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.