My Holy Ghost, Kimchi
There was once a time in my life when I used to be a devout Christian girl, actively spreading the Good Word to those around me. I even taught Sunday school at one point. When I think back to that part of my life, it makes me cringe a little.
Not to say that there is anything wrong with Christianity, but let's just say I was a very different person back then because of my devout religious preferences.
I shake my head in embarrassment when I think about the times I intensely shared scriptures about hell fire and the importance of repenting your sins to those around me. If you met me today you would not believe I ever did.
Eventually I left the church in my early twenties "to find myself," after a series of events left me feeling wounded by fellow members and left me questioning my own religion.
Yet I am grateful towards that period in my life that has somehow shaped me into the very liberal and non-religious person that I am today. Embarrassed about how I acted towards people who saw this legalistic and preachy-pushy side of me, years later I actually went back and personally apologized to them.
So when my mother invited me back to the same church I grew up in for a kimchi making event, I was hesitant. To be honest, I felt uncomfortable feelings and a tinge of apprehension. Aware that something within was not yet resolved, I wanted to face this once and for all. Deep down I knew there was still a love there for the Christly body.
Also I knew the true reason for her invite was not to get me back into the church, but simply to offer me a great opportunity to create content for this blog. I was very grateful for that.
I told her I'd be at church bright and early.
There was once a time in my life when I used to be a devout Christian girl, actively spreading the Good Word to those around me and even teaching Sunday school. When I think back to this stage in my life, it is actually not one that I am proud of.
I arrived at the church, much different than the homely and small house-building I remembered. It grew significantly, the church now made over with a modern look with a giant, freshly paved lot for new members.
I was feeling nervous, but I felt better as I walked closer to the building and heard the happy sound of Korean women laughing and gossiping in the distance. The smell of salted cabbages being washed wafted over to me and indicated this was a familiar place. The energy there was bright as the weather that day. Cheery faces welcomed me with warm smiles and nods.
"Did you eat?" my mom asked.
"Eung, I have," I replied chuckling afterwards. No matter how old you are, a Korean mom will ask you when your last meal was.
We went to the back of the church building where there were organized stations set up to make jars and jars of kimchi. What was most amazing was seeing the 400 cabbage heads completely immersed in brine thanks to a handmade vat made by the church brothers. I was impressed.
The whole production was well-organized, with a team of member assigned to a certain station. Hair nets were worn, sleeves rolled, rubber gloves on and energy-packed snacks such as roasted sweet potatoes and donuts were provided for the hard working church members. This was serious business.
I'm glad I brought a plate of chocolate chip cookies (Koreans never come invited somewhere empty-handed). They disappeared in seconds. I too treated myself to the watery drip coffee in a styrofoam cup and a delicious roasted sweet potato.
The church members explained to me that selling kimchi to members and the local community was a way for them to make money for the church. All of them were volunteering out of their busy schedules to participate in making the kimchi. Apparently they had record amount of pre-orders this year. Rumor got around how delicious their kimchi was and it's become sort of a hit underground food item in the local Korean-American community.
Apparently they had record amount of pre-orders this year. Rumor got around how delicious their kimchi was and it's become sort of a hit underground food item in the local Korean-American community.
When I asked about the ingredients, the sisters were happy to share. Some of them chimed into to make a correction about one sister's perspective on the kimchi making method, showing me they were interested in providing me with the right info. As I snapped pictures of the event, some of them smiled shyly while some others gestured to me with gloved hands to come and snap a pic of them and their kimchi buddy. All of them seemed to be happy to share their experience with me that day.
The ingredients being used were standard, there was nothing that was particularly different about their seasonings. However they carefully and frequently adjusted the taste of the jang (seasoning paste), with the help of one another.
They debated on what more needed to be added in, commented on the redness of the daikon mixture and plopped in more jang if it were too pale. They politely teased another for their cutting skills or how they really ought to add in a bit more sugar. Most of all, tasting throughout the process was very important.
"Jah, hanbuhn mukuh bah yo!" said a sister, which means here, have a try please.
Of course, I politely took the kimchi sample. She looked at me with anticipating eyes that said cut to the chase, and tell me what it needs.
I cleared my throat a bit nervous, "it's very good, honestly I don't think it needs much else."
She gave me the brightest smile and nodded her head as she went back to her work. Something within me melted a bit. Her motherly approval after asking me to take part in this process made me feel comfortable here, almost at home. I forgot that these were not just religious people, they were my people.
Regardless of where I am now with my feelings towards the church, I realized the value of this religious community. They will always be there like a family, welcoming you into their doors when society may make you feel a bit isolated or when you need a place to sit at the table.
For many of them, Korean immigrants, they have found a way to re-live traditions from back home. They support one another both as spiritual and Korean brethren. In a foreign land, they help each other in making everyday things feel a bit more familiar. Like making kimchi together, one of the most important community events in the Korean culture.
They say it takes a village to rear a child, in Korean culture it takes a village to make good kimchi.
I finished that day with a plate filled with a generous amount of sliced bossam (braised pork belly) and freshly made kimchi, a traditional meal served on kimchi making days. I sat by myself, smiling at the scene of the kimchi making continuing before me. I no longer felt uncomfortable or so "pagan."
I detected my mother checking up on me. As our I eyes met, I smiled back at her and gave her a thumbs up with my cheeks stuffed with food. She looked relieved. I think she was glad I felt the love of the church that day but in a new way- through making kimchi together.
The Holy Spirit was really doing its work with me that day. I felt more at peace with my troubled history with the church. I gained a newfound appreciation for them as well. Although my relationship with the church may always be a bit distant, much like a true family they will always be there to accept you- and they will feed you kimchi.
Although my days of being like Hilary Faye (played by Mandy Moore) from Saved! are over, I don't think I will ever cease to let the "spirit" of kimchi guide me to my truth.
Kimchi is, in a way, my new religion. It brings life to those who eat it, unites people and allows for those who gather in its name to look over their differences.