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.




6 thoughts on “Advent: Homeward thoughts, and Oxford days.

  1. Dear Joy,
    I always enjoy reading your blog, but this one was closer to home than the other ones (-:
    I do fully understand what you’re saying, I understand to be caught “in-between”, to want to stay in one place, yet to long for the other place, to feel torn. I love living in America, I have my husband and children here, my life, friends, work, and yet, … my heart longs for my home country, actually, for Europe in general. Europe, with all its faults and flaws, yet full of diverse culture, languages, traditions, history, well, you know what I mean (-: Yes, I’m afraid I’ll be forever in-between.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts so publicly!
    With love,
    Mrs. Young

    p.s. one of my French students is a very faithful Joy-blog-follower! (-: It’s her dream to study in Oxford too some day!

    • Dear Miss Ingrid,

      That must be such a tension to live in! Just from my short experience in Oxford how much living in a different place can shape and reshape you, till there’s parts of you that don’t quite fit in either place! But then, you have so much to offer through your broad experience, which was always so evident in your classes!
      Europe does have it’s own special atmosphere… doesn’t it? I already miss it being back, but am so thankful I got to experience a bit of it! I just loved the walking, the coffee shops, the smallness and closeness of the cities, the oldness, the way people talked to oneanother.

      Thank you for your comment! Wishing you a merry Christmas!

  2. Well you have to come back as you didn,t get to visit us….. Safe travels and thanks for posting R.S.Thomas, he was a vicar in the same patch as dad,a few years before him min, but still well remembered!!!! Loved this post. I have similar feelings on Oxford and i only live in Wales:-). However Snow just seems so appealing…..

  3. Dear Joy,
    When I read this, I thought of my son, who, like you, is away from home, feeling the struggle between living in two worlds. Where is home, and how can home feel like two places? Your words put what he’s feeling together so well, I printed them off and sent them to him to read before he comes here to us next week.
    You are such a beautiful writer. I so enjoy your blog, and your mom’s! 🙂 Thanks to you both for sharing yourselves with the rest of us.
    A blessed Advent, and Christmas, to you and your family,

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