“How Pleasant and How Good It Is,” by Cole Matson

Oxford at Night

Here we have another blog post (featuring a written article) by a participant in the 2011 Summer Institute.  Cole Matson has long been associated with the Foundation, having stayed at the Kilns for some time while studying theology at Oxford.  He is currently a doctoral student at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland.  We asked if he would like to write anything for the blog, and he provided this article for us to share:

As I write, I am sitting in an English pub overlooking the river Cam, watching punters as I wait for my hunter’s chicken (bacon wrapped around a chicken breast and slathered in BBQ sauce) and sip my pint. Cambridge is sunny, warm, and green in a distinctly non-Oxonian way on this first day of the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute’s Cambridge session. My sympathies, of course, lie with ancient Oxford, where I finished my final examinations in Theology last month, but I can see the beauty Lewis found in pastoral Cantabrigia, which bade him emerge from “that Western darkness” (i.e., Oxford) when it made him a professor of medieval and Renaissance literature in 1954.

This is my first Oxbridge, and I am having a wonderful time. I have spent much of my time as a volunteer – leading tours of the Kilns (where I serve as a docent during the year) and staffing the information table at the University Church. Volunteering has put me in close contact with several of the C.S. Lewis Foundation staff, who exhibit good cheer under pressure. (Directing and transporting hundreds of conference attendees to over a dozen conference sites around Oxford is no easy task!) It has been a pleasure to serve with Steve Cauble, Alyssa Jacobsen, Debbie Higgens, Scott Key, Peyton Beard, and the dozens of other staff and volunteers who are putting in long hours (and getting little sleep!) to keep the conference running smoothly.

But the Institute is not all work! I have had the privilege of being part of the Academic Roundtable, a group of faculty

Larry Crabb talking about Spiritual Development during his Afternoon Session

and graduate students who have been presenting papers to each other and engaging in animated discussion afterward. Paper topics in my group (one of two groups of a dozen participants each) have included C.S. Lewis and universalism, cyberethics and WikiLeaks, and psychological struggles with “forgiving God”. At our most recent meeting, our group moderator even encouraged the discussion to continue on one paper which sparked particularly enthusiastic debate about teaching poetry to youth, even though doing so meant that he never got to read his paper! I must admit that I shed tears as Dr Holly Ordway read aloud the Jesuit priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty” – one of my favourites – during her paper.

The Academic Roundtable in Oxford was held in the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy, which has been my spiritual and physical home over the past year, and thus it gave me special pride to hear Dr Gayne Anacker laud the Chaplaincy’s work in providing a spiritual community for the Catholic members of the University. The range of venues and guests at the Institute demonstrate the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s commitment to “mere Christianity”, i.e., the cooperation and fellowship of all Christians across denominational lines, all of us united by faith in Christ. At the Institute, I have seen evangelical-style worship with raised hands, sung hymns remembered from my Presbyterian childhood, and heard an Eastern Orthodox bishop guide the assembly through the practice of praying the Jesus Prayer. And finally, the conference will end with Anglican Eucharist.

The conference also began with Anglican Evensong in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, the spiritual heart of Oxford University. My favourite moment of the conference (so far) happened during this Evensong. During the final hymn, I was overcome with emotion as we belted out the words of the last verse. My voice broke as I sang, and tears

The Eagle and Child - the pub of choice for the Inklings

began to roll down my face. I was standing next to one of the Institute faculty members, who noticed my response to the music, and put his arm around me in a tight embrace. There we were, two male academics letting our joy flow out into tears and burst out into song. We had never met before, but we immediately loved each other as brothers in Christ.

That is what the Institute means for me: brothers and sisters in Christ, coming together to sing a new song to the Lord, to support each other in our faith and work, and to enjoy the love for each other and for God that His Spirit engenders in our hearts. There is such joy here. I imagine Jack Lewis would be very happy, and I would not be surprised to learn that he has been praying for us all along.

Cole Matson

PhD Candidate

Institute for Theology, Imagination & the Arts

University of St Andrews

2 thoughts on ““How Pleasant and How Good It Is,” by Cole Matson

  1. Abigail Ortega

    This post really spoke my language. The Wreck of the Deutschland by Gerard Manley Hopkins was the way I was introduced to his writings. C.S. Lewis has been the source of many of my inspirations in a contemporary culture, allowing me to see how God continues to speak to us in our times. Blessings! -A

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