30 April 2014

Soothing to my Soul

The night falling is gentle,
soothing to my soul;
clearing away dark clouds
in my mind.
Cleaning up the dirt that
covered me,
I am shaken.
Eyes open to truths.
Seeing the dirt that lies,
and seeing the beauty true;
All which lay before me.
Choosing to focus on beauty -
Those blessings cover me
like flower petals free
to dance about the wind.

Our lives are full of ups and downs, but mostly ups when we really ponder it all with utmost sincerity. Isn't it strange how one thing letting us down can make every bright thing seem dim? How does it have the power to do that? In our momentary affliction we let the disappointment cloud our sunny sky.

Then our own mind steps in trying to convince the heart that all is well and goodness is coming. It could even sprout from the initial source of disappointment! Our own pep talk may work and it may not. That is where certain people in our lives enter by grace and offer the love and support that keeps our heart in check.

These people cause us to change the tune of our song from the blues to genuine laughter. Clearing our vision and helping us see the big picture. Nothing cleanses the soul like some hearty laughter. Even joyful notes emerge from deep within somewhere! Afterwards, the outlook is changed. The meddlesome worry has dissipated. Replacing it is a heart full of thanks and wonder at what life would be like without such blessings that are bursting in abundance.

29 April 2014

Caucus Race

Monday was a bit busier than I was anticipating. I suppose that is how Mondays act sometimes. They sneak up on you. The weekend dies down and you drop your guard. Meanwhile, over there prepping for action, is Monday. Then - - BAM! Monday attacks!

Making up for any lounging over over the weekend, Monday comes in and reminds you that life is not all lavender tea, toast, and marmalade. Sometimes you have to go through the tedious or mindful tasks that pile high before you can take a moment. And that's life.

Rest? Nope - not on Monday. It's a day to jump into the caucus race, not steer away from it. And as the waves crash down and you run around to find dry land and gather around the fire, you get no drier, but stay wet all the while, because here comes another wave....But you keep running. Keep going.

Is anyone catching my Alice's Adventures in Wonderland reference?

"What I was going to say," said the Dodo in an offended tone, "was, that the best thing to get us all dry would be a Caucus race."

"What is a Caucus race?" said Alice....

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (the exact shape doesn't matter) and then all the party were placed along the course here and there. There was no "one, two, three, and away!", but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. (pg. 22) 

Monday we jump into the caucus race. As long as we can laugh at ourselves we will be just fine. Don't forget to leave off the race after a while. Hopefully you have some comfortable shoes on to run through the race this week!

28 April 2014

A Blank Page and a Cappuccino

For you see,
so many out-of-the-way things had happened
lately, that Alice had begun to think that
very few things indeed were
really impossible.

- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

04.09.2014 - Another brisk, bright blue Oxford morning. Another start at Turl Street Kitchen with a delicious cup of soy cappuccino. This place is always bustling with people, and yet, because there are several rooms upstairs and here on the main level, it's never crowded. And people spend time here. There's no such thing as coffee to-go.

It's funny. Being here in a coffee shop in Oxford. I could be anywhere. There's a myriad of people here. Not only locals, but students from other countries. A song is playing that I like. Sitting here amidst a handful of students who are busily working on papers while sipping cappuccinos I wonder what it would be like to be a student here. Would I come in here to write? Would I enjoy it this much?

Yes. I think I would.

Most of my writing has been done here, in Turl Street Kitchen. Just me, my blank pages, and a cappuccino. It is the perfect place for it. In the middle of the city I love, and yet tucked away from the main street. A hideaway for writers.

As I meander toward the end of my stay here in Oxford, I ponder the passage of time and the sadness that will linger with me when I leave this place. I was reading John Donne and his poem "Song" from a small book I picked up here at an Oxfam Bookshop:

O how feeble is mans power
That is good fortune fall,
Cannot adde another houre,
Nor a lost houre recall!

But come bad chance,
And wee joyne to it our strength,
And wee teach it art and length,
It self o'r us to'advance.

I seek to add another hour and then another hour to my stay in Oxford. That is because this place offers so much to me and I soak it up with an eagerness of a child that just cannot get enough. I embrace all that Oxford offers me because that's how God made me. I am filled with glee when in bookshops and walking around colleges with all the history and architecture. How do I translate that glee to others? How could I inspire others with my quiet, bookish soul?

All I know is to share it. So that is what I am doing. That is what all these blank pages are for. To be filled up with words of ink. I don't question it. I just know it is what I should keep doing.

