Memoir: Praying is a common language

I grew up in a Protestant Christian household. My parents were both Korean, (raised in South Korea), they immigrated to the US in their thirties. My mother says that she was already a Christian in her native country even though South Korea’s flag depicts the mystical iChing hexagrams of Earth, Water, Air, Fire with the Yin Yang symbol in the center in red and blue colors. Korea was a Buddhist country, heavy with Confucian philosophy. It’s unfortunate, because Confucius believed in order through social hierarchies, patriarchal, misogynistic codes of behavior shaped ancient Korean culture. I wish Korea had stayed with Taoist philosophy which revered nature and the balance of opposites.

My parents became devoted Christians after they settled in North America. Korean immigrant communities gathered around Christian churches. It served as a social club of sorts. Outside of Korean churches, I hardly had an opportunity to meet or befriend fellow Koreans. I think many people went to services to socialize only. The best part of church was the huge, Korean potluck feast served after worship services. If you’ve never had a Korean meal or been to a Korean social gathering, you’ll be impressed with the elaborate spread. Koreans don’t set a few bags of chips and salsa with soda pop and consider that a party. They go all out, cooking overnight if they have too! The banquet shines with plates over full with Jap Chae, clear glass-like noodles with stir fried vegetables, glistening with sesame oil, Kim Bop, a mostly vegetable version of what most people call sushi, seaweed sheets wrapped with rice, egg, steamed fish cake, spinach and radish dyed a crazy bright yellow. I could name all my favorites but this post is about praying ;). I could write all day about Korean food though!

So I grew up in an environment that required church attendance. Oftentimes I couldn’t understand the sermon if it was in Korean, (it was a more formal version of Korean, probably full of thee, thou, thine Korean style). I was insanely bored there sitting on hard, immovable wooden pews, while the aged minister was shouting what sounded like nonsense. Once I got in trouble because my friend and I took little scraps of scratch paper to doodle on (that was meant for worshippers to jot down notes). The disappointment on my older sister’s face made me feel like a terrible thief.

My sister was the most devout Christian in our household. I think it was because she suffered (almost?) the most. She was a middle child but the first born daughter, so she cooked and cleaned for the entire family, while my parent’s worked. She was beaten, humiliated, neglected and sometimes ridiculed. At her school she became involved with a Christian youth group called Young Life; it reshaped her entire existence. Everything became about GOD/Jesus. She was a nightmare to live with. I felt like I had my own personal religious torturer, 7 days a week. “Pray before you eat!” she’d say at every single meal. I hated her admonitions.

She also taught me the proper way to pray. Yes, there’s apparently an official, proper way. She scolded me for holding my hands with my palms flat, sandwiched together at the level of my chest. “Don’t keep your hands straight, you have to clench them together.” “Why does it matter?” I said. “Because the flat hands are the way other religions do it. We need to show we’re different from them. We’re praying to the one, true God, Jesus! That’s why!” “But what about the famous image of Jesus’ praying hands? They’re straight not folded together.” No response from my sister, just an exasperated scowl.

If there was an actual, historical figure named Jesus, (or Yesu, or Yusuf, depends on what country), many believe he lived and studied meditation in India during the years between childhood and adulthood. This makes much sense, reflecting the pacifist “turn the other cheek” philosophy he preached. In Buddhist philosophy, the concept of enlightenment, inner realization/exploration is the key to living. The distractions of wealth and status is ego gratification and Jesus also said, “Blessed are the poor…blessed are the meek…”. Many mystics are said to have supernatural abilities: telepathy, psychometry, even levitation and Jesus too is said to have miraculous healing powers with the ability to manifest (food, water into wine etc). The making water into wine is quite a gift ;)!

In conclusion, I think religions borrow from each other. Sometimes they fuse and merge by choice or more likely by force. Catholicism devoured Paganism but the pagan influence is still present in the plethora of saints to pray to like Demi-gods. Mother Mary is obviously a goddess figure hidden under patriarchal control. Hindus and Buddhists branched out but their praying Namaste hands remains a vital part of Christian culture, disguised by clasping the fingers together. I stopped believing in the mythology of religion during college, actually my mind woke up in high school. The lure of Christianity was the idea that Jesus suffered for our sinful lives, I liked his hippie rebel style. He was like a folk hero.

Here’s a bunch of photos to illustrate my point, that all religions share a common universal body language, with the exception of Satanism, they’re deeply disturbed. I used to think it was a joke religion but unfortunately there are psychopaths in this world that feed on ego and take sadistic pleasure in committing evil. Why worship hatred, fear and evil? I don’t understand it at all.


What do you think?


  1. Interesting and timely post for me. I’m currently reading The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon. It’s about Korean Americans in various stages of accepting and refusing Christianity. I was drawn to your post by the CNF tag. The Incendiaries is beautifully written fiction, which I like almost as much as CNF. Also, have you read Lamb by Christopher More? It is a heavily satirical look at Jesus’ life with a very serious suggestion that he spent his formative years studying under the various magi who visited him as an infant. Great stuff. Thanks for writing it.

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      1. Revisiting this comment because I finished Incendiaries. I looked at some reviews on Amazon, and I agree with both the good ones and the bad ones. The writing is disjointed and the author may be a little over her head in what she’s trying to achieve, but I loved it just the same. It was like reading 200 pages of poetry. I work at a library, and I plan to put it on the “Staff Recommended” shelf, I loved it so much.

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      2. I want to read fiction again but my brain can’t seem to anymore. I used to read 5 books at a time. I also work for libraries and mostly check out nonfiction. Now I listen to audio books for fiction intake.


  2. I was born to parents who raised me as a Church of England Christian but I halve from childhood always had Buddhist leanings. I have been reading Confucius and its to strict in its ways for me. I am going to study taoism next.

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    1. I like Buddhism as a philosophy, (meditation is interesting, like dreaming in a way). Confucius was awful, I truly dislike him. I feel like his teaching harmed Korean culture. Taoism is really fascinating, I like it’s deep respect for nature. I also like that it’s not a religion. I think people have good intentions in their religions but the ones that try to convert annoy me. Also some religions are harmful, sexist, racist and even violent.

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  3. Interesting post, as always! 😊 I don’t believe I am the right person to make an assertion on religious beliefs given that I am an atheist. But there is so much in common that I share with your perspectives and my own personal journey from a religious person to someone who eventually rejected the concept of God that I do agree with you – praying is a common language and no matter what faith you follow, love, compassion and contentment are emotions that resonate across very many ways to be and I think that’s a wonderful unifying thought.

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    1. Thank you❤️! I was raised Christian but I grew away from those beliefs decades ago. I’m attracted to philosophies, I consider Buddhism a philosophy not religion, and like many concepts there. I’m very questioning, and rebellious against authoritarian institutions. I think more people nowadays consider themselves spiritual but not religious. I think nature is very spiritual. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts🙂

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