One who’s about to complete her six Chinese zodiac cycles has much to think about.
Growing up in Korea in a Catholic family, I developed a sense of God at an early age that came with a sense of wellbeing, a feeling a little calf might have while roaming on green pastures. I believed everything my Sunday school taught me — that we were God’s special children, that the Catholic church was the only temple Jesus Himself built upon the rock named Peter, and that only baptized Catholics are entitled to enter heaven because other church founders had offended God by breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church, therefore their followers don’t qualify.
Soon, my maternal grandmother, a devout Buddhist, came to live with us when she became a widow. And this altered my view of religion and God somewhat. Every morning, I was awakened by her voice reciting Buddhist mantras and the scent of burning incense squeezing through the rice-paper screen door that divided her room from mine. I was filled with a sense of tranquility and peace. Her voice was soft music that floated me like a stream carrying a bird feather.
But my mother didn’t like Buddhist mantras resounding in a Catholic home. She had been born in a Buddhist family but after she married my father, she became Catholic; she was never shy about expressing her Christian view on life and death. “Mother, it’s about time you learn about Christ. Life doesn’t go on forever.”
“There’s only one God who oversees the whole universe,” Grandmother would say. “Your Jesus and my Lord Buddha were sent by the same god.”
“That’s impossible,” my mother argued. “God only had one son and that’s Jesus who came to the world to free us from our sins. Unless you convert, Mother, you have no chance of redemption. Jesus said, ‘Whoever is not with me is against me!’ ”
Grandmother took it calmly. “Our divine Teacher never said such a thing. He only taught his followers to meditate so that they can achieve harmony and peace within themselves and with others, so that they too will be enlightened like Himself some day. Besides, Buddha came to this world 500 years before your Jesus did.”
That ended the conversation. How could my mother have argued further when she realized that Buddha was Jesus’ senior by 500 years? After all, she lived in society that considered elder respect the virtue of all virtues.
Grandmother died two years later, without converting to Catholicism. For the following years my mother regretted that she not only never helped her to convert, but had not even had her receive the “Anointing of the Dead.” But knowing Grandmother, I know she was happy going as she had. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder whether she went to heaven.
Time moved on, and I’m now my grandmother’s age when she passed. (This is scary.) But one thing I know is that God had found a place in heaven for my grandmother — the heaven that doesn’t discriminate against non-Catholics. That said, I hope I will end up somewhere above, too, someplace whose gatekeeper isn’t too picky about my minor imperfections that had offended some people.
Time is ticking away. While my hair turned from black to gray and wrinkles gathered on my face without my permission, the world has turned over many times. Back when I was in Korea, Mass was celebrated in Latin, but some time later the liturgical text was translated into the people’s native language. While the Catholic Church is still unyielding on such issues as birth control, female ordination to priesthood, gay marriage and divorce-annulment-remarriage, other Christian churches have taken liberal steps and now some churches have women and gay bishops.
December already! We are now at the tail end of the Year of the Dragon. Like any other year, 2012 saw disasters, both natural and human-caused: earthquakes, oil spills, war and gun violence. Hurricane Sandy is still making the news because of the vicious claw marks she left on the East Coast. What will the New Year, the Year of the Snake, bring us?
I can’t think about the Snake Year yet. I pray that the Almighty would take time in cranking up the time-machine between now and February 2013, my birth month and birth year, and give me courage to face reality. Completing one’s sixth Chinese zodiac cycle isn’t a small feat for anyone. This is why I lose sleep these days.
Overland Park resident and retired musician Therese Park has written three novels. Her most recent, “The Northern Wind: Forced Journey to North Korea, ” is available at www.thereseparkbook.com and Rainy Day Books.