Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Greenville-Ephrathah 12: Third Billing

 Li'l 'phrathah's fired-up

Please join us at St. Anthony's Catholic Store on Tuesday, February 19th from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm for a Book Signing.

Featured will be nationally known author, Abby Johnson, with her book "Unplanned".

She will be joined by local authors Robbie Boman, author of "Miracles of South Carolina" and "More Miracles of South Carolina", and Christian LeBlanc, author of "The Bible Tells Me So".


Hey, I ain't complaining. As Crash taught Nuke to say, "I'm just happy to be here."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to Pray the Dominican Way

This posts links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets


When I’m browsing at St. Anthony’s Catholic  bookstore here in Greenville, S.C., I tend to glide past the Prayer section on the way to Apologetics, Church History, that sort of stuff.  Like, I already know how to pray, y’know? And I’m not a very reflective person-  so I rarely read books about praying. But then this book fell into my hands: How to Pray the Dominican Way by Angelo Stagnaro.  The Dominican Way? Sure, I guess. But it was the subtitle that caught my eye: Ten Postures, Prayers, and Practices that Lead Us to God.

You know this saying which is ascribed to St. Augustine: “He who sings, prays twice.” I understand this to mean that a human being is comprised of a unity of body and soul. And that to pray is generally understood as a spiritual act, leaving the body to twiddle its thumbs ‘til the soul is done.  But if the body sings the soul’s prayer, then the entire human being prays.  In my mundane prayer experience I’ve found that to completely true. I give singing and praying an A+, compared to a B for just praying on the inside.  So the bit about “Ten Postures” drew me in.

The book begins with a pithy biography of St. Dominic de Guzman, and treats the saint’s evangelistic engagement with the Albigensian heresy in useful detail. Critical to the rest of the book’s content, one learns (or is reminded) that the Albigensians made much fuss over the soul, while treating the body and the physical world “with disdain.” This prelude shows us right away the attention that Dominic would pay to the divine fusion of body and soul; and his motivation for developing specific modes of prayer that would engage them both. As I tell the kids in Catechism class: the Body trains the Soul; the Soul trains the Body. St. Dominic would like that.

Following the bio are a few pages in which the author tells us how to use the book. After that, ten chapters focus on ten ways to involve the body in prayer. A typical chapter is titled “Lying Prostrate on the Ground.”  I plugged into this one right away because I’ve been praying prostrate for years in my bedroom, and it works. So I knew Mr. Stagnaro wasn’t just cranking out pious pap. When an author comments on a subject I already know something about, and I find his comments to be reasonable based on my own experience, I’m more inclined to accept his thinking on what I am not familiar with. And speaking of the unfamiliar, in this chapter on lying prostrate he presents a winsome way of praying the Jesus Prayer within a natural rhythm of measured breathing. Wow…never thought of that. I’ll have to give it a try.

The other chapters are similar. They lead with a few words about Dominic and the posture in question; then a few meditations which correlate with that posture; and finally a good-sized chunk of Scripture to pray and reflect on, thematically aligned with the body’s posture.

So: will How to Pray the Dominican Way have any influence on me? Happily, it will. I’m not an adventuresome pray-er, but this explicitly physical approach was new and interesting  to me, and worth a try. If you are not like me, and take a pro-active approach to prayer, you’ll love this book. If you are like me, and won’t crack a book like this, crack this book. I expect you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

This review was originally posted at Standing on My Head

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Subtled into Nakedness

This posts links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets
 Right there it says naked

We cover the first two chapters of Genesis in the first class of each year. The kids figure out pretty fast why Adam and Eve weren't ashamed to be naked in Eden. Later, while discussing chapter 3, they explain why after Adam and Eve sinned, their nakedness was cause for shame. Of course, naked is naked- right? Or could there be more to it?

Someone corresponded with me recently regarding a post I wrote in 2011 about Semitic triliteral roots. Commenting on the wordplay of the Hebrew Old Testament he said: "...somebody who gave me his Hebrew OT had underlined two words in the early chapters of Genesis. If I remember, they were 'erom and "erom, one with the light opening and the other with the ayin opening. One means naked, and the other means subtle -- and I'd say that the author was saying something there. What do you think?"

I didn't think anything yet, but would check it out. I use the Protestant Blue Letter Bible website. I reference the King James Version there. Just FYI, it's very close to the Douay-Rheims Challoner translation.

Not knowing either of those Hebrew words, I first searched for instances of subtle in the KJV O.T., found none. Huh...that was unexpected. Tried naked, found lot of verses. Naked was always used in its literal sense, e.g. "he was naked"  vs. "the naked truth." That might simplify things. Checked the Hebrew for one of the instances of naked:  עָרוֹם `arowm, naked, Strong's H6174. (Strong's Concordance is a Bible Greek and Hebrew language reference) I had a look at the Septuagint translation just to see how `arowm was translated into Greek. In every case, `arowm was translated as gymnos, naked: you know, like in gymnasium. No alternate words, no shadings of meaning: naked is naked. That's good. Yes, `arowm isn't  'erom, but I don't know if there's a single standard for transliterating Hebrew into English letters and sounds.

