We Cannot Measure How you Heal

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I was flipping through the Book of Common Praise just before Evensong the other night and read the lyrics to this  hymn I had never heard before. I thought the lyrics were so beautiful considering  all of the hurt that seems to be present all around the world these days.  I looked up the lyrics and copied them below for any who would be encouraged by them. I also found a recording of the hymn that I pasted below.

We cannot measure how you heal

or answer every sufferer’s prayer,

yet we believe your grace responds

where faith and doubt unite to care.

Your hands, though bloodied on the cross

survive to hold and heal and warn,

to carry all through death to life

and cradle children yet unborn.

 

The pain that will not go away,

the guilt that clings from things long past,

the fear of what the future holds

are present as if meant to last.

But present too is love which tends

the hurt we never hoped to find,

the private agonies inside

the memories that haunt the mind.

 

So some have come who need your help,

and some have come to make amends,

as hands which shaped and saved the world

are present in the touch of friends.

Lord, let your Spirit meet us here

to mend the body, mind and soul,

to disentangle peace from pain

and make your broken people whole

(Source)

Reunited at Last

Geoffrey Chaucer was my gateway drug in undergrad to a love of medieval literature. I took the class on a whim, and found myself sitting under the instruction of a professor who would go on to have one of the most profound influences on my academic development. I was entranced by the beauty of Middle English, and I fell in love with the wit, depth, and thoughtfulness of the Canterbury Tales. I went on to study Old English as a language course, study the history of the  linguistic development of the English language, and do an independent study translating Beowulf. Here in Oxford over the years, I have studied Anglo-Saxon literature, Medieval and Renaissance Romance, and this year decided to take the final term of my master’s degree back with Chaucer where it all began. Not only do I appreciate the poetic bookends of that choice, but after many years focusing on Old English and Anglo-Saxon literature, it’s just good to be spending time with my ole’ buddy Chaucer in Middle English. I even remember calling my time spent studying or reading for my undergrad class “dates with Chaucer”, and so now after all this time it’s nice to be picking up where we left off.

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Classes in Oxford follow the tutorial structure. I have tutorials with only a few other students, and we only meet with our professor twice a week. We sit in a circle in couches in her office and talk about the reading. Each of these tutorials feels so short because there is always so much to talk about. Between classes we have the primary text to read, as well as a list of supplemental reading our professor sends out. The end result is a lot of library time.

Each of the colleges that comprise Oxford University has its own library attached to it, from which we can borrow books.

This is ours:

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And he hangs out by the check-out desk: IMG_0359Then of course there is the Bodleian Library, which is truly a treasure. These books cannot be taken out, which means a lot of time spent there. However, who can complain when it looks like this?

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This is the Radcliffe Camera, definitely one of the more famous fixtures of Oxford and one of the main library buildings.  (Of which there are many)IMG_0204IMG_0203There’s even a creepy underground part called the Gladstone Link. I’m always afraid of getting squished in the wheely bookshelves, so I like to stay in the Radcliffe Camera. Pictures aren’t allowed in the reading rooms, but I took this picture of the dazzling staircase between floors.IMG_0377.jpg

The days are getting busier now as I am working on a 25-page paper, in addition to reading for class. Truly this is a labor of love, though, and I wish the time were not rushing by quite so fast. IMG_0410

One other special Chaucer moment of this summer was getting to see his tomb at Westminster Abbey. There were some tears involved, and I could (and should) write about that visit in a whole other post at some point. But I am glad at least that I got to take a little pilgrimage of my own to visit the Bard of my heart and the author that changed it all for me.

O For a Muse of Fire

While Facetiming my family the other night, my dad asked me if I am doing any actually classwork. Of course the answer is yes, cheeky man, and one day I will write about my studies. In the meantime, there is much to report in the way of field trips and excursions. (And full disclosure this is what Facetiming my family often ends up looking like:

The boys are thrilled as you can see)

So embarrassing. Anyway….

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Last Wednesday I won a ticket lottery to see Romeo and Juliet directed by Kenneth Branagh (!) and starring Lily James and Derek Jakobi. Lily James was a lovely Juliet, and Derek Jakobi (much like Branagh) is Shakespeare performing royalty. I love him best as the chorus in Henry V.

Hearing that voice in person was thrilling as you might imagine.

