If my father were still alive in this time-bound material realm, an unlikely eventuality, he would be one hundred and five years old.

He died in 1982. I was twenty-eight years old, a mere child as it seems to me now, although at the time, I thought myself full of years and wisdom. My father was seventy-two when he died, a good long life it seemed to me in 1982, although now it feels he died far too young.

FatherMy father was a man of deep devotion. He appeared to have a strong sense of the divine presence, though never spoke in any personal way of this mysterious reality that so formed his life.

In truth, there was not a great deal about the inner workings of my father’s being that were much on public display. Unlike his son, my father grew up in an era where it was deemed unseemly to speak over much about oneself. He was reared in a culture that valued privacy, propriety, and reserve above almost any other qualities, except perhaps diffidence – certainly the first gift God bestowed upon all true believers.

And so, my father was largely a mystery to me. I have no real picture of what made him tick or how he perceived his place in the world. Probably this is the way he would have wanted it. I do not think he was particularly interested in the journey of self-discovery with which today many of us find ourselves so preoccupied. Certainly, my father had a deep caution about being personally known by any other person.

These realities about my father were driven home to me the other day when my wife, who has been struck by a sudden attack of year-end-paper-decluttering-disease handed me a file folder she found buried in the back of an old filing cabinet. Inside the fading manila folder someone had pasted a small note written in my father’s unmistakable meticulous handwriting on the back of what appears to be a ticket for a “Cathedral Fete – Capetown 1937.”

I do not know if these words in my father’s handwriting are a quote he found somewhere (they do not come up on Google), or, more likely, a reflection generated in his own mind. It would not surprise me to learn that my father thought:

It is a fearful Father's Note
thing to know
& be known by
one other person
in depth.

I have no idea when my father wrote these words and can barely imagine what may have caused him to write them down.But, there is no doubt that he had understood a profound truth when he recorded this thought.

To be seen is unnerving. To be known with all of my flaws and the failures and compromises of my life is truly “a fearful thing.” The vulnerability of being known “in depth” does not come easily to those of us trained in the art of playing our cards close to our chest.

The risks of being known seem high a price to pay. It is tempting to hide. To choose invisibility feels easier for those of us who, like my father, find solitude and privacy much more natural territory than the frenzy that seems to characterize so many relationships out there in the land of communal engagement.

I worry hiding may have been the path my father chose and that naturally he bequeathed to his son. My father led a guarded life and possibly suffered in silence the loneliness of his choice.

The words my father recorded  were clearly informed by Hebrews 10:31 where the writer declares,

It is a fearful
thing to fall
into the hands
of the living God.

Perhaps one of the paths that leads us to “fall into the hands of the living God” is the way of being “known by one other person in depth.”

I trust deeply that my father knew “the living God.” But I find myself sobered by the possibility that resistance to being truly known by another human being may be a barrier to surrendering myself fully “into the hands of the living God.”