I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the places and events that define my life. There are those watershed moments, those sacred places, that we measure our days by. For me, Christ Church College in Oxford is one of the those places. Walking through Tom Gate into the central quad, flanked by Tom Tower, the Great Hall, the Cathedral, and hundreds of years of power-brokering, mythic stories, and serious scholarship is my jam. I feel alive, and I hear whispers of my calling there.
But Oxford is ultimately of little use to me if it doesn’t transcend it’s physical location across the pond and come home with me to dwell in my heart and mind. If I can only think “great thoughts” in the rarefied atmosphere of its stone halls, then I am stuck believing that the magic is there, and I have to keep making pilgrimage to have my mind and imagination re-ignited.
I want to make pilgrimage. I want to be there. I love the experience. From the smoke stained pubs to the weird baked beans at breakfast, there IS something special about Oxford’s particular geography, history, and mood.
But I also want to know that I’m the same engaged, avidly learning me whether I’m daydreaming in the humid climes of my back porch or sitting around the table with an Oxford tutor. Oxford has to come home with me if it’s going to be a durable companion for the long-haul of my life.
So this week, I’m reflecting on the ways in which I have integrated and fragmented the experience of being an Oxford student. I hope to find ways to chime the bells from Tom’s Tower in my soul on a daily basis — right here in the heart of Central Florida. I’ll keep you posted.
What places and experiences do you need to integrate more fully?
I treated myself to excellent tickets to see Wicked in London tonight, and I was taken with Elphaba’s heart, passion, and courage. I didn’t have to take on the Wizard or fight prejudice and treachery, but this trip has been a bit like defying gravity for me.
It takes a certain kind of courage to step into the seminar rooms at Christ Church College — the tutors and fellow students have world-class minds, and believing that I can add to the discourse is both invigorating and down-right scary.
Plus my “come-to-Jesus” meeting with Advisor on Sunday night has turned up the heat on my dissertation. He wants a big chunk of work done by the end of September. The hardest part for me is making the decision about how I want to narrow the focus. He convinced me that my original idea was a career, not a dissertation. So I have to determine what unique contribution I have to make to the theological/pastoral psychological understanding of shame. I have to frame my work by identifying the limits of the work that has been done to date and stating how I am planning to critique, support, or expand upon other thinkers and practitioners. It’s one thing to “noodle around” with connections and “ah-ha” moments, but it’s all kinds of vulnerable for me to be thinking about stepping into this process.
Fr. Jerry keeps telling me that when I defend my thesis, I will be walking into the room as a colleague and expert, no longer a student who has to worry about pleasing the teacher. That should be comforting, right? But somehow it gets me looking over my shoulder, like I should expect a lightning bolt at any moment. As much as I want this, I’m also battling fear and anxiety (which I think is normal and to be expected, but still no fun). So I hoped a little Defying Gravity chutzpah would rub off on me tonight to keep me reaching high!
Tomorrow…I will literally defy gravity when I board the Virgin Atlantic flight for home! I cannot wait to see Brian and all my treasured friends and be in my normal routine. This has been a spectacular opportunity, and I have loved being here. But I will also love coming home.
Ta-ta ’til next year. The Oxford/UK Diaries of 2015 are coming to a close! Thanks for being faithful companions on the journey!!
National Theatre production at the Gielgud stage
Last night I was privileged to see a stage performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The book, which has been on my Amazon wish list for quite some time, is written from the perspective of Christopher, a 15-year old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, who is investigating the murder of a neighborhood dog who’s been killed with a garden fork. The play used a brilliant combination of narration and dramatic action to convey his point of view.
The staging reminded me of two of my favorite high school teachers — the late Linda Kinsley, my 11th grade English teacher, who did an annual production of Our Town (with its minimalist use of props and sets) in all her AP English classes; and Frank Anzalone, my drama teacher, who was known to make prodigious use of wooden cubes to control set-design costs. I’m not sure this production spared any expense on the set — as it was a marvel of interactive technology — but it did use a minimum of props and a lot of cubes to convey various locales and transitions. Frank, you would be proud! (I can’t wait to read the book now. And if you get a chance to see this play…don’t miss it!)
Amazing set that resembled a 3-D graph (also, can you tell I had great seats??)
