5 Things I don’t miss about England

Narnia/Colorado today.

Narnia/Colorado today.

Hello, Internet-people!

Merry Second day of Christmas! I write to you from my favorite coffee shop, Wesley Owen’s. In a fit of madness/missing the English walking life, I walked here. Today is white and Narnia-ish. The snow is falling in the way snow falls in movies, and the trees are white and twinkling with the sub-teen temperatures. Needless to say, when I entered and said I’d walked, my friends the baristas looked at me like I’d declared my intention to begin a diet of chewing glass and oatmeal with razor blades; is it safe? is it reasonable?

Well, perhaps not, but here I am. Christmas was lovely, loud and invigorating. How was yours?

Last week I wrote on Five things I will miss about England with a promise of a sequel: Five things I will/do NOT miss about England. Consider these not complaints, but observations. England can’t have EVERYTHING right… it wouldn’t be fair to the rest of us. My experience of England was overwhelming positive, these are only things that make me laugh. So, without further ado…

Five Things I do NOT miss about England:

1. Plumbing/Sinks:

In the final week of our program we had a review in which we talked about the things we liked, didn’t like, loved, and were looking forward to about returning. When I answered, I found myself fumbling for words, and answered something like this:

“I just… America is so efficient… and… well, America has great sinks!”

The room erupted into laughter, and I laughed at myself as I realized how ridiculous that sounds, but if you’ve ever lived over seas, and spent a majority of your time in older buildings, I think you’ll understand what I mean.

A great deal of England just hasn’t figured out modern plumbing.

Exhibit A: The Sinks

In England the options of temperature for the sinks are cold, lukewarm for 2 seconds while its warming up, and BOILING HOT. This is due to the fact that most sinks have a “hot” faucet and a cold “faucet,” and true to their names, one is YOUCH!-*refrains from saying bad words*-hot and the other the-cold-has-penetrated-to-my-bones-cold. Many rookies try to combine the polarizing temperatures by quickly switching between the faucets to create a luke-warm effect, which, in short, doesn’t work, and results in the humiliating I’ve-made-a-terrible-mistake dance while washing your hands in the kitchen.

I will not miss this.

I know, I know. I’m entitled, I’m demanding, I’m American… but couldn’t we just manage some lukewarm water?

2. Efficiency:

The last point leads into my second complaint. I never realized how efficiency driven American culture is. Think about it with me. America is the home of “Open 24 hours,” customer service, and mass production. We have whole industries built around customer satisfaction, 24 hour hotlines, and there is always an online survey to fill out if you’re disappointed.

Not so in England.

England, at least Oxford, is much slower pace than most of America. Most shops close at 6:00. Drive thru’s are not a common occurrence. England has it’s holy-times which no industry or social duty shalt disturb. It creates a relaxed rhythm. A sense of precious time to just be and not work. I appreciate that. I truly do.

I appreciate it until my ceiling is falling off.

One day, after having been gone all day, I returned to find my ceiling steadily dripping, and a five foot wide wet spot on the ground. Oh, and the ceiling was falling off. I present to you this picture as evidence.

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Now, imagine for yourself what infrastructure and reaction would occur in America. Got it in your mind? Okay. This is what happened.

I finally got a hold of the person in charge of fixing these things the next afternoon, after having collected 4 buckets full of water from my ceiling, and he informed me that they would take care of it on Monday… maaaybe…..

It was Saturday.

“But… my ceiling is falling off. And my room smells like a science experiment,” I said.

With this compelling argument, they agreed to find someone to fix the leak (1.75 days after it began).  Which was great.

They never fixed the ceiling.

Sometimes I like to imagine the ceiling was like a piece of modern art. Sometimes I liked to think it was making me learn to be grateful. Sometimes I liked to laugh at how funny it was that the ceiling in my room was literally falling off.

Life makes me laugh.

3. Internet:

The internet at my hall at Oxford was like a game. This is how it went:

Log into internet.

Internet asks if you want to validate the certificate.

You press “yes” and hurriedly enter your password.

You open Safari.

The certificate expires, and you begin the process all over again.

