Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Trinity Cameos

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Every year in Wednesday Night Sunday School, when the Trinity makes a cameo appearance, I point it out. I know of three occasions. Three. As in Trinity!

1. Genesis 18, The Hospitality of Abraham:

In class I use this fresco...

....or this mosaic.

 "And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, "My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on--since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three cakes." 7 And Abraham took a calf and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. 9 They said to him, "Where is Sarah your wife?" And he said, "She is in the tent." 10 The LORD said, "I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" 13 The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son." 15 But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "No, but you did laugh." Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way."

The LORD. One person? Three persons? Who could say in Abraham's day?

2. Luke 1, the Annunciation:

this one is of course inevitable

[Gabriel] said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34 And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" 35 And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

The Holy Spirit; the Father; and Jesus, a little speck now growing in Mary.

3. Matthew 3, Dunked in the Jordan:

James Tissot strikes again

"And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Jesus; the Spirit; and the Father, channeling Isaiah. Notice Tissot shows the Father's presence as the Glory Cloud, the Shekhinah, swirling down over his Son.

In class I like to tie these together a bit more- not only is the Trinity making a few cameos, but in each case there's an associated miracle. In the Hospitality, the announcement of a miraculous pregnancy; at the Annunciation, yet another announcement of a miraculous pregnancy. And at Jesus' Baptism- well, I say Jesus made water holy so it could wash away sins.

I think that's pretty miraculous, don't you?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fighting Words

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets
Understand?

Isn't it remarkable: the occasions that Jesus' own people want to kill him follow instances when He quotes Scripture couplets to them? Of course it's remarkable; let's look at 3 cases.

In Luke 4 (edited), Jesus begins his public ministry after 40 days in the desert: "Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. 16 And he came to Nazareth...on the sabbath day. And he read from...Isaiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 And all spoke well of him: "Is not this Joseph's son?" 23 And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'" 24 And he said, "Truly...no prophet is acceptable in his own country. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when ...there came a great famine over all the land; 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him off a precipice. 30 But passing through the midst of them he went away."

Mark 11: And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; 16 and he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he taught, and said to them, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of thieves." 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to kill him."

Mark 14: The high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" 62 And Jesus said, "I AM; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." 63 And the high priest tore his garments, and said, "Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?" And they all condemned him as deserving death."

Jesus expected at least some of his hearers to be very familiar with the Scriptures; familiar enough to figure out Jesus' meaning behind the verses.

In Luke 4, these are the fightin' words: "...there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when ...there came a great famine over all the land; 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." What Jesus means is,"Y'all know these stories, right? Then ya betta not bank on the Messiah doin' ya any favors. On two prior famous occasions, God overlooked the Chosen People and helped pagans instead. So get wit' John da Baptis' program, an' produce good fruit before the axe cuts ya down, an' in the fire ya go."

Oh dear, they did not take that very well.

In Mark 11, Jesus quotes Isaiah and Jeremiah: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of thieves." That is, "Let me remind you Temple bigshots that Isaiah prophesied that someday everyone would be welcome in God's house. And Jeremiah says your disrespect for the Temple is so bad that God will abandon Jerusalem just as he abandoned Shiloh. Someday everyone will pray in God's house, but his house won't be here." Ouch.

In Mark 14, Jesus probably answers the high chief in Hebrew, saying I AM as a reference to this bit of Exodus 3: "Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I AM I AM/ הָיָה הָיָה." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM/ הָיָה has sent me to you.'" Thus Jesus identifies himself with God/ YHWH/ יְהֹוָה (You can see how close God's name is to I AM in Hebrew.) That's bad enough, but then Jesus quotes from this passage in Daniel 7: "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed."  Now Jesus is really askin' for it. "You? You're I AM? You preposterous bumpkin. You're going get power and dominion and lord it over us in your kingdom?" Utterly aggravated, Caiaphas tears his robe in frustration.

Jesus speaks in the Bible; he also speaks through the Bible.

Art by James Tissot

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Le Mot Juste 3

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

A couple of days ago I couldn't think of a word, you know how it is. I described it to my wife, she drew a blank too. I looked at a couple of online Thesauruses, no luck. After 30 minutes it popped into my head; it was something like enervating or disinterested. That sort of word.

Then at dinner tonight we were discussing the flu going around. A daughter was drawing a blank on the word she wanted. She was saying the flu "passes on, it's easy to get sick." Oh yeah- flu is contagious.

New topic: English isn't all that English anymore, not since the 11th century when Guillaume le Bâtard, William the Conqueror, became King of England, and brought all that Latinate Norman French with him. About 45% of modern English is French-sourced: words such as impartial, attorney, celestial, venison, verity and velocity; but not words such as fair, lawyer, heavenly, deer, truth, and speed. And yes, words such as disinterested and contagious are also French-Latin.