But alas, the Night-Time incidents didn’t end with the theatrical production. In the wee hours, I was awakened by a blasting fire alarm. I was so exhausted and disoriented that I very nearly left my room without a key to return and without proper pants. I kept talking to the fire alarm: “Okay..okay, just hang on…I’m trying to find my glasses” — as if somehow that would make the madness end. About the time I sufficiently dressed and was ready to rumble, the alarm cut off. What followed was an uneasy sleep and I woke up awhile later with a migraine. Hoping to head it off at the pass, I took my meds and went back to bed with hot compresses on my neck. Unfortunately the damned fire alarm went off again. It stopped in less than a minute this time, but the adrenaline rush did me in. I ended up being sick — and believe me, no one is going to write a play about that curious incident.
Sipping Cappuccino at an Italian Bistro on London’s Strand
I lost most of the day, which I hated — couldn’t get myself going until about 3pm. But I made up for that somewhat by spending the afternoon sipping cappuccino and working on preliminary statements for my Doctoral Dissertation in preparation for my dinner with my Advisor tonight.
Please God, may tonight be about as Un-Curious as they come…I need good rest if I’m going to tackle the National Gallery, the Wolseley Tea Room, and a West-End production of Wicked tomorrow!
Parting shots: Early morning view from Blue Boar Quad (where my dorm was)
It is a weird transition from the hush of the 12th century that seems to permeate Oxford to the hustle and bustle of London. But the city is a place of amazements, too.
On Saturday, I was blessed to attend the Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy of the Arts. It’s a show that anyone can submit artwork for — no special art pedigree required. Most of the displayed paintings and sculptures and mixed-media assemblages were for sale. The range of art on display — from student drawings to massive architectural models of imaginary structures — was breathtaking, and it was brilliantly curated to draw you into each space in ways that alternately energized your visual cortex and then offered the respite of calming space.
I loved the art. But I also loved reconnecting with one of my college roommates, Cindy, who was an art major at the University of Maryland back in the day when my world was all about American Literature. Some 40 years later, she’s living in London and we found ourselves reconnecting again. She pointed out certain features of the art that I might not have noticed, and I engaged in dialogue about the stories behind the pieces. So fun.
And after we left the exhibition hall, the hints of the girls that we were came together with the women that we are to enjoy a nice Sipsmith’s Summer Cup. Really…we need to get these in the States…some kind of London dry gin, lemon verbena, fruit and mint concoction served over ice that seems innocuous enough while you are sipping it, but packs quite a punch (that you notice when you try to stand up to find the loo, I might add).
I’m so grateful for the chance to be having these adventures. But I do wish that my tribe from home could be with me, too! What fun we would have!!!
Cindy & Debbie — no longer co-eds, but still…not bad for nearly 60
I guess it’s true that all good things must come to an end. Or at least put on pause until next year.
We wrapped up our second week of classes today. In the afternoon, I had to do a group presentation on the tiny little baby topic of “What does it look like to have the image of God restored salvifically in the lives of individuals with (a) mental and emotional incapacities; or (b) issues with gender? And how do the historic and contemporary theories of selfhood apply?” Thank goodness we had a whole 15 minutes to present — because clearly, they weren’t tough enough questions to require more time than that! (Facetious tone of voice here). It was a bit stressful! But it turned out well enough, and I’m the richer for having to wrestle with our responses with my colleagues here.
The tutor from my morning class, Rev. Dr. Shaun Henson, is a brilliant man who is a physicist by training, an Anglican priest, a member of a Franciscan order, and an academic at one of the Oxford colleges. He brought such thoughtful scholarship to us as we pressed into the ways that science and religion inform one another. But what I appreciated most about him was the way he showed us his heart for Jesus. He was so tender about his belief that knowledge was insufficient — that religious experience was actually at the heart of our vocations as believers. It seemed remarkably vulnerable in the stone walls of this lofty university, which I am guessing is more famous now for its secularity than its religious roots.
But one of the best bits of the last day was our evening banquet. Guess who I was seated next to?! You guessed it — my new “friend,” Joanna Collicutt McGrath. We had such great conversation. She gave me some recommendations for how to narrow my thesis topic, shared with me the journey that she took to recognizing shame as such a significant element of our understanding of the human heart, and lamented with me about being a broad collector of ideas in a world that seems to value drilled-down specialized expertise. I have no idea what food they put in front of me — the real meal was the richness of our discourse. And it wasn’t just one-sided. I had things to offer her that she hadn’t thought of, and I introduced her to Dan Allender’s work and some other resources on the theology of trauma that she was really interested to hear about. And SHE KNITS!!!! Just saying. SO MUCH FUN!!
So my 2nd year in Oxford wrapped up so beautifully! Next stop…London!