Fatherhood Means Creating a World

Father son wonder

Image courtesy of Smabs Sputzer via flickr.com; Creative Commons 2.0

This year Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday occur on the same day. We are all familiar with Father’s Day and many Christians in America are discovering holy days like Trinity Sunday when we celebrate that our God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s not often that these two observances intersect on the same day. Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday coincided in 2011, but the only other year they shared the same day in this century was 2003. So the concurrence of Trinity Sunday and Father’s Day on the same day stirs my imagination both about God and fatherhood. How do fathers reveal the image of God?

As a husband, father, and priest, I’m drawn to that question for a few reasons. I want to be a faithful father to my children. I want to be a faithful father for my church. Fathers of all kinds, not just priests or dads of biological children, desire to reflect the love of God revealed in the Bible. So what does it look like?

I believe being a father means creating a world.

The Creative Father

My friend and brilliant colleague, Doug Floyd, has been meditating for several years on his blog, Doug Talks Torah, about how God builds a world by his Word. Taking cues from Doug’s writings about how God the Father builds his world with wisdom and love, I’m thinking about how human fathers create a world for their families.

This is how God reveals himself in the beginning: he creates a world filled with beauty, love, and wisdom. Creation is the physical space that God made so that we might share a home together, a home where we would experience joy and wonder throughout his vast and marvelous creation. Mountains and coastal surf inspire God’s majesty; gentle streams and rivers speak his constancy and peace; canaries and thrushes fill the air with music. And giraffes, basset hounds, and seahorses convey the playfulness and joy of our Creator God.

Dorothy Sayers famously wrote that human beings reveal the image of God through creativity. Sayers says God has given us ‘the mind of the Maker.’ Creativity isn’t the only way we reveal God’s image, but it’s certainly one of the ways we see his imprint in our lives. And it’s certainly important to unite creativity with fatherhood as dads seek to image the heavenly Father in their families.

So how do fathers image the heavenly Father in the creation of a world for their families? Or even more importantly, with whom does the heavenly Father create worlds?

Creating in relationship

God the Father does not create the world in isolation. The Father creates the world in relationship with the Son and the Spirit. The Spirit hovers over the face of the waters and breathes life into Adam. The Son, also identified as the Word, speaks the elements of the world into existence with each ‘Let there be…’ statement. Creating a world is not the exclusive effort of one person. Creating worlds is always an inter-personal endeavor.

Human fathers create a world for their family in relationship, too. Fathers co-create a world with their wives who beautifully image God with feminine creativity. A house is a space where a family shares life together, a physical place where they build a world. Together, fathers and mothers create a little world, a microcosm, a mini-universe.

Each Home A Microcosm in the Cosmos

Now think about your home, your mini-universe. Ok, think past that huge mess you’ve got to clean up this weekend. God created a world from chaos and you can make a world from your chaos, too. Think about what you desire to happen in your home.  Not just on one day, one week, one month, or one year. Think about the years you’ve been given together as a family. What kind of world do you want to create with God and with your wife?

There are probably countless ways of answering that question. No one microcosm-home looks the same. That’s a testament to God’s vast creativity in human beings and the worlds they make. But here’s how I’ve been making a world with Emily, my wife, for our children, Madeleine and Colin. It’s far from perfect and I certainly fall short as a father, but these are some ways I’m seeking to shape our little family world in the image of the heavenly Father.

Music and Stories

Creating a world means creating space for stories

Creating a world means creating space for stories

I want our little world to be filled with music and stories. Above our fireplace, Emily painted this Madeleine L’Engle quote (our daughter’s namesake): ‘All of life is a story.’

So we tell stories over dinnertime: stories from the day, stories from our family members that our kids never met, stories of memories that we’ve shared together. We end the day reading the Jesus Storybook Bible with Madeleine so the story of God is baptizing her mind everyday. I can’t wait until she and Colin are old enough to read the Chronicles of Narnia together.

I also intentionally baptize our house with all kinds of music—not my own music, but the sounds of wonderful musicians on my iTunes. Sometimes that’s because I’m trying to drown out ‘Let It Go.’ Lord, have mercy.

But mostly I’m playing a range of music for fun, for inspiration, for the shaping of our imagination as a family. Madeleine plays air guitar with U2’s the Edge and sings along with Mumford and Sons on ‘I Will Wait.’ She tells me that jazz is boring, but Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, and John Coltrane are still going to play from time to time.

I love watching Madeleine dance to Bach’s Prelude in C or Debussy’s Claire de Lune. I’m amazed how much a little girl enjoys classical music. I’m also amazed how Matt Redman’s worship songs imprint themselves on her heart. I love the nights when Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder makes us all stop what we’re doing to dance together in a circle. I cherish moments with my wife when we listen closely to the lyrics of a skilled singer-songwriter like Ben Kyle.

Music stirs the soul in mysterious ways. I want our family to hear a world of music in our little world together.

Prayer and Play

In the rhythm of a year, we’re praying together at meals and observing the different seasons of the Christian calendar. Our Advent wreath and Jesse Tree have sparked more questions and curiosity in Madeleine’s mind than I could have imagined. The language of David Adam’s Celtic liturgies have become nightly prayers that Madeleine expects at the end of the day. She’s memorized them much faster than Emily and me.

When people in our parish are admitted to the hospital, I include Madeleine as an intercessor in those prayers. Somehow I’m hoping she’ll see the people in our parish as her family, a family who cares for her, but also one she’s called to serve.

When the tune is good, you gotta dance together

When the tune is good, you gotta dance together

But our family world can’t be all focused devotion and prayer. Play must be a regular experience in the house for everyone, not just for children. Children need to see their fathers playing. Why? Because God the Father is playful. And dads need to remember that they were sons first. I’m a dad, but I’m foremost the son of a heavenly Father who invites me to live in his world with childlike wonder and joy.

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog that spending a Sabbath with a toddler doesn’t seem restful. But there’s a spiritual rest that comes with play, by becoming like a child with your child. Even when you’re physically tired, there’s a rightness and fullness that you experience when you’re enjoying the world as God created and intended. You’re learning the Kingdom of God from your child. Those are the days you catch a glimpse that your microcosm bears some small resemblance, even if imperfect, to God’s intention for his whole cosmos.

Curiosity and Discovery

In everything I describe above, I notice a theme: I’m not creating anything on my own. I don’t need to write original songs or make up remarkable new games. I’m only creating an environment with Emily that introduces our children to the goodness and beauty of God’s world. So I draw on a communion of artists and saints to shape our children’s imaginations, hearts, and minds with the wonder of God. My calling as a father is to create space for myself and my family to discover the wonder of God. I believe I’m called to both model and create an environment that encourages curiosity about God and his world.

For where there is curiosity, there will be discovery. And where discovery of God’s beauty happens in its many and varied forms, there will be wonder and joy. And that joy–created, given, and shared–is what fatherhood in the Kingdom of God is all about.