Why the Prodigal Son returned

God created the sun, moon and stars. He also created water, birds, fish and animals.

“Can you name other things that God made?” I was trying to engage my 4-year-old son, Owen.

Then he made flowers so the Earth would be beautiful. Then he made people to enjoy it all.

This was my attempt at introducing Owen to the mysteriousness of time. It was my attempt at enchantment, the kind that connects us to our surroundings, gives us a sense of purpose and puts a spring in our step.

But my story fell short.

My wife, Sarah, was brought up Lutheran and I, Catholic. When we married we took it as an opportunity to explore a variety of denominations.

We sat in the pews of Plain Jane churches; listened to the holier-than-thou sermons in No-Plain-Janes-Allowed churches. We visited ornate churches, which hosted mystical masses and took part in free-flowing sermons built upon group participation.

None of it felt right.

“Is God in that church?” Owen asked as we drove down Church Street on the way to school.

“Yes,” I said.

“Is he in THAT church?” he asked pointing across the street to another church.


“That church too?”


“Does God take care of all churches?”

At different points in my life I scoured the lands for spiritual people—when I was a teenager, when I struck out on my own and after I got married. Each time, I went fishing for religion. Now here I was doing it again with a little boy in tow.

No human venture is ever perfect. That is one conclusion reached through my searches. Here is another: if a religion is to mean anything, it has to be bigger than an individual.

I come from a Catholic family. In the context of generations, that fact places me in a spiritual continuum.

In the middle of mass, looking around, my son blurted out, “Where’s God? I don’t see him!” It was cute coming from a wide-eyed little boy.

What was I looking for each time I went out on a quest to find the perfect church? Basically I had one question in mind, “If churches provide spiritual leadership shouldn’t I feel more spiritual being in one?”

But going back to my conclusion, how could I judge such a thing? Religion is bigger than the individual and as such, it will have qualities I don’t understand.

So I decided to replace that question with this one: “What does it mean to be in a historical line?” Reducing religion down to one man’s opinion is like reducing the rock of Gibraltar to a grain of salt. That conclusion made sense to me.

There is strength in submission–this is a concept that often eludes modern man. The power in submitting when something is bigger than you leads me back to the reason my family has returned to the church, Owen.

The bible is difficult for someone his age and children’s books are too simple, and noncommittal. My own attempts to give Owen what the church gave me have fallen short.

I am hoping that that assessment hints at a surprise happy ending for both father and son. What did the church give me? My mind flips back to a childhood memory.

I was a shepherd in a Christmas play at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Wayne. I was in first or second grade.

I had a towel wrapped around my head. I was standing near the altar in the dark. A light came down from the ceiling. It represented the northern star. I began to sing.

“O Star of wonder, star of night / Star with royal beauty bright / Westward leading, still proceeding….”

What the church gave me was the feeling that accompanies this memory. When I was taught to bow to the altar, all those years of sitting, standing, kneeling, praying, the Christmas pageants, readings, blessings, the sneezing fits brought on by incense, they added up to something.

They gave me a sense about life and its possibilities. Most importantly, I came away curious. I went in with one set of questions and came out with another set of questions.

That is what I am hoping the church we’ve picked will also do for Owen, reward him with yet another set of questions.


About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in The Joy of Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why the Prodigal Son returned

  1. Merrill Ann Gonzales says:

    Hi, Gene, My Dad was an agnostic and taught me more about religion than any Church could ever teach me…. Since I’m disabled I’m not able to get to Church so whatever Church will extend enough for me to be part of that community I share in that community …. but following GOD+ to me is to locate that spirit within your own soul… or put it another way to know that IF there is a GOD and if GOD “created” you then locate that “creation” within your own soul and honor that … If you love yourself in that way you won’t be able to not honor that in others… Whether I’m in a community of poets, or Church members, or business people, or repair people… whatever group I come to I try to connect with that “truth” of who I am in respect for the connection. I can’t even imagine a Church coming between what I consider “truth” for myself and who I am. Where there is peace, there is love, there is goodness. For Epiphany we “followed” the star…. For Lent I’ve just posted a Nasa photo of a dying star that had the light come through in an appearance of a shrouded cross. These are symbols… meant to carry us to the deepest meanings and understandings of life itself. I wish you and your little family many long years of exploration.

  2. Andy says:

    I know that this response is a bit of a segway, but I still feel like it pertains in some way.

    “If God can do anything, can He create a rock so heavy that even He cannot lift it?”

    I remember this curious question from many years ago, and I still find it fascinating that many people (including myself) prefer the answer to be “yes” when the answer “no” would make just as much sense. Is this because the first answer conveys feelings of faith and positivity and the second answer conveys feelings of confusion and doubt?

    We tend to simplify and say things like “if it’s not right then it’s wrong”, “if it’s not good then it’s bad”, “either you go to heaven or hell” (..even “religion or science”). Since these are human concepts and ideals, can we not step outside of our natural comfort zones at at least acknowledge the vast grey area between two extremes?

    How do these beliefs affect the way we live?

    • Merrill Ann Gonzales says:

      Hi, Andy, Well spoken, indeed. Sometimes we box ourselves in with a framework of words that we don’t even understand in the first place.

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