In Theory

Sunday is Father’s Day. Tell us one of your favorite spiritual messages about the meaning of fatherhood in your religion.

June 19, 2009

If your father is alive, wear a red carnation on Father’s Day. If he has passed on, wear a white one. Thich Nhat Hanh, the popular Vietnamese Zen teacher, shares the Japanese Mother’s Day tradition of “a rose for your pocket.” We have modified this at our Zen Center for Father’s Day as well.

This small sign speaks of life and death: We owe our birth to our parents and we depended upon them as children for our survival. Whether they are now dead or alive, Father’s Day is a time to express gratitude and appreciation, which is the essence of the spiritual life. We wake up, instead of taking parents for granted or focusing on any negatives.

Not only at Father’s Day, but also before every meal the Zen dedication includes the recitation that “this food is for our teachers, parents and all sentient beings.”


In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, we aspire to be Bodhisattvas, that is, people who strive to help all who suffer or are in need. Fathers are great Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, daily giving love and transmitting their teachings. The older I get, the more clearly I hear my father’s voice, though he has been dead for 25 years.

The Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett

Zen Center of Orange County

Costa Mesa

Jesus introduces new language to talk about our relationship with God. This dramatically changes theology as understanding of God moves from what began as a tribal god of Israel, somewhat removed from the world, to evolve into a monotheistic understanding of God as not just the god of Israel but the God of all.

Jesus takes this theology and pushes it deeper, sharing that God is even more personal when he refers to God as a Father. When he instructs his disciples to pray he tells them to pray to “Our Father” thereby demonstrating that this relationship is not just between God and Jesus, but that we all are children of God.

I do not take this to affirm that God is a man, or that God even has a gender at all, but I do take it to mean that God is as close to us as a parent. In fact, Jesus calls God Abba, a name we can translate as Daddy or Papa. This demonstrates not a model for a patriarchal religion or theology, but that God is familiar, close and loving, and that we can have a close, personal, loving relationship with God.

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