The Lonely Planet Guide has recently declared the Dutch province of Friesland (Frisia) to hold third place in the top ten of European holiday destinations. At the moment the capital city of the province—Leeuwarden—is Europe’s cultural city of the year. That makes a visit to Friesland very timely, but when this year is over and the pressure of tourism has somewhat abated, it may be even more pleasant. Friesland has a rich history; it has many traditions; it has beautiful small towns with marvelous historic centers, and it offers beautiful scenery as one drives from one place to the next.
I love visiting Friesland. My name betrays that my ancestors came from there. Dutch family names that end in -sma indicate a Frisian pedigree. My first church appointment was caring for a small congregation in the picturesque Frisian city of Sneek. That is also where our son was born, now more than fifty years ago. Last Friday morning my wife and I drove to Friesland for a day of museum visits in and around Leeuwarden. We stayed the night in a reasonably comfortable three-star hotel and went to church on Sabbath morning where I was scheduled to preach. Since it was the Pentecost weekend my sermon was based on a story in Acts 19, where Paul meets twelve men who came to church of Ephesus but confessed that they knew nothing of a Holy Spirit. Well, you can easily see that this text is a good springboard for a sermon on our need for being acquainted with the Spirit.
On Friday, on our way North, we made a short stop in Heerenveen, about 30 kilometers south of Leeuwarden, where we visited a museum that we had never before been to. It proved to be a small museum, mostly dedicated to a group of regional Frisian painters. But it also has special exhibitions. The current exhibition features the paintings of the Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. His specialty was painting still lives of bottles and vases. Interesting, but not something I could get very excited about. In fact, I enjoyed the museum building (and especially the coffee shop with a great view of the Frisian landscape), more than the art works. But, entering the hall with the paintings of the Italian artist, I was struck by a statement by Morandi that was printed in large letters on the wall. It read: You can travel the world and see nothing. Understanding the world does not require a lot of travel, but it all depends on looking intently at what is before your eyes.
Morandi’s words are so true. I still have the opportunity to do a lot of travel. I am writing this blog while I am waiting for my flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. And, lo and behold, as I am sitting in the waiting area and checking my e-mail, I find that I am invited for a series of speaking appointments in Australia later in the year! Even though most of my travel leaves me very little time for touristic activities, I do see a lot and try to absorb the local culture and circumstances as much as I can. I believe I can truly say that the travel throughout my life has had a major influence on me and on who I am today. However, I also often meet people who have traveled much more than I have. They have visited exotic places, but have seen next to nothing. They may sit on a beach on the Seychelles for two weeks, without trying to see how the people live. They may go on a safari tour in Africa but see little more than they could have seen in a zoo in their home country.
Seeing and understanding the world does not primarily depend on constantly going to lots of places, but it has most of all to do with our curiosity, with being open to discerning and learning, with our willingness to ask questions and seek answers. And this is not only true for the sphere of faraway travel and exiting geography. It also applies to everyday life. Some people see far less than others. Some are almost blind to what happens around them—in their family, their neighborhood, their workplace and their church. Others constantly see things that enrich their life and stimulate them to form balanced opinions or to adjust their points of view.
A few years ago one hundred of my blogs were put together in a book (in Dutch). The title was: Wie goed kijkt ziet altijd wat! Or, to put it in English: If you look intently, you will always see something worthwhile. I still believe this is very true!