Eventually, you learn to access the book you need on the online library in 57 seconds or less, because that is how long it takes for the certificate to expire.

Repeat X1000000 times

For being one of the best universities in the world, the internet in my hall was comically abysmal. Perhaps it was to encourage us to go to the library.

Doesn’t Oxford know Facebook procrastination is a key part of academic success?

Golly!

4. Darkness at 3:45 in the Afternoon:

Due to its location on the globe, as winter wears on days become dramatically shorter in England. By the time I left, the sun was almost set by 3:45 in the afternoon. Often, I would find myself peering out of the library window, and thinking to myself “wow! It’s almost dark! That means I can stop working soon and get dinner! Yay I love dinner.”

Alas, no.

It’s just generally unsettling for night to come so quickly. After the sun set, I didn’t want to do anything except drink warm things, and slurp soup, and contemplate my existence, play Dutch Blitz with friends, or watch Downton Abbey. What business had the sun in retiring so early when I still had 50 pages of Aquinas to wade through?

Honestly! It’s unreasonable!

5. Pretending like I know what someone just said:

It’s amazing how you can speak the same language as someone, and yet not be able to understand a word they say. So many conversations consisted of me asking something, the other person saying something that sounded like a conglomeration of british syllables which my mind tried and failed to comprehend. This is partly exacerbated by the British-inside-voice tendency, which overall I enjoy and appreciate, except for when my American ears are struggling to understand the understated dignity of the Oxford accent. This would result in my asking for them to repeat what they just said, and after three repetitions, me just saying “mmm… yeah… I know what you mean.”

Of course there was also the case of not understanding a phrase, for instance:

British person: Oh, are you alright?

Me: Ummm… yes! Are you alright?

By this, they mean “how are you doing?” But the phrase can be confusing.

I think, after a short contemplation, I will miss this more than not. I will miss the colorful accents that created the awkwardness, but not the awkwardness itself.

Ah, England. Overall, my complaints and observations only serve to endear me to it more; would you feel such a great affection for something if it it weren’t for its quirks and quibbles? I think not.

So, I’ll wash my hands with lukewarm water, enjoy highspeed internet, speak as loudly as my American heart desires and miss England mightily.

All for now.

Love, peace,

Joyness.

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5 Things I Will Miss About England

Nostalgia hasn’t quite set in yet, but jetlag has. If you have ever been on a study abroad trip, graduated highschool, or had any experience where you knew you were leaving a people and a place you liked very much very soon, I think you’ll understand my exhaustion. There is this constant drive to stay up one more hour, go on one last adventure, and generally not waste a single precious moment with people.  I think I’ve had a cumulative of 4 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours. I may or may not have stayed up till 3:00 watching all 6 hours of the BBC Pride and Prejudice last night. (Hint: I did. I definitely did).

All this to say, I’m currently sitting on the final leg of my journey home, and I decided it would be a worthwhile venture/method of staying awake to write about what I will miss from England. So, herein I shalt include my current musings and missings of the Old Country. Here is my list.

1. Cultish Affinity for Tea:

Presiding over teapots

Tea and I were fast friends before England. Next to Jesus and my favorite books, Yorkshire Gold Tea is probably what I evangelize most enthusiastically about. This being the case, prior to my term abroad, I figured I would be in the good company of tea aficionados in England. But tea in England is different.

What I had previously assumed a healthy budding relationship with tea, I soon realized was a paltry flirtation in comparison with the passionate love affair that most Brits have. In England, tea isn’t just a beverage, it is a lifestyle.

During my first three weeks of lectures, there was a break cut out in every day’s schedule purely for the consumption of tea and biscuits (cookies). It was as regular in the schedule as a lunch break. Because tea is important.

I discovered this phenomena is not so uncommon. Tea is a social liturgy. A part of the rhythm of life. It brings a bit of civility to every single day. It is a tangible way to remind yourself to “Keep calm and carry on… and eat a dark chocolate digestive.”

