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UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.

Friday, October 23, 2015

On being a scientist and faithful.

For the second night in a row, I can't seem to sleep. I lull myself into a dream-like state, and then something, I know not what, interrupts and I am suddenly awake, unable to fall back asleep, try as hard as I may. This night, there were a bunch of people talking and smoking on the benches not from from my hall, despite it being 12.45am (and I had put myself to bed about an hour earlier), somehow not realising that perhaps, some people might like to sleep. I tried to drown their voices with Yiruma, then gave up and started reading on my Kindle (Travels in Alaska by John Muir, in which he describes wonderfully wild and pristine landscapes), then tried to go back to sleep as my eyelids grew heavy. But lying prone in a state of awakeness is I think, one of the most wretched feelings, especially when there is a need to get up early-ish in the morning. I gave up, and decided to blog. Perhaps this was an issue on my subconscious that was bothering me, though I don't think so.

Tuesday nights are bar quiz nights, and though I am terrible at bar/pub quizzes, I enjoy going to the ones here at Silwood (and perhaps I should have made more of an effort to go for the ones at Peterhouse, but anyway). Earlier in the day on Tuesday, a friend made a remark about the lack of an existence of god, to which I replied that I had to politely disagree, and subsequently we agreed to have a polite discussion on the matter after the bar quiz. This issue, possibly one of the most divisive especially in the company of biologists, is perhaps rather soon to broach, it being less than 3 weeks since the start of term (and meeting people). After three years in Cambridge though, I think I felt a lot more prepared and able to take on such a discussion -- in my first year at Cambridge, I can't remember at which point within the year it was, but my housemates suddenly had a discussion on morality and religion, and I was confronted with defending my faith against a group of slightly hostile atheists. Not exactly pleasant, and I was not the most well-versed in matters of my faith, though I'd like to think I have improved since then, in no small part thanks to Fisher House.

Anyway, so it was a civilised discussion with a few others who seemed interested in the topic - it must be said that most people stayed away from it - and well, I tried to explain how the two seemingly conflicting areas of science, with its logic and evidence, and faith, which is just that, reconciled with my being. I truly do not think I can live without either, and to me, they fit well and are hugely important to me - though of course, my faith brings me more joy and peace than science possibly could (perhaps transiently). To me, science is for now, but faith is for ever, and much as I strive to do good in the present and to do something worth leaving behind, I remind myself time and again that I live not for this life but for eternal life. It is hard to say that to disbelievers though, even those (or perhaps especially those?) who have fallen away from the faith, because that just sounds like fluff, probably. And anyway, they need logic, which is not always evident in faith. That's why it's called faith?

I did concede though, that the Catholic Church does have stands on certain issues that others might disagree with, or think outdated, because morals shift with time and age. Is that being heretical? Regardless, it was not a debate and I did not have to convince people that I was right (not that I could, I think, especially based on just words), nor did I have to be convinced that I was merely a fool for believing, and it ended amiably.

Still, slightly distressed for there were no other believers to lend support (not sure if they're all just in hiding or it is a true negative. My floor mate living opposite me is Catholic too but is away this week), I sought comfort in Eamon Duffy's The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Prayerbook for Catholic Christians, which I bought (and got signed) when he launched it last year in Cambridge.  And St Therese of Lisieux had some thought-provoking words on doubt and faith:

"But during the days of Paschaltide, so full of light, Jesus made me understand that there really are souls bereft of Faith and Hope, who, through their abuse of grace, lose these precious treasures, and along with them, the only pure and lasting joy. He allowed my soul to be overwhelmed with darkness, and the thought of Heaven, which had consoled me from my earliest childhood, now brought only conflict and torture. This trial did not last merely for days or weeks; I have been suffering for months, and I still await deliverance. I wish I could express what I feel, but it is beyond me. You must have passed through this dark tunnel yourself to understand how black it is. However, I will try to explain it by means of a comparison. Suppose that I had been born in a land of thick fog, and had never seen the beauties of nature, nor a single ray of sunshine, though I had heard of these wonders from my childhood, and knew that the country where I lived was not my real home--there was another land, which I must always seek. Now this is not a story invented by the natives of the land of fogs, it is the solemn truth, for the King of that sunlit country came and lived for thirty-three years here, but the darkness did not understand that he was the light of the world. But, dear Lord, your child has understood; she asks forgiveness for her unbelieving brothers, and is willing to eat the bread of sorrow as long as you will it. For love of you she will sit at this table heaped with the bitter food of sinners, and she will not stir from it until you give the sign. But in their name, and in her own may she not say: "O God, be merciful to us sinners!" Send us away justified. May all those on whom the light of faith does not shine see at last! O my God, if that table which they defile can be purified by one that loves you, I am willing to remain there alone to eat the bread of tears, until it pleases you to bring me to your kingdom of light: the only grace I ask is, that I may never offend against you.

When weary of the surrounding darkness, I try to find some rest in the thought of a life to come, my anguish only grows. It seems to me that out of the darkness I heard the mocking voice of the unbeliever: "You dream of a land of light and fragrance, you dream that the Creator of these marvels will be yours for ever, you dream of escape from these mists where you now languish. Instead, rejoice in death, which will not give you what you hope for, but an even darker night, the night of nothingness!" ... Dear Mother, this description of what I suffer is as far removed from reality as the first rough sketch is from the model, but I fear that if I wrote more I would blaspheme. Maybe I have said too much already. May God forgive me, but he knows that I try to live by faith, though it bring me no consolation. I have made more acts of faith in this last year than during all the rest of my life.

No doubt, dear Mother, you will think I am exaggerating the night of my soul. If you judge by the poem I have written this year, it must seem as though I have been flooded with consolations, like a child for whom the veil of faith is almost rest asunder. And yet it is not a veil. It is a wall which rises to the very heavens and shuts out the starry sky. When I sing of the happiness of heaven and what it is to posses God eternally, I feel no joy, because I sing only about what I want to believe. Sometimes, I admit, a little ray of sunshine shines into my dark night, and I enjoy peace for a moment, but later, the remembrance of this ray of light, instead of consolation, makes the blackness seem thicker still. And yet never have I felt so deeply how gentle and merciful the Lord is. He did not send me this heavy cross when it might have discouraged me, but at a time when I was able to bear it. Now it simply takes away from me whatever natural satisfaction I might feel in longing for heaven."
 - The story of a Soul, ch IX

And now, it's almost 2.30am, it is once again silent (thankfully) save the occasional car, and I think I should be ready to sleep. If the writing style in this post seems oddly contrasting with previous ones, I can only say it's likely the influence of Serengeti Shall Not Die by Bernhard Grzimek, which I have been reading while waiting for scripts to run on QGIS/R. And a post on that book is imminent once I am done with it.

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