Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Home near the DMZ

"Welcome to the Society of St. Francis" the sign says.

I arrived in Korea last night after a nearly 14 hour flight from Washington D.C. As we traveled back to the friary from the airport, Br. Christopher John was pointing out the various local attractions. One thing he said pierced my jet-lagged fugue state: “near the DMZ.” It turns out we are very near to the border. All day I have been thinking about how the brothers have placed themselves in an uncertain, in-between place. It is not as if they live on the Gaza strip or in Iraq, but just a month or so ago a tourist was killed at the border. It is still very difficult to travel; the friars helped to organize a peace pilgrimage to North Korea and all cell phones, cameras and laptops had to be left behind. The border and all that it means to the people of Korea is just “over there.”

This little friary seems to be part of the huge drama of the reconciliation of a people who have suffered for many years. Obviously, nearly all prayer and conversation is carried on in Korean, so any words in English stand out with a special vividness since I don’t understand any Korean. The three brothers have been reading the lessons at the daily office in English, which seems an incredibly generous thing to do. At any rate, this morning’s lesson was about the parents of Samson entertaining an angel of the Lord; they played an important part in the story of salvation by offering a simple meal. So the simple things can have the most far reaching impact.

The brothers’ prayers and welcome to men and women seeking a time and space for quiet seems all the more profound to me. There were three guests here when I arrived. Like most of our friaries around the world, there are usually a few people around. One of the essential pieces of being a peacemaker is to carry on living with integrity and joy and affirming life, welcoming people into clean and orderly spaces, and the humane routines of shared meals, silence, prayer, laughter. Franciscans seem to thrive in places like this. One of the things we talk about is that the witness of life is often more eloquent than words.

So today we shopped, ate lunch (walnut jelly and buckwheat noodles!) then went for ice cream (black sesame seed and walnut—walnuts play a big part in the local food), looked at dams, roads and lots of tunnels and other construction projects. The brothers shared a dislike for the construction boom, pointing out the encroachment on the rice paddies, the cheap and gaudy tourist facilities. And we told stories about our lives, our hope for the Franciscan community in Korea. I has been an incredibly rich and eloquent day.

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