In 2005 I was given an extraordinary gift by my husband Peter – a trip to England to take part in a program by the C.S. Lewis Foundation. The program was their Summer Seminar at The Kilns, the former home of C.S. Lewis and now a remarkable study center owned and maintained by the Foundation.
Yesterday I found myself needing to remake the slide show I had made originally of that trip because technology has changed in the intervening years and the slide show needed to be updated accordingly. I didn’t go seeking this task as it came by request of someone else but God used it so graciously with me never-the-less. Sometimes we only really see the truth of things when looking through the lens of time. In this case with every image I re-processed a refreshing of my memories occurred along with something else. Perspective.
We’ve often heard the term life changing glibly bandied about when people talk about exciting experiences so I am reluctant to ever use that term but in truth it is accurate when I apply it to this particular trip. It is a sober thing for me to contemplate, even momentarily, how close I came to not going and what my life would be like now if I had not.
My desire to go was based certainly on decades of a passionate interest in Lewis’ writing but it was also tied to something deeper. It was not just the clarity of Lewis’ writing or the soundness of his theology that moved me. There is laced through every passage I have ever read by him a soundless but irresistible call to something larger than I see just now and an unmistakable invitation to enter it. Nearly as much as I have heard this call through Scripture I have heard it also in Lewis’ writing, though it has a different tone to it. That desire to go was – and still is, I believe – God’s “still, small voice” calling me to follow Him and though in my heart I knew that, I also feared that I was just finding an excuse to fulfill the longings of my own heart. It was hard to believe and to accept that God’s will for me could actually be something so beautiful.
There were many legitimate reasons that year not to go. They were all based on being responsible. My husband could not join me and it would be unfair for me to do something wildly fulfilling if he had to stay home and work. Our daughter Pahtyana was getting married in the fall and we certainly were faced with large expenditures in the months ahead. She was also facing major surgery before the wedding and would be staying with us during recovery “ I should stay home to prepare for that. We had just moved into a beautiful new home only months before and I should be attending to getting the house settled. I had never traveled to Europe alone and didn’t know anyone at The Kilns or in England for that matter. I am president of a company and summer is our peak season, so I should be responsible to be working during the busy months. All these reasons were based in reality and had some grounding on fact. You can hear that well worn thread interwoven into all of them. But for reasons I can no longer remember “ probably Peter’s urging “ I booked the non-refundable tickets for my flight and there was no turning back. Regret followed, of course. All kinds of things happened that seemed like signs that I shouldn’t be going “ all of them tinged with guilt. Finally the week before I was to leave I got sick with what I thought was a bad cold and possibly a sinus infection, something all too common for me. Still Peter championed the trip and told me to go with all my heart. And by God’s grace I did. The results of that single choice to follow God’s voice though I was afraid to go have set me on a path that has already outstripped my imagination of that time and sent us both into new pursuits, new encounters, new circles of service, new fields of Joy.
Taking the trip to The Kilns that summer was a step of faith for me. It required me to overcome fear, guilt, being too rooted in place where I was and step into the unknown “ by myself. It also required me to believe that God wanted to give me something good, not just require character building and obedience from me. That was actually the greater step of faith for me at that time. As in all steps of faith God met me in ways I could literally never have imagined before. All the longings I had felt for England since childhood were satisfied to the brim from beginning to end with the only fault being that it was temporary.
Arriving at The Kilns was a moment of shivery thrill. I remember walking up the gravel path to the house feeling like I was somewhere between a dream and Heaven. And that I was somehow coming home. The presence of God rests there strongly and distinctly. From the very first moment of arrival I felt a great sense of peace “ an at-homeness you might call it. Time became more patient and kind and although I traveled alone and I knew no one there, once I arrived I no longer felt lonely. Everything became right once the taxi drove up the road to Lewis Close.
The Kilns as a place is vested with a distinct sense of familiarity to it and a kindly quiet sense of welcome. I was warmly greeted at the front door by Kate Simcoe, the Summer Seminar Coordinator and hostess, as though I were some very important person rather than the shadow of a person that I felt I was and I was treated like a most desired guest. To this day the effect of that lingers with me because it was experiencing a foretaste of Heaven. I was not the only one who felt that way as it turned out. All of us, ten I believe, felt the same way. I was shown to my room to find a lovely bed made up with a beautiful stack of towels awaiting me. From that moment till the moment of my departure I was treated with such grace, beauty and kindness that it approaches magic. It could just as well have been Rivendell or even the Houses of Healing. I have never felt as nurtured anywhere else on Earth as there, with the very close second being at my parent’s house. The food was glorious. The seminar sessions were richly and wonderfully inspiring. The trips to all the inns and City Center, Cambridge, Holy Trinity, Wolvercote Cemetery were utterly lovely. Truly, nothing could have been improved or increased in perfection.
But for all the delights of the program itself, the real treasure of it was in the people who were shared it with me. To this day I still think of Kim Gilnett the Tour Director graciously driving us to our various destinations with so much patience and elegantly serving beautiful single chocolates to us after our banquet dinner on the last evening. His knowledge of Lewis lore was astounding but not so much as his kindness to all of us.
I still hear Professor MacDonald speaking with such clarity and passion as he lead the seminar each day and his remarkable humility. I hear him still saying to me “Oh you must go on for your Master’s, you must!” The fiercely affirming voice of his still resonates with me and of all the voices that I have heard in my lifetime speaking to me about that issue his is the one that lingers in my heart most piercingly.
I still think with deep fondness and gratitude of Kate Simcoe. Her warmth, grace and elegance, her smile and her kindness, all have stayed with me over the years. One of my sweetest memories of Kate is her teaching me how to drape a pashima. And her beautiful butterscotch laughter.
I think of Jason and Nancy Lethcoe “ such a beautiful couple and Jason’s amazingly generous gift to each of us hand drawn illustrations of Narnia. We shared the rare experience together of being grown ups caught up in wonder like children again in our hearts. Nancy’s beautiful images of the trip helped complete my small set for a slideshow gift to the Foundation!
Click here for Part 2
All of the images above are copyright of Lancia E. Smith made with love and gratitude
at The Kilns in Headington Oxfordshire.
In 2005 I was still shooting film and this is one of the last sets
I made using the beautiful method of making art with negatives.
Many blessings to you, friends!