Thursday was A-level results day; the time students find out their grades and whether they are to be part of the 50% of 18 year olds who now go to university. I was doing my bit at Aston University where I work, conducting telephone interviews with students who wish to join us. I was in the happy of position of being able to give good news to everyone I spoke to.
However hard we try with interviews, it is always hard to know what motivates students to come to university. Some are keen on the whole undergraduate experience; they want a taste of independence and a chance to make new friends. Some are after qualifications that will allow them to have a secure and rewarding job. Others want to study because they love a subject. Probably most have a mixture of all of these and each is a valid reason. For a professional academic like myself, it is the love of learning for its own sake that I most identify with; that thirst for knowledge which continues to drive me, both in my professional life as a research scientist, but also in my spiritual life.
Traditionally the church has always distinguished between the proclamation of faith to those who do not share it and the teaching of faith to those who identify as Christians. I find it hard to make this distinction. The disciples called Jesus “teacher” and I try to explain what I believe and why whenever I speak, regardless of what the individual may or may not believe. Often it seems that I am trying to help individuals find their way through their own spirituality, perhaps helping them to find the language to express and make sense of this, the very deepest emotion that we all have. Somehow in that process, I believe the Holy Spirit is at work, knocking at the doors that guard all of minds. The Bible speaks of this process as gaining wisdom; not learning of facts (the writer of Ecclesiastes perceptively comments that too much study wears out the student!) but rather listening to our inner thoughts and hearing God, whatever we call him, whispering to us. This the Bible calls this (perhaps unhelpfully) fear of the Lord; in modern language, we would call it knowing God. This is the deepest education.