Advent: Homeward thoughts, and Oxford days.
"Nobody tells you when you get born here How much you'll come to love it And how you'll never belong here So I call you my country And I'll be lonely for my home And I wish that I could take you there with me."
Rich Mullins, "Land of my Sojourn"
As I write this, I am momentarily stepping out of the whirling vortex of reading for my very last Oxford paper. I have a spot beneath a window and I'm writing about love and virtue in the Bodleian library. It is work, and it is hard work, but I'm cherishing it. What a gift this semester has been.
In the last two weeks I have begun to experience a profound tension of emotions. Part of me never wants to leave this place. Oxford truly feels like a magical place. There is beauty everywhere I look, history living in every corner of every street, intellectual and spiritual stimulation constantly confronts me. I have found kindred spirits here. Oxford has become a friend and a teacher. There is a new part of me because of this experience. I will return here.
And yet, I want to go home. I long for the familiar faces that I miss at home. I cherish thoughts of Colorado snow, or family laughter, and reading The Christmas Carol by my homey fire. More than anything, I know that home is coming, and it catches me in an immobility of enjoyment of the present and desire for the future.
Oxford says stay, but home beckons.
And I am caught in the in-between.
I think this small moment is a reflection of the over all tension of life. We are given life and it is beautiful. We find love, delight, laughter and it is true and real. Yet, somewhere inside us, we still ache for a brighter morning and a fuller dawn. We long for home. In all of the best moments of life, I feel instinctively that this is not the ultimate reality. As Gungor says "This is not the end, this is not the end of this, we will open our eyes wider."
Life is the land of our sojourn. Life is Oxford.
I've been thinking about this a lot as we have entered into the season of Advent. Advent is all about hopeful expectation. In advent, we thank God for what he has done: that he came, that we are not alone, that we have salvation. And yet we also acknowledge the longing and the desire we feel for God to bring his kingdom in its full redemption. We long for completion and for home.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."
It's about a week before I return. I hope I cherish each day (though sometimes that means fighting to stay awake whilst reading the thousandth page). And I hope that this experience etches into me the reality of life; belonging and longing, living and waiting, thanksgiving and petition. All the while realizing that the only moment I can be faithful with right now is this one.
It's time to go back to reading and writing. Thanks for putting up with my rambling.
To end, here's a poem about advent that I love.
The Coming R.S. Thomas
And God held in his hand A small globe. Look, he said. The son looked. Far off, As through water, he saw A scorched land of fierce Colour. The light burned There; crusted buildings Cast their shadows: a bright Serpent, a river Uncoiled itself, radiant With slime. On a bare Hill a bare tree saddened The sky. Many people Held out their thin arms To it, as though waiting For a vanished April To return to its crossed Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
Thomas, R. S. "The Coming." Collected Poems, 1945-1990. London: Phoenix, 2000. 234.