While I lived in South Africa, I got to know a remarkable Quaker, John Broom. He taught me the real basis of sainthood: understanding and honoring the difference between the human self and God.
As a young man, he had settled in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and become a partner in Deloitte and Touche—not an accounting firm, but the accounting firm in southern Africa. He owned a small fleet of cars, some horses, a mansion, helped start a golf club.
Then one of his clients, a farmer, overextended himself building an irrigation dam and didn’t see how he could avoid bankruptcy. John looked at the books and wasn’t hopeful.
“Is there anything you can do for me?” the client asked. John, who had never been religious, heard himself saying, “I don’t know—I guess I’ll pray,” and went home and did that. That same evening, ideas started coming for adjustments that could prevent a crisis until the dam (actually a good investment in itself) started to pay off. He hurried back the next day for another conversation with the farmer. Within a year, the farm was out of danger.
Sarah Ruden is a poet, essayist, and translator, and a visiting scholar at Brown University. She is the author of Paul among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time, and her new translation of Augustine’s Confessions is forthcoming from Penguin/Random House.