30 August 2017

But First, Oxford

On that initial visit to England I wrote about in a recent post, I visited Oxford for the first time, which was eight years ago.

I remember when my brother and I were making plans for our days in England. He asked me what I wanted to see. My number one priority was to go to Oxford. I didn't even know much about it, except that C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and other authors I enjoyed had all lived there and taught there at Oxford. I knew I had to eat at The Eagle and Child Pub where the Inklings met each week. I knew Harry Potter had been filmed there at various locations. I didn't know what to expect, though. I didn't know what it would look like, as I had never been to a place so old and rich in history and tradition. I couldn't predict the feelings it would rise in me.

We took the train up from the country, through London Paddington, and an hour from there into Oxford. Taking the train is the best way to travel, I quickly learned. I loved watching the English countryside glide by as the train sped along.

From the train station, it is about a mile walk to the city centre, and the reality of stepping onto those streets and seeing the dreaming spire-adorned buildings (libraries!!) awakened in me a new feeling -- that of being part of history, which I had never felt until Oxford. The history of the States seemed so modern in comparison. I was going into buildings dating from the 13th, 14th, 15th centuries, which astounded me, as England's (and Oxford's) rich history was even older than that.

Here was this beautiful city of cream-coloured stone buildings (many looked like castles) that had been witness to centuries of history with its traditions intact to this day. Much of the city looks exactly the same as it did hundreds of years ago. Some sections are more modern (outside of the centre) or have additions/updates, but the core looks the same. I loved that immediately. I had this feeling that I had found the place I had been searching for, but didn't know I had been searching for.

Oxford was like an awakening dream for me on that first visit. Sure, I did some of the more touristy things like tour Christ Church College where all the crowds went to see the Harry Potter dining hall (I was a bit more interested in all the Alice in Wonderland connections to be honest), but then we toured Magdalen College where C.S. Lewis lived and taught for 30 years, and we walked in his footsteps. It was quiet there. The chapel (dating from the late 1400s) was where he went to morning prayers every morning once he became a Christian. The walking path beyond the building he lived in (Addison's Walk) was the now-famous path where he walked and debated late at night with J.R.R Tolkien and Hugo Dyson about myth and Christianity (Christianity is the true myth, Tolkien explained to Lewis), which greatly influenced him leading to his belief in Christ.

I knew somehow deep in my soul that some place like this existed on our planet. I just had to find it, and I found it in Oxford.

Like proper English folk, we had afternoon cream tea at Magdalen, sitting outside by the river. We watched punting boats glide by, and the Magdalen bell tower rang 4 PM, then 5 PM. I felt like I was part of the city. It held so many meaningful connections (in the literary sense as well as my own Christian faith) that I had only briefly encountered. It thrilled me that there was so much more to discover, which I have been able to do almost every year since. It has become an essential place for me to return to each year. 

While I love to travel and explore other places as well, my heart is always saying 'but first, Oxford.'

28 August 2017


I want to learn to walk in the dark as much as the light...to be less afraid of that dark and to be more willing to explore it and find treasures within it.
- Brian Draper

These recent several days have been dreary, rainy, moody. It is so suited to my inclinations to be quiet, still, reflective. For some reason the sunshine and blue sky is not the environment that renders inspiration in abundance for me. But weather does. I am able to dive most deeply while at home, or at a coffee shop. Something about the solitude at home is restoring. Something about the ambient sounds and sense of community at coffee shops is inspiring.

I've been reading this book Soulfulness by Brian Draper, on the importance of being mindful in our everyday. This is already how I aim to live, and the book helped remind me of even more reasons why I need to. Just as we need a Sabbath day, we need to be restored by the soulful acts of listening well, breathing deeply, noticing the tastes and scents of our food, taking walks outside, and sitting quietly in thankfulness. This is especially important when we are going through a dark time, when our souls seem more drained and strained. The book describes the good practices of meditation, which is simply 'calming abiding in the present moment'. It's so simple, and yet we too easily miss the mark (I am looking at myself here). 
We all have so much to attend to, and it is all too easy to just keep going while pushing aside the quiet, soulful times. But we need that. Before we fall into the depths of thinking and attending constantly to work, chores, activities, etc..we have to make a choice to be mindful and engage in healthy letting-go times to feel renewed. This is to avoid a soulless rhythm. 

