Archives for posts with tag: faith

Well, here we are at (almost) the end of the first week of lent. I have to admit, I am not specifically fasting this lent, or at least not any more than I already was. In January I introduced a set of daily goals for good stewardship of my life – really basic things like eating and sleeping properly, and recognising the importance of actively cultivating my relationships with friends – and also gave up various bad habits, like unnecessary snacking, using my phone as a distraction from the world around me, and using Facebook at all. So I arrived at Ash Wednesday with no clear idea what I could actually give up or change, and the knowledge that any attempt to devote more time to charity or service would result in a total collapse of all the commitments already in my life. I would love to restart voluntary work, and in fact I’ve made enquiries about starting in the spring, but currently it’s all I can do to get through the day without napping. It’s been a fatiguey sort of month.

But lent has nonetheless so far been a time of reflection, self-examination and a concerted effort to grow in my faith. Lately, and coincidentally, I have been struggling a great deal with a particular issue and every sermon or prayer I’ve listened to has seemed to speak directly to that issue. This week in particular there have been some sermons which cut to the heart of our human struggle against sin.

As I type, I am waiting for the knock at my door which will herald the arrival of a friend to chat about our shared struggle. We were baptised together, confirmed together, and have become friends over the last year and a half, and quite by chance we discovered we were also sharing a difficulty which we are reluctant to take to the clergy for guidance. Hopefully we can thrash it out together a little, and if we can’t find a solution we may at least be able to formulate the question.

My prayers lately have all been for clarity, true understanding, freedom from delusion, and the strength to discern and follow God’s path. Whatever that may turn out to be.

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I am a Christian. I believe in science.

In many places, including where I live, these two things are not considered incompatible in any way by the majority of people. In fact, without any statistical evidence I would guess that there is a higher percentage of Christians here than in most towns, and certainly (being a university town) there is a higher percentage of scientists. Some overlap is inevitable!

However, I often encounter people whose opinion is that science and Christianity are simply impossible to reconcile. The Christians point to aspects of the Bible which appear to contradict what the scientists say. The scientists point to their explanations for things about which the Bible says something different. Both of them say “you can’t prove that your theory is true”.

I have never actually had any difficulty reconciling my beliefs in two apparently incompatible things. For one thing, I know far less about science than I do about the Bible. If anything, it is in science that I have a blind, uninformed faith. I am quite happy to accept what I am told by people who have researched the field and made it their lives’ work to provide answers to big questions which I can’t even understand in the first place.

It doesn’t seem impossible or even unlikely that scientific discovery, throughout the course of human history, is the mechanism by which God allows us to grow in our understanding and knowledge of his creation. When I read the Bible and in particular Genesis, I do recognise that if the words are taken to be the literal and complete truth, then they don’t completely match up with what we are told about evolution and the history of the world.

However, I would be very surprised if they did. The Bible may have been divinely inspired but it was written down by human hands. God is so much more than we are; we are told repeatedly that if we were to see him in his true form it would destroy us. Throughout our lives as individuals, but also throughout our lives as a race, we are growing closer to him and more able to understand his messages to us. My analogy is that if I were to ask a four year old to write down my biography, I would present certain aspects of it in a simplified story format, because no four year old would be able to understand the nuances and complexities of some adult conflicts and dilemmas. In the same way, the writers of Genesis and the other historical books were given the truth of creation in a way which they could understand at that point in human development. Had God revealed to them the dinosaurs, fossils, the solar system, evolution and the existence of germs (to choose a few basic concepts which are now generally considered to be basic science, even if people do not always believe in them), they would have been overwhelmed. It required hundreds and thousands of years of careful discovery, step by step, before we reached the point where we were able to make sense of those facts.

I don’t believe we are done yet. There is so much more we don’t understand, and until God calls us home again we will consider to investigate and find out. Generations of scientists will show children how awesome our world is, and generations of priests will show them how to say thank you. Those of us who choose to accept God into our hearts are, in my experience, more inclined to watch a beetle crawling on a leaf or a flower unfurling its petals into the sunshine and say “this is amazing, I am so grateful to be alive and watching this”, because we know that it isn’t an accident that we’re there to see it, or that it is there to be seen.

