Monday, December 20, 2010

The Catholic Imagination

 
I'd rather say "Catholic Weltanschauung," because any reason to say Weltanschauung is a good reason to say it; but in this context "imagination" works well and doesn't cramp the Anglophone epiglottis, y'know?

Lately the Catholic Imagination/ Catholic Worldview has bubbled up in reference to Catechesis. In my class I want to spark the kids' imaginations (what catechist doesn't), such that they don't just get the knowledge, but the worldview as well. Readers my age may remember John Houseman's signal line in the movie The Paper Chase: "You come in here with a skull full of mush and...you leave thinking like a lawyer." My kids are not in law school, but analogously I want them to learn to think like Catholics. I joke sometimes that converts have all the fun, and one of those fun things I see converts experience is the excitement of acquiring a Catholic imagination. And even though the kids grow up in the faith, they should enjoy that process as well. But all that begs the question: what is a Catholic Imagination?

For a concise answer, look to a book written a decade ago, The Catholic Imagination by Fr. Andrew Greeley (yeah, yeah, I know). In the front of the book there's an introductory quote by the endearing and stupendously imaginative non-Catholic, William Blake: "Imagination is a representation of what eternally exists, really and unchangeably." This is followed by a short Introduction which I give my blessing to, for what it's worth. I don't think there's a better short description out there.

And having re-read those six pages, I recall that in 1964 Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said the following about something that was neither Catholic or Imaginative: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."

I know it when I see it, too. Here are a couple of examples I have on my mind these days, which show the CI in action:

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo (thanks, Prodigal Daughter); and this poem by Pavel Chichikov, which he wrote just last week:

THE MARRIAGE
A poem for Advent

October’s lighted lamps are fallen
God’s lamp of trees is empty
November’s wick pinched black and cold

Look now in the monstrance of the Virgin’s womb
Where the sinless child is burning
Even through her sinless skin

She carries forth this inner lamp
Through day and night increasingly
Unceasingly for us to see Him

It is a gift to give a Gift
Returned that makes three kings
Prepare their winter journey

Light for gold, incense for a grace
Love for adoration
Life amassed from death

So on the cold skull-strewn plateau
They see the light, the beacon
Of a cradled Child

Lost within a night they find a lamp
Glowing in a bed of straw
That will not burn it

And they who touch Him
Touch the feet of fire
That will consume itself alone

Mothers know within that which they carry—
His alone to give and take
And to the Spirit marry

Now both of these examples are clearly pitched at adults; so how is this relevant to 6th grade? Well, if you look around the Sistine Chapel, you'll find the image of St. Batholomew I used in my recent Keys & Eyeballs post ("by the way, this painting of St. Bart and his skin is in the Sistine Chapel in Rome; if you ever go there, be sure to find him"); and I intend in a future class to read at least the first 3 verses of the poem, which liken Mary's womb to a monstrance, and Jesus to a burning lamp. 12-year-old brains will snarf those images right up. 

P.S Greeley's book can be had used for about $7 including shipping.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

XmaSnaX

We do not have games or crafts or movies or parties of any kind in Wednesday Sunday School. All classtime is...classtime. Whatta concept. These children will be graduating from highschool in 6 more years; babydays are slap out the window. But during the Christmas class the kids can eat snacks and drink pop; that's called an unparty. I lose about 10 minutes of productive time to unparty inefficiency, but even Scrooge let Bob Cratchit take the afternoon off on Christmas Day. And most of the class material is Christmas-related, and they are good kids, and well...I'm weak.

"Hey, it's almost Christmas; what season is it? Winter? Not yet. Fall? No, I mean what Church season? Advent. Yes, which means Arrival. I was thinking this week about the first Advent, when Mary was waddling around [I do so] with a huge stomach, saying, "Joseph, I am so ready to have this baby." I always considered Advent being a time of expectation, like "O come, O come, Em-ma-a-an-u-el," but never really thought about Mary being tired of waiting and wanting to get it done. That's how my wife and daughter-in-law are; I think all mothers have their own personal Advent season every time they are pregnant.

Y'all remember last class we were talking about Mary, and the Immaculate Conception came up? Yes. It's related to Baby Jesus and Christmas. Which reminds me I didn't see any of you at Mass last Wednesday, but I know you young'uns can't drive yourselves to church. Anyway, let's think about the Immaculate Conception a bit. Who was immaculately conceived? Jesus! Well, yes, he was. Let me ask it this way: who is honored by the feast of the Immaculate Conception? Mary. Yes. It's not about when Jesus was conceived without sin, but about...when Mary was conceived without sin.  Yes. It's about Mary growing in her momma, not Jesus growing in Mary. OK, let's review some [on the board goes the Ark of the Covenant & pregnant Mary to the right]: here's the Ark of the Old Covenant and ...the Ark of the New Covenant.  Yes. The old Ark contains God's stuff; the New Ark contains...God!  Yes. What's more precious and holy: God's stuff, or God Himself? God Himself. Yes. Now let's look at the Old Ark for a second. It wasn't just some old box the Israelites kept pots in. It was made of expensive wood and the inside was lined with gold. It was the finest, purest, most precious container they could make. And how did they move the Ark around? They carried it on poles. Yes, so they wouldn't touch it. Why would they not want to touch the Ark? Cause it was important? Yeah, sort of. People felt unworthy to touch the Ark because of their sins; the Ark was set apart from sinful things. Y'all know the nuns we have in our parish? Yes. Well, suppose some young man thought one of them was cute, and asked her to go on a date, go out dancing. That'd be weird! Yes, why...she's not married. Nuns don't do that after they're nuns! Right, they are set apart, like the Ark. They're reserved for God by their own choice. And Mary freely chose to be set apart, too, and be the Mother of God.

Now, the Ark never contained anything but the jar of manna, Aaron's staff, and the Commandments. Can you imagine if the Ark was empty, and I came along and wanted to store my shoes in it? That'd be wrong! Suppose they were brand-new shoes? No! Suppose they were golden shoes? Umm...no! Why not? Cause it's for God's stuff, not regular stuff. Right. The Ark is permanently set apart for God's stuff. Now here's Mary, the...New Ark!  Yes. What's in her? Jesus. Yes, who is...God. Yes. Now we know that God is more valuable than his Stuff. And we know how much respect the Israelites had for the Ark. So how much respect might we have for Mary? More! Yes, way more. Now was that stuff in the Ark perfect? Perfect? Yeah...would you expect anyone to worship the pot of manna? I don't think so. Me neither...even if it's God's Stuff it's still just stuff. Was the stuff in Mary perfect? It wasn't stuff, it was Jesus! Right, who is perfect. So do we worship what was in the New Ark? Yes. So which Ark should get more respect? The New one!  Yes.

Now tell me, are we born in sin? Yes. Why? Cause Adam and Eve sinned! Yes, we inherit that original sin from our parents...what's it called? Umm...Original Sin? Yes. I thought I'd trick you on that, y'all're too smart. Do our parents create us? Yes? Yes, with God's help. We inherit sin though our parents because we're made from them. Tell me, who was Jesus' Father? God the Father? Yes. Does he have a body?. No. Is God a sinner? Well, isn't God perfect? Yes, just checking. And Jesus' mom? Mary! Who had...a...body'n'soul!  Yes. So if she was sinful...Jesus would get it from her?  Yes.

