For the past two weeks I’ve been thinking about the ubiquitous school essay question – What did you do on your summer vacation? You see, I did something really cool on summer vacation, but I don’t know how to tell others. It would be great to return to high school and respond to this question on the first day of the fall semester. With that question posed in a school environment there is tacit approval to talk about your vacation. Unfortunately, that was over twenty-five years ago. Now I’m never sure who really wants to hear. So how do I tell people that I attended the C. S. Lewis Summer Seminar in Oxford, England for a week, then ventured out on my own for another week, and had an amazing time?
I can show all or part of the over 700 photographs and tell stories of the people, places and food. Yet, since I’ve returned I think two people have asked see all the pictures and were engaged when I told the stories related to them. Moreover, I really don’t want just to have people go through the modern version of a vacation slide show on my iPad. A few other friends have asked about my time and patiently listened while I described the Kilns, Lewis’s home; the meals; and the journeys. Even though I enjoy telling these stories, after awhile this type of sharing also gets old.
As I continue the process of reflecting on this time, I don’t want merely to tell people what I did. In some of the most important ways this time can’t be shared vicariously. It was in the experiences of the community, of entering sacred spaces, and of hearing Lewis’s words within his home that brought me to new understandings of him – and myself. It was for me to live in that week, to breathe in and to learn from the story of C. S. Lewis, to enter other homes and churches, and to listen to new friends.
Yet, there is still something to share. That’s where I want to change the initial question from ‘what did you do on’ to ‘what did you do with’. This change moves the focus from an activity in the past to how this activity changes the doer and continues into the future. I want to share the experiences of the week-long seminar in a way that brings to life what I learned, the places, and the stories. Describing specific moments and activities could be one way to accomplish this. But I also want to live the changes. For instance, the small community of scholars at the Kilns practiced amazing hospitality, welcoming us into this home and even hosting several meals. All the food was exceptional, displayed with care, and graciously served. I can show pictures of these meals, but I can also more conscientiously practice hospitality with the meals I serve at campus ministry events. In other words, I want to bring the lessons I learned from this time more deeply into my life.
Thinking back on the community, literature, places, and experiences of God I encountered over two weeks in England, the following themes keep cropping up:
- following in the steps of C. S. Lewis
- engaging in community in the spirit of C. S. Lewis
- living in a place that invites individuals to flourish in their faith
- seeing God’s Kingdom in the midst of meeting people, places, story, God
- drawing together literature, places, and people
- practicing unexpected hospitality
- reading beyond the pages
There’s clearly a lot here. It would be much easier just to show the pictures over the next few weeks and leave this vacation in a photo album, or to write that high school essay. But something is calling me to do more. To do something with this time. From the above list I’m not sure what I will end up doing, but through prayer, conversation, and reflection – oh, and just setting down words on a page – I know some type of sharing will occur. In all of this I want to point people away from my personal experience to the larger story of God in the life of Lewis, the community of CSLSS, and the places around England.
So watch out. You may unknowingly be hearing or living some of my vacation stories. At the same time, I hope to hear yours as well and together we can figure out what to do with these experiences.