What should I do on my summer vacation? For this college professor, the answer this year was easy: combine service, fellowship, worship, and fun by spending two weeks in Northfield, Massachusetts, at the future C.S. Lewis College site, participating in the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s Vacation with a Purpose!
As I write this, it is the beginning of Week 2 of VWAP (as we call it), and I already have more memories and amazing experiences than seems possible for a whole summer, let alone just one week. But that’s the way things roll at the C.S. Lewis Foundation…
First of all, the campus is beyond beautiful. I kept expecting the shock of amazement to wear off, and for the campus to turn from Cinderella’s coach into, if not a pumpkin, at least a more ordinary plot of land with buildings on it. Hah! Instead, the magical atmosphere has thickened and deepened, so even the most ordinary tasks are touched by a kind of grace.
From grassy Round Top, to the quiet halls of Dolben Library, to the stunning westward views of Hibbard Dining Hall (to say nothing of Sage Chapel), the sense of sacredness in this place is palpable.
And it’s the kind of sacredness that reaches out, grabs you by the collar, and draws you in! Everyone feels it, and there is a sense of joyful fellowship here that is unmistakeable and unique. Little acts of love abound, like having your neighbor at dinner clear away your tray for you. Everyone has an interesting story to tell – and a desire to listen as well as speak that is so rare in this modern world. Moments of grace and prayer abound.
The biggest grace of all is that we are part of a historic moment. The C.S. Lewis College is going to be a light not just to Western Massachusetts but to the world… And we get to help make that happen.
Working side by side, with servant hearts, people from all over the US and all walks of life are making good things happen day by day. The Welcome Center is getting a complete makeover with new paint. The theater in Stone Hall is renovated and cleaned and with functioning air conditioning. The Dolben Library is getting organized and having its books catalogued.
And there’s much more going on – everywhere you look, the campus is getting revitalized, and we get to be a part of that endeavor! What a privilege!
The C.S. Lewis Foundation believes deeply in the integration of worship, art, ideas, and service to Christ, and they are very mindful to assure that all of us, volunteers and staff alike, are fed on every level – nourished physically by good food served lovingly, intellectually by lectures by top scholars, and spiritually by daily devotions… Not to mention aesthetically by the sheer beauty of the campus and the Northfield location.
We’ve been graced with many wonderful speakers sharing their gifts with us. As just one example, Dr Diana Glyer led us in a powerful morning devotion last week, drawing on imagery from her new book Clay in the Potter’s Hands to help us see how God intimately shapes our lives, and calling us to a ministry of mending. Later in the week we were blessed to see a performance of her play The Major and the Missionary, based on the real correspondence (which she discovered in her research for The Company They Keep, her Inklings study) between C.S. Lewis’ brother Warnie and Dr Blanche Biggs, a medical missionary. I had tears in my eyes at the end.
Andrew Lazo has worked his magic each night at the Bag End Cafe. This is the time at the end of the day when we all gather in the Merrill Keep common room, and people get up to share: reading a poem of their own composition or a favorite by another poet; singing a song; sharing a story; even putting on a puppet show!
But even that doesn’t do justice to Bag End, which is my (and others’) favorite part of the day. Andrew has a special gift of weaving together these disparate elements into a unique piece of performance art, of which we are all (audience and readers alike) participants.
Each night it seems like he finds the right words to help us see the deep meaning in the day’s work, make it truly our own, and celebrate the individual gifts that each one of us brings to the fellowship.
Joy is the common theme. Joy, and service… And a childlike spirit that gets into all our hearts. Perhaps the iconic moment for me at the C.S. Lewis College was one that happened last week after a group meditation at Roundtop.
We were all looking out at the sunset when our VWAP librarian Matthew Goddard suddenly, with a cry of joy, dashed forward, threw himself on the grass, and proceeded to roll down the hill. It’s a steep, smooth, softly grassy hill… And secretly I’d longed to roll down it like a little child.
Seeing the example of my fellow “serious academic,” I made a decision in a flash: I flung down my bag, ran over, and rolled down the hill.
It was very steep, I rolled VERY fast, and I was exceedingly dizzy when I got to the bottom…and I couldn’t stop smiling.
This is the C.S. Lewis College spirit. And I love it!