One of the coolest moments during my time studying abroad in England in 2013, was when I visited Oxford for the very first time. The entire trip was wonderful – I got to explore the city and campus, see famous Lewis and Tolkien sites, eat at the The Eagle & Child pub where The Inklings met, and explore the many beautiful bookstores across the city.
However, the most memorable experience from my first trip to Oxford occurred when I thought my day was about to end. I was just about to leave the Magdalen College grounds to catch my train at the station, which was quite a long walk from where I was (I had explored nearly the entire city on foot that day). I really wanted to make that train, because otherwise it would be several hours until I could catch the final train of the day.
But, just as I was about to leave the College grounds, I spotted a really nice-looking nature walk. At this point in the day, I had already walked on several equally nice nature walks, and my legs were already aching from all of the walking I had done. But, for some reason, I felt an inexplicable calling to go take a walk on that trail.
Of course, I knew that if I did so, I would definitely miss my train – meaning I wouldn’t get back to my dorm room in Worcester until about midnight. So, of course, it made no sense to go for a walk on that trail, especially since I really didn’t feel up to it physically and was rather ready to go home.
“The best adventures are often unexpected.”
The line came out of nowhere in my mind. Well, I suppose I had been completing my annual reading of Tolkien’s The Hobbit that week, so maybe that explained it. But still, it was a sudden and clear thought, and it is what ultimately made me make the choice to turn towards the nature walk and miss my train.
And I am so glad I did.
I walked a ways on the trail before seeing a sign that read “Addison’s Walk”. I stopped, thunderstruck.
Wow. I thought. That’s awesome! Maybe I was supposed to come here just to see that.
But then, I saw a gate up ahead, and on that gate was a plaque with an engraving… which was of a poem written by none other than my favorite writer, C. S. Lewis:
What The Bird Said Early in the Year – by C. S. Lewis
“I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear:This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple treesThis year, nor want of rain destroy the peas.This year time’s nature will no more defeat you,Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.This time they will not lead you round and backTo Autumn, one year older, by the well-worn track.This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,Quick, quick, quick, quick! – the gates are drawn apart.”
I don’t remember how exactly the poem spoke to me that day, but I remember that it brought tears to me eyes. I had no idea of the existence of “Addison’s Walk” or of that poem – but of course, God had known it was there, and He had wanted me to find it. He knew I had been reading The Hobbit, and He knew the exact phrase to bring to my mind that would lead me there. He knew that Lewis’ poem was at the gate of the trail, and He knew I needed to read it.
I spent the next couple hours as I waited for the last train walking along “Addison’s Walk”, laughing and crying, just me and God. I came back to Oxford several times during the remainder of my time in England, and every time I made sure to come back to that trail. I still think it’s my single favorite spot in all of England, just because of the moment I had there with God.
He spoke to me that day, in so many ways, though I almost didn’t hear Him. I very nearly missed this beautiful moment completely, just by not allowing the unexpected to happen. If the best adventures are often unexpected, I think it’s equally true that God’s voice is often unexpected, and thus often missed. I wonder how many other times I have missed something He was trying to tell me just because I wasn’t expecting Him to say anything, or because I wasn’t willing to stray from my plans and go on an uncharted path.
And I wonder how different our lives would be if we just went through each and every day expecting to hear Him, and willing to change our plans to follow Him.