oxbridge journeys of heart and mind

I am sitting here in Wycliffe Hall (Oxford). Wikipedia tells me that before I sat here, such assorted luminaries as JC Ryle, Nicky Gumbell, JI Packer, NT Wright, Alister McGrath and Lord Coggan sat here as well.

As I've been sitting, I've been thinking and feeling.

Today it is one year since Barby and I left home and family in Auckland to set up a new life together in Bangalore. It has been a big change, even bigger than we anticipated.

As I've been reflecting, my heart and mind have been journeying through Oxford and across to Cambridge.

I've been feeling with CS Lewis, who used to gather at The Eagle and Child, barely 800m from where I sit, with JR Tolkien. Of all his quotes, the one I reflect on the most is that 'there is a joy deeper than happiness, just as there is a grief deeper than pain' (or, words to that effect). A generation later, Wycliffe alumnus JI Packer comes along and plays with this idea and extends it in his book, Laidback Religion. He writes something about how Christians have 'larger hearts than others' (or, words to that effect) as God gives us this capacity to feel both grief and joy intensely - and at the same time. One does not always expel the other. To say that joy eclipses grief is inhumane. But they can coexist.

So much for my heart - and for Oxford.
Now for my mind.

It journeys across to Cambridge to the imagery of one of my heroes, Charles Simeon, pastor of Holy Trinity church for 54 years. It is on my mind because when in Sri Lanka last week I tried to paraphrase it. It was so humid. A dysfunctional fan and a bumpy pillow added to the challenges. Then there was the cold shower - a nice prospect in such humidity - but entering it at first light still remains a challenge for someone accustomed to finer luxuries, like hot water. But I found that if I got my head wet first, then the rest of my body followed more easily. A bit like Simeon and the hedge, a story in one of his biographies. He is talking to one of his friends, encouraging him not to worry about a little suffering. 'When I am getting through a hedge, if my head is safely through, then I can handle a little prickling on my body and legs.' (or, words to that effect). It is true. If my head can understand, then my heart and hands can follow more readily.

So I am processing the real shift from Auckland to Bangalore by taking an imaginary journey to Oxford and Cambridge. The greatest challenge is learning to live with separation from the family, at a time when grandchildren are being added to children. Some do this better than others. Maybe we don't do it so well. Maybe our own lengthy separations from parents as teenagers hovers in the background. Maybe we need to get over ourselves and show a little maturity. Whatever.

My journey to Oxford reminds me that, as a Christian, I have a very large heart that can embrace the ache of separation and the joy of obedience at the same time. It can - and it does. It is the oddest of realities and I feel it fully.

My journey to Cambridge reminds me that mind needs to lead heart. Let facts direct the flow of my feelings. Let truths be the wellspring for my emotion. 'God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life - and for the lives of those I love' ... now, that ain't such a bad truth with which to begin, is it?

nice chatting



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