Well, my daughter Zoe is in Cambridge today for her Entrance interview, and I have been thinking about Oxbridge interviews.
Fielding describes being interviewed to read English at Cambridge by Kingsley Amis, “the world’s greatest satirist,” who had recently written Lucky Jim.
Asked “What novel would you take on a train journey?” he says—no, not Lucky Jim, but Wuthering Heights—“I drone on about pathetic fallacies and thanatoid visions – just the kind of bilious bollocks the world’s greatest satirist needs to hear from a callow wanker on a sofa.”
Amis abruptly and scornfully terminates the interview. “My school is later informed that I am “woeful” and “without obvious potential“.
* * *
Here’s C.S. Lewis’s description from Surprised by Joy of arriving in Oxford for his entrance interview.
My first taste of Oxford was comical enough. I had made no arrangements about quarters and, having no more luggage than I could carry in my hand, I sallied out of the railway station on foot to find either a lodging-house or a cheap hotel; all agog for “dreaming spires” and “last enchantments.”
My first disappointment at what I saw could be dealt with. Towns always show their worst face to the railway. But as I walked on and on I became more bewildered. Could this succession of mean shops really be Oxford? But I still went on, always expecting the next turn to reveal the beauties, and reflecting that it was a much larger town than I had been led to suppose.
Only when it became obvious that there was very little town left ahead of me, that I was in fact getting to open country, did I turn round and look. There behind me, far away, never more beautiful since, was the fabled cluster of spires and towers.
I had come out of the station on the wrong side and been all this time walking into what was even then the mean and sprawling suburb of Botley. I did not see to what extent this little adventure was an allegory of my whole life.”
I live in Oxford now. It is 97 years since Lewis came up for his interview, but the contrast between the golden, gleaming, dreaming spires, and mean Botley is still striking.
* * *
In the famous Alpha course, leaders often tell this story attributed to a Native American elder,
There are two dogs inside me. The black dog is mean. The white dog is good.
The black dog fights the white dog all day.
When asked which dog wins, the elder reflected for a moment and replied;
The one I feed the most.
* * *
Yeah, it’s another way of gauging our thoughts, actions and choices, isn’t it? Are they leading towards the Heavenly City of the Dreaming Spires in which the Lord, high and exalted, is seated on a throne; and the train of his robe fills the temple with glory, while above him seraphim fly, calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6)
Or, instead of “the fabled cluster of spires and towers,” are the thoughts and emotions I am harbouring leading to a mean, small-minded suburb of judgements, negativity, jealousy and competitiveness?
On a bad, bored day, I have to check my thoughts many times and ask—Do I want to live here, in this small, claustrophobic negative suburb?
When someone annoys me and my thoughts spiral repetitively, rehearsing the many and manifest failings of this person, as they gradually, in my mind, turn from grey to black to horrible–I need to stop and ask myself, “Is this the address I want to live at? Obsessing about this silly person’s silly faults? Or do I want to dwell in the secret places of the Most High?
* * *
“Stop, drop and roll,” my kids were taught when in elementary school in America—basic fire safety.
Well, when I find myself spiralling into negativity, or fear or worry, I have my own routine, “Stop, drop, repent.”
A) Force myself to think about the person’s good points; thank God for the goodness in them,
B) Meditate on whether I myself have ever been guilty of the annoyingness I see them. And so use this “beam research” as an energizing spur to repentance
C) Turn to Jesus, the Lord upon the throne. Ask for his Holy Spirit to fill me.
D) And remember my goals, long and short term, ask him for strength to fulfil them. Move from the negative to the positive; from the mean streets to the golden spires and towers; from a pointless drain on my energy to being re-energized.
* * *
Yes, turn to Jesus. For there is life
Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. I give my flesh for the life of the world. (John 6,53, 55).
And I change my address. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me, and I in him. (John 6:56). No longer will I dwell in smallness and negativity. I will escape to the secret places of the Most High. Yeah, I will dwell smuggled in the recesses of Jesus, the Rock.