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Keats, trees, and good friends. This is what my dreams are made of.
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Google maps doesn’t give directions to Narnia. Nor does it provide the correct ones for going to its creator’s house. The Kilns, as the house is called, is usually a four-mile walk from Wycliffe Hall. Add in a few wrong turns and backtracking, though, and the distance is just long enough to ensure you’ll be about twenty minutes late for your tour.
So it was for me and two of my friends. Rather than joining the rest of our group for the guided tour, given by one of our professors who happens to be the scholar in residence at the Kilns, we peaked through windows, walked through the gardens, and ended up sitting stranded in front of C.S. Lewis’ back door.
Thankfully, our professor spotted us from the window of Lewis’ old bedroom and let us in for the remaining portion of the tour. Of course, at the end of seeing the house and the nearby church with Lewis’ grave, we wanted to ask if we could take a quick look at the upstairs rooms we hadn’t seen but were afraid to ask. Fortunately, Dr. Kirkpatrick proved to be an English gentleman and offered to redo the part of the tour we had missed. We accepted the offer immediately.
After seeing the remaining rooms of the house, my friends and I prepared to leave, dreading more walking and ready to pass out in the foyer. But we were stopped short by the most wonderful British question: “Would you like to have some tea?”
We froze. We didn’t want to impose. But no, really, it was nothing; he was going to have some anyway. Was he sure? Absolutely. He insisted. Just go sit in the common room and let him get the tea things.
And so my friends and I found ourselves sitting in C.S. Lewis’ common room, where he would write his letters and have his guests join him for tea. We ate Turkish delight in the home of the man who forever made the foreign candy famous in America. We discussed the Aeneid over cups of tea where one of Oxford’s most famous classics scholars served out wonderful conversation with this favorite beverage.
As someone who loves Lewis, coming to the Kilns and having a cup of tea with a scholar who teaches a class called “C.S. Lewis and the Classics” is something like a dream come true, only I never would have allowed myself such a dream. It never ceases to amaze me how God likes to surprise me with blessings that go beyond my wildest dreams. He knows how to fulfill those deep, fantastic longings which I try to forget for fear of being disappointed or try to satisfy on my own compromised terms.
The whole experience reminded me of a favorite passage of Lewis’ in “The Weight of Glory.” Lewis claims, “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
We cap our desires and dreams with what we know, or what we think may be within our reach. We don’t dare to imagine that our real hunger may be satisfied when the Turkish delight tastes so good and is so available. But He is more than ready to fill us and delight us. And these unimagined blessings, these tea times at the Kilns, are everyday evidence of this inconceivable provision.
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That time we got lost, showed up late to the Kilns, and were locked out for a while. Followed very soon by that time that the Kilns Scholar in Residence invited us to stay for tea in C.S. Lewis’ common room. A more detailed story is coming. Photo cred: Caitlyn Girardi
"It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching." - Francis of Assisi
Good words to reflect on while rambling with fellow sisters in Christ.
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Being six time zones away from the place where I’ve lived for the last 20 years makes me think about what it is that I find so endearing about it. The similarities and differences I’ve noticed while in England have brought about a few (sometimes surprising) realizations regarding what I love about the South, Tennessee, and the Nashville area. Here they are.
1. Y’all-I am the only student at Wycliffe who uses this word without irony. I didn’t even know that I said it regularly until I came here, but apparently using it once or twice a day immediately marks me as a Southerner. Really, though, it’s a useful combination of words, and unless second person English pronouns become more inflected, I plan to use this substitution.
2. Bare Feet-England has as much grass as Tennessee. Sadly, though, it is very wet. That, and the British seem more judgmental about not wearing shoes in public than Tennesseans are.
3. Gardens-Something feels very wrong about it being summer and not hauling bags of vegetables into the kitchen or going to the farmer’s market to get whatever our garden lacks. Apparently, June and July mean zucchini, squash, and corn to me.
4. Folk Music-England has their share of folk festivals, but attending one would cost at least my left hand. Who knew how spoiled I’d gotten living in a suburb of music city? Apparently, free or cheap concerts, fun jam sessions, and random street performances around every corner is not normal.
5. Southern Accents-This one was the most surprising for me. But when I was listening to an interview with John Paul White of the Civil Wars the other day, it hit me hard how much I missed Southern voices. More specifically, I miss deep, male Southern voices. There’s a comfort and familiarity in the accent that I never heard until now.
