Saturday, June 24, 2017

Where prayer has been valid

If you came by day not knowing what you came for, 
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for 
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfillment. There are some places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws, 
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city--
But this is the nearest, in place and time, 
Now and in England. --T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

One of the highlights of this trip was traveling to Little Gidding en route to Cambridge with Sam and Neil.

Little Gidding is a very, very small chapel in a very, very small hamlet in southern England. It was part of the inspiration for the last part of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. All of us (Sam, Neil, and I) love "Little Gidding" and Eliot's words for similar and different reasons. So to have a small moment to pray in that tiny chapel and silently read Eliot's words in complete stillness (except for the buzz of junebugs) was very special to me.

You are not here to verify, 
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel 
Where prayer has been valid. 

I love that concept--the idea of places where "prayer has been valid." I don't have the time or energy to write my entire series of thoughts on this idea. I'm still thinking and developing that idea. But that idea has run through my head and heart this trip--"you are here to kneel//where prayer has been valid." And I have thought about places where prayer has been valid and efficacious in my life. Times when I really prayed. Times when I really meant it. In my childhood bed. In a small corner flat in Cambridge, England. In a dirty kitchen floor in Donetsk, Ukraine. On the cigarette butt-littered streets of that same country. Kneeling by my bed in Oxford. On a balcony in Provo, Utah. In the canyons of the Rocky Mountains.

And it is a beautiful experience to go back to where prayer has been valid--both for myself and other people. In chapels, on rivers, in homes.

Like I said. Still have a lot of thoughts percolating about this subject. And sometimes it's just better to get some thoughts out than none at all. So there's a taster. 

[Queens'] is having a festival

"And I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy." --F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby 

When opportunity calls, and you have the opportunity to attend a May Ball at Cambridge with your boyfriend, you do it:

Getting our fancy on. Because that's how you do it during May Ball week.

Always, always Oxford

Hello, world.

I've been in England for the past few days. I meant to keep this blog semi-updated on my trip--but I'm leaving for Italy tomorrow . . . so I guess I'll just have to photo- and thought-dump away about England. Oops. 

But I'm in England! I'm in Oxford! And it feels so good, as it always does. When I touched down in Heathrow, I almost started crying. (It was a bit embarrassing.) But getting into London (and then getting into Oxford) always swells my heart with joy and nostalgia. Always, always, always. 

And I think it always will. 

[One of my favorite parts of Oxford is finding hidden spots and alleyways. And I love how familiar places become new every season.]

[That British blue sky--it gets me every time]

[Also those British sunsets. Absolutely stunning.]

Obviously, one of the best things this time was seeing friends that are still here. And I got to introduce Sam and his friend Neil to Oxford and show them around. That was also wonderful. It's always beautiful to experience a place that means so much to you with a person who means so much to you. 

[At Christ Church, before Evensong.]

[Afternoon-ing at Vaults and Gardens.]


And seeing friends at Oxford was the best. So good. So, so good. Here are a few people I saw whilst here (not all pictured--but each reunion pictured and not pictured was so good for my soul): 

It's been so nice to see familiar faces here. Oxford is timeless, but I change and friends change, but still, Oxford brings us together and reminds us of the times we were good, the times we struggled, and that there is more to life than ivory towers and academic bubbles, but meadows and life and belief and doubt and God. 

I will always be grateful for my time at Oxford. I'm also grateful for time beyond Oxford. But while I was walking to a gathering of friends last night and as I passed the Exam Schools, I was just hit with a deep sense of gratitude. Joy with gratitude. And as I pass in and out of opportunities and places and experience the ebb and flow of friendships and relationships, I hope that's the lesson I can take from everything: humble, grateful joy for all that I experience and love. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

"But I don't tan"

^the title is to be sung to the classic tune of "I Don't Dance" from the oh-so-illustrious High School Musical 2. 

But I really don't tan. Here is proof:

 I just don't. This is after 4 days in Madrid and I am still white, white, white.

