The God of My Mother

A picture from a surprise birthday party for my mom. She was surprised.

A picture from a surprise birthday party for my mom. She was surprised.

As you may know from my recent post, “My Strange Relationship with the Mooniverse“, I have recently been reflecting a lot about the religious group I grew up in, the Unification Church—also known as the Moonies. Alongside a call to expose the corruption in the Unification Church, I have also been reflecting on the positive aspects of Moonie spirituality that I was raised with. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it was toxic (”gays are dung-eating dogs,” mandatory donations, blatant racism, etc.), but some of it still rings true in my soul. The parts most Unificationists would find as vital mean nothing to me, and some of it I find to even be revolting, including just about all of the Divine Principle, the main theological text of the Unification Church. But the spirituality of my mom, which is so grounded in the mythology of Unificationism, is something I admire. A lot of her beliefs, and sometimes even her behavior, are not at all perfect. Sometimes her beliefs drive her to do some really unwise and even wrong things, but I cannot deny that the core of her spiritual life is beautiful. There’s something about how she walks with God that reveals the essence of the Unificationism that attracted so many idealistic youth in the 60s and 70s. There’s something about it that reveals God.

My mother’s spirituality is marked by an ardent but compassionate anti-individuality, or as they put it in the Unification Church, “living for the sake of others.” We were to live not just for ourselves, but for our family, for our country, for our enemies, for the whole world, and even for those in the world beyond. I could tell you story after story of my mom’s reckless, and sometimes downright irresponsible, giving. My mom passionately cares for people. She looks for the spark of God in everybody she encounters, and she loves them like they are holy (and they are). And when people are in need, she is immediately present, with tea and food and ears to listen and arms wide open.

The spiritual life she leads is also deeply prayerful. To put it lightly, she takes communion with God extremely seriously. I was taught that conversations with God were to be constant, reverent, and that they were not always easy. My mom is almost always driven to tears when she prays. It is not in a showy, self-righteous way. She just knows with all that she is that she is before God, and carries the burden of providence and those she loves into her intercession. She would even take upon the burden of God’s sorrow.

The Unificationist narrative of God being a suffering Deity molds her worldview quite a lot. The Divine Principle teaches that since the fall, God’s heart has been outrageously broken and that mankind ought to comfort him and help his heart heal. The theology behind that is questionable, to say the least, but the idea of a suffering God is something Christian theology barely articulates yet seems so in line with God revealed in Jesus. My mom almost seems possessed by the Spirit of God when she prays, as she is often overcome by this cosmic burden. Truthfully, the way Christ prayed in the garden of Gethsemane has always reminded me a lot of my mother.

My mother often spoke of the Spirit World, which at times comforted me, and other times was simply spooky. She would tell me that my grandmother and all of my ancestors were watching me, rooting for me, and aiding me as I moved providence forward. This was, for the most part, an awesome idea, but every so often I’d feel a bit embarrassed while going to the bathroom or changing my clothes, believing Obachaan and the whole Goto clan was watching. That said, I grew up with an awareness that a spiritual reality, of angels and the departed, was close and at work among us. I grew up venerating my ancestors and even doing rituals to support their spiritual development (which is a complicated subject packed with a whole lot of corruption). We’d welcome them into our house and offer them fruit, chocolate, and cakes, and ask for their help and guidance. My mother would even place food at the altar in our house for friends and family that passed away.

Something about this ancestor veneration, about this connection to those beyond, still feels… true. As I reflect on the all-consuming grace of Christ and the communion of Saints, I cannot help but believe that God’s desire to restore every person would extend to beyond the grave. Not only that, but I cannot help but believe that maybe, just maybe, those beyond would be at the aid of those on earth, that they would perhaps be ministering spirits. The communion of saints and their intercession is an orthodox belief, but what if their interference goes beyond saying prayers for us? What if God endows those believers with the same spiritual authority he grants to those who believe on Earth? What if they too can walk in the miraculous? What if they can work and inspire among us?

Perhaps. I’d like to think so.

I also wonder if at the root and head of this communion of saints, this cloud of witnesses, and this cosmic family, is the Alpha and Omega, the Firstborn, Jesus Christ. Perhaps he is our first and truest Ancestor.

Again, I’d like to think so.

Sometimes I don’t know how much of my mother’s spirituality is Korean shamanism she picked up from her mentors or what she inherited from her own upbringing as a Japanese Buddhist or what came directly from the Unification Church. I am pretty confident, though, that a lot of it connects her to our God. In many ways she connects to God even deeper than myself. But I cannot deny that I do pray and hope that she will discover that this light, power, and love reveal God in Christ. I think to some degree she has, but I look forward to a day where her and Jesus are on a first name basis and we both can praise him together. I don’t mean this in a way that devalues her story and journey, but I say all that because Jesus changed everything for me, that man transformed my heart and soul, and I really think they would get along well.

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