24 April 2014

Tales from an Oxford Bookshop


I ventured into St. Philip's Books on one of my last days in Oxford. It held a lot of books for clergy and on church history. I don't really read any of those kinds of books, but I made a loop around the shop, and decided to head out.

But as I was heading toward the exit, I noticed one corner (under the "more books" sign) where a man was looking at a shelf I did not glance at, yet. So, I paused and craned my neck to see what the shelves contained. To my utmost delight there were several shelves labelled "C.S. Lewis and the Inklings"!

I started pulling books off the shelf that I had never seen before, and that's saying a lot because I own every C.S. Lewis book I can ever get my hands on. I flipped to the copyright page of many books I held, and they were first editions! My heart skipped a beat. (I realize I am coming across as a huge book nerd, but that's who I am!) But then my heart dropped as I glanced at the price, written in pencil inside the front cover. They ranged from £
40- £60. That's roughly $60- $80. I just cannot pay that much for a book. 

Almost feeling dejected that I couldn't buy any C.S. Lewis books, I glanced at the next shelves to the right, and there my little eyes did catch the name of G.K. Chesterton on many many spines of books! Another author who I delight in and snatch up any books I can get my hands on. Again, there were numerous titles I had never seen before, and I pulled several off the shelf. I smiled when I saw the prices ranging from £
4 -£9. Now, that I can manage.

I picked out two G.K. Chesterton hardback books of essays that were old and small in size (my favourite kind), but not first editions.

I had the two in my hand when suddenly a lady came up behind me and asked "Would you like me to buy you a book?"

I didn't even realize there was anyone standing behind me, and wasn't sure if she was talking to me. I turned toward her and asked, "I'm sorry?"

"Would you like me to buy you a book?" She asked again.
I wasn't sure how to respond, so I said , "Well, I am going to buy these two...."
"And I would like to buy one." She completed my sentence.
"That's very kind of you. You don't have to do that." I replied.
"Oh, but I want to. I hear that you are an American and I am very fond of your country, and I like to support this bookshop." She replied.

I thanked her and smiled at such a random act of kindness. She asked which book I wanted her to buy. The two I picked out were affordable (
£4 and £6) so I held one book in each hand and held them out, telling her it doesn't matter. She took one, and began to pay for it. She looked at the book I was buying and was very impressed with my selection of Chesterton. Then she asked me about where I was from and if I knew about the Chesterton society in America. She named several things I did not know about, and ended up taking a sheet of paper to make notes for me to look up certain things when I got back home.

She paid for my book, I thanked her about 20 times, asked what her name was (Harriet), then she shook my hand, wished me a Happy Easter and cheerfully left. I paid for my book and tucked them both into my travel tote bag, and went off to celebrate at dinner. There I sat and read the note and started reading one of the books. I just couldn't stop smiling about the cheerful giver who had just brightened an already bright visit to Oxford.

23 April 2014

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

At the next peg the Queen turned again, and this time she said "Speak in French when you ca'n't think of the English for a thing- turn out your toes as you walk- and remember who you are!" (pg. 144)

It only seemed appropriate to read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland while I was living in Christ Church College, Oxford where Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) lived and taught. I passed his portrait every morning in the dining hall. It is on the wall near the entrance. Characters from the story are hidden in the 5th stained glass window on the left, in the dining hall. I would greet them each morning at breakfast. Lewis Carroll wrote this story for the Dean's daughter, Alice, and imagined a topsy turvy world with inspirations from the England landscape he knew around the college.

So, when I saw this delightful Penguin copy of 
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at Blackwell's Bookshop, I had to snatch it up and begin reading that day. Being there in Oxford made me crave entering into those dreamy glimmers of childhood through his book.

I have always loved 
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I've read it many times before. But never before have I enjoyed the story so much as this time. There is a high quality about this book that hints to me that it is written for adults who have imaginations like children (or to bring us back to those imaginations). I don't think children actually get the full charm and silliness out of this story that an adult can from reading it. The quizzical nature of all the characters. The riddles. The play on words. I love every bit of all that.

"I ca'n't believe that!" said Alice.
"Ca'n't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."
Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one ca'n't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast...." (pg. 175)

Everything is taken literally to the point of hilarity. I love what Virginia Woolf writes about the Alice books and becoming a child again. She writes "It is for this reason that the two Alices are not books for children; they are the only books in which we become children....it doesn't matter how old, how important, or how insignificant you are, you become a child again. To become a child is to be very literal; to find everything so strange that nothing is surprising; to be heartless, to be ruthless, yet to be so passionate that a snub or a shadow drapes the world in gloom. It is to be Alice in Wonderland."

