Monday, October 27, 2008

Padre nuestro, part 3

The Lord's Prayer (in Spanish) is the last thing my kids hear from me at night -- at least the last thing before they hear, "If your foot touches the floor you're on time out. I love you. Go to sleep. I'll miss you till the morning. Do you want to go to time out? Buenas noches, Melía. OK, I'm getting it. Cow's milk or soy milk? I DID warm it! OK, I'll dry it. There. Now go to sleep. Te quiero muchísimo, preciosa. Melía! You're on time out...."

OK, so the Lord's Prayer is ONE of the things they hear from me in the last half-hour of their day.

Anyway, I was sharing what this nocturnal last rite looks like on a typical evening, and then began reflecting on what the prayer means to me as I'm saying it.

Don't let any of this lead you to believe that I am actually thinking about the prayer each night. Some nights, it registers as gibberish even more to me than to my monolingual daughters, just a familiar game-over chant tantamount to the fat lady's song. Sometimes I literally forget the words and have to rehearse and start over to get to the Amén.

But often enough, a phrase strikes a chord, a word revives a dead branch of my soul. To use Jars of Clay's verbiage, the prayer can be "shelter from the rain or the rain to wash me away." Those nights, the words come alive on me. Or something in me comes alive on them.

Sometimes not. But often enough, I reconnect with the One who taught me to pray this way just enough to keep trying.

Santificado sea tu nombre (Hallowed be your name)

Kneeling beside my daughters' beds -- or scooting back and forth between them -- I realize once in a while that this is more than an acknowledgement that God is amazingly holy. That God is holy is plain enough to them, and to me.

They could tell you that God is taller than the roof, that He can fly, that He knows everything, is everywhere and can do anything. He is strong enough to carry all of us and our sleeping loved ones to heaven, and will when the time comes.

I could tell you how much God has grown up in my mind since I had all the answers, somewhere around adolescence. Bigger than my denomination, bigger than the Bible, bigger than Christianity, He is much taller than the ceiling under which I've often kept Him.

He is holy, and wholly other. Unbound by my expectations, unlimited by my anthropomorphizing bent, unaltered by the glass through which I see Him dimly.

I get this.

But the prayer is not saying, "Yo, God. Guess what? You are one holy Deity." This would be redundant, though not totally unhelpful. We do need reminding of the basics. Often.

But the prayer does not do this. It uses "sea" (read "SAY-uh"), the subjunctive mood of the verb be, which is nearly unheard of in English. It's suggesting, wishing, lobbying in favor of the Heavenly Father's name being holy. Maybe it's something more like, "God I want your name to be holy. I wish it were holy. Would that it were holy."

Is this blasphemous? I mean, of all things that need no intercessory prayer, you'd think God's holiness would be one of them.

But want to know why I do intercede for the holiness of God's name? Because to my princesses, I bear that name. I have the radical blessing of being "father," the metaphor God was crazy enough to use for Himself throughout the New Testament.

Like I said last time, I find peace saying, "Our Father in the heavens," because it reminds me that my kids have a Father more reliable than me. But the fact remains--their relationship to their Heavenly Father hangs heavily on my portrayal of the role of "father" in their world. If the earthly father is condemning, they might assume, how much more judgmental must the omniscient One be? If earthly Daddy is prone to rage, just how scary must the Daddy in Heaven, in all His power, be on a bad day?

Father God forbid.

God of Daddyhood, with all that I am, I dream that my fatherhood might do more good than harm to the hallowed name of "father." Whatever mistakes I may make, whether indecency, bankruptcy, idocy or whatever -- just let my girls grow up knowing that being in the arms of a Father is a good thing.

I don't know why you chose "Father" to sum up Who You are to us, Lord. I'm honored and terrified by it. But tonight, I beg You: Please let Your name, the name "Father" -- as I embody it -- be holy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Padre nuestro, part 2

Last post, I described what it looks like when I'm praying the Lord's Prayer (el Padre Nuestro) with my girls at night. This time, I want to begin sharing some of the things that have gone on in my head as I've said that prayer with them.

As a teen, I was devoutly anti-ritualistic. People repeating the Lord's Prayer in unison seemed ridiculous, and totally missed the point, I was convinced. Praying exactly the words Jesus gave his disciples seemed about as literalistic and lame as someone wearing a tunic and walking around with fisherman in an attempt to do what Jesus did. Obviously, I contended, Jesus was offering us a pattern to follow, not a liturgy to repeat.

These days, I've come to appreciate memorized prayers. After a day of work and parenting, sometimes it's nice not to have to drum up a prayer that is natural yet appropriate, heartfelt while setting a good theological example for the little listening souls.

Actually, we pray both, beginning with homemade prayers from the Mommy and the Daddy and whoever else is game. But often, the prayer that ushers in the most peace--and not just because it's the one closer to the end of the exhausting bedtime dance--is the one that comes straight from the 1960 Reina-Valera (think Spanish King James) Version of Matthew 6:9-13.

Padre nuestro, que estás en los cielos.... (Our Father, which art in heaven...)

Thank God I am not the only Daddy they have. Hard as it is to explain that I'm their father and so is God, what a relief to know my limited resources are but the hint of the aroma of the crust on the tip of the iceberg of their strength. After hours trying to love, discipline, feed, teach, referee, encourage, correct, clean up after and play with my beautiful brood of princesses, it is a grace to realize that at the end of the day, I do not have to be king.

"Our father." In these words, my wife and girls and I are on our knees together, equally childish, equally helpless to defend or make sense of ourselves. Not Brielle, Melía, Ashlyn, but it's me, oh Lord standing in the need of prayer. We all need Your Fatherhood.