OK what's this? [I pull up my shirt enough to see my belly-button] Ha, that's your belly-button! Uh-huh...what's it for? Nothing. Well, what was it for before I was born? It was the thing....the umbilical cord!  Yes, like so. [I draw a fetal Jesus and connect him to Mary's tummy with an umbilical cord] Let's imagine I'm baby Jesus. Do I breathe while I'm in Mary? No. Do I eat? No. Drink? No. Right. Everything I get comes from Mary. We are as close to being one thing as you can get. Mary breathes, eats, & drinks for both of us, and she shares all that with me while I'm growing inside her, just like all mothers do. Now imagine perfect baby Jesus so completely joined to his mom...how could that work if she were a sinner like me? That'd be weird. Yes; we're made of a...body'n'soul!  Yes, so if our souls are messed up by sin...our bodies are too. Yes. And if Mary's soul was stained by sin...her body was too. Yes. And she would not have been a very good Ark for Jesus. Imagine I'm a good Israelite back when they were making that beautiful Ark. I come up with a nice box. I say, hey y'all don't need to make a special box, my new washing machine came in this one, it's very sturdy. They didn't have washing machines! Pretend they did! What would they say? They'd say no! Right, a regular container won't do for holding something special. And remember, Jesus floating in Mary's tummy was much closer to her than the jar of manna was to the Old Ark, just sitting there for centuries. If Mary was sinful, body'n'soul, how would Jesus get oxygen and nutrition from her without also getting sin? He couldn't. Right. That's why the Church teaches that Mary was conceived in her mom without sin, and never sinned, so she'd be a good Ark for God to live in for 9 months. And look, one last thing. [I put a dot on Mary's tummy] This is Mary's egg, the one that's going to become Jesus. If she's a sinner, body'n'soul, then...the egg has sin in it? Yes, it's part of her body. So how are you gonna get that sin out before Jesus is conceived? Well, God could do it. Yes, but what's better: to take a sinful egg and clean it off before Jesus' conception, or just have it always have been clean from the get-go? From the get-go! Right. So those are the two main ways I think about Mary being sinless from the first moment she existed in her momma: Mary's sinless tummy for God to grow in, and a sinless bit of her to make Jesus from.

Now, we know Mary's the New Ark. But There's Something Else About Mary...do y'all get that? Get what? Never mind. [I draw a sad Eve beside Mary] Who is this sad woman? She's in the Bible. Elizabeth? Ooh, good guess, but no. Mary? No...she's maybe the saddest woman in the whole universe...look, she's wearing some kind of animal skin...Eve! Yes, it's Eve. Eve feels terrible because when the devil tempted her with the apple, she could've said no, right? Yes! 'Cause she had...free will!  Yes. But she said yeah, sure, ok I guess; ate the apple and then got her dimwit husband to have a bite, too. So now we're all miserable living in a sinful world. Anyway, I saw a terrific picture a couple of days ago... I need a Mary! No, I used you last week! You daughter, get up here. And an Eve, yes, c'mon. Y'all face each other. OK, Mary you are way pregnant...put your left hand in your hoodie pocket, poke it out so we can see that baby...good. Now Eve, you look sad because...I ate the apple. Yes, and wouldn't you love to be able to fix that? Yes. Now Mary, take Eve's hand...and put it on your tummy so Eve can feel your baby...who...is...Jesus! Yes. Class, would this make Eve feel better, to know Jesus is going to be born? Yes. Why? 'Cause Jesus will fix our sins? Umm, sort of; Jesus will undo the damage of that first sin in the Garden. Eve, are you feeling better? Yes. OK, remember Mary is the New Ark; we also call her...? No guesses. Who's this? Eve. What Testament is she in? The Old Testament. Yes, and Mary is in..theNewTestamentMaryistheNewEve!  Mega-genius, yes! Mary is called the New Eve. Eve, what bad thing did you freely agree to do? Eat the apple! Yes; and Mary, what good thing did you freely agree to do? Have Jesus? Yes. Mary & Eve, sit down. Through Eve we got a mess; through Mary...the mess got fixed! Yes. Trick question: could Mary have chosen not to have Jesus? No, she had to. Why? So He could die and all. So Mary didn't have any free will? God forced her? No, but if she said no then Jesus wouldn't have been born. Right. That's scary to imagine. But God did leave it up to Mary, just like he left it up to Eve. This shows how much God loves us: he leaves us free to make incredibly important choices that don't just affect us, but the whole world, the whole universe, even."

Readers, here is the image the girls portrayed:

I may bring it to our next class and discuss the serpent. And here is the winsome backstory: The Anchoress

this class will continue in the next post

Monday, December 13, 2010

Braver Newer World

Poor Aldous Huxley's fiction becomes ever more quaint when compared to the latest postmodern reality:

"Mike Aki and his husband, a Massachusetts couple...planned on having two children. But their two surrogate mothers in India each became pregnant with twins.

At 12 weeks into the pregnancies, Mr. Aki and his husband decided to abort two of the fetuses, one from each woman. It was a very painful call to make, Mr. Aki says. "You start thinking to yourself, 'Oh, my god, am I killing this child?'"

He didn't think of his decision as an abortion, but as a "reduction," he says. "You're reducing the pregnancies to make sure you have a greater chance of healthy children," Mr. Aki says. "If you're going to bring a child into this world, you have an obligation to take care of that child to the best of your abilities."

Today, Mr. Aki and his husband have two 21-month-old daughters. The girls share the same genetic mother. Each man is the genetic father of one of the girls. Next week, Mr. Aki and his husband will officially adopt each other's genetic daughter."

Assembling the Global Baby - WSJ.com 

or

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703493504576007774155273928.html


"He didn't think of his decision as an abortion, but as a "reduction"...

Nazis could only aspire to such artfully-confected euphemisms.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Keys & Eyeballs

This article has been linked to Sunday Snippets and Amazing Catechists

This is based on an unplanned part of last week's class, a  digression that I decided to post separately. Some of the saints and all the pictures are from prior years' classes, e.g. I had no pictures this time, but drew instead. I may bring the images next week to recap.

"Let's talk about the New Testament a bit in general. For the next few weeks we'll be discussing Jesus' life. What books in the New Testament are about Jesus? The Gospels! Yes, how many are there? Four? Yes, who wrote them? Peter? Good guess, he wrote some Epistles, but no Gospels. Paul? Nope, Paul's an Epistle-writer, too. Lucas? Yes, what's his name in English? Luke! Yes. That's one...any more? Y'all know this, MatthewMarkLuke&John. Oh yeah. Yeah, so say it! MatthewMarkLuke&John!  Yes. The four evangelists [on the board]. Remember the Greek word evangelousios means "good news" or "good message;" why are these 4 saints called evangelists? 'Cause they wrote the good news? Yes, the Gospel at first was just preached out loud, but as the apostles got old and began to die, the evangelists wrote the "good message" down. And watch the magic finger again [I erase evangelist down to angel]...remind me, angel  (ἄγγελος) means...messenger! Yes, good.

Hey, here's a fun way to remember the four evangelists: [on the board] A-L-B-E, 'albee'. That stands for Angel, Lion, Bull, & Eagle. Those symbols match up with MatthewMarkLuke&John like so [on the board]:

A   L  B  E
M  M  L  J

 So Matthew's symbol is an...angel! Yes, and John? Umm...eeeEagle! Yes, and so on. Remember, before there were printing presses very few people could read, so they learned a lot about the Bible by looking at statues and stained-glass images. And if people couldn't read, how would they know if an old man in a picture was Matthew? No guesses? Look at this picture of Matthew & tell me how you know who he is:

He's with an angel! That's right! And what's he doing? Writing! Yes, writing what? The Gospels! Well, not all of them, just the Gospel according to...Matthew! That's it! Now if there were no angel, what would you still know about this saint? He's a Gospel-writer? Yes, genius at work! So St. Matthew has two symbols; we call these symbols attributes. His two attributes are...the angel, yes, and...the feather? Yes, the pen. The Latin word for feather is [write] p-e-n-n-a, penna. Why do we call a pen a pen? 'Cause it used to be a feather?  Yes. The pen and the Bible make one attribute.

Is this saint an evangelist?

