Spiritual searching 1: Ask …

School assembly is the 1960s – a hymn, a Bible reading and a prayer

‘Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’ Matthew 7, 7-8

Following on from the previous posts and the idea of a spiritual autobiography where our spiritual experiences accrue over time to help us know God, and, ourselves, I’m going to take a few examples from my own spiritual search – which is on-going – and try to connect the spiritual with the psychological. This journey is not about what one is told to believe or doctrines to follow, but about the authentic ‘asking’ and searching that each of us – at some point makes – as Augustine puts it “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

The first example I share was when I was 13, and the Bishop of London came to my school to talk with those who wanted to be confirmed. I didn’t know what confirmation was as I wasn’t C of E, instead attending a non-conformist Sunday School, but I had an important question to ask. We sat silently in line and waited; I was the last – so it was a long wait. It had felt terribly important to stay, although by the time it was my turn, I’d become very anxious, hot and sweaty. I can still remember sitting in the corridor – the last girl left. School had long packed up, and it was very quiet. With the bishop, I couldn’t think how to say what it was I so badly wanted and knew somewhere inside me that I needed. After a silence I blurted out something like, ‘How can I find Jesus’ overcome by embarrassment. The bishop said that I only had to ask, and I said that I had already asked and that nothing had happened. I think we sat there for a minute or two longer, and then he said I had to pray and wait. It would eventually happen. I left feeling subdued, and at the school entrance I’d forgotten that my mother was picking me up. ‘Why are you always the last one out?’ Crossly she added, ‘you need to wash as soon as you get home; you smell terrible’.

Although I remember these details so vividly, I can’t now remember why it felt so crucial to ask how to find and be close to Jesus. I’m not even sure who it was asking the question – who was searching? With all that I now know I would say that the impetus came from a part of my true self that was longing to be seen and accepted, and that ‘knew’ at a deep level that Jesus could meet my needs. Consciously I knew about religion, it got drummed into us every day at school assemblies and at Sunday school where we were told to be good and how to behave, but I wanted more, a relationship – as underneath I was unhappy; the true self kept safe by compliance and the self-care system of the false self. My question came from a deep psychological need – no wonder I couldn’t hear the bishop or he reach me. Perhaps I’d hoped for a miracle from waiting to speak to the bishop, a quick solution rather that what turned into many decades of searching.