2. Colored Trousers:

Dandy. Just Dandy

Dandy. Just Dandy

First off, let me preface this with saying, I don’t think I will ever be able to call the article of clothing you wear on your legs that is not a skirt “pants” ever again. In England, “pants” refers to undergarments. After one accidental slip of complimenting someone’s (say your professor?) pants, you will forever be marred with the trauma and convert to the name “trousers” for the remainder of your life. I speak from experience.

All this to say, I will miss the rainbow array of trousers I encountered on a daily basis at Oxford. Sky blue, mustard yellow, grass green, dead salmon, king purple, and of course, the classic red trousers are a must for Oxford fashion, especially if you are a gentleman of swank-ish taste.

It is always odd to me that the Brits, so famed for their subtly and pervasive sense of embarrassment, wear such brightly colored trousers! Further even than trousers, however, is the number of startling combinations of colors, prints and textures which so many of the poshiest of the posh manage to mish mash together in one array of apparel. The sight of an Oxonian chap, resplendent in pale pink trousers, a baby blue button up, polka dot bow tie, striped scarf, pointy shoes and distinguished umbrella was not an uncommon one. The effect on the eyes is an aggressive cheerfulness. There’s something delightful about it; even the most dignified of Oxford gentlemen can’t resist an outfit of mixed pattern and a bow tie. And every time you see someone thus be-garbed, you can’t help but smile.

3. Accents:

I frequented a corner coffee shop, and rather made it my own. Something I loved about it was sitting, drinking my flat white and listening to the lilt of conversations around me. On my right would be the French couple, talking to one-another in sweet nasally nothings, pushing back their dark curls and sounding like a wine commercial. On the left, the well groomed Austrian speaks English precisely, while explaining German vocabulary to a language student who sounds like he’s from Essex. Then of course, there’s the various English accents: Northern, London, poshy-boy’s school accents, etc. And then there’s the Irish.

Oh, Gosh, the Irish.

I think if an Irish man walked up to me on the street and asked to marry me, I would, entirely involuntarily, accept. I would be utterly incapable of uttering anything other than “yes!”

Oxford is place full of internationals, and I absolutely loved being in an atmosphere permeated by a diversity of culture, expressed through a symphony of accents.

Ermegersh. Irish accents are the best.

4. The Bodleian:

Rad Cam

Rad Cam

I thought I knew what a library was, and then I went to England. At my home university, when writing a paper on a particular topic, you enter your search terms and find a suitable, but modest number of books which you could find on one of the three floors of books. Someone already checked out your book? Bummer. Try the La Mirada Library (lolz).
Altogether, it is a fairly effecient, compact and helpful library.

Not so at the Bodleian.

At the Bodleian, within a typety-type and a few clicks on SOLO, you have access to literally millions of books, housed in multiple buildings, with every edition you could want, and you can order them to whichever particular library you desire.

The other cool thing? You can go touch old books. Like REALLY old books.

Once, I was researching for an essay on virtue, and while mining the depths of SOLO (the online library directory), I discovered a sermon on virtue by Thomas Mole. The sermon was date 1732. My first thought was “Oh! This is probably a copied manuscript in a collection of sermons.” Nope. It was an actual copy in an actual book actually from 1732. Which, if I reserved it in the collection library, I could go look at. And touch.

Okay… so it might take you an hour to find one book in the basement of the library where you have a distinct feeling you might be murdered by old academic ghosts… still… OLD BOOKS!

What a wonderful world.

5. Nature, walking, and contact with the weather world:

My Daily Walk

My Daily Walk

On a slow day in Oxford I walked at least 3 miles. Oxford is a walking/biking city, and I absolutely loved it! Every day, no matter how many hours you spent in the library or your room pouring over books, you still had to come in contact with the great green world. And, oh, but Oxford is green! Nature seems to stumble into every sidewalk in Oxford. I don’t think the English are quite as fixated on finicky floral manicuration. The leaves fall and they don’t rake them up. Gardens spill over with flowers and ferns. Everyone composts and recycles. It is a place where you cannot escape the natural wildness of the world. It is all about you. Under your feet. In your hair.

