From Pauses for Pentecost
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;
rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.
And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
One of the deepest things that the Holy Spirit does within us is to help us to cry out, “Abba,” when we come to God. It is one thing to acknowledge God formally as our Heavenly Parent when we say the Lord’s Prayer. It is quite another matter to interact with God intimately and personally when we pray. Our hearts yearn for this. When we come to God, we long to know, deep down in our hearts and minds, that we are coming to someone who really loves us, who knows us personally by name, and who has our good at heart. When we don’t know this, we can so easily go through life feeling like orphans in the universe.
Abba was the word that Jesus used when he spoke with God. When Jesus addressed God in this way, it would have surprised those around him. It was not the usual formal way in which the Jewish religious leaders spoke to God in their prayers and worship. It was a tender, intimate, affectionate word. Jewish children would use it as they ran toward their fathers. In today’s Bible verse, Paul tells us that the same Spirit who moved Jesus to cry, “Abba,” now lives in us and helps us to share in the same kind of familial relationship that Jesus has with God. We, too, are prompted to cry out as Jesus did, “Abba, Father.” Rather than experiencing ourselves as lonely orphans, we know now that we belong as adopted children in God’s family.
This “Abba experience” is not something that we can manufacture, achieve, or produce through our own efforts. Nor does it depend on any special learning, ability, or skill. It is an inner knowing, an inward assurance, given to us by God’s Spirit. What matters most is that we remain open to the Holy Spirit who wants to make this experience possible for each one of us. Even when we don’t know what to pray for or how to pray, we can know God in this intimate, tender, and affectionate way. This is the witness of Easter people throughout the ages. The Holy Spirit leads us into the mystery of the Trinity, whereby with Jesus, we cry out to God, “Abba, Father.”
Take five minutes to be alone with God. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit and ask for a deeper “Abba experience.” Consider repeating quietly the phrase: Abba, I belong to you.