Surprised By Oxford, Carolyn Weber
I loved this open, honest and sometimes raw autobiographical account of one woman’s gradual coming to faith over her first year of doctoral studies at Oxford.
Written by a literature scholar, it is full of poetry and abounds with literary references, so will delight those who love the written word. Yet, because the subject matter is so important and life-changing, it raises the writing to a whole new level.
Structured around the calendar year of study, Weber openly walks us through her questions, doubts, uncertainties and challenges as she considered who God is, what he has done and how faith and reason can co-exist and complement one another.
I found there was something here for new converts, searchers, old converts, and those who grew up in the faith. It is of particular help for both those who are highly educated and yet wonder if there is more to this life; and also for those who walk alongside them to understand that faith can come gradually, with the asking of many questions and voicing of many doubts.
It is clear that God placed her in Oxford to learn of Him that year. She had intelligent, educated friends and lecturers who were Christians. A fellow student clearly presented the gospel to her and helped her think more deeply about her ingrained beliefs and challenged those that did not stand up under scrutiny.
Here are some of her words along the journey:
“The morning after I heard the gospel, however, I woke up with what felt like a hangover. Little would I know it was of the spiritual kind that accompanies the inevitable dawn that life is not, perhaps, what we previously thought it was. And we cannot go back to pretending. What a headache to be caught in that liminal space! Literally.” (p100)[About the bible] I devoured it, just as a best–selling book (which, coincidentally, it has always been). Even the long monotonous lists. Even the really weird stuff, most of 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 along how it intricately Genesis unfolds towards Revelation… No wonder this stuff causes war, I though as I read, between nations and within each of us.” (p103)“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?“ (p178)“To be one person one moment: lost. Then to be another person the next moment: found. It is the difference, as the saying really does go, between night and day. Outwardly I seemed the same, but inwardly everything had changed. I went to the window and watched the birth of the dawn. Everything, every thing appeared in this better light, this brighter light. (p270-1)
This book was a very special read, I highly recommend it.