Peter Calvay, the Hermit had to leave James prematurely and in great haste the previous day and without any explanation. James discovered later that his cow Daisy had mastitis, and he Peter to be there for the arrival of the vet. Thankfully, all was well as could be gathered from Peter’s demeanour, when he arrived to continue their discussion the following day. Peter continues his practical advice on how to pray.
“I just finished explaining how the first words of the OUR FATHER puts us into the context in which we always pray, however by using the second word of the OUR FATHER I want to stress the direction to which all prayer is ultimately directed. You see, the Gospels show how it is the Holy Spirit who progressively invades and fires the human personality of Jesus, until he is eventually set ablaze with the love that raises him irrevocably into the Father, to Eternity. It is the flame of the same Spirit which radiates between the Father and the Son, that reaches out to us also, to fire us with the identical love that will enable all to be drawn into the community of their life.
The Fatherhood of God in the Old Testament
“Christ teaches us to call God, ‘Father’ when we pray, because this is precisely what he is to us now. The actual word Jesus uses is even more telling than the translation to which we have become accustomed. He did not in fact use the word that is the equivalent to our word ‘Father’; instead, he chose the word Abba. This Aramaic word actually means ‘Daddy’, or at least the word Daddy is the closest we can get to the original meaning. Christ’s use of this familiar and homely pet name was not only new, it would have been shocking to his fellow-Jews. I do not mean that God was never referred to as Father before. Only the other day I was reading a book, in which the author went to the trouble of counting the number of times God was called Father in the Old Testament. He found there were thirteen occasions in all. However, each time the word was employed, it was used as another word for creator. In other words, God was a Father in so far as he was responsible for his own handicraft, in the sense that we would say, Michelangelo was the Father of his statue Moses, because he carved it, or that Herodotus was the Father of all History because he created the literary genre.
“The traditional word for Father, then, was already loaded with a meaning that Christ wished to supersede. The word ‘Abba’ or ‘Daddy’, or its equivalent in any language can only mean one thing. What is a daddy? Who is a daddy but one who communicates his life to his children? There can be no misunderstanding as to what is meant by this word. The nuance is crucial for the new understanding that Christ wished to convey about God. God is now no longer to be understood merely as our Father, the One who created us, but the One who chooses to share his own life with us. This one word sums up the fullness of the Gospel message, namely, if we only allow the same Spirit of love that entered into the life of Jesus to enter into our lives too, then we will be able to share not only in his life, but also in his action. We will share in his love of the Father and in the Father’s love of him.”
“I know what you are saying is all true,” James said, “because I’ve studied theology for six years, but my trouble is that so often the world of faith seems far away. You have somehow made things live for me again by the way you explain everything. But I know me, and in a few weeks everything will seem as dry as dust again, and I’ll be back to the dreary desert of daily drudgery.” Peter answered.
Unless you become as a little child
“This is exactly why it is so imperative that from now onwards you seriously begin to pick up the traces again and rebuild a permanent prayer life. By faith we know that God is Our Father, but it is only when that faith grows and ripens in prayer that we actually start to experience God’s love progressively entering into us. We can call God ‘Father’ but what is in a word, unless that word expresses something vital and real, something that we know because we have felt it. It is not enough just to accept the bald and undeniable fact that God is a Father. If this truth is to change our lives, which it can, then it must be translated into an experience. This can only happen if we put aside the time daily and create the space in which to allow God to become a loving Father to us. We can prevent this happening, and the truth of the matter is, we do, repeatedly. We just will not allow God to be a Father to us in such a way that we come to tangibly experience his love. We never seem to have the time. There is always something else that is more important, that simply has to be done. Until we come to realise that there is nothing more important than allowing God to be a Father to us, more precisely a loving Dad to us by letting him enter our lives through prayer, then we can never be changed deeply, and will never be able to change others either. Unless we allow God to touch us with his fatherly love, we may just as well call him Ra, Jupiter, or Zeus, for all the practical difference he will make to our lives. This is why Jesus made it clear that the one condition necessary to enter into the Kingdom of God’s love, is to become as a little child so that he can become a Father to us.”