I spend a lot of time online. I am a home-body at heart, and I love to be in my own room surrounded by my things and feeling safe. Sometimes I lock the door, not from fear of anyone coming in but just because I can. When I go out, it is usually to enjoy time alone in a different place. Social time is planned and spontaneous events can make me unsettled.

But I’m constantly seeking fellowship and community. I’m an active member of two web forums, I read and comment on dozens of blogs and indeed write three of my own – this one, a journal read mostly by family and friends, and a recipe blog which is seemingly not read by anyone! My heart leaps to see a comment on one of my posts or a response to a comment I left on someone else’s.

Blogging is starting to seem like both a blessing and a curse. I want to read about other people’s lives, to picture myself living in them and to figure out what I hope to achieve in mine. If you were to flick down the list of blogs I follow, you would quickly realise what my interests are: cooking, parenting, home-making, homeschooling. It is the last category which is causing me the most heartache.

Most homeschooling families are American. Most are Christian. Most American Christians, as far as I can tell, are far more vocal about their faith than British Anglican are. They don’t simply believe it over there, they live it out loud. I’m envious and admiring, but I’m also wary. A similar thing has happened to me so many times. I read about a situation or belief or view that is common in the USA and my mind boggles. I think “those people must be crazy”, or “that is so American“. Then I read a bit more, and I start to wonder whether maybe they’re on to something. And then I run around in loops inside my mind, trying to work out what I think.

This sort of cultural assimilation has led me to some views I feel are firmly founded, and some which I realise, when I shake myself to clear my head, are totally off the wall for me. For example, the conviction that I wish to educate my children at home has only grown stronger. The various methods and techniques that I have read about offer up their strengths and weaknesses to be considered and analysed over time, but I am unwavering in my hope that life will pan out in such a way that I will be a home educating mother.

Other things, however, have turned out to be passing fancies or (more dangerously, to my mind) sudden veers from the path I have been set on. For a while I considered whether I was sinning daily by choosing to wear trousers, ride a bicycle and fasten up my hair. I started to think about changing my wardrobe to be filled with ankle-length skirts and modest cardigans. And then I thought about the people who I admired most for their faith and accountability to God. They all wear trousers. They all leave their arms uncovered in warm weather. None of them have ever breathed a word to suggest that their faith is rooted in their wardrobe. And when I pray for mercy and compassion, it isn’t what I’m wearing that is at the front of my mind – it’s what I’ve done, or said, or thought. That problem, after some careful consideration, was an easy one to lay aside.

There are more complex issues though. The homeschooling blogs which I read so eagerly are almost all written by women who share a broadly similar perspective, both culturally and religiously. They believe that homeschooling is a responsibility from God, they teach creationism and God-centred science, they talk about discipleship and praying over every detail of their day. Although they debate issues such as fecundity, parenting styles and curricula, they do so with a shared assumption that there is a correct, Christian way to decide each matter. It all seems very, well, American – and I don’t feel that America has the monopoly on God.

Basically, until I began reading these blogs I had never encountered anyone who placed their faith at the centre of absolutely everything they did. Or perhaps I don’t mean quite that, because of course I have met people whose relationship with God was the root of every action they took. It is what I try to achieve, although I fail every single day. But I have somehow found myself observing and occasionally engaging with a community which constantly professes its faith to itself, and seems to tangle up issues which I would consider purely cultural with issues which are universal to Christians. I’m finding it difficult to figure out whether I am hearing God’s voice speak to me through these blogs, or whether I’m just being drawn to the bright flickering light of a reassuring hive-mind.

After all, America is a kind of strange place. Many of the faith-related issues which occupy so much of their media and attention, such as the right to choice over abortion or the teaching of evolution in schools, aren’t even on the agenda here in Britain. Over there, being a Christian is an absolute necessity for any presidential candidate. Over here, faith is seldom if ever brought into political campaigns and in fact it’s sometimes concealed for fear of alienating people. I don’t know that I think that’s a good thing – but it is the society I have lived in for more than two decades now. And it’s the society I will be raising my children in. What works in Alabama or Tennessee is not necessarily what will work in Yorkshire or Berkshire.

