Tag Archives: fathers

True Fatherhood

TRINITY.RUBLEVTrinity Sunday comes late this year, appropriately landing on Father’s Day and adding to the rich texture of June, a month that opens the door to a new season. So as we leave spring and slip into summer, we don the green of Trinitytide. The “extra-ordinary” time of Advent through Pentecost, celebrating the Son of God’s life on earth changes to “ordinary” time, a time of quiet growth and reflection on what that life means to each of us.

They say the Holy Trinity is a great mystery, how three persons can be one. And yet, as one grows in the faith, it seems natural. God the Father expresses himself as God the Son and later as God the Holy Spirit. It is said that love binds the three together, and no doubt this is true, but I would say that the three are all extraordinary expressions of love. Christ, the Son, is God’s loving incarnation, God’s healing and salvific sacrifice for us who brings us home to him. The Holy Spirit is God’s loving presence sent when the Son has ascended. God the Father provides for us, loves us, in all time, through all eternity. So we need never be lost. We need never be alone, afraid, unprotected.

Our culture celebrates Father’s Day to honor those who, on this earth, act to shelter us and love us in the same way our heavenly Father has done for his people since Adam and Eve. Our earthly fathers stumble, to be sure, for they are earthly, but their role as protectors and providers continues to be an ideal. We honor them for their hard work, their sacrifice of time and treasure, to provide for us. When they abandon us, we know they have wronged us. We know they are no longer fathers.  For true fathers, like our Heavenly Father, never leave us. They never stop loving us, never stop sacrificing.

Fathers, like our Father in Heaven, discipline us so that we may learn right from wrong. They teach standards of behavior in an effort to raise us up, transforming narcissistic children into responsible adults. It is no coincidence that crime rises when fathers abandon fathering. In American culture, since the rise of easy divorce and the artificial separation of sex and procreation, too many fathers have run away from their children. Too many mothers have been forced to be fathers as well, and somehow, mysteriously, they can never really be both. In this, American culture has been grievously wronged.

We call the great theologians of history, those men who formulated and protected the creeds and canons of Christianity, our Church Fathers. They too took care of their children, the faithful. They gave them, gave us, through interpretation of Scripture, the words to express the truth of God and his love for man. They protected us from untruth, lies, heresy. Like Saint Athanasius, who fought Arianism with the Nicene Creed, they explained the Trinity to us, the truth of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The words of those Church Fathers, passed from generation to generation, continue to guide this Body of Christ, so that Christians have a great host of fathers to enlighten their dark and help them shoulder the perplexing dilemmas of living.

And, to be sure, the inheritors of those eminent Church Fathers, through Apostolic Succession, are the priestly fathers we know today. These men, through the Laying on of Hands, are consecrated to and with and by these creedal truths, vowing to unite God the Father with each of us through God the Son and by the power of God the Holy Spirit. These priestly fathers are, however, sons of Adam and earthly too, but they strive through grace and sanctification to give us a glimpse of heaven on earth.

The Epistle for Trinity Sunday for Anglicans is the fourth chapter of the Revelation of John. The passage recounts John’s vision of Heaven, and it is this vision that every Christian may glimpse from time to time. Hidden within moments of love, moments of sacrifice and suffering, we see God’s presence weave among us. We sense a glory close by, near enough to know. Angels hover about us, and if we can forget ourselves for a time, we can sense them. We need to be silent and listening, full of the words given to us by the Word, Christ, through Scripture, explained by the Church Fathers through the centuries. So we worship on Sunday, sing the Psalms and listen to the lessons. We hear our priestly father explain the great miraculous mysteries given to us. We meet God the Son at the altar and we sing God the Father’s praises as God the Holy Spirit moves among us.

This is the most Holy Trinity, the ultimate Fatherhood, when Love becomes one of us, dies for us, and gives us his Spirit to be with us always, even to the ends of the earth.

On Fathers

Fathers are like shepherds. They find us when we are lost. They protect us from scattering too far. In their love for us, they un-scatter us. They bring us home. 

Mid-June often seems to me a time of summer scattering until the gathering together of fall. It is both an ending and a beginning. 

We graduate, we vacation, we shift into a different tempo. Children move from school’s structured days to summer camps and summer sessions. They continue their lessons, but in one-week or two-week time bursts. I sometimes wonder if any spend their summers as I did in the ‘fifties – biking to the library, reading, climbing trees and building tree-forts, digging with teaspoons to make mud pies to serve alongside imaginary tea from real china cups (yes, my mother knew), selling lemonade from a card table (5 cents), dancing through sprinklers in the heat of July. Frequent games of tag. Lotsa running. Hopscotch and jump-rope. Badminton. Jacks. Playing outside till dusk turned dark.

I don’t recall being bored, but I have to admit, when mid-August arrived I looked forward to school starting in September. My mother bought plaid wool by the yard and sewed new skirts for my sister and me. We looked forward to the yearly shopping trip to Union Square in San Francisco for matching cardigans, winter coats, and saddle shoes, maybe white bucks. We looked forward to our special treat – Coffee Crunch Cake at Blum’s.

For the most part we stayed home or carried home with us on house trailer trips. We did not scatter into classes, sports, structured times that would entertain us, pull us apart. It seems to me, looking back, that my sister and I also saw more of my father during the summer, because of the slower pace and the lack of scattering, but that might be an illusion of the past. 

We honor our fathers this Father’s Day. We honor those who pull us back into our family, un-scatter us, regroup us, reground us. Mothers of course do this too, but fathers have a role unique to their gender, unquantifiable, indescribable, perhaps unlimited in its stunning influence. Mothers give life; they feed and clothe, no small thing. Fathers make it possible for mothers to mother. Fathers shelter and protect; they guard and redeem. They carry their children home like shepherds carrying lost sheep. 

My father’s income as a pastor, shepherd to his Presbyterian flock, was meager and our sole support, for my mother did not work outside the home. We had one car and it seemed adequate from my child’s viewpoint. We lived in a manse. But there were fights over money and spending and pennies saved, heated discussions that flared on the edges of my younger years. Even so, my sister and I were sheltered from the brunt of these storms, and we led an un-scattered childhood, one focused on family, church, school, and gathering together at meals and bath and bedtime. And even though there were few pennies saved, I learned discipline as I worked my way through college. I valued every penny earned. 

I recall a giant fir that shaded our front lawn. How many summers did I spend stretched out on the grass, munching an apple and reading in the cool of that tree? A father is like that tree, offering a place to rest in the heat of the day. My father was like that, and I was happy. I grow happy now as I write this, thinking about those years. And I am so thankful. 

It was a simpler time, they say, and today is different with more distractions. I suppose. Simpler time or not, meager income or not, my father gave me a grounding that I shall never lose, even as I scatter myself and am scattered by the grown-up winds and rain that rage about me, scattered by the structured distractions of this un-simple time. 

My father passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1981, age sixty-four, thirty-two years ago on May 14. We didn’t have much and that may even have been a good thing, for we were rich in our love for one another. We held each other close, not pushed apart, and my father always found us if we stayed out too long playing on those hot summer nights. He found us and brought us inside for Scrabble, Clue, and bedtime stories. 

He was a shepherd and he cared for his sheep.