A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Silence

I went with one of my housemates to a Quaker meeting Sunday morning. It's really amazing what your mind can come up with to think about during the silence. I was listening to the birds and church bells outside and wondering if I could compose a piece of music mimicking the sounds. Only more tunefully.

I for some reason got a Vineyard song in my head.

In the secret in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret in the quiet hour
I wait only for You
’Cause I want to know You more

I want to know You
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more
I want to touch You
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more

I have a friend who pretty much hates all songs that a) sound like they were written by Evangelicals and b) talk about a personal relationship with God. Matt Redman can leave now.

Thinking about this song I could sort of understand the feeling. It reminded me of disappointments, prophecies not answered, Faith Camp, and a time of certainty. I remember how someone on a teenagers' Church weekend-away told me that I was going to have a "fast work of maturity" done in me. Someone at Faith Camp reckoned I was going to "walk tall in Jesus". I'm still waiting. I tried to pray in the silence ("in the secret, in the quiet place...").

I had trouble praying. I thought guiltily on when I might have last read my Bible. I remembered a friend's testimony in which he asked, rhetorically, how you can have a relationship with someone you never spend any time with. I feel like a bad Christian, probably because by any standards I am one, but I really am trying. It's just that I've ceased to trust so-called prophecies and fuzzy experiences. And, of course, I can't see the sense in the barbaric doctrine of Hell. I'm not sure what other Christians would expect me to do about that. In my argument with a CU speaker (in the Hellish Dilemmas entry), he resorted to something along the lines of "just having faith". So I asked if a suicide bomber who personally felt killing was wrong, but was convinced it was God's will, should bomb people. He said he saw my point, which was nice.

I am not quite sure how to go about this whole relationship with God business. I realised just how easy it is to squash down questions and go on being a nice Christian girl. If I could blink at every mention of hell, find a church that never uses the phrase "militant homosexual agenda"... Actually St. Weirdo's never does, bless them... If I was quite happy to put on my Christian smile I could quite easily rejoin a "proper" church (St. Weirdo's is made up mostly of people who don't get on well with proper church). I could easily pour the coffee and smile and sing in the choir. But I don't see the point, of seeming to be a nice saved Christian girl that nice Christian mothers want to marry their nice Christian sons. Mainly because I'm not. I have questions, and the answers don't seem to make any sense. I don't feel that I can honestly be the sort of Christian I feel I'm supposed to be. Actually talking to other Christians and even with encounters with various members of the clergy I feel I'm not alone in this. It seems rather that we are all pretending to believe all the right things.

I spoke to a Catholic priest when I went to a retreat in Mirfield earlier this year (Mirfield's Community of the Resurrection is actually Anglican, but the priest used to be my uni's RC chaplain). He was a very gentle person - my friend Rachel told me that his sermons generally consisted of "God loves you". On the first night in Mirfield, he spoke to us about silence - not so much physical silence, but the spiritual silence when God doesn't seem to be saying anything. He didn't see it as a bad thing. Later on, when I spoke to him alone, I confessed that I sometimes felt that the Charismatic church (that is, those who believe in spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing, tongues) seem to teach that you have to feel really close to God in order to be a proper Christian. Everything's about victory and intimacy and joy, but often I still feel struggle, isolation and sadness. Before I've had times when I've simply been too obsessed with my own life to focus on God. It makes sense that I would feel separation then. But sometimes it just seems to come from nowhere. Often I feel I ought to blame myself for some unknown failing when I confess it feels more like God cleared off.

Once, on another camp, someone told us all that God does not clear off, and in fact we walk away from God. There have been times when all I really wanted to do was pray and worship God, and to tell others how great God is, certain that healing was just around the corner for them too. Telling my friends that God created them to be his own beloved children, that Jesus died for their sins. I miss the intimacy I felt but it doesn't seem to be as simple as praying a prayer. I ask for the strength to continue, for some kind of light in my darkness. Can't see a thing.

Turn me tender again
Fold me into you
Turn me tender again
And mould me to new
Faith lost its promise
And bruised me deep blue
Turn me tender again
Through union with you.
-Martyn Joseph

I think I have more to write, or at least to think, and then maybe write.

As for now, I'd better go to bed. See you soon.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Careering into something...

Yay, blog entry!

Post-uni recovery continues. I'm semi-enjoying and semi-despairing at my lack of things to do and lack of motivation to find things to do.