"What is it you want to buy?" the Sheep said at last, looking up for a moment from her knitting.
"I don't know yet," Alice said very gently. "I should like to look all around me first, if I might."
"You may look in front of you, and on both sides, if you like," said the Sheep, "but you ca'n't look all around you - unless you've got eyes in the back of your head." (pg. 176)

We get to see the world upside down through the eyes of a child. And we get to laugh along with all the crazy adventures along the way. We lose our sense of right-side-up, I think, when we have been in Wonderland long enough. Dive into Wonderland. It's positively delightful.

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where - " said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat. (pg. 54)

22 April 2014

English Afternoon: Cream Tea

Have you had cream tea? It was one thing on my list of thing I wanted to be sure to do while I was in Oxford.The first time I ever had cream tea was in 2009, in Oxford, with my brother Jason. We sat by the river, in Magdalen College, taking tea outside the cafe where students usual mingle. Empty punting boats sat on the river, and I got to taste something new, and delicious. Cream tea is usually an afternoon indulgence. It consists of two scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam, and a pot of tea. Here is my recent encounter, straight from my journal:

It's tea time. 4:00 PM. It has been a full day of climbing St. Mary's Church tower, lunching at the Vaults and Garden Cafe at the church, walking to Magdalen College and touring the college, including almost all of Addison's Walk and back, only to find C.S. Lewis' poem very much closer to the college than I thought. Oh well- it was the most pleasant walk I have ever been on. Literally, fields of flowers all in bright bloom. I've never seen anything like it. And quite chilly- which is perfect to me.

I got the best compliment today upon entering Magdalen. As I got to the porter's gate to pay, he asked if I was a student. He said I look like a student. I couldn't help but smile.

Now I am having cream tea at The Grand Cafe, across High Street from Magdalen College and down a block or so. It is the site of the first coffee house in England, from 1650.

I am eating the most delicious scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and drinking lavender tea. Oh. My. Goodness. The best tea.....I am so happy I have a whole pot of it.

There is something about lavender that is irresistible to me. It's sweetness. It's flavour. And the subtly of it. It's not tart or fruity or overly sweet. It's the perfect blend of flowerly scented goodness.

It's quiet in the cafe right now. Several tables are occupied, but it is a small place, so it could get quite crowded quickly. It's kind of fancy in here. Across the street is Queen's College and Queen's Lane, of course.

The best part of these last few days is how I've done a lot each day and yet each day I have taken hours of time to sit in a coffee shop to write and read. It's exactly as I like.

Now that I am full of scones and lavender tea, I'll probably walk around for a bit and soak in more of Oxford until it starts to get a little darker. Then, I'll surely grab a quick takeaway from EAT or Pret for later, since I won't be hungry for several hours. And at that point, I will be ready to relax back at my room in Blue Boar Quad.

I feel like I could be a regular resident here. Just walking the streets. I glance at tourists and smile. I give directions to a few. I hang out at local spots down side streets. Just drinking lavender tea in a little cafe. Gosh, this lavender tea. I am drinking every last drop -- 3 or 4 cups??

21 April 2014

Magdalen College, Oxford: Addison's Walk

From the New Buildings, I take the path going back toward the cloister, passing this grand, old tree. 
I pause to gaze at the lovely vines that decorate the cloister building. This is one of my favourite scenes. I love the shape of the doorway, the designs of the windows, and the splashes of colour added by the vines on the stone.
I pass through a tall gate, cross the River Cherwell over a bridge and come to the path of Addison's Walk, decorated with bursting flowers.
Addison's Walk follows the River Cherwell, and a few lounging students (or visitors) in flat boats floated by as I took a long walk. My initial intent was not for a long walk. My goal was to find the C.S. Lewis poem on the path which is not too far along the walk, however, I missed it and ended up walking about 5 times further than I needed to. But I don't regret it one bit. It was the most beautiful walk I've ever been on.
It was a crisp, bright day. Perfect for a long walk. I think it was about 53-54 degrees at 3 PM, when I was there. Fields of flowers were everywhere. I have never experienced anything like it before. This was true Spring! Daffodils, Crocus, and the Snake Head Fritillary, which is the purple drooping head flower that is the Oxfordshire flower.
I just kept walking because it was so beautiful. I wandered across another bridge and into the Magdalen College Fellow's Garden, which had even more carpets of flowers. My eyes were probably wide-eyed like a little kid as I walked. I just couldn't believe every grassy space was alive and bursting in flowers, some of which I have never seen, like the purple Oxfordshire flower that looks like a checkerboard piece of origami. It's so lovely.