Yes, he's writing in the book. Yes, he's writing his Gospel in the Bible. Which evangelist is he? No guesses...is he sitting on a fish? Ha, a lion! Yes. That doesn't look like a lion. Sure it does, but remember most people never saw a real lion, there were no zoos for centuries. And no photographs from Africa. So the artist may have had to guess a little. Plus, he made the lion look like the evangelist. So, which saint has the lion as his attribute? Umm...Mark! Yes! If you look closely you can see his name written in Greek, MARKOC, but remember, most people couldn't read that. Hey, what's that hand coming out of the cloud? God's hand? Yes, that cloud's like a Shekhinah, showing God's presence. The painting shows us that Mark is looking to God for inspiration, so that he writes what God wants him to write. That's why we say the Bible is inspired by God.

Who can tell me about Venice? Huh? C'mon, new topic, tell me about Venice. It's in Italy? Yes, why is it special? They have boats instead of cars. Yes. The symbol for Venice is a lion; can you guess who the patron saint of Venice is? Umm...St. Mark? Yes, genius! And the cathedral there is called the Cathedral of...St. Mark! Yes! If you go there, you'll see [draw & talk] a big column like this, what's this on the top? A lion? Yes, the Lion of St. Mark. He's all over the place in Venice. Usually he is holding a book, like so:

Is that the Venice phonebook? Ha, it's the Bible! Yes, probably open to the Gospel of John? Ummm...wouldn't it be Mark's Gospel? Yes; just checking.

I think y'all understand the evangelists pretty well now. Here are a couple of martyr saints. The story is that St. Lucy had her eyes gouged out, so they are her attributes:

Ewww, gross they're on that plate! Yes. Not the usual is it? By the way, that palm she holds is an attribute for martyrs. Here's another martyr, St. Bartholomew:

St. Bartholomew's story is that he was skinned alive. He's holding his skin, and the knife he was skinned with see? Ewww, gross! Yes, well, even today Christians are being martyred in Africa, the Middle East, India, Indonesia...so some people still hate Christians enough to kill them. Why doesn't he have a palm if he's a martyr? I don't know...the palms don't show up in all the martyr pictures.

Two more saints and that's it. Statues of them are in front of St. Peter's in Rome. One of them might be...he's in front of...St. Peter's...oh, St. Peter? Of course, what a gimme! What's his attribute? No guesses? Jesus gave it to him...still no guesses? Well, I'm not telling. Y'all pay attention during the rest of the year and tell me when Jesus gives Peter his attribute. Who's the other saint? Uh-uh, I'm not telling that tonight, either.

Hey, that was diverting, but we have stuff we're supposed to be covering so let's get back on topic. Remember when you see images of saints, pay attention to the details.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Miraculous Mothers


Y'all remember from last week we almost finished with the prophets; the next book that we're going to look at is the last book of the Old Testament. It's called Malachi; but the prophet's name...Malachi!...isn't Malachi! Ha! I tricked you! No fair! Yes fair, you jumped the gun! Malachi is the Hebrew word for "messenger." Why would a prophet call himself  "messenger"? 'Cause he brings God's messages. Yes. We don't know his name...do you think it might have been Herman? No! Oh.

In Malachi's day, the Judeans were slacking off in keeping the covenant: divorcing their wives; marrying pagan women; and offering stolen, blind, lame, sick or otherwise second-rate animals to God. Instead of acting like Abel, and offering the best...they acted like Cain! Yes, giving God, oh, whatever was on sale. Junk animals. And the priests at the Temple go along with this slackness; they don't care either.

Malachi the messenger scolds them: "I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept any sacrifices from your hand." Oh, dear. As usual God isn't fooled. But if God's children don't want to do the right thing, there are other people who do: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and everywhere incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering." Now, what is the only place God accepts sacrifices? It's a building...oh the temple! Yes, in...Jerusalem! Yes. But Malachi prophesies that God will accept offerings and incense everywhere among the nations, and not just a good offering, but a pure offering. How are they gonna manage to do that? We'll see.

Y'all may remember that Isaiah said that God was coming, and that the people should prepare the way of the LORD. God now has more to say on that subject. Through Malachi, God tells the Levite priests: "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple..." So not only is the LORD coming to his temple, but a messenger will come before him to prepare the way. "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire...he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD." Uh-oh...what's the word for purifying gold by burning away its impurities? Purging! Yes, which..hurts! Yes! So when the LORD comes, it probably won't be pleasant for those with, umm, impurities. And God tells us who the messenger will be: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes." Remind me, did Elijah die? No, he went to heaven in a chariot. Yes...we'll have to see how this prophecy works out.

That was the last line of the last book of the Old Testament.

Somebody tell me what an iceberg is. It's a big piece of ice that floats in the ocean. Yes, is most of it above the water, or below? Below. Yes. Most of the ice is below the water, and holds up the ice that sticks out. The Bible's like that: the Old Testament is bigger, and holds up the New, which is easier to see. Now that we've learned about the big part, we can move on to the smaller part that sits on top.

So tell me, the New Testament is about...Jesus! Yes, mostly. So I suppose we should start with, oh, the apostles? No, Jesus comes first. So we should start with Jesus? Yes. But Malachi said a messenger would come before the LORD; so let's start with the messenger. I'll be reading from Luke's gospel.

About a year before Jesus was born, there was a priest named Zechariah who had a wife named Elizabeth. Priests could get married? Yes, but remember they were priests in Moses' Covenant, not New Covenant priests like we have now. Was Jesus married? No. Right. New Covenant priests imitate Jesus: they don't get married. Now, Zechariah and Elizabeth were old...and...sad...they didn't have any children!  Yes! Like who? Abraham and Sarah!  Yes, and like Samson's parents, and Samuel's parents, and so on. Well, one day Zechariah was offering incense in the Temple Holy Space, like we do at Mass around the altar, "And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense"...guess who? Gabriel? Yes! "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news." What good news? That his wife would have a baby! Yes! "your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John...he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink..." That's like Samson and Samuel, who also weren't supposed to cut their hair or get married, or have any alcohol. They were "separated ones", you know this [on the board] N-a-z-i-r Nazirites! Yes. "...and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to prepare a people fit for the Lord." And who did Malachi say God would send as his messenger? Uhh...Elijah? Yes. So Zechariah understood that his son would do important things for God, just like Samuel, Samson, and Elijah did, and prepare the way for the Lord in some way. And of course Elizabeth got pregnant just as Gabriel had said.

How long does a baby grow before it can be born? Nine months! Yes. In Luke's Gospel, which I'm reading from, it says, "And in the sixth month," that's when Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant with John [I draw & talk] here she is, she's happy...and here's John upside down in her tummy...


...another woman gets visited by...Gabriel. Yes. "...the angel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named...Bethlehem! no, try again...Jerusalem! Babylon!...no, no, NO! Stop guessing like monkeys and think: where did Jesus grow up? umm, Nazareth? Yes, "to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was...Mary."  Yes, y'all know all this already. What's this mean: "of the house of David"...that Joseph lives in David's house? He's part of David's family. Yes. Joseph and Mary are descendants of King David. Remember the Jesse Tree...who's at the bottom? Jesse. And next is his son...David, then his son...Solomon, yes. And at the top is...Jesus! yes, and under Jesus is his mother...Mary! Yes. Here's a famous stained-glass Jesse Tree in Chartres Cathedral in France:


The kings run up the middle from Jesse to Mary, and the prophets are on the sides.

Back to Mary. Luke writes: "And the angel came in unto her" that's me, I'm Gabriel. [I see a girl daydreaming in the back] I have huge rainbow-colored wings and my face shines like the sun. [I walk back to the daydreamer, get down on one knee, throw my hands out toward her and proclaim] "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women!" Where have y'all heard that before? In the Hail Mary! Yes, the prayer quotes Gabriel. And how does our volunteer Mary feel about this? She thinks it's weird!  Ha! I bet! Genuflecting and saying "hail" is not how you'd greet a girl, but a queen, someone who was superior to you. Luke says, "But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. [And I say to my volunteer] "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." Wow...Gabriel sounds like Isaiah, when he prophesied, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Now Mary was a good Jewish girl, and she probably knew that prophecy, and recognized Gabriel was quoting from it. How do you feel about having a baby, Mary? I don't know! Right! Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" That's a good, practical question, isn't it, Mary. "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."