I've signed up for a career development programme, which for some reason would involve a qualification in "professional career development". As if actually getting a career isn't quite enough, I'll get a qualification too. I've applied for some boring looking jobs and one interesting one (more on that if I actually get it). I've done a psychometric test... it turns out I am brilliant at reasoning and have excellent verbal and perceptual ability. Nice, eh? I was highly amused at the list of suggested careers. They ranged from the Bloody Obvious (Biochemist), to the Spookily Close (Teacher, Journalist), to the Downright Bizarre (Meteorologist?!), to the Right for the Wrong Reason (Librarian... I mean, I'd love to work in a library but not because I'm crazy about cataloguing), and of course, to the Actually Cool (Educational Psychologist. I reckon I'd be good at that :) Of course it would take years more study, and I'd have to be a teacher first...).

I can never quite decide if I like psychometric tests. I think they're really there just to say what you already knew, only to say it with nice reassuring graphs and statistics and things that are a lot more solid than whatever you happen to be thinking at a particular moment in time. I don't have even a vague desire to be a meteorologist, especially not in Britain where our weather is perpetually benign. So I'll quite happily ignore that. And I imagine that if I could get a decent job in biochemistry I would enjoy it, but I did spend my last year of university in angst and my year in industry frustrated because the work really wasn't that challenging. So really the point of the test is to confirm what you know and give helpful yet ignorable suggestions.

I'm living with a couple of vegans. OK, they're more interesting than that. One's a vegan Quaker marathon runner, who recently did a triathlon consisting of something like a 2 mile swim, a 100 mile bike ride and a marathon. In a day. She's sweet, funny, and hyper. The other one's a vegan Quaker juggler. He likes House and Firefly, and he's fun to talk to. And a good cook. He made some awesome vegan bolognese earlier. I've just tasted the parmesan substitute he uses (being non-vegan, I grated cheddar over mine) and it tastes eerily like parmesan. If I'm a vegan Quaker by the end of the year, you'll know who to blame.

I do miss living with Sophie, but she's moving to Bradford to do a Peace Studies course, so I would have had to have moved out sooner or later. I'm sad she's leaving York - she's one of my closest friends here now - but I know she'll really love the course so it would be mean to hope that she stays here instead :)

It's funny... living without blogging/journaling is actually quite unsettling. It might actually be a good thing. I remember bus journeys during my A-levels during which I mentally rehearsed blog entries... I love having the record, and I love to write... and it's so therapeutic... but perhaps sometimes it's better to allow all the tiny details to be forgotten. When I was little I used to daydream all the time. Usually about me being a hero or about a Knight in Shining Armour... or sometimes they would just be what ifs, like what if I could be invisible or what if Charles Dickens was in modern day Rochester (I was convinced we'd be great friends, solely based on my fondness of "A Christmas Carol"). The daydreams turned into stories. I do still daydream, mainly about the same things actually, although with more "What ifs" and fewer "Helen saves the day". But now I'm hounded by a desperate desire to write them all down.

Only it seems that recently I'm writing less than ever. There's a "adult" urge to turn everything into something "productive". It's not enough that I think on a bus journey, I ought to turn my thoughts into an article or a book. It's not enough that I laugh at a joke, or think up a random witty comment - they must be recorded for posterity so that they can Bring Joy to Millions.

But faced with this ridiculous proposal, the child in me has better ideas. Screw this, most things are much less fun if they're supposed to be productive. Hideous educational TV, where you've just got engrossed in a story involving Mystery and Intrigue and they interrupt to tell you that "Mystery" uses y as a vowel and "Intrigue" has a silent u and e to demonstrate that the i makes an ee sound and the g is hard. Who cares? Or it's one thing to be in fancy dress as a Georgian lady and ask someone what year it is, and pretend to be horrified at a bizarre substance called "Coco Cola", but it's less fun if your boyfriend insists on filming it for student television.

I simply can't write out of duty. Duty says "WRITE!" but my heart says "Freecell!", or possibly Solitaire or a Sudoku. Some things are simply meant to be enjoyed. A really good daydream... Some silly television programme... A nice walk into town. That's what I meant by "semi-enjoying" and "semi-despairing", because while I'm enjoying doing nothing, I'd really like to be enjoying doing something! I love to write. It seems unlike me that this could really be the first time I've properly journalled anything in days!

