30 Aug Jessica’s Journey
When asked to share one’s journey with God, it can sometimes be hard to know where to begin, especially as this God with whom we travel knew us before we – or anyone else – knew ourselves. Still, taking where I am now – a novice nun in the Benedictine Community at Mucknell Abbey – as a vantage point and looking back, that part of the journey of which I am aware does have a reasonably clear beginning.
I was about 8 when my mum first took me and my sister to a local Evangelical/ Charismatic Free church in south Manchester. It was an entirely new experience for all of us, and while I genuinely enjoyed the church, it’s lively worship and the fun of Sunday School, I didn’t always have a lot of time for the ‘Church Kids’, many of whom had been there from birth. They seemed impossibly ‘good’, and even a generous description of my 8 year old self probably wouldn’t have included the phrase “well-behaved”. Despite the frequent difficulties in my relationships with those around me, my relationship with God began and blossomed, and I was baptised at about age 12. In my teenage years, and perhaps contrary to what is often the case, I was increasingly captivated by God, encountering God as a transformative presence in my life. It was clear to me, both from my own relationship with God, and also from the teaching I received at church, that God should be making a difference to my life, and to all of my life: it was God’s grace and love that had given me my being, and how else could I respond but with all of that being?
This deep and dynamic faith in God, in God’s love and goodness, and the expectation of the Holy Spirit at work in me, sustained me through my time at university, with its attendant crises, and gradually led me towards something quieter and more contemplative. By the end of my degree, I was worshipping regularly with the Quakers, who perhaps could not on the face of it be more different than the Evangelical church I’d come from, but who were also a clear example of a community who lived their convictions completely – and so perhaps the gap from one experience to the other was smaller than most might imagine. The encounter I had with God in the silence of Quaker meetings was powerful, and I was grateful for the stability that these meetings offered, especially as I moved around fairly regularly in the first few years post-university, training and then working as a primary school teacher.
My shift to the Anglican church was initially born more out of practicality than conviction – following a move to a new area, the parish church (St. Mary’s in Langley, near Slough) was simply the most convenient and nearby way to worship regularly, so off I went one Sunday morning. What I found there was something broad enough to include all of my previous experience: the stillness of Quaker meetings was still there, as was a reflective and contemplative approach to God, but the formal Eucharistic liturgy and regular engagement with scripture also filled a gap and gave a bit more structure to my faith. Thanks in no small part to the love of some wonderful people, I was able to continue growing into God, and over time the still small voice of God began to nag away at me: “I want you”. Clearly this is what God says to all of humanity: we are all his beloved children, and we are all desired, but this seemed to be something beyond that.
After ignoring it for a while – I was in no way ready to give up the teaching that I found deeply rewarding – I had a chat with my parish priest, and found my way to the Diocesan Director of Ordinands. After getting to know me a bit, she in her great wisdom suggested that I take a look at Religious Life, and so I looked, and found that the more I looked, the more there was something deeply attractive and fitting about this ancient way of life. So much of my journey of faith has been an attempt, however faltering, to respond to the love and grace of God, and here at last was something that would enable me to give and keep giving. I visited a few communities, Mucknell Abbey among them, and on my second visit it felt profoundly like the place to be, the place that God was calling me to to continue my exploration. By this point, leaving teaching no longer seemed the impossibility it once had, despite being a job that I still loved very much. One of the things I particularly enjoyed about my last couple of months in school was the chance to talk to the children in some depth about the Religious Life, and to answer their often thoughtful and sometime amusing questions, which ranged from “What do you eat in a monastery?”, to, “If you spend all your time in the monastery, when do you go and tell people about Jesus?”
And so it is that having moved to Mucknell in August 2017, and having been clothed as a novice almost a year later I find myself at the beginning of what both is and isn’t a new adventure with God. Clearly becoming a novice nun marks a new step on this journey towards God that I continue to give myself to, but the journey itself is not a new one. This God who has so captured my heart is the God who held me before I was born, and who will hold me into eternity, and as I stand at this particular threshold, I’m excited to see what comes next and where God will lead me.