July 28
July 28 E-mail


            After a decent night's sleep, I opened two greeting cards before breakfast and two after.  The one from my coworkers was memorable.  My boss (I work in a church, so he's a pastor) exhorted me to enjoy life and embrace the blessings God has given me, particularly this trip.  "Enjoyment is his best gift, and even the greatest riches and relationships are worthless without it."  He left me with Ecclesiastes 5:18-6:2.  This is the third time I've received that message in as many days.  Maybe God is telling me something.  

            I ate a leisurely English breakfast and then left Pickwick's Guest House for Keble College.  The entrance to Keble is a huge gated door with a smaller, man-sized door cut into one side.  It was like entering a castle.  Standing on the sidewalk by the door was a smiling gentleman with an Oxbridge nametag.  He was the greeter.  Never was I so glad to have someone designated to point me in the right direction.  His cheer set the tone for the rest of the day.  I got my room assignment and key from the Porter's Lodge, and then went to pick up my registration packet.  My room was on the second floor (first, by British count) overlooking the immaculate green lawn of the Liddon quad.  The room was Spartan with well-worn, dated furnishings.  But the view was breathtaking.  Keble is known for the ornamental brickwork in its architecture.  I could see the main gate to my right and the Chapel to my left.  C.S. Lewis was barracked at Keble during WWI.  I wonder which room he stayed in.

my keble view

Keble College -- the view from my window

            It is exceptionally hot in England this week.  The Brits repeatedly say it is not normally like this.  The buildings are not air conditioned, so it gets stuffy, even with open windows.  I'm grateful to be on the second floor; I can leave my window open all the time.  Some conference attendees actually went out and purchased fans for their rooms, knowing they'd have to leave them behind because the appliances won't work on U.S. current. 

            I already sweat through the two lightweight shirts I packed, so went out and bought two thin cotton blouses.  While shopping at Debenham's, I thought of my coworker Gail.  Dear Gail who loves to shop.  (I consider it a necessary evil -- on par with flossing my teeth.)  I could have used her assistance today.  The sizes were different from U.S. sizes.  I managed the best I could.  At least I don't have to worry about someone back home having the exact same outfit!

            The conference did not officially begin until dinner, so after shopping I visited Magdalen College, where Lewis taught for 30 years.  I love the medieval cloisters and Addison's Walk along the Cherwell River.  It's easy to imagine Lewis strolling these footpaths.  I rested on a bench adjacent to New Building (where Lewis had rooms) and read Derick Bingham's booklet on Lewis and Tolkien's famous Addison's Walk conversation.  

Magdalene dining hall
   
Magdalen College Dining Hall

magdalene

Magdalen College

         Dinner was a treat.  The meals are in a dining hall along the scale of something I've seen only at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.  The room is huge with stained glass windows and a high arched ceiling and portraits of Keble notables gazing down at the diners.  We sit at long tables with benches.  Imagine a picnic table with seven pieces of flatware at each place setting!  The food is served in three courses - each course cleared before the next brought out.  Servers place the meat and vegetables on each person's plate.  Dinner takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.  And you never know whom you will end up next to.  Tonight, I had an 8th grade girl, Sarah, on my right.  She was attending the conference with her father.  On my left was Mary from Santa Ana, CA.  Like me, she had attended Oxbridge 2005.  She's Catholic and is looking forward to Dana Gioia.  

keble dining hall

The dining hall at Keble College

            After dinner, we walked to the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.  I will never tire of walking down Catte Street and through Radcliffe Square.  Is it possible to love buildings?  I could stare at the architecture for hours.  It invigorates me, inspires me, makes me want to read and listen and learn all at the same time.  

            The evening service was a taste of high Anglican Church.  The old hymns were like forgotten yet familiar friends.  It's been so long since I sang hymns that they were fresh and meaningful.  Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven!  Derick Bingham from Belfast preached on Psalm 8 or as he said it, "Sam eet."  What is man? (v.4)  The psalmist could understand man only after he contemplated who God is.

P.S.  Sometime after returning to North Carolina, I came across a letter C.S. Lewis wrote on 12 June 1950:
"We are just emerging from a heat wave, always a very trying thing in this island, where we never make any preparations for hot weather, and never learn from past experience; when the thermometer gets above 85, this is one of the most uncomfortable countries in the world."
All I can add is a hearty "Amen!"