I love the universality of Catholicism. On my trip to Korea, I found familiarity and rest inside any Catholic church. This trip, I was surprised to find that this universality wasn’t limited to the Church. I found God’s presence in something else: capoeira martial arts.
Unfamiliar words I can’t make out fill the church, but I don’t feel out of place. Everyone’s hands go to their foreheads, then their chest, then to each shoulder. I follow the gesture with ease. The sign of the cross, 7,000 miles across the world, is exactly the same as back home. The universality of the Church, the catholicness of the Church, is my favorite thing about being Catholic. No matter where I travel, no matter the language barrier, no matter the different music, the Mass is the Mass.
Korea is the most foreign foreign country I have ever travelled to. It’s my first time in Asia, my first time in an eastern country, and my first time in a country with a language barrier. I found myself seeking out Catholic churches for the immediate relief of familiarity. But it’s more than just the familiarity. It’s the spirit of the Church, the presence of Christ. Wherever I am, a Catholic church is home.
This was especially clear in my interaction with a Korean nun last week. Check out the post here.
But this trip to Korea, I discovered something new. The universality of God is not just limited to the Catholic Church. God is in anything that is good, true, and beautiful. In nature, in music, in art…And this trip I discovered it in capoeira.
What is Capoeira?
Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial arts. It was started by slaves in Brazil. To disguise that they were learning to fight, they incorporated dance-like and acrobatic movements. Nowadays, it has spread across the world. It boldly presents songs of resilience, the true human need for freedom, the beauty of self-expression despite oppression, the goodness of self-mastery and care of the body.
Here’s a video of me training capoeira, if you want to see what it’s like: https://www.instagram.com/p/CyWgsHDpqHn/
Can we find God outside religion?
Capoeira is the manifestation of the human spirit. It is good, true, and beautiful. And, therefore, God is present in capoeira.
There is a Portuguese word that pertains to capoeira: Axé. It means spirit or energy. Every game of capoeira, every training, every music session, you can feel it. An excitement and shared passion that joins all capoeiristas together. And though not exactly the Holy Spirit, I am certain he is present in it. This was made abundantly clear to me when joining a Korean capoeira group.
Capoeira in Korea
Capoeira has become as much a part of me as writing (perhaps more, I am shamefully inconsistent in my craft) and as my love of birds. By week two in Korea, I was having withdrawals. The 5-7 miles worth of walking were not quite satisfying enough physical activity. I searched on maps and was surprised to find that Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian sport that only became legal in the 1930s, had made its way to Seoul. I contacted the teacher and the next day went to a class.
My hand clutched the strap of my shoulder bag as I made my way to class. Thus far, I’d been in touristy areas of Korea, able to blend easily with the other tourists. Anonymous–which is my preferred state. Attending a capoeira class in Korea was the opposite of anonymous. For one, I’m still a capoeira beginner. Secondly, I suspected (rightly) that I would be the only non-Korean. I spoke a little Korean, but would it be enough?
I was astonished to find that the language barrier was insignificant. Capoeira was its own language. In the same way that I could follow the sign of the Cross in a Korean mass, I could follow the kicks and dodges of Capoeira. I developed friendships without needing a common spoken language. There was community and connection and there was God, even if we didn’t know to call him that.
God is in more things than we know! And our evangelization doesn’t have to be apologetics all the time (read that post here). Where are some of the places you find God outside of church? Leave a comment below (please, so I know I’m not talking to an empty void). And remember to follow me on Instagram @birdloversmusings