When Israel was a child I loved him; out of Egypt I called my son. . .
The haunting words of Hosea (Chapter 11) tell us how much God loves Israel, and by extension, the new Israel, each of us. It must have been Jesus’ familiarity with this face of God that led him to call God “Abba.”
With Fathers’ Day upon us, I sat with these words for a few moments, and memories of my own father flooded my mind. He was a larger than life sort of man, with a ready smile and friendly manner. I always thought his charm and storytelling ability were from his Irish heritage, but he was French as well, and that’s the language that gave us the word “raconteur.” Guess it was both.
Linguists tell us that Abba isn’t as formal a term as Father, but more like a child’s way of addressing a male parent – Daddy or Papa.
I have a few very early memories of my father. Here are a few things that occurred to me about God as I thought about our relationship in the days when I called him Daddy.
If God is like my Daddy, God is affectionate. I remember how I loved sitting on my Dad’s lap in his great big overstuffed chair. It was a peace-and-joy-filled time for my young self. He was one of those men whose expression of love for his child involved lots of tickling and kisses.He often had scraggly, scratchy cheeks that made me squeal with delight. I watch my own sons with their children and I see him again.
I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks . . .
Hosea tells us that this is this exact sort of love – paternal, playful, physical – that God feels for us. Is the burst of love and joy that sometimes wells up from out of nowhere within me the tickling affection of a loving God?
(I am) the holy one present among you . . .
Like my Dad, God is a strong and delightful presence. When I was very young, it was a real treat to go on a trip with Dad. Occasionally he had business to attend to in the town where we had lived in New Jersey. It was a two hour drive from our new home in New York’s Hudson Valley. We really didn’t talk a lot on those trips. But I don’t remember being bored, even though I was younger than five at the time. Dad’s presence and the privilege of being allowed to come along were enough for me.
Sometimes I feel the presence of God during prayer. St. Ignatius called moments like these moments of consolation. Sometimes I feel it as I go through life. Ignatius called this consolation without previous cause (you weren’t already praying.) Often, I feel God’s presence through my interactions with other people.
Like my Dad, God is courageous. I was born when Dad was 52. For as far back as I can remember he suffered from COPD, the emphysema variety. He had trouble breathing at all times, sometimes he was literally choking. But he pushed himself to get up, get out, and do hard work until the day before he died when I was 16. In his middle age and through his illness, my father pursued his dream of developing a beautiful property in upstate New York, which now serves the community as its town park. He was true to his dream through illness, disappointments and setbacks. In the end his heart was broken by it, but he continued to love and dream.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; Yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer.
God’s heart is broken by Ephraim”s (or Israel’s, or my) rejection of God’s dream. But our all-courageous God continues to dream, to work, to create and to love.
I rarely remember being in trouble with my dad before my teen years. My mom was the disciplinarian of small children.Things changed a bit as I entered my rebellious stage, and Dad’s illness intensified. Our relationship became stormy, just as my relationship with God is sometimes stormy.
My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. For I am God and not a man . . . I will not let the flames consume you.
Still, I never doubted Dad’s love. I never doubt God’s love either. It’s only because of God’s love and grace that we, made in God’s image, have the capacity to mirror God’s forgiveness and compassion, for Dad, for me, for the world.