Posts Tagged With: C. S. Lewis Summer Seminar

Drawn to Oxbridge

IMG_1695So, what are the stories that are drawing me to England this year?

The primary story for this journey to the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute in Oxbridge comes through his writings, especially Surprised by Joy. I desire to connect more deeply to that truth of God to which moments of joy point.

As I dig into the story of C. S. Lewis I’m drawn to this man, this academic who was passionate about the study of literature and philosophy and his path to faith. Through these loves, the means through which he saw and understood the world, he came to faith. Reading from Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf – “I heard a voice that cried, Balder the beautiful is dead, is dead” plunges him into a moment of joy that sends him on the path of reading literature and marveling in myths. His position at Oxford put him in the path of J. R. R. Tolkien and through a mutual interest in Anglo-Saxon language and literature a friendship is born. Through this friendship and literature God draws Lewis to seek and find him. Eventually, his understanding of myth led him to see the ultimate, true myth – Jesus dying on the cross and rising again.

Moreover, Lewis’ faith journey did not end here. Once he turned this corner, Lewis committed himself fully to knowing Christ and living out this belief. He used his gifts in writing and logic to explain Christianity to a new audience. He broke from the mold of an Oxford academic and wrote apologetics and children’s novels, along with significant pieces of work within his discipline. He shared the truth he was learning through scripture through the means he knew best. In addition he practically reached out to the people around him – whether this was his family, his students, or children evacuees during WWII. This is the story of a man “living in step with the truth of the Gospel” (Galatians 2:14).

Rippling out from the story of this mere man, many other stories have followed. Subsequent readers of Lewis’ writings have found faith at Oxford and around the world. They have seen a life lived. A broken life though it may have been, God used it. The fullness of this story draws people to this place to explore what following in the steps of such a life may mean for them. Or, they see Lewis’ rational grappling with faith and start along a similar path to ground their faith. Virginia Owens shares her experience as a pilgrim following in the steps of C. S. Lewis. In Oxford, as she went along Addison’s Walk where Lewis had had a life-changing conversation with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, she suddenly experienced a sense of “veneration” travel throughout the group she was with. Following this journey, she felt more “anchored” to Lewis and his writing through the moments she experienced.

It’s from these and many others stories connected with C. S. Lewis, Oxford, and Cambridge that I’m drawn to return. But I’m also drawn to gather with a IMG_1587group, the other participants and presenters, who also desire to live a well-lived life, with the truth of the gospel at the center. People who are seeking to live a full faith where God has placed them. Through a marvelous tapestry of talks, writing, music, dance, dining, community, thinking, and so much more this conference will help all of us be drawn deeper into God’s story.

So I’m stepping into the story of a writer engaging in pilgrimage, being transformed through the Holy Spirit in the midst of the stories I have already and will encounter. However, this isn’t just about me. I wanting to explore ways to connect people with the stories that deeply speak to them and create spaces to do this – in campus ministry, at church, with friends, and in a wider community. I don’t know what I will ultimately encounter this summer. But thinking of these stories is helping me to prepare and open up to possibilities.

Categories: Pilgrimage Sharings | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

“And is there honey still for tea?”

IMG_1670Green deck chairs and small tables covered the outdoor area of The Orchard tea house in Grantchester, England, just outside of Cambridge.  Small groups clustered under the shade of the many apple trees on this hot summer day.  Our group pulled together fourteen chairs and several tables in a spot of shade.  We were gathered for a mid-day break before driving back to Oxford from Cambridge.

The ground was uneven so the deck chairs wobbled.  I didn’t know if I dare sit down.  In line for cakes, scones, and tea I had the feeling of being in a cafeteria – pick up a tray, select the jams and clotted cream, reach for the scone, order the tea.  Next.  I made it back to the chairs and carefully sat down after first putting my tray on the table.  Many in this group from the United States were wondering why in the world we would have hot tea on a day like this with the temperature in the high eighties.

Yet, once we all settled, a sense of peace also settled on the group.  Aiden MacKay read Rupert Brooke’s poem, “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,” recalling this small town from the distance of a trip to Berlin in 1912.  Everyone listened, attuned to the connection Brooke had to this town where he lived after graduating from King’s College and before heading off to WWI.  Though the war had not yet started when he penned these lines, they seem to foretell the emptiness that many towns realized when their sons did not return home.

 Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, Rupert Brooke, 1912

IMG_1668To have tea, converse, gather with friends, maybe even change the world, the aptly named Grantchester Group gathered around Brooke and included Virginia Woolf, Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster, and Bertrand Russell. The spirit of The Orchard continues as sign boards show pictures of this group and free booklets tell the story of their lives and the place. Even after Brooke’s death in WWI people continued to come to enjoy tea and be inspired. It is a place in which to rest and remember.

Even though many well-known figures have taken tea at this place, and could have been the topic of a myriad of conversations, our group was talking about a man who is not known to have stopped by – C. S. Lewis.  We had just spent the late morning and early afternoon walking around Cambridge getting a feel for this other campus at which Lewis lectured.  However, our conversation that afternoon was not about his time in Cambridge, but his interactions with people.  His decades-long gathering of writers in the Inklings is rather well known.  In a way like the Grantchester Group.  However, we were not talking about that either.

Instead, the focus that afternoon was the wide variety of people with whom Lewis interacted outside of the campus.  He received and responded to letters from children, clergy, women, family, friends, scholars and wrote more as an equal than an expert. who did not use his position of authority to assert his way.  He took in war orphans during WWII.  He anonymously gave away the majority of his royalties to those in need.   In general he did not see his position as something to use, but as a way to serve – as when he tutored a junior colleague at Cambridge.  In his sermon “The Weight of Glory” he emphasizes this attitude as he writes, “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”

As the conversation continued under the trees of the Orchard, I began to understood my time on the C. S. Lewis Summer Seminar in a new light.  It was not about following a man into magnificent places. Instead we were following C. S. Lewis into the mess of his life.  Seeing the places where controversy remains about him and his writing.  Reading his logical arguments for Christianity, yet also realizing where this logic may have broken down.  Walking into places where he gathered with friends, but also learning how these friends weren’t always a cohesive group.

IMG_1674In this place where many have stopped to rest and remember, a new group was gathered around a man, though he was not there. We were humbly realizing that this man we may see as great did not see himself as such.  He was an erring human like each of us, though he sought to see others as holy, images of God.  In this realization I found “honey for tea” at The Orchard, though maybe not as others have tasted it.


Categories: Literary Pilgrimages | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What did you do on (with) your summer vacation?

IMG_1485For 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

IMG_1489There’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.

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