Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Final Day to be 25

Tonight in Oxford I am aware of the smells. Between Cornmarket Street and the theatre, scents of old smoke and grease hang like nearly forgotten memories in the air. Closer to the Thames the smell of wet wood being burnt mixes with spicy Asian food. On street after street persons young and old light cigarettes, laugh with one another, duck into restaurants, or jog to catch the evening bus. Near the train station the smell of damp earth and Spring coalesce with a woodsmoke.

This evening I notice the sights in Oxford. How could one miss them? Spire after spire rise in the evening skyline. I step into the quadrangle of Christ Church College and see stars breaking through a patch of sky overhead. I see the fountain, the globed lights, and a small group of persons milling in the entryway to the cathedral. Inside my eyes land upon vaulted stone ceilings. On the floor a slab tells me that John Locke was a student at Christ Church. Robes, candles, and ecclesiastical icons greet my eager eyes. I close my eyelids to drink in nothing but the sound of the choir.

Today I hear the sounds of Oxford. There are shouts in the open market. Men and women are calling out the prices of their wares. I hear the rustle of pages in the library. Birds chirp at all hours or the day and night (which is a bit unnerving in the dark). I listen to rain on the wood shingles of the Cloisters. The Thames gurgles along, lapping at its muddy banks. Homeless men are heard on nearly every street corner, "Big Issue, miss?" they ask.

Now I am home. Time to read and catch some sleep before tea tomorrow with my Summit Oxford friends. The final day of being 25 is drawing to a close. It has been a good day, a good year. Here is to all that 26 holds!

~ Johanna

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rid Me of Myself

Today has been "one of those days". It began as a chill Saturday with my roommate and I trying to discover the source of a very unpleasant smell in our kitchen (we've been noticing it for a few days). Unable to find the location, we went our separate ways to avoid being in the flat. I chose the New College Library - one of my favourite places in Oxford.

This is where the day began to become less than I wanted... My concentration dropped off the face of the planet. None of my books were useful. I read one Encyclopedia Britannica article, a few pages of my books, and got annoyed enough to head home. I went to the grocery (a wretched idea on a Saturday - just so you are aware) to grab a few ingredients for guacamole. The first store was out of corn crisps, so I had to go to a second grocery. Finally I made it home with the crisps (chips) and sour cream/yogurt. Jacqueline made yummy guac that we shared with the guys over a few laughs and free-for-all conversation.

Jake, being the fabulous neighbour that he is, offered to help us find the source of that smell in our flat. He and Stephen spent about half an hour trying to locate it last night, as well. Between Jake and Kasey, the offending odor was discovered in the overflow of our fridge: rotten milk. Let's just say it smelled like death. The fridge still needs some extra cleaning, but we are all happy to have the smell eliminated for the most part.

I still haven't been able to study and comprehend anything today... I'm going to hope that tomorrow is better for that when Rose and I have our study date. We are also having the girls from the flat below come up for tea and scones in the afternoon tomorrow. So, it promises to be a good day in a few regards.

But that is all tomorrow; this is today. The day I have felt cranky and easily offended. The day I have run on my own strength and found it sorely lacking. The day I've tried to be witty and live up to others' standards and failed. The day I left the flat without having quiet time... There is no substitute for not spending time in the word. No replacement for conversing with The Word.

Depending on my flesh rather than God's Spirit has certainly made today frustrating. Oh, there are days when I do have time in prayer and Scripture and still get cranky or run on my own strength. Yet it seems much harder to throw off my bad attitude and arrogance when I haven't spent any time hearing from the LORD. When I haven't committed my steps, my day, and myself to Him I run amok. Life is His to begin with, why do I think I get to use it as I see fit? Isn't that like stealing from God?

Thanks to my flatmates I started listening to some Hillsong music this week. One is a song I learned at Summit this summer; I found these lyrics quite fitting to the attitude I want to have:

Saviour I come
Quiet my soul remember
Redemption's hill
Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as lost

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me to the cross

I'm making this my prayer for the upcoming week... And my remaining time here in Oxford.
What prayers are you praying now? Are you expecting God to answer them?

That's it for this night.
I remain, ever under The Mercy...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Oxford Life

Our flat shakes like an earthquake when fast trains go by. At least, I assume that's what a minor earthquake would feel like. The nice thing about living next to the railway is that British trains don't really whistle, they merely honk on occasion. Living near the railway station is often useful when lost, as well. Usually a sign or a person will point the way towards the railway, even if they cannot help you get anywhere else.

