"Are you busy, ubabaMkhulu?" they ask, using the Zulu word for grandfather. I look up. "We have something for you."
Never too busy for a surprise, I wave Joyce and Doris into the study where I'm working at the computer. Diffident, yet purposeful, they shuffle forward. Their smiles are as warm as the summer sunlight that floods the room. Their shyness, totally disarming.
I rise to greet the two women. We shake hands the African way. Full hand. Thumbs entwined. Full hand. No further word is spoken. A crested barbet in the frangipani tree just outside the window breaks the silence, but Joyce and Doris don't seem to notice. They clasp their hands in front of them and start to sing in Zulu, taking parts. Their voices are light and sweet. Joyce's eyes are closed. Doris's gaze settles on the upper branches of the frangipani.
It's a hymn tune I know well. I recognize the Zulu word for Father, uBaba, which comes up several times in the first verse. Could it be the opening to Psalm 46 in the Bible, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble"?
Joyce delights in my gleam of recognition, as though eager for approval. She steps up the tempo, and they both start to sway - gently, evenly. Then they break into English, articulating every word: "Be still ... and know ... that I'm ... your God." They steal glances my way. They repeat the line, once, twice, three times. And I notice their slight deviation from the King James Version's "I am God." Yet, for me, it works both ways.
I recall how the Amplified Bible enriches the lines they've sung: "God is ... mighty and impenetrable to temptation, a very present and well-proved help in trouble." I also welcome this fresh light on verse 10 of Psalm 46: "Let be and be still, and know - recognize and understand - that I am God."
When their heartfelt rendering of the hymn comes to an end, I applaud quietly, and we talk for a while. We swap stories about the part God has played in our lives, and what we're learning about the importance of stillness.
"We have to listen very carefully," says Joyce. She speaks several African languages, but English doesn't come easily to her. "I know that God talks to me all the time. But I am so busy that I do not always hear Him. But I know He is there. He loves me. He loves my family. He loves everybody. He helps me to think nice thoughts. No bad thoughts."
Joyce remarks that life has never been easy for her - least of all while she raised six children as a single mother under apartheid in South Africa. Her faith was severely tested. But now, through prayer, her life has been stabilized. She feels she is winning. "I know God is good," she says. "And He is bigger than all of my problems."
What emerges from our slow - and, I hope, patient conversation - is that Joyce's faith is so deep that she can only be blessed by her trust in God. Nothing restricts or dilutes her times with her heavenly Father. She feels that her hand is always in His, whether she's playing with the children in the garden, cooking up a juicy chicken à la king, or walking six miles to church on a summer Sunday afternoon.
As Joyce leaves the room, I notice she is humming another familiar hymn tune, "Amazing Grace." She grins as she catches my eye. She knows we've clicked again. I think of how novelist Anne Lamott describes grace as being "in a different universe from where you had been stuck, when you had absolutely no way to get there on your own" ("Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith").
Thanks to God, Joyce and Doris and I are definitely in a "different universe" this morning on the farm.
In order to pray aright,
we must enter into the closet
and shut the door.
We must close the lips
and silence the material senses.
In the quiet sanctuary of earnest longings, we must deny sin and plead God's allness.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of Christian Science).