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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  • At 9:54 am , Blogger Robert Hulme said...

    The Quaker meeting house is really nice isn't it? Even though I'm an atheist I've been there a few times to be calm and reflect.

    If there was a Christian based religion / denomination that I were to rejoin it would definitely be the Quakers... they're so accepting and nice - what I would like a religion / God to be like... Too accepting perhaps? You can be an atheist and be a Quaker which makes me wonder how important fundamental truth is to them...

    Is your house mate a Quaker?

  • At 5:48 pm , Blogger Dave K said...

    3 random thoughts that came in to my head thinking about your post (probably not worth much but hey!):

    "And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
    And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split."
    (Matt 27:50-51).

    We now stand in God's presence. That is an objective fact, it was achieved by Jesus on as specific date in history. It may be levelled as a criticism of the tradition I stand in to emphasise the objective nature of our relationship with God so much, but I find it a constant comfort...I fear I would go mad without it.

    Similarly though he may not speak to me personally in any of the more charismatic ways (although that may well be due to my stubbornness) he always has something to say in the pages of the bible (when I take the time to take it down from the shelf). And that is always just as personal if I choose to listen in the right way.


    Tom Wright has a saying he rather cruelly directs at his critics sometimes:

    'we are justified by faith, not by believing in justification by faith.'

    It is a true thing, but I wonder what you make of it. I wonder how you balance it with the fact that it is Yahweh (a specific god of a particular ancient near eastern people) who we must trust, and Jesus (a unique person, with definite characteristics who died 30/33AD) who we confess as Lord. Things to think about.


    I wonder if it is possible to be a Christian and not 'feel like a bad Christian' and I think that (considering how it starts) the BCP Morning Prayer agrees with me never mind some greater authorities.

  • At 8:44 am , Blogger Dave said...

    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.

    That just about sums it up...nice one:)

  • At 10:25 pm , Blogger Contemplative Activist said...

    I relate so much to what you are saying.

    I hope you will hold on to your questions - if they come from a place that is honest and loving, they cannot fail to lead you to God, who is truth and love.

    Robert - I am loving what you said about the Quakers. I attend Quaker meetings and consider myself vaguely Quaker. I don't believe that there is any fundamental truth - what we know comes from within us, and through listening to and sharing with other people. It is important to me to be able to follow my own conscience and to support others to do the same. So, it does not matter to me if other Quakers see things very differently than I do. In fact, quite the opposite, I see it as an opportunity to share and expand my thinking and my experience. I'm also an atheist (although I use the term God as a metaphor for all that is good, true & loving.)


  • At 8:22 pm , Blogger Dr Moose said...

    Sorry to miss you at GB - although I wonder if conversation might be "too easy" and fail to really address stuff.

    I never do seem to have the time for proper responses, but maybe Martyn Joseph can do it pretty well again. I expect you do know the song...

    Treasure the Questions

    Locked in my heart there’s a child
    Knocking the door to get out
    Asking the questions that hurt and
    Sometimes there’s a question of doubt
    I can’t pretend that it’s easy
    I can’t pretend that I win
    When your search in this life is over
    That’s when the struggle begins

    And if I don't find out the search is not in vain
    And if I don't find out I
    Treasure the questions as they rage in my mind
    I treasure the questions some day I will find
    I ran out of answers such a long time ago
    And I treasure the questions wherever I go

    Searching Sahara's of sorrow
    Trying to understand why
    But the journey has brought me so much closer
    I don't have to stand here and lie
    Over and over I cried in the darkness
    Over and over to see
    The crime is to sit and not wonder
    Renewing my mind set me free

    And if I don't find out the search is not in vain
    And if I don't find out I
    Treasure the questions as they rage in my mind
    I treasure the questions some day I will find
    I ran out of answers such a long time ago
    And I treasure the questions wherever I go

  • At 2:25 pm , Blogger Julie said...

    Thank you for your honesty and insights. I think I'm leaving institutional church after clinging on for 17 years since I got saved!
    I've struggled with the hierarchy and pecking order that seems to mark most charismatic churchs. Church has generally made me feel worhless, dirty, and un-acceptable. Typically I could never fit in and 'get invited' to the inner circle!!! being a twice divorced single parent on benefit saw to that. It always struck me that Jesus came to love the outcast, the sinner, the poor & to make the excluded feel included.
    Someone needs to tell the church that! Generally the churchs un acceptence of me and my kids has served to make me more in-secure, more lonely, more suicidal and less productive for God.
    Love alternative worship.... finally feel accepted and free to be myself.

    love Julie

  • At 1:00 am , Anonymous ursa smaller said...

    according to the belief-o-matic I show strong quaker tendencies. I don't even know what that means ;)


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