Making meaning

Making meaning

People living in the fulness of the Catholic Faith will have the light of Christ Jesus in them, and this can attract people who have no religious background.

We remember how Malcolm Muggeridge, a proclaimed atheist, became a Catholic after meeting Mother Teresa.

Curiosity about our Faith doesn’t usually have such a dramatic result.

Still, many of us have been in this situation: we are asked questions about our Faith but because the other person has had no experience of religious language our answers do not connect.

How do we cross this divide? How do we find language that will have meaning for someone who has never been inside a church?

In writing about this, I am restricted by a commitment not to repeat personal conversations.

However, I think I can use statements I’ve heard many times, followed by the kind of response I usually give to try to give meaning.

To help make meaning, I’ll begin with the most common introduction.

I’m not religious but I am spiritual.

Response: I am so glad you didn’t put that the other way around. Tell me why you are not religious and how you know that you are a spiritual being.

So you believe religions causes conflict in the world?  I think that only happens when religion gets polluted by politics.

What do I believe?

Quite simply, that we come from a greater reality, we return to that greater reality, and out little time here in life school is for the growth of the soul.

For me, religion provides maps for the spiritual journey.

Those maps can be very useful when I feel a bit lonely or lost. They make me aware that I’m a child of God.

I don’t believe in God.

Response: That’s good. It means your mind and heart are open to what that word really means. God is not a name. God is an indicator pointing to a presence that is everywhere and in everything yet cannot be named.

We know that presence in many ways: as creator, life, growth, abundance, light, beauty, love, transformer.

For me, the presence that gets called God is all there is.

We become aware that we are like drops of water in the ocean of this presence.

What about the old man with the beard?

Response: That is a visual parable of the sacred presence being like a caring father. If we think of It being literally, an image of an old man we name God, then we have created an idol.

What do you mean by idol?

Response: We worship an image that we ourselves have made.

In the limitation of incarnation, we do need images, and they can change as we grow.

We don’t say of a chosen image, “This is God.” but “This is how I feel about the eternal presence in me at this time.”

 Images, like the word God, are indicators.  For example, many Catholics have statues or pictures of Jesus and his mother Mary, in their home.

These are not photographic likenesses, nor are they objects of worship. They are reminders that awaken us to spiritual awareness and our connection with the divine.

Didn’t Jesus die two thousand years ago?

Response: His spirit is very much alive and with us. We understand Jesus as the special incarnation of eternal love, the unnameable named. We call him The Way, the Truth and the Life because in our spiritual relationship with him we discover how we are meant to live.

Then why are there so many different Christian churches?

Response: Because we are like children. In this country we have a good education system, but we can all remember a time when we insisted, “My school is better than your school.”

As we grow, we step over the fences we have built. We are good neighbours to other houses in the Christian village.

I walk with Christ Jesus in the Catholic church. I also find his presence in other churches, in a mosque, a temple, a synagogue, in nature, in other people and especially in young children.

Why did you become a Catholic?

Response: That’s a simple question to answer. It was about coming home.


  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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