Putting God in a Box on the Shelf

I’m putting God in a box for a while. I hope some time in the future I will take God out again, but for now I need to put that box on a shelf. The catechism that I know so well, that I’ve studied and evangelized with in the past tells me that even if I think that I’ve put God in a box, that’s me walking away from God and not the other way around. That God – my ever-loving, forgiving, benevolent God – will be there when I return. I hope so. 

Faith has always been the bedrock to my sense of stability in life. I am five for five of all the sacraments a good Catholic should have received. I have been a part of other people’s sacramental journeys into communion with Christ. And I wouldn’t change that. I am godfather to several beautiful young people who I will continue to encourage to explore their faith. To dive deeper into the wells of human spirituality that – regardless of label – connects us all.

I’m not turning my back on faith, but the words and actions I take to express it are shifting. And I hope that if there is a God that keeps score, this sincere expression of who I was made to be (or who I have become?) is not a major penalty. I was a penitent, albeit not super enthusiastic, high schooler. I was an adamant champion of the Church throughout my 20s. And when life got complicated – like, really super ultra complicated – over the past 18 months, I (like all good Catholics) felt guilty for not having the time or energy to go to Church. I cringed at the idea that I would be one of those “Chr-Easter Catholics” that I had scorned. I’ve tried to pray. The Lord’s prayer. Hail Mary’s. One-to-one dialogues with the Big Guy Upstairs late at night when left alone with my insecurities. I’ve gone to Mass here and there, and read my scripture. I’ve tried to honestly wear the silver cross chain pendant that I got for confirmation and wore daily for over a decade. It’s just not connecting like it used to. 

Throughout all of that really super ultra complicated time, it wasn’t Jesus who helped me through. It was friends. It was family. And when they simply weren’t enough, when darkness was consuming me, it wasn’t “this little light of mine” that shined; it was months of counseling with licensed therapists that I paid hard-earned money to work with. My Jesuit education reminds me that God is in all things, so by extension I suppose that my Catholic friends might insist that those friends and family and even the ability to afford counseling was God’s presence in my life. I’m not rejecting that. But it’s no burning bush, ya know? 

Maybe what’s changing in me is semantic. Am I really walking away from the Church or am I simply connecting with it in a new way? I guess that depends on what you consider the Church to be. Is it the thanksgiving act of sharing eucharist with a community in love? If that’s the Church, a body of people yearning and striving towards love and human goodness – then I have never been more engaged in its holy mission. Is it the belief in the divine? That there is some agnostic, theistic element of our vast and unexplored universe that goes beyond human comprehension? If that’s the Church, then I have never been more enraptured in its Glory. Is it acknowledging that only human kindness, bread broken among the poor of spirit, can save this immutable notion of a soul that somehow makes us more than animals? Sign me up!

If it is the institution, though… a set of relatively arbitrary rules that I have to follow to stay out of a theoretical, supernatural state of post-mortem hellfire that is governed by our benevolent creator who only wanted to love me until the moment I perished and then took eternal revenge for any insolence that may have been perceived and not reconciled through his anointed and ordained agents on earth? I’m not as convinced. 

I’m not here to knock the Catholic or Christian churches. For all the evil that the corruption of Man has wrought in the name of God, I do believe that the overall good that the church does in giving people a spiritual home and a vehicle to express their own kindness through charity and service has been a beautiful, although at times errant, part of our human narrative. For that matter, I believe that any church acting in pursuit of true goodness – be it Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or anything else – is divine. 

The Church I was raised with seems to be concerned with defining the truth. Jesus (that carpenter guy who we murdered because he said we should love each other) said that he was “the way and the truth and the life,” and we’ve spent the past two millennia trying to decipher that. But where theologians may read this and denounce it as blasphemy, I think that I am living my truest ever life. It’s not a fantasy of what will be, nor is it a lament of what has been. It is an honest and true assessment that I am imperfect and that is okay. I come from imperfection, I live within an imperfect world, and imperfection lies ahead. But with the resources I have, I will do my best to make this imperfect world just a little bit more perfect. And that is okay. 

So I’m putting God in a box on a shelf for a while. At least the God that I grew up with. It is my sincere hope that one day, as I sort through all of the other boxes on shelves around it… memories, lessons learned, experiences, emotions of profound sadness and profound joy… I will open it up and smile. I’ll try it back on and find that although it might need a bit of tailoring and modification at that time, it still suits me, brings out my best qualities. I hope that when I take it out, I can tell my future children about it: What it is, where I got it, and how to use it. 

But for now, what I think the world needs from me is not a kneeling, praying, scripture-citing Jesus robot convinced that because of some intangible existence and acknowledgement of God’s love we will all live happily ever after. It’s a person motivated to action in justice, regardless of the label. It’s an imperfect person with an imperfect understanding of the world willing to work imperfectly – but sincerely. It’s a person no more enlightened than the next and grounded in humility. If I can be that person, it will be okay.

Published by Brian Bayer

With a degree in journalism from John Carroll University, Brian's post-collegiate road took him to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where he spent three and a half years wearing various hats, including as a teacher, a community outreach volunteer, and a freelance writer focusing on themes of social justice, poverty, and healthcare. While bearing witness to incredible injustice and inequity, he decided to seek the solutions by returning to his hometown of Pittsburgh and to pursue a graduate degree in International Development, which he earned in 2021. He is a proud fellow of the New Leaders Council, alumni of the Johnson Leadership Portfolio program, and serves as a board member with the Sto-Rox Neighborhood Health Council. As the founder and editor-in-chief of The Progress Pages, he hopes to provide a creative outlet for innovative minds seeking to elevate progressive ideology.

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