Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Things considered whilst walking in the drizzle

{Written Monday, 21 February 2011}

Today I walked down the sidewalks of Oxford and realized that it rather frustrates me that the British (and visitors to Oxford) don’t understand order. If you drive on the left side of the road, it should logically follow that you walk on the left side of the sidewalk. Ah, but no... Too often I find myself nearly having my head smashed by an unseen bus mirror because I am obliged to walk with traffic, rather than against it. Then there are those mental conversations about which way I need to sidestep to avoid oncoming pedestrians which result in a funny little dance. Left... No, right. No really, left. *Sigh*

Whilst observing my fellow travellers sloshing through the drizzle I learned that one ought to take a course in order to properly wield an umbrella. The girl ahead of me collided her umbrella with another woman’s, nearly removed a young man’s head by holding her rain-repeller at his neck’s height, and did not succeed at making it easy (or even possible) to pass her on the sidewalk.

When I wasn’t plotting my course or dodging mad bumbershoot-ists, I had a moment to think about my weeks in Oxford. Tuesdays and every other Friday are my favourite days. Tuesday mornings I have my History tutorial, where I often learn much about how to conceive questions that the text failed to ask. Midday on Tuesdays is made for walking all over Oxford in the spirit of exploration. I have nowhere to be in a hurry, I can literally stop and smell the flowers if I’d like. Evenings may be my very favourite, though, because I go to the C. S. Lewis Society. I don’t even pretend to be pretentious enough to ask a question, I just listen to everyone else’s. I wonder about my own questions, sometimes gaining the courage to ask them of the speaker afterward. Pondering ideas by Lewis or his contemporaries, meeting new people, talking with Jake (who usually goes with me), and setting up chairs for the evening are curiously rewarding events.

Every other Friday is rather different, but they all begin with me writing or editing my paper due at 9:30am. Sometimes I race to the OSAP office, sometimes I saunter; always I leave something essential back at the flat (quite usually my bus pass). My English tutor is patient with my terrible papers, teaches me more about poetry than I knew, connects things I might never have seen, and gives me a deep appreciation for imagination and vision. He has taught me much more than that, though. This tutor, like Dr. Bauman, has taught me that academics are good, important, and worth pursuing, but not at the cost of the individual. I am humbled at the time taken by these men to ensure that I grow as a person, not merely as a student or a writer.

I have made it to the New College cloisters, where I watch streaks of rain dash at the ground whilst pondering the things learned on my walk. It is a perfect day for reflection, reading, and writing. This is good, because my dabbling at writing has already begun with these thoughts, and must continue in earnest with my History paper that is due tomorrow morning. Farewell from this quiet place on this lovely rainy day!

~ Johanna

*Edit* You can also find this blog post on the Summit Ministries website.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

"You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts and civilisations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."
~ C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

It is fitting that I open this entry with a quotation by C. S. Lewis. You see, it was because of Lewis that I was out tonight. Do not panic, I am not seeing dead people. Tuesday nights are when the C. S. Lewis Society meets here in Oxford. I officially joined the society for the term this evening. That is beside the point. What matters is that neither you nor I have ever talked to a mere mortal.

The streets of Oxford offer plenty of mortal woes. They are often cloaked in flesh, have a dog at their feet, and are trying to sell you a British tabloid (the Big Issue). I do not know how to act when walking past a homeless person. My self partitions into two camps. One feels true pity or compassion for those in need, the other cynically wonders how that man will spend the change tossed in his coffee cup. Is he financially better off than the average tax-paying college student?

Dusk had come and gone, the stars could be seen from Christ Church courtyard, and I was on my way to the Lewis meeting. Granted, the time between Evensong and the meeting would put me there 45 minutes early - the only thing I would be early, or on time, for this whole day. Then I walked passed Christ.

No, really, I did. The man was sitting on the ground by Trinity College, asking for change. Unsure of my joining the Lewis Society or just paying the 2 quid fee for the evening, I knew that my pocket change added up to 2 quid 36p. So I smiled and said no. I stopped, thinking I had food with me, but I had the wrong bag. Offering my apologies I told the young man I didn’t even have food (meaning, to share). I doubt that even in my rain-splattered or windblown states I look homeless. Never-the-less the fellow misunderstood me, thinking I had no food at all. Out of his poverty (legitimate or self-imposed) he offered me his pack of biscuits. I tried to dispel the confusion, explaining that I had no food to give. I wished him a good evening and slowly walked away.

"And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner–no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."
~ C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

I had been offered true charity in the young man's gesture. My steps slowed even more as I recalled to mind the Scripture I read yesterday in Matthew 25, “Whenever you have done it to the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.” At the corner I stopped, internally arguing that I still had 45 minutes. I could turn around and at least go talk to the fellow for a while. The words, “the face of love” played in my mind. I almost turned around. Instead, I darted across St. Giles to avoid the bus, the shadowed face by Blackwell’s imprinted on my mind.

Jake found me on a park bench trying to read Money, Greed, and God for Friday’s Summit class. I was sitting 20 feet away from a panhandler who had walked up less than five minutes after I sat upon that bench. I watched people ignore him as he called out to their shoes, “spare change for the homeless?”. Jake and I walked passed, not truly acknowledging him. In part this was due to his very different attitude from the young man I had seen a few minutes before. But the other reason was because I was still struggling with knowing how to show love the homeless. Do I take the time to talk with them and hear their stories? Do I offer them food? Do I pray for them as I walk by? How do I discern between the con and the man who, in spite of his best efforts, can’t get a job? Who are the homeless? Aren't they my neighbours, the ones I snub?

“Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —Christ
—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~

Where else do I see Christ and walk away? I know a few people I have done this with lately. I was looking for something else and missed those right in front of my eyes. How often am I missing the very face of Christ in the features of men’s faces?

“You have never talked to a mere mortal... [Only] immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

~ Johanna