Posts Tagged With: C. S. Lewis

Pilgrims Along the Way

IMG_4070While I’m redecorating my home as a pilgrimage way station, I find myself in a comfortable and familiar role – leading the planning and execution of a project at my own pace and in my own way. For now a lot of this work, especially the design, has been a solo endeavor with some great co-laborers to bring the larger projects to fruition.

As the bookcases are filled with books, I sit in this space and imagine the people who will fill the chairs and sofas. I want friends and family to gather for meals, conversations, and creative endeavors. I see much laughter and inspiration as dreams come to fruition in this place. It’s an idealized picture without any problems.

Yet, I know that if real relationships are to flourish, there will be difficult times. Conflicts that erupt in small group meetings over biblical interpretation or understanding of the world. Meals that don’t turn out. People that don’t show up. Misunderstandings over family priorities. Opening my house means opening my life and being vulnerable. With this realization, slowly the ideal pictures fade and fear takes over. In this fear I could easily sink into my safe solitariness and defend it by claiming the need to restore my energy as an introvert.

In journeys of pilgrimage, people come together in places of vulnerability. As we seek to get closer to the deep story that is drawing us on a life journey, the false ones must be stripped away if we are to go any further. Just as Aslan tore the dragon skin from Eustace Scrub in C. S. Lewis’ novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we must allow God and the community around us to remove that which is keeping us from a full life.

Now that I’m in the midst of creating a new space, I wonder how to develop not only an environment that is welcoming, but also a character that is open to stripping away the comfortable fear and the pride that keep people at a distance? I won’t be able to control the individuals who enter this place as I do the redecoration – not unless I want to destroy relationships. Though I may not always be comfortable with it, I know that other travelers are an essential part of the journey – and not only in pilgrimage, but also in the life of a Christian. From the beginning, God knew it was not good that Adam was alone. Furthermore, as part of God’s new covenant, we are even called the Body of Christ, together.

51hOom4ewOL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_In this time of redesigning not only my basement, but also my life, I’ve stumbled upon the second novel by Sharon Garlough Brown, Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope. The continuation of the story started in Sensible Shoes finds four women, Meg, Hannah, Mara, and Charissa, moving through the crises in their lives as they seek to be more attentive to God through spiritual disciplines and in community. Practicing these disciplines isn’t a secret key to resolve all their family, career, and relationship issues. Neither are these disciplines easy or the community in which they find themselves always comforting.

Yet, in the midst of the messiness of their lives, I felt each woman’s struggle to hold on to hope – not hope in the world, but in Christ. This hope allows each of them to loosen the grip on the false stories in which they have been living. In broken lives, with humble postures, and through faithful community with God and one another, their lives are reborn in the midst of struggle. This is the type of life I long for myself and others to know.

In this story I see possibilities for community. Images of real people practicing prayer, stepping forward in pain, and caring for one another. In short, they are sharing life together.

It’s soon time to think about making invitations to the first group of fellow pilgrims to this way station. What will we do? How will we gather? I want to fill this space with more than a picture-perfect version of community. Maybe we could even begin with this novel as we find a new way together.

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Moving Out From the Antechamber of God’s Kingdom

IMG_3044Stained glass images in walls of stone reached the heights of the vaulted ceiling, holding my gaze; while, at eye level, Ruben’s painting of The Adoration of the Magi behind the altar moved me into a posture of humility. Sitting down, I touched the worn, dark wood of the choir stalls that carried memories of the centuries of fellows and students who have rested here for worship. The scents of wax from rows of burning candles and of stones from taken from the ground centuries before filled the space. Soon organ and choral music added to the tapestry of this space as voices affirmed the age-old creeds and prayers, and the words of scripture and the sermon spoke of a marvelous story – The Story. Finally, I tasted the bread and wine – the body and blood – that drew together the people in community here at Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, England.

For an hour and a half heaven met earth here, a safe place to encounter the King and Shepherd, Jesus Christ. But these walls of the chapel weren’t the limit of his Kingdom. At the end of the service, ushered back through the choir stalls and under the organ, I looked up. Directly in front of the line of worshippers, immense doors at the end of the nave were open. The light of the evening sun filled the frame and I was drawn to leave this place, this antechamber. These past moments, together with the previous week, had been only preparation to enter the wider kingdom of God – the entire world.