So I have a little two-part hypothesis:

1. When an Anglophone can't remember a word, it's most likely to be a Latinate word like velocity, not a West Germanic word like speed.

2. The Anglophone will try to describe that forgotten word using mostly West Germanic words.

Considering that almost nobody speaks English with any awareness of where any word might have come from a thousand or more years ago, isn't it remarkable that this fundamental split in the language still exists subconsciously after so long? Is it merely syllable count? I doubt it. This must get at some inherent difference in how Romance and Germanic languages work at the most primal level. And do German speakers therefore think differently than we do, not having a French-soaked vocabulary and grammar? And likewise the French- what do they miss from not having West Germanic nuts and bolts in their tongue? Does English confer benefits on the speaker's brain from being dual-sourced? And when Germans or Frenchmen forget words and try to describe them- are there any patterns to the words sometimes forgotten or always remembered?

As we say in English: I. Don't. Know. But I do wonder.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hide in Plain Sight 2

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets and Convert Journal

I know, I beat this Annunciation to death. But I wouldn't if it weren't full of Biblical-Catholic content. I blame the artist, Matthias Grünewald. For now let's just focus on a single theme: overshadowing. A theme I beat to death, but only because it too is full of Biblical-Catholic content. I blame the Holy Scriptures.

So let's look at this blow-up:


1. Bottom right: the Ark of the Mosaic Covenant, about to become the Ark of the Old Covenant.
2. Left: Mary, about to become the Ark of the New Covenant.
3. Upper left: the Shekhinah, the Glory Cloud of the Mosaic Covenant.
4. Upper left, inside the Shekhinah, the Holy Spirit.

This is the moment when Mary accepts God's uhh, proposal, delivered by Gabriel the messenger; and Mary learns how this baby-making will, you know, actually happen: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." The Shekhinah makes God the Father's power manifest in his physical creation, the fallen world we inhabit. And we know the Holy Spirit later showed himself as a dove at Jesus' baptism, so why not here as well?

Now this is interesting: we expect the Holy Spirit to come over Mary (in this painting, over her womb). But the Shekhinah does too, both in Scripture and in the painting. That is, the power of God the Father, as expressed in the Glory Cloud, has shifted from overshadowing the Old Ark to overshadowing the New Ark. That makes sense- the Old Ark contained God's Stuff: the Ten Commandments, the pot of Manna, and Aaron's Staff. The New Ark contains God Himself, little zygote Jesus. I mean, if I were God the Father, this would be a no-brainer: my child trumps my stuff.

Strictly speaking though, Mary is not just an Ark, because she doesn't hold stuff. She's also a Tabernacle, where a living being dwells. Now you may reasonably think that both Noah's family and baby Moses were living things inside Arks. That is true, but neither Ark was a dwelling per se, in which one settles down. They were temporary protections which had no intrinsic longterm value; and both Noah's family and Moses abandoned their respective Arks for appropriate dwellings.

This difference between Arks and Tabernacles hints at a bigger difference between God's presence in the two Covenants. In the Old Covenant (O.C.), God himself was spirit, and his Stuff in the Ark made physical testimony to Him. In Catholic terms, the Stuff was an O.C. analog to sacramentals such as Holy Water. But in the N.C., mere Stuff is amped-up by Jesus being God in the flesh. To some extent, yeah, Jesus' body is stuff, but it's as integral to his divine being as our bodies are to our human existence. Living stuff, fused with unique spirit. The stuff of Jesus' body, or even my body, has moral aspects that don't apply to say, rocks. Or a pot of Manna. So think of Jesus not as a sacramental such as Holy Water; but as a sacrament such as Baptism. All the difference in the world. And the idea of Mary being not just Ark, but Tabernacle, a little house for God to live in, expresses a whole new reality about how God will from then on dwell among his people. In other words, the N.C. counterpart to the O.C. Ark of Stuff is not another Ark of Stuff, but God Himself physically among us, dwelling in a house.

All that said, this is really a post about Catholicism and how its architecture may communicate Bible Truth. Here's a photo from my church, St. Mary's in Greenville, SC:


A lovely visual shorthand for the Holy Spirit spreading its protecting wings over Mary and Jesus, recalling the Annunciation and numerous additional Biblical references to overshadowing. But wait, there's more! Not only does this liturgical detail allude to Jesus dwelling in Mary for 9 months, but connects that idea to the present day, and extends it indefinitely into the future. Have a look:


There ya go, the big picture. As Jesus once dwelled under the shadow of the Holy Spirit in Mary, he remains overshadowed, now dwelling in the little houses, the Tabernacles, in Catholics churches the world over. And Jesus will continue to dwell in them until the New Covenant passes away, and we live together with Him forever, bodies and souls united in the New Jerusalem.

