How Can We Observe Monastic Rhythms & A “Rule of Life” In Asian-American Churches?

I was surprised & THRILLED by the # of people in my community who’ve signed up to observe a “Rule of Life” together as a church this Epiphany/Lent season (hit me up if you haven’t signed up and want in). In brief, for 10 weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, our “Rule of Life” involves groups of people observing rhythms of prayer that are a mixture of Eastern (Korean) practices of prayer with Western practices of praying the Psalms and the Divine Hours.

Why a “Rule of Life” for Asian Churches?

I can’t speak at length about other immigrant congregations, but I can speak from my own Korean heritage. I LOVE the early morning prayer gathering. It has formed me deeply. So by no means do I want to lose this aspect of my heritage; at the same time I acknowledge that it is a bit unrealistic to enforce these patterns of spirituality on the 2nd gen in America. I also recognize that there is a bit of “Han” mysticism involved in Korean-style prayer, that sometimes makes it suspect; for example, see below:

My point is that Korean prayer, while much respected by Westerners, sometimes is just a co-opted form of Korean “Han” emotion and culture. Just listen to the cries of “ahbuhjee” above – and realize – they are crying out to the late pres of NK – much in the same fashion we Koreans might conduct a prayer meeting. What’s the difference?

What’s the difference indeed.

That’s why I’ve introduced a Rule of Life that is not just re-hashed Han mysticism all over again, but early morning prayer deepened by the Western practice of praying the Psalms at the set Divine Hours – 9, 12, 5, and “Compline.” In other words, training up 2nd gen Korean-Americans in the school of prayer that is the Psalms – not just Korean Han mysticism.

So the graphic at top illustrates how the early morning prayer meeting is deepened by praying the Psalms at the set Divine Hours which in turn, is informed by the intensive early morning session, paving the way for a day of fruitful reflection and practicing the Presence of God – even while at work. Is it do-able for most normal, working people? I say YES – because I’ve done it. Even if practiced for just one day week, it’s not that hard. You just rise early, and remember to pause throughout the day for the recitation (silent) of the 3-min prayer at the Divine Hour.

The Indictment on the Prayer Life of the Korean Church

In the end I think the problem with prayer in the Korean church is essentially just that – its “prayer life.” One of my profs in seminary tells of how he approached the venerable James Houston complaining, “I can’t seem to get my prayer life in order; I have a hard time praying” to which Houston responded, “the problem is not your prayer life as much as it is your life of prayer.” I think that is dead-on with the Korean church. Prayer is not a performance, an accomplishment, or something akin to weightlifting; “I prayed two hours today instead of just one, therefore I am stronger.” Putting up more numbers in some ways adds to the psychosis I think. We are under such strong pressures to perform and we approach spirituality that way too. But if you think prayer is a performance to earn approval, how can you intersect with God in any meaningful spiritual way upon the basis of grace and acceptance?

That’s why I introduce the Divine Hours as a supplement to the Korean early morning prayer session. Because it’s not just about a compartmentalized spirituality that is attained, performed, and accomplished and now I can pat myself on the back and check it off the list; rather it is something that we become aware of, through constant God-interruptions throughout the day.

Whether you are Korean, Asian, or other, how do you do prayer?

What does a “Rule of Life” look like in your heritage?

And if you are Korean, how does this vibe with you?

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

2 thoughts on “How Can We Observe Monastic Rhythms & A “Rule of Life” In Asian-American Churches?

  1. Thanks Wayne. As you probably know, I am not Korean but I certainly have been challenged by the fervency and practice of Korean prayer warrior friends. I like your East meets West approach of complimenting Korean morning prayers with the Divine hours. What a great way of honoring the wisdom of both traditions. So as someone coming from a western cultural context, how can I incorporate Korean style prayer into my practice? What exactly happens in Korean morning prayer? Do I have to get up at 4am for it to really be ‘Korean style.’ Growing up in Hawaii which is a fairly Asian context, Korean style prayer always just meant intercessory prayer where we all voice our prayers at the same time. What else is there to it? What am I missing?

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