Before returning home for winter break, I had nearly forgotten that my mother had strategically placed a forearm-sized crucifix over the headboard of my childhood bed—but there it was, greeting me as I set my bags down on the carpet of my bedroom floor. In this moment I was immediately thrown back into my old routine of life, one which included weekly Sunday mass and prayers before every meal. It was a kind of devotion that I lacked completely in college, and this was of my own volition; attending church weekly was not something I was particularly sorry to leave behind upon enrolling at Kenyon this past fall. With college came the promise of free will—to find fulfilment wherever I pleased, but towards the end of my first semester I felt instead as though something serious were missing. I was facing a lapse in whatever faith I had remaining, and this was sincerely frightening to me. The most frightening aspect being that I didn’t know what form I wanted my faith to take; I had begun to lose touch with the religion I was raised in years ago, and didn’t know what direction to turn.
Around mid-November I had become desperate for some sort of spiritual outlet, and decided to start with what felt most familiar: Sunday mass. However, it didn’t take long for me to understand that something didn’t feel right—my participation felt contrived and lacking any conviction, so I tried a Christian club meeting. While I found the perspectives of the students interesting, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong. It became clear to me that there was a palpable distance between what I wished to believe in and what I genuinely believed in, but I couldn’t be certain on how to bridge that gap of faith. I pause and I pray, but for whom am I pausing? To whom am I praying? The idea of faith became a source of distress—is it something that must be blind, requiring rigid adherence to a certain denomination? Must it be without doubt and without cherry-picking the doctrines that suit me best? According to the religion of my youth, the answers to those questions are generally yes, but while I so desired clear-cut faith and strength in my convictions, I couldn’t bring myself to believe that there is just one way to achieve those things. I knew I had to find some way of reconciling my past and present, maybe in a more unorthodox way than I was accustomed.
One Sunday in late November I found myself following a friend to a Quaker meeting on campus. For thirty minutes we sat together in silence, and I was able to reflect in a way I hadn’t been able to all semester. Where self-fulfilment is concerned, college is a place of limitless possibilities, served on a platter of relative freedom and independence, but there does seem to be a limit in which we become so full of free will that we begin to overflow. I found that I had been at that state of overflow for quite some time, and during the length of silent reflection I felt the need to give myself the space to empty out the superficial fulfilment that comes long with college’s—and life’s—infinite possibilities and distractions. I don’t believe that I’ve found the strength in conviction I was looking for at the outset of my search, and I certainly haven’t regained touch with the faith or devotion of my childhood, but in witnessing the ways in which students and members of our community actively seek out and hold onto their faith, I’ve gained a sense of hope. When I am able to have true faith in something, it will have a strong foundation as something I have chosen, rather than something I was simply born into.