Wednesday, 17 October 2012

My earliest understanding of God

I grew up in a practicing Catholic family. I was baptised as an infant, learned my prayers at an early age, and was brought to mass by my parents. While I don't ever recall it being at all overbearing, I also can't recall a time when religion wasn't part of our family experience. Simply put, God, prayer and Church were just there, as part of our lives. It felt very natural.

Still, I do recall when I put forward what may have been my first real question about God. I know I was at most five years old. We were sitting at the supper table, and out of the blue I asked, "Where is God?"

My father replied, very simply, "God is everywhere."

I pressed on a bit. "Really? Is God here in this room with us right now?"

"Yes, he is," my father said.

I remember holding up some solid physical object, and asking, "Is he in this?"

"Yes," he repeated, and with a bit of a smile as I seem to recall. But he didn't stop there, adding, "But more important than that, he wants to live inside of you. He wants to live inside all of us."

For a young child, that last statement was big news. I remember that my questions in that conversation stopped at that point, not because I understood, but because I needed to think about what I'd just been told.

The question, in my little kid brain, was simple: how could God be everywhere, and yet at the same time be inside of us in a special way?

I don't quite recall how long it took, but a few days later I came up with an answer. Simply put, I thought about air. Air is all around us. Since it is invisible, most of the time we don't notice it unless it is acting upon us (as with a breeze, or the wind), but that didn't make it any less real. Finally, the most important air was the air we breathe in — the air inside us that gives us life.

Again, in my little kid brain, my question now had an answer: God was like air. I knew he wasn't actually the air, but that he was like air: invisible, all around us, but able to be inside us in a special way, especially to give us life.

Now it may sound funny, but this insight actually had an effect on my early prayer life. Up until then, prayers were things I said. After this, though, I started to sometimes do a kind of childlike praying where I would think about my breathing as I was doing it, and pretending that I was feeling God being around me and inside me. I won't pretend that I was particularly disciplined in this form of prayer, and I don't claim that "intentional breathing" is necessarily spiritual, but I do know that this practice was important for me. God was around me, God was inside me, and imagining God as I breathed helped me be aware of the presence of God.