Y'all tell me, if it's a hot summer day, and a cloud overshadows you, how do you feel? Good! Why? 'Cause I'm in the shade. Yes, the cloud protects you from the hot sun, and it protects only who's under it. Y'all remember the God Box that the Israelites carried on the poles with the angels on top [I draw and talk], what's it called? The Ark! Yes, the Ark of the Covenant. When they wandered in the desert, a cloud would overshadow the Ark in the Meeting Tent; [draw & talk] we call it the Glory Cloud. The Hebrew word is Shekhinah, which is not the name of a hip-hop star as far as I know...it's the cloud. You don't have to remember that; I just like to say Shekhinah.



In the Bible, Hebrew says "cover" for "overshadow," so when the Shekhinah overshadowed the Ark, it covered it, sort of like the way Elijah covered Elisha with his cloak to show Elisha was chosen and protected. So when Gabriel tells Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," he's reminding her of how the cloud overshadowed the Ark. So here's Mary [draw & talk], that dot is Jesus...here's the Holy Spirit.


OK tell me: here's the Ark with the God stuff in it, overshadowed by the...Shekhinah!, yes, the Glory Cloud. Over here we have Mary overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. What's she got in her? Jesus? Yes, Mary's got not just God's stuff in her, but God Himself. She's got more God in her than the Ark does. Now if the God Box is the Ark of the Old Covenant, what might we call Mary? Umm...the Ark of the New Covenant? Yes, genius! Mary's the New Ark.

Then Gabriel said, "And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son (that sounds like Isaiah, too)...For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word." Y'all may remember this Latin phrase: [on the board] 'Fiat lux' from Genesis...no? OK, what's 'light' in Spanish? Luz! Yes, and luz comes from the Latin word lux, so lux means...light. Yes. And in Genesis the creation line about light is...let there be light! Yes, so 'fiat lux' means...let there be light! Yes, more like 'let light be done.' In Latin Bibles when Mary says 'let it be done to me' she says, 'Fiat mihi.' [on the board] She uses the same word 'fiat' that God spoke to create light and everything else. Why's that? 'Cause Jesus is like light? Yes, sort of. Sometimes we call Jesus the 'Light of the World.' When Mary says 'fiat' like God did, it reminds me that what she's agreed to, having this baby, will be as significant as God making light, creating the world.

What's this whole story called, when Gabriel announces to Mary she'll be having a miracle baby? The Immaculate Conception? No, that's when Mary was conceived. Think: an announcement...the Annunciation! Yes. What a gimme that was.

Let's remember all those women we've learned about from Sarah and Hannah right up to Elizabeth. Their babies were miraculous in that they were all too old to conceive. And now Mary is also going to have a miracle baby, not because she's too old, but because...she's too young? Well, sort of. She isn't married yet. But she stands at the head of a long line of miraculous mothers, and her baby is the most miraculous of all.

Now Mary's baby is Jesus who's going to grow in her, live in her for 9 months. Baby John has a 6-month head start on Baby Jesus, and Mary decides to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This visit is called...the...Visitation? Yes. John's getting to be a load, and Jesus is just a dot, so Elizabeth can't get around like young Mary, who can help her out. Luke says, "When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."  Have y'all ever looked at a pregnant woman's stomach and seen the baby moving inside? Eww, gross. That's not gross, it's great! You can see the baby poking its elbows and knees out, it's very cool. People put videos on YouTube of babies kicking their moms from the inside. I bet y'all were all momma-kickers before y'all were born. Your moms know just what Elizabeth felt when John jumped around in her. Then Elizabeth said to Mary, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!" Where've you heard that? In the Hail Mary! That's right. The prayer first quotes Gabriel, now it quotes Elizabeth. "And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Now who is Elizabeth's Lord? God? Yes, and so Mary is the mother of...God? Yes, that's why we say "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us." But some people say Mary wasn't God's mom, that she was only the mother of Jesus' human parts. But you can't divide Jesus into pieces: Mary is the mother of Jesus' whole person even though that person was God, who created her. We can't understand it: it's...a...mystery! Yes!

About 3 months after Mary visited her older cousin, Elizabeth had her baby, John...[draw] he's swaddled, see? When she and Zechariah took him to the Temple to be circumcised, Zechariah made a little prophecy about John. What's circumcise? It was a ritual for baby boys before there was Baptism. Well, what happened? Ask your parents. Zechariah said, "you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins... And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel." We'll see how John fulfilled this prophecy in a couple of weeks, this is a good stopping point.

See you back here in two weeks! Are we going to have a Christmas party? You mean during classtime? No indeed, but let's all bring fun stuff to eat, we'll have an un-party. And of course I'll see y'all at Mass next Wednesday for the Immaculate Conception. Come tell me hello afterwards and I'll say nice things about you to your parents.

At the top: The Annunciation (1898) by the American artist Henry Owassa Tanner. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lecture Bible

I have what I call my 'regular' Bible, which is a cheap Bible that is a mess of dogears, stains, highlighting, pen & pencil notes, stickytabs, tape. It's good for study, but lousy for class: full of distractions. To avoid teaching from its encrusted pages, for years I've simply printed out the verses I need for a given class in the order I'll use them. That's fine, but then I teach from a piece of paper instead of the Bible; it's not the same for 6th-graders. They need to see The Book Itself be held; pages turned; words read.

This year I've dropped  paper printouts and have a second Bible, the Lecture Bible, for class. It's the same as the Regular Bible, but new, i.e., a new copy of the same NAB edition. I only mark in it what will be used in class. Here it is opened to Isaiah 53, part of the Isaiah-through-Malachi classes:


First, notice the numbered stickytabs at the top: those are the passages for this class, numbered in the order that I'll refer to them. If I fumble around more than 5 seconds to get to the next passage, the kids start to zone out, hence the idiot-proof numbers. There are 10 total tabs for this class; I arrange them so I can see the next number if possible. Tabs at the bottom are from prior classes; I will reuse them at least once. In the meantime they are out of the way, but can still be referred to.

Also see how tidy this page is: highlighting is limited to exactly what I'll be reading during class. Only what's relevant, and what we have time for. This page in the Regular Bible is a mess: good for preparation, bad for class.

With these numbered stickytabs on clean pages I'll have at least one full 55-minute period of smooth teaching and discussion, and if we run over (as we did this year), we simply continue in the next period.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Modern Century

No, not the 20th; and no, not the 21st. I mean the 19th century, the 1800s.

I never tire of reflecting on the speed with which the West develops ideas; that is, not so much the ideas themselves, but how the West grabs an idea and runs with it. For example, in 30 years, the West went from this:

to this:



And in 25 more years to this:



A virtual eyeblink.  And while 20th century aerospace is fascinating, these examples are shown only to introduce a more beguiling process in the 19th: the development of music.

You don't need to listen to these all the way through, just enough to get a sense of what geniuses imagined music could be at different points in the 1800s. They are all piano pieces, partly to focus on the music rather than the instruments; but also so you can hear the newer ideas being played with the same 88 keys by the successive composers. In other words the development isn't technical (like airplanes), but imaginative.

First up is the 2nd movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata from 1801.

Followed by Frederic Chopin's Berceuse (lullaby) from 1844.

And from 1888, Arabesque #1 by Claude Debussy.

Can you hear these men standing on the shoulders of their predecessors, each making music that the prior generation could not have imagined? That's the sound of the West at work.

