Monthly Archives: January 2009

Postcards from England: Day One- London

It was in the blind of a light blue head buzz of sleepiness that we swooped into London, corralled our luggage, hopped the fastimg_0057 train to Paddington Station, caught the Underground to “Swiss Cottage Station”, and finally flagged a taxi to carry our weary bones the last half mile to the Regents Park Marriott. A swift, golden sunrise was just cresting the horizon when we collapsed in our hotel room. The temptation to curl up and catch up with the sleep that had run away the whole plane ride was very strong, but then, you could just glimpse the bold spire of some quintessentially British church on the horizon, and the streets below were cobbled and velveted by falling leaves. Upstairs we trudged to breakfast.img_00411

That’s when the slow, spine-climbing, skin-tingling thrill of waking up to breathe the air of a different country finally caught up with me. The hotel breakfast room was idyllically situated on the top floor with two walls of floor to ceiling windows gazing over the jumbled roofs and tumbled chimneys of London. I sat down with my first cup of tea, fresh fruit, cheese, and a tiny seeded roll just as the dawnlight escaped the mist. Rose light glinted in every apartment window, tousled the turning leaves, crowned the tallest buildings. We ate heartily (it is very European in general to eat a good breakfast and this is highly advisable if you are planning to traverse half the countryside on foot, which I generally am when I am overseas), donned fresh clothes, buttoned our coats and headed for the Underground.

I had painstakingly researched the best Dickens house to visit in London, so we headed thereimg_0050 first. It was a nondescript row house in a nondescript street, and though the tour and such was informative, the main thing I remember was the excruciating torture of trying to stay awake during the introductory video. There is this certain irresistible, head-bobbing sleepiness that attacks at the oddest moments whenever one crosses time zones with reckless abandon. I wish I could have been one of the very prim old ladies sitting behind the three of us girls during that video- we must have resembled those spooky clown heads on springs- up and down and up and down.

img_00651As with so many of the journeys I have taken, exhaustion laid waste to well laid plans and left space for a simple, wide-eyed wandering of the London alleys and cobbles that was better than any driven itinerary I could have conjured. We gave up plans for a museum, made peace with the fact of Westminster Abbey being closed (second time that’s happened!) and were tickled to catch a bevy of parliamentarians striding across the flagstones in patent leather shoes, white wigs, purple robes, and delightful pomp. Came up from the damp of the underground station to a stunning view of Parliament, Big Ben, and the domes of Westminster glimmering under the looming black of a coming storm. Joy scurried about with the camera, and we walked the bridge over the Thames, loving the sight of those old, beautiful buildings. By the time we reached Trafalgar square, the sky was a dappled dance of storm and sun and white- we kissed the old lions on their noses and then trudged the last little bit to a recommended cafe called Paul’s- right down from Covent Garden. It was superb. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting. Country French atmosphere, crusty bread, fresh coffee, and a Flan Normand (apple custardimg_0068 tart) worth a serious fork war.

By the time we reached our hotel and trudged up for a bedtime snack of hot chocolate and toast, we had crammed our first, jet-lagged hours with enough fun and laughter and stormy skies and walks up cobbled streets and cups of tea to fill us for the whole trip. But it was really just beginning…

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Story-formed

Being my bookish self, I loved finding a book I’d never before seen called Reading the Classics with C.S. Lewis, just sitting on the shelf at Agia Sophia while I waited for my cappuccino. Lewis is one of my favorite authors- companion of my wildest imaginations in childhood and then mentor/older brother to my dire spiritual quests in my teen years. This particular volume appealed to my writer’s heart as it is a step by step examination of Lewis as professor of literature and literary critic. This aspect of Lewis is often superseded by his reputation as storyteller and apologist, yet it made up the main bulk of his life. I’m a bookworm anyway, so I’ve loved every chapter (each focues on one period in literary history, examining Lewis’ knowledge and love of the works from that era) simply for the celebration of stories through the centuries. I’ve put together a great book list for myself.

