Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber
Thomas Nelson 2011
The easy opening is to say that I was not surprised by Surprised by Oxford.
But that’s not entirely the truth. I love the writing of C.S. Lewis and was a little put off by the riff of his title, Surprised by Joy. Yes, the Oxford don wrote within the very walls of the same hallowed university, sat at the same pub benches, walked the cobblestone streets, gazed at the same stained glass windows. But, was this exploitation?
And there could have been a sense of “been-there, done-that” from Sheldon Vanauken’s amazing story of coming to faith, A Severe Mercy in which Oxford played a hand in bringing the author and his wife, Davy, to the foot of the cross. Was Weber’s book just a feminist, more hip version of that tale minus the soft touch descriptions of the sky, the estate, the yacht and the love? The “Shining Barrier” of love, so unexpectedly breached by God?
Weber’s memoir is more than that. Like the aforementioned books, the intellectual approach to believing is central. And the intellectual analysis of faith among her scholar friends is fresh and up to date.
“No one gets their knickers in a knot about anyone except Jesus,” Mark said plainly. “If you were telling your fiancé you were considering Buddhism, or Islam, or Wicca, you wouldn’t be so clearly anxious. And he would likely have taken it all in stride, because you would be tolerated, even celebrated…But Jesus, Whoa. That’s a whole other gig.”
But the heart is present in the book as much as the mind. Lucky for Weber, there is a man, nicknamed TDH (tall, dark and handsome) also pulling her to consider the need for salvation. The memoir traces their push/pull relationship that mirrors her own halting steps toward faith. Will she find love? Will she fine Love?
If nothing else, however, buy the book for the writing. Weber is gifted at presenting authenticity – wrapped in words that capture anger, irony and longing. She brings us inside and we feel the mind, the heart and the soul entirely. And recognize the feelings.
I remembered how I stood at our back screen door, yearning but unable to put the desire into words. I press my hands together against the mesh until tiny find crosses stung into my palms…the inconsolable crux of the human condition; an ache that reminds us of that eternal joy and beauty for which we are made.
What? What is there? Only the hush rising up from the evening haze settling on the unlistening grass. No crickets. No birdsong. The smell of a storm. In the distance thunder was tearing through still sky like the opening of an envelope.
I think she puts in all into words just fine. Amazingly fine.