Leaving Salem

My wife and I took a recent trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This Appalachian paradise has been a favorite place of mine since childhood. I love how the morning fog hangs over Wear’s Valley, the hardened breeze off Mt. LeConte, and the hikes through Cades Cove. My wife loves the shopping in downtown Gatlinburg, the outlet malls at Pigeon Forge, and horseback riding in the national forest. We both love sitting by the fire sipping our coco or coffee, and generally relaxing in the shadow of “The Smokies.”

On this particular winter escape we left our children behind. We scattered them among the grandparents like sowing seed and literally headed for the hills. On the second morning away we called to speak to our baby boy, Braden. “Daddy, I miss you,” he said tearily on the other end of the phone. “I’m not having any fun.” Even doting grandparents weren’t enough to satisfy the separation anxiety he was feeling. His mother and I were stung by a bit of parental guilt; but not enough guilt to cut our trip short. We soldiered on.

Still, I knew Braden’s loneliness was acute when he called me “Daddy,” something he never does. Never. He always addresses me as “Dad,” mimicking the maturity of his older brothers. Never, “Daddy.” Never. But, I enjoyed hearing it. “Daddy” had a sweet vulnerability to it that touched my heart. “Daddy,” spoken with the tender voice of a three-year-old was enough to make me weep with joy. Joy that someone would be that trusting, that open, and that inviting, wanting nothing more but for me to come home to be with him. It was sincere. It was pure. It was a precious thing.

In the Gospel of Mark we find Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane. Kneeling is probably too flaccid of a word. Jesus is a crumpled heap, his face and knees in the dirt, his fingernails clawing the ground. It is a horrifying scene of anguish, a half-a-day before the nails ever pierced his flesh. But in his mind’s eye, and in the imagination of God, he sees the awful suffering of the crucifixion that awaits him. He senses the rising tide of misery. He knows that separation from his Father looms on the horizon; a separation he has never known. He found it dreadful.

In those fearful moments he cried out to God, “Abba, Father.” “Abba” was the affectionate call of a Hebrew child to his or her father. It was the equivalent of Braden calling me, “Daddy.” The Son reaches for the Father with the helplessness of a preschooler. No one – religious leader, prophet, seer, priest, or cleric – has ever dared to speak to the Divine with such intimacy. It was a revolution. Yet, it is not a revolution that Christ participates in alone. The Apostle Paul writes to followers of this Jesus and states in the clearest of terms that we too have this opportunity. The Spirit of God’s Son, living in our hearts, provokes us to cry out, “Abba, Father!” We cry with Jesus, and with Braden, “Daddy!”

What a privileged closeness! What absurd familiarity! How is it possible to speak to he who called the universe into existence as if we were sitting with him at the breakfast table? It’s possible, I expect, not only through the example and Spirit of Christ, but because that’s how the Father prefers it.

Maybe the separation anxiety we feel from the Father bristles his ear for our voice. It could be that nothing pleases God more than the pure desire of his children wanting to be with him. What if our openness, trust, and dependence are exactly the things he wants? What if “Abba” brings more satisfaction to him than it does to us?

How would your life change if this kind of intimacy became a reality? If you stopped thinking of and addressing God as some far away, uninterested Being, and you began speaking to him as if he were sitting across the table in slippers and a bathrobe, sipping on his morning coffee? What would happen if we cried for him as the “deer thirsts for streams of water?” What would happen if we truly became as children, throwing ourselves on his love and inextinguishable acceptance? Such is the kingdom of God.

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