Forsaking Our Siblings

The Lord’s Prayer is a sister or a brother’s prayer, assuming with its first words—“Our Father”—that the intercessor is the emissary of a little tribe. It presumes for us a primal sibling bond, as surely as it presumes a divine paternal bond. It places us in our littleness before the Father and among the throng of anawim—the humble ones of Hebrew scripture, those as “meek” as Moses who knew God face-to-face (Numbers 12:3-8), and as radiant as Psalm 34’s “poor one” who sees God’s salvation and exhorts his friends to joy. And the Lord’s Prayer asks of us anawim a very simple Nazareth life, like the Holy Family must have lived: a life of affectionate obedience with a God who wants to love and be loved, of daily bread and its humble work, of mutual forgiveness and repentance.

In my twenties and early thirties, I felt anew the grief of my mother’s abortion as my friends had babies and I began to desire to bear a child. I was very close to my living sisters, but they did not understand my sadness about the abortion, which our mother had always defended as a pledge of love for us, her living children—even as she began to be tormented by violent, cyclical bouts of PTSD that often centered on her forsaken child.

At the time, I worked with human trafficking survivors in different countries, supporting grassroots rehabilitation homes that looked more like chaotic medieval hostels than modern care facilities. It was not lost on me that the children and young teenagers living in these homes were very much anawim: sold into slavery by their own parents and family members, and sometimes—very sadly—fetishized by donors or advocates who could not fathom their full dignity. In their experiences of traumatic abandonment and abuse, I saw that these children had much in common with my lost sibling.

So, I passed through this fresh eddy of grief in the company of these anawim, joining them in the Nazareth life of the Lord’s Prayer: the simplicity of mealtime and bedtime prayers; the daily bread of meals and attendant tasks of cooking and cleaning; the resolution of spats and jealousies, grudges and fears.

In the quiet course of home life, the children revealed their grief in stories, memories, and the pictures they drew: family portraits rendered in crayon or pencil, always showing a mother and father, sisters and brothers. Almost all of the children desired the love of their families, despite the cruelty visited on them. I praised the children’s pictures and listened attentively to their dreams of seeing their mothers and fathers again, knowing that a loving reunion would be nothing short of a miracle.

Part of me hoped for the children because I wanted to hope for myself. I too desired nothing more than for my family to be whole and happy, restored to the mythic Nazareth that we, in our loving but volatile bonds, had never truly known—and that, short of my lost sibling’s resurrection from the dead, we would not know. If neither I nor the children could hope for earthly vindication, what could our Heavenly Father offer us to hope for?

Nazareth life restores. It makes us human; it gives us an essential stability that helps us “keep our healing”, as my charismatic friends say, when the time comes to receive more dramatic deliverance from the evil that wants to rule our lives. It gave me a sober witness to the necessity of a quiet life, and it helped me understand that the anawim’s deep, childlike desire to love and be loved is God’s first invitation to and steadiest consolation in suffering’s great divestment—because it is the desire that the Father’s heart longs to fulfill: on earth, if we receive Him, and with beatific fullness in Heaven.

It would be awhile before I forgave my mother and father for forsaking our sibling, or my sisters for taking offense at my grief. In truth, forgiveness would require much more suffering on my part. But in Nazareth, littleness became more beautiful, and the paternal love of God became more present, and the little tribe for which I speak when I say “our Father”—my siblings on earth and in heaven, and all the anawim who suffer with hope—grew broader and more radiant with the joy of salvation to come.

Little Sisters and Brothers of Nazareth
Lumina Lenten Devotion – February 23, 2021

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