Do you know that feeling when you open a new book and thirstily take in the first few pages and then lean back with a contented smile, reveling in how delicious the lines taste on your soul's tongue?
"Surprised by Oxford" by Carolyn Weber was such a read for me.
I originally requested the book from the book review program I write for over a year ago, but somehow it got lost on its journey to me. So I sadly requested other books and got on with things, but the thought of it lingered in the back of my mind. I was intrigued by the subject and style-- a memoir (which is a style I love to read!) about a young Canadian woman studying in England, and discovering herself on a journey to a relationship with God-- a journey she later understood she'd been on all along, but never before recognized.
I was enchanted by the author's way with words (for instance, she describes her mother as having "the scent of all things comforting and good"-- and, do you know, it immediately takes me back to curling up in my mommy's arms as a little one, nuzzling into her neck and breathing in that very same scent? And she describes Oxford: "The walls were saturated with the thoughts of endless minds across hundreds of years into the present, like a fine chain linked with hopes for the betterment of humankind."), and the way she wove references from classic literature all throughout her experiences. Her love of learning and studying and taking in the world, the way everything she encountered added to her thoughtful questioning, her adoration of The Romantics and flawless incorporation of their wisdom and experiences into her own, and the way England brought it all to life-- it all resonated so deeply with me. I also went to England as an idealistic, inexperienced young girl, and left with horizons widened on my whole world. I think she and I could be kindred friends, and reading her story was like taking a walk together through the beloved Oxfordshire landscape and sharing the struggles of our souls and the encouragement He gives to press on...
She wrestled honestly with God. She came from a background with only a vague understanding of Christianity, and many prejudices against it. It was the most unlikely of places to draw up close to Him-- the world of Academics. But one after the other, professors and scholars and friends she greatly respected came out with beliefs which made her question her own lack of them. She became enthralled by this plain of love she saw in some people's lives that she had not experienced. And so she started seeking out what it was that they had and she didn't-- and she didn't like the answer she inevitably came out with. But when she finally accepted that Christ is Who He says He is, her whole world was awashed in a new hue of colour. And the way she is able to encapsulate it in words thrilled my little literature-loving heart. Everything in her existence is touched and illuminated. Even the literature she'd studied for years suddenly read with a new dimension when she opened her eyes to The Holy. A lightbulb moment of the grandest kind.
The way she shares her story is so intimate, so detailed, and deep, and beautiful, that I felt honoured to be reading it, as if being imparted with a gift.
More and more I am convinced that what the world needs is to hear our stories. Jesus told stories. And crafted stories out of the lives of every one of His followers. He told them to go and share what they had seen and heard-- share their stories. I grow so frustrated so easily carrying around this incredible truth that so few think they want to hear, but as we share our stories-- unassuming, unaggressive, just letting people in-- we are free to just love with no agenda. Sharing our stories is loving like Christ loves, being vulnerable for the sake of someone else who needs to hear what you've lived to share. "Surprised by Oxford" was encouraging as you see a cast of characters coming in and out of Carolyn's life-- some of them for a moment, some of them for years, sharing their stories, unobtrusively, gently, honestly, but deeply-- until, in her own good time, it finally all just "clicks". And then she becomes a voice in the whole cast of characters sharing her story for someone else to one day "click" upon hearing...
It is a beautiful economy, this kind King's.
"That is the bizarre thing about the good news: who knows how you will really hear it one day, but once you have heard it, I mean really heard it, you can never unhear it. Once you have read it, or spoken it, or thought it, even if it irritates you, even if you hate hearing it or cannot find it feasible, or try to dismiss it, you cannot unhear it, or unspeak it, or unthink it."
"Belief is really hard work... And it's radical work. I mean, imagine if we really implemented the golden rule, among individuals as well as nations. If we really did everything from holding doors open for each other, to helping raise each other's kids, to feeding and clothing one another. If we really took God at His Word, and He is real, and so love, and grace, and accountability are too. Like Mother Teresa telling us to love until it hurts, with a smile."
"Life is messy. Life is beautiful and terrible and messy. So why would we expect a faith in this life that is easy to understand? Why expect a gift wrapped up neatly within the tissues of our brains and tied with a nice bow of material clarity? ... A round gift is the most difficult to wrap."
So beautifully written and honest, "Surprised by Oxford" is, among so many other things, just a delicious joy to soak up. Find yourself a copy and a bit of sunshine to sit in and you will be entertained as well as touched!
p.s. I want to move to Oxfordshire even more now!
*I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255