One of the odd things about viewing myself through the lens of a psychometric test was the odd way that during my discussion of the test with my adviser, she referred lots of things to my degree course - the results would say, "You probably like such-and-such" and she'd say, "Oh, and you'd have done this during your degree", for instance, you like a variety of activities, biochemistry is a varied course... You can work things out, you can do science. So I'm predisposed to life sciences, good with reasoning and very perceptive. I'd make a model biochemist. I almost forgot how much I struggled with the last year of my degree. It's terribly frustrating. There ought to be a term for being completely able to do something mentally yet unable to persuade oneself to do it. I'm pretty convinced it's a common disorder. Even I don't understand it though - when I told "Jane" I got third class honours, she said, "Is that becase you didn't work hard enough?" Which I thought was a bit of a cheeky question (for heaven's sake, a "Well Done" would have been appreciated)... but it's pretty much the same as what Jim, my poor long-suffering supervisor, tried to communicate - how can I simultaneously be a excellent biochemistry student and so extremely bad at biochemistry?

There are lots of answers... I think the short answer is probably the best - I don't want to do biochemistry. I wrote an angst note in one of my papers that went so far as to quote the Worst Masterpiece Ever Written... commonly known as Catcher in the Rye... I fell completely out of love with the subject, and the whole thing turned into a bit of a failed relationship, only it was actually a relationship with third class honours, which is not nearly as bad. In the end it doesn't matter that if I'd only done the revision and properly researched the project, and found ways of coping with my what-if-I-fail anxiety, and started my essays and projects earlier, and asked for more help, and slept through fewer lectures, I'd have got my first class honours. It doesn't matter because it didn't happen. And it didn't happen partly because I didn't care enough about it. True, part of the time I was busy worrying about our eternal destiny and compared to that I don't think even the best of degree subjects could engage my attention.

I guess it just frustrates me because I feel like I should want to do it. But I don't, and I don't have to make apologies for it either. But what then? This is where my rebellious brain comes into play - of course I want to have a good career, and I want to be properly independent, but partly I also want to be assured that I'm more than a career - I am not just a biochemist, a graduate, a member of the unemployed (incidentally, if you want to feel like a statistic, try being unemployed. Job centre people treat you like Item 1 "Jobseeker" to be matched with Item 2 "Job" as soon as possible in order to save the government money). But what am I instead? Strangely, loping around the house and wandering about town are all part of the mystical good-vibey experience that is cheesily called "Finding myself", which most students accomplish by backpacking through Europe or going on a gap year digging wells in Africa (I'm not opposed to these methods either, just financially insufficient).

The other thing that unsettled me a little was the sudden thought that maybe I wanted to do theology, and then I realised that the secular test results were not going to instruct me to become an anchorite or get ordained.

I used to have such a nice, sensible, simple faith, or at least that's what I tell myself. And even if this isn't specifically a spiritual value, I still want to do something that'll make a difference rather than simply amuse myself. My first job at Pizza Hut had incentives for a passion for customer care, but the whole point was that you were helpful and kind to customers for the sake of the great gods, Profit and the Company. I want to be kind and helpful because it's good to be kind and helpful. I can understand the simple dynamics of working for a living because it's fair to pull your own weight, but it often seems that everything from volunteering (looks great on a CV) to a highly paid management position is primarily supposed to benefit one person only - yourself.

But where is God in all this? It used to be that I would go on camp every year and after hanging out with God all week, come back feeling joyously self-assured until six weeks later when the crisis of faith hit. I'm really sick of the cycle. It's so easy to go on camp and be blissed out both by God and by the general relief of being away from day to day life. But I want to find out where God fits into day to day life. I want one of the those relationships with God that Christians love to go on about, rather than some ecstatic experiences helped by a charismatic preacher and a full praise band. I don't want a faith that's cliquey, cosy, or just plain unrealistic. It's so easy to go on camp and make lots of very realistic sounding pledges that you'll pray every day and read the Bible, and tell all your friends about Jesus. But often all I do is squash my questions and worries for a week, have a great time and decide I'm one of those Bible-believing, Evangelical, Happy Clappy Jesus-Followers, only for real life to cruelly squish all of this with a nasty thing called the Truth.

Away from ecstatic experiences, where all the actual, proper kingdom building must be done, I find I have lots of questions. It doesn't seem to be as simple as Christians want to assure me it is, and God often seems annoyingly silent. I don't want to go to camp to find him - I want to stay right here and find him!