The Zulu words to the hymn "Abide with me" took on special meaning during my two weeks on a farm among the cane fields of South Africa earlier this year.
One Sunday morning, I looked out from my upstairs bedroom window across the hills that swirl toward the nearby Indian Ocean. A silver rain transformed the veld after a spell of "green drought," during which the cane stays green although it doesn't grow, and a purple-crested lourie let out an ecstatic ko ko ko ko, krr krr krr krr.
I tiptoed downstairs to find several members of the family already stirring. Eight-month-old Michael was protesting at the suggestion that he might try sleeping after keeping his mom and dad awake half the night, and his sisters were arguing over the "knock knock" eggs the housekeeper Joyce had boiled for their breakfast.
But over the sounds of a family getting kick-started, came the strains of a familiar hymn from the CD player in the living room. A sleep-deprived mom had found the strength to insert a disc and press "play."
A beautiful stillness gradually took over. I have no idea where the girls went, or who won - Michael or his parents - but I now had the living room to myself.
As I listened in that stillness, "Abide with Me" sounded different. Singer Mindy Jostyn had an unexpected partner in song. I crept across the pine floorboards to listen more closely. The second voice was coming from the family room - and was in Zulu. Joyce had not only quieted the girls and rocked the baby to sleep, but was now singing to herself as she did some cleaning.
When she heard me approaching, she continued without embarrassment until she had completed the verse:
Hlala nathi, Sonkanyiso,
Sizwe lonke iqiniso,
(Methodist Zulu Hymnal)
(Stay with us, Father of light,
bringing brightness to us all.
Help us to hear the truth,
and store it.)
The imagery is African - landscapes flooded with light, the importance of listening in a strongly oral tradition, and joy in the harvest, with storehouses to preserve the grain.
Joyce told me how glad she was to know that I loved that hymn, too. It brought us close together in God, she said. She was so encouraged by black and white churches in South Africa building on the same foundation, at last singing together in true harmony, and praying in similar words.
Joyce's eyes gleam as she speaks. Language barriers tumble. Peace, gratitude, and exhilaration swoop in like the swifts in the palm trees along the driveway.
There are few challenges Joyce hasn't faced and overcome with courage - including the death of her husband, which left her to raise six children on her own. Last year, one of her sons died in a shooting incident on his way to school.
For me, she just lives the verse,
I know no fear with Thee at hand to bless,
Sin hath no power and life no wretchedness;
Health, hope and love in all around I see
For those who trustingly abide in Thee.
("Christian Science Hymnal," No. 7)
When we said goodbye, she offered her widest smile. Slowly and shyly she took my hands in hers. She hummed a few notes of "our" hymn, and murmured, "God go with you." "And with you, Joyce," I replied falteringly. As you can imagine, it wasn't only her eyes that were moist as I left and crossed the rejuvenated lawns to my car.
It should be thoroughly understood that all men have one Mind, one God and Father, one Life, Truth, and Love. Mankind will become perfect in proportion as this fact becomes apparent, war will cease and the true brotherhood of man will be established.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor