#BigRead13: Extract from ‘Surprised by Oxford’, Carolyn Weber

surprised by oxford

As I work my way through preparation for Spring Harvest (next week!!), I had marked this passage as worthy of wider sharing for #BigRead13.

Spring Harvest notes say: “Surprised by Oxford tells the delightful and compelling story of … a modern-day conversation in the most unlikely of places. Educated, cynical, radically feminist, determinedly secular, Carolyn Weber came to Oxford from the United States to pursue her studies in English Literature. Her memoir explores her reaction to being in the city of C.S.Lewis; to falling in love and, more importantly, to finding faith. This extract recounts how she was first intrigued by, and then drawn into, the epic story of God told in the Bible:

…St Mary’s church, sitting resplendent in her shroud of architectural splendour, caught my eye. Her side door was open. I bet I can find a Bible in there, I reasoned, so I entered objectively. A sea of pews greeted me, each with a Bible and a hymnal tucked neatly inside every few feet. I could sit anywhere and have my pick, easily within reach. I thought at first that I could discreetly take one, or rather borrow one, and no one would notice. But then I thought better. Reading from a stolen Bible? Something in that seemed a little coarse, even for a cynic like me. So instead I made my way to one of the back pews and sat down, irreverently crossing my ankles on the genuflecting cushion and resting my coffee on the handy little shelf for the welcome cards. I opened a Bible and began at the beginning, a very good place to start.

Before I really knew it, stealthily entering St Mary’s by the side door with my morning coffee became something of a ritual for me. The church always owned a particular hush during the rush of a weekday. Sometimes I would return late in the evenings, too, after the Bodleian closed. I would step out of the chill into the candle glow. I enjoyed the peace, the solitude, the seeming transgression. Purchasing my own Bible seemed too much of a commitment, like getting married. Besides, the church was right across the street from my college, so, as they say, why purchase the cow when you can get the milk for free? I began coming more and more often.

Lilies in the field, a house with many mansions, the command to love one another; familiar echoes from an unfamiliar context. Seeds planted but nothing, really, I thought, to reap.

In this back pew I read the Bible steadily on borrowed pages. I devoured it, just as a best-selling book (which, coincidentally, it always has been). Even the long, monotonous lists. Even the really weird stuff, most of it so unbelievable as to only be true. I have to say I found it the most compelling piece of creative non-fiction I had ever read. If I sat around for thousands of years, I could never come up with what it proposes, let alone with how intricately Genesis unfolds toward Revelation. That the supposed Creator of the entire universe became a vulnerable baby, born in straw, to a poor girl who claimed to be a virgin and who was betrothed to a guy probably scared out of his wits, but who stood by her anyway. It unwinds and recasts the world and our perception of it: that the Holy Grail is more likely to be the wooden cup of a carpenter than the golden chalice of kings.

How far does this tally with your own experience of Bible reading? How do we rediscover a joy in Bible reading? There should be a number of people discussing this at Spring Harvest!

About drbexl

Life Explorer, academia/learning, Christian, cultural history, WW2 posters: Keep Calm & Carry On, digital world, coach. Twitter: @drbexl @digitalfprint, @ww2poster @bigbible