I suppose that was one downside (if you want to call it that) of Oxford living. One never really has good hair days, because as soon as you curl your hair, your bound to get rained on, blown through, or frizzed out by the British weather. That’s another thing, I understand now why the British always talk about the weather… it’s so interesting over there, how can you not?

Well, I’m rambling, and I could go on doing so for days. England will always hold a chummy, charming, changing power in my life. I want to head back soon.

But in the meantime, the flight is over, I’m home safe and sound, and I need espresso to ward of the jet-lag lethargy.

Tune in next time for 5 things I will NOT miss about England.

God With Us: Joy, Grief, and Hope

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Marie Antoinette and my Christmas tree.

God with us.

The world is full of grief and joy. This morning, when I opened my Facebook, I was grieved to see reports of violence and death of innocence. I stopped, and bowed my head and prayed. What more can we do sometimes?

This morning, I am home. I awoke at 4:59, Jet lag persistently tapping at my shoulder, not allowing a wink more of sleep. I snuck down stairs and made tea. My father heard me sneaking around, and turned on the Christmas lights. As the sun rose, the trees, all dressed in snow and frost shimmered an almost blue color in the early light. My sister, also jet lagged, came also, and there we sat and felt the swaddling of peace from the comfort of home and the quiet of early morning.

How is it that I am so lucky? So blessed? I did nothing to merit the calm of life this morning. Other suffer, and I do not. It isn’t fair.

I remember one evening this summer, I went on a walk near sunset. As I walked, I had a cloud of sadness that followed me, and as I walked it whispered in my ear “This is the truth. Grief is at the heart of the universe.” Sometimes it does feel that way, doesn’t it? That what can be counted on is one where bad things happen. The good can feel like a pause in between, or a turning of one’s back on other’s suffering. Perhaps, one can begin to think, sadness is the truth.

As I walked, and prayed and thought, the sun set. The sky lit up in a glorious array of pinks and golds. It was startling and arresting. As I walked, I thought of one of my favorite poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins:

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

That night, the world was charged with God’s grandeur. As I walked, I realized that life is a tension of grief and joy. There is grief in the world, true darkness and true sadness. It is not to be denied, or swept under the rug, or quickly explained.  But in the same breath, there is glory permeating the very air we breath, the seasons that miraculously return every year, the gift of life. It is not a facade, but a deep down reality. Joy also is the truth.

Grief and Joy hold hands.

The sun sets in glory over every war torn battle field.

The Holy Spirit still broods with warm breast and bright wings.

And it is in this place that we live life.

This is advent.

During this time of the church year, advent is a season of the recognition of longing. In Advent we thank God that he came, vulnerable as we are, human, with bones that had the potential to be broken, eyes that could hold tears. So often, we skip to the part of the story where Jesus redeems us of our sins, and of course that is foundational. But let us not too quickly brush past the incredible reality that God came.

Isaiah 7:14 says “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Again and again, the coming savior is given this name: Immanual. And simply it means God with us. 

The profundity of the incarnation is not only justification, but the reality that God himself, the most powerful and most high, entered our broken world. He did not come to condemn, or to simply wipe away all that was injust with a flick of his mighty hand, but instead he came to Be with us in it. 

He entered our brokenness and our joy. He embraced our vulnerable flesh. He drank wine and laughed. He mourned his friends death. God is with us. 

Today as I sit, enjoying the gift of my snowy home, and yet praying for places of grief around the world, I ask God to teach me again the profundity of his incarnation.

In my joy, and in the world’s grief, God, through Christ is equally present. He validates and glorifies our grief and joy. And through his coming, we are offered the hope of his someday redemption. And in that, I realize that grief is not at the heart of the universe, but hope.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. or in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” Romans 8:22-25

Advent: Homeward thoughts, and Oxford days.

My current spot by the window.

My current spot by the window.

“Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it
And how you’ll never belong here
So I call you my country
And I’ll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me.”

Rich Mullins, “Land of my Sojourn”

As I write this, I am momentarily stepping out of the whirling vortex of reading for my very last Oxford paper. I have a spot beneath a window and I’m writing about love and virtue in the Bodleian library. It is work, and it is hard work, but I’m cherishing it. What a gift this semester has been.

