[Abba Evagrius] said: “A certain monk was told that his father had died. He said to the messenger[,] ‘Stop blaspheming. My father cannot die.'”
Family is a wonderful thing. Yesterday Kelly and Brendan and I attended a family reunion in southern Indiana. It was a five and half hour drive. We left Friday. We got back this evening. It was a long trip but a good one. Brendan (our six month old) was a real trooper. He is such a good baby. If seeing family and having such a patient baby weren’t enough of a blessing, this weekend Brendan quite clearly started saying, “Dada” (and “Mama”). It even seems intentional about 75% of the time. “Dada”—my son knows my name, and he can say it. And it’s possibly the cutest thing ever.
How should I respond? Naturally, I am stupidly proud of him and encourage him to keep calling me “Dada” and to learn other words and names. But mostly I just want him to say, “Dada”—as much as he wants, whenever he wants.
Not all family relationships are easy or simple or enjoyable. Some are difficult and complicated and draining. Our families are no exception. There is good and bad. The anonymous monk in today’s saying, who we only know of through Abba Evagrius, demonstrates a different sort of reality, a different sort of family—one that is always good and never bad.
As Christians, we are taught by Christ himself to pray the “Our Father” (see Matthew 6). In the liturgy, we pray dozens of prayers before lastly asking for boldness to call upon God in heaven as “Father”; then everyone says the “Our Father” together. In the Didache (8.3), an early, second century summary of the teachings of the twelve Apostles, Christians are told to pray the “Our Father” three times a day. Christians ought to be calling out to God often, daily, three times (or more), with reverence and boldness, as “our Father.”
St. Paul tells the Romans, “[Y]ou received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father'” (Romans 8:15). “Abba” basically means “Dada.” It’s ok for me to be so happy that little Brendan is saying, “Dada,” but I need to keep it in perspective. I cannot be with him forever (in the flesh, anyway). Someday—I know not when—I will die. Hopefully, I will not have forgotten to teach him to call God his “Dada” before that day comes.
Notice that this story comes from “Abba” Evagrius. The point of the story is not an overliteralization of Jesus’s commandment: “Do not call anyone on earth father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). The point of the story (and the commandment), I believe, is that this new, amazing reality given to us by the “Spirit of adoption” ought to be so in the forefront of our minds and in the depths of our hearts that the first person we think of when we hear the word “father” is “He who is in heaven.” We should so live in this reality—through our daily practice of prayer—that even the news of such a truly tragic event as the death of one’s own father would sound bizarre. “What are you talking about?” we would think. “Our Father cannot die.”