I call God my “Father.” But the word falls short in many ways.
Let me preface this by saying I have a gentle earthly father. One who
But many people don’t share this experience. The word “father” is a powerful trigger for deeply complex, old and painful wounds. It becomes very difficult to think of God in heaven as the Best Dad Ever when you perpetually wonder why you were paired with one here who left you aching.
I’d been ruminating on this subject for a few days when a long-forgotten memory sprang up while I was sitting in a streak of warm sunlight at my kitchen table, early one spring morning.
I’m four years old and it’s Christmastime 1976 in New London, CT. My parents are shepherding a Bible study group for cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where my father is an alum and is now working in the Admissions Office. This evening, some cadets are caroling at a retirement home, and my parents decide to take me along. I am the only child in the group.
I’m hiding from the tall, loud adults in my handwoven gray and ivory Icelandic sweater – each strand of it thick and soft – and distracting myself from the strange surroundings by playing with the round pewter buttons on my belly and twisting the thin belt between my fingers.
We walk through long corridors, passing room after room, singing “Jingle Bells” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Through most of the doorways, I see only feet. Feet covered with blankets. On beds. In wheelchairs.
I stay by my mom’s side, listening to her lilting soprano and the swish-swish of her arms against her yellow parka.
We finally come to a community hall, where people sit in high-back chairs and more wheelchairs along the perimeter of a ring.
There is a small collective sigh.
My mother begins stroking my blond hair and saying my name, my age, and things about me.
A woman in the middle of the circle, hunched over in her wheelchair, fixes her deeply wrinkled face on me and smiles like a cherubim. With great effort, she raises her left hand and holds it, trembling, mid-air.
My mother runs her hand down my back and inches me forward until I take the last few steps to this woman on my own.
She sits above me on metal wheels, but I look into her peaceful eyes and feel the radiance of my rosy cheeks, the warmth of my tiny body in my woolen sweater, and without thinking, hold out my small hands to hers.
We clasp our hands together on the armrest and I notice how hers are bluish and ropy with veins, but soft, tender, and pulsing with life.
Looking up again, I see that we share this: life. And a desire to love.
I don’t know her, but I like being with her.
Her presence takes away my fear.
She sees beauty in me. And I see it in her.
That was more than 40 years ago.
I’m back in my kitchen now, remembering that we are all made in God’s image. We bear an imprint of Him.
In that moment, I saw peace, goodness, stability, kindness, hope, trust, and love.
I wonder how many days passed before that gentle lady went to meet her Maker, and how many other people saw God in her eyes?
When we recognize that God is present in all situations, we begin to understand His character and heart.
We begin to see that every life experience carries a whisper of His grace.
I call God my “Father” in the language of my faith tradition, and I always understood Him to be the origin of everything and the transcendent authority. I prayed to the Father alone before I ever became comfortable with His son Jesus Christ – whom I viewed as a divisive figure bent on punishing me forever. By asking God the Father to help me trust Him and by spending time in Scripture, my understanding of Jesus changed, and now He is my dearest friend whom I often visualize sitting with me when I pray. I’m comfortable when I read the words, “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)
But God’s qualities transcend the bodily distinction between the sexes. And God is continually drawing us to Himself.
God is neither masculine nor feminine, but both and all, and the more that I understand God as Creator, Friend, and Lover of my soul, the more I yearn to remember how this One Source of Life and Love met me in my past and beckoned me to Himself.
Do you want to remember, too?
I stretch out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.
Teach me to do your will,
For you are my God.
-Psalm 143: 6,10