Two summers ago, I found myself in the streets of Klagenfurt. The neat, tidy, clean streets of Klagenfurt – streets with pedestrian crossings clearly marked.
It was here, at the pedestrian crossings, that I found myself in the company of friends. I knew no-one – in the usual sense of friendship. I had earlier been sitting in a cafe, reading my book, drinking a coffee, on my own. But here, before the red shining man, I enjoyed the company of those who abide by the rules. These were my friends!
I generally like to keep the rules. Not because I’m more virtuous but because, in my inner world, it feels safer to me. I am quite comfortable with an inanimate light box instructing me, with red and green lights, when to walk and when to stop walking.
And here, in the streets of Klagenfurt, my new friends were OK with that too.
In Salzburg, three days earlier, I had found a smattering of such friends. But they were slightly hidden from view by a plague of ‘foreigners’ who forged ahead, crossing the road when a gap appeared in the traffic.
In Klagenfurt, my friends and I were happy to wait – with not a car in sight – for the green man to appear indicating that we were now allowed to walk across the road in law-abiding solidarity.
Yet, this is where our friendship ended – at the other side of the road. Law-abiding will only carry a friendship so far.
That evening, I experienced true friendship – an outing with old friends to a field strewn with straw, surrounded by unharvested fields of sunflowers and ranges of beautiful mountains. We sat on sun-warmed bales of straw, with beakers of good, cold, Austrian beverages and disposable plates of hearty food. All this with good conversation and laughter.
I was getting a taste, from my friends, of some of the highs and lows of living as ‘strangers’ among a polite people – a people who were ‘friendly’ but hard to build friendships with. They told a story of a woman from Ireland (a place where friendship-building also takes some time). This woman was struggling to find friends and community in this foreign land. My friends spoke to her about their church community where friendships were forged – with the help of the Maker of friendships. The Irish woman came to see this community. She came again. She found both friends and friendship with God.
Later that night my friends and I spoke together of painful times when our community and friendships had gone wrong. And yet – how God, the friendship-maker, often used those times to build community in later times and in other places.
The next morning, I read the pain-filled words of Heman the Ezrahite and I recalled my own times of conflict in the past:
You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
You have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confused and cannot escape;
My eyes are dim with grief.
(From Psalm 88)
Those times are mere memories now.
Today I rejoice in God’s gift of friends – two years ago among sunflowers – and right here, right now. Friends who have welcomed me into their hearts and homes, near and far. I am blessed with good friends and they’re a blessing because they know the Maker of friendships – they are friends with him – and he with me.
I am in the company of friends and I find God there.
(Response to the Daily Post http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/on-bees-and-efs/)