Tag Archives: Oxfordshire

Day 33: God Created my DNA and He Reminded Me of the Code in St. Mary’s Cathedral

As a young girl, my parents prepared my brother and I to seek an expansion of perspective beyond that which our own community had to offer.  Comprised within this family plan were experiences of art, travel and educational enrichment.  The mode of delivery usually meant we were loaded into the farm truck and driven to some event in Oklahoma City…despite any resistance on our part.

These “field trips” might have included a classical concert or perhaps a lecture from an archeologist who had discovered pitch clad shards of gopher wood on a limited time-window excursion in Turkey.  Sometimes, the evenings were capped off with an ice cream cone at Kaiser’s in the heart of downtown.  At the time, I’m sure the ice cream was my favorite part.  I do recall, however, feeling the hair on my arms lift as I touched the Lucite bound tiny pieces of what I thought might be Noah’s Ark.

My K-12 formal educational journey was also important in how I began to view the world.  I learned of fairness and the magic of discovery from the effective teachers, and of injustice and constriction from those less able.  The good must have outweighed the challenging, however, because every cell in my body seeks new understandings to this day.  It’s in my DNA, and God reminded me of this by giving me a gift on Day 33 that I’ll never forget.

This past Sunday I attended The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Expectations had already been set on my part simply knowing that C.S. Lewis had preached his “Weight of Glory” sermon in that very hall.  John Wesley spoke there on many occasions, and before the College system sprang up in Oxford, the church served as the location for the educational exercises such as group lectures or exams.  This was at a time in the 13th century when scholars actually lived with the professors to receive their education.  This church is central to how the entire educational context was set throughout Oxfordshire.

Eucharist began at 10:30 and I came in the door at 10:32.  I was handed a Hymn book and a guide to the service, was shown an available seat and sent on my way.  Being an evangelical, I’ve learned to watch the other attendees and the pastor carefully when participating in a service such as that offered at St. Mary’s.  There is standing, sitting, standing…and sitting.  And standing.  There is also a participatory portion that the audience reads by following the service guide.  All these machinations are unfamiliar to me, but easy to follow.  I’m glad, because it left much of my mental energy available to absorb everything else. Comments continued after the photograph…

I’ll not provide the entire sermon, nor all my thoughts during the service.  Indeed, some were too personal, too humbling, too set on the holiness of our Lord.  However I will share a bit of that for which I am grateful:

1.  I’m grateful for the chance to have heard the message delivered by the Reverend Canon Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church.  From the moment he began to speak, my rapt attention zeroed in on his outline and it was one of the best sermons I’ve heard in my life.  Scripture, poetry, philosophy, education, human suffering and regard – all these concepts and perhaps more were laid before those attending and asked to be considered on behalf of our Creator.

2.  I’m grateful for a greeting time wherein the only task was to reach out to those around us and utter this simple phrase, “Peace to you,” or respond, “And to you as well.”  This made me cry – the simplistic form of a gentle greeting and a gentle return. Wonderful.

3.  I’m grateful for a communion service where each person was reminded with one phrase, “The body of Christ,” that which they were taking as they were handed a piece of bread.  And I’m grateful to have been given the chance to drink from a community cup real wine, the edge of which was wiped with a cloth and given the person next in line.  I’ve never shared a cup with others, and it is a compelling experience.

4.  I’m grateful to have had the chance to sing all verses of the selected Hymns, generally written in Old English verse, accompanied by an organ whose song filled the highest corners of the cathedral.  I know the notes lifted up our voices and sent them to the Heavens.

5.  And, I’m grateful for the reminding affirmations for all who participated, each time we read along during the service. An example: “We are the body of Christ.  In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.  Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.”  Another: “Great is the Mystery of Faith – Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.  Blessing and honor and glory and power be yours for ever and ever. Amen.”

With every affirmation stated by the audience, my faith was affirmed and deemed a righteous pursuit.

I don’t know if I’ll get to attend a service at St. Mary’s again.  However, for me, it was as if my spirituality had attended an inspirational conference – – a conferring or communion with God.  A renewal was given to me and for that I am grateful as well.

I’ll leave you with a poem that was read during the sermon.  The discussion was about how one person might say a leaf is green due to the chlorophyll, another because the evolutionary sea life was purple – so green was refracted, and another – a poet – might say “because it means renewal.”

Peace to you.


