Friday, January 28, 2011

Pilgrimage--Seeing Life In a New Way

The Joong Ang Ilbo recently interviewed the lawyer Kang Keum-sil (Esther) who was Minister of Justice in the  past administration, the first woman to hold that position. At that time, she was not a Catholic but always thirsted for knowledge from the time she was in college. The interviewer notices the bookshelf in her office where one can see  her present interests: Korean Philosophy, The Upanishads, The Origin of the Species, The Spiritual Diary of Thomas Merton, among many others.

During the first years of college, she seriously considered switching her major to religion, and attended a program in ascetic practices at a Buddhist Temple, read many  books on theology, and books on philosophy by Erich Fromm.

A turning point in her life occurred in a museum on a trip to Russia. She saw a painting of a man prostrated on the ground, surrounded by dark trees. The moment she saw the painting, there was a heart-felt response. Because of the dark tones of the painting, she  didn't know at first what she  was looking at and then realized it was Jesus in the garden of Gethsemini. She was baptized the following year, and subsequently wrote "An Old Soul," her reflections on a religious pilgrimage in Italy.

"Why did the painting move you so?" the interviewer asked. "It was," she said, "the words: 'If it is possible, let this cup pass me by.' These are the words of a weak human being; they moved me deeply."

"After leaving politics you started your own law practice. What was it like?"  She answers that those who come to her are hurting. It may be financial problems, it may be family, it may be problems in politics--all who come are in a crisis situation. She is like a consultant, she says, and finds the work rewarding and also provides her with the opportunity to learn a great deal.

She is disturbed, she tells the interviewer, that there is a great deal of discussion about politics but no clear idea of what we should be doing in politics or where we should be going as a society. The concerns of society are going to be the agenda for government policy, which means one does not have the opportunity to put into some sort of order the government departments in which one is working. You are always trying to fix and don't have the time to prevent the problems from happening.

Those who are deeply troubled, she feels, are the ones who often turn to religion. Religion starts from our roots; it deals not only with our inner world  but with all of life. That is where we get our world view. She feels she is just beginning the journey and hopes that our society will come to have more dignity in the future.

"How has she changed because of the pilgrimage?" She says that when she drank coffee in the past, she just drank coffee, and that was that.  Now, after visiting a coffee farm, when she has her cup of coffee, she sees in her cup not only coffee, but the history, the labor of all those responsible for growing, harvesting and preparing the coffee for market. The  coffee tastes different.  In the same way, her pilgrimage allows her to see life in a new way.

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