by Wayne Geiger
“You gotta use the magic words, papa!” my grandson said as he defiantly blocked the doorway into the dining room—his arms and legs spread to prevent my access. “I don’t know the password,” I protested. “You have to guess,” he said.” Somewhat frustrated, I tried several phrases to no avail until eventually, upon my continual prodding, he surrendered the secret information and allowed me in.
When I was a kid, like most kids, I was fascinated with magic shows and magicians. I even learned various card tricks, mastered some sleight of hand with coins, and even bought a fake fingertip and colored handkerchief to amaze my friends. For a while, I even dreamed of becoming a magician when I grew up.
For some reason, every magician needs to use the “magic words.” These words vary from person to person. According to sources, magic words have been around for many years and there are many variations of words that are used.
Probably the most famous of them all is abracadabra. Its usage can be traced back to the second century. Although the study of the word is fascinating, no one really knows how it came into being.
There are also magical words or phrases that must be uttered to gain access to secret places. In the story, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” for example, the secret phrase that opens the mouth of a cave to reveal hidden treasure is the phrase, “Open Sesame.” That’s the first one I tried when my grandson blocked the doorway.
In Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring sought entrance into a secret passage that opened the West Gate to Moria. Gandalf was able to remember the phrase, "Mellon", which means friend in Sindarin, and the Doors opened. All you need are the magic words.
I could not guess the magic words from my grandson. However, my grandson knows the magic words. He simply needs to remember a simple, two syllable word in order to gain immediate access. The word is “papa”. Sometimes, he says, “my papa.” That simple phase unlocks my home and my heart. When he utters the phrase, my heart melts.
I am currently training for a long-distance run. Last Saturday, I was lying on the couch. I had just finished a 15-mile practice run, showered, and was chilling out. My body and mind were spent. I had no energy to do anything.
My grandson said, “Papa, I want a red juice.” He was making reference to a cardboard boxed drink in a red box. He has his own little drawer in the kitchen which contains drinks and snacks.
My wife makes sure these are accessible and healthy. She also counts them to make sure I don’t take any.
“Go get one,” I said. And the verbal ping pong game began. “I’m afraid,” he protested. “What are you afraid of?” I asked. “It’s dark in there,” he said, making reference to the kitchen that was about twenty feet away.
For the next several minutes, I tried to convince him that it was the middle of the afternoon and it was daytime. I also reminded him that the kitchen has windows, there is no such thing as monsters, and I would be right here to help if I was wrong on the monster thing.
Nothing worked. He wouldn’t budge and he wasn’t giving in.
“Please Papa,” he pleaded helplessly, “I’m scared.” I peeled my broken and depleted body off of the couch and limped slowly into the kitchen. I couldn’t help it. “Thank you, my papa,” he said. I smiled and said, “You’re welcome.”
One of the most famous prayers in the Bible is the “Our Father” prayer. The prayer is not intended to be a magic formula, nor was it intended to be uttered repetitiously or indiscriminately. But it does remind us of a few important things.
The first line, from the old poetic, King James, says, “Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name.” It provides us with the who, where, and what. God, of course, is Father. The phrase, “who art in heaven” reminds us of God’s strategic location, sovereign dominance, and spatial separation. The term “hallowed” means “holy,” “sacred,” or “revered.”
The most important phrase in the prayer is “Our Father.” If you can’t get past the “Father” part, you can’t pass go and collect $200. The word, Father, both demands and invites a relationship. It’s a relationship based upon love, intimacy, and divine mercy.
One of the interesting things about Jesus’ prayer is that in the Old Testament (Before Christ), although God is referred to in various ways, the Jews would never refer to God as Father. The concept was unheard of. He of most often referred to as Lord. But the rabbit hole goes a little deeper.
If you gloss over some biblical passages that refer to God as “Lord”, you’ll find something very interesting. There are two variations of the word. Sometimes God is referred to as “Lord” (capital L, but lower caps). This is the Hebrew term, “Adonai”, and is descriptive. We might translate it as “master.”
At other times, God is referred to as LORD (all caps). This is known as the Tetragrammaton and is the four-letter biblical name of God translated into the English as “Yahweh.”
The fascinating thing about the name of God in the Old Testament is that the Jews felt that God’s name was so holy that they would never completely write it out—nor would they say it. So, they handed it down in print, but unfortunately with no vowels or YHWH. Even today, there are some who write God’s name as G-D. This is done, generally by those of Jewish origin, out of respect for God’s name.
So, when Jesus used the phrase, “Our Father”, it was extremely forward and radical. What Jesus was saying is, the scary God who manifested Himself in fire and smoke upon the mountain—is not as scary as you think, and He wants to be your Father.
This truth is reiterated in the Bible in Galatians 4:6 which says, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” The word, “Abba”, is not meant to reference the Swedish singing sensation of the ‘70s. Instead, Abba, is an Aramaic term of endearment from a child to a father. It only has four letters and two syllables and would be easy for a child to say and, indeed, that’s the case. Abba can be translated as dada or even papa.
In my personal relationship with God, I try, respectfully, to think of my relationship with God in human terms—in some ways like my relationship with my grandson. I want my grandson to honor and respect me and to treat me properly. On the other side of the coin, I want him to know that he has immediate and full access to his papa—merely for the asking.
There are no magic words when it comes to a relationship with God. It is meant to be a relationship based upon deep reverence, utter dependency, intimacy, and transparency. Once that happens, a beautiful door opens wide and the shift in mindset can be made from “Our Father” to “My Papa.”
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer. He can be reached at waynegeiger.com.