I like his suggestions in the book. They are all so simple, but try to get everyone you know to stop, sit quietly, and breath for ten minutes, and I bet you cannot. The world tries to get us to keep moving, keep buying, keep producing. But taking time to be soulful should be a daily thing for us all.

24 August 2017

A View of England

Miraculous are the effects of Divine wisdom.
- Thomas Traherne

As I was drifting into and out of sleep on recent morning, I had a sudden unsolicited mental time travel back to my first visit to England, staying on the family farm of a friend, eight years ago.

I was back in the farmhouse, upstairs in the craft room where I slept. The room was stocked with supplies and some storage, but a desk sat under the window, and on the ledge sat pretty pin/pin cushions, sewing materials, threads, etc. A twin bed rested against the wall to the left of the window. The little upper latch window was always open, and I had never experienced staying in a place with the window open all day and all night. In Florida, you just cannot do that, at least without a screen to keep out the bugs and lizards. But in England you can, and it is glorious.

That first night in England, light rain fell as I lay in bed. At first, I was worried the rain would come into the room since the window was open a bit, but it was silly to worry that the English windows were badly designed. No, indeed, they are actually quite perfect I came to realize.

The sound of the English rain falling into the garden below my window lulled me to sleep, and the air was chilled coming into the room. This was early September, so it was the autumn feelings that arose. I quickly grew to love those windows, as the spot afforded a view of the lawn/garden and it allowed the fresh country air of Kent, England to reach me all night. Little did I know in those nights that my love of England was already growing exponentially.  

England was a land that somehow felt familiar to me (as if from a dream or story), and yet these were the days I was experiencing it for the first time. A place I felt at once at home, and yet with so much to discover because I knew so little.

I remember once waking in the middle of the night, chilled, so I pulled the blanket up closer and tighter. What I realized was how deeply I had been sleeping every night. It was peaceful, deep sleeping with the only sounds being the soft patter of raindrops and early morning bird song. There's nothing better to sleep to.

These memories kindle a deeper love and appreciation of England and the time I have spent there in the years since that first encounter. I began to reflect after that first night upon how special the experience was. I could feel that the trip was much more than just a touristy holiday. It was an introduction to some of the places and ways of life I hold closest to my heart. It is all so much a part of me now. Is there a place like that for you? 

22 August 2017

During Summertime...

During Summertime...

You go on a few weekend road trips and read books that make you chuckle (this is a P.G. Wodehouse).

You celebrate your little nephew's first birthday at his shark-themed party where he played in splash pools, ran around, ate pizza and cake, and was as happy as can be.

You enjoy the evening glow of the pre-sunset light each night and feel a deep thankfulness for every beautiful moment of every day.

You watch your niece at your place, and she ends up falling asleep after all morning and afternoon is filled with completing puzzles, playing piano, reading books, watching Star Wars, and writing a story.

You watch the partial eclipse with everyone at the office (using a carefully crafted viewing box) and marvel at the eclipse-shaped shadows! I know I'm not the only science nerd out there who really enjoyed it.

17 August 2017

Inner Place of the Heart

To trust in God is action's highest kind;
Who trusts in God, his heart with life doth swell;
Faith opens all the windows to God's wind.

- George MacDonald

The inner place of the heart muses upon the state of life at present. This path that we are on today is littered with broken pieces. Contemplating scenes flash like slides in the head. Each slide (like an old fashioned photograph) holds some different action or outcome (welcome or unwelcome), as a result of other actions. Only pieces are grasped (past and present collide and crumble), with each slide providing a glimmer of what happened or what is happening.

A darkling landscape of questioning sweeps in. This doesn't mean despair (though it could feel as if it is), as a sudden warm feeling of comfort comes in the good light promised as the darkling scene begins to showcase the light. Each step is a struggle because we can barely see, and it leaves us eager to find a way out. But sometimes the way of ease isn't the way God guides us to go. It is at the darkest point that the pivot comes, back toward the light. It comes to greet us at the edge of darkness. Through the cracks, a beauty emerges. 

Going to a place we would usually not dare to venture may be our path. A place outside of comfort, that exposes us to elements we are afraid might batter us, but a place leading to joy unknown to us from our present perspective awaits us. We are left with circumstances that force us to move this way, as we cannot go back. It means we must keep going. Hold onto the hope of good. Hold onto it with a grip beyond your own strength.

