We don’t often have the opportunity to see the larger span of our lives. Usually, it’s only at weddings or funerals when we pause and look back.
This week we’ve had the amazing blessing of seeing the thread of friendship over a number of decades when we met up with a friend we hadn’t seen for years.
A long time ago in a land far away, Steve and I met at university in Norwich and got married just after graduation. Our friend – another Steve – was in the year above us. He had stayed on in the first year residence with a student welfare role.
Although we only overlapped by two years at university (plus another two for the Steve’s as they went on to do the same training in London), we could trace how our friendship had shaped the course of our lives in a number of ways.
Gathering around food
Every week during my first year, the other Steve and I made Sunday lunch for our group of Christian friends. Here we experimented with food and learnt to grow community. We experienced what happens when you break bread together – sharing what each person has for the growth of the whole.
The friendships that were cultivated around these weekly meals have lasted well. We are still connected to many.
The practice of eating together has shaped so much of our lives since those days. And now is expressed in First Fridays and other events we run with and for others here at The Waterside. People do come, and come back again, for the experience of good, simple food, shared together.
Gathering around conversation
These informal Sunday gatherings were also complimented by the conversations that went deep into the night as we helped Steve run Nightline – a late-night drop-in centre on campus. People only came if they were in crisis. Often we would have hours to talk about life and the universe, whilst waiting. Nothing was off-limits.
It takes time to develop the trust required for this level of conversation. This is something we have cherished and grown in over time.
I know that we can only make sense of where we are and where we’re going if we are comfortable with honesty and vulnerability. There are not many places where people feel heard and seen enough to do this. Here appears to be one of them.
When we got married we were ‘homeless’, living with family and trying to find accommodation many miles away (without the Internet, mobile phone or car). We were desperate. Steve couldn’t start his new job and my Master’s program was looming. It was a chance conversation in a London office that alerted the other Steve to our need. And it just so happened he had an aunt in Reading….
But this was the wrong side of town, both for the University and my Steve’s daily commute to London. It’s extraordinary how seemingly random acts can have such far-reaching effects.
We thought we were only going to be in Reading for a year… And left 25 years later. We were in the right place at the right time to be involved with a wide range of pioneering activities in leadership, worship, social action and professional practice … And overseas for brief spells.
These experiences have shaped us fundamentally. And our home has always been a gathering place with open doors.
Gathering around creativity
One of the other things our friend Steve did was to introduce us to a wider cultural spectrum. Everything from Max Boyce to contemporary jazz folk and much more. His home base included being part of a Christian community steeped in the arts, just outside of Reading.
Highmoor Hall subsequently became the location of The Spring, a Christian arts centre where the visual and performing arts were celebrated and people could come for quiet space and contemplation. The values of justice, compassion and environmental stewardship were threaded through these creative events, inviting us to participate in the whole of life, not just silos.
When we moved to Wales and bought this valley, our vision was informed by The Spring. We wanted to be able to offer creative space, but not just for Christians and not just in the traditional arts. It’s taken time to see this vision materialise. But having seen beauty, creativity and wisdom woven together previously, we had a compass to steer by.
Seeing Steve again after so many years was rather special. We had that kind of conversation where you just pick up where you left off, and fill in the gaps along the way.
For us, it was also a recognition of just how much we are shaped by key people around us. Often in unexpected ways, which only become clear with hindsight.
We are so grateful for the gift that our friendship has been to us. It was a privilege to give expression to what has been created over the years as we walked through the valley, talked and shared food together.
It seems fitting to end with John O’Donohue‘s blessing For Friendship, from Benedictus
May you be blessed with good friends,
And learn to be a good friend to yourself,
Journeying to that place in your soul where
There is love, warmth and feeling.
May this change you.
May it transfigure what is negative, distant
Or cold within your heart.
May you be brought in to real passion, kindness
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them, be there for them
And receiving all the challenges, truth and light you need.
May you never be isolated but know the embrace
Of your Anam Ćara*.
*Anam Ćara – Celtic concept of ‘soul friend’
Thanks for reading
Walking through this week has been a journey of exploration
- Monday: One voice?
- Tuesday: Your voice
- Wednesday: … and smile
- Thursday: Pause and…
- Friday: The gratitude habit