I noticed that `arowm derives from a root word, עָרַם `aram Strong's H6191. `Aram means shrewd, crafty, and...subtle. That was easy! Now I check on instances of `aram in the OT, and in Genesis in particular, because that was where my friend said the words were underlined. Uh-oh, it's not used at all in Genesis. Huh. That must mean there's another word that's close to`aram, and basically means the same thing. I try Strong's 6190 and 6192: sometimes adjacent words are related. No luck. I go back to`arowm, naked, and try H6173: no luck. H6175, yes: עָרוּם `aruwm, shrewd, crafty, sly, subtle. First use of `aruwm is in Genesis 3:1, "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made." (KJV) Aaack! the KJV spells 'subtle' an older way: subtil. That's why I didn't get a word search hit on "subtle." I may as well check on naked again while I'm at it, but this time just looking at Genesis. Ha! There are two Hebrew words for naked in Genesis:

"And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." `arowm, Strong's 6174, I've already looked at that one.

Here is the other naked used three times:

"And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.... And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" This naked, a shameful naked, is עֵירֹם `eyrom, Strong's H5903. And here's an elegant closure: `eyrom's root is H6191, `aram, shrewd, crafty, subtle. If you are like me and can't read Hebrew, you can still see how all these related words have the same 3 letters, and differ mostly by the jots and tittles, the vowel points, that affect pronunciation. When you consider that those markings weren't invented until around 700 A.D, for practical purposes all these similar "words" are more like a single word with an array of vowel changes to clarify particular meanings (sort of like woman and women; or read and read).

So why does all this matter? Well, it's a wordplay-  like this: Adama is Hebrew for ground; Adam is Hebrew for man. So Adam אדם was made of Adama אדמה, see? And both words spring from a common root. Likewise, the name Yitschaq /Isaac יצחק springs from the root word Tsachak צחק, laughter. Sarah laughed at the idea of bearing a son in her old age; and laughed again when Laughter was born.

So in our Genesis case there are two related Hebrew words, which tell us that Adam and Eve didn't realize they were shamefully naked until the serpent had subtled them into eating the fruit. That is, "[T]he serpent was more `aruwm (subtle, tricky)  than any beast...and they knew that they were `eyrom (naked)." I imagine the lesson is that after the Fall, there persists unashamed pre-Fall nakedness within marriage; and shameful, sly nakedness outside of marriage. That's my guess. And it's a lesson I can work into Catechism class starting next year.

An Adam-Adama sort of pun, which I already teach along with Isaac and Laughter. So when it comes to the Old Testament, though the Greek Septuagint often provides specificity, something may be overlooked if you don't check the Hebrew as well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Res Ipsa Loquitur: Mass Model

No, not a mass model...

...a Mass model.

About 8 minutes of class time. Yes it's bedlam, but you can hear the kids thinking and learning. Multiply this 8 minutes by 7, and you get a sense of how much content is covered in 55 minutes of teaching, and at what depth.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Umbrella of the LORD

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. 

Living in the modern, woodsy, and temperate South Carolina Upstate, the kids in Wednesday Night Sunday School don't grasp the Biblical concept of overshadowing right away. To them, overshadowing sounds dark and threatening, like a thundercloud. In prior years, I'd explain that people living in a hot, arid land would regard being overshadowed as a good thing, as in "made in the shade." I might use this example from my Yucatan honeymoon: at Chichen Itza, the sun was so brutal that I hid under a tree at every opportunity. I moved from shade-to-shade as much as possible.

But this year I got a volunteer to come stand in front of me. He acted out my description of being uncovered in the desert, and the sun burning him to a crisp: "Your lips are blistered and cracked, your head feels like it's on fire, you can barely open your eyes, you're cooking to death...what do you need? Water! No, you have water. Class, will water keep him alive 'til sundown? No! What does he need? Shade! Yes! He needs...(I reach into my canvas bag)...an umbrella! Yes!" I open it over the wilting child. "How's that? Good! Well don't just stand there, show us...there ya go, so cool, so nice...think you'll live now? Yes! Y'all tell me what people want at the beach. A beach umbrella! Yes. When it's hot and sunny, being overshadowed is gooood- got it? Yes! OK. Now volunteer, would you like to shade yourself with my umbrella? Yes! Well, you can't have it, it's mine. I can decide to overshadow you or not; and you can decide if you're going to stay in my shade or not. So if I start to move...I move too! Yes. But I don't force you, because you have...free will! Yes- we both agree that you'll be protected by my umbrella."

This year I thought of the umbrella only in time for the Annunciation. Next year I'll use it as soon as we cover Exodus, and discuss the Shekhinah overshadowing the Meeting Tent.

Speaking of Exodus, the Hebrew Old Testament does not have a directly-equivalent word for episkiazo, ἐπισκιάζω  the Greek verb we translate as overshadow. Hebrew instead has a few basic verbs such as sakak and kasah, which fundamentally mean "to cover."  Context often suggests specific meanings such as block, screen, protect, defend, enclose, and overshadow.