With one Father, in a sense we are siblings. Sometimes the idea of being big brother to my girls seems more desirable to me even than Daddy. It allows me to love, protect and guide while acknowledging that the little ones and I have one Source. More than teacher to them, I am peer tutor, still a student, as needy as ever for wisdom from the Master.

I've always been intimidated by Bible heroes' abysmal records as fathers. (See Fathering fears, then and now.) Adam, born in perfection, raises a murderer. Noah, the one who found favor in the eyes of the Lord, ends up cursing a son and his descendants after waking up on the wrong side of the bed. David, man after God's own heart, raises one son who rapes a half-sister and another who starts a bloody rebellion against David.

I was talking through this uninspiring "cloud of witnesses" with a friend and mentor named Tracy. "I get a little freaked out realizing that most of the biggest heroes in the Bible really sucked at being fathers," I laughed nervously.

Tracy looked back at me, never missing a beat, and uttered the words that may have done more than anything else to put my heart at rest. "You're going to suck at it too, Mike." (Did he actually say that? I wondered.) "And by grace, they are going to be OK anyway."

"Padre nuestro." I am so deeply grateful that these little girls are not stuck with just this frail human father.

They have One who is in the heavens. And the old-school Spanish reminds me that it is not just "Heaven" singular, that far-away paradise where God sits on a chaise lounge with his iced tea while we suffer down in our ghetto of sin. It is "los cielos," "the heavens"--all three of them, including the sky above us and the air around us, even the breath I breathed to say this prayer. He is the Father whose kingdom is not of this world, but absolutely is in it--a kingdom within us, among us.

Our true Father is in heaven. And He is closer to us than our skin.

Thanks, Lord. I needed that.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Padre nuestro, part 1

I had this bright idea that I'd teach my kids Spanish. I'd spent years making myself into a bilingual, and I wanted to save them the sweat. Kids' minds are sponges, right? I used to take infant Brielle for walks, describing all I saw in Spanish. For a long time, it was virtually all I spoke to her.

But as the only Spanglophone in my family and among the people we usually hang out with, speaking Spanish became to my kids yet another one of Daddy's strange and generally annoying quirks. I'd try to read a book in Spanish, translating on the fly, and Brielle would reprimand me, "It's not in 'panish, Daddy!" And the books that were in Spanish she did not want to hear. The more fluent she became in English, the more adamant she was that I not speak Spanish.

One day, I considered what was probably a false dichotomy: raise a daughter who was bilingual but distant because, over her protests, I always talked to her in her weak linguistic suit, or throw in the towel and let her learn Spanish the old-fashioned way--earn it. Figuring she'd have enough to tell the therapist about her weirdo father without this, I dropped the one-man immersion agenda and switched to a new tack.

I would try to make learning Spanish seem cool.

I'll let you know how it goes.

But one last vestige of my Daddy-as-Spanish-teacher days is that at night, after praying in English with the girls, I say the Lord's Prayer in Spanish, stroking their hair and kissing cheeks along the way. In the twins' room, I walk back and forth between the beds to deliver this affection as I pray. It looks something like this:

"Padre Nuestro, que estás en los cielos--" I lightly scratch Ashlyn's scalp and walk over to Melía, who is lying upside down in her bed.

"Santificado sea tu nombre." I turn Melía upright and smooth her curls back out of her eyes before walking gingerly back to Ashlyn, hoping not to tred upon one of the many homeless toys littering the floor.

"Venga tu reino, hágase tu voluntad--" After squeezing Ashlyn's cheek tight against mine, I return to Melía. I try to run my fingernails over her scalp without pulling it out of the ponytail, since this may be the hairdo she has to live with tomorrow, depending on how late we're running.

"--como en los cielos, así también en la tierra." Back at Ashlyn's bedside, I am either amazed at how fast she falls asleep, or at my foolish commitment to praying over the kicking, screaming fury that has been the storm before her calm since babyhood.

"El pan nuestro de cada día, dánoslo hoy." I walk back across the room, stretch Melía's beloved purple Tinkerbell blanket over her and just for kicks (literally), I try pulling the nice plush bedspread that grandma made up over her legs, just to see if she'll notice. "No! Not dat wow! I don't lite that bwankit!" Duly chastised, I return the comforter to its regular location bunched up at the foot of the bed.

"Y perdónanos nuestras deudas, como nosotros también perdonamos a nuestros deudores." I come back to the face side of the child and sneak as many kisses onto her cheek as I can respectably squeeze into the middle of a prayer. Melía is OK with this.

"No nos metas en tentación, mas líbranos del mal."
I tiptoe back across the room. Ashlyn is nonresponsive now, either because of her ongoing pre-slumber fit or because she's already out. If it's the latter, I get to lay some kisses on her round cheeks. In the case of the former, I really get into this line of the prayer, for temptation is nigh.

"Porque tuyo es el reino--" I pause and make the perilous three-step journey back to Melía and plant a single kiss on her cheek.

"--y el poder--" Back to Ashlyn, who also gets a kiss on the cheek, whether she's dreaming or tantruming.

"--y la gloria--" Melía knows we're in the homestretch now, and is finalizing her plans for how to delay the end. Will it be another trip to the potty? Or a request for a beverage, followed by requests to warm/cool/dry it? Maybe both. I hug her, knowingly.

"--por todos los siglos." Ashlyn gets an indulgently tight squeeze. Unlike her skin-and-bones sisters, her solid frame feels like it can take it. And anyway, she'll sleep through it.

"Amén." One last kiss on Melía's forehead, and I tuck her in under the purple blanket, which she has mostly shed by now. I slide back over to Ashlyn.


A final kiss on Ashie's head, and I am the luckiest man in the world. I have three beautiful angel princess monkey daughters.

And they are now asleep.