6. Country Roads-Driving in England is magical. Take away the highway, and you could be in the Shire, a Jane Austen novel, or Narnia. But in a strange and different way, I feel as enchanted by the meeting of an old road and fields of cotton or tobacco. Maybe this setting didn’t inspire “Jude the Obscure,” but it’s the land of Faulkner, O’Connor, and Twain. And that’s good enough for me.
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Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.
Instead of dumping tea, we drink it. Simon, our hilarious tutor for Student Affairs, provides us with red, white, and blue tea treats. As an Australian, he understands the colonial attitude and thoroughly enjoys recording our ineloquent responses to questions about 4th of July traditions, adding in a “Stupid redcoats!” every few minutes.
Forget the grill and lawn chairs. The Brits celebrate in style, and in honor of our mostly American group, the Hall gives us a semi-formal dinner. While our friends and family back home eat watermelon slices in shorts and flip-flops, we use the proper forks for different courses, careful not to drop any mandarin cake on our dresses or ties.
Fireworks and English weather don’t mix too well. Thankfully, the rain stops for about half an hour, allowing for a few sparklers and small explosions. No, it isn’t quite dark, but we know that windows of dryness are too rare around here for us to wait any longer.
Un-American? Perhaps. A fun celebration of cultural differences and a great day all-around? You bet.
Photo courtesy of my wonderful roommate, Caitlyn Girardi.
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One of my favorite things about middle Tennessee is its wonderful display of wildflowers during the summer. When I dumped out the water from the jars that usually hold these jewels at various places around my room, it really hit me that I would be leaving the Boro. And though I’m not one for feeling homesick, my sister’s text informing me of some new flowers growing at our house made me wish I could be back in my yard for a few hours.
Oxford has plenty of flowers, but the parks don’t offer the wildness of a Tennessee field. Thankfully, the English countryside does.
Purple, yellow, and white dot hills covered in nearly knee-high grass. The high winds send ripples through the surface while the stones that mark a narrow path keep their seat. Perfect setting for a Romantic poem, Austen novel, or fairytale. Perfect place to frolic, laugh at yourself, and pick wildflowers.
It’s a comfort to know that I can encounter one of my favorite everyday blessings when I’m on the other side of the world, that God sends this “I love you” note on both sides of the Atlantic. Since I don’t have any jars lying around in Oxford, today’s flower collection rests between the pages of a heavy book on my dresser, pressing for memory’s sake. A reminder of home while here, of England when I leave, and of grace wherever I am.
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Letters should be considered a love language. What can make a heart flutter in anticipation and gratitude like seeing an hand-addressed envelope or the subject line of an email to a friend? It means that someone took the time out of their day to write to you. She sat down with a desire to communicate more than a text message can hold. He thought through what he should say and how to say it. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s pretty cool.
Being an ocean away makes these letters or long emails (though I prefer paper, it’s too hard to wait so long to communicate with some people) even more special. I’m not one to get homesick, but certain sights, tastes, or songs can make me painfully aware of a loved one’s absence. But in a letter, for a few paragraphs, my friend is no longer in Tennessee or Missouri or Colorado. Instead, she’s talking with me, her voice coming through in her catch phrases and choice of subject.
Jane Austen once wrote to her favorite correspondent, her sister, that “the true art of letter writing … is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth.” Even if my letters received or sent don’t meet Austen’s standard (though I agree with her), words channel the presence of the writer in a strange, magical way.
Love and language, two powerful things in one little envelope.
The crowd’s muffled chatter grows silent as a cloaked man makes his way to the organ, and the robed choir proceeds to their seats for Evensong. Worshippers, skeptics, and tourists all seem to hold their breath until the music begins.
Seven tube stops and one transfer north, Camden Town continues in its constant movement and noise. As the choir boys start the service with their clear voices, the vendors at Camden market shout to the crowd passing by their stands. “Only five pounds!” “Hot naan!” And a few curious members break off from the mass in the street, asking how much for the beads and rug.
Isaiah 6 is the Old Testament reading. Familiar, and yet the words take on a novelty in the presence of mosaics dappled with stained glass-filtered sunset. Here are we, now kneeling as we pray for the church and the city.
While I close my eyes to the sensory overload of St. Paul’s, my mind flashes back to the same overpowering feeling of Camden Town. A small world, people working and laughing and despairing and loving. A million stories woven through the wallets and leather journals in the bags beside our bent knees. A history behind the curry now sitting in our stomachs. Something strangely sacred in the bustle of so much life, as mysterious as the way the final hymn always gives me goosebumps.
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