28 April 2016

Genius of Paradox

"Genius oughtn't to be eccentric!" he cried in some excitement. "Genius ought to be centric. It ought to be in the core of the cosmos, not on the revolving edges."
- The Poet and the Lunatics by G.K. Chesterton

I found this treasure of a book in Oxford, at a small bookshop on St. Aldates that I frequent every time I am there. To my delight, it is a first edition, from 1929.

This book had me chuckling so many times, I lost count. It is the genius of the writer. The master of paradox and deeper thought behind seemingly superficial banter. A conversation in G.K. Chesterton's books almost always begin with a silly notion, but somehow circle around a paradox and pick up some relevant theological issues along the way that suddenly sprouts out and when you finally catch on to what they are talking about, you smile because you had so much fun getting there.

That is what G.K. Chesterton does. He weaves stories and mixes in issues that need to be solved, and in these stories, the mysteries are not solved by rational thought and conclusive evidence, but with poetical notions and observations made by Gabriel Gale, who tends to be the opposite of a practical policeman or doctor.

"Because I am not good at practical things," answered Gale, "and you have got beyond practical things."

I am amazed at how stories can portray such deep truths amidst a crazy and topsy-turvy tale that you can barely follow sometimes (seems like he does that on purpose), but that comes right side up at the end.

Certain days we feel upside down and can hardly make sense of the world full of evil, pain, suffering, and hurt. Each day goes against our practicality in many ways, and facing it with the so-called practical sense is like facing a giant with a pea. We need to go beyond the practical, and sometimes look at the world while standing on our heads. A different view of the same thing provokes the imagination.

"Do you call that practical? You can only forbid him to die. Can you persuade him to live? Believe me, that is where we come in. A man must have his head in the clouds and his wits wool-gathering in fairyland, before he can do anything so practical as that."

26 April 2016

Beauty of the Day

Maybe one day we will notice the beauty all around us in the small things of the everyday.

The softness of the morning light is my favourite and most inspiring time of day. I see the streams of light rising and the poetical thoughts descend onto pages as my fingers grasp my pen. 

I cannot help but look at the morning light and feel the words forming in my mind. Letters shape into words that try to capture the moment. A photo can capture a small frame of a scene, but how can you show a reader with words the scene so that they can place themselves into that room and see the softly lit rose bloom being gently awakened by an array of scattered rays?

As I reflect on these notions, something bigger comes into focus. God usually does that when we stop to think about what we are seeing.

I am being nudged to notice the beauty of being content with the momentary season, whatever it may be. In order to shape and grow, we must be molded, and that sometimes involves sharpening and shaping. To be cast into the person God wants us to be is to be stretched toward what we are not yet. 

We are being shaped into a larger mold that we don't quite fit yet, and it is a lovely thing to grow into that which God places before us. We don't always have the same vision in our sight, but God sees what we can be, and He wants to use the season you are in right now to grow your character so your soul extends outward the love of God.

In that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind shall see.
 - Isaiah 29.18

22 April 2016

A Few Books

I bought just a few new (and old) books while in England. Not too many; just enough to fill half my suitcase for the journey home, plus some more books in a twill backpack as a carry on. This is my weakness, when I am in a place where some of my favourite authors lived, their books are in all the bookshops I go to. Books are everywhere. Not just bookshops, but charity shops too. It is really hard for me to resist a book that I know I will never see in the States, and that I will not see again unless I grab it. 

Other than food, coffee, and tea, books is what I spend my money on. I had no agenda or list of books to try to find. I know that doesn't work. The thrill is not knowing what books I will find while perusing all the bookshops. I always find some new and old treasures, and it is a very rare occasion that I walk out of a bookshop with empty hands. If that happens, it is because I show up five minutes before closing (which has happened more than a few times).

Now I want a reading holiday! Here are some (not all) of the books I brought back with me from England (look for future posts about some of these):

The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams (2nd edition)

The Story of Alice by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

The Poet and the Lunatics by G.K. Chesterton (1st edition- 1929)

The Oxford Book of English Verse

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë

The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks

Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney

The Face of England by Edmund Blunden

The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe

Oxford and its Colleges by Joseph Wells

Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon 

The Scandal of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

20 April 2016

Hope for Beyond

I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
Isaiah 46.11

The sky is a piercing blue today, Not just a fair weather blue, but a colour that somehow goes beyond what it is as a simple colour. It is more than a perfect scattering of a smattering hue, with depth like a thought. How can a colour produce a feeling of depth? Interestingly, the sky, and its wide range of colour palettes, does invoke an array of feelings from good to bad, depending on the colour presented.