I never get over the fact that the Arabesque is a 19th century composition. Its sensibility seems better matched to my life than to Teddy Roosevelt's. It's still a mystery to me how Debussy could conceive of such music, and a bit surprising that it didn't kill him; like seeing the face of God, which I expect all artists glimpse from time to to time.

This post is linked to Sunday Snippets.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pilgrims and Passover

This year's Thanksgiving reflection before grace:

"Y'all may remember from last year's Thanksgiving that the Pilgrims saw themselves as New Covenant Chosen People, whose experience paralleled that of the Israelites leaving Egypt and making a new life for themselves in the Promised Land. Not only was this true in general terms, but specifically so with respect to Thanksgiving.

Here's how Exodus describes observing the Passover:

“This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual ordinance”

And the first instruction for the New World's Thanksgiving (1619):

"We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."  You can see how the writer alludes to Passover in his phrasing for the Thanksgiving memorial.

Let's also recall that  the first Thanksgiving held at the Plymouth Colony in 1621 was attended by a mere 53 survivors of the original 102 Pilgrims. In comparing our current misfortunes, both personal (ICU) and national, to those of 1621, we can be sure that we have much to be thankful for."

Grace follows.

This post is linked to Sunday Snippets.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving Encore

I gave this reflection at my extended family's 2009 Thanksgiving dinner; it was well-received and I can't use it again:

http://platytera.blogspot.com/2009/11/puritans-grace.html

Monday, November 15, 2010

Who's in Charge?

This post has been linked to Amazing Catechists

 
Y'all remember last class we talked about the Christmas Prophet...Isaiah! Yes. We have a couple more of his prophecies to look at.

In this one Isaiah is telling the Jews to cheer up, God is going to make things better. I like this passage, because it shows that although God is masculine, and is our father, that he loves his children like a mother as well:

"Sing for joy...For the LORD has comforted his people...14 But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me." 15 "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. 16 See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name." Isn't that sweet? It reminds me of how my wife loves our children, even though they are mostly adults now. Then Isaiah says, "All [your enemies] come to you. As I live, says the LORD, you shall be arrayed with them all as adornments, like a bride you shall fasten them on you."  (Is 49)  I like that part because it reminds me of how beautiful my wife was at our wedding. Just look at this picture, isn't that great, boys? No! Girls? I think y'all look cute!  Thank you! Boys, I'm tellin' ya, wise up: this is the future...your future.

So whenever God talks about his people being his children or his bride, I know just what he means.

Now, y'all may remember from last week Isaiah prophesied that: God was coming; a Messiah, an Anointed One, a king was coming, but he was a talking, persuading king, not a fighting king; and his kingdom would be made of all nations, all peoples, not just the Jews. God also describes this Messiah as his servant:

"Behold my servant, ...in whom I am pleased; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations....Behold, the old things have come to pass, and new things I now declare...Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high." That all sounds pleasant; but then Isaiah says, "...many were astonished at him-- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men..." What's that mean, marred? Like...dented? Yes, let's say damaged, beat-up. Again: "..his appearance was so marred, beyond human [re]semblance" What's that mean? He's so beat up he doesn't look like a person?  Yes, people were mean to the servant; that seems odd. "[And] he shall he sprinkle many nations." (Is 42) Who sprinkles people? Priests! Yes, with...Blood! and...Water! Yes, so if God's servant will sprinkle many nations, then he must be a...priest? Yes. And when a priest sprinkles you what does it show? You got your sins forgiven. Yes, you were cleansed of your sins. And this servant will sprinkle "many nations," not just the Chosen Ones...which is also odd.

Isaiah says so much about this "suffering servant" that we can only look at a few things...please, don't thank me. All this is from Chapter 53: "He was...avoided by men, a man of suffering...One of those from whom men hide their faces...and we held him in no esteem.Yet it was...our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted." Smitten means hit, like with a fist or a weapon. "But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed."  If someone has been "smitten" why would he have "stripes"? 'Cause he was whipped? Yes, good. "We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all." That seems unfair. "...he was harshly treated...Like a lamb led to the slaughter...he was silent and opened not his mouth. Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away...he was cut off from the land of the living and smitten for the sin of his people...though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood." Poor servant, why should he suffer for other people's sins? But here's the good part: "Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Because he surrendered himself to death...he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses." So, who was unjustly put to death and took away other people's sins? Jesus? Yes. All this prophecy is about Jesus. We'll come back to Isaiah as we discuss the Gospels, and see how Jesus fulfilled so many prophecies.

Well, we've covered a lot of Isaiah's prophecies; now let's hear a story from Isaiah before we move on to Jeremiah. It's not a parable, though, it's real. Hmmm...I already need a volunteer! Get up here & stand by me! Your name is Shebna, Shebna. OK class, my name is Hezekiah. I'm the king of Judah, and he isn't, so I have all the power, and he...doesn't have any! That's right. But being the king, do I want to run around the kingdom all day collecting taxes and taking care of business, or do I want to lounge around the palace and eat pizza? You want to lounge around the palace and eat pizza!  That's right! Boy, y'all are smart. And even if liked running the kingdom I might have to leave town to visit other kings, or lead the army, or maybe I'd get sick sometimes...I'm just not going to be available 24/7...[I put my arm around my powerless volunteer] dear me, what shall I do? Make him your helper!  Now, there's an idea...does that suit you, Shebna? Yes! OK, Shebna, you're going be my prime minister...anyone know what a prime minister is? Like the president? Ummm...sort of. More like the vice-president. Who's the head of England? The Queen? Yes, Queen...Elizabeth. Yes. Queen Elizabeth has a whole lot of ministers, each one's in charge of something: the army, the navy, the treasury, stuff like that. She lets them use her authority to do all the things she doesn't have time to do. They don't have any power of their own, just however much of the Queen's power that she lends them. And she has one minister who is in charge of all the rest: the prime minister. If she's traveling the world he is in charge of all the rest while she's gone.

Shebna, I won't be here often and I'm leaving you in charge [I take out my key wallet & show the contents]. Here's my palace key, my chariot key, my castle key, my credit card, my bank card, and my library card. Take care of everything for me [I put the wallet on his shoulder]. Class, have I put someone in charge? Yes, Shebna! How do you know? You put your wallet on his shoulder. Yes...why didn't I just slip it in his pocket? So we could see. Yes. Now I won't give my wallet just to anyone...only to...someone you trust! Yes!

As it turns out, Shebna started using his position to make himself rich. Isaiah says, "Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, "Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: 16 What have you to do here and whom have you here, that you have built here a tomb for yourself, you who make a tomb on the height, and carve a habitation for yourself in the rock?" See, Shebna has bought him himself a very fancy tomb to be buried in; God only knows what else he's done..he...can't...be...trusted! Yes!

[I address Shebna] "Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you, 18 and whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there shall be your splendid chariots, you shame of your master's house. 19 I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station."  Shebna, you're fired [I take back my wallet]! Go sit down. Dear me, if I fire Shebna how will stuff get tended to? Get another prime minister! Can I do that? Yes! You're right, the prime minister-ship is an office; he's an official. I'll just get a new one. OK, I need another volunteer, get up here, your name is Eliakim.

"...I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe (hand it over), and will bind your belt on him (hand it over as well), and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah." [I act these things out on Eliakim] Class, how should I show you Eliakim's in charge now? Put your wallet on his shoulder! Yes! Isaiah says, "And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open." [I put the wallet on Eliakim's shoulder] So when someone in the Bible gives someone else a key...he's putting them in charge! Yes, geniuses! Go sit down, Eliakim, and give me back my wallet!

