to help you discover the God you already know

Day: 12 April 2015

Fatherhood [written in 1983]

A little over a year ago my wife and I were blessed with twins. Now we have four daughters, and I am surprised at the depth of emotion each of them evokes in me. Whereas once I scarcely felt I had enough love for just me, I now have love for five. I never knew, and even now am surprised to discover, that I have such a reservoir of love within me which seemed to grow deeper the greater the demands placed upon it.

Even when the twins won’t go to sleep at night and I get angry, and the older children wake them once they’re asleep, and I get angrier, yet I know that I love them.

Surprised by these hidden depths of love within me, I reflect on God’s love, and feel that I know it better now. If I can love like this how much more can God? Hosea seems to come by a similar path to a realisation of God’s love, through his love for his faithless wife [chapters 1 & 2], and for his son [chapter 11], both of which he sees as images of God’s love for His people.

I remember clearly how once a woman bringing up her children on her own, not always with manifest success, said to me that she had stopped believing in God when her husband left her. Gradually I have concluded that what she meant was that when she believed that her husband stopped loving her, then she was no longer able to believe that God loved her. Our ability to know God’s love is dependent upon our knowing human love. How else can we know what the experience means?

Jesus preached about God’s love, and demonstrated his own love for the loveless around him –the broken, the poor, the rejected. Perhaps He did that because He knew that unless those people experienced human love they could never grow to know divine love. And He became known as God incarnate, love in a human form, by those who had come to know the love of God of which He spoke, having first been loved by Him.

Perhaps I, in a much lesser way, also become God incarnate in as much as I love my children, and they knowing [I hope] that love, come to grasp God’s love too.

But this depth of human love is shown by all manner and condition of men and women, to their children, their families, to neighbours, to relative strangers even. In them too I see the love of God incarnate, although I don’t imagine for a minute that they would call it that – they would think that I was being very pompous if I named I thus. And in a sense they’d be right. Often I seem to be drumming up to great significance, virtues which some people live with, day by day, very humbly.

The Spirit of God quietly goes about Her business, evoking this love in people for each other; whereas I struggle to talk about it with an air of profundity as if it were a subject only Christians had some experience of.

Meeting Eve

Last week my step son, his wife and their two children came to stay with us. Their eldest child is a little boy of rising three who talks incessantly and bustles about with great energy and curiosity. His sister is only a couple of months old, so she sleeps a lot, waking to feed and have her nappy changed, and just occasionally she sits in her bouncing chair and gazes at the world. Life goes on around her.

I felt that I’d like to get to know her better, so sometimes I would pick up her chair and balance it on my knee so that we were physically close. I looked at her, waited patiently, and hoped to make eye contact, usually with some success. Her eyes would focus and I found myself looking at her while she looked at me. If I smiled she would often smile back: sometimes she would smile first. She is starting to make sounds and I discovered that if I made sounds in response we got into what might be called a conversation, sometimes light –hearted, sometimes serious : making sounds to each other and both clearly enjoying the experience.

Other members of the family found this amusing, and then I would offer to interpret to them what she was saying! However what delighted me most was the simple business of communication: what passed between us I couldn’t begin to put into words. She and I entered into a sort of communion together. It seemed as if soul was speaking to soul, and I felt that we got to know each other better than I would have thought possible. It was a joy and a delight!

If she became distressed then I would just gently place my hand on her and she would calm down almost immediately. The communication went beyond sounds.

None of this is very surprising. Any parent or grandparent will recognise what I am talking about. I must have done the same years ago when my daughters were small. But as I reflected on it, I realised that what she and I were engaged in is very like prayer. Might even be prayer? Me looking at God, God looking at me, and through my fumbling attempts at communication, and if I was patient and open, finding ourselves closer than I had imagined possible. This little girl taught me something quite profound.

You don’t need a small child to do this of course, gazing intently at almost anything with the right intent, can take you into the same place. But it’s so easy and simple that we mostly overlook the possibility, and fail to find or name the treasure that awaits us there.

Writing this down reminds me of a piece I wrote many years ago, on a similar theme, ‘Fatherhood’, so I’ll add it too.

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