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Friendship at Many Levels
|Major-General Lord Rennell of Rodd|
I had a friend in his eighties who lived close to us in Oxford and shared my love of cricket. His shelves were lined with cricket books. When I visited him we talked cricket and probably nothing else - so relaxing. Mainly we talked about some of the great matches of the 1920's and '30's which he saw, which my father saw and used to talk about. How much I enjoyed those visits.
Visiting New Zealand, I lost my binoculars. Friends we were staying with wanted to arrange for me to borrow a pair, so they contacted a person in Auckland who had written one of the classic books on New Zealand birds. I went to have tea with him and his wife - the Sibsons - and we talked birds for two hours! And he lent me a pair of binoculars.
My wife, Juliet, is an artist and garden-person - with a passion for roses - two fast ways of making friends - like sport and birds for me.
Juliet's father, Lord Rennell of Rodd, loved the Herefordshire countryside on the Welsh border where his family had lived for centuries. He wrote a book called Valley on the March which describes the geography and history of this lovely unspoilt part of Britain. As he was getting older, what he loved specially was to be driven through this countryside that he knew so well, and just gaze at it. When I drove him round we hardly ever spoke but I felt he was drinking in what bountiful nature was offering: making him feel part of something old and wonderful, yet hard to put into words.
He wrote: 'I always yearn when I am away to return to the home of my ancestors in this quiet valley on the March where the purpose and continuity of human life on the land for a thousand years are so pleasant and rewarding.'
He loved continuity.
Psalm 4 says: 'Thou has enlarged me when I was in difficulties'; and Psalm 18: 'Thou has enlarged my steps under me so that my feet did not slip'; and Psalm 119: 'I will run the way of Thy commandments when Thou shalt enlarge my heart.'
I like the word 'enlarge'.
An Oxford friend I knew well, beginning in my student days, was a teacher of English literature at the university for 40 years - one of the supreme conversation people. I would tell her I'd just read, say, Middlemarch by George Eliot, and then for ten minutes she would unravel the story for me as she saw it with insights I had probably missed - although it might have been years since she last read the book! How rich were those conversations. I asked her what was the best piece of literature that dealt with selfish ambition and she replied at once, Macbeth.
It is important in all our friendships that there is no string attached. I am glad to share my faith with people but I also realise it is a very intimate thing. At certain times in my life I felt I wanted to impose my convictions and faith on people. But Christ said: 'Behold I stand at the door and knock.' He did not say we should knock the door down.
There is a further reach of friendship which is the most delicate of all, where you may be able to help another person find his moral and spiritual road in life. He may trust you with things about his life that he has never told anyone else, enabling him to get free from the past.
I was reading Psalm 16: 'Thou wilt show me the path of life; in Thy presence is the fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore' - a road, a home, and a heart permanently satisfied. We can be mediums through which God can touch people, who can then turn to Him and so receive these wonderful gifts.
I have a sense that God is operating at all levels of friendship.
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