One of my all-time favourite poems is Walt Whitman’s ‘A Noiseless, Patient Spider.’ In it, the speaker compares a spider’s meticulous construction of a web to his own experience ‘[c]easelessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them … / Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.’ I think this fully encapsulates what I’ve found so thrilling, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding about the university experience.
As Christians in an academic environment, I believe we’re called to approach intellectual curiosity through the lens of faith – not always an easy feat. It can be tough to find unity between our academic studies and our Christian practices. It can often feel like our faith creates a language barrier between ourselves and our lecturers, tutors, and classmates.
This feeling of otherness can be exacerbated for those of us who come to university from outside the UK, flinging our gossamer threads across oceans, continents, and national borders. Not only do we have to figure out how to navigate the academic environment from a Christian perspective, but we have to do so in a completely new culture, with customs, norms, and sometimes even a language we don’t fully understand. How on earth can we expect to even make sense of it all?
I don’t mean to scare anyone—although certainly putting ourselves in situations that scare us or make us uncomfortable is a valuable part of the university experience as well. At its best, allowing ourselves to be challenged intellectually, personally, and spiritually awakens us to the beautiful diversity of human experience.
When this happens in community, we encounter something approaching the divine.
There’s a reason why Matthew 18:20 (‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’) is one of the most oft-quoted passages in scripture. It’s important to remember that Christ himself was an ‘other’ in many senses of the word, and we are reminded of this whenever we are awakened to the ‘other’ in ourselves.
And yet, in the sharing of our mutual strangeness in Christ, we often come to a deep sense of commonality there as well. To quote another familiar passage of scripture, ‘[t]here is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).
As we cross national borders to pursue an education, it’s comforting to remember that the Body of Christ transcends the boundaries of nationality, ethnicity, and language. As you begin this new stage of the journey, it’s very important for any Christian starting uni to find a community—be it a church, an on-campus Christian society, or both—with whom you can openly share your revelations and uncertainties, and who will help you and challenge you to grow in faith, love, and endless curiosity. University can be a wonderful, challenging, and stressful time, but you don’t have to do it alone!
Taylor Driggers hails from the United States and is a former member of SCM Edinburgh, where he recently completed a Master’s degree in Literature and Modernity.