The morning of Thursday, July 27th began with a great devotional by the Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware, followed by plenary addresses from Joseph Loconte and Lael Arrington. During the afternoon, I skipped my second sketching class for some sightseeing. (Actually, I showed up at the wrong place for the class. I would be considerably late by the time I joined the class, so I thought I’d launch out on my own.)
I visited the wonderful Ashmolean Museum, which was much more impressive than I had imagined. Cindy and I were in Oxford six years ago on our England vacation. We saw many sights, but there were some we didn’t see, including the Ashmolean. From antiquities to modern art, one could find it all there.
After the Ashmolean, I visited Keble College for the soul purpose of hunting down a painting. The college was founded in 1870 by John Keble, who had been a leading member of the Oxford Movement, which sought to stress the Catholic nature of the Church of England. The college itself was pretty, but I walked steadily toward the Kebel College Chapel, in which resides the English Pre-Raphaelite artist, Holman Hunt, painting, The Light of the World. In this allegorical work, Jesus stands on the outside, knocking at an overgrown, long-unopened door which has no handle on the outside. It must be opened from the inside.
Finally, I walked over to Christ Church College, whose illustrious alumni include Lewis Carroll, John Locke, and John Wesley. It’s Great Hall was the inspiration for the Hogwart’s Hall in Harry Potter. The Cathedral is a twelfth century church and has a famous choir which has been there since 1526, when John Taverner was the organist and also master of the choristers. Cindy and I did see Christ Church when we were here before, but we did not go into the Picture Gallery. Today I visited this small museum which had a number of significant works of art in an uncrowded space.
On Thursday evening, I attended a Hymn Sing at Holy Trinity Church just outside of Oxford. Holy Trinity is famous for being the church of C. S. Lewis. It is not a large cathedral, but a simple parish church. In the graveyard surrounding the church lies the tomb of C. S. Lewis and his brother. The church also possesses a “Narnia Window” in honor of Lewis’ extremely popular and influential series, The Chronicles of Narnia. The singing of the hymns, led by the C. S. Lewis Chamber Choir in the church of C. S. Lewis, was quite an experience.
Friday was another great day. It’s beginning, however was a little rough. It started with a 1:00 a.m. fire alarm going off in the building I was sleeping in. The most annoying, screeching alarm drove us into the courtyard for about ten minutes before the all clear was given. Of course, by then, I was so adrenalized I couldn’t get back to sleep so well. Then, at breakfast, I was asked to go check on a lady that I had seen 36 hours prior. She was a 70-something year old sweet lady who was riding in the transport van when it rear-ended another vehicle. She hit her face and head on the seat in front of her and had a couple of small cuts around her right eye which did not require sutures. She was taking a blood thinner (Plavix) daily. If she had rolled into an emergency department where I was working, I would have scanned her head. But, since I had no scanner, we talked about the signs and symptoms of an intracranial hemorrhage. All day the next day she stayed in her room, but someone checked on her and felt she was okay. At breakfast this morning, however, she was confused and having difficulty speaking. After briefly assessing her, I felt she needed to go to the hospital. The staff at the conference gave me the emergency number to call (111, which I assumed was equivalent to our 911). I called and attempted to obtain assistance, but was told that there was no one available at this time and that she would put me in the queue and that someone would call me back when available. I thought, “This is a strange emergency system in Great Britain! I’ve got a lady with a potential brain bleed, and I’m being put in the queue.” The strangeness was clarified however, when someone called me back 15 minutes later. She said I needed to call 999 to have an ambulance come immediately. The conference folks thought the 111 number was an emergency response number, however it is a nursing triage line for folks who’d like advice on non-emergency issues. Once I dialed 999, the ambulance was there very quickly.
Anyway, I missed the first speaker of the day while attending to the needs of this lady. The next two speakers, however, were very good. We heard from Mary Poplin on Worldviews and then were treated to an exceptional hour of storytelling with 86 year-old, Walter Hooper, who shared anecdote after anecdote of his time spent with C. S. Lewis. It was wonderful!
The afternoon was free. So, after grabbing a quick bite to eat, I headed over to Magdalen (pronounced Mawdlin) College (founded in 1458), where C. S. Lewis spent the bulk of his career. I walked through the beautiful naveless chapel and gazed upon the charming cloister before going for a stroll on Addison’s Walk in the footsteps of Lewis, who often did the same. In fact, it was on this path in the autumn of 1931 when Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Hugo Dyson talked about myth and reality and the idea that Christianity was a myth with a unique difference, it was true. The conversations continued long into the evening. This was a turning point in Lewis’ coming to the Christian faith.
From Magdalen College, I attempted to visit the Bodlean Library, but was unable to do so because the tours were booked for the day. So, instead, I looked through the special Jane Austen exhibit at the Wesley library, a part of the Bodlean. Afterwards, I made my way back to the Ashmolean Museum for another, less-rushed, visit.
At 6 p.m., I met up with my friends, Dave and Linda Marichal from All Saints in Lakeland, and my friend whom I first met in my days at Biola University, Holly Ordway. We attended a serene, yet beautiful, mass at Oxford Oratory (aka, St. Aloysius Catholic Church). This church was the home church of Tolkien, and also the church of Cardinal John Henry Newman. After mass, we walked around the corner to the Cafe Rouge, for a nice French meal and excellent conversation.
With this, the first half of the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute came to a close. On Saturday morning, we would transfer to Cambridge to continue this wonderful experience which challenges the intellect and the imagination.