Living in the question

'. . . the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.' RAINER MARIA RILKE Letters to a Young Poet

Monday, 17 June 2013

Address for Father's Day 2013

: from John O’Donohue, Benedictus p106
In memoriam
Paddy O’Donohue
The longer we live,
The more of your presence
We find, laid down,
Weave upon weave
Within our lives.

:from   REMEMBERING My FATHER by Wendell Berry

What did I learn from him?
He taught the difference
Between good work and sham,
Between nonsense and sense.

He taught me sentences,
Outspoken fact for fact,
In swift coherences
Discriminate and exact.

Biblical Story  - Genesis 22:1-19 - The story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac 

Address for Father's Day 2013

Today as you probably all know is Father’s day and although I don’t often take this special day as something I observe it has for some reason this year set me thinking about fathers.  I owe a lot to my father; he gave me a sense of independence that has stood me in good stead throughout my life.  I have never felt that there was anything that was not within my sphere if I was able and I have never let my gender or any other thing stand in my way.   This attitude on my part is completely down to my father and his encouragement and his belief in me.  There is a poem that echoes what I feel about my father written by e e cummings

My father was a
true father -- he loved me.
And because he loved me,
I loved him: first,
as a child, with the love
which is worship;
then, as a youth, with the
the love that gives battle;
last, as a man, with the love
which understands.
So here I am on Father’s day thinking about fathers and not just my father.  There is a story in the bible that has always interested me and that is the story of Abraham and Isaac.  So I began to think about this father son story that occurred right back in the beginning.  Abraham is considered to be the founder of the three major world religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity and his story tells of the founding of these three faiths.

 Like all the biblical history stories we find it full of intrigue.  These early stories provide the basic plots for most novels of today and the story of Abraham is no different.  Abraham was a descendant of Noah although many generations later.  There is not much to say why he should have been chosen to found a religion though, but in Genesis 12 we suddenly find the words:
 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

At this point Abraham was seventy-five years old, (they lived long lives back in those days) and had a wife Sarah who was barren.  Abraham went about the business of creating a great tribe and also putting his trust in God.  This was quite strange at this time – for a person to believe in one God and yet Abraham did, praying daily and he prospered but more than anything he wanted a son to continue his line.  But Sarah remained barren.  Eventually God heard Sarah laughing at Abraham and his God and so God told Abraham once again that he will father a nation.  Sarah is thrilled to think that she will at last become a mother but many more years go by and there is still no sign of a child.  It is then that we get the first surrogacy of sorts, when Sarah suggests that Abraham should try for a child with her servant Hagar.  So Hagar became the mother of Abraham’s first child Ishmael and it is this child who eventually founded the Islamic religion and is one of the reasons that many Muslims think theirs is the right tradition as Ishmael was the first born son of Abraham. 

Many years later by some miracle Sarah at last conceived and at the age of ninety she bore a son, Isaac – the name means laughter because now she can laugh for joy as she has a son.  Abraham banished Hagar and Ishmael and spent his time doting on his new son.
This is then where we come to the story in the reading when God demanded Isaac as a sacrifice from Abraham . . .


. . . and at the point where Abraham was about to kill Isaac, God instead made a covenant with Abraham and the foundation of the Jewish people was begun.  The blessing that was conferred on Abraham was to be passed from Abraham through Isaac in his turn to his son.  I wonder if anyone knows who that son was.  . . . . . . . . . (surprise, surprise - no one knows)

– It was Jacob and that is another intriguing story because Jacob was the youngest of a pair of twins born to Rebecca and Isaac.  He cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright and so ended up receiving his father’s blessing by stealth.  But according to the story God would not reverse the mistake and Jacob became the founder of the nation of Israel.  

Jacob too was another famous father, he had twelve sons and a daughter and it is from this family that we get the story of Joseph.  I am sure we all remember Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.   

This musical tells how Jacob’s youngest son is the one to receive the blessing and how Joseph and his brother’s were to become the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel – these are represented by the twelve stripes found on the stoles worn by Jewish rabbis to this day.    

The story of the coat is not as fanciful as it may seem, because the coat was a real thing.  It was a long sleeved robe and only two people in any tribe had the privilege of wearing the robe, the head of the tribe and the chosen heir, usually the eldest but of course we know from the story that Jacob chose Joseph, his youngest and his favourite.

What a tangled web, these early stories of the fathers that founded the three major religions of the world. They form a true puzzle filled with murder mystery and intrigue, and all concerned with Fathers and their love for their sons and yet all ultimately telling us the story of God’s love for his people.

So today, this Father’s day, what we are being reminded of is God’s parenting, which is no false demanding image, but the real thing – the parenting we need for our survival, and crave, sensing its importance.  It is the parenting that shows us the meaning of unconditional love.  Unconditional love is something that permeates all those early stories and is something that continues to be necessary to us all today.

Of course, today, we do not see God in the same way as the creators of those marvellous stories, and we may find the image of God as a parent as something difficult to understand.  Rev Jopie Boeke expresses this when she wrote:

Goodbye, dear Lord and Father.
I have loved you, but cannot hold you any longer;
You are departing from me, your image is fading away. How can I call you Father when I am told that
I am created in your image?
Your power has kept me all these years, but now I have grown up
and I must leave you.
I must redeem my connection to all of creation and affirm the lost
I too have been called to be responsible for the world, the earth, the
cosmos and myself.
I too am related to the "big" words: calling, suffering, creation, and
I am part of the "Dance of being," in me lives the spirit of passion
and compassion!
Oh, I still love you, but it's not the same.
You must leave me now, so that you can come back to me as a new
So please, Lord Father. vanish!
Come God, mysterious presence, dynamic and driving power in the cosmos, tempting and inviting voice of love and justice.....................................

So  maybe we can think of God as a divine presence that embodies the idea of unconditional love; a love that can be recognised within each one of us as part of the human condition.
God’s love is limitless, the more that is given the more there is to receive.  It is, I believe, one answer to the eternal puzzle of life.
So may it be,