The best things come in three’s, right? Definitely they come to those who wait. I apologize to those who have anxiously been awaiting news of my new home at the University of Oxford (sorry, Mom and Dad), but I’m happy to report I’ve arrived here safely and my radio silence—and cricked neck—is the result of eagerly and inexhaustibly taking it all in. Here’s the recap of days 1-3.
Flying from the far West Coast of the U.S. gave me the enviable honor of one of the longest trips—36 hours all told on the first day. Flight changes, layovers and customs were a breeze and I was easily hailed in the Heathrow bus station by fellow students identifying my lady-bug red backpack. The picturesque bus trip out to Oxford should have been relaxing but I’ve developed a continuous and not-yet-decreasing panic at seeing cars driving on the wrong side of the road that occasionally has my heart lodged in my throat. It’s quite disconcerting when it looks as though no one is driving the car.
I met one of my roommates on the bus and the other two upon arrival at our residence, a big old brick house quaintly dubbed the Vines. We share arguably the biggest (and best) room in the house at the end of a hallway on the top floor with sliding dormer windows looking out onto a leafy landscape strewn through with sun. Already there are more books than any other decoration.
We quickly learned our beds—and our whole room—squeak miserably. After a jet-lag-induced sleep we walked to Headington (a suburb of Oxford and blessedly not uphill) Saturday morning for wandering around, and stumbled upon a crisp and homey café where we sipped macchiato and read the tabloid-esque papers (“Wife-beating art expert walks free”). In the afternoon we were assigned our bicycles and my roommates were introduced to the very sad fact that I can’t really ride one (I’m working on it though! Almost there.). The evening took us to the Angel and Greyhound pub on the outskirts of Oxford, which is apparently the only one Inspector Morse hasn’t visited. We have though, and it’s not too shabby despite the obvious stares we got as Americans.
Sunday morning we walked into Oxford for church at James Street Church, a small nondenominational church with only about 20 members. They welcomed us as “sisters in Christ we have never met, but that we rejoice are here with us.” There was no lead pastor, but male members of the church would stand up and request a hymn, then read a passage and offer observations or a mini-sermon. After several moments of silence, another member would stand and read a passage he thought correlated or complemented and then request hymns alongside. It was unconventional but I enjoyed the spontaneity and depth with which the members could speak on scripture.
Among others, we read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It was pointed out that Jesus knew that Lazarus was very sick, but stayed where he was and did not go to him. Later when he sees the tomb Jesus weeps, and even later when he raises him from the dead, Jesus thanks his Father for making his glory evident through the miracle. In other words, Jesus waited, he wept, and he won. None of these occurrences would be possible without the others and Lazarus’ victory over death is all the sweeter because of it. There are some things in my life that I would love to rush or push or initiate right now, but this was a timely reminder to wait for timing that is wiser and infinitely more knowledgeable than mine.
We took communion from a communal bread and cup, and the wine burned in my throat going down. After the service they served tea and coffee and crumpets and conversation. From listening to others’ experiences, this is an almost universal practice and one that is so endearing. I felt instantly welcomed and invited into their community.
In the evening we attended Evensong as Christ Church, one of the largest cathedrals in Oxford. The stone ceilings stretch to an intentionally overwhelming and majestic height, and the choir’s voice mingling with the organ splinters in a rainbow of color against the stained glass.
Dinner on Sunday at a pub in Headington, a white-washed building called the Britannia. Since then it’s been a massive amount of orientation, intimidation and long reading lists, broken up by the occasional cup of tea and today a peaceful afternoon walk through Headington Park, pictured below.