Trust in God and all His light and love. He is there, waiting for us. He is providing shelter if we do feel battered. That, at the centre, is what holds us close. This, we rest in, knowing that darkness may cover us for awhile, but we are taken care of by our loving Lord, who goes through it with us.

15 August 2017

Stranger than Fiction

When one hasn't a touch of the poet one stands some chance of being a poem.
- G.K. Chesterton

I started reading The Club of Queer Trades by Chesterton the other day and I was so delighted in every page of the book. Chesterton's classic literal vs. mad characters make me chuckle, while there is a mystery slowly being revealed with small clues along the way. The wit of Basil and his keen ability to observe (to see through the holes of the 'facts') and find truth is something admirable that we would all benefit from if we could see so clearly. We can easily get caught up in the facts, which may at the surface appear to tell the story, but many gaps leave room for actual truth behind the scene that could easily be glossed over by those who push the way forward for the facts. 

Basil's brother, Rupert, is the literal one who looks only at the facts. He is the one to jump to conclusions. Basil sits back and watches the scene unfold, then the spotlight goes to him, where he cheerfully states his brother is wrong (like a good brother would do), and then slowly reveals (with a grin on his face) what really is happening. 

"Facts," murmured Basil, like one mentioning some strange, far-off animals, "how facts obscure the truth. I may be silly - in fact, I'm off my head - but I never could believe in that man - what's his name, in those capital stories? - Sherlock Holmes. Every detail points to something, certainly; but generally to the wrong thing. Facts point in all directions, it seems to me, like the thousands of twigs on a tree. It's only the life of the tree that has unity and goes up- only the green blood that spring, like a fountain, at the stars." (pg. 22)

The book centers on six stories of odd professions that some residents of London have taken up, to be part of the Club of Queer Trades. The rule of being part of this super-exclusive underground club (they literally meet underground) is that a member must be making an income from some trade that he has invented. That leaves the door open for some risible, odd trades.

In pure Chesterton enjoyment, you stumble through the London streets with Basil and Rupert as they solve mysteries that reveal the odd trade, such as the Adventure and Romance Agency, where a client will pay this agency to create adventure in their everyday life. Suddenly, the client will be caught in a dark alley that leads him to a mysterious house where his name is written on the lawn, threatening his life, so then he must investigate the house and find a mysterious lady, and the story continues to unfold in various seemingly dangerous encounters.

Or, in another story, Rupert is about to head out to a dinner party, when an old clergyman shows up at the door with a terrible re-telling of being made to dress up as an old lady and take part in a crime with a gang of other men who dressed up as old ladies. He recounted detail after detail of such horrible treatment. Rupert misses his dinner party because the story went on for hours, which was the aim of the young man dressed up as an old clergy. His job, you see, was a Professional Detainer. Apparently, their agency is very busy, as many people need to hire professionals to detain other people from being somewhere.

Each story is its own jolly fun that Chesterton delivers in all his writings. The discovery of the profession always made me chuckle. And yet underneath each story and situation, there are some subtle moral, political, and social statements, per Chesterton's usual (the judicial system, standing up for what is right, not judging too quickly, morality, madness, secret societies).

"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction," said Basil placidly. "For fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." (pg 83)

10 August 2017

Silvery Grey Expanse

Cloudscape above familiar land. My home
Resonates with feelings akin to softness.
Comfort and cosiness permeates the air, come
Along with the silvery grey expanse
Aglow, catching the sun's final rays until some
Turn of the earth brings us 'round again,
Back to where we started, or is it known
That we move forward to where we go.

Does the silvery sky inspire my soul? When it covers the blue-hues radiating from the sky, cast over me a time of musing. This is when interesting light and shadows emerge. For a while it does cover the sunlight, then as I look again, glimpses of breaks leak the light. Smooth entryways of a soulful musing invited by the waves of sky, cast in shadows and shades analogous to crumpled tin foil and embers of a quieting fireplace as the evening deepens. It is nature's own creative hygge. 

08 August 2017

Winter in August

My niece doesn't notice (or care) that it is midsummer. She has her own style and personality that makes me smile. Who says you can't wear a winter cap in August? The look isn't complete without some Hello Kitty mittens.