In the last two weeks I have begun to experience a profound tension of emotions. Part of me never wants to leave this place. Oxford truly feels like a magical place. There is beauty everywhere I look, history living in every corner of every street, intellectual and spiritual stimulation constantly confronts me. I have found kindred spirits here. Oxford has become a friend and a teacher. There is a new part of me because of this experience. I will return here.

And yet, I want to go home. I long for the familiar faces that I miss at home. I cherish thoughts of Colorado snow, or family laughter, and reading The Christmas Carol by my homey fire. More than anything, I know that home is coming, and it catches me in an immobility of enjoyment of the present and desire for the future.

Oxford says stay, but home beckons.

And I am caught in the in-between.

I think this small moment is a reflection of the over all tension of life. We are given life and it is beautiful. We find love, delight, laughter and it is true and real. Yet, somewhere inside us, we still ache for a brighter morning and a fuller dawn. We long for home. In all of the best moments of life, I feel instinctively that this is not the ultimate reality. As Gungor says “This is not the end, this is not the end of this, we will open our eyes wider.”

Life is the land of our sojourn. Life is Oxford.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as we have entered into the season of Advent. Advent is all about hopeful expectation. In advent, we thank God for what he has done: that he came, that we are not alone, that we have salvation. And yet we also acknowledge the longing and the desire we feel for God to bring his kingdom in its full redemption. We long for completion and for home

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

It’s about a week before I return. I hope I cherish each day (though sometimes that means fighting to stay awake whilst reading the thousandth page). And I hope that this experience etches into me the reality of life; belonging and longing, living and waiting, thanksgiving and petition. All the while realizing that the only moment I can be faithful with right now is this one. 

It’s time to go back to reading and writing. Thanks for putting up with my rambling.

To end, here’s a poem about advent that I love.

The Coming
R.S. Thomas

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched

Them. Let me go there, he said.

Thomas, R. S. “The Coming.” Collected Poems, 1945-1990. London: Phoenix, 2000. 234.

Love,

Joyness

Joy in the Chronicles of Narnia

Lion the witch and the wardrobe

Hello, Friends! This week, I wrote a paper called “Joy in the Chronicles of Narnia.” It was my last tutorial paper at Oxford (can it be true?!) Being named “Joy,” the whole paper felt slightly like a self-referential pun. Nonetheless, it was something of an end-of-the-term gift to get to write on these books so old and dear to me. One of my friends asked me to post about it on my blog, and so I have blog-ified my findings here… I hope you enjoy!

When I was seven years old, we moved to an old house, next to a green field, in a small town in Tennessee. When I say it was a small town, I mean that it did not even contain a  Walmart, and had only one restaurant: Billy-bob’s barbecue. Given our rural location, rather than filling my days with the manifold activities of Nashville, my mother let me spend much of my time wandering in our large yard, catching frogs, peaking through fences at the cows on the other side, and getting bitten by mosquitoes.

It was there that I first remember experiencing Joy.

Perhaps it was the perfect plumpness of the blackberries in the bramble, the sweet haunting aroma of daffodils in spring, or the peace of watching clouds glide by on a sweltering summer day. Whatever the cause, the general atmosphere awake in my both delight and desire. The tactile beauty filled me up and emptied me out. I wanted, in my childish way, to drink in the beauty I saw; make it a part of me. But more than anything I wanted to be a part of it. And in that feeling there was a sense of melancholy; I could never completely lay hold of or repeat the ecstasy I experienced in those small moments. I could not conjure up the delight I felt.

As I grew older, and my parents read the Bible to me, prayed with me when I went to sleep, and taught me about God, it felt natural. I said to myself “Aha! Yes! Of course.” The desire created by those Tennessee years was given a reason; I was, in my young way, desiring God, the maker of all the beauty I delighted in, and ached to be a part of.

I think Lewis would have called this experience Joy. In Surprised by Joy, Lewis’ spiritual autobiography, he writes of his own experience of Joy, writing,

“Anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is” (Surprised by Joy, 18).

