Encountering God in Different Academic Disciplines
Written by Carly Ververs
I spent my undergraduate degree reading: I pitched a tent across the folds of books and climbed inside the pages. And now, as part of my graduate degree, I learn human anatomy on cadaveric specimens – touching muscles that look like brown turkey, pulling on tendons to see which movements the corresponding muscles cause, putting my fingers through the various openings of the heart, and palpating the boney peaks and dips of vertebrae. Please don’t take that as me being disrespectful with the cadavers – I’m deeply grateful to those who have donated their bodies so that my classmates and I can learn. For me, studying the intricacy of the human body and seeing it firsthand has been a way I’ve seen God.
I don’t spend all my time in graduate school with cadavers, but I wanted to give you a mental picture that shows how different my new area of study is from my old one. I completed my undergrad in English at a small Christian university and now I’m studying occupational therapy at Queen’s University.
OT is a form of healthcare that helps enable people to do the things they want and need to but are currently having trouble doing, like self-care (i.e., getting dressed, eating), being productive (i.e., going to work or school), and leisure activities (i.e., sports, reading). In sharp contrast to my courses on creative writing, Shakespeare, or the history of literary criticism, I’m learning about OT theory, the anatomy of the human body (hello cadaver lab), and psychosocial determinants of occupation. It’s incredibly different.
Studying English was very deep, even holy, for me. I encountered God in novels like Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, which confronted me with my own idol worship, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which reminded me of the braided beauty and sorrow of the incarnation. I encountered God in literary theory too. What a privilege it is to a creator imitating the Creator (which is part of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s literary theory). I encountered him in the actual act of creation imitation; I wrote poems about seeing the face of God in the United Kingdom and creative nonfiction pieces exploring forgiveness as snow or the lack thereof.
Studying English has made me a better, deeper Christian and I was worried I might lose that in switching disciplines. Would I meet God in OT the way I met him in English? I think the answer to that question is no – I won’t encounter him in the same way, but I will encounter him. In fact, I have already encountered him there. Remember what I said about cadavers, about seeing the intricacy of the human body firsthand? It adds a new dimension to thinking about people being fearfully and wonderfully made, to thinking about God wrenching Jacob’s hip out of place with just a touch.
Jesus is present in all areas of life and, more specifically, all areas of study. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus tells his disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He is with us not only to the ends of the earth, but also in different disciplines and careers. Now, I’m not so worried about what I might lose in switching academic disciplines; instead, I’m excited about what I’ll find in studying OT that I didn’t find in English. I might not have my nose pressed to the spine of a book anymore, but I know I will encounter God as I study the spine of a cadaver.