I seem to have spent my Advent reading time either thoroughly disagreeing with Nouwen, or finding that he’s stating the obvious. Today falls into the stating the obvious – God loves us. Every sermon I ever preach deconstructs to “God loves you, just do your best”, so I didn’t find much to engage my brain there. Heart yes, brain no.
So I spent the rest of the time, watching my Advent candle burn, sitting in God’s lap, and listening to the tick of my Grandfather’s clock. Ah, yes, Grandad’s clock. I’ve lived with it nearly all my life. It has a very loud strike, louder than some Grandfather Clocks. When I was little, it used to interrupt the television, and phone calls still have to pause as it strikes. It is relegated to my study because the rest of my family complain about it keeping them awake. For me, it is part of the sound and rhythm of my life, its tick is like a heartbeat.
Some years ago, my then vicar ran a house group, for the first time in that parish. At one session, the homework he gave was instead of praying “Our Father”, to use a better translation of the Aramaic, and pray “Daddy”. He thought this would alter our relationship with God the Father, and bring each of us closer to God. I pointed out the fatal flaw – my relationship with my father could best be described as non-existent, and I’d never used the word Daddy, except to my children about their father. As a word to conjure a relationship, “Daddy” has no first hand meaning for me. So he asked who the significant father figure in my life was as a child, and suggested I substitute in them instead.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer to “Grandad” felt horrid. I had a great relationship with my Grandad, I adored him, but using his name somehow took me straight to him instead of to God. Praying “Grandad” felt somehow blasphemous – I couldn’t see through my relationship with Grandad to God. Don’t get me wrong, I know God was alive and well in that relationship, there was so much love it could hardly be otherwise, but I couldn’t use the relationship as a way into the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve tried it a few times over the years, and it still doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried it with other relationships too – oddly enough, praying “Mum” works just fine. I’ve never really fathomed out why.
But I concluded a long time ago that God loves me even more than my family did – and in my family (apart from cups of tea) love was the only thing never in short supply. I am one of the fortunate ones, because of my family, I am able to believe that God loves me even when I am at my most unloveable. And that doesn’t rely on people, or even on the reliable always there ticking of Grandad’s clock.