In Catholic churches, big ideas hide in plain sight.

Audio version here.

Church photos by Arlen Clarke, Choirmaster at St. Mary's


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pitchers 23: Isaiah's Crèche

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Every year we take about 30 minutes of the last class before Christmas to create a Nativity based on Isaiah's prophecies. Here's the text in case you want to do it in your class:

Class, what's 'Christmas' mean? It's when Jesus was born. Yes, good, that's what Christmas is...but what does 'Christmas' literally mean? Oh, Christ's Mass. Yes again. And you're right, it celebrates Jesus' birth. ¿Quién aquí habla Español? Who speaks Spanish? Me! ¿Cómo se llama Christmas en Español? How do you say Christmas in Spanish? Navidad. Yes [Navidad goes up on the board]. Does 'Navidad' mean 'Christ's Mass'?  No, it means the baby is born. Right. In English we say Nativity [on the board]. Somebody tell me, what's a Nativity scene? It's the little statues of baby Jesus and the 3 Kings and all. Yes...one reason I like the word Navidad is that it reminds me of Jesus being born in that little humble stable.

OK, here's the deal. I'm going to read Isaiah's Christmas prophecies one at a time. You tell me what part of the Nativity scene is prophesied and I'll draw it in. We're going to create a New Testament picture by using Old Testament prophecies. Here we go.

"Hear ye now, O house of David...the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (7:13-14) Mary and Jesus! Yes; they aren't all this easy, I'm just being nice to start.  [Mary (and Joseph) are drawn, but not baby Jesus, for reasons that will become apparent later....maybe you can guess.] 

Next: "O Jerusalem, you bring good tidings...be not afraid, say...Behold your God!" (40:9) Ha! I told you the first one was easy. What are good tidings? Good news? Yes. In Luke's Christmas Gospel, who borrowed from Isaiah and said, "..be not afraid...behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy"? No guesses yet? Look at this Greek word,evangelousios [on the board]; it means good news, glad tidings. In Isaiah's day how did the king get his news? From TV? Ha, no, from  messengers! Yes, messengers. So let's think of evangelousios as meaning "good message" instead of "good news." Tell me again, who brings the message? The messenger! Yes. Please observe the magic finger [I erase from evangelousios until I have angel]. If evangelousios means "good message," what does "angel" mean? Umm, messenger? Yes, genius! So at Christmas, who said, "..behold, I bring you a good message of great joy"? Oh, the angel! Yes, God's messenger. And since the message comes from heaven, the messenger should have......wings! Yes. [On the board goes a winged messenger.] Make a halo! OK...there ya go.

Next:  "Behold, the Lord GOD.....shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom. (40:10-11)  All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee. (60:7) Shepherds and sheep! Yes. [I draw them.] That one looks like a dog instead of a sheep! Stop whining...pretend it's the best sheep you've ever seen.

And: "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee." (60:1-2)  No guesses...here's more: "the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." The star!Thank you [up it goes], and what else...? Listen again: "the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." (60:3) The kings! Yes, both of them! There were three! Well, Luke doesn't say how many. For now I'm showing two.

"The multitude of camels shall come...(60:6)" The camels! Yes...see if you can tell me how many humps. Two! One! Y'all wait a second and listen to it all, don't just guess like monkeys: "The multitude of camels shall come, the Dromedaries of Midian and Ephah." So? Two? You're just guessing again. Does anyone know the main difference between the Dromedary camels in this passage, and Bactrian camels? One of them has two humps! Yes, the Bactrian, so I'm drawing one-hump Dromedaries. The camels should be spitting. Let's compromise- this one will spit....and this one has manners.

"....they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the LORD." The three kings brought gold and incense! Yes, two gifts...so I'm drawing only two kings, see? But there were three gifts! Well, if y'all can name the third gift that Isaiah left out I'll draw it and a third king. So? Umm...myrrh? Yes genius, myrrh! [3 kings and 3 gifts on the board] We'll look at the gifts again later on this year.

"I have nourished and brought up children; and they have rebelled against Me." Just like teenagers! "The ox knows its owner; and the ass its master’s manger. But Israel does not know; my people do not consider." (1:1-3) Tell me...the ox?  Yes, and? the...the donkey? [on the board] Yes, and what's a manger? Baby Jesus' crib. Yeah, sort of... "manger" is the French word that means "to eat," so...it's what the animals eat out of. Yes, the name tells us. So what goes in a manger? Stuff to eat. Yes. [Jesus goes in the manger] So why is Jesus in the manger? 'Cause it's his crib. Well, yes, but why is Jesus put into something that you put food into? No guesses? That's ok, we'll come back to Jesus being in the manger later this year. Now listen again: "The ox knows its owner; and the ass its master’s manger." Whose manger is it? The master's? Yes, and who is the master? Jesus? Yes. "But Israel does not know; my people do not consider." This line doesn't give us anything to draw, but something to think about.

