Rabbi gives her parents a hands-on spirituality lesson

Children can be the best guides for finding spirituality in the jumble of everyday life.

Author and Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer discovered that from her own young children and from stories about other youngsters. Fittingly, she recently passed the lesson along to her parents, Victor and Beverly Fuchs of Palo Alto.

Her father, a busy emeritus professor of economics at Stanford University, mentioned to his daughter one day how overworked he felt he'd become. "I said to him, `Why don't you try [observing] Shabbat?'" said Fuchs-Kreimer by phone from her suburban Philadelphia home.

Victor Fuchs like the idea, but questioned whether he could be completely observant of the Sabbath. His daughter assured him that all he really had to do was avoid work-related tasks from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

"It's fabulous," said Fuchs, who followed his daughter's advice. "The first week I started it, I said, `Why didn't I do this sooner?'"

Waking up to the spiritual possibilities in day-to-day living — and even doing nothing — is what his daughter's book is all about.

In "Parenting as a Spiritual Journey," Fuchs-Kreimer, 47, finds magical moments in unlikely places and at unlikely times. Getting up in the morning, a family spat at the dinner table and the nightly bath all can become transcendent.

"There's a lot of awe and wonder generated from the process of raising children," said Fuchs-Kreimer, a mother of two who teaches at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. "The kind of intensity of encounter you have with another human being is enormous. People aren't always aware of it."

One of the goals of her book is to help parents discover and savor the spiritual realities that surround them. Despite the hardships of child-rearing, she encourages parents to appreciate their children and, at the same time, "not to be too hard on ourselves."

Growing up in suburban Long Island, Fuchs-Kreimer said her family life was brimming with spiritual richness. Her parents, both busy professionals with four children, belonged to a temple but weren't particularly observant. They nonetheless passed along family traditions and values that were laden with special qualities, Fuchs-Kreimer recognizes.

"I really felt from them that parenting was a holy experience," she said.

For Beverly Fuchs, an adult education teacher who moved to Palo Alto with her husband 25 years ago, the voyage began with her eldest daughter's birth. She describes it as "probably the most spiritual moment of my entire life."

Bucking the convention of the time, the Fuchses opted for natural childbirth. "We were both present and awake to see a living, functioning being emerge from one's body," Beverly Fuchs said. "We sat on the corner of the bed with this tiny being and cried."

At bedtime, "I was a mother who tucked the kids in like an envelope, sealed with a kiss," she said. Repeated nightly for all four children, the ritual took on a special aura in their household.

The Fuchses were part of a big extended family that frequently got together on Friday nights. Their daughter said those experiences taught her the importance of commitment and responsibility to family, especially to older relatives.

In the book, Fuchs-Kreimer interviews more than 100 parents from different backgrounds and religions. She weaves in the interviews as she takes readers through the events of a day, illustrating how spiritual treasures often are hidden in the mundane.

"Spirituality is not something huge and distant and elusive," she writes. "Instead, it is tucked within the moments, the ordinary activities of waking, of eating, of going to sleep. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to notice."

Fuchs-Kreimer describes how she once tried to stage a spiritual experience at her own dinner table, only to have the event erupt into a quarrel. Afterward, the family gathered to unravel what went wrong. The aftermath itself proved spiritual when Fuchs-Kreimer's younger daughter jokingly imitated her mother and everyone shared a good laugh.

"As we laughed, I realized there was so much humor and communion," recalls Fuchs-Kreimer. "It became a very profound moment of connection and kind of like a sacred family moment.

"The sacred moments never come in the way you expect them to come."