COVID-19: The Preface to My World of Religion — Jinwan Park

Whenever I have a chance to talk about religion with somebody else, I always introduce myself as a kid from a multi-religion family. Interestingly, it might sound weird, but my parents have different religious backgrounds even after marriage. My mother was Buddhist from early childhood due to the strong influence of her grandparents, who regularly took her to the temple close to their house. The same goes for my father, whose family members are all catholic. Both my parents respected the doctrines and cultures of each other’s religions, and celebrated each religion’s holidays, such as Christmas or Vesak day. Fortunately, none of them coerced me into their respective faith. My younger brother and I were religiously untouched, although we occasionally visited beautiful temples and cathedrals in Korea. 

Although it might not sound familiar, I always thought my family to be very normal and typical before moving to the US. It is common in Korean households to find partners with different religious affiliations, given the peaceful existence of diverse religions (i.e., Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, and shamanism) within the society. Even though the absolute number of religious people in Korea is relatively small (22 million) , the number of religions and the peaceful relationship that they form is astounding. Public schools rarely take religious positions or educate students on specific doctrines or beliefs. As a traditional student from Korea, I was left areligious although surrounded by religious family members. Any religious beliefs or practices seemed meaningless to my teenage self, and like most of my friends, I did not have a particular interest in joining those groups.

It was 2020 when things began to change. With the pandemic outbreak, college classes were turned online, and students were kept home. I also had to return to Korea after completing a short in-person semester as a freshman. Things were even stricter in Korea. Governmental policies restricted in-person meetings, and people were distanced from each other. The vacancy of social interaction for the first time in my life was harder to bear than I imagined. The void and emptiness that surrounded me during the pandemic dragged me down to depression. As a person who energizes himself through interactions with others, the deprivation of such activities in daily living was critical. Observing me being challenged by such a loss, my parents took me to the temple near my hometown and encouraged me to close my eyes and empty my thoughts. Frankly, I couldn’t feel anything during the first 20 minutes but rather was slightly irritated by the silence. An hour passed. I opened my eyes, tired of the black sight of my eyelids, and stepped outside the room. Then I experienced one of the most peaceful moments in my life.  I saw the mountain filled with giant green trees, chirping birds, and young baby monks running around the temple, all of which seemed so relaxed and more beautiful than ever. That’s when my mother told me: “You cannot see the beauty of silence during it. The best part comes right after you open your eyes after the long, arduous patience.”

That moment was the turning point in my short religious career. Since then, I have opened myself to religions and their practices, actively learning them when I had opportunities. I still enjoy meditating when starting a day, to focus on myself and organize my thoughts, as well as appreciating different religious practices and cultures. The true power of having faith and cherishing religious culture lies in the process of learning who I am and empowering myself.

6 thoughts on “COVID-19: The Preface to My World of Religion — Jinwan Park”

  1. Your story was really powerful. I really resonated with the fact that you never felt pushed toward a certain religion even though your parents were practicing in their respective faiths because I feel a similar way with my own family, even though I grew up Muslim. Similar to you, I never felt like religion was pushed on me, which ultimately helped me develop a healthy relationship with my faith. Also, reading about your experience at the temple and the beauty you saw afterward was really moving because it truly felt like a peaceful experience even as a reader.

  2. Jinwan, thanks for sharing! I appreciate your openness to discussing a pretty personal, emotional experience. I also admire your open mind and curiosity to learn more. If COVID didn’t happen, do you think you would be in the same place religiously as you are now? It’s often said that hard times develop the strongest faiths. Do you agree/disagree with this statement?

  3. Jinwan, your story is very moving. Your mother’s words are insightful. Taking time each day to remain in silence and organize your thoughts is an excellent way to prepare for what’s to come. I agree with you, understanding oneself leads to a greater appreciation of religious diversity.

  4. Jinwan, I really enjoyed reading your story. Thank you for sharing. I personally thing that faith can be very helpful in times of uncertainty and crisis, and that this can be one of its greatest benefits. I’m glad you’re learning about many different religions and that the diversity has helped you learn more about yourself and other cultures.

  5. I find your line on the existence of diverse religions geographically adjacent ironic in light of several religion’s treatment on paganism and what each religion states as their objective and absolute truth that is distinct from another religion. Indeed, with a weaker conviction of an individual from a subscribed group, you will see it as meaningless. It brings to question one’s priorities and, of course, the priority by our biology seems to usurp any priority a celibate or martyr would have. I think your mother showed you a powerful example of kenosis – you saw, experienced, yourself outside of yourself. Did you feel a part of the mountain? One with the trees? An object of nature rather than a subject witnessing the world external to themselves? This idea generally serves as a structural similarity to many faith’s underlying philosophy.

  6. Hi Jinwan!
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I think it is amazing that different religions could coexist in Korean households and even outside the religious environment, I believe that this respect for various perspectives of life is the basis for social stability.

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