in the Bible, and led visitors in a responsive reading from the Book of Job.
"The great thing that can come out of this tragedy," she said, "is that it can bring us together in human compassion."
The other clerics, most of whom were members of the Interfaith Coalition of Tampa Bay, represented the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Islamic faiths. Their songs and readings reflected their different traditions.
Rabbi Danielle Upbin of Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater opened her remarks with words from a Hebrew prayer reflecting the great need of the Japanese survivors: "From a narrow place I called out to you and you responded to me with the breath of life."
Upbin said that at times it seems one tragedy obscures another, this tsunami being but the latest, and people have a sense of living in a world of chaos.
"This kind of gathering gives us a purpose in reaching out to the Japanese in our hearts and our prayers," she said. "We feel like we are creating meaning in a world of chaos."
Janamanchi read several passages from the Koran on behalf of Muslim participants detained by the weather. He selected two passages that dealt with compassion and justice.
Chika Ozuna, the Japanese wife of the Rev. Nicholas Ozuna of the Rissho Kosei Kai Dharma Center of Tampa Bay, a Buddhist organization, sang a Japanese song, Furusato, meaning Hometown, as a tribute to all the hometowns that were lost.
At one point in the service, Sister Suseela of the Dhamma Wheel Meditation Society based in Clearwater, read a letter she received from an American living in Japan.
Dunedin resident Barbara Brandt said she found that letter one of the most moving parts of the service. She said it conveyed the fortitude of the Japanese people who have been making the best of what was left to them.
"The writer said that without electricity she was finally able to really appreciate the stars," Brandt said. "She wrote the Japanese people will rebuild, and they will survive."