Speaking of other things that are white in Madrid, the LDS Temple is one. It was fun to see it today. I felt a lot of peace walking on the temple grounds. (I couldn't go inside because it's closed for cleaning, but that's okay--hopefully another time.)

Tonight's my last night in Madrid, and tomorrow I'm off to my second home in England. I'm so glad I came to Spain. It's been a good holiday and I've been fortunate enough to share it with some friends--both old and new. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Overheard at Sergovia

Today I ventured outside of Madrid and headed to Segovia, a medieval Spanish town set on a hill.

[A view for sore eyes. But not for sore feet. Because I realized I had to climb up there in 100+ degree weather. But, I did love how quiet it was there. It was refreshing after the hustle and bustle of Madrid.]

[The Jewish Section of town]



[The Cathedral!]

[I never get tired of cloisters.]

[But really. I never do.]

[This castle (along with Neuschwanstein) is said to have inspired Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty's Castle.]

[Love these alleyways]

[Aqueduct! "That's pretty neat." Yep. That's seriously what ran through my head when I saw the aqueduct. I think I was getting a bit dehydrated and I thought I was super funny.]

[Viewpoint from the top of the aqueduct. I almost didn't go up because it was so hot and I was almost out of water. But I did. And I'm glad I went up because I got views like this, and there was a charming man playing his accordion and singing in one of the alcoves, and it was quite lovely.]

One of the themes of today was things I overheard. For example, I heard some Russian tourists! I wasn't able to talk with them because they were in a different part of the bus than I was (and they ran off before I could talk to them/I didn't want to run after them because that would be #creepy), but it was fun to hear snatches of their conversation. It made me feel at home, actually, because I could understand them, and I can't really understand anyone in Spain.

(Although, I did manage to make a purchase entirely in Spanish--it was a bottle of water--and the woman of the counter was very kind and was commenting on how hot it was and said to me that I should drink lots of water. I understood that. And got to Segovia by myself. So, I'm definitely winning for today.)

Another great line from today was from a 10-year-old American girl who was tugging at her dad's backpack as they were walking up the hill and said to him, "Do you feel that? That is the weight of your parenthood."

I died. I almost burst out laughing. Too, too funny.

After Sergovia, I decided to go to the Reina Sofia to see Gurnecia. That is another post that will have to be written another day, since it really moved me and I'm still processing it, but it was incredible. Really, truly, incredible and moving.

[We're not allowed to take pictures of Guernica, but this was the courtyard of the Reina Sofia. I really liked the courtyard and the building itself. And it was a good place to relax from a long day and to process the meaning of human suffering after seeing Guernica.]

"Sometimes I forget that Spain used to rule the world"

. . . but really. Sometimes I do forget that Spain used to rule the world. And then I go to the Royal Palace in Madrid and see the monuments dedicated to the explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries, and I remember Spain's influence on the world then and now.

Yesterday I had the chance to see my friend Sofiya, who has been living in Madrid for the past 3 years. Sofiya and I met in Ukraine when I was a missionary and we've been friends since that time. It was great to see her, as it has been 5 years since we saw each other. It was nice to just catch up--from sitting on the steps of the Royal Palace to eating lunch to walking along the sunny streets of Madrid.

[The Royal Palace]

[Not the Royal Palace. The Royal Cathedral, I think? Still soooo pretty.]

[On the steps of the palace. It was so fun imagining going to a ball here. I don't think I would have liked living there, but going to a ball or gala there would have been amazing.]

[With Sofiya!]

[And again!]

When Sofiya had to go back to work, I explored Madrid a bit myself, in search of . . . 

Churros con chocolate! 

[I found them. I ate them. I loved them. Food of the gods, right here.]

Between good conversation, good friends, good friends, and good thinking time as I walked the streets and sat in the parks of Madrid, yesterday was good. Very good. I mean, I might never get tan even after all this time in sunny Spain (as my AirB&B host remarked the other day, "You are very white. Just, very white." And this was after I was so proud of myself because I thought I had gotten a tan. Hoorayyyyy for honesty), but this sunshine suits me, if I do say so myself.