Have you gotten caught outside somewhere in the country when some dark, menacing clouds build and display a sense of danger on the way? Seeing a dark grey or black sky with swirling clouds usually motivates one to go to a safe interior location and wait out the stormy weather that could arrive. But it may not arrive. There isn't a promise or guarantee that the dark clouds will hover over your location and produce a storm.

In contrast, we have a promise and guarantee of what will come. The Word of God is around us all the time. Hovering, dwelling, seeping into everything that we touch, taste, and see. And one day, He will come. The Son of God will be here again. This goes against the norm of our everyday predictions, such as weather forecasts. We cannot predict the arrival, but we are guaranteed that it will happen.

Science studies the regular ways in which God sustains the universe. We can make assumptions and see how the world is sustained in that environment. We can run tests and experiments to see if the theory is correct, according to our world and the rules here. 

Miracles are God's sustaining redemptive purposes that are different from the regular way God sustains, so it cannot be replicated, nor can it be fully explained by science. Why should we be surprised by the possibility of something that we cannot explain from a God we cannot fully understand? 

This is the mystery of faith. Believing in something that is not the norm in our world. This coincides with C.S. Lewis' musing that if we long for something that cannot be satisfied here, then we must be made for another world. Indeed, we are.

18 April 2016

A Bath Day

There is a city with Roman history, full of buildings with creamy complexions and history whilst interspersed with modern shopping and pedestrianized streets. Bath combines it all. Even some Jane Austen history (she lived here for a time, and two novels take place partly in Bath - Persuasion and Northanger Abbey).

A visit to a new city cannot begin without some proper coffee. So, my first stop was to Society Cafe for a delicious soy cappuccino and time spent reviewing the map. The downside of a very generic map (and no cellular service) is that a few wrong turns got us off course a few blocks, but we soon made our way by a lovely park and saw the grand view of the Royal Crescent building ahead of us. It's really just a fancy apartment building in the shape of a large crescent, and after it was built in 1775 it was where the most elite lived. To have an address here was to be the leaders of society.

Bath has a lot of social gathering places, such as the Assembly rooms, which are fancy chandelier-adorned decoratively-trimmed large rooms where teas, balls, musical events, and other parties were held. A place to show off your newest dress and to be seen. The rooms are quite lovely.

A few blocks away from the Royal Crescent is The Circus, another rounded apartment building that actually is a full circle, encompassing the whole block. These gently curving, Georgian style buildings are lovely to look at, and dream about living in. 

A few steps away from both of these fancy spots is a little pedestrianized street lined with local shops and cafes. This is where I wanted to eat lunch, at a little grocery/cafe called The Foodie Bugle. The owner serves you lunch from a few large tables that is shared with others at the front of the shop. The menu changes daily, and is all local and cooked that morning. The shop itself houses a wide array of meats, cheese, fruits, veg, chocolates, and drinks, while downstairs is a home goods shop full of delights like dishes, linens, books, soaps, and all sorts of tempting things. This was probably my favourite meal from the trip, with a pot of Earl Grey tea, and finished off with gingerbread cake.

We went into three bookshops along the way, and six books tucked into my leather tote bag later, we kept on with our sightseeing. One of the best things I did use on this trip was my tote bag. It literally holds everything I need, and when most shops charge you 5 pence for a plastic bag, I usually just tossed my purchases in my tote bag (unless there were many books). 

We walked down to the River Avon to see the Pulteney Bridge, one of only four (I think) bridges in the world that have shops spanning both sides across the river. Then, the Bath Abbey came into view and dominated the scene. With its tall reaching Gothic stance, it is a wonder to look at. Inside, it is ornate and beautiful. Even when lots of tourists are wandering around, it is a place of quiet and peace amidst a busy city with so much activity. You can sit and rest for a little while, and imagine the years of history here. The services, the songs, the words of God spoken in this vast space.

There was a lot we did not pay to do this time (the Roman Baths, the Fashion Museum, Jane Austen museum, high tea at any of the tearooms), so that will have to wait for the next trip. I wanted to get the scope of the city, and walk around, getting to know where things are. I knew there wouldn't be time to do that as well as some more time-consuming ventures. Bath is certainly worth a visit because there is so much to see and do, and it is a really beautiful city.

15 April 2016

In Between

Faith is not the opposite of reason,
it is in combination with reason.

I know how you feel, God says.

When you go through tough times, when we feel as if we have hit a stone wall, we should remember that scripture says we will go through many trials. But God is with us - He tells us not to be afraid. It will come to an end.

Even as we search through our reason and try to make sense of it. We tear it to pieces in our head, and try to put it back together, but the puzzle pieces do not fit as they once did. Something changed.

We think of all the possibilities. Then push them aside as they sound absurd. What was I thinking? You wonder.

What was God thinking? To love us so deeply, and so fully - knowing that we would turn against Him?