When I stepped onto the grounds of Keble College in Oxford last July to start the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute, I entered a world apart from my normal life of work and family back in Kentucky. A walking tour of Oxford immersed me in college grounds and buildings that were built to inspire and for reflection. The tour ended at Addison’s Walk in Magdalen College. On this circular path C. S. Lewis spent an evening in conversation with Hugo Dyson and J. R. R. Tolkien that drew him closer to seeing Jesus as God’s Son, the historical reality of the dying god myth. As I walked along the paved path, under the trees, and along the River Cherwell I slowed down, moved to reconsider my calling, to break from constraints, and to meet new friends. This felt like a safe place to think dig more deeply into what the Kingdom of God really is.

During the next days I encountered a vibrant infusion of talks, art, and food, pointing to the reality of God’s presence in all of life through the focused prism of the conference proceedings. Worship services in the Anglican tradition brought us through God’s story – creation, fall, redemption – as we repeated prayers and verses that others have said for centuries. Speakers challenged us on living the dance of the virtues – courage, self-control, wisdom, justice , faith, hope, and love – by practicing intellectual hospitality in our world, listening to and speaking for those who have no voice, and challenging the status quo. Moreover, they encouraged us to cultivate a renewed culture, a culture grounded in the world changing reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Arts surrounded us through musical performances, dance, and visual arts. I even took the opportunity personally to dive into the art world by taking a workshop on sketching.

Within these places and conversations I became engaged in the community around me, communitas in pilgrimage parlance. Community formed around meals in the dining halls and pubs and over scones in cafes; in workshops and between plenary sessions; even while punting on the Cam. One of the first evenings I sat outside in a courtyard of Keble College with a small group of writers – the Sprinklings. Most of us had only just met. Even so, there was a level of trust that allowed us to read pieces of our writings and provide encouragement to continue. One participant, the head master of a school, shared the stories he used to tell his son, who is now in college. A woman who had only started writing a few years ago is now a frequent blogger and is writing her second novel. Two other women engaged with ideas of pilgrimage in their novels. We were all seeking ways to express meaning through our words of story and felt safe to do so here.

All of these elements – the places, content, and people – wove together a rich time in which to imagine God’s Kingdom. But more importantly to remember that this kingdom is near and now – as Jesus himself emphasizes.

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” – Luke 17: 20-21

And not here as in Oxbridge – those ten days outside of ordinary life – but here as in our every day world. The renewed inspiration from these days away were not to be locked away, but to be shared beyond the safety of worship services and plenary sessions. This time of concentrated richness reminded me that as Christians we have a compelling story to tell. I had walked into a story in which I found great comfort and felt at home. But, like the worship service at King’s College Chapel, it soon came time to leave.

It would have been easy to mourn leaving the place and seek another safe area back in Kentucky. But we aren’t called to remain in the antechamber. C. S. Lewis himself reminds us many times of this, probably most familiarly in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Places such as conferences, churches, even our homes are places to start growing, as seedlings in a greenhouse; but as with seeds, our growth as followers of Jesus needs to be planted in the world where it’s not likely to be safe.

IMG_3050Little did I know that I would be forced into a place that was not safe and comfortable once I returned home – the final weeks of my mom’s life. However, the weeks in England helped to prepare the soil for this desperate time. I realized that God’s kingdom was present in the hospital and at her bedside.  Now, as I begin this new year without either of my parents, a part of me is fearful. Nevertheless, I continue to walk towards that open door and hold on to the gift of this time. It is part of God’s kingdom. Even though I’m tempted, I don’t need to hide myself in another antechamber for safety. I can follow Jesus into the world as I “taste and see” that he is the One who is truly good.

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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.

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Pilgrimage Preparations

IMG17Buying tickets. Ordering clothes. Creating itineraries. It’s easy to get consumed in preparing for travel, wanting everything to be just right. As far as reading, travel guides are the way to go to provide a pathway to a perfect vacation.

But there is another way. A way of story.

