Everything is Holy: Spiritual Truths from Anime
By Jonah Venegas
Day 1 of 5
“I do believe in the power of story. I believe that stories have an important role to play in the formation of human beings, that they can stimulate, amaze, and inspire their listeners.”
– Hayao Miyazaki
Stories are something that have always deeply resonated with my soul. I’ve been a writer and reader for longer than I can remember, and as someone training to be a therapist, I’ve become even more keenly aware of the power of stories over the last few years. But having grown up in the evangelical church and its many permutations, I believed only certain stories mattered for a long time. Bible stories were good stories, and so were conversion stories or testimonies, but God forbid we ever learn anything from stories that weren’t Christian enough or spiritual enough.
That idea never sat well with me, partly because many of the stories that were especially formative for me, spiritually and otherwise, weren’t the kind that would’ve been labeled as particularly Christian, if at all. The stories that reached out to me and invited me in were, more often than not, stories from anime and video games, stories that were told about people who looked like me, by people who looked like me, through a lens that was actually similar to my own. If I remember correctly, the very first movie I remember watching was either Miyazaki’s Spirited Away or possibly the first Pokémon movie, Mewtwo Strikes Back. This love affair with anime began a trajectory of learning more from anime that I ever did in church.
For a long time, I tried to deny how significantly anime and many of its Confucianist philosophical roots influenced my own spiritual and personal formation because they didn’t seem like the “right kind” of stories, as well as because so many elements of East and Southeast Asian culture were and have been demonized by the American Church. I’ll never forget how my white Christian classmates and their parents told me that the anime I liked were demonic or “gave [them] a bad feeling” when in reality, the difference in story mediums and culture probably just made them uncomfortable. So, eventually, I stopped talking about them with my Christian friends altogether, which was essentially all of my friends at the time.
It took me the better half of the last five years to truly reconcile the significance of these stories and their impact with my faith in a way that could be considered integrative. The funny thing is that the Confucian idea that the secular is also sacred was a philosophical undercurrent that Church fathers such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas would’ve aligned with, and a prevalent idea in the world of early, Middle Age Christian scholasticism was that “all truth is God’s truth,” meaning that truth, particularly scientific truth at the time, was still God’s truth despite the realm it may have been discovered in. I believe this to be true for spiritual truth, as well.
Beyond that, it seems highly exclusivist at best to say we can learn spiritual truths from some stories that happen to come from the Bible or a pastor, but that the same isn’t true of other stories just because they’ve been arbitrarily categorized as secular. If we’re to believe in the priesthood of all believers and that all humans are truly created in the image of God—the Imago Dei—then we must also believe it’s possible for all of us (and our stories) to be conduits of truth and grace.
Just like we might say we can encounter the Divine in science or nature, I believe we can do the same through art and stories that aren’t strictly Christian or spiritual. Because if anything can be holy, then we have to believe that everything has the potential to be holy. I think that makes the stories that shape and form us holy in their own ways, as well. And that thought has made anime its own holy ground for me.
God, help us be open to meeting You wherever You may be. Help us free ourselves from the boxes we limit ourselves to seeing You in and open ourselves up to all the spaces where You have created thin places for us to commune with You. Thank you for finding us all exactly where we need to see You.