The Dancing Puritan

Saturday, September 6, 2014

People, Places, and Beauty: Thoughts on Friendship



I admit it; I am a bit enamored with tables, sofas, coffee, conversation, and beauty, especially when they are all connected. 

I am writing from the Legacy Hotel and Conference Center, located on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Like many hotel lobbies, there are multiple sitting areas—tables, sofas, and chairs. Most of them are arranged in such a way as to invite community. I am sitting on a small sofa, a round table is in front of me, and there are two other sofas facing the table and in close proximity. They are empty. It is as if they are waiting patiently for several people to ease over and start a conversation. Most people are checking out of the hotel this morning. No one seems to be hearing the call to “come and sit for a while.” And I am feeling the pressure to pack my goods, load my car, and head down the highway. Community awaits me, seven hours away.

Yes, I am drinking a cup of coffee; in fact it is my third or fourth cup. I have spent a couple of hours now reading the Bible, working on tomorrow’s sermon, and writing a book review. Soon I must leave. My week has been a mix of isolation and community. I have always thought myself to be a loner. However, occasionally there is a connection made that stirs up within me a longing for more—more conversation, more interaction, more community.

Last evening a friend and I walked together to the home of mutual friends. I enjoyed the conversation that flowed from our ten-minute walk together. It was good. We are united in various ways but there is one major common denominator—our friends. We walked to their home, together. 

Arriving at their home, we were greeted, as always, with a warm welcome, hugs, and food. The conversation was lively, the laughter robust, the joy obvious, and the experience— savory.

I am not sure exactly what connects the wires in a friendship. But when they do, it is natural—never forced. My friends here are from a different culture—from a world that I am unfamiliar with. How did we become friends? I simply needed to print a paper for my class. A fellow classmate said, “Come over to our house and print the paper.” I was relieved. I needed help that day. I could tell by the warmness of the invitation that the offer of help was sincere. I drove to his home. His wife had coffee and cookies waiting. Soon we were talking, laughing, and enjoying one-another’s-company. It was as if one moment we were just acquaintances and the next we were friends. I can't explain it except to point to the providence of God and the kindness of his people. That was nine months ago. Now, it seems that we have known one another for a lifetime. And with their friendship came another—the gentleman that I walked with last evening.

Am I really a loner? I am not sure anymore. There is something about the table, coffee, and the sofa. They offer promise— hope—that maybe someone will come over and talk for a while. They call the traveller to rest.  They remind me that the world will keep turning even if I sit for a minute, or an hour. And if two or three people stop by, you never know, a surprising friendship might ensue. When it does there is the delightful mixture of a table, several sofas, coffee, friendship, and beauty. I think that now I better understand what C.S. Lewis meant when he wrote in The Four Loves: “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that I was the only one.”