Reuben Lance had huge outcroppings of bristle for eyebrows and a wild, red beard. He looked mean, a demeanor reinforced by his laconic sarcasm. In our town he was a jack-of-all-trades, an expert in everything manual: carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, masonry. He could fix anything. His expertise was so well established, apparently, that he didn’t have to be nice. He had never married. Everyone I knew was intimidated by him. I know I was.

So I was surprised when a friend suggested that I go to him for conversation and prayer. I knew that he professed to be a Christian—at least he showed up for worship in our little congregation every Sunday. But that he could help me learn to pray never would have occurred to me. Reuben Lance never prayed aloud in church (in our circle, praying aloud was a prerequisite to authentic spirituality). I sensed that he was scornful of most of what passed for religion. And he didn’t suffer fools gladly.

I was 20 years old, home for the summer from my second year of college. I had come back with an unnamable discontent, and was full of unfocused energies and subterranean feelings that were looking for an outlet but not finding one. I thought the feelings had to do with God, but I wasn’t sure. They were not fitting into the categories of faith I was familiar with.

Not surprisingly, I was reluctant to risk Reuben’s scorn of what he would probably see as adolescent silliness draped with the silk veils of a pretentious metaphysics I had picked up in college. But my friend seemed confident that Reuben might very well be the right person for me. So I went.

I asked Reuben if I could talk to him and maybe pray with him. I told him I had these feelings and energies that I did ...

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