Remembering the Korean in Us

Remembering the Korean in Us

Back when diversity training was all the rage, I met a thirty-something Korean guy who told stories for a living, usually during compulsory corporate trainings. An American couple adopted him when he was 5, and he grew up in Minnesota.

He returned to Korea in his twenties to find his birth mother, but was devastated when she wanted nothing to do with him. Later in his talk, he told about sitting in a noisy coffee shop in Seoul, suddenly realizing he understood the Korean chatter all around him. Since he left Korea after he learned to speak, his Korean was still there, buried deep, just waiting to come back to life after years of living in an English-only world.

I wonder whether getting derailed in our life of faith, hope, and love is like forgetting our native language—the spiritual grammar and vocabulary God originally speaks into our lives. There are also times, at least for me, when I decide to speak in a language I learned later in life, a foreign language that’s all about me and has no words for love or compassion, faith or justice, gratitude or adoration.

Perhaps prayer is like sitting in a coffee shop and suddenly hearing and understanding our native language, the one we all forget or refuse to hear from time to time—the words and grammar of God. It’s amazing how fast it comes back when we listen hard. This is what grace sounds like.

Image: Castillo Domenici


About the Author

Joe McHugh is a spiritual director, retreat leader, teacher, and writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the National Catholic Reporter. His book, "Startled by God: Wisdom from Unexpected Places" is available at He can be contacted at
  • disqus_3I6FB4Bz5p

    Getting back to the “core” of listening to GOD in our lives – while peeling away the clutter of “piety” and “ambition” – that seems to be the challenge some of us face today…

  • Jennifer Trently

    How true, it seems I am always trying to weed out those things which distract and drag me away from what God is calling me to.