Lewis describes in the book his experience as a child of the delight in a toy garden or his emotionality at a haunting poem. In other passages, he describes this feeling as the German word Sehnsucht (wistful longing). Of all these experiences, Lewis writes that Joy is “an unsatisfied desire which in itself is more desirable than any other satisfaction.” Joy was the catalyst that made Lewis realize there was some delight and truth beyond this present life that could satisfy the craving he so deeply felt.

Part of what made this experience so convincing, was that it was a genuine reaction to beauty, and was not contrived. While describing experiences of rapturous joy as a child, Lewis clarifies that  in these moments “religious experiences did not occur at all” (7). This statement could seem curious seeing as it is this concept Lewis later uses to describe his own religious conversion. Rather than contradicting the spiritual impact of these childhood desires, he is parcing out spiritually significant experiences (for it seems these experiences certainly were that) and “religious” experiences in which he felt it was incumbent upon him to feel a certain way. In one essay, he writes “Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. As obligation to feel can freeze feelings.”

I have felt this way before. I remember in youth groups as emotionally charged songs played, the guitar playing the 1-4-5 chords (if your a musician, you know what I mean), and we were called to life change, I sometimes felt a bit separated from it all.

How ought I to feel about this? Is this a spiritual experience? Am I bad for not feeling close to God through this experience?

I think it was this barrier to the Christian faith that Lewis attempted to hurtle through writing the Narnia stories. In the same essay, Lewis writes, “I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood… supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.”

And then came Narnia.

“None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning–either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in it’s inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of Summer.” (Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe)

In Narnia, Lewis created a world where people could encounter Joy. Reading about Aslan awakens in the reader that same sort of delight, desire, and almost sadness. Just like the Pevensie children, we the readers are left with a desire to get back into Narnia. Of course, there are obvious and beautiful parellels to the Christian story in Narnia, but I do not think that these books were meant as an apologetic. Rather, they were meant to till the ground. They work on the imagination, as the daffodils and blackberries did on my own imagination, so that when one does encounter the true Christian story, one can’t help but say, “Ah, yes. This is what I was desiring all along.”

The watchful dragons could indeed be stolen past.

Daffodils are still my favorite flower, and when I see them, I am reminded of the world that is indeed “charged with the grandeur of God” (Gerard Manly Hopkins). Reading Lewis, and remembering those old days in Tennessee has reminded me that God works outside of our own conventional boxes. God is present in church, of course, loving and moving hearts. But he also works in green spring fields, blackberry brambles, blue skies, and in Fairy tales. 

He steals past our “religious” faces, and bursts with springs of laughter and delight and longing.

And to that I say… “Further up and further in!”

 

All the Lonely People

Eleanor Rigby

A statue dedicated to Eleanor Rigby in Liverpool.

For a moment it was 1966, my parents were teenagers again, and the Beatles were the cat’s pajamas; they were singing the Beatle’s hit “Eleanor Rigby.” That night we had gone to a concert and heard an arrangement of the song with only guitar and cello. I was about eight at the time, and neither I or my siblings had heard the song, so my parents went on to enlighten their poor uncultured children with gusto. I remember looking out the back window of our van, watching the snow fly in white blurs past the car, and feeling deeply moved in that way one can only feel as a child first encountering mystery and sadness. The song awoke in me a feeling of beauty and of solemnity that I couldn’t quite articulate, but I held onto, not wanting to release the sweet-sick feeling. As my mother and father enthusiastically sang, Father McKenzie and Eleanor Rigby seemed to take form in the white drifts outside my window and look in longingly. The wind whipped the windows with blusterings of snow, and the wind moaned…I fancied I was being haunted by them. They were sad. And I was sad for them.

“All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie have haunted me every since. As I grew I began to articulate the dismay I felt as a child. It was founded on the idea that there are people who’s stories are forgotten. Like Eleanor Rigby, they live, they smile, they long for love, they die, they are buried, they are forgotten. Could it really be so?

