For a long time, I couldn't. Saying that word made me uncomfortable. I cringed when other people said it - almost like 'God' was a swear word, except swear words were more acceptable.
Growing up Catholic and attending Catholic grammar school, God was a big part of my childhood. I went to church twice weekly (with my class during the week and with my parents on the weekend), received the sacraments, and didn't eat meat on Fridays during Lent. It was just what we did, and what everyone I knew did, and I didn't question it because I thought everyone else in the world did the exact same thing.
I was taught that God was a nice old man in the sky, but with a temper. He'd love me until I did something wrong, and then I had to confess my sins to a priest who would assign prayers to say as penance before God would love me again (this sounds strangely similar to human relationships, doesn't it?).
Then, when I was 11, my family moved from our South Side Chicago Polish Catholic enclave to a nearby suburb. What an awakening that was! I discovered that not everyone in the world was Catholic (or Polish, for that matter).
What did these strange people believe in? They said different prayers, and the pope and the saints weren't that important to them. What did God think of these inferior people?? They didn't even confess their sins.
Why weren't they Catholic - didn't they want to go to heaven?
In school, I learned that if a person wasn't Catholic, they couldn't go to heaven. It was that simple. Being Catholic meant you got a ticket to heaven, and you just had to make sure you followed the rules and didn't screw it up.
If I had unconfessed sins, I would wind up in purgatory. Non-Catholics would automatically be sent to purgatory - a/k/a limbo - and never even get the chance to go to heaven.
As a kid I would imagine myself in purgatory, floating around and not being able to do much of anything until God decided I had spent enough time atoning for the sins I was too afraid to confess to the priest.
I would look up at all the devout, perfect, sinless Catholics in heaven, and then I would look down, where the really bad people were burning, in perpetuity, in hell's eternal flames.
Fast forward to my early 20s. I started working in downtown Chicago and met Jewish people. This knocked me off of my religious rocker: I tried to fathom not believing in Jesus. Having a different New Year. Having to eat matzo for a week (I hadn't even heard of matzo before then!).
This is when I started to question my religion. These Jews were really nice, kind, loving people! Why would they be denied heaven because they didn't believe in the religion I practiced? Could people who weren't Catholic still be decent and good?
I got more curious. I stopped going to Mass every week and started to visit other places of worship to learn about other religions: Lutheran. Methodist. Bahai. Pentacostal. Baptist. Buddhist. Anglican. Islam. Latter Day Saints. So many religions to choose from, and each represented the 'only true path to God.'
It got to be too much for me. I stopped believing in God. It seemed to me that God was divisive.
I knew that, when some of my older relatives were growing up, they were taught that Jews had horns or other 'devil' symbols on their heads. My older relatives had been forbidden - by the church - from standing up in wedding parties of non-Catholic friends. None of this made sense to me.
God and I took a long break because I couldn't handle all the mixed messages.
For a few years, I believed in nothing. I stopped saying the word 'God.'
Eventually, I acquiesed to there being a 'higher power.' There was some 'higher power' out there - there had to be - just looking at the wonders of nature, in my mind there had to be a force greater than humans (although I didn't know what it was) but the G word was too much for me to utter. "Source." "The Universe." I could agree to something like that. Just not God.
It took hitting rock bottom - HARD - for me to look inward and begin to truly see. Suddenly, it was simple.
What I saw when I looked inward was God.
He was there all along. He didn't care that I had turned my back on him and couldn't talk to/about him.
He wasn't even pissed off that I stopped believing in him for a few years, and he didn't ask me to go to confession upon my return. He understood. God understood because God doesn't care about religion.
I slowly got to know him again - just God, and me. I learned that God is part of who I am. The light and love I offer to the world is God talking through me.
It's so simple, it's practically absurd the way we humans complicate it.
Actually, God is everywhere - he doesn't only hang out in church, or in one country, or up in the sky. He's part of me, and he's part of everyone I meet. And he doesn't care about what religion anybody practices (or doesn't practice).
It's simple. God = Love.
©Catherine Borowski, 2017
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Catherine Borowski, iPEC trained and