Picture Gallery At End Of Post
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about international travel is the opportunity of meeting people you would not have otherwise, and the real possibility of friendship developing. Sometimes it is because of one’s need or vulnerability. Like the time the summer of ’82 when I was backpacking around Europe and landed in Swansea, Wales, late on a Friday afternoon the weekend the National Eisteddfod opened there. I stumbled into the tourist bureau about 4:45 only to discover every hotel room, B&B, and room let in the area had already been snapped up. The folks at the TI went into overdrive, wanting to shut the shop down and get on with their weekend lives and started calling around. Finally, just as the clock was ticking down to 5:00 (watching the big clock with the ticking second hand counting down the seconds reminded me of the movie High Noon!) they got hold of Fran Rees. Fran and her family had rented out all the bedrooms in their house while she and her husband and two children bunked up in the living room. Fran said, “Tell the lad we have the tent pitched in the garden to air out before we take off on holiday and he can stay there for 2 pounds which includes breakfast.” Thus began a wonderful, if preposterous, few days. Over the next 4 days their angelic little girl would bring me a thermos of hot tea to the tent at 7:00am sharp, saying in an angelic voice with a south Wales lilt, “Bore Da Mr. Griffiths! Here is your tea. Mum says breakfast at half seven.” Fran was a wonder. We ended up corresponding for years and she loved telling the story about the crazy Yank who stayed in her garden tent.
Sometimes it isn’t need so much as serendipity. Like yesterday. There are a few English couples on this cruise and I noticed one in particular I wanted to meet. After our city tour of Budapest yesterday morning I chose to spend the afternoon on the top “Sun Deck” of the ship to read in the sunshine while Amy went to explore the House of Terror (like the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin housed in what was the Gestapo headquarters, Budapest’s House of Terror is in the site where Hungarian Nazis and the secret police during the Communist era took and tortured people deemed enemies of the state. One of our fellow travelers, an oil industry exec, told us his father, an American Exec with Standard Oil of NY, was in Budepest after WWII to inspect damaged oil fields owned by Standard and was taken to the House of Terror and tortured for 3 days and given the choice of signing over the Standard Oil property or be killed as a Western spy). All things being equal, I chose reading in the sun. When I was just finishing the English couple ambled by and we engaged in friendly conversation. They hailed from Norfolk, a part of England I’ve never visited, but know of through P.D. James’ novels and the cute Norfolk Terriers Amy has taken a shine to watching the Westminster Kennel Club dog show every year. One thing leads to another, [GG1] and they mention being active in the Our Lady of Walsingham Shrine where he was photographer. I had never heard of Our Lady of Walsingham before leading the English Reformation trip in 2019. But Keith Cole had suggested our group could see Westminster Abby if we went to a worship service there that was billed as a service trying to heal the split between the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches brought on by Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Abby’s. It turns out that the Shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham had been a Christian pilgrimage site established in 1061 (think Canterbury Tales but north) but destroyed in 1538 by Henry. Re-established in the 1920’s the shrine draws pilgrims again. Anyway, it turns out that the English couple were participants in the Westminster Abby service we attended in May of 2019 and were part of the long procession of clergy and dignitaries that carried in the statue of Our Lady as the rest of us sang a hymn containing (I’m not exaggerating) about 22 verses! We made plans to have a meal with Maureen and Graham and Amy could not believe the serendipitous encounter I made while she was learning some of the sad history of totalitarian government.
As I write this morning, we are cruising up the Danube from Budapest to Bratislava. We had dinner on the back deck last night just as evening was coming on with a wonderful couple, Chris and Debby, from Cleveland, and marveled at the beauty of the Parliament building catching the western light as we cruised by.
Salve Amice! Approaching others with the openness that the other might be a friend, leaving room for the serendipitous movement of the Spirit, can bring new relationships of mutuality into one’s life. I am grateful this morning that yesterday proved that stance worthwhile once again.
What I was reading in the glorious sunshine yesterday was Eugene Peterson’s sermon “Friend of God” on Genesis 12:1-4 and John 15:13-15 on Abraham, who was called “friend of God” and Jesus’ promise, “I have called you friends.” Peterson observes insightfully,
Here is another element contained in the word friend. Friend is totally about relationship, not function. There is an everyday ordinary quality to it. We find ourselves friends with people not for what they can do for us but simply for who they are.
There’s more to muse on, but that’s enough for this morning. May God bless you and bring new friends into your world today.
 National Eisteddfod