I think Eleanor was my first introduction to the possibility of a life that passed without regard from darkness to light and back to darkness. I felt intuitively and strongly that this was a great grief, and I still do. No life story should go untold.

On Tuesday I was making tea in the small basement kitchen of our program’s building. It’s the sort of kitchen where, even if there’s only two people in it, to get anything you have to shuffle and scooch and say “Oh, I’m sorry!” quite a lot to get your mug, tea, sugar, milk and biscuit all in order. One of the women who works in the offices and I had commenced with this complicated social dance, and were now waiting for our tea to steep.

“How is your day going?” I asked out of habit and a dislike of awkward silences.

She then began telling me about her day. She told me about inspections she had to prepare for, and the history of the inspections in the past, and the various personalities of the inspectors. She told me about forms she had to fill out for said inspection. And she told me she was preparing for an academic luncheon,and that there were researches bustling around.

After having told me all of this, she breathed out what sounded like a nourishing sigh and said,

“Thank you for asking! Really… thank you. People usually don’t ask.”

I said “yeah!” and “of course!” and that I hoped she had a nice day. She pulled her tea bag out, we shuffled again, and she was off.

When she left, I was puzzled. I only asked her “how’s your day going?” It was a simple question, and was perhaps more out of habit than of any noble intention on my part. It was so small a thing, and somehow, it unlocked a floodgate that was ready and bursting. It surprised me that it was surprising to her that I would ask her how her day was.

When I worked at a coffee shop this summer, the same thing happened often. A costumer would order their usual, I would swip-swipe their card, and while I waited for their mocha to blend, or the muffin to heat, I would ask them how their day was going. Often it was just a “It’s going well, thanks! How about yours?” But more often than you would suppose, People’s floodgate burst. I learned about job issues, children in jail, health problems, imminent weddings, mouldy basements, overwhelming church events. Sometimes I wondered if I had a look on my face that said “tell me your secrets!” I think, however, that it had nothing to do with me in particular, and everything to do with the fact that most people are bursting to be asked, cared for, and drawn out. Perhaps, I would go so far as to say Most people are at least a little bit lonely.

I believe we have all experienced the feeling of loneliness. The desire to be preferred, seen, asked, known, and the reality that that is not always the case. I have been blessed with a loving family and beloved friends, but I still know the feeling of walking around with a weight wondering if anyone would notice or take the time to ask. Haven’t we all felt that way?

“All the Lonely people where do they all come from?”

We have all felt lonely, and I believe that is why “Eleanor Rigby” is such a powerful song. We all experience loneliness because we all were made for connection, and we live in a broken world where relationships are challenging, and people are broken. Like Eleanor Rigby, we all have desires and dreams of love. Like Father McKenzie, we have passions and ideas we want others to know. We want to be remembered. We are all, or have been, the lonely people. 

So what do we do with us?

This summer I read the Gospel of John. What struck me again and again was that many of Jesus’ followers were not drawn by grand miracles, but by the fact that Jesus truly and deeply saw them. I am always moved by the woman at the well’s words: “This man has told me everything I’ve ever done.” He heard her story; he knew her; he asked. And that is the good news of what I believe. Jesus has seen me, known me, and forgiven me. And I am to “go and do likewise.”

Where do all of the lonely people belong? They belong in the Kingdom of God. 

We belong with eachother. A part of God’s redeeming work is “to set the lonely in families” (Psalm 68). And having been touched by God’s redeeming work, I too can touch others, see others, ask others. 

As we enter this time of Advent, remember Christ’s incarnation, preparing for his eventual return I can think of nothing more fitting than to prepare our hearts by reaching out in love to others. The message of Christ is that, the infinitely perfect, stepped into the imperfect sinful world as Emanuel which means God is with us. Knowing that reality, turning our hearts to be known and loved, naturally leads to an outpouring of love to others. As for me, I want to focus on being with people, asking, and hearing stories. But I am limited, I only have so much heart, and so much time. But in my limitation I will ask; I will ask God for grace to listen, and others the simple, but powerful question: “How are you?”

Every story should be heard.

This is the song that we heard that snowy night. It’s lovely. They’re talented. Enjoy.