In writing these words, I realize that I have not taken time to reflect on the stories that are calling me to return to England this summer. Ironically I’m currently rewriting the section of a book on literary pilgrimage that delves into the idea of sacred travel, pilgrimage, a journey to a story. After following in the steps of St. Francis in Assisi a decade ago I understood the places and stories in a way that connected with me deeply. Seeing the journey as a pilgrimage made a difference in how I interacted with the places and people along the way – and how I returned home transformed. Since then I have tried to look at most of my journeys as pilgrimages.

However, for an upcoming trip to the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute at Oxbridge, I have wandered from this way of thinking. Maybe I really haven’t strayed too far, but I have sought to control the travel and set up a well organized, but relatively safe journey. I’ve been trying to create a time that will whisk me away to an eden for a while, instead of seeing the time as opportunity to engage with stories and be transformed.

So, how am I going to move into seeing this time as pilgrimage? Since the Institute is a conference, it has a different flavor than other journeys. But there remains a story to follow. A large part of the story I’m following is that of C. S. Lewis being surprised in finding God in the midst of his search for joy and his living discipleship to Christ in response to that surprise. But I’m also drawn to romantic idea of spending time in Oxford and Cambridge, taking in the sights, lectures, and experiences. And tea, Lots of tea and scones.

IMG_1759But, primarily, I’m seeking to walk in the story of a God who calls us to follow him.

With these stories (both the serious and the fun) now in front of me, it’s time to read and reflect on them. It’s also time to pray, not only for my journey, but also for the people I will meet along the way. To pray that I’ll be open to the temporary community that will form. That I will walk over thresholds into new places. That I would see the sacred center of my time through the incarnated life of Jesus – and through the new life with which he covers his people.

As I walked through the streets of Assisi I recalled the words of the psalmist to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). A visceral, physical experience of God in the midst of life. Reflecting on that time, I am now preparing for this journey to England as a pilgrimage, being ready to experience the places and meeting people through the God who is good – though not always safe. Just as Mr. Beaver speaks of Aslan in the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”

What stories, if any, draw you to travel this year?

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Writing Desks: Inspiration for a Reluctant Writer

 Def: Desk.  A piece of furniture with a flat surface, often made of wood, at which a person can write or do other work.

Over the years of visiting literary homes, I’ve always been drawn to the rooms and desks where authors wrote. Though the kitchens provide insight into their daily lives and the doorways elicit images of people who visited, the desks and studies are the highlights of the tour.  This is where the authors penned or typed their words.  Where the impetus to create became incarnate.  Where . . .

It would be easy to go on and on about high-minded ideals of the creative work that took place at these pieces of furniture and in these rooms.  In reality, I’m drawn to them because I find it so difficult to stay at my desk.  It’s the discipline of writing that attracts me.  So in the spirit of desiring to sit at my desk in this new year, here’s a look at a few of the desks that have inspired me.

  • The latest desk I stood near was the lap desk of Jane Austen in the British Library.  From one perspective, it was just a simple box of wood with a lid.  Inside were pens, ink, and paper.  However, from another viewpoint, it was the place where Austen recorded her observations of society, shared her trenchant humor, and, unknowingly, created the sources of many well-loved films and mini-series.  All this within carefully wrought stories that continue to draw people into her world.
  •  Though I’ve seen many desks, I always return to the first desk I remember, that of Louisa May Alcott.  In her second story bedroom at Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, there’s a built-in desk at the window that overlooks the Lexington Road.  Here she penned Little Women and other novels, while she saw the daily traffic walking and riding before her.  Sitting at her desk gave her one view onto the world that she eventually shared through her novels.
  • IMG006At Monks House, the final home of Virginia Woolf, there is a wonderfully cozy sitting room and library.  However, this is not where she did most of her writing.  Instead, her work desk was in a re-purposed shed in the garden.  In this small space, her desk looks out upon the gardens and the Sussex Downs.  Here she had that “room of her own” in which to leave behind the stories in her daily life and focus on her task at hand – exploring new avenues to express the consciousness of her characters.
  • In Jean Stratton-Porter’s offices at her two Indiana homes, she placed the desks in the middle of the room, interrupting traffic flow from one door to another.  But her focus was not on movement, but on vision.  She wanted to sit at her desk and see out of the house in all directions.  The environment was vital to her work and in this place she brought together narrative and nature.
  • Earlier this year, spending time at C. S. Lewis’s home, the Kilns, near Oxford, England, I didn’t get a chance to see his actual desk which is in a museum. Instead, a desk from that period was in the common room looking out the window to the rose garden.  Even though I didn’t see the actual desk, I was struck by this one of many spaces where he wrote.  This was a place of writing in the midst of life and community.