Beyond that, I’ve had a bit of a revelation as I’ve seen how deeply Lewis was shaped by every single story he read. It’s so easy to think of him as this naturally brilliant guy- speaker, writer, apologist, professor, just one of those gifted people whose minds were diamond sharp from birth. But this book convinces me that his skills (at least in part) weren’t happenstance. He was trained from boyhood to be a reader, to be immersed in the vivid imaginations of everyone from the Greeks to Spenser, to Shakespeare, to Tolkien. His reading was wide, varied, and attentive. He was taught, and taught others, to take each word and metaphor and image encountered within the pages of literature and mine it for treasures of meaning, insight, illumination. He had an incredibly strong mind, but its because he had a robust life of reading, thinking, and then, creating. Every word he read, every symbol he encountered, every imaginative metaphor, every image of god or planet or beast worked its way into his mind and then reformed itself in the stories he told. There’s no denying the fact that Lewis was a brilliant man, but I am beginning to see how much of his brilliance was enhanced by the stories that formed and gave a fuller vocabulary to his imagination. His incredible output of imaginary and apologetic brilliance in his books was, at least in part, the direct result of a lifetime of trained reading.

I want to be like that. You know how once in awhile you come across something, an experience, a book, a moment in prayer, that reveals your own soul to you. It’s as if something in that moment leaps out to join something in you that was waiting to be released and validated, and you come alive to a sense of purpose. I’ve felt that way lately. I’ve always known I loved to write, loved to think, to see truth illumined through story. But its the golden moments I’ve discovered in books like this one that have helped me to know for sure that one of the main things (mind now, there are others too, but this one for now) I want to do with my life is learn to be a strong thinker and skilled storyteller.

That’s why I’ve decided to finally submit my wild-eyed gypsy self to the temporary confines of college. Now is as good a time as any to tell you that I’m thinking I’ll be heading off to Houghton College (in NY) in the fall of this year, to start their degree course in Creative Writing & English. It’s one of those decisions that seems so far off in the mist enshrouded future that it hardly feels real, but unless God changes my life/heart/mind, I know with a will and a vim that what I want to do is be a writer, a storyteller, a thinker, and I want the training that only a great literary education can provide. Yes, I’ll be 25. A freshman at 25. Now there’s an adventure for you. But I love adventures.

More on that as the journey progresses. For now, I am writing my talk for the upcoming conferences with Wholeheart, scheduling the editing for my book, and helping move Joel to Boston where he’s attending Berklee. Life’s crazy and beautiful and overwhleming and very, very good. I hope your January is off to a brilliant start. Next post: English Postcards!

A gorgeous day to you friends.

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Into the New Year…

I was reading Psalm 91 yesterday’s windy morning as a start to the new year, ambling enjoyably through a myriad of warm, assuring promises of God’s strength and shelter and assurances to protect His people, when I was stopped short by this verse: no evil shall befall you. I ground to a sudden halt because my logical mind couldn’t help but protest that we all know this is a fallen world and bad things happen oh, just about every second or so. If not to us, then to everyone else. A few verses later in the psalm, God even promises that he will be with his people in trouble, which logically means trouble will come, evil will befall them. I plopped down right in the middle of the Psalm and started wondering what exactly it was that wouldn’t befall me if I followed God into the vast, rather unknown days of the year I am currently facing.

My puzzlement drove me to a trusty old concordance where I looked up the Hebrew word for evil in that particular verse. I found that in Hebrew the word doesn’t even directly seem to mean evil- the words listed were “to be a friend”, to “pasture, shepherd, or tend”, to “companion”. I was (and am) a little confused, could be wrong on the interpretation. But from what I can understand, I’m beginning to wonder. What if what God is promising is that evil will never companion me? Evil will never shepherd me, tend me as a close friend, journey with me. Wrong may befall me, evil may trip me up. But it will never be my guide on this journey of life. God alone is that guide, that friend closer than brother, or soul, or breath. When I choose him, love him, he becomes the lone, beloved guide of my spirit, he is the ever-present shepherd of my soul.

Now there’s a new year’s promise to pack for the road. Companioned by the God of all goodness so that though evil may befall me, it is only pure Love that is my guide, my helper, my friend. My wish for all of us is that we can live there, walk as surely with him as he walks closely with us. As the strange land of a new year spills out blue and formless to the far horizon, I  rejoice to know for sure that we are companioned not by evil, but by Christ, by Love and Mercy and every Good. Led by him into adventures unimaginable and better than any dream.

Somewhere
Beyond these reasons and feelings
Somewhere
Beyond the passion and fatigue
I know You’re there
And that Your Spirit is leading me
Somewhere
Beyond all this.
(Rich Mullins)

Happy New Year!

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