James replied thoughtfully. “I’ve never quite understood what Christ meant when he said that. We can all be sentimental about children and romanticize their innocent and simple goodness, but in reality they can be self-centred greedy little mites.”
One Redeeming Feature
Peter agreed but explained further. “Jesus was not a romantic sentimentalist when it came to children. He was aware of their shortcomings. He makes this quite clear when he castigates the Pharisees for acting like children, squabbling with each other on the street corner. But whatever the faults of little children, they have one redeeming feature that we cannot resist. They are irresistibly helpless and unable to manage for themselves. They have no illusions about their own strength; they are weak and incompetent and they make no bones about it. If there is anything that becomes too much for them, be it an untieable shoelace or a dribbling nose, off they run to Mummy or Daddy. They are utterly and completely dependent on their parents and they do not care who knows it. This is the characteristic that Jesus is pointing to when he says we must become as little children if we want to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
James said, “We’re back to Anita the alcoholic again, aren’t we, who could not be helped until she was forced to face up to her utter and complete helplessness?”
“Exactly!” said Peter. “Who is going to belittle themselves by getting down on their knees to pray unless they are first aware that they need help? Without the basic humility of the little child, we cannot even begin. This is why Jesus says it is as difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God, as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Jesus is not just referring to the person with a fat wallet or a big bank balance. He means people who are rich in natural gifts and abilities too, the person with brains or flair, with administrative skills or business insight, with charm or artistic brilliance. None of these riches are evil in themselves, far from it, but they all have the same danger. They can so easily give a person a false impression of their own strength, their own importance and personal competence. Who needs God when money will get me all I want? Who needs God’s help when I can do it myself?
“Riches of any sort obscure this fundamental vision that all of us need to have quite clearly in mind; namely, that we are basically weak and incapable of achieving anything lasting or worthwhile without God. We are totally dependent on him for everything. If we do not see this we are blind, and we will stumble around for a life-time and never find the right road, never mind enter the Kingdom.
James reflected silently, “Peter always seemed to be able to see that little bit deeper than me, always seemed to go to the heart of things with a simple clarity that I envied. Yet all he said seemed to revolve around a few simple truths that he kept coming back to time and time again.”
Peter went on to emphasise. “The only power capable of changing a person is love, and it is this experience of the Fatherly love of God which alone will radically change us deeply and permanently for the better. Our recognition of our own weakness is the only way we will come to know our utter need of God’s help and building a life of prayer is the only logical step for us if we genuinely believe that we are completely dependent upon God. This means turning our lifestyle upside down if needs be to find the necessary daily time for prayer, otherwise we are just kidding ourselves and will get nowhere.
“Prayer isn’t just a luxury for priests or religious, or people who happen to have spare time on their hands, it is an absolute necessity for everyone who wants to plunge themselves effectively into the mystery of Christ’s life, through whom and in whom alone we can journey onwards and into the Father and into his glory as our ultimate destiny.
From Now on we Begin to Live for God Alone
Peter went on to emphasise that now perhaps it was possible for James to see what he meant by saying that the two words “The ‘Our Father’ not only sums up the whole of the Lord’s Prayer, but actually embodies the basic pattern and direction of all authentic Christian prayer. The word ‘Our’ immediately sites our prayer in the centre of the Christian Community, what tradition calls the community of Saints. In this community we are all bound to each other in Christ, inextricably set in a single direction, God-wards. We are inevitably drawn into the endless ecstasy of life and love that unceasingly surges out of the Son towards the Father, and are filled to the measure of our weakness, by the Father’s richness. The more we are filled with his fullness, the more we are lifted up out of ourselves in a self-forgetfulness that enables us to pray properly for the first time. The more we are tangibly immersed in the mystery of God’s love, the more we begin to see that all prayer leads to praise, to give glory to him, and to lose ourselves in his inexhaustible goodness.”
Peter was on his feet again. James looked at his watch; incredible – it was dead on four o’clock. It was hard to believe how Peter always knew to the minute when it was time to go. This time, he did not even bother to consult his own bedraggled time-piece.