The Uncles

“There should always be more waiting than striving in a Christian’s prayer.”
Evelyn Underhill

I tried to seem interested. These “men’s men” were in deep and reverent conversation, and I was an unwitting participant. I learned long ago to both interpret, and semi-fluently speak, the mountain dialect of Henson Cove. However, this time the squinting of my eyes and twitching of my ears was due to the nature of the discussion these two strong men were having, not the drawl in which they spoke.

As far as I could understand this holy banter, apparently Troy-Built makes the best tractor, with John Deere running a close second (I note here that while there were no physical action as the words “John Deere” were spoken, I could feel the atmosphere significantly change, as when the angel entered Mary’s room, and I felt we should all remove our hats, had we any on our heads).

My wife’s uncles, two brothers and farm-boys whose roots stretch deep into these North Carolina mountains, were debating the higher issues of farming – or rather power gardening as it had become in their older age. At times in the conversation, the gulf of separation between their shared common knowledge and my agri-technical ignorance seemed infinite, as their impassioned words seemed to take on an enlightened, theological tone.

I smiled each time they would wink and nod at me, as I if knew a thing about the divinely bestowed machinery of which they spoke. Our rocking chairs beat out an accompanying rhythm, as they spent the next few hours poetically elocuting the step-by-step process of plowing a large garden, riddling their verbal music with synonyms for dirt (yes, there are more options than soil and sod), and punctuating sentences with hushed references to sacramental terms such as quality and horsepower. The air crackled as they spoke, my hair standing on end as I waited for lightning and thunder to confirm the veracity of their words. It was then I realized that I was unknowingly being invited into the Illuminati of Crop Farming – and no initiation rites were required of me.

I have often been in the context of conversations that I felt quite removed from, face against the glass, on the outside-looking-in at a world of hidden codes, knowing glances and assumed understandings.

Talking with God can seem the same to one not versed in the Bible, or ill-prepared to translate the “Christian-ese” many praying people speak in. Centuries of church regimen have convinced the common person that without magical incantations, liturgical passwords and pious persona, God is not very amenable to hearing the prayers of those less adept at the finer points of spiritual conversation.

Yet, the Scriptures themselves rail against such a violation of their essence. A gospel that is not accessible to the vocabularies of prostitute, pastor and president – is no gospel at all. God is not solely approached by those who have taken the time to memorize biblical phrases, but rather by those who have a heart to engage in the most important Conversation a human being can have. A heart to engage in the conversation – that’s what I had with the uncles in the room.

After some time, I began to feel as if I might understand why that new German tractor was giving Troy-Built a run for its money. Offering my contribution in a jumble of accent and swagger, I reached for metaphors that were familiar to express the unfamiliar. With smiling eyes pointed toward me, the two uncles noticeably lowered the standards of their philosophifications to include… me.

I choose to do the same for others who may want to enter the conversation I am having with God. Perhaps in simplifying my own language of prayer, I may not only invite another human being to enter in the Conversation, but I may also better understand what in the world God and I were talking about in the first place.

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can mange. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

From Matthew 6 in The Message.