Across the world, believers in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions address God as Father. One of the central prayers in Christianity is known simply as the “Our Father.” Without seeking to proselytize, I felt it was appropriate to reflect on the meaning of this image here on The Good Men Project.
First, I stress my belief that God is not male. The divine transcends all categories, binary or otherwise. What’s more, a higher power figured as “parent” (while gender neutral) is still a metaphor. All metaphors can be stretched too far. Conversely, all metaphors fall short by failing to encapsulate everyone’s experience.
But, if we glimpse any of the everlasting, it is in the moment. If we catch any vision of universality, it is in the particular. When we think we do not have the words to describe the inexpressible, we can still reach for metaphors in hopes of honoring what we hope is true. Hope for a relationship is what I mean when I talk about God as Our Father.
I am a Presbyterian pastor; and so was the legendary Mister Rogers. The famous children’s television host wrote, “When we choose to be parents, we accept another human being as part of ourselves. Our children are extensions of ourselves.” This, too, can be taken too far. Damage can be done by parents trying to live their lives through their children. I think the point, however, is that, if you extend yourself in holy ways, then you will need to place that person’s needs above your own, even at the expense of your own. Love is sacrifice. I’ll give a particular example.
Just the other day I met a guy who confessed that he was terrified of … butterflies.
“Their flight is so erratic,” he explained. “And they have those yucky proboscises… you know? The sucking mouthpart!”
But the reason I was staring incredulously at him was not because I was unaware of the definition of the word, proboscis. It was because we were standing in the middle of the museum’s butterfly exhibit! Why in the world would you go to the very place where your fear was flapping erratically all around your face?
Before I could say a word, the answer came running up and hugged his knees: “Daddy, I love this place!”
He smiled, “I love you.” I saw that the fear and anxiety had flown from his face.
Admittedly, all metaphors break down. But I’ll think of that scene in the butterfly garden as I pray the “Our Father” this week.