One Easter, when I was nine or so, I spent the morning with my parents eating chocolate and our typcal holiday breakfast of eggs and bacon. Then I settled onto the sofa with a copy of the Bible.
There was a pause while my parents digested this heretofore unwitnessed Bible-reading scene.
"What are you doing?" my mom asked.
"Looking for Easter," I said, flipping through the fine pages. Would there be a chapter heading entitled "Easter: What it All Means"?
"Well, hurry it up, because we have to get ready to go to Aunt Rhonda's," she said.
This led to a Q & A about why we got together at Aunt Rhonda's for Easter, and why we brought chocolate eggs and Peeps in little baskets for the cousins, and what any of it had to do with this book I was holding.
"Well," she said, pausing at the edge of the living room in her nightgown and bathrobe. "This is the day that Jesus rose from the dead."
She obviously didn't know.I turned my attention back to the Bible. I wanted the story. I wanted the back story. I wanted the spiritual signifiance.
I still want the spiritual significance of most things (though Christian holidays in America no longer rank high on my list). I want my children to know the spiritual significance of things, too. When they begin to wonder what it all means, I want them to have some tools, some steps to take, so they don't have to scramble through impenetrable books when they're supposed to be getting dressed for Aunt Rhonda's. In fact, Matt and I have been knocking around the idea of finding a church we could tolerate for, oh, eight years or so. Since he was raised a Unitarian, we thought we might check that out. Since Unitarians tend not to be connected with witch burnings, gropes for political power or abortion-clinic bombings, I figured I could probably stomach it.
Reader, I figured wrong.
When the day finally came that we had agreed to meet my mother-in-law at her Unitarian church here in Seattle, with the kids, I was gripped with the realization that I would much rather stay home and stick my hand down the garbage disposal. I flung my clothes on the bed. I sighed heavily and stomped around the room. I wanted to wear serious lingerie. I wanted stiletto heels. I wanted something that said, "I don't belong in church."
In the car ride over, my husband and I didn't say a word. The children filled the silence with their own arguments about whose turn it was to hold the Red Robin balloon that we'd left in the car the day before. Finally, I spat, "Remind me why we are doing this? To make your mother happy?"
"Because we agreed that we wanted to do this, a long time ago. Remember? Remember how we talked about wanting to find a place we like for the kids?"
"Yeah," I admitted with great bitterness. I couldn't remember what that felt like, to want to find a church for the kids. I couldn't remember what it felt like to want that for myself. I had yoga now, I had Tantra to delve into, I had meditation and my yoga community. What could I possibly want with nice white people dressed in ironed clothing sitting with pleasant smiles on their faces?
"You obviously don't want to go," he said.
"That doesn't matter," I snapped. "I'm going." The children, previously riotous in the back seat, went quiet.
By the time we pulled into the parking lot, he was telling me that I had a problem with church and was acting like a brat and was going to ruin it for everyone else.
I denied everything except acting like a brat. And I pressed on with my commitment by rising from the car and unbuckling the kids.
We filed into the entry and began searching for Matt's mother. I looked away when nice ladies wearing big "WELCOME NEWCOMERS" badges on their bosoms caught my eye. I stalked over to the tea and coffee table. I had put on my most masculine, clunky boots, the heels of which now pounded the scrubbed wooden floor. I wondered, while pouring apple juice into paper cups for the children, why the idea of going to church always makes me want to show up in a red cocktail dress, smoking.
Inside the sanctuary, I looked around at the other families. I paid close attention to the expressions of the men. Were they dragged here by their wives? Was this their choice? Why did I think it might not be?
During the service, a storyteller came to the front and asked all the children to gather round. She was clever, and warm, and amusing, and the children responded to her with laughter and rapt attention. When she sent them back to the pews, I stood to be sure Jonah and Audrey were finding their way. I saw Jonah holding Audrey's hand, leading her confidently back to us. She followed mutely, her blue eyes wide and vulnerable. For a moment, I was swept up in the feeling of belonging, of goodness. "Those are my kids," I wanted to tell someone.
But then the singing started, and I stood silently while on either side of me Matt and his mother sang reedily into their hymn books.
The service drew its content from the Gospel of Recycling. I kid you not. They talked about green living. I was deeply unmoved. I couldn't get into the mediocre art hanging on the walls. I couldn't feel any power in the dull hymns. I felt exasperated by the relentless, nice humanism of the place. It felt like being in a public school, only everyone was better behaved and a lot older. My kids liked the place and my mother-in-law was clearly pleased that we were there, but I just couldn't feel anything there but a great urge to bolt.
I don't know how we are going to bring a formal spiritual lfe to our children. When my mother-in-law is here on her long visits, she can take them to church. I have no problem whatsoever with anything they are going to learn at a Unitarian church.
I just don't want to go.