As a part of our series on the Spirituality of Parenting, Joelle Chase reflects on a time when her knowing of earthly and heavenly fathers’ vulnerability coincided.
Yesterday there was a 10% chance of precipitation in Albuquerque. And it rained. Not a downpour exactly, but a couple hours of intermittent misting. What do those weather-experts know?
There’s a 50% chance … the surgery will be a success … something will go terribly wrong. The neurosurgeon is one of the best in the field, and he says this. He says this about my father. My dad. The surgery is necessary, otherwise he could bleed again and experience permanent paralysis or worse. But the brain stem is a risky place to operate with real-estate at a premium, everything so compact and connected. But there’s no other option. Must go in and remove that bloody raspberry, cavernous malformation.
The surgery is scheduled just a few days before his birthday in May. Several years ago, on his 50th birthday, he celebrated by having his appendix removed, partied from a hospital bed. I remember seeing him pale, gray, weak, and realizing for the first time the possibility of my father’s death. And now his mortality is even more real. I struggle to hold simultaneously my memories of this strong, vital man and thoughts of the inevitable, whether soon or eventual, surrender to sleep that will take him from my world.
I recall a 20-mile bike ride through mountainous terrain—when I was eight-years-old—and the father who carried me on his shoulders, pushing both our bikes, when I grew tired. I relive practice sessions, he on the piano, me on violin, metronome and his drumming fingers calling out encouragement and challenge to match Bruch’s tempo. I remember long conversations, his calm voice on the other end of 1,500 miles speaking gentle reassurance and immediate presence.
If not death, the surgery could cause loss of vision, loss of motor-skills, loss of speech; the brain stem controls these basic functions. He’s been a lifelong vegetarian, never smoked or drank, exercised almost as religiously as he’s practiced his faith. He’s a Seventh-day Adventist, supposed to live longer, according to the studies. The odds are in his favor, and yet….
I don’t know how to pray. Cross my fingers, cross my heart—a little girl’s game. Try as I might, I can’t find words—neither impassioned request nor surrender. Just tears. So I pray in new, unfamiliar ways, trusting my groans are the Spirit’s too, wordless longing of my own meeting God’s deepest desire and grief.
In the silence I come to know a different side of God, the vulnerable, suffering, human God. God who lets himself be nailed to wood, knows not if he’ll die or be rescued by angels. Doesn’t carry the wisdom of omniscient, eternal God-ness in his homosapien bones, bones unbroken but bearing only finite weight and a single lifetime.
Who could predict? Not the absent, terrified disciples. Not the raucous, joyful Palm Sunday crowd. Not even his mother, who knew someday sword would pierce her heart, could guess spear would also pierce his side.
A dark, moribund sky echoes his slowing heartbeat. A long silence, accompanied by ragged breaths, each one requiring all his still-human strength to lift sagging limbs. An agonized cry: “My God, my God, why? Why have you abandoned me?”
Silence. No response. No further prayer or plea. Silence.
Then, “It is finished.” And God-in-Flesh is carried limp into a cavern for yet more silence, waiting, darkness, silence.
Full tomb, cavernous malformation, mystification—that God, God as both Father and Son, could become one with us—with my own father, with me, in the midst of our unknown outcome. What are the odds? What kind of God would let Godself die?
Only a God humble enough to be intimate with suffering, weakness, grief—with God’s own children. For the only way to be Emmanuel—God-with—is to actually enter into human experience. I come to know this God in our shared silence—Christ’s, the Father’s, mine. Wordless prayer that is simple presence, presence to each other, to what is—Mystery.
To be continued….
Joelle Chase is Director of Messaging for the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Joelle graduated from Andrews University with a Bachelors in Elementary Education and spent two years teaching in a one-room Adventist school in Montana before moving to Albuquerque. She and her husband, Peter, are putting down roots on a small urban homestead with their two dogs, fruit trees and water cisterns.