And really, I am jumping the gun here. Dreaming about my future is one thing but worrying over my choice of science curriculum for home educating a child who has not even been conceived yet – it sounds ridiculous even to me. Not only am I not pregnant, I’m not even in a relationship. In fact I’m probably the furthest from a relationship that I have been since my early teens. I am not dating anyone, sleeping with anyone, daydreaming about anyone, pursuing anyone or being pursued by anyone. I have made a decision, fraught with difficulty and reluctance, to accept that the right person will come into my life at the right time and that if now is not that time, I can’t hasten its arrival by making bad choices. My duty right now is to study, to look after myself, to work hard in my roles as a student, a chorister, a tutor, a volunteer and a friend, and to trust that God has it all in hand. He doesn’t need to read 36 different blogs to know where my path is leading, and I won’t find it out by reading them either.

I suppose I became a Christian two years ago. I say “suppose” because it’s hard to pinpoint it exactly – I know that I didn’t begin attending church regularly and voluntarily until I began university, and even then not immediately. Although I remember the feeling of the moment I sensed God’s presence in my life, I don’t remember the date. I do know, almost to the hour, when I will be baptised and christened: soon.

Over the last two years I have pursued baptism like a cat trying to catch a butterfly. With every church I joined whilst moving around between two countries and several different towns, I discovered that I was just a little too late. At my first church, an evangelical student church, I discussed baptism with the pastoral team and even was placed onto a list of names for baptism in November of the same year. I attended a preparation course at another similar church, and talked excitedly with my Christian friends about my upcoming baptism. November arrived, and with it came serious ill health which drove me out of university and back to my mother’s house for a year. I missed the baptism.

The second church was an Anglo-Catholic community, much higher up the candle than I had ever experienced before. Through a series of highly unforseen events I found myself living abroad for a period of four months, and I joined the congregation by seredipity: again, God’s guidance recognisable only in retrospect. A few weeks after I began attending services, the Bishop arrived to baptise and confirm a group who had been preparing since before I came. I missed out again.

The third church was back in my mother’s home town, a traditional Anglican parish church, and I once again spoke with the vicar. We even met a few times to discuss and prepare – it was felt that formal confirmation classes, which would normally be offered, were unnecessary for someone of my age, particularly as I had already attended a course similar to Alpha and had “preparation” talks with not one, not two but by this point three different ministers! Once again there was a timetabling difficulty, however – I was due to return to university in October, only returning for vacations which clashed with the busiest periods in the church calendar. We agreed that I should wait and talk to someone back at university.

So here I am, in a fourth church – this time a smaller local chapel more similar to the parish church than the student one where my journey began. I have found a community and an approach to scripture which I am comfortable with; we are guided and advised through the Gospels and other readings, but not condemned for the choices we make providing they are prayerful. Non-believers and believers alike are accepted and the overwhelming sense I get is that one’s personal faith is a matter for God alone. It’s a far cry from the heavily rule-laden community I began in – a loving, supportive and prayerful community but one which seemed to take responsibility for and control over every aspect of its members’ lives. I didn’t always feel that God’s work was taking place, but that sometimes the young people I met were getting carried away by their own idea of holiness. As a private and often introverted person I am happier to pray silently, knowing that I am surrounded by others who, if not necessarily doing likewise, at least do not judge me for my prayers.

And now, at long last, the opportunity for both baptism and confirmation has arisen. The baptism is set to take place in just two weeks and the confirmation service the week after, and short of an earthquake or another sudden illness will finally be taking place. I will be baptised alongside one other person and confirmed with many, in front of several of the people who have helped me to this point. I can see now, in retrospect as ever, that the doors which seemed to be slamming shut in my face were actually being gently closed to guide me further down the correct path. I wasn’t ready to be baptised before; I was conflicted over the fundamental important beliefs such as God’s omnipresence and omnipotence, and I struggled to understand the concept of salvation. Whilst I still have questions, the scales have tipped from doubt to conviction. I finally feel able to make a whole-hearted commitment to a life dedicated to God.

Now I feel that I need more guidance than ever! I have very recently begun reading my Bible systematically, taking one or two chapters each day and reading through the books in order, beginning with the Old Testament. I have read in several places that it can be better to start with the New Testament instead, but extensive reading of American home-schooling blogs has caused me conflict and confusion over the thorny issue of creation, evolution and science. I pray every day for clarity and illumination and am reading Genesis in the hope that I will finally begin to reconcile a scientific upbringing with a fledgling faith confused by contradictory, but convincing, viewpoints. It is so hard to separate the truth from the noise.