Executive Director, Logos
One of my favorite parts of Mass is the “Our Father” prayer.
I love reciting a common, divine prayer, once uttered word for word by Jesus himself, with a large congregation. I love the communal pauses and the unified beats in the rhythm of the words. I also love the content of the prayer. I love the prayer’s simplicity and humility beginning with: “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”
This phrase brings to mind families and in particular, fathers, especially with the social issues in politics these days. You hear “the institution of marriage” or “institution of family” a lot.
It’s true – the concept of the family is an institution. It’s been around for as long as humans existed, according to Genesis. Humans have always had fathers and mothers, and we did not need Freud to tell us that our relationships with our parents greatly impact our lives and how we relate to others.
Having been raised more or less Christian and having been fully steeped in Christian rhetoric and symbolism, I never thought much about the fact that we called God “Our Father.” The connection – perhaps as one conditioned by a patriarchal world – seemed natural and even necessary. Of course God was Father. Of course he was sexed – and of course that sex would be masculine.
Another reason why I found it so natural to call the omnipotent ruler of the universe my “Father” was because of my own relationship with my Dad, whom I fully trusted, fully loved, and fully depended on. If God is like my dad, only better–infinitely better–then all is good in the hood right?
But now – now that I am bombarded with attacks against conventional articulations of the family, now that I more deeply know those who have had estranged or non-existent relationships with their fathers, I question the fact that there is one prevailing metaphor for God in the Bible. “Father” is, after all, a metaphor. God is of course not masculine. Nor do we have a divine mother, whom we extol on an equally raised pedestal.
I think it’s beautiful that Jesus came and shattered this metaphor–which perhaps functioned fluidly in the 150% patriarchal days of the Old T–knowing that the times were a-changin’ and the metaphor wouldn’t work so well anymore. Families would change. Many people would never know their fathers or mothers.
So He came down to us and clarified that there are three beings of the Trinity — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And the Son just happens to be our friend, servant, king, brother… (e.g.John 15:9-18:1). “I have called you friends,” Jesus says. Personally, the Father metaphor works just fine for me. But for others, for whom a good, perfect father is an inconceivable concept, listen to Jesus, who calls you His friend. Think of your kindest friend. Think of the most devoted servant. Think of your brother. Whatever works for you.