Friday, February 19, 2016

A Must-Read Review: Surprised By Oxford


What if C.S. Lewis and Jane Austen wrote a spiritual autobiography?

It would be Carolyn Weber's wonderful memoir Surprised By Oxford. Her writing is bright, funny, delightful and profound. It's her story of being an agnostic who comes to study romantic literature at Oxford University and finds herself being, often unwillingly, drawn in by God and by a young man who turns out to be not only tall, dark and handsome but also a Christian. Having relied on her intellect for answering life's greatest questions, she finds faith incompatible with intellectual pursuits. But that young man shared the gospel with her and she cannot unhear what she has heard. And this disturbs her. She also cannot dismiss his words because of the seriousness of his mind as well as the "deep joy" she saw in him and other Christians she begins to meet.

There is a sense of wonder to her stumbling forward into faith. This spiritual journey is humble and thought-provoking, much like the work of C. S. Lewis. Both have a depth to their writing and yet it is easily accessible to the reader. They don't write down to the reader nor do they write to impress. They know how to tell a story, their story, with a deftness that gives the reader genuine pleasure to come along. Like Pride and Prejudice, this is also a love story: at first for greater learning, but like Lizzie Bennett, Weber reluctantly finds herself falling in love with the young man and with God. Both to her surprise and consternation.

Carolyn Weber writes of love:

There is nothing more powerful, more radical, more transformational than love. No other substance or force. And do not be deceived, for it is all of these things, and then far more than that. It can't be circumscribed by our desires or dictated by the whim of our moods. Not the Great Love of the Universe, as I like to call it. Not the Love that set everything in motion, keeps it in motion, which moves through all things and yet bulldozes nothing, not even our will. Try it. Just try it and you'll see. If you love that Great Love first, because It loved you first, and then love yourself as you have been loved, and love others from that love . . .WOW! BAM! Life without that kind of faith - that's death. Therein lies the great metaphor . . . Life without faith IS death. For life, as it was intended to be, is love. Start loving and you'll really start living. There is no other force in the universe comparable to that.


For those who love great English literature, you will delight in her interspersing bits of Romantic poetry throughout the book, as well as U2 lyrics. Since I'm a huge fan of both, I was instantly pulled in and marvelled at how those two things also formed a connection to her conversion. God uses whatever means necessary to woo us.



Like both Lewis and Austen, Weber writes with a wit and intelligence and a warmth that is highly readable. She draws you in with her story, her struggles, and her honesty.  I highly recommend Surprised By Oxford. It is the perfect book for an afternoon reading, in a comfy chair, and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea.

Also, here is a link to her wonderful website:
http://www.pressingsave.com/

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