Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Unhealed Scars of the Korean Psyche

While in the States recently I visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I was interested in things Korean so I spent some time in the Asian area of the museum. I was upset and had an inkling of what the Koreans understand by "Han".(원한)

In the Asian area there was only one section in which I found a representation of Korean Life. I went over to the Japanese section and found many more but the placard that I found annoying was the one that said many things came into Japan from Asia. I have forgotten the exact words but it must have been difficult for those writing to mention that it came in from Korea. There is nothing in history about Japan before 57 AD and it is my understanding that it was the Koreans that transformed the Japanese stone- age culture into a agricultural and metal one. If this be the facts, it is no surprise to see that Japan is one of the reasons for the Korean "Han". Not only do Koreans have this "Han" feeling for I also found it difficult to shake. The history of Korea is older than that of Japan and much of what the Japanese have received did come in from China but by way of Korea. This is difficult for the Japanese to accept.

The dictionary definition of Han is: a grudge; resentment; a bitter feeling; spite; hatred; rancor; a mixed feeling of sorrow and regret (unique to Korean); an unsatisfied desire.

It is a scar that is never really healed. The Koreans have suffered a great deal over the centuries at the hands of others. A small country surrounded by three giants and in recent history the United States is included. Korea has been a pawn for others over the centuries to meet their individual needs. This article does give one a general understanding of "Han".

North Korea and "Han" would be a good place to understand the antics of this part of the peninsular. They have many unhealed scars. If this is true of the South we can say that this is felt in the North many times over. Especially now that they are having difficulty feeding their own people and demonized in the world press.

The Catholic Church with many years of persecution in their beginning history in Korea has also been scared and has worked to rid itself of this feeling of "Han".
The "Han" has been sublimated.

Jesus was very clear what has to be done with the "Han" feeling. "if you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar , go first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. "
Mt (5:23)


Taken from In My Own Words by Fr. John Cioppa of Hong Kong.

Have you ever thought of eating as prayer? If prayer is communicating with God, we can pray anytime whether we are walking, reading, working or eating. St. Theresa said, "God walks amid the pots and pans." God is everywhere: in our kitchens, dining rooms, classrooms as well as in our churches. God is 100% available to us, whether we are kneeling in prayer, doing dishes or doing nothing.

In the New Testament, much of Jesus' life and ministry was associated with food. His first miracle was at a marriage feast. He multiplied bread and fish to satisfy people's hunger. He ate at Zachary, the tax collector's house in Jericho, and with lepers in Bethany. It was at a meal that Mary Magdalene poured ointment over Jesus' feet. At the Last Supper Jesus chose bread and wine as the elements under which He would remain with us after His Resurrection. After He rose from the dead He appeared several times to the Apostles at meals-on the road to Emmaus and on the seashore.

God in His great wisdom created our bodies, which normally have to be fed several times a day. If we don't eat, in a short time we die. Eating does not only nourish the body, it also provides an occasion for people to stop and rest for a few moments, and gives the opportunity for conversation and sharing of life. Apart from the body, eating nourishes the soul as well. The way we eat says a lot about the way we live. We often assess the quality of daily life by the way the family eats. What a beautiful sight it is to see a family sitting down together to eat, talk , laugh and maybe even cry! Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the entire family gathering together for Sunday dinner. There was plenty of good food, wine and conversation and lots of time to enjoy it. Sometimes the dinner lasted for three hours.

Unfortunately the custom of the entire family eating is slowly eroding away. The reasons are many. Time is limited , work schedules are varied, houses are small and cramped, fast food restaurants are many and the pressures of society are great.

... What better way to celebrate birthdays, weddings or even funerals than by having a meal together. With food we settle arguments, restore lost friendships, settle business deals or dispel hurt feelings . When we eat we commune not only with people but also with God.The feeling of well being after a good meal, the satisfaction after a cool glass of water or the joy of a glass of wine is all expressions of prayer. They are different ways that God reveals Himself. The peace and joy that I feel after a meal with a friend, the relief I share after solving a problem and make friends again, the handshake with friends after a banquet, the enjoyment of good food or drink are signs that God is with us. We don't always have to use words to pray. We just have to be aware that all of these creatures come from God had have been give to us to use, enjoy and share with others.We should thank God but even if we do not, God is glorified. God made us to enjoy food and made food for us to enjoy.

This reflection makes a great deal of sense in our own Korean Society. The Korean have a great table culture and it is one that I have admired from the first days I arrived in Korea. When we have a meal at the mission station with the community there is always a place for some one who comes late. All that is necessary is to give him eating utensils and a bowl of rice which is always available and he can sit down at the table with the many side dishes. It is a very welcoming table and quite different from the eating in the west.With the men it can develop into a drinking finale which is not part of the table culture that I find most attractive.