Have Faith: Loosen, empty, push

The Rev. Hyuk Seonwoo brings tai chi practice to Trinity United Methodist Church.

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The Rev. Hyuk Seonwoo became the new pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in the middle of the mad summer season. Before long, he was leading Tree of Life Tai Chi classes, and I wondered what a pastor was doing heading up a martial arts program in the parish house a couple of times a week. This, I thought, was a really good indication that he’s on board with a body, mind, spirit way of thinking. That always appeals to me, so I looked forward to talking to him about it, and I got a chance a few weeks ago when I went to a Tree of Life class he was leading at the parish house on a Thursday afternoon. We talked for a while before the class began, and I actually tried a little tai chi. I’m happy to report this creaky body did pretty well for a beginner; granted, the movements in tai chi are very gentle.

Reverend Seonwoo talked about self-care when we were chatting, something most women I know — including myself — don’t set as a priority. He equated self-care to “stewardship.”

“Everything is given by God, and we are called to take good care of ourselves,” he said, “including our body. Then we can also understand better how to take care of other people.” Aha.

He shared with me something he called the “five Ts” — Tissue, Talent, Time, Trees, and Treasure. These are all things given to us by God, and we need to take care of them. “If we do that,” he said, “we can be healthy.”

As for teaching tai chi class as part of his ministry, he sees it as a seamless action, and it appears that the congregation is on board. Reverend Seonwoo added an additional class when the first one became too crowded.

“We split it into two classes, Wednesdays and Thursdays. They like it,” he said, “they keep coming back. Tai chi is not only moving meditation but also moving medication. They like learning how to practice the rhythm of loosen, empty, push.”

Loosen, empty, push. He said that a lot while I visited with him.

“In the church year, we do loosen, empty, push … Lent is loosening, Good Friday is emptying, Easter is pushing … in baptism we are loosening, at the same time our old self is dying, emptying, and when we come up out of the water, we are reborn, we are resurrection people — push. LEP can be applied to anything. It is also embedded in our body, also in flowers, insects, the rhythm of creation.”

This was all very interesting to me, especially as someone who could use a meditative type of practice as well as something that helps with balance and movement. I asked Reverend Seonwoo how he came to practice tai chi.

He told me that for the past 15 years, he has studied with John Conroy, a master teacher at Rhode Island School of Tai Chi, and one of the Yang (Yeung) Style Tai Chi lineage holders. Conroy is a disciple of Master Gin Soon Chu, who is a disciple of Grand Master Yeung Sau Chung, and Conroy is a student of Master Yeung Ma Lee, the daughter of Grand Master Yeung Sau Chung. At the Tree of Life Tai Chi class, Reverend Seonwoo teaches the traditional Yang (or Yeung) style of tai chi long-form. A few Google searches later, and I see that the Island’s new minister is a pretty accomplished student.

He leads classes on the Island, but before that, since 2009, has led Tai Chi and Taize, which evolved from something called the Prayer, Exercise, and Action program. He was workshop leader for Tai Chi on the Move: Tai Chi for Personal and Global Health for two years, he was tai chi instructor at Westbay Community Action in Warwick, R.I., led a workshop for faith leaders called Tai Chi and Self-Care, and works with new pastor orientations for the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church. The list goes on and on. Even more than that, Reverend Seonwoo has a very calm, gentle countenance that immediately made me feel relaxed, despite the fact that I was nervous to try tai chi. He told me that rather than emphasize each movement, his focus is on learning how to follow the rhythm of the practice. I made a comment that amounted to, “Look how chill you are!”

“I’m an ordinary person. I can be anxious. I can be angry,” he said. But he practices meditation or silent prayer regularly, as well as tai chi. Clearly he’s not the only one who finds tai chi beneficial; he’s teaching new pastors at their orientation, and he teaches at retreats.

“I’m tending the fire, I’m still learning, I’m still learning,” he said, smiling.

He said he’s been here for seven months after being appointed by his bishop last July. Right now he’s practicing the three Ls with his newest congregation — listening, learning, and loving.

Reverend Seonwoo and his wife have two sons, one a senior in college and one a freshman at MVRHS. His Tree of Life classes are from 3 to 4 pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and on Wednesday it is followed by simplified Taize prayer, Thursday it’s followed by a Bible discussion — both last 30 minutes. Everything takes place in the church’s parish hall in the Campground in Oak Bluffs.

The people taking the class when I visited had high praise for tai chi. They said it helped with their balance, and that they enjoy it very much. Body, mind, spirit. And I love the fact that they, too, are tending their fires. The Rev. Seonwoo was quick to tell me that the classes are open to absolutely everyone, regardless of their faith or any level of experience. 

“Anybody can join anytime,” he said. “I always ask people to follow their own pace. Some people come and sit on a chair and still do tai chi.”

I can recommend getting on board with something like this. Try it, you literally have nothing to lose, and maybe a lot to gain. For more information, you can email Rev. Hyuk Seonwoo at cultus4u@gmail.com.

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Fruit of the Spirit offers a session about the Enneagram at the M.V. Hospital Chapel on Feb. 29, from 4 to 5 pm. Enneagram is a model of the human psyche, mostly understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. It can be used as a frame of reference for personal growth, according to a press release from the program’s leader, the Rev. Susan Waldrop. Spiritual counselors from nearly every religious tradition have used this system to help people grow to full maturity, the release says. Key questions about motivations and drive can be used to reveal which personality description fits our personalities, though there is room for overlap between the descriptions, and change as people grow. Another cool thing to try.

 

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