That evening was the Three-Penny Opera (of Mack the Knife fame) with the whole school, and so between plays my friend Alé and I took an exploratory trip where we found plenty of treasures, both of people and places. IMG_0164

This little alley is mostly used book shops and antique stores. Among our discoveries:

  1. A house once inhabited by Mozart!

2. A rare book shop peopled by wine-drinking sages who had the best stories to tell and let us hold 500-year-old books.

3. This antique shop bursting full of personality, both of inventory and shopkeeper

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After a quick coffee stop, we hustled over to to the theatre to meet the rest of our crew, but not before this shameless display of tourism:IMG_0188We got another peek at Big Ben on the bus returning to Oxford:

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Two days later we returned to London, this time to St. Martin-in-the-Fields. IMG_0178

I was a little bit freaking out because hearing a concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields was a dream of mine and did not disappoint.

Saturday night, 6 or 7 of us saw the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra playing some Bach concertos and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The performance was truncated for me (long story), but what I did see was lovely, especially inside the stunning Sheldonian Theatre. IMG_0247So that wraps up the excursions of the last week. I will write about class and life and all that, but for this afternoon we are heading to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wish I could beam all of my students over to see it too, since they did such a splendid performance of this play in the spring.

Note to my students should they encounter this post:  “Not to worry, Darlings, even the Royal Shakespeare Company could not possibly dethrone your favorite-Midsummer-production status in my heart. Love, Ms. Jones”

Music at Oxford

Music has always held a particular healing quality for me, which I believe is true of most people. I am grateful therefore, to be in a place where beautiful music is both abundant and accessible after experiencing loss this past week.

I mentioned Evensong, earlier, which I have attended once more since then. Evensong is held at Christchurch Cathedral, featuring a lovely liturgy of hymns and songs, sung prayers, and choral anthems. The service is reverent, sacred and majestic, not only focusing the soul heavenward, but on a personal reminder serves as a comforting reminder of my church and choir back home. Here is the exterior of Christchurch:IMG_0097IMG_0136

Then on Saturday, a fellow student and I went to the University Church to see the Oxford Chamber Orchestra play pieces by Beethoven, Schumann, and Dvorak. I am pretty sure I saw the words “New World Symphony” walking from the airport bus to the college the first day, and immediately decided to go. That symphony live is transcendent, but particularly so seeing it in this venue:

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I was a little bit obsessed with this starry, starry ceiling. IMG_0129

There are many more concerts on the books for the next few weeks, and certainly more Evensongs, but this week I am thankful for the strengthening and encouraging power that music has to offer.

PS. This is a Stradivarius!IMG_0080 I stumbled upon it at the Ashmolean, and gave up thinking of a proper segue in this post.

Good-night, Grandpa.

I woke up at 4 am Thursday to a text from my sister letting me know that Grandpa had passed away. He’d had a stroke two weeks ago, and much like his grandson Reid had done many years before, continued to fight on far beyond his initial prognosis, amazing doctors with his strength. It’s difficult to wrap my head around what’s happened being so far away, and yet I have experienced so much peace these last few days.

Wednesday was the most difficult day, waiting by the phone, texting with my family throughout the night before. Overwhelmed and restless, I attended a beautiful evensong service at Christchurch Cathedral, which was a tremendous comfort. Then, just as the sun was setting the rain clouds broke and a breathtaking rainbow descended on the city. IMG_0058IMG_0064

Then the next morning after he passed, I was out walking and spotted a high school student on a college visit, wearing a sweatshirt from Grandpa’s high school. Encountering that child from a private school in New Jersey in the streets of Oxford, hours after he had passed was nothing short of miraculous and comforting beyond words. As difficult as it is to be so far from family and trying to fathom what has taken place, I feel carried by the nearness and love of “the God of all comfort and the father of compassion. ” (2 Cor 1:3) I have also found great encouragement in the idea that he is reunited with my brother Reid, who died 7 years ago next week.

These last few days, I have cherished recounting simple snippets of memories from years past: tractor rides around the mountain when we were young, the rope swing he built for us grandkids, chopping wood, the Archie Bunker chair, family dinners at Sirloin Saloon, stories of family lore, his vast history library, seeing him greeting and taking the offering when we visited their church, calling my grandma by the simple and tender nickname “Sweet”, his love of football, devotion to Rotary, his hugs, and so much more.

I particularly treasure last summer. Studying an hour away, I got up to their house most weekends for a quick visit, and I treasure these times. I managed to record him telling a few stories, which I can’t bring myself to listen to just yet, but I am extremely thankful to have. Every time I left, he would still tell me to drive safely and want me to let them know when I got back to campus. And now, as unthinkable as his absence is right now, he has arrived safely to his eternal home. He leaves behind an immeasurable legacy, the ripple effect of which we will probably still be discovering in years to come.

IMG_5335Good-night Grandpa. I love you.