Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Puritan's Grace

My Wife the Energizer Bunny has graciously consented to feed nineteen people tomorrow. As Lord of the Manor, I'll say something about Thanksgiving as a prelude to grace. This year I wondered what sort of reflections the Puritans would have offered at the first Thanksgiving. I Googled around for a while, but didn't find anything that struck me. So I've decided to confect something that I think a Puritan would appreciate, should any Puritans be among tomorrow's cloud of witnesses:
"Sailing to the the New World in 1620, in a New Ark, the Puritans believed they were establishing a New Israel in a New Canaan. They were a new tribe of Chosen People headed for a new Promised Land. Given how they understood themselves through the Old Testament, I wondered what a Puritan might have said at the first Thanksgiving: something that would be particularly appropriate on that occasion, but would also have meaning in a modern context. And I thought of Psalm 128, which I now paraphrase:
"You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands & all shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. May you live to see your children's children in a happy Jerusalem. How blessed are those who walk in the ways of the Lord!"
And then we'll say grace and eat.
* Mayflower by Mike Haywood

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Christmas Carol

I know, it's from 2009...but it's evergreen.

Tonight as I came into the gym where everyone collects before going to individual classes, I saw the Boss (DRE) speaking to one of the little kids' teachers about having her group do some handmade Christmas cards for soldiers. Since every millisecond in our class is to be spent on my fastidiously-prepared lesson plan, there's no time for such trifles....although it's fine for the kiddies. But as I approached, the Boss looked my way. I put my "no" face on instantly, but to no avail. My kids should make some cards, too. All right, I guess. Five minutes should be enough time, I can put stuff on the board while they play.

Once in the classroom, I opened our storage bin of class supplies, and there's nothing to color with, only pencils and pens. I said, uh-oh, no colors, guess we won't do cards; we'll have regular class! O routine! O lesson plan! But my able assistant Madame Bouncer unearthed a fine box of color markers from the bowels of a closet, and I was beaten. Paper and markers were passed out along with some instruction. My kids are between 11 and 15 or so; the older ones, especially the boys, weren't diving into this little project with the energy of the 11-year-old girls. I wanted them to get it done.

I said, "Look, don't be tentative or shy about drawing something. I'm an architect, I get paid good money to draw and color pictures all day long. You can do it, but you have to start drawing now. I used to teach college students in architecture school. If I had 10 students in my studio and they started a new project, say a dentist's office, after an hour only 2 people would have drawn anything at all. I'd ask the other 8, what are you waiting for? Draw! They'd say, "I don't have a good idea yet." I'd say, "Then draw a bad idea." So I want you to do the same thing. Draw. Draw Santy, or a Christmas tree, or baby Jesus, but draw. If it's bad throw it away, there's plenty of paper. A bad drawing gets you closer to a good one. And think of the soldiers in the freezing cold in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve, how happy they'll be to get a Christmas picture from you. It'd make their Christmas. When I was your age I did the same thing for soldiers in Vietnam, we heard back from some of them. I've even made cards for my wife. Remember, love creates; love doesn't go shopping. Make something good."

So even the self-conscious boys got busy, and soon you could hear a pin drop. The only sound was the clicking of the color marker caps on and off. Click click click click click....A few bad ideas were wadded up as preludes to better ones. After 10 minutes, there was no letup in focus or energy. Mme. Bouncer quietly walked around, indicated I should have a look. I did. Good God in Heaven, they were doing the beautiful, serious work that only children can do. Unique, substantial, careful, thoughtful, imaginative. What soldier wouldn't be thrilled to receive one of these? Then 20 minutes: click click click click, still intense. I accepted that the time was being better spent on making cards than covering class material. By 30 minutes, the first cards were being turned in, and full bladders fled to the bathrooms. By 35 minutes, we started on a shortened lesson plan. It was fine. When class was over I told them they'd done good work, and that if they were my children (which I think they are most of the time) I'd give them all a hug and a kiss.

Thank goodness for my DRE, my bouncer, and my dear students. Thank goodness I stayed out of the way.

I love A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Every Christmas I reflect on Ezekiel 36:25: 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. How well it applies to Scrooge's change of heart. How much I'd like it to apply to me. And I ponder this last line by Dickens: " was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"
The best class is when the teacher learns from the student; I've already received my Christmas present for this year. So I wish an early 'Merry Christmas' to all our soldiers.

And to all a Good Night.

(at top is a scan of one of my students' cards)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Timespace Liturgy

One of the key concepts in 6th grade Wednesday Sunday School is that our worship at Mass connects directly, physically to the unceasing worship that goes on in Heaven. I use the term 'Holy Tornado' along with some blackboard sketching to show a temporary timespace continuum between Heaven and Earth. (see Trou de Ver) Our prayers go up, zhhhhhpp! Jesus comes down, shhhhhhp! Then after a few minutes, bzhht! the connection is broken until the next Mass. The kids dig the science-fiction-movie sounds.

I use this line from Eucharistic Prayer I to reinforce the point:

“Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in Heaven.” Until now I've always drawn this concept on the board. From now on I also have some art to show.

Look at that great image I stumbled upon recently at Tiber Jumper's blog. It differs from similar Mass pictures I've seen since my pre-Vatican 2 childhood. In addition to the crucified Christ made present, it shows an angel ascending to heaven in the midst of the Mass. I imagine the painting is directly inspired by that line from the Eucharistic Prayer, which itself must be partially inspired by Judges 13, and descriptions in Revelations of activities around the altar in heaven, e.g., 8:3-4 which is covered in class:

"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand."

And check out the upper half of the image....the angel is being caught up (raptured!) by the swirling timespace winds of the Holy Tornado! Who knew?!

If anything beats catechizing 6th grade I want to know what it is.

Tempus Fugit

Yesterday I spent a few hours hanging wallpaper: up & down the stepladder, kneeling to cut & measure, crouching to trim. By the evening my legs were achy & stiff. Later my wife & I were preparing to watch a dvd. I was sitting on the sofa, had to get up and walk across the room to flip a light. I got up slowly, walked over to the switch and announced "I'm over here now." I flipped the switch, walked back to the sofa, slowly sat down, and said "I'm back here now."

My Wife the Energizer Bunny said, "You say it like it's an activity."

I said, "For me, simply being is an activity."

We're either sleeping or laughing.