Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pitchers 14: Ziggurats & All That

 This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

As usual for these whiteboard posts, my comments are limited to the images and don't describe the whole class content.  Click the image for a bigger version.

Class starts with a quick review. That is, the kids tell me whom we've covered so far: God/ Adam & Eve/ Cain, Abel, Seth/ Enoch/ Methuselah/ Noah. I introduce Abram & Sarah. Brackets indicate 10 generations from Adam to Noah; and 10 more from Noah to Abram. As usual, a child objects to 'Abram'; I tell him God will change Abram's name in a few minutes.

The kids tell me about Mesopotamia. A quick map illustrates Abram's journey from Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan. While I draw they talk about the rivers, the people, the ziggurats. I draw a ziggurat. I mention Sumerian beer. They laugh.

When Abram gets to Canaan he makes an altar & offers a sacrifice [I add that beside the ziggurat]. We see that "offerings are typically done on something that gets the offering closer to heaven...such as...altars?  Yes, or...mountains?  Yes, or artificial mountains like...ziggurats!  Yes." But on one occasion, a priest named Melchizedek offers bread and wine for Abraham. "The Mass mentions Melchizedek, so y'all pay attention at Mass and tell me when. He's the King of Salem, which means King of Peace. Whom do you think of when I say King of Peace? Jesus.Yes. Melchizedek, like Abel (and Isaac, who hasn't come up just yet), is a type of Christ."

I add Abraham's wife Sarah. Quick review: "God is...? Powerful? Yes, and...knows everything? Yes, he's 'omniscient'. And...powerful? You said that already. [I start to draw a heart] Love! God is love! Yes. Remind me what love always wants to do. Ummm...create! Yes. Love creates. So tell me about Abraham and Sarah. They were married. Yes, so...they were in love? Yes, so...what does love do? Create! So? So their love made babies! Well, not just yet." We discuss their sadness, and jump into the Hospitality of Abraham using this mosaic:

And this fresco:

One of the kids explains mosaics; I add that a fresco is painted on wet (fresh) plaster to make it permanent.

When Sarah later gave birth to their only son, Abraham & Sarah were so happy they named him Yitzhak, laughter. In English we call him Isaac. I tell the kids that the neighboring tribes worshiped false gods such as Baal and Moloch, to whom the people sacrificed their firstborn sons. So Abraham knew he was getting a good deal from his God who didn't seem to require that.

But years later, God wants Abraham to make that sacrifice; we use the mosaic to guide our discussion. I draw Mount Moriah and add Abraham's altar on top. A child asks how Isaac would have felt. I say he and his parents probably weren't surprised that God would eventually ask for this sacrifice; but they'd sure be happy to swap a sheep for a son!

Class is over when this line of discussion ends.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Borrowers

6th-graders never mention this, but back when I was doing RCIA, this bit of Jeremiah always came up: "Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger." You know...wayward Chosen People chasing after their neighbors' false gods; so Mary being Queen of Heaven is likewise an idolatrous mess of pagan pottage, right? Well, no: she's the King's Queen Mother. But I'm thinking it's time for a new topic already: Cherubim.

The Bible is full of cherubim. In Sunday School we use the Hebrew word, kerubim, the near ones, God's bodyguards. There are no surviving images of the kerubim mentioned in Scripture, such as:

"And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat.  Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be...Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet stuff; with cherubim skilfully worked shall you make them." (From the LORD's instruction on the temple and its furnishings.)

From King David's Psalm 18: 

"In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. 7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. 8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. 9 He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. 10 He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind."

 And from Psalm 80:

"Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou who leadest Joseph like a flock! Thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh! Stir up thy might, and come to save us!"

On the other hand there are plenty of surviving pagan images of kerubs. Let's match a few up with the corresponding Bible descriptions:

 "The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another..."
 Isis and Nephthys overshadow Osiris.

 Isis and Nephthys in King Tut's tomb, protecting...nothing? Nope, protecting Tut's spirit.

"He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind."

Maybe David saw God riding this Babylonian Kerub.

Or maybe this Phoenician one.

  "Thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim"

Maybe God's throne is like King Ahiram's.

Closer up...which reminds me of...

this old Papal chair.

And this one.

And this one.

All this talk of Cherubim reminds me of the Ark of the Covenant: "They shall make an ark of acacia wood; two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 And you shall overlay it with pure gold, within and without shall you overlay it, and you shall make upon it a molding of gold round about. 12 And you shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark by them."

Cubit-wise, it was bigger than this ark, found in King Tut's tomb:

No gold rings, though.

Of course the fact that assorted ancient pagan cultures had to work things out about God before the LORD revealed himself to Abraham doesn't make them automatically wrong in every jot and tittle; and doesn't make the Chosen People wrong for borrowing from them, either. Nor were they wrong to borrow pagan architecture or furnishings. And by extension, it wasn't wrong for the Church to borrow key philosophical concepts from the pagan Greeks and apply them to Christianity (I'm especially thinking of the Logos).

Nor is it wrong for the Church to understand Mary is the Queen of Heaven, assorted un-borrowed pagan 'Queens of Heaven' nonwithstanding.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Forget to Remember*

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

 Not appropriate for the Confessional**

When we cover Confession in Wednesday Night Sunday School, a child will always ask if a priest can tell the cops if someone confessed to a murder. I say of course not; and that leads to the idea that the priest forgets your sins. And then someone will ask: but what if he doesn't forget?

To answer this I first refer to these gracious verses:

Is 43:25 "I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins."

Jer 31:34 "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

Heb 8:12 "For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more."

(They're highlighted in my class Bible, but I'll just paraphrase them if time is short.)

This does beg the question: how does an omniscient God not remember something? Well, isn't it in the nature of a loving parent to not remember? Those verses remind me of my father's memory of my several-thousand-or-so, umm, childhood misbehaviors: 

"Hey remember that time that I...."
" don't think I remember that."
"Yeah, but it was like thus and so, and..."
"Uh-huh...I just don't much remember you being bad."
"That's probably just as well."

And it's the same with my kids...were they bad? I suppose...yeah, if I put my mind to it they were bad some. Well, not really bad; they were just kids, learning to be good...I don't remember that much about it. Not remembering your child's sins isn't a matter of deleting the data from your brain, making them irrecoverable; it just means the forgiving parent no longer pays any attention to them, and is not going to ever pay any attention to them.

And if God will remember our sins no more, then the priest, acting in persona Christi, would also not remember them, at least in a sacramental sense. That is, even if the priest through his human frailty does remember our sins, he may act only as though he does not remember them, in the same way that God does not remember them.

Thus the Seal of the Confessional.


*One of my many favorite Frank Sinatra songs.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fabulous Endorsement and Review

 I heartily endorse this book. I only wish it had been written when I was, you know, alive; I would have converted much sooner.

A gracious review of my book by blogger, catechist, homeschooler, and author-under-contract (which is more than I can claim) Jennifer Fitz: Teaching Techniques with Christian LeBlanc: The Bible Tells Me So

And the diocesan reviewer has recommended it for an Imprimatur. Woohoo and huzzah.