It is beyond my vocabulary to accurately describe the last few days. What I can talk about I will, but there really is no true way to express how the last forty-eight hours have acted as a much needed balm to my heart and soul.
In the last two days, I spent time in Bristol and Bath. These are two cities that I have spent much time reading about over the course of my life for both study and pleasure.
Bristol is the home of the New Room, which is the oldest Methodist building in the world (1739). It was built by John Wesley to be a home-base for his active and growing ministry. It served as a soup-kitchen, chapel, school, and anything else considered necessary to help further the ministry. Asbury and Coke both spent time at the New Room before coming to America. From one of the volunteers, I learned that when Bristol was bombed during WW2 (she was eleven years old at the time) the New Room was the only building still standing in the area. The surrounding shopping center had been completely demolished.
Bath is the setting of a handful of my favorite books. Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer both wrote novels set in Bath. The city also has the distinction of being home to the best preserved Georgian architecture. (Seriously, I felt like I was walking around the set of a Period Drama.) The Roman Baths are also here. It’s an old city. That has seen and experienced so many different events. It is beautiful and amazing.
However, those are just the facts and provide little-to-no insight into my thoughts and experiences over the last forty-eight hours.
For those of you who read my last post, you know that I wasn’t necessarily in the best of spirits. While I was feeling better as I boarded my very early flight to Bristol, my soul was still a little weary and my heart still somewhat in the doldrums. Those feelings were about to come to an abrupt end.
Ironically, those feelings ended with tears.
Let me explain.
As the plane prepared to land in Bristol, it flew over Bath. From the window, I had a perfect, bird’s eye view of the city. Specifically, I spied the Royal Crescent (a row of thirty Georgian-style houses laid out in a crescent and built in the 1700s…also the home of several of my favorite fictional heroines) Upon seeing this structure, not in my mind when reading or in pictures, but with my actual eyes—I burst into tears.
Confused? So was I. So was the man sitting in the row next to me.
All I can say is that from the moment I spied the Royal Crescent, my heart was filled with the bubbling type of joy that finds release in 1) elated silence, 2) impromptu giggling, or 3) awestruck tears. This type of joy occurs randomly, such as when you bite into a really good piece of fudge, hold a freshly cleaned baby in your arms, or remember that God loves you in the middle of a pity party.
Normally, this type of joy doesn’t stick around for very long. I think that its primary reason for existence at all is to remind us in certain moments that for some unfathomable reason God delights in us. It exists to remind us that this life is not about us. It’s about so much more than us.
This time the feeling continued to grow. As I walked through the door of the New Room, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed. My heart was overflowing. There are only a few places in the world where I have felt the peace and presence of God more strongly than in this simple chapel. The great cathedrals serve as reminders of the majesty, power, and greatness of God. You can’t help but look up to the heavens when you are in them. The New Room serves as a reminder that the veil was torn and that God is and always will be present where two or more are gathered in his name.
I spent three hours in the New Room—sitting in the pews, reading my Bible, perusing the used books for sale in the corner, buying some of the used books that were for sale in the corner, wandering through the excellent museum, talking with one of the employees about William Wilberforce, crying as I stood in John Wesley’s rooms, listening to a community choir practice, talking to the volunteers, drinking coffee, eating a scone, reading one of the books I had acquired, crying as a result of a grateful and profound happiness, and marveling at how an infinite God allows us, finite, imperfect creatures that we are, to be a part of the universe he created in a meaningful way.
I didn’t want to leave. I sincerely wondered if they would notice if I just moved into one of the pews. However, my Airbnb check-in time was approaching, so I dragged my reluctant feet and happy heart away from Bristol.
And the bubbling joy just continued to grow.
I spent the rest of Wednesday afternoon and all of Thursday exploring Bath. In preparation of this visit, I had re-read two of my favorite Georgette Heyer books—Bath Tangleand Lady of Quality. Of course, I had to make pilgrimages to their respective homes. I also visited the Jane Austen Museum, where all the workers are dressed in Regency clothes and all have name-tags identifying them as one of Ms. Austen’s characters. (Alas ladies, there is no Mr. Darcy. Apparently it’s too hard to get your work done due to every woman who comes in wanting to get a picture with you.) I had tea. I tried a Bath Bun. I went on 6 mile run. I met three news friends (2 at dinner on Wednesday, 1 at Afternoon Tea on Thursday). I walked up way too many stairs to see Bath from Alexandra Park. I walked up to the Royal Crescent, spent time in the Fashion Museum, toured the Roman Baths, and tried the waters, which people have been drinking for thousands of years for health reasons. It’s definitely not for the taste…
I did a lot, but it didn’t feel rushed. I spent the majority of my time just looking around, enjoying each and every moment.
It is a gift beyond measure to be able to walk in the faraway places where the people (real and fictional), who helped shape you through words, actions, and beliefs, walked. It is a source of bubbling joy, which makes the colors seem a little brighter, the world a little nicer, and God even more wonderful. It is incredible. Fantastical. Peaceful. It makes my heart happy. It was just what my soul needed.
Take my soul and body’s powers; take my memory, mind, and will, all my goods, and all my hours, all I know, and all I feel, all I think, or speak, or do; take my heart, but make it new. – Charles Wesley (1745)
“Lady Theresa prophesied disaster for all concerned, and hoped that when Serena was dying an old maid she would remember these words, and be sorry. Meanwhile she remained her affectionate aunt.” ―