Living at “The Kilns”

From Paul, a Scholar-in-Residence

August 2020

When I first came to the Kilns, it was as a pilgrim reaching what T.S. Eliot calls a “still point of the turning world.” My feet brought me to the ground where my favorite author, the one who did so much to introduce me to the person and ways of Jesus Christ, had lived. I did not know his home was open for tours (I almost would not have dared to hope such was possible), so I paid homage by walking in the beautifully preserved nature reserve, next door, and praying there. Little did I know that years later I would not only be living in the Kilns, but giving tours of the home, myself.

Some say such love for Lewis is overdone. Well, it may be. But I have now given over one hundred tours of his house, meeting thousands of visitors from all over the world. Among these earnest people is a love for Lewis and a deep appreciation for being in his home. Evangelicals who love Mere Christianity, nuns who love his Space Trilogy, and children who bring their copies of Narnia, all beam the same happiness at making a tangible connection to the beloved professor. True, some visitors do take things overboard. There was the one who took off their shoes to touch the ground—as closely as possible—where Lewis had trod, after I explained parts of the Kilns’ floor was original. Lewis once quipped he was unworthy to undo the laces of his fellow church parishioners’ shoes; but those of us on that tour wondered how much personal holiness was required to kindly ask this tourist to keep their feet shod at all times? But the instinct was eminently understandable.

So to live in his house: my goodness. It has been a privilege. “The Kilns is home to a small intentional Christian community of visiting scholars and advanced graduate students dedicated in July 2002 to serve as a focal point of Christian hospitality, study, reflection and learned conversation between Christian scholars, artists, and laity the world over.” This could be the pious motto of a religious non-profit; or it could be the truth. In my experience of three years as a scholar-in-residence, every word is true.

Beyond opening the home to tours three days a week, our intentional community hosted dozens of dinners, poetry evenings, and informal seminars, promoting reflection and learned conversation. John Lennox came for dinner along with Dr Michael Ward to discuss apologetics with a member of the Oxford law faculty. Joe Martin, one of the first workers with Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri, was a regular guest, engaging in book studies and even banjo playing, for, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Poets prayed their muse. Ancient prayers and modern hymns resounded among the walls.

Then there were the quiet times of study. Does the inspiration of the inspired rub-off? Yes, I think so, even if none of the genius. In-between studies are the dozens of spontaneous conversations ameliorating the aloneness of research. What is the nature of love? Did Aristotle betray Plato? Did the Reformation the Church? Can beauty be defined? Each one ending in deeper understanding and often laughter.

Pilgrim’s Regress tells the story of Lewis’ journey from faith and back again. Like my first pilgrimage to the Kilns looking for a still point in the turning world, my second has fulfilled the latter part of Eliot’s poem:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning

It is through Earthly things, like sanctified places, we often meet the Divine. I have met God in a hundred ways through being at the Kilns, and I have seen thousands of others touched. Thank you for continuing to keep C.S. Lewis’s home a sacred place where reality presses in with all the seriousness and joy of heaven.