Centuries after Exodus was written down, the Hellenic Jewish scholars of Alexandria translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek: the Septuagint. When they translated verbs such as sakak סָכַךְ and kasah כָּסָה into the word-rich Greek language, they didn't say "to cover" every time. So to understand the Biblical idea of overshadowing involves looking at how the concept of covering is used in a spiritual sense in the Old Testament, regardless of the particular verb used in each case. What follows is a representative, but hardly exhaustive list of examples.

Ex 24:15:  Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.

Num 16:42 And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting; and behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared.

Ex 40:3 And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil.

Ex 25:20 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.

That is, the LORD's cloud covers the Meeting Tent; the Meeting Tent covers the Sanctuary; the veil screens off the Holy of Holies; the cherubim overshadow the Mercy Seat. Four degrees of covering which define increasingly-exclusive access. Ultimately only one person, the High Priest, is allowed access to the Mercy Seat.

Some charming and affectionate expressions of being protected by the LORD's overshadowing wings:

Ps 17:8 Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of thy wings

Ps 36:7 The children of men take refuge in the shadow of thy wings.

Ps 91:4  ...he will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.

The tree overshadows the mother; the mother overshadows her children

 A few more coverings:

1Kings 19:19 So [Elijah] departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him. (Elijah selects Elisha to be his protege and successor.)

Nahum 2:5 The officers are summoned, they stumble as they go, they hasten to the wall, the mantlet (cover) is set up. (A mantlet, literally a small mantle or cloak, is a military term for a protective screen or shield. For example, a tank typically has an armored mantlet, which covers the opening through which its gun protrudes.)

Ruth 3:9 I am Ruth, your maidservant; spread your wing (i.e., cloak) over your maidservant, for you are next of kin. (Ruth wants Boaz to marry her.)

Those should be enough examples to give you a spiritual sense of covering: selection, separation, protection, dedication. The umbrella does a good job of physically showing kids these characteristics, especially separation. That is, let's say that as a husband I will put one woman, my wife, under my umbrella. She does not get rained on; and I shelter no-one else. My overshadowing is not inclusive, it's exclusive. And if I collapse the umbrella, she'll get wet. There's no spiritual dimension to it- but suppose there were?

Let's focus a bit on the matrimonial aspects of covering. We'll start with Elijah cloaking Elisha. True, they aren't getting married, but this is going to be a covenantal relationship regardless. Elijah physically and symbolically shows that he has selected Elisha; he will protect Elisha; Elisha is separated from his family; Elisha is dedicated to a new purpose. Why is this so? Because by covering Elisha with his mantle, and Elisha 'accepting the mantle,' Elijah echoes aspects of the Jewish marriage rite.

Y'all are probably familiar with the Jewish prayer shawl, the tallit:

You can see how this man covers himself, using his tallit to create his own private, separate, exclusive Meeting Tent. Suppose he were to admit someone else under his tent, could that matter? Indeed it could.

Here's a Jewish man admitting someone else into his tent, spreading his wings over her:

Of course they are getting married. The husband shows that his wife is, that's right, selected, separated, protected, and dedicated by covering her with his tallit. And she shows her acceptance by freely choosing to abide under his wing. By the way, the tallit may also be used to cover the wedding couple, as a tent once covered Abraham and Sarah. The tent covers the couple, the husband covers the wife; once again, a hierarchy of access:

 Yes, those are hockey sticks supporting the chuppah, the canopy.

Boaz understood that Ruth wanted him to marry her; and while spreading his wing over Ruth on a threshing floor would not make a marriage, it would most definitely indicate a commitment to wed. Did Boaz spread his wing over Ruth? Go find out on your own.

And likewise anyone who saw Elijah cover Elisha understood it was no ephemeral gesture.

Here's one more covering verse for you:

Acts 5:15 [T]hey brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.

We understand from context that Peter's shadow would heal those upon whom it fell. But after Peter had passed, and the afflicted were no longer overshadowed, would they become blind, lame, leprosy-ravaged again? Of course not: the consequences of Peter's overshadowing were permanent.

Suppose the Meeting Tent veils were pulled back; or the Shekhinah, the Glory Cloud, had shifted overhead; or the Tent wasn't pitched yet; or the cherubim weren't poised over the Ark; would any of that have allowed access to the Mercy Seat by anyone less than the High Priest? Of course not: access to the Ark was permanently exclusive, and the Ark itself was permanently reserved for God's Stuff, as we say in Catechism class.

And when Elijah put his mantle back on his own shoulders- was Elisha free to go back to his family and farm, get married, have kids? Again, of course not. The consequence of being covered by Elijah's mantle was permanent.

How about at a wedding? The husband must eventually put away his tallit, remove it from his wife's shoulders. Is his wife still selected, protected, separated, dedicated? Yes. Her status is permanent.

And the chuppah, the canopy- does God cease to cover the marriage when the tent comes down? Of course not.

Now back to the opening verse from Luke 1: "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." That is, Mary was selected, protected, separated, and dedicated by God Himself, and Mary agreed to it. After the child was born, was Mary's overshadowed status canceled? Was Mary free to enjoy a life of marital intimacy with Joseph, