I hadn’t realized how dark it had become until Easter brought the light. Everything came together to lift my spirits: the weather brightened; the government restrictions eased; people began to gather again for Holy Week.
Earlier this term, a friend invited me to attend the Developing a Christian Mind conference at Oxford – online, inevitably, but they did their best to enliven the experience. On a whim, I submitted my birthday gift from Maryna as an entry in their ‘best dressed selfie’ contest — she deserves credit for my win!
Meanwhile, the spring flowers, which have been flirting with us since February, emerged in force this past month. The University Park gardeners in particular have thrilled me with their mastery of craft: spaces once bare dirt, then peeking blotches of color, are now unfolding in rising waves of life and loveliness like the movements of a Beethoven symphony.
Making the best of the improved weather, a fellow Hillsdale alumna and I strolled Port Meadow while we debated the merits of international development policy. Her academic background and technical expertise gives some welcome context to the disappointments and frustrations I witnessed as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
For a more formal excursion, the Pusey House walking club recommenced with a visit to Godstow Abbey. We trekked north of the city, through the aforementioned Port Meadow, crossed over the river (a nearly guaranteed treat whenever walking in Oxford) and found ourselves in the fields of ruins. Dismantled by Henry VIII and the civil war that followed, the nunnery retains enough character to summon romantic reminiscing on its history of tragic figures. We reflected on continuity and rupture, the celebration of sacraments that carries on the same shape of traditions in places like Pusey House, then settled down for a picnic in the leeward wall’s shelter.
On the home front, I haven’t had as much energy for cooking lately, but my Oddbox delivery of surplus and eccentric vegetables demands some creativity:
While my enthusiasm for cooking has waned, newly restored allowances for hospitality take up the slack, and friends have spoiled me with good food:
Then Holy Week began in earnest. I was eagerly anticipating my introduction to the full-fledged rites of a liturgically traditional community, and the churches of Oxford did not disappoint. At my home church, we celebrated the warm spring weather by releasing our services into the garden, where we can legally sing hymns and eschew face masks.
Meanwhile Pusey House hosted me for the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil on Saturday night, for those as unfamiliar as I was): a trio of services that foreground all the drama of the crucifixion and resurrection. Thursday night, they stripped the altar and we retired to the flower-laden chapel to reflect on Christ’s prayers in Gethsemane. Friday’s service at noon proceeded in somber sterility. The vigil began in deep gloom, pierced by the lighting of the Christ candle. Processing inside, we found the chapel so dark that unwary congregants stumbled on the steps. Then as midnight approached, the darkness broke with a flurry of activity: candles, candelabras, overhead lights all ignited, and we sang praises in the deep relief of light restored.
Easter lunch at Audrey’s place crowned the occasion with feasting and fellowship. We gathered in the garden, exclaiming over the spread of Mediterranean-seasoned vegetables and delectable roast lamb. Conversation ranged as far as our collective travels had carried us, from Quebec to Kenya, while we soaked in the sun and marveled at the year gone by.
To round off the long vacation between Hilary and Trinity term, my friends in London again made me welcome. Anu and I tested the limits of that old adage ‘it’s like riding a bicycle…’ with an ambitious day trip that reacquainted me for the first time in years with the machines. After a shaky start, I mastered my panic and managed respectably. The park occupies an old family estate – spectacular to imagine as someone’s front yard!
Anu and Herman invested in a box of delivered ingredients and vegetarian recipes for the visit — thoroughly spoiling me with the excuse to indulge my meticulous tendencies. I enjoyed the results almost as much as I did weighing out ingredients by the gram and timing my frying to the minute: We sampled no-meat burgers and veggie lasagna, along with a savory mix of peas, legumes, and asparagus.
For the last day of my visit, we hiked in Kent – a place with the power to excite by name alone, for this hapless fan of British novels. Just when we were settling down for lunch, a surprise visitor appeared: a wild-maned pony! Inquisitive and friendly to a fault, she submitted to a head scratch while the family retreated with the children to more private accommodations.
Back in Oxford, I began volunteering at a local Christian school – a startling contrast to my time in KwaZulu-Natal, in both environment and outlook. Love and care are palpable here, and it shows in the children’s calm joy and attentiveness to instruction. Wiggly and distractible as all 3-5 year olds must be, they settle down readily for a story and entertain themselves for hours outside when the sun is shining.
To my delight, Kinga and I at last made good on our plans for me to visit her beautiful home in Charlbury, a little town north of Oxford. Even the train ride delighted, with its view of countryside punctuated by sparkling blue twists of the river running alongside.
Just before the new term began in earnest, Audrey outdid herself yet again with a riverside picnic:
Now I’m counting the remnants of my program in weeks, not months. As my time at Oxford draws to a close, the loss of disappointed hopes impresses on me more deeply. I’m grateful beyond words for my friends’ kindness – including many of you who say that you enjoy reading these stories and pray for me! You are my material reminder of the Lord’s unfailing love for us.