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February 15, 2011

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

“You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts and civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

It is fitting that I open this entry with a quotation by C.S. Lewis. You see, it was because of Lewis that I was out tonight. Do not panic, I am not seeing dead people. Tuesday nights are when the C.S. Lewis Society meets here in Oxford. I officially joined the society for the term this evening. That is beside the point. What matters is that neither you nor I have ever talked to a mere mortal.

The streets of Oxford offer plenty of mortal woes. They are often cloaked in flesh, have a dog at their feet, and are trying to sell you a British tabloid (the Big Issue). I do not know how to act when walking past a homeless person. My self partitions into two camps. One feels true pity or compassion for those in need, the other cynically wonders how that man will spend the change tossed in his coffee cup. Is he financially better off than the average tax-paying college student?

Dusk had come and gone, the stars could be seen from Christ Church courtyard, and I was on my way to the Lewis meeting. Granted, the time between Evensong and the meeting would put me there 45 minutes early—the only thing I would be early, or on time, for this whole day. Then I walked passed Christ.

No, really, I did. The man was sitting on the ground by Trinity College, asking for change. Unsure of my joining the Lewis Society or just paying the 2 quid fee for the evening, I knew that my pocket change added up to 2 quid 36p. So I smiled and said no. I stopped, thinking I had food with me, but I had the wrong bag. Offering my apologies I told the young man I didn’t even have food (meaning, to share). I doubt that even in my rain-splattered or windblown states I look homeless. Nevertheless the fellow misunderstood me, thinking I had no food at all. Out of his poverty (legitimate or self-imposed) he offered me his pack of biscuits. I tried to dispel the confusion, explaining that I had no food to give. I wished him a good evening and slowly walked away.

“And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner–no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

I had been offered true charity in the young man’s gesture. My steps slowed even more as I recalled to mind the Scripture I read yesterday in Matthew 25, “Whenever you have done it to the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.” At the corner I stopped, internally arguing that I still had 45 minutes. I could turn around and at least go talk to the fellow for a while. The words, “the face of love” played in my mind. I almost turned around. Instead, I darted across St. Giles to avoid the bus, the shadowed face by Blackwell’s imprinted on my mind.

Jake found me on a park bench trying to read Money, Greed, and God for Friday’s Summit class. I was sitting 20 feet away from a panhandler who had walked up less than five minutes after I sat upon that bench. I watched people ignore him as he called out to their shoes, “spare change for the homeless?”. Jake and I walked passed, not truly acknowledging him. In part this was due to his very different attitude from the young man I had seen a few minutes before. But the other reason was because I was still struggling with knowing how to show love the homeless. Do I take the time to talk with them and hear their stories? Do I offer them food? Do I pray for them as I walk by? How do I discern between the con and the man who, in spite of his best efforts, can’t get a job? Who are the homeless? Aren’t they my neighbours, the ones I snub?

“Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —Christ
—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

Where else do I see Christ and walk away? I know a few people I have done this with lately. I was looking for something else and missed those right in front of my eyes. How often am I missing the very face of Christ in the features of men’s faces?

“You have never talked to a mere mortal… [Only] immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Ms. Jody Byrkett
Summit Oxford Fellow (Hilary 2011)

Learn more about Summit Oxford here.


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  • February 18, 2011 // 07:44 am //  # 
    Ron's avatar Ron

    I share much of your thoughts.
    There is a good summary of a great book back on the 2008 Summit site, since you are at Oxford you may actual have gone though this.

    I highly recommend this to your reading.

    Also the C.S. Lewis thought is the main concluding point at the end of The Truth Project.

    I’ve been connected to Summit since my kids went years ago. I’ve even been to two adult sessions.
    Oxford has always seemed appealing to me, maybe because my old roommate was a fellow at Cambridge.

    As my own confession, my wife does a much better job at this than I do. If I get personal I like to prioritize. Sometimes it’s best to start with the easier more obvious cases: concern for the widows and orphans. Those closest to us, in our own church or other “missions” we support. We can also remember that Jesus’ miracles had both a side of compassion and one that confirmed he was Lord and Savior. So we should never forget the primary call to share the Gospel.

    I could write more but I’m still working this one out.

  • February 20, 2011 // 02:37 am //  # 
    Jody Byrkett's avatar Jody Byrkett


    Thanks for your comments. “Life at the Bottom” was assigned reading for us, so I have read a decent bit of it. The lack of will to change, the desire to put oneself at the bottom baffles me.

    You’ve experienced so much of Summit, how wonderful! This summer there is an Inklings trip to study Lewis in Oxford for a month. You should come!! Just call the Summit office for more details. smile

    What I’ve been learning about “love with skin on” is that for me it is a time commitment, not so much a money issue. Sure, I firmly believe in supporting places like one’s local church, Summit, etc. However, money without commitment of time or prayer doesn’t make as much of a difference (and in the case of the poor, it can contribute to the problem).

    Keep working through these things… I sure am! isn’t the LORD kind to refine lessons over our lifetime?

    Under the Mercy,
    ~ Jody

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