What Our Homes Can Learn From Oxford University's Architecture
It’s hard to believe that our family has only been back in the States for a little over a year now. We had the unique opportunity to live in Oxford, England for two years, arguably one of the most beautiful cities of that country. One of the things I loved the most about Oxford was the architecture of the buildings. Oxford has a compact city centre comprised of such unique world famous buildings such as Christ Church Cathedral, Sheldonian Theatre, Magdalen College, and Radcliffe Camera.
What I did not know about Oxford University before we arrived is that there are actually 44 colleges that make up the University. The city bustles around these colleges, and each one boasts its distinct unique features. Whether it is the bell tower of Magdalen College or the Gothic Revival and striking use of brick for Keble College, there is so much beautiful architecture to behold.
Even more, what cannot escape notice is that whenever you enter the court of these colleges, you observe instantly the three most striking architectural features--the chapel, dining hall, and library. They are constructed in such a way that there is no doubt, the college revolves around these buildings. The ceilings appear higher, the walls are decorated with unique paintings, and many of the doorways are beautifully arched. Pointing to one fact: the importance of the central role each played in the college student’s life.
The chapel. A place of spiritual contemplation.
The dining hall. A room where communion and meals took place daily.
The library. A space for training the mind.
I think our own homes can learn a lot from the way Oxford has constructed their colleges. We need to remind ourselves of the importance of spiritual contemplation, daily communion, and training the mind. Most families today rarely share one meal a day where all family members are present. The library is replaced with the tv room. And space for spiritual contemplation is squeezed out with to-do list frenzy.
Might we recapture the unique architectural features in our own homes? As Susan Schaeffer Macaulay shares in For The Family’s Sake:
“We can do no better as we design the shape of our home life. We provide for worship and listening to God; we ensure that minds are nurtured and disciplined and given opportunity for expression in thought; we offer regular dining together.”
The Chapel: A Place of Spiritual Contemplation
I wonder how many of us leave this area of worship and theological learning in the hands of our local church. We drop our kids off weekly into their respective classes and trust that they will get the Biblical training and instruction they need. Or, we rely on Christian schools to communicate Biblical hermeneutics and never instruct our little ones how to read the Bible on their own, at home, within our own walls.
Our children need to see us with our open Bibles on our couches, on the front porch, in our bedrooms. They need us to sit with them and open up the pages, teaching them the truths within. We are raising a Biblical illiterate generation. Our hermeneutics have disissipitated in light of our feelings. The Word of God has to be the standard of our homes, our very lives.
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-21)
The Dining Hall: A Room of Communion
This section deserves a post of it’s own, which I will publish seperately in: The Theology of a Table. But let me briefly share how important the dining room is. One of our favorite places in Oxford was a pub called The Bear and Ragged Staff. English pubs are the heart of English villages and culture. They welcome with their roaring fires and communal tables. One of the first things I had to get used to in England was releasing the American mentality of sitting down and waiting to be served.
The point of eating in a pub is communion not customer service. You often share a table with those you do not know. You walk up to the bar and place your order. The soup is brought to your table, but that’s about it.
The Bear and Ragged Staff was the quintessential English pub. Some days I would walk with Lyric to it and we would spend some time doing school together, other evenings we would meet our dear friends there and discuss theology, life, and love until the wee hours of the morning.
Lively discussions are the hallmark of these pubs. I remember loving the rich discussions of theology, politics, and philosophy heard all around me. After only a few weeks of being in Oxford, I told Tim how conversations around the table did not center on consumerism (as in American restaurants) but rather life and community.
We need a return to the table in our homes today.
“The sharing of meals has too often been neglected and is commonly now thought to be a trivial or less important part of home, education, or community life. I believe such ignorance is serious and has caused the collapse of one of life’s foundations. It does not take up too much time; it is a thread that holds life together.” (Macaulay)
The dining room is a thread that holds life together.
The Library: A Space For Training the Mind
One of the most impactful books I’ve read in child-rearing is James Emery White’s book: A Mind For God. Emery expresses his fear that Western Christians are failing in this crucial area because of our poor intellectual habits.
"A Christian mind is not simply thinking done by those who consider themselves Christians...It is not simply thinking about Christian things...it should not be confused with attempting to adopt a Christian perspective on every issue. Even if such perspectives were possible, they would flow from a Christian mind..."
He goes on to share how his family deliberately chooses to spend time together, reading rather than watching tv. We need to develop a rule for reading. He also suggests the need to develop a rule for learning and reflection. These are disciplines that need to be cultivated in our homes.
There is so much wisdom to be uncovered in books such as The Story of Civilization. Rather than listening to the media, why not dig a little deeper into actual history to find out more about culture? We can cultivate this hunger in our own homes by making space for such reflection to take place.
Since we have returned to the States, I've been trying to capture the unique architectural features of Oxford in our home. Making the chapel, dining room, and library both literal and figurative realities within our walls. Our children need a place for spiritual contemplation, a room where communion and breaking bread together takes place, as well as space for training the mind.
We are raising the next generation of Alister McGrath's, Mother Teresa's, and C.S. Lewis's. Might we recognize the supreme importance of the home and what we cultivate within it's walls.
Might we learn from the architecture of the university of Oxford.