This week I've begun to feel less overwhelmed and more at home in Oxford. Walking in the rain at 40-50 degrees isn't too bad, the birds sing rather often, much of the shrubbery has leaves, and everything is green (a sharp contrast to Colorado). Including my lemon and over-ripe tomatoes. *Sigh*

Speaking of produce, as I was walking 'round Oxford yesterday, I happened upon an open air market. I bought 200g of cheese, about a dozen clementines, and four avocados for 3 quid (pounds). Not a bad deal, really. This was after my wandering around the New College (where I am an associate member) grounds and library. Upon my walk back, I stopped in Blackwell's booksellers for my very first time. I was a little disappointed that the first floor looked very much like a Barnes and Noble. The upstairs, however, had a vast array of used volumes, many were quite pretty and inexpensive. Hm, how could I pack more books for my return flight?

Books get heavy, you see. This I realised (yet again) as I carried around two books given to me by my tutor, Mr. LeMay, this morning. I am to write about the reasons behind the American's desire to separate from England, or 'What drove the colonists to rebellion?', as my tutor put it. This essay is due Tuesday morning. Mr. LeMay seemed rather gracious about the whole war and its outcome; perhaps it is because he grew up in South Africa.

I would write more, but I have an article and chapter to read for class with Kevin Bywater (taking place tomorrow afternoon), two books from one tutor, and some background info regarding the romantic period for another tutor.

Things I'm looking forward to in the next week: a free trip to London with OSAP on Sunday (if I get enough homework done on Saturday); evensong at New College; turning in my first two papers (Tues - History, Fri - Literature); a possible visit to the Eagle and Child; and all of the antics of my flatmates.

Ever under the Mercy,

Monday, January 3, 2011

A New Year, A New Place

4th Day in the England Adventure

Delayed flights, trotting through O'Hare to barely catch my international flight, touring around Heathrow to find other students, a bus ride to Oxford, a cab ride to Eynsham, meeting 9 fabulous students and 7 Bywater family members, church in a building founded before America was, buying groceries at the co-op and Sainsbury's, class, reading, and getting to know folks over meals and games... The days have been full and good.

While I should be reading instead I'm writing out some thoughts for those anxious to hear what England is like. I'm also writing for my own memory. The days have blurred together slightly. The tea here is lovely, as is the company.

Time for reflection doesn't happen quite enough. I can see the need to build in regular time for solitude, walks, prayer, writing, and Scripture reading. Some of those things may overlap, but none of those things will happen without careful planning and arranging. Except walking - that is done in great regularity.

I have barely begun to read a few things for one of my tutors, but I thought I would share one thing with anyone who might read my blog:

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it griev'd me my heart to think
What man has made of man.

~ William Wordsworth

Though short, a few lines from the poem cause me to ponder a bit. Why is it that the trill of a bird in early morn can make the heart soar, yet bring tears of sorrow, melancholy, sadness, or pain? How does sweetness cause pain? Is it the pain of Beauty which Sheldon Vanauken talks of in A Severe Mercy?

Out of the stillness broken by birdsong, and perhaps tears, one can certainly be led to ponder what man has made of man. Nature can seem unspoiled at times. The Beauty of the magnificent or overwhelming, the sharp thrill we receive when we hear the chatter of squirrels and birds is juxtaposed with the reality that human relationships are messy. Some men enslave others through hardship and toil, some persons oppress others' thoughts, writings, or speeches, and still others suppress through condescension.

But what has man made of man? Surely each of us can think of a great teacher, a book that has shaped our thinking or who we are, an employer who has helped us learn a skill or lessons of other sorts. What has man made of man? It is often because of someone else's help or encouragement that many a person has pressed on, has done more than they thought they ever could. Oh yes, this too is what man has made of his fellows.

It was God who placed us in communion with one another and with Himself. This poem is a good one, but could it have been great if Wordsworth had gone further, asking what God has made of man? I submit that it could have been.

That's it for tonight, another day of classes (and creme tea) comes tomorrow. Off to the land of dreams I must go!

~ Johanna

P. S. My address for the term is as follows, please feel free to send me mail!
*Note the address correction since yesterday*

86 Venneit Close
Chancellor Park - 2b
Oxford, UK