The wild abandon of a four year old is refreshing. When you are four, you don't care what others think about you. You express your creativity without reserve. You let your imagination wander and you make up stories about travelling through space or living with dinosaurs.

The sad thing is, we lose that sense of being ourselves as we grow up. When I watch my niece, I see her creative wheels spinning in her head. She thinks about what she might have heard the day or week before, and asks questions to learn about something ("what are satellites, daddy?"). She soaks up information like an eager sponge. She picks out her outfits, matching colours, and does not worry about what other people might think about her selection. She asks you what your favourite dinosaur is (mine was triceratops that day, her is always T-Rex).

When we really take a moment to think, we all probably spend a large amount of our time worrying about what other people might think. From what we wear, where we live, what we eat, where we spend time. Do we act in ways that really go along with our personalities, or are we trying to impress someone or be like someone else? Are we trying to please God, or please others?

We were all created with different fingerprints. We are made to bring our unique self to the table everywhere we go. That is not an excuse to do wrong and say it's just following our personality. Not at all. It is embracing the tools God gave us and wondering as we look at the world how we can use that for good purpose. I used to hide all my writings and never share with anyone. I was worried that people wouldn't think it was any good. I'm no C.S. Lewis, but perhaps something I write will connect with someone, or resonate with them in a way to make them think. Or be useful and helpful. My work is then purposeful.

Perhaps my niece will grow up to be a fashion designer, or teacher, or scientist. Whatever it may be, may she always be truly herself and embrace her creativity.

03 August 2017

Infinite Perspective

Of writing many books there is no end.

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Bible tells us that if all the stories were written down about what Jesus did, the world would not be able to contain all the books. If that be true, then we only know but a tiny portion of what Jesus said and did. Yet we are to believe and have faith in the infinite, while only knowing some pieces. We are to trust that which is promised, without knowing all the answers. We are, in fact, left with more questions than answers sometimes.

The rain falls in heavy, steady drops this morning and I will have to face those wet drops soon. Until then, I will be here, cosy at my table with a book (Aurora Leigh by E.B. Browning) to set my mind in another world for a few minutes. I have been feeling a sense of contrasts these last several days. Myriad inner emotions and states of understanding (or lack thereof), while the outer realization of truth that surpasses all understanding pulls me back into the centre with a trust that goes beyond all that I know. I didn't notice how much of an automatic reaction it was for me until now. This is an infinite perspective that accepts that I may only grasp a small paragraph of the whole chapter I am trying to take in all at once.

To understand is to piece together parts of many things. Sometimes those pieces seem scant, as the rest of it all swirls around me in droves of confusion. But I never want to lose sight of the outer infinite - that ring of truth so complex and beautiful I can only hear fragments of the harmony being produced and be fully content in the good and promise that it holds.

I have not so far left the coasts of life
To travel inland, that I cannot hear
That murmur of the outer Infinite.

- Elizabeth Barrettt Browning

01 August 2017

Shining True

All things are shadows of the shining True.
- George MacDonald

Words frequently come into my mind without apparent reason or instigation. I will hear words sometimes and if I am able, I will write them down in my journal, and a flow of words will continue onto the pages. I find after a minute that there is usually a reason I heard those words. Some truth is revealed to me through my own words in the act of writing.

Walk humbly with God.
These words just flashed into my mind. I grab my journal and start to write. You can have questions and still seek out God's path all the time, in humility. It has been my answer as of late. Walk humbly with God, and it will all work out appropriately. You don't have to try to push your way up. You don't have to seek attention. When you are humble and truly following God's path, it is noticed because it contrasts so much with everything else.

In the beauty of this day, whether God's buckets have poured out over the clouds, or the warm sun's rays are casting shadows, the words of truth ring out and sing a lovely tune if you listen in. In humility, recognize the smallness of our lives while all the while seeing the hints of glory (wonderful, majestic, macrocosmic glory!) hidden all around, for us to discover in delight. The joys of His creation hidden in a myrtle bloom.

I love this reminder in MacDonald's words, because I seek to find the shining True in the everyday. All the microcosmic things can speak to that. Whether it is through people, places, or things. It is there to be seen. If we look closely, we might be able to see the glory in all the nouns.