The questions linger like raindrops on a window, falling ever more rapidly.

The darkness is going to linger sometimes, longer than you would like. It may seem like the road goes ever on and on, and the slope looks steep and the fog is heavy-laden and you can barely see the ground at your feet.

Keep your faith through it, even while it seems so dark.

Don't give up because your story is not over. God will never abandon you. The time of abundance is coming.

13 April 2016

Oxford Colleges : Wadham

I remember when I first stepped into a college at Oxford, almost seven years ago, Magdalen College. I think I probably held my breath, and felt the elation that such places actually existed in real life, and not just in stories. Places that dive so deeply into history and hold so many Christian traditions. Places that hold so much beauty by being themselves, as they were made. Places that encourage learning, growth, and thinking for yourself. and grow in the ability to defend your opinions and your thoughts. A place where you are able to explore the minds of grand expanse of tutors and professors. To dig deeply into books, topics, and stretch your ideas.

All these things are held within the walls of a college. The chapel, dining hall, library, rooms, community rooms, walks, gardens, etc... Everything needed to assist in your growth. The scent of old ideas lingers within the walls, but they mix with younger minds and become etched into the landscape of the college. 

Every time I visit another college, I try to get a sense as to what the student living there will experience. Where will they lounge in the garden? Where will they study? Is the dining hall cosy or grand?

This is why I enjoy staying in college so much. I become the student (minus all the essays and tutorials) for a little while. This time it was Wadham College. Living in the rooms, eating in the dining hall, wandering the quadrangles, and gazing out the fourth floor windows at a city of dreaming spires with a dreamy look in my eyes. The staircase we stayed in, Staircase 9, was built in 1693 for college rooms.

Wadham's main quadrangle was built between 1610-1613. It is in the traditional Oxford Gothic style, with a few classical notes. It is one of the most symmetrical styles I have seen. The hall is one of the largest in Oxford, with a beautiful hammer-beam roof and Jacobean woodwork. Portraits line the walls of distinguished members, such as Sir Christoper Wren (the architect for St. Paul's Cathedral, Sheldonian Theatre, etc).

I am a student for life, and to me, learning is a wonderful life-long adventure. Being in college adds the living aspect that is also comfortable. Sure, the rooms are not decorated with art or colour, but they are always clean They have all the furniture needed, they are comfortable, and quiet. I have access to the chapel, the dining hall, the porter at the lodge, walking around the grounds, and can wander a bit more than the average visitor.

As the trees of old reach higher above the walls of the college, the traditions hold and stay as they have been for generations. I get to see that in action, and be part of it, which is a privilege in my eyes.

11 April 2016

Oxford: Nothing is Ordinary

Oxford is a city that has so much beauty, and nothing in it is ordinary. I am not sure how one could ever grow accustomed to its towering dreaming spires and the ancient buildings that have inspired my imagination so much. Doors are not ordinary. They are grand, ornate, detailed, carved, painted, and lovely. Stairs are not ordinary. They are creaky, wooden, and always photogenic. Dining halls are not ordinary. They are grand, spacious, with impressive hammer-beam wood ceilings, walls covered in portraits, and stained glass. Bookshops are far from ordinary. They hold treasures such as first edition C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton books. The weather is not ordinary. Sometimes you get four seasons in one day.

Each college and each building in it has its own story. All the buildings drip with architectural details that will capture your eyes and your imagination if you stay and look for a minute. There is usually someone around to tell you about the history, or you can pick up a good book about Oxford in Blackwell's Bookshop. These buildings have not changed in centuries. Nothing much changes in Oxford, other then new shops along Cornmarket and St. Michael's. It all pretty much looks as if we were walking around in C.S. Lewis' time, and in his time it was as if he were walking around in the 1800's. That is part of what is so inspiring. To know you are looking at things and experiencing things that C.S. Lewis (and my other favourite authors) did, and it's all largely unchanged.

Walking to a nearby coffee shop, to dinner, or the grocery store to pick up snacks you walk by history and these beautiful buildings. It is part of the every day, and the every day is out of the ordinary in the best ways. For me, walking around consists of constant interior sighs of delight. Gazing at the Bodleian Library as I walk by to go somewhere else, I feel the presence of history and imagine previous Oxford dons in their gowns carrying their books for study, heading to a tutorial. Students tucked away behind the windows of the Bodleian Library with stacks of books on the table in front of them. On breaks, they come out for a walk to the coffee shop for some caffeine to sustain them for another few hours of study.

Everything I do in Oxford is special. Having tea or coffee is a favourite activity because it allows me to slow down to sit and reflect on the past hours and all that I had seen and learned. Every hour is packed with sights and delights that leave me with so much to ponder and muse about for several weeks.