I’m sitting in the Ark, a remodelled country church in the middle-of-nowhere-Ontario. A new season of life has started and the surrounding asparagus fields and rusty old farm machinery are a world away from the regal college buildings of Oxford. Today is a slow morning. We’ve all arrived and have settled in, but the asparagus is on its own schedule so we have time to catch up on sleep and get to know each other well.
That also means I have time to reflect. I’ve learnt that I am a slow processor. It usually takes a whole season to figure out the past one. Usually, however, I’ve stepped off the plane with a vague concept of what I had experienced. I can usually spot a couple of common threads and have prepared a few one-line quips to satisfy the pervasive “So, how was it?” questions that are unavoidable. For some reason this time around I can’t formulate a neat summary. The past four months refuse to yield to some sort of theme through which I could understand them.
There is one little moment of revelation that stands out. It occurred to me while gazing down the nave of Winchester Cathedral, one of Britain’s grandest churches. It was a truly magnificent structure, just one of many amazing historical sites I saw, from Stonehenge to ancient mausoleums in Cyprus. It struck me, however, as I was looking down the long colonnade of beautiful Gothic arches, that none of the sites I saw and none of the great works of literature I studied were even as remotely fascinating as a single person I met.
Oxford was meant to be a primarily academic adventure and at times the academics seemed to be all consuming. But the standout moment wasn’t making it through James Joyce’s Ulysses still sane. It was cliff jumping into the Mediterranean, our mouths full of “I can’t believe there are days this beautiful” wonder. It was a kitchen full of people making pizzas together. It was that moment at 3.00am when the whole house is still up dead-tired and writing when everything starts being hilarious. It was everyone crowding out a pub for a celebratory lunch, all of us shocked that we actually survived a semester at Oxford.
All of those moments are acutely human ones. I’ve been reading Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi and was struck by this line: “I thank my God every time I remember you.” (1.3) What a beautiful disposition! I think that is how I am beginning to think about these past months. Before leaving I prayed that God would give me just one good friend that I could connect with and relate to. Instead he gave me a house full.
And here I am, back in Ontario, in another house full of friends, some old and some new. The past season is still working itself out somewhere in the recesses of my brain where such things are worked out. In the meantime, I’m excited for this next one. The asparagus is poking its way out of the ground and this afternoon we are off to fix some irrigation lines. Soon we’ll be in the full swing of things. Hopefully I’ll have the self-discipline to occasionally take the time to write something here or leave a photo so stay posted.
My prayer for you and for me in this next season comes from Philippians as well. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you ay be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
Just Some Bears Hanging Out In A Tree Overlooking a Beautiful City
And now for a week of being stunned by the efficiency of this country and how amazing my relatives are.
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter”, 1964
Dear final essay…I’m coming for you.
At the last supper, he took eating, the most elementary and solitary act of all, the primary act of self-love, the only thing that not only man but all living creatures must do irrespective of species, sex, race, or belief, and made it the symbol of universal love.
W.H. Auden, The Prolific and the Devourer
The British Museum
(Click on the photos for a slideshow)
Much to nobody’s surprise, I have done a terrible job of keeping this blog updated. Here is a photo of me punting:
Photo credit: Casey Smedberg
Wednesday is market day. I always buy way more fresh produce than I need. Also, RHUBARB!!!
Today was a good day. A ridiculously good day. Possibly the best day I’ve had here so far, and that is saying a lot. Here is why:
1. I woke up and didn’t feel that sick. This is only relevant because I had spent the past three days waking up with a crushing headache. But I’m better now! Thanks Jesus.
2. Church. The church I attend in Oxford is part of a large family of churches called Salt and Light, which my church back home is a part of as well. Oxford Community Church hosted their leaders’ conference this weekend which meant that church was packed full with pastors from literally all around the world. Worship was so powerful as one person after another came up and led us in lifting up Jesus’ name in Danish, Russian, Swedish, German, and Swahili. I was reminded of a really important truth: church equals family and I am proud of my family.
3. I went out for lunch with Charlie and Zoë. Some people refresh you just by spending time with you. I feel refreshed.
4. I stood in line in the cold for rush tickets for a concert I really wanted to go to that was sold out. Just six people from the door, they announced that they were completely out, but if we came back in two hours there might be a slim chance that they might have some.
5. I killed those two hours in the Ashmolean Museum looking at ancient Chinese pottery. One urn dates back to 3000BC!
6. Came back to the box office and that slim chance had grown into a fat chance, had grown into me having a ticket.
7. The concert was in the Sheldonian Theatre, built in 1664 so that ‘rowdy’ graduation ceremonies wouldn’t have to be conducted in the university’s church. It was designed by Christopher Wren, who is something of a hero here in England. There are only benches. The posh seats in the bottom rung have cushions. The cheap seat section up top consists of four rings of unforgiving wooden bleachers upon which economically minded families and students are packed onto.
The concert was by the Oxford Philomusica orchestra. There first half was Dvorak’s lush and entertaining 9th Symphony. I knew I liked it, but I had forgotten just how much I liked it. The second half was Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto, performed by none other than Lang Lang. I lucked out and had an unobstructed view of his hands. I am still in shock. It was stunning.
8. I came home, had a hot shower, poured myself a cold glass of homemade horchata, and than had a nice chat with my parents which is a sure-fire way to make a good day even better.
Today is a suprisingly balmy day making it hard to believe that it is still February. I walked through the University Parks today on my way to tutorial. Purple crocuses and yellow daffodils had pushed themselves up, children were laughing their way up trees, and a football game clamored in the distance. My sinuses are still in a deep winter funk, but it is hard to stay grumpy for long with such inviting beauty all around you, teasing you into joy.