I walked pretty far. This is looking across the flood field back to Magdalen College. You can see Magdalen Tower and the New Buildings. Addison's Walk kind of goes around this whole field in one circuit. 
I found it on my walk back! This is a poem written by Lewis. He walked here along Addison's Walk almost daily. I would do the same thing if I lived here. This is where Lewis had a very important conversation with two friends, including Tolkien, about Christianity and how it is the Myth that is Real. It wasn't long after that Lewis believed in Christ.
Returning back to Magdalen from Addison's Walk. After my long walk, I am ready for some cream tea, which I am on my way to indulge in. 

18 April 2014

Holy Week Thoughts

Weeping Willows were all around Oxford. They are noticeable and quite lovely, especially with rays of golden sunshine streaming through their hanging tresses.

Good Friday.

It has been a challenging week. I won't lie.

But then it was remedied by some kindness and caring that cheered my soul.

When I think about the challenges and hurt that did befall me this week, I step back for a second and quickly realize that it is nothing compared to what Jesus suffered. Then I feel absurd for even letting the grain of sand bother me. Jesus had the weight of ALL our sin and brokenness on Him on this day - Good Friday. Nothing that we endure can compare.

And that should also bring us comfort. Because anything we go through, Jesus has gone through it, and worse. It is not that we are left to fend for some new issue that He hasn't dealt with before. No, we can take solace in the arms of our Heavenly Father who gathers us up in love and gives us people in our lives who display that love as well. There are many reminders of His love for us, they are the blessings bestowed upon us.

Since Jesus went through everything you're going through and more, 

learn to think like Him.

- 1 Peter 4.1

17 April 2014

Magdalen College, Oxford

Magdalen College, Oxford is so beautiful, I am going to have to split it up into two posts. It is generally regarded as the most beautiful college at Oxford, and you can easily see why. My interest in Magdalen is two-fold. It is a lovely college of Oxford University and it is also where C.S. Lewis lived and taught for almost 30 years.
Upon entering the college through the gate (by the way, it costs 5 pounds to tour the college), you are in St. John's Quad and you see the lovely stone buildings to your left. However, these are newer buildings (1884) relative to all the others we are about to visit.
The Chapel (from 1480) is the grand structure to your right as you enter the college. It fits the usual T shape plan inside, and you can take a peak in there. 
The cloister has an open-air walkway all around, with doors along the way and steep stairs going up to students' rooms.
Doors and stairways going off the hall of the cloister.
A closer look at some Oxford dreaming spires in the cloister.
Another lovely prospect.
One of the doorways off the cloister leads up some stairs to the dining hall.  The high table at the far end is for dons and special honoured guests.
One of the passages through the cloister leads out to the New Buildings (from 1733). This is where C.S. Lewis lived (is that the door that leads up the stairs to his rooms?) and where the Inklings met regularly, up in his rooms late in the evenings.
Looking out from New Buildings back toward the cloister and Magdalen Tower.
The New Buildings. The style of this building was like an elongated Georgian country house. It doesn't really fit in, but has become a classic building of the college. In the second post, I will show you the wilderness behind this building and how breathtaking it is. 

16 April 2014

True Friendship

Too many Christians, even those who see one another regularly,
 relate with very little, if any, reference to their shared faith.
- Vaughn Roberts

I bought this book when I went to church in Oxford last Sunday, at St. Ebbes Church, about a five minute walk from Christ Church College, and started reading it at Turl Street Kitchen the next morning (above). It is written by the Rector of St. Ebbes, and they were selling it and many other books (I might have purchased a few other books....) at the church.

It is a good book. Compact, direct, and to the point. It is thought provoking. At 88 pages, it's a quick read, but it quickly draws attention to the heart of the matter. I like how he draws from C.S. Lewis' concept of friendship -- how couples look face-to-face at each other and ignore the rest of the world, but friends stand shoulder-to-shoulder, looking out together to the world.

This quote above kind of hits it on the mark. It seems as though sometimes people we call close friends never get into any spiritual matters, which is the part of friendship that is the deepest, and most true.  It's not just having similar interests or mutual advantages for one another. If it is only that, that is the surface level friendships.

