My husband, Ed, and I just returned from four days away from our children, the longest we've ever been away. We never even took a honeymoon, because someone who hates weddings and the trappings of romance as much as I do would never agree to a ritual so clichéd. Plus we both travel so much individually that we choose to be home with the kids whenever possible.
Besides, what would we possibly agree to do together? I go on my yoga trips, he travels to ball games. Cruises? Gag me. I've read David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Travel abroad? I'd choose a reality tour in a developing nation and he'd choose the elegance of Vienna, Austria. Anyway, the idea of parents vacationing without kids is foreign to both Ed and me. It's not something Koreans did when I was growing up, and neither did the children of Polish and Italian immigrants like my in-laws. Really, it's kind of a bougey thing.
Amazingly we both decided we wanted to attend a conference in New York City, and were willing to leave the kids to go. New York is Ed's hometown, and a coming-of-age home for me. Besides, Meiko, 20, is there and we can drop in on her. (OK, so it wasn't a totally kid-free trip.)
And what was the event that drew us together and compelled attachment parents like us to leave 18-year-old Katja in charge of 15-year-old Malachi? The Fosdick Convocation at Riverside Church. Yes, that's right: a church conference.
If at age 21 I could've looked into a marital glass ball and seen that our special getaway would be at a church, I would have fled. I barely tolerated my parents' Korean Presbyterian church to get married. As a teenager and young adult, I experienced it as a bed of hypocrisy where people came to show off their designer outfits and new cars, brag about their kids' grades, and pay lip service to the Christian message in exchange for a community where they could eat kimchi after the service.
But as a mother of young children, I began to seek a spiritual community of my own. I needed all the support I could get, and I wanted our children to be part of a spiritual community, whatever that might mean. I began attending a Friends Meeting, and found the hour of silent worship a balm, the only quiet time all week. In that silence I could slow down, feel my feelings and think my thoughts. I could listen to "that of God within me," as the Quakers say, and experience unity with the others in worship.
For 10 years I worshipped, learned, and grew with Friends. But then another kind of hunger gnawed at me. I started wondering about Jesus.
Even typing these words brings up all kinds of anxiety. Who among us doesn't have negative associations with Christians? The radical right, abortion clinic bombers, televangelists, sex scandals, yuck. But what do these travesties have to do with Jesus? I began to long for the stories of Jesus, and the rhythm of the Christian calendar. I had the sense I could learn something through Jesus.
Do I ascribe to the virgin birth, a literal resurrection, the Bible as the word of God, being "saved," and all the rest? I found a church, Plymouth United Church of Christ, where I don't have to answer "yes" to these questions, a church that supports my spiritual search, with a strong social justice mission, a woman pastor, and another pastor who is an openly gay man. Through this church's peace and justice listserv I found out about the Fosdick Convocation, a gathering held every decade to carry on the legacy of Harry Emerson Fosdick, a staunch and courageous advocate of Christian ministry as social justice.
At this gathering, Ed and I went to worship each morning, took workshops in the afternoons, ate Indian and Ethiopian food at neighborhood restaurants in the evenings, and attended services in the evenings. We were surrounded by elders from many communities and bathed in grace and wisdom each day.
The morning after our return home, I woke up and wondered, "What's next?" My personal mission list is never too short, but the larger question is, what's next for Ed and me together? So many forces separate us. But what joins us?
For me, the main reason to be in partnership is to do something difficult together which is not possible to do alone. Hopefully this difficult project will yield good results for others, not just ourselves. Our first big project has been raising three kids. What will our next project be, when Malachi graduates from high school in two years? Returning from the Fosdick Convocation, I have inklings of what Ed and I might be able to do together, though the picture has yet to be fully revealed.