Posts Tagged With: Oxbridge

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.

Categories: Journey Living | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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?

Categories: Pilgrimage Sharings | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: