In brief...

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
My interests vary from conservation to education to heritage to Nature (biodiversity & wildlife) to outdoor activities to life in general.
They occupy most of my waking moment.
Do read my blogs, follow me on Twitter (@jocelynesze) and friend me on Facebook (subject to my discretion). Visit my Nature blog, Nature Rambles, at http://natureramble.wordpress.com.

UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Stepping out of the closet.

No, not the way it's usually used, or at least how I've heard it used. I've said this numerous times, but again, I'm reminded that the thing I'm most thankful for being in Cambridge is not the world class education system, or the quaint antiquity of academic traditions, or the intellectual stimulus and rigour in everyday conversations, but the Catholic chaplaincy Fisher House. Long after I've left this place, it won't be the revision notes and random facts I've to remember for exams (though to be honest I think most of what I've learnt is pretty worth remembering) that will stay with me for life, but how much FH has helped me grow in faith.

I usually separate my faith from all other aspects of my life - mainly climbing and conservation (lol not much else going on in my life) - in what's known as being a closet Catholic apparently. I guess that's largely cos I've always felt that the evangelical protestants can sometimes be rather preachy about their faith, and I didn't really want to be associated with somewhat negative feelings, as well as the fact that I feel my faith is very personal, and I didn't see the need to seemingly 'force' it down on others. Being in multi-racial, multi-religious Singapore where we are all super conscious of diversity and of their feelings, I also just tended to veer away from broaching religious-related subjects as well, again, not wanting to be perceived as trying to convert others or ruin religious harmony or something. (Not gonna go into the right/wrong about being made to feel this way, that's a whole other discussion) Ultimately though, it's probably cos I feel like I won't be properly respected for what I say, in terms of the science I do or the views that I hold, if I were very openly, obviously religious. It seems like being a girl could already be a disadvantage, being a religious one at that might cause people to start question my sanity/rationality. Of course, it shouldn't be the case, but I think we have to accept the fact that the world is imperfect and shit still happens and you know, I'd rather not give people any reason to kick a fuss, whether valid or not.

So anyway, although you can see in my biography that God means a lot to me and is what I 'like most', I don't openly talk about it or even mention it in most of my blogposts/social media posts. Recently though, I'm starting to realise that my faith is personal, but it doesn't mean I need to hide it either. And as Fr Mark our chaplain mentioned during homily on Sunday, it's personal but not private.

The realisation got triggered when I attended a seminar last term by the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy on Climate and Sustainability in Multiple Dimensions. I don't know what I was expecting really, but it definitely wasn't how the Vatican could help in tackling the mammoth issue of climate change. That seminar was related to the more recent announcement about the upcoming Papal encyclical on the environment and the Vatican Science Academy (I hadn't even known it existed prior) hosting a summit on climate change. St Paul's Institute in London also recently had an event on a similar theme (Climate Change and the Common Good), which I heard about through a friend, reflecting the increase in Christian leadership on environmental issues. While poverty alleviation has always been a central part of Catholic social teaching, it seems that environmental protection is growing in prominence.

The seeming distinction I drew between my faith and everything else is rather arbitrary and self-imposed and quite a facade really. My guiding principles, motivations in life, and the reasons why I do what I do are undoubtably shaped by my religion and faith (and how I've been brought up by my parents), and largely what I believe I am called by God to do.

I've always enjoyed the outdoors, nature and the wilderness for the opportunity it provides for spiritual reflection. The diversity of life, wonders of God's creation (though evolution yes, I'm not a creationist), huge expanses of 'wilderness' where one feels the smallness of one's own being and all that. I always thought that nature and religion went rather hand-in-hand, in the spiritual sense. God gave Moses the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness (which would definitely have been more wild then than now) etc. And of course, it's not just restricted to (Judeo-)Christianity, buddhism appeals to many of my ecologically-minded friends, with it's ethic of doing no harm to animals. I was watching the BBC Wild China documentary (my de-stress activity) on Tibet, and it showed these villages feeding cranes in winter, and not viewing them as pests as they swarm the fields. Feeding animals seem to be a thing with humans (everyone feeds ducks in the pond, pigeons in the plaza/squares, monkeys in Bukit Timah etc.) which is not always a good thing. Encourages association of humans with food which might promote aggressive behaviour (and human-wildlife conflict), and also we're feeding processed food that's not supposed to be part of their diet. Anyway, I digress, sorry.  

Back to being openly Catholic, the annual Fisher lecture last Friday was given by Baroness Scotland on 'Is it possible to be a Catholic in public life?' She's way cool. Her main point, unsurprisingly, was yes, it is. [So at this point, I Google-d about being a Catholic scientist, and came across this rather interesting blog: Reflections of a Catholic Scientist that discusses how one can be a rational scientist and still have faith. Can't really process all these deep words (now, or anytime soon), but he did mention this book Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Palaeontologist, which was authored by one of my professors. Only he got the (first) name wrong...]

It's getting late and I'm getting tired, and I'm having increasing difficulty focusing my thoughts (as you can probably tell), but anyway, my main point in this rather lengthy and tedious post is that I love my God and my faith and the Catholic church and that I think I will try to be less of a closet Catholic. Today was a good start; it's the day Fisher House was officially opened in 1925, and apparently the then Feast day of St John Fisher (Fisher House's patron saint) and the Cambridge Martyrs (Catholics martyred for refusing to acknowledge King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England and were associated with Cambridge), so we had the Fisher Mass, which is naturally the biggest celebration in Fisher House calendar. Mass was at midday at Great St Mary's, the Anglican cathedral right in front of market square (instead of being in the chapel in the chaplaincy), and for the first time I didn't have lectures and so could serve mass. Appointed as crucifer and we had to move all our stuff over to GSM before/after, and so I kinda paraded through the market square (on a Bank Holiday no less) in my server's cassock with the crucifix in hand. Kinda fun, it probably isn't something people usually do (in this country). Definitely got stared at, but that's what fellow servers are for right, to spread out the awkwardness of being in public view.

Fisher Mass 2015. Photo credit Ryan Christopher Day, taken from Fisher Society FB page

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