Each of these writers had different practices, different desks, different rooms.  Still each desk and room represented the place where they put the ideas in their minds into physical form.  In each of these homes I didn’t realize a mystical transfer of inspiration.  Instead, I was encouraged that these authors, too, needed to be disciplined in their writing.  Austen kept writing while people came in and out of the sitting room; Alcott worked tirelessly on her novels, writing in what she described as a vortex; and Lewis spent hours answering letters even though he did not enjoy it.  They didn’t run from the blank page but were drawn to it, or at least stayed in front of it.

As I begin a new year and a new resolution to write, these and many more desks inspire me to sit down at my desk.  Not recreating their space, but creating one of my own.


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Christmas Card

IMG_1810“Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” – C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

As today we remember that stable, I’ve been reflecting on the doors I’ve passed through this year.  What have you seen as you’ve walked through the doors in your life?  I’ve continued to learn more about this “something” that was larger than the world – the Word of God, Jesus Christ – as I’ve walked into and out of many doors.  Walking through the doors of Starbucks I listen to students share their excitement in using writing, music, and research for God’s glory; opening the doors of the Edge Campus Ministry House I encounter students from around the world who seek community and God’s Word; walking through the front door of home I receive the love of family; entering through the doors of churchI hear words of mercy for someone who is often not merciful; and passing through the doors of authors IMG_2072like C. S. Lewis and Beatrix Potter (through both their writings and the actual doors of their homes) I’ve seen into new worlds and deeper into the one in which we live.  I’m looking forward to – and a bit nervous about – the doors that will confront me in the months ahead.

Each day may we all know the wonderful adventure of drawing closer to the “something” bigger than the world as we walk through new and familiar doors.IMG_1485

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O Santa in the Highest: Heresy or Insight?

When I was a child I always looked forward to singing “O, Santa in the highest” on Sunday mornings.  It was a highlight of my week.  Standing between my parents, seeing the sun streaming in from the windows, and holding the hymnal – I thought it quite natural to be singing to a gift-giver my five-year old self loved, Santa Claus.  Though I look back at this child’s error in embarrassment, I’m also aware at how freeing it was to sing without abandon at church.  Somehow God and Santa were connected.  Though not theologically correct, I was pointing in the right direction imaging a loving being as the focus of these words.  It wasn’t that big of a change when I started to sing “Hosanna in the highest” in later years.

Was this a form of heresy?  An idea that if my parents would have been aware should have fervently cut out of my imagination?  Or, was it something else?

Recently after I shared this story in a group, one of the participants said that she had just had the talk about Santa Claus with her daughter who now felt that she had been lied to for ten years. I can understand where this mother and daughter are coming from.  The attempt to live out a lie in our lives can lead us away from reality and cause us to feel a sense of diminished trust – whether that lie is Santa Claus or of being a concert pianist when you’ve never practiced a day in your life (or published author when you don’t sit and write).  When fantasy overtakes reality, it can lead to demolished relationships, bad career choices, and great stress.  In the case of Santa Claus, one may even argue that this fantasy is turning people away from actual stories – Jesus’ birth and the life of St. Nicolas – and to the life claiming calls of marketers.

But, could such fantasies also be a gift in our lives?  Something we should desire to share with our children, and even encourage.  The error I inserted into the church liturgy didn’t take me away from God’s reality, but drove me to it.  The picture I had of Santa Claus was of a gift giver, of love.  It pointed in the direction of the ultimate gift giver.

FatherChristmasC. S. Lewis even includes him in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  As Narnia begins to thaw from winter, hope arises when the children and beavers are met by Father Christmas – “Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world – the world on this side of the wardrobe door.” Now because everyone knew and were positively drawn to him they were open to what he had to say  “Aslan is on the move. . . . Merry Christmas!  Long live the true King!”  Such fantasies can truly direct us to greater stories.