That's all for Isaiah, let's learn about our next prophet, Jeremiah. I will be reading from Jeremiah! yes, the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was born about 650 years before Jesus. By comparison, the Pilgrims came to America about 400 years ago. In Jeremiah's day, Judah had been conquered by a new, bigger enemy, Babylon, which had beaten the old enemy, Assyria. The king and the people had returned to their old bad habits, worshiping the baby-eating false god Baal, and taking the LORD for granted. Jeremiah tries to warn Judah that even worse may happen:

The LORD tells Jeremiah, "Stand in the gate of the LORD's house, and proclaim there this word...Amend your ways and your doings, and I will let you dwell in this place." What's the house of the LORD? The temple?  Yes, built by...Solomon?  Yes. In what city? Jerusalem!  Yes. And remember, the seraph, the burning one, purged Isaiah's lips where? In the Temple? Yes. Jeremiah goes on to say, "4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.' Of course it's obvious that Jeremiah is standing at "the temple of the LORD," so what's his point? No guesses, that's OK. He means that if the Judeans keep misbehaving, the temple won't save them, won't make any difference. And worse, he won't let them "dwell in this place," Judea. "For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not shed innocent blood in this place...then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers for ever." How would the Judeans "shed innocent blood in this place"? Umm, by sacrificing babies? Yes, I think so. How awful.  "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, burn incense to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house...only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of thieves in your eyes?"  Imagine if your house, or our church, was turned into den of thieves; why should God put up with that? He shouldn't! Right; Jeremiah says: "Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, says the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to this house...as I did to Shiloh." What happened at Shiloh? Everybody got killed! Yes, more or less: Eli, the high priest died; his bad sons died, and his daughter-in-law died. Even worse, what was captured? The Ark! Yes. God abandoned Shiloh and never dwelled there again, due to all the sinful behavior.

So, did the Judeans listen to Jeremiah? No! Of course not. Jerusalem was a huge, fortified city with a spectacular Temple, not some bump-in-the-road like Shiloh with a moth-eaten old Meeting Tent. Get real, Jeremiah. But within a few years Judea rebelled against Babylon, and was crushed. The people were hauled off as captives to Babylon, the Temple was demolished, and Jerusalem was left desolate, just...like...Shiloh! Yes, worse than Shiloh.

But the Judeans were humbled by their defeat, and inclined to repent. Jeremiah offered them hope: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. "  Remind me please, what covenant do the Judeans have with God? No guesses...it's the one they made when "I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" The one with Moses? Yes, we call it the Mosaic Covenant. And God is Israel's husband, that makes Israel his bride, and I can imagine how he loves her and how his heart breaks when she isn't faithful.  "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people..." Where did God write the Law he gave the Israelites? On the tablets? Yes, on stone tablets. And now "I will write it upon their hearts." Which is the better place to write laws, stone or hearts? Hearts. Why? Because then you believe it?  Umm, sort of; if someone's name is "written on my heart" then...you love them! Yes. So law written on one's heart is based on...love? Yes. That's how parents are with kids. Parents don't want to make up a bunch of rules; they want you to obey them because...we love them. Yes. And because they love you- just like God. Finally Jeremiah says,"I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." That's like parents, too. I forget most of the bad things my kids have done, just as my parents have forgotten the bad stuff I did. Parents and God are alike: they both want to forgive the children they love, but the kids...have...to...be sorry! Yes. They have to repent.

Our next prophet is Ezekiel. How many more prophets are there? Well in our class, after Ezekiel there are only two more, Daniel and Malachi, but none of them take as long as Isaiah. OK. We're only going to look at one thing Ezekiel said...but first, tell me about Naaman and the Jordan river. He had leprosy and washed it off in the river. Yes, and did his sins get washed away, too? No, just the leprosy. Yes, physical healing, but not spiritual. Now listen to Ezekiel's prophecy, he was in Babylon, and wanted the Judeans to feel better about going home someday: "For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land." That would make me feel better; but he goes on:  "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Being sprinkled clean from idol worship isn't physical, it's spiritual, yes, getting cleaned from...sin. Yes. Do people ever have their sins washed away by water in church? Yes, at baptism. Yes. And when that happens it's like getting a new spirit and a heart of flesh. Y'all may not know that on the night before Easter there's a Mass called the Easter Vigil. Lots of adults get baptized at that Mass, it's pretty interesting. When you're older and can stay awake, get your parents to take you. Seeing them get baptized always reminds me of Ezekiel's prophecy.

On to Daniel. Daniel lived in Babylon with the captive Judeans; who knows the story about Daniel and the Lions' Den? The king put him in there with the lions but they didn't eat him. Right, that was the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Well, one day Daniel had a vision of God judging all the earthly kingdoms that had oppressed Israel at one time or another; they appeared as fantastic beasts. "And as I looked, the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away...13 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 (that's God) 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..." So after all the earthly kingdoms are swept away, a "Son of Man" comes on heavenly clouds, and is given a never-ending kingdom that includes "all peoples," as Isaiah would say. Who does that sound like? Jesus! Yes. Not only is that prophecy about Jesus, but when Jesus is arrested  after the Last Supper, he quotes Daniel's prophecy. But all that comes later on.

At long last we're down to our last prophet. Don't cry, but class is over for tonight, so we'll pick up next week with Malachi.

See you next week!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Flanders Fields


In case you didn't read this last April, it's appropriate for today:

http://platytera.blogspot.com/2010/04/bloody-wipers.html

And there's also this rock'n'roll treatment of the elegaic poem, In Flanders Fields:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqSejdRvevc the words vary a bit from the original, and are online.

The original poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Christmas Prophet

This post has been linked to Amazing Catechists

Isaiah is our next prophet. He lived in the Southern Kingdom, which was called Judah; its capital was Jerusalem. Judah was named after one of the tribes of Israel, which...would...be...Judah? Yes, that was a gimme! Y'all may remember that the Northern Kingdom, where Elijah lived, was called Israel, and its capital was Samaria [I draw a quick map]; what do we call people who live in Samaria? Samaritans! Yes. Judah's main enemy at this time was Assyria. But even when they weren't fighting Assyria, the Judeans could never relax, because they were a small country surrounded by bigger ones. Just like today.

Anyway, like many other people in the Bible, Isaiah was minding his own business when out of the blue God spoke to him. In Isaiah's case he was at the Temple- in what city? Jerusalem? Yes. Isaiah writes, "...I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up in the temple." (Isaiah 6) Isaiah's having this vision in Solomon's Temple, but he's also seeing the Heavenly Temple, which Solomon's  Temple is patterned on, like the Meeting Tent. "Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew." Seraph is Hebrew for "burning one"; remember Kerub, Cherub, is Hebrew for... bodyguard! yes, "near one." Cherubim & Seraphim serve the LORD in Heaven. Look at this painting of a Seraph with his six wings:


 Isn't that cool? He's not on fire. No...but don't get picky. Seraphs are spirits, they don't have bodies anyway. "And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." Where have you heard that? In Mass! Yes, the Mass quotes Isaiah.  "And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"  What's all this "unclean lips" business? He says bad things? Yes, Isaiah's a sinner, and isn't worthy of seeing the LORD, much less speaking for him out of a sinful mouth. Blechh.  "Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar." How hot would a burning coal be that you had to pick it up with tongs? Too hot to touch!  Yes! "And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin is purged." Remind me, what "purge" mean? To clean something. Yes, usually it means to burn bad stuff away until only good stuff is left. The Bible talks about using fire to burn the impurities out of gold, for example. Imagine our souls are gold, what impurities would we want burned off? Sins? Yes, our sins. So Isaiah's sins are purged, burned away by this coal. That's why we think of Purgatory as being a swimming pool, right? Ha, it's fire, it burns! Oh, yeah, fire: it cleans away our sins, but it may hurt some.

Then Isaiah says, "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here I am! Send me." Isaiah is ready to be God's prophet...what other prophet said "Here I am" to God? Samson! No, the other Sam...Samuel! There you go. What I'm reading comes from a book mostly written by Isaiah; its name- Isaiah! would be Isaiah, yes. Y'all are learning.

