My nine-year-old broke his arm last weekend. He came running into the house with his arm in a weird zigzag and his younger siblings trailing in his wake. All three were gibbering away in a shell-shocked, confused kind of way. I bellowed at everyone to be quiet and then sent my patient into the kitchen to lay his arm on the table.
EVERYTHING WILL BE OK I told everybody, loudly.
My husband took the patient to the ER, where they took pictures and put him in a cast. But we needed to see an orthopedist to know if we’d need surgery or not.
My son was nervous about surgery, in a low-key, trying to keep himself together kind of way. So we prayed.
Holy Spirit, what do you want us to know?
We waited in silence. A heartbeat. Two heartbeats. And then a thought.
“Remember,” I said, “the verse you wrote down and taped to your bed? The verse from Joshua? Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you?”
His shoulders sagged with relief.
“Yes,” he said. “I’d forgotten about that verse. How did you know?”
The gift of presence changes everything, doesn’t it?
Where it was common for mothers to be nurturing, tender, and gentle, it was uncommon for fathers to be so.
The prayer Jesus modeled for them then is the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer.
I can remember reciting it at mass with my grandparents, when I was very young: “our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”
The prayer is short enough to be just a few quick lines in a longer letter, but it’s a little gem of wildly subversive ideas about God and people.
While most cultures and peoples around the Hebrews had literal representatives of divinity (idols), the Hebrews didn’t. Instead, they had metaphors: God as a tower. God as a mother. God as a warrior.
And where it was common for mothers to be nurturing, tender, and gentle, it was uncommon for fathers to be so. The story of the prodigal son’s father was scandalous to the people of Jesus’ time because a loving, nurturing father running to meet his lost, bad kid was scandalous.
The story of the prodigal son’s father was scandalous to the people of Jesus’ time because a loving, nurturing father running to meet his lost, bad kid was scandalous.
And while the Hebrews saw themselves as Abraham’s children, the opening line of Jesus’ prayer pointed his friends to God-as-Parent:
Our Father, who art in heaven.
Sometimes I imagine Joseph helping Mary deliver her firstborn. I’d like to think that even if she was giving birth with the animals, there was a woman around to help but who knows? Birth wasn’t segregated away in those days, and perhaps Joseph caught the baby the same way he’d caught donkey’s foals or newborn lambs. Or maybe she caught the baby herself as she squatted in the straw.
Jesus’ first encounter with a parent was with a mother (as it is for all of us). But his first encounter with a father, the man he knew closest to him in those early days of his life, on the run from Herod, was Joseph.
I wonder if, when Jesus taught his friends to pray “our Father,” he thought of both the father that raised him and the father in heaven whose DNA he shared.
Perhaps Jesus was uniquely placed to teach us what it means to have a parent who is near enough to hold, and also far enough away to hold the whole world.
A parent who nurtures under Rome and Herod, and a parent who is above Rome and Herod.
A parent who is at once as close as our own breath, and a parent who is the source of all miracles.
Perhaps the sweetest invitation in all of scriptures is to be parented (reparented, all of us) by a loving God. To be born again in the newness of the Spirit, and grown up in Christ. To sit in God’s presence, and be fathered and mothered by the Almighty, and be transformed by the light of God’s countenance.
Here, and now, in this moment, we are given the gift of presence, the simplest, most piercing truth at the heart of our whole spinning universe.
The world sucks. Evil stalks. There is much to fear. But here, in our midst, is God.
The Divine who defies idol-making, who holds the universe in a hand, who cannot be measured, and yet who bends and contorts to meet us miraculously in the form our youngest, smallest selves know intimately: parent.
Here is God. With us.
Hallowed be Thy name.