|Korean student finds a home at SFTS and the GTU as he raises family in America
|The spiritual path Daeseop Yi has explored since arriving at San Francisco Theological Seminary from Korea in 2001 paints a picture of the many types of experiences made possible through the seminary’s affiliation with the Graduate Theological Union.
Yi’s primary goal when he first arrived at SFTS was to complete a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree and begin work on a Doctor of Ministry degree. During his D.Min. studies, he discerned a desire to study more deeply about how transformation within the spiritual process occurs. With this focus he entered the PhD program through the GTU, one of the largest partnerships of seminaries and graduate schools in the country. Students in the PhD program at the GTU may affiliate with SFTS, with the option of having an SFTS faculty member as an advisor, and live on campus in San Anselmo.
“While I was doing coursework in the Christian Spirituality Area, we had to study a religion and a discipline in addition to Christianity,” said Yi, who became fascinated with Buddhism and comparing Christian and Buddhist traditions. “I realized that I had been living, integrating, and adopting Buddhist and other Indigenous practices, but studying in an academic way made it really interesting for me.”
Yi was motivated to study the integration of Buddhist and Christian practices based on a profound experience that blended the two for him in his native Korea. “I experienced an 8-day retreat on the [Ignatian] Spiritual Exercises with a Jesuit. That experience of contemplation made for a profound transformation. The priest integrated it with Buddhism. Three hours a day of Buddhist meditation, four to five hours Ignatian contemplation. That contemplation made me go deeper. As a Protestant I didn’t know what silence means or how to get there. Without saying anything, these Buddhist meditations made me go deeper with God and the Bible.”
“That experience nurtured me and expanded me. It doesn’t mean that Christianity is not enough, rather, that experience nurtures me to understand my own religion too.”
Yi has since been on the retreat for the Spiritual Exercises three times. Since coming to the GTU, he has studied the Spiritual Exercises academically and has been trying to structure them toward his own community, as well as his own academic endeavors.
Yi recently taught a course, via a Newhall Fellowship, that focused on Christian Buddhist Interreligious dialogue by looking at the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and Theravada Buddhism. This course combined both traditions by alternating between Christian and Buddhist theologies (on the understanding of human beings, God, and ultimate goals) and incorporating practices of both traditions.
For Yi, the practices are where transformation occurs. “Understanding practice makes doctrine more understandable. Then, reading made me practice more deeply. It’s like a circle, they promote each other. An openness to other religions is the primary ethos of the GTU’s environment.”
The GTU’s interreligious context is more than just academic, it’s a way of living, noted Yi. The GTU has a space and an openness to study between the boundaries of religions, but also practices an openness to difference and different needs on a very practical level. “The GTU is more inclusive and embracing as an ESL student. They care about my English but they also care that we study in a comfortable way.”
As a Korean living in America and raising his family here, Yi lives out the challenge of having more than one identity at once, while holding onto both. “It’s not possible to leave a totally Korean mindset. I’m living between religions and cultures. This makes me excited and worried that I might lose both of them. That makes for a struggle that influences me, my work and my life.”
Yi earned his PhD from the GTU in May. His disseration was entitled "An Enriched Christian Understanding of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises through Interreligious Dialogue with Visuddhimagga: Path of Purification." He and his family will remain in the United States for the next two years as he completes his D.Min. dissertation/project through SFTS.