Notice that Isaiah says Israel doesn't know the master, but the dumb animals, the ox and ass do; maybe they aren't so 'dumb' after all,  and as we see from the picture, the humble, uneducated shepherds know who Jesus is, and so do the pagan Gentile Kings, who aren't even Jewish. So we see that Jesus will come for the Judeans, for non-Jews (that's us), the rich and the poor. Jesus will come for everyone, "all peoples," as Isaiah prophesied.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pitchers 22: Mary, Elizabeth & All That

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Board from tonight's class, about half was erased so this is a second go-around. I could really use a bigger board.

Stuff covered on the board: Old Ark, New Ark, overshadowing by the Most High, Ruth and Boaz (more overshadowing), Holy Spirit (more overshadowing), Glory Cloud & Meeting Tent (more overshadowing), Zechariah and Gabriel in the Temple, seasonal significance of conceptions of John & Jesus, Mary and Elizabeth, what Elizabeth means, Immaculate Conception, infinite God Himself growing inside little-bitty Mary's tummy, Mary the Mother of God, Council of Ephesus, Mary had no other children, the Trinity present at the Annunciation...maybe that's all for the board.

Stuff covered by skits: Annunciation, desert life w/ umbrella (more overshadowing), a Jewish wedding w/ beachtowels (more overshadowing), Elijah & Elisha w/ beachtowel (more overshadowing), Ruth and Boaz w/ beachtowel (more overshadowing), the Visitation replete with a leaping rubber fetus.

Stuff otherwise treated, including some review on the fly: Bible as iceberg, couple of Isaiah's prophecies, Malachi's Elijah prophecy, Zechariah smartmouthing to Gabriel, Zechariah's spectacular prophecy, marriage, making babies, not being able to make babies, adopting babies, women making baby deals with God, Nazirites, Samuel, Samson, cousins, my wife when she was pregnant, what Joseph must have thought, Uzziah & Joseph, what if my wife had been pregnant with God the Father's baby, fetal alcohol syndrome, baby birds and momma birds, spreading your wing (more overshadowing), David's Psalms about seeking God's protection from Saul, the mystery of women growing other people inside them, seeing my kids be born, terms of endearment for my wife.

Filling an hour with compelling Christian witness is easy if there's a Bible handy and a classful of terrific children.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Glory Cloud

This post links to Sunday Snippets

This year so far is the best year I've had catechizing 6th grade, which is saying a lot, since even the worst year (which I clearly remember) was still a good year. It takes a couple of months for the children to adjust to how class works, but lately we've become quite the little family, laughing, learning, anticipating, finishing each other's sentences. It's like sitting around the dinner table and the topic of lively conversation is always Jesus and his Church. The last two classes were like group flow-states, if that's possible. The kids believe in themselves, partly because they know I believe in them and love them like my own children. Every Wednesday night we hit the ground running, and they are fearless thinkers, knowing that even a fabulously wrong answer can still be a good answer.

Last class we were discussing this Annunciation, and how aspects of both Church and Temple are present in the building.

 Panel from the Isenheim Altarpiece

The kids can relate new stuff to old stuff on the fly, and one of them asked if there had been a Shekhinah cloud over the Temple, as there had been over the Meeting Tent. "Huh...maybe as long as it contained the Ark; y'all may remember that the Ark was gone by the time Mary was born. But there's a Glory Cloud in the painting. I see it! Yes! And in the cloud? The dove, the Holy Spirit! Yes! But is it overshadowing the Ark? No, Mary! Yes, because...Jesus is in her? Yes, as of that very moment when both Holy Spirit and Glory Cloud overshadow her. Yes, what? Is there a Shekhinah in church? Uhh...never thought about it. I guess not. Well, maybe it's there but we can't see it because of sin (being blinded or veiled by sin is a standard idea). Wow, you could be right! There's all sorts of glory and saints and angels at Mass with us, so I wouldn't be surprised if the whole church (arms waving around) might be lit like the sun with God's presence. It might be like visions Isaiah and Daniel had (they know them). Wow. We'll get to some of that later this year." And then we continued to discuss the painting.

I know this vignette is a small thing, but for that weekly hour of class we hover on the cusp of Heaven. This is my life. As the song says, God Has Been So Good to Me.