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.

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