As I sipped my cappuccino and analysed my own friendships, I see how that is intensely true. My closest friends are those who I have spiritual conversations with. They aren't always the easiest conversations, though; they cause us to open up and reveal true matters of the heart and soul. And that shows trust with the friend.

I realize that I need to be even more intentional about asking the simple questions that open the spiritual door- such as "what are you finding especially encouraging?" or "is there anything you are struggling with?"

It is by asking these simple questions that a deeper level can be reached, and if a friend doesn't want to go there, then perhaps they are not meant to be a spiritual friend, and may have to be kept at a more surface level.

There were a few parts of the book that have really helped me with some certain friendships I've struggled with and it comforted me in knowing that it is okay if I let go. Friendship has to go both ways. Two are involved. Don't waste time in trying for something that isn't there.

15 April 2014

Curiouser and Curiouser

Here are some curious, random things at Oxford. Things that make me laugh, or just stare for a moment. Because every town has its quirks and silly things.

For it holds like glue -
Holds the lid to the dish, while it lies in the middle:
Which is easiest to do,
Un-dish-cover the fish, or dishcover the riddle?

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Always look up. There are silly guys watching you. Gargoyles and Grotesques. A gargoyle (French for "throat") are the ones at the water drains, and the Groteques are elsewhere. But their goofy faces are very humorous. 
More in the way of silly faces, the Emperors that guard the entrance to the Sheldonian Theatre really make me chuckle. They are so goofy looking.
 Albert Einstein's chalkboard from a lecture given here at Oxford in 1931. He is demonstrating the concept of an expanding universe on this board. This was at the Museum of the History of Science. They preserved this board after his lecture.
In case you were wondering where the term came from. It has a legitimate source. Who knew?

14 April 2014

Storing Up Oxford

A life of ease is a difficult pursuit.
- William Cowper

Being in Oxford fills me to the brim with sights and sources of inspiration. It is like a vacation of research. Storing up all the literary, architectural, cultural, and nature inspiration to last me for a while until I get to go back. I am taking up all these memories, visions, and experiences of places in this amazing city for use later when I am back in the states.

I feel like I have so many notes of appreciation in my head that it could fill my whole journal.

Darkness has fallen again over Oxford. Looking out my window in my room, I see a window in the building on the edge of the quad lit. The chimney stacks raise up above the roof line. The wind is howling through my window. The sky is a steady grey.

Tom Tower is ringing now- at 9:05 PM, it is ringing 101 times for each original college member at foundation. I am getting so accustomed to this bell, and I love how the traditions are kept alive like that.

Oxford keeps charming me- again and again. Even though today was rather crowded (the weekend) around the shops and main sights, I barely noticed. Every group that passes me speaks in foreign languages. It is crazy how many visit from all over the world. This is a touristy city, at certain places, but it gets quiet here as they all go away. Plus, all the back streets stay pretty quiet.

I am enchanted by Oxford. I am thankful for every moment spent here and love so much that I took a long holiday here.

11 April 2014

Walks Around Oxford

 'The Bridge of Sighs' connects buildings in Hertford College.
 Beautiful floors in the chapel in St. John's College.
Oh, Blackwells, you are one of the greatest bookshops. Four floors of books! I spent hours in here on a rainy day, and then came back a week later just to browse, and found another book!
 Inside the Ashmolean Museum. The Ashmolean is a large art and archaeology museum definitely worth a visit. It's free! The large painting straight ahead was my favourite. It is Jerusalem by Edward Lear.
 Inside St. Edmund's Hall. That is an ancient well in the centre. 
Walking down St. Giles to The Eagle and Child and Oxfam bookshop.
The gowns (of fellows and professors) are walking to the Sheldonian for an awards ceremony. They are walking through the Bodleian Library old quadrangle.
A favourite path of mine, Brasenose Lane. Going from Radcliffe Sqaure to Turl Street.
Same street, except it's gone back in time for filming being done that day.
I went to church on Sunday here, to St. Ebbes. It was packed. The people were so very friendly.
 I ate here, at The Kings Arms, yesterday for lunch. I know I sound like a C.S. Lewis broken record, but this is one of the pubs that he and The Inklings came to when The Eagle and Child ran out of beer during WWII.
The walkway between Merton College and Corpus Christi College heading toward Christ Church Meadow. A lovely little cut-through.
Another neat cut-through is Logic Lane. Because of course it makes logical sense to place a tiny path through University College from High Street to Merton Street. Duh.