Imagine with me the following combination: a Christian conference with a C S Lewis theme in Oxford in June…. Imagine being with eighty-something people one has never met before and being able, if one wished, to ask each of them, “So what’s your favourite Lewis book?”
That is to say, you may simply have to imagine it, but I can remember it, because it’s where SJ and I were last week.
And there are so many good things to remember….
Listening to two wise and godly men lecturing. Being stretched intellectually and spiritually.
A group meal out on the second evening we were there. The dim lighting of Jamie’s Italian restaurant. SJ and I were sitting at a table with a girl we’d only met within the last hour, and a guy and an older man to whom we had never spoken until they joined us at our table. And we had over two hours of delightful conversation, talking about differences between America and Britain, about Lewis books, and more besides. It felt as if we sat down as strangers and got up as friends.
Touring The Kilns, where Lewis lived for most of his life. It’s a red brick house with a profusion of pink roses in the garden. Inside, it is a simple home, light years away from the splendours of Blenheim Palace, which we’d visited the day before, but much more special to me because of its former occupant. Our guide had a ready supply of Lewis anecdotes to hand, which included telling us that Lewis and Warnie gave their carpets a second purpose in life by making them serve as impromptu ash trays….
Laughing with our two new friends from the north of England, as one of them ribbed the other: “Tell them about…”.
A banquet in a room which has apparently been described as the most beautiful in Europe. I can see why. The ceiling is covered with intricate carvings on light stone—that combination of strength and delicacy which is gothic architecture at its most enchanting.
Afternoon tea at the Randolph with our kind friend C and one of the conference speakers. Eating scones with jam and clotted cream and laughing a lot.
Good memories indeed.
God is good. I think I came away recognising that a tiny bit more than I did before.
Last week also reinforced to me again that there are very good and godly people outside of the particular segment of Christian tradition with which I am most familiar. And I can learn from them and respect them even if I disagree with them on some issues–even on important issues. Furthermore, some of them have thought through their positions much more clearly than I have thought through mine. Orthodox Christianity has bounds, of course, but those bounds are wide, not narrow. Just look at church history! And we need each other. Yes, there may be things that you can teach other Christians with whom you have areas of disagreement–but there are probably also things that they will be able to teach you. And before any of us can teach or learn from each other, we need to try to love each other (note to self here!). After all, Jesus said that people would know we were his disciples because we love each other, not because we agree with each other about everything….
It’s always sad to come to the end of an event like this—to say goodbyes, to be plunged again into the normality of day-to-day routine. The events of last week happened once and nothing will ever happen again just like them. It’s over. But instead of uttering the “encore” against which Lewis warns in Letters to Malcolm–when “God shows us a new facet of the glory, and we refuse to look at it because we’re still looking for the old one”–I want instead to give thanks for what I have had, and to look forward to new blessings. I read a quote quite some time ago which said, “No one can steal the dance you danced”. I’m thankful for the “dance” of last week, which has given me memories I can treasure.
And I look forward to new dances.