My love for C.S. Lewis (aka: Jack) started when I was ten years old. Everyday, my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Hebb, read aloud the Chronicles of Narnia to our class. I remember where I was sitting; right next to the window in front of Tina, who knew an awful lot about sex for a ten year old, and behind the twins, Stacy and Tracy. My best friend Anne sat across the room, and it was the one time in the day where we stopped passing notes and ceased trying to communicate via sign language.
Jack had me at, “Narnia.”
Many of you followed my adventures on Facebook when I went to Oxford this past August. I had a friend who had studied at Oxford and had told him my dream to go and take a class, but it was expensive. My friends said if I applied and got in that they would pay for me to attend. Can I just pause right here and say that before grad school, I was not a good student? I encouraged friends to skip class in college so we could roll down the hill into piles of leaves. Why be in Philosophy 101 when you could be socializing? The irony that Oxford let me attend their Theology Summer School was not lost on me.
On the last day of July, in the smothering Tennessee heat, I packed my bags and flew across the pond to the 65 degree sunny skies of the UK, my motherland. I had The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in hand, just because. I was arriving in England bruised and hurting. The month prior had been brutal and full of mystery. A friend of mine had died in 2012. This friend was a man I had gone out with and kept up with the year before he passed away. I found out in June that his care for me was greater than I had known. I will leave it at that for now. In addition to sitting in the mystery of that loss, I was also in the throes of making decisions regarding church and asking difficult questions of myself and of the direction of the church. I was exhausted and needed a respite. The entire plane ride I played Hillary Scott’s new song, “Thy Will” – which for the record, is the one prayer God will always answer, and cried most of the way to England. The flight attendants gave me extra water and my seat mate avoided all eye contact. This is how I arrived at Oxford.
Monday morning I began my walk to class. My eyes were wide open to my surroundings and my senses were on high alert. Everything before me was beautiful. You know what John Eldridge says about beauty? He says there are two things which pierce the soul, beauty and affliction. My soul was being pierced. I walked into our classroom, which just happened to be in the room where Charles Dodgson (aka: Lewis Carroll – author of Alice in Wonderland) lived when he attended Oxford. The awareness of the history was acute.
I was in class for three hours in the morning and in the afternoon. The morning class was taught by the kindest man, Father King, a Catholic priest in his late seventies who had piercing blue eyes. We spent each day reading and talking about Jesus and healing. I sat around that table with former monks, Catholic priests, Anglican vicars, Episcopalian ministers, female ministers, an exorcist, an artist, a professor who had been deeply wounded by “church”, a tiny little woman from the highlands of Scotland, and a man named Basil, who I accidentally mispronounced his name like the herb. For the record, if you meet a “Basil” chances are it is pronounced, “Bazzle.” This was not something my mother taught me.
I had never been around such a diverse group of individuals in my entire life. We met around a common table, with heads bent over and hearts open as we centered our attention on one person.
During the breaks I wanted to be alone. I did not want to go and make small talk in the break room over tea. I walked around and listened to hymns. My soul was beginning to breath in the beauty and the space. I did not try and use the time to figure anything out or “process” what had happened the past couple of months to a year. I just listened to hymns, soaked in the beauty and listened to people speak with great love and affection about Jesus. Something was happening in me, but I did not have words for it at that time.
In the afternoons, I took a class on sacraments. My little former southern Baptist self was CLUELESS. I am not faking humility here. My classmates would tell you, “Yep. She’s clueless.” All I had known was that for three years as I would partake in the Lord’s Supper, I would cry. What on earth was going on in me? My professor talked about how in western culture we use words like “take” the Lord’s Supper or we “take” communion when that is so backwards. We don’t TAKE anything, that is what Adam and Eve did in the garden. They TOOK. The Lord’s Supper has been reframed for me. We RECEIVE the elements, because it is all grace. This is the good news. I needed to RECEIVE. I did not have the energy to go and TAKE anything. At that point I was realizing how “over” that type of language I was.
We had little free time, but when I had free time I darted down the road as fast as I could to Magdalen College. THIS is where Jack taught. THIS place is where Jack came to know Jesus on a walk with his Inkling friends – Tolkien (Lord of the Rings author) being one of those friends. THIS place is where the Inklings would meet weekly for over twelve years. I paid my money and went to campus. The first day I went with a friend from class. She was adventurous enough to break the rules with me and sneak up into the stairwell where Jack had his office space. If you go to Magdalen (pronounced, “Mod-lynn”) you know which offices are his because they have red geraniums in the window boxes outside of the rooms belonging to him. It was a dream.
The next day I went back alone.
All the Beauty was overwhelming. I sat down on a bench under a tree in front of Jack’s office. I sat and I sat and I sat. The breeze was strong and I could see the trees bending and smell the roses in bloom. Oxford was Narnia and I was a character who was beginning to wake up and realize it was my turn on this globe. Ghosts of Lewis and Tolkien were all around me. Literally, Jack’s office was behind me, Tolkien’s trees were in front of me and Addison’s Walk was to my left, the deer meadow to my right. It was almost too much. I sat there and put in my headphones and listened to old school Steven Curtis Chapman who sang about the life of Paul and the disciples, “What kind of joy is this? Who counts it a blessing to suffer? What kind of joy is this? Who gives a prisoner his song? What kind of joy can stare death in the face and see it as sweet victory? This is the joy of a soul that’s forgiven and free.” I became so aware of how in an instant a life can change. On Addison’s Walk one September night after dinner, Jack went on a walk with friends and when he returned from those unexpected life-changing steps he knew Jesus.
I read in Jeremiah 6:16, “Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road, the tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls.”
The moment was holy. The entire week I had heard stories of and walked by pictures of 27 prime ministers, John Locke, John and Charles Wesley, TS Eliot, numerous authors and playwrights, musicians, Kings, Gandhi, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Wyclif and the list does on and it became clear to me that most of those people were dead. Their time on the globe was done.
But my time was not.
It was my turn.
It is my turn.
It is your turn.
Do not waste one more minute of your life with the “should’s” and the “one day” – it is your turn now. You might not have one clue what you are “supposed” to do, but in time it will become clear. For now, all you have to do is get up in the morning and say, “Father, what’s on your heart today?” You get to do what he says. You get to operate out of who you are and the convictions and burdens he has placed in your heart.
Hear me now. This is not easy. You will be met with challenges and discouragement. You will be met with your own questions of worthiness and ability. You will have self-doubt and feel unsure. People will question you. Keep going. You are doing something right. You are welcome to sit around a table with me from wherever you are on this globe and fix your gaze on Jesus. I won’t even talk to you if you don’t want me to. We can just sit together. Over time our hearts will begin to open more and more to HIM. Can we trust Him? Trust deepens. Can we dare dream new dreams with you Jesus? Dreams come.
It is our turn on the globe after all.
I believe even tonight as I am back in Tennessee watching the sun fade into golden hour that I can hear Jack in the distance saying, “Beth, one day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
I agree, Jack. I agree.