Furthermore, the gifts Father Christmas gives Peter, Susan, and Lucy prepare them for the battles and challenges to come – sword, shield, bow and arrows, horn, dagger, and healing cordial.  At the time they didn’t know what to do with them, but they trusted they would use them because they trusted the giver.  He was preparing them to meet Aslan.

Things not factually true within the material world do not need to be termed lies.  Then all of the great literature would have to be viewed as lies as well.  Well, maybe not if we’re not enacting them in our lives.  But this desire to bring Santa Claus and other fantasy figures into this world is not necessarily a lie.  It depends on how the story is presented – as with any story.  Bringing him into this world may be a way of longing for the ultimate insertion of fantasy into the world – that of God’s incarnation.

In his essay On Fairy Stories, J. R. R. Tolkien writes:

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small.  Redeemed Man is still man.  Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on.  The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the ‘happy ending.’

 Tolkien was not a fan of Lewis including Father Christmas in Narnia.  For him it wasn’t well conceived fantasy writing.  But I would like to imagine the he supported the reasoning behind including Santa – that this figure well known to the children would be a means of pointing to the unknown goodness they would meet in Aslan.

Everyone doesn’t have to redeem the fantasy of Santa Claus in their and their children’s lives.  There are many other stories that people can bring into the world and I would encourage us all to be careful about disregarding fantasy and imagination too quickly.  I’m for bringing Santa and elves, mischievous rabbits and small orange bears stuffed with fluff into our lives to give us a wider view of the world – and perhaps even a better view into God.

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“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.


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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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Preparing for Pilgrimage

IMG_1409Yesterday I picked up a necklace from the jewelers. I’m sure they were wondering why I wanted this worn, silver chain fixed. It’s not really worth anything. But for me it carries great meaning. Twenty years ago I purchased this silver cross after visiting Canterbury Cathedral. Today as I get ready to journey towards a story the next two weeks – to the places of C. S. Lewis and other authors – putting this simple necklace around my neck reminds me of the reasons for these months of preparations – pilgrimage.

Preparation has always been a part of pilgrimage. If you were traveling to the Holy Land in the Middle Ages there was no guarantee that you’d be returning home, so having all your financial, familial, and spiritual obligations in order was essential. In contrast, a two week trip to England via routine routes available to pilgrims today does not warrant a full scale estate plan. But still I was overwhelmed with preparations.

  • Plan the fall schedule for campus ministry
  • Print out maps and make reservations
  • Check on health insurance
  • Pay bills and call
  • Buy that one last ‘necessary’ item

But as I shopped and finalized speakers for the fall, I also realized I was missing out on some of the more significant preparations. Yes, I read many writings of C. S. Lewis, but did not always reflecting on them deeply. At times I was more excited about crossing out another title, than understanding the writing and meaning of a given book or essay. I also stopped writing to any great extent. I definitely stopped posting on this blog. It was if time was in abeyance until all these external tasks were finished.

Clearly, one of my stories over the past months has been one of getting everything right for this trip. I wanted to have no unexpected detours or moments of anxiety. I wanted to make it antiseptic and safe. I wanted to read all the books. Yet, in the midst of all of this, there remained a whispering voice me about my reason for this trip.

Underneath all these task lists, another story has been smoldering. I yearn to walk in the steps of C.S. Lewis and other authors and to re-engage with passions for literature and writing. These yearnings drove the itinerary – Oxford, Bath, Lindisfarne, Lake District – and they calmed me down. Most importantly they nudged me to remember of the callings of this journey.

  • To encounter new and loved places and stories.
  • To meet fellow pilgrims
  • To follow the story of writers and be inspired again.
  • To refocus priorities.
  • To seek a time to relish God’s story and listen to where it may be drawing me next.

Even as I sit here in my basement home office writing, a smile is moving up from my soul to my face. I’m breathing more calmly. I can’t wait to step onto the plane.

This journey will be one of transformation, though I don’t know what kind. It’s time to stop the frantic running around and rest. As the time for departure closes in, I’ve been encouraged by the well wishes from students, friends, and family. These are definitely not a formal ritual sending, but they are their own form of blessing. They represent the community in which I live and the ways in which they encourage me.

So, as I place this old silver necklace around my neck, it is with remembrance of pilgrimages taken before and expectations for the path before me.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Psalm 84:5

Categories: Literary Pilgrimages | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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