Wednesday, August 2, was the last day of the 2017 C. S. Lewis Summer Institute. What a enriching experience “Oxbridge” was! I was able to hang out with some wonderful people from All Saints Episcopal Church in Lakeland. We were challenged by world-class speakers who shared a love for C. S. Lewis and his writings. We were blessed by visiting all the magnificent medieval churches. And, we thrilled to several artistic performances, the most awesome of which — and I don’t use the word “awesome” flippantly — was the choral music of the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute Choir.
In the morning, we walked over to Great St. Mary’s Church for our morning sessions. The Dean of Kings College, Stephen Cherry, provided our morning meditation. In our first plenary session, we were challenged to develop “Narnia virtues” in our own lives by Mark Pike, Professor of Education at University of Leeds. Then, in our last session, recording artist and author, Andrew Peterson, encouraged us to pursue our callings in spite of the difficulties and setbacks.
Afterwards, I and my All Saints friends enjoyed a fine lunch at The Senate again. The weather in the UK has been mostly cloudy, cool, and fairly rainy since I arrived. Wednesday may have been the worst of the rain. Our free afternoon of sight-seeing was hindered by cold, blustery, wet weather. Fighting the elements, first we entered Trinity College to look around. Trinity boasts several famous alumni, including Sir Isaac Newton. We could not enter the chapel, unfortunately, because a string lesson was underway. So, we walked down to the 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre (aka, The Round Church) in Cambridge to look around. It’s one four medieval round churches still in use in England. And, finally, we visited Magdalene College, where C. S. Lewis taught from 1954-1963.
The finally event of the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute was scheduled for Wednesday evening at Kings College Chapel. The chapel was built by a succession of the kings of England between 1446-1515 during the War of the Roses. It was for me, unquestionably, the climax of the last ten days in England. We were there to worship our Maker in this most beautiful edifice. The choir sang, Malcolm Guite delivered the message, and we were awed by the presence of God. The service concluded with the Holy Eucharist. I’ve never experienced a more powerful, more blessed, more overwhelming few moments in my 45 years of attending church. Words fail me to adequately communicate its beauty and significance. As I stood from my pew and made my way to the altar, I was engulfed by the magnificence of the elaborate, fan-vaulted, gothic ceilings towering eighty feet above the chapel floor. The massive, ornate stained glass windows with their blues and reds bathed the interior with a glorious, subtle light. The choir was singing with heavenly sweetness the powerful poem of George Herbert, Love Bade Me Welcome. As I approached the altar, I was first moved by the stain-glassed image of Christ on the cross between the two thieves which towered above us from behind the altar — I was coming to partake of his body and blood which were given for me at Calvary. My eyes then traced the imaginary line from the base of the cross to the Peter Paul Rubens altarpiece that bade me come further to worship the Christ, just as the magi were doing in this great painting, The Adoration of the Magi. It was as if all of heaven and earth came together for that moment, when all of my senses — of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell — combined to transport me beyond the physicality of the moment to a spiritual reality unseen. I shall never forget it.
On Thursday, I arose early to meet my taxi at 5:30 a.m. which carried me to London Heathrow Airport. The 9 1/2-hour flight to Atlanta was uneventful, as was my connecting flight to Akron. Today, I rest. Tomorrow, I fly to Maine for a few days of work, and then to Florida for a few days of work. Finally, after six weeks away from Beatitude II, Cindy and I will return to Charleston, SC to continue our adventures. Until then, the torrential pace of blog posts will slow.
To conclude the story of my time at the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute, I provide the words to George Herbert’s great poem:
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.