The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin

Day 31: “Elderly People,” Elephant Man Trees, Foraging in England and The Maze

A friend in the program mentioned she would be going to Blenheim Palace on Saturday and asked if I wanted to go.  At that point, I thought my day trips were over due to the need for intense study time.  However, when I learned the palace was in Woodstock, just 20 minutes outside of Oxford, I was in!

I got to ride in my first double-decker bus.  So, of course Nicole and I get on the top level and in the front!  Here’s our view: (this is BEFORE the windshield got covered with 4 million bugs in 20 minutes…who knew this beautiful view would be traded for a liberal dose of bug gut spackling?)

As soon as we began reaching the outskirts of the city we saw two funny signs.  I’m not sure this first one would pass the “political correctness” muster in the U.S.  Do you?

I just really didn’t know what to think about it.  I can’t imagine any of the “elderly people” in my family coming to the conclusion that: a) Yes, we definitely need a sign to warn traffic we are running around outside; or, b) and PLEASE be sure to characterize us stooped over with canes.  That’s essential.

The second sign caught my eye because it’s election season back in the states.  I was thinking, is this like a straw poll?  Do they practice first, then do the real election later?  What the heck? Here’s the sign…

It turns out that in spite of the word “Mock,” this is an actual election for their real mayor.  I looked up the event when I got home and here’s what happens:

This ceremony is known to date back to 1786. A mayor and corporation for Old Woodstock are elected with ‘mock formality’ and then ceremoniously pitched into the River Glyme…

So, there you go.  In case you’ve ever wanted to throw your local politician into the river, you can actually get your chance if you live here.

Blenheim Palace is going on my list of “must see locations” for anyone who asks for advice about the area.  If you are a history buff, a Winston Churchill fan, a landscape or outdoors person…then this place is for you.  They don’t allow photographs inside the house, but the grounds will keep you and your camera busy for a long time.  By the way, there is a jousting competition this upcoming Saturday…cool!  Here is a picture of me in the Palace Chapel, pretending to give a sermon to all the family and servants (there was generally an average of four or five family members and between 50 and 95 servants).

Thou shalt not wear thy corsets too tight for fear of fainting!

Once we finished the historical “reality” tour, then were guided around the first floor by an older gentleman who must have pledged his loyalty to the family forever and ever by the way he praised their name.  We then took a little train out to the play area and “The Maze.”

The Maze was incredible.  Shaped out of ewes, it was comprised of a highly complex design with dead ends, curly q’s and two lookout decks (so you could look down to see where you were going and where you had been).  It took us about 25 minutes to get through the whole thing.

Here’s our emotional journey: Oh, this is neat.  Wow, how interesting.  Are we lost?  Which way did we come from? You lead, I’m lost. Geez, how long does this thing take…hey, there’s a lookout! Okay, that was cool…NOW I’m sure I know where we’re going.  I’m feeling lost again.  This is getting long.  Okay – this is really taking a lot longer than I thought – oh, hey! There’s another lookout tower.  Um, what time is it? Do you think they’ll close the gate if we don’t get out of here?  AHHH!!!! We’re free!

Here are a few shots of The Maze…

I’m not even going to talk about what happened after we left the maze.  In a nutshell, we went out of the back of the property rather than the front, and we walked around the entire estate.  45 minutes later, we made it back to the front just in time for the next bus.  It was a modern day miracle.

I will talk about the fact that on our walk we saw thousands of blackberry bushes and a cherry tree or two.  Both were loaded with fruit and I ate some.  Nicole kind of freaked, not knowing whether they were poison, had weed spray on them, etc.  I told her that blackberries were not poison, and that there were tons of weeds around the bushes, so I was taking a chance.  Then I told her that we should probably watch out for large bears who would also want the berries.  This is how I thanked my traveling partner – scaring her to death while we looked for the front of the property.

Right after the “death by poison berries” scare, we were met with an actual creepy image.  There in front of us was “Elephant Man Tree,” and his mouth was open in a permanent horrific moan as if to say, “Why? Why did this happen to me?!”  I have no idea if this is a tree disease, if this is a particular strain of tree that is supposed to look like this (I doubt it), or if there is another explanation.  These trees had extra funky trunkies.  I’ll sign off this post by leaving you with the images of the tormented trees.  Don’t scroll down if you get creeped out by trees that look like people screaming (well, one looks like an elephant or octopus face).