Isaiah is my favorite prophet, and Jesus' favorite, too. In the Gospels we'll see Jesus say things that Isaiah said; I always imagine his listeners thinking, "Oooh, Jesus is quotin' Isaiah...I wonder what he means." Isaiah prophesied about lots of things, including Christmas, so let's get started.

Ever since the Happy Days of King David and King Solomon, the Judeans wanted peace and security; that is, they wanted a new King to provide them peace and security. They wanted an Anointed One, a...Messiah, yes, a Messiah, to save them. And Isaiah had a lot to say about a Messiah, as we'll see.

First, Isaiah announces not only that a Messiah is coming, but that the LORD is coming: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."(Isaiah 40) How is the mouth of the LORD speaking? Through Isaiah! Right. So Isaiah speaks with God's...authority? Yes. People can't just tell Isaiah to keep his opinions to himself.

So Isaiah's telling the Judeans get ready for the coming of the LORD, although they're really interested in getting a...King? Yes, an...anointed one...a Messiah! That's it. But if God's coming too, well, it can't hurt, right?

Remember that ever since God first spoke to Abraham he wasn't God to everybody. God chose Abraham's descendants to be his people; that's why they called themselves the Chosen People, the Chosen Ones. Like being married to one wife, not a dozen. So the people in Isaiah's day were expecting the prophet to tell them how God was looking out just for them; but that wasn't Isaiah's message. For example, many Judeans were worshiping baby-eating Gods again, Baal and Moloch, so you'd expect Isaiah to say they should stop. He does say that, but says more (Isaiah 56):

"Blessed is the man who...keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil." That's obvious, just be good. "Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely separate me from his people" What's a foreigner? Someone from another country. Yes, someone who isn't a Jew; we call these people Gentiles in English.  "For thus says the LORD: "To [those] who choose the things that please me and hold fast to my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off." Who are God's sons and daughters? The Judeans? Yes. But Isaiah says that if Gentiles, foreigners, hold on to the covenant God made with Moses, God will give them a name "better than sons and daughters." How would you feel if your parents told you that? That they didn't love me! Yes. But God isn't telling the Jews that he doesn't love them, but that they have to do the right thing to be counted as his children. If they worship false gods, that's like you calling other adults Mom and Dad and ignoring your parents. How would your parents feel? Like I didn't love them. Right, so it goes both ways. And if there are Gentiles who weren't lucky enough to be born into God's family, but treat God like their Father, why shouldn't he give them "a name better than sons and daughters"? They had to make a special effort to be included in the family. What's that called when someone becomes the son or daughter of parents who didn't conceive them? Adoption? Yes. God is saying he will adopt other children into his family.

Isaiah continues: "And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD...these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."

What would this "house of prayer" on a "holy mountain" be? The Temple? Yes. So God will treat the foreigners just like his own children, and the Temple will be not just for Judeans, but "all peoples." Just to make the point about everyone being able to be God's children, his Chosen, Isaiah says, "Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered." And remember, the Temple isn't only on Earth, it's also...in Heaven. Yes.

And there will be a feast on the holy mountain: "On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of the best of meats and the finest of wines." I know y'all would prefer pizza and pop, but they hadn't been invented yet. Have we had this fabulous feast yet? No. Right, but we will, you'll see. And it's not just for the Chosen people, but for...all people! Yes! Then Isaiah says, "On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations. He will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces." What veil is Isaiah talking about? The one in the holy space? In the Holy of Holies? Maybe...what does that veil do? Keep people from seeing God. Yes, but they'd like to see Him. So when God destroys the veil...people can see Him. Yes, we won't be separated from Him. And when we can see God, and death is destroyed, and tears are wiped away, where is that? Heaven! Yes; more than Heaven as we'll see. How can you have more than Heaven? I don't want to give it away...we'll see later on.

Back to the Messiah: Isaiah gives a hint of where this Anointed One will come from:

"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him..." Who was Jesse? David's father. Yes. He's the forefather of Israel's kings. Jesse fathered David, who- Solomon! ya too fast, yes, and so on. Isaiah is treating Jesse like the root of a tree that should grow to be big and healthy, but it's been cut down through the worship of baby-eating false gods, a divided kingdom, weak kings, big enemies, you name it. But a shoot, a branch, will grow out of the stump; that is, someone related to Jesse and David and Solomon.

Being a King, this Messiah should be tough like David, a good...soldier? Yes. But Isaiah says, "he shall strike the earth with the rod (you know, a stick, whack!) of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked." The breath of his lips? That sounds more like a talker than a doer...not a tough guy at all!   

 And "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb...and the calf and the lion and a little child shall lead them. ...In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a sign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11)"  Now if lions and wolves don't eat lambs and calves, what's that sound like? Eden! Yes, so Isaiah prophesies: God is coming, and a Messiah is coming, but he's not a tough guy, and somehow things will be more like Eden than like slaughtering your enemies.

OK, on to Isaiah and Christmas. 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.

"....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. [on the board] 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. [He goes in the manger]  "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 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.

(the result from this year's class)

OK, that's all the time we have tonight; next week we'll have an Isaiah story, which is about keys, before we move on to Jeremiah.

Class over!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Res Ipsa Loquitur


This is the class which most of Dry Ground covers.  Readers of the blog may find it useful to hear what actually happens in the classroom, in contrast to the abbreviated and toned-down posts. You won't be able to see the acting and drawing, so use your imaginations.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The live class doesn't strictly match the post, because the post is based on this class, and all the prior years' classes where the material was covered.

For more live class excerpts, click on the Res Ipsa Loqitur label below right.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dry Ground


continued from the prior post

Elijah lived shortly after Solomon died and the kingdom was split in two. He wore animal skins for clothes and lived alone in the desert, slept under trees, or in caves, that sort of thing. Tell me who was like Elijah in Jesus' day. John the Baptist? Yes, good. Elijah and John both may have been Nazirites like Samuel and Samson.

In Elijah's day the king was named Ahab; he had a pagan wife, and let the people worship Baal, the baby-eating false god that their pagan neighbors worshiped. We think we're too smart for that nowadays, but people still kill their babies. What's that called, killing babies before they are born? Abortion? Yes. So the LORD sent Elijah to speak to the king. What's your job if God speaks through you? A prophet. Yes. Elijah said said to Ahab, "As the LORD the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."  If there would be no rain until the king and people got right with God, then there'd be...no food? Right, a famine. Naturally everyone from the king on down would want to wring Elijah's neck like a chicken, so God said, "Depart from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself." That is, get out of Israel! By the way, this book I'm reading from is all about Israel's Kings, so its name...might...be...Kings! Yes. 1st Kings,  there's a 2nd Kings too.

Elijah fled Israel and went to a pagan city called Zarephath. People there were starving too. "...and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink." And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." And she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; and now, I am gathering a couple of sticks, that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die."

"And Elijah said to her, "Fear not; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make for yourself and your son." Now I'd've told Elijah to get lost, my child & I would eat first, but "...she went and did as Elijah said; and she, and he, and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD which he spoke by Elijah." Because she was generous, Elijah worked a miracle: they were able to eat for the next 3 years of drought.

Later on, the widow's son got very sick, "and his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him." What's that mean? He died. Yes. And he said to her, "Give me your son." And he took him from her bosom, and carried him up into the upper chamber, where he lodged, and laid him upon his own bed. (Elijah was staying with them)  And he cried... "O LORD my God, let this child's soul come into him again." And...the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." These miracles are extra special because they were done for pagans, when Chosen People were still starving. Why'd Elijah work these miracles? 'cause she was good to him? Yes, being charitable outweighed being pagan.

Tell me about the first miracle. Umm...he made a lot of food? Yes. Who else miraculously made a lot of food? Oh, Jesus!  Yes, he made pizza...ha, bread and fish! Oh yeah, you're right. And the next miracle, raising the widow's son from the dead? Jesus did that too!  Who'd he raise...y'all know this [on the board]...L-a-z...Lazarus!  Yes. Because of Jesus' miracles, some people wondered if he was...Elijah? Yes.

After 3 years God sent Elijah back to Samaria, Ahab's capital. What would you call someone who lived in Samaria? Umm...a Samarian? Close, a Samaritan, like in Jesus' parable...the Good Samaritan!  Yes, good. In Samaria, Elijah had a praying contest with 450 pagan priests who worshiped baby-eating Baal. They lost, and Elijah slit their throats in a creek. The people returned to the LORD, and the drought ended.

Now as Elijah grew old, God directed him to choose as his successor a young man named Elisha. Elijah "found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth."  The 12 oxen represent the 12 tribes, who descended from Israel's....12 sons. Yes. When you see 12 of anything in the Bible it refers to the nation of Israel united, not separated. So, how do you think Elijah showed that Elisha would be in charge? He laid hands on him!  Like Isaac and Jacob, great guess, but no! Another guess?  Put oil on him?  Another great guess, no again! Let's see, I need an Elisha volunteer, get up you're the volunteer. OK Elisha, what are you doing? Umm...farming? Oh, like planting little peas? You're plowing, bossing around a dozen huge oxen, show us that, grab some reins, be in charge, yeah, that's it. Now, "Elijah passed by him and threw his coat upon him." [I take off my coat and put it on Elisha's shoulders] Elijah shows that he's picking Elisha and also protecting him a bit, since Elisha's young and isn't a prophet yet. Elisha is Elijah's protégé, that's a French word for "protected one."

"And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." I'm impressed. I would have made excuses, but Elisha drops his old life right there, and follows Elijah. Who was it that dropped everything and followed Jesus? Peter? Yes. I bet Peter knew this story about Elisha and thought to himself, "Wow, I'm just like Elisha." And when Elijah left Earth, who'd he put in charge? Elisha. And when Jesus left? He put Peter in charge! Yes!

After Elisha learned the prophet business, it was time for him to take over from old Elijah. On the day that Elijah would leave Earth, they had to cross a famous river we haven't mentioned yet, where Jesus would later  be baptized...the Jordan river? Yes, good! As they traveled to the Jordan, Elijah told Elisha 3 times that he didn't have to make the journey. And 3 times Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." Tell me about the 3 times. It's a covenant! Yes, an oral contract- for what? For Elisha to be the next prophet? Yes.

Back when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, they had to cross the Jordan to enter Canaan, the Promised Land. But before that, what water did they cross to leave Egypt? The Red Sea? Yes, good; did they swim? No, Moses split the water so they could walk. Yes, Exodus says "the people of Israel walked on dry ground." And 40 years later when they got to the Jordan, they carried the Ark of the Covenant in front. When the Ark got to the river's edge, guess what happened. The water split? Yes, "And while all Israel were passing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan..." (Joshua 3:17)

When Elijah and Elisha arrived at the Jordan, "Elijah took his mantle, and rolled it up, and struck the water" like so [I do this with my coat] and...the water split! Yes: "the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground". Notice how each event is described in the same way, "crossing on...dry ground!"  Yes. This is how the Bible writers show events are related, by using the same words or similar phrasing. We'll see more of that this year.

Once they were on the far side, "behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." Wow....did Elijah die? No, God took him to heaven. Yes. Quick now, remember Enoch for me. He went up to heaven, too. Yes, so here are at least two people who went straight to heaven without dying. Their body'n'souls...didn't separate! Right!  

But when Elijah whooshed up to heaven, his cloak came off. Elisha "took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan [I do so]. "Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him, and...hit the water! [I do so] And...the water split and he walked over! On...dry ground!   Yes. "Now when the sons of the prophets who were on the other side at Jericho saw him, they said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." How did they know that? Elisha had the coat. Yes. Remember Moses' stick: was it magic? No. Right. It was just a physical medium of God's power, like Isaac's hands, or the Ark, or Elijah's...coat. Yes, which still worked on the water even after Elijah was gone, because Elisha had faith. If some pagan had come by and whacked the water all day with the cloak, he'd just get worn out from slinging a wet coat.

Y'all remind me about leprosy. It's a disease that eats up your body. Yes, your nose dies and falls off, your fingers & toes fall off, eventually you die. The Bible's full of lepers that no-one wants to be around. Everyone was scared to death of touching a leper. Well, when Elisha was older, he healed an important pagan leper. The story starts off like this: "Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was...a mighty man, but he was a leper."  Naaman is a general in Syria, a country that still exists next to Israel. He's got money, power, camels, iPods. But he's caught leprosy, his lips and ears are falling off, and his wife won't kiss him anymore. How about that, girls? Ewww! Uh-huh...y'all never disappoint me.

"But Naaman's wife had a slavegirl from Israel, who said the prophet Elisha could cure Naaman's leprosy." With nothing to lose, Naaman took a pile of money with him and traveled to Israel. "So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha." Hey, old man in the shack, get out here! Don't make me wait! But "Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go and wash in the Jordan river seven times.....and you will be clean." Naaman has a fit! He says, "I thought that he would surely come out to me, and wave his hand over the place, and cure me." Naaman wants some respect! Elisha should come out of his little hut and take care of business instead of handing out instructions to a general! Seven times!? And Naaman objects to having to bathe in that brown Jordan water: "The rivers of Damascus are better than all the waters of Israel. Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage." This trip isn't working out....who does this Elisha think he is? Naaman's puffed up like a frog, he ain't doin' nuthin' stupid! I guess he'd rather be a leper. "But his servants said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, wouldn't you do it? All the more now, since he said to you, 'Wash and be clean,' you should do as he said." Alright! Alright already! "So Naaman went down and immersed himself into the Jordan seven times."

"So what do you think happened? He wasn't a leper anymore! That's right! "His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." So Naaman got himself some humility, did as he was told (everyone hates to do as they're told) and his disease was miraculously washed away by the water. So what does this remind you of? Baptism? Yes, it foreshadows Baptism. Baptism is the Greek word for "immerse" in the sense of washing.

Trick question #1: Suppose Naaman decided the water was just a symbol, and instead of getting in the muddy water, he just stood beside the river and went through the motions of washing [I do so], would that have worked? Ha! No! Why not? He had to use the water! Yes. The water was part of the miracle. The water wasn't just a symbol. God worked through the water. It was the medium.

Trick question #2: Naaman's leprosy was washed away; were Naaman's sins washed away? Ummm, no? No, they weren't. Jesus hadn't been born yet, so there were no Sacraments. No spiritual cleansing for Naaman. By the way, what river did Naaman immerse, or baptize, himself in? The Jordan. Yeah. Remember the guy named John who baptized people, what's he called? Ha, John the Baptist! Yes, what river did he baptize in? The same one, the Jordan! Yes...imagine that. Also remember that Naaman was a pagan, but he was still healed because he believed enough to obey Elisha.

Years passed, and Elisha worked other miracles we aren't going to cover in class. "So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year." Moabites are just another bunch of pagan troublemakers. "And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha"  I imagine the men who were burying him panicked and just threw him into the grave. "and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet." (2Kings 13)  Now look at this bone; [I have a chicken thighbone] pretend it's one of Elisha's bones. Is it magic? No. What is it? A thing like Moses' stick. Yes and...the coat? Yes, Elijah's coat. A medium. Trick question: if Elisha's dead, why do his bones still work miracles? 'Cause God makes the miracle, not Elisha? Yes. God worked through Elisha both alive and dead. Have y'all ever heard of relics [on the board]? No? They're bones or bodies or clothes of saints that Catholics honor. Where are the saints? In heaven? Yes, but their bodies are...buried? Yes, they're still on Earth, but we still have reverence for their bodies or clothes the way we would have reverence for Elisha's miracle-working bones or Elijah's cloak.

OK, that's it for Elisha; next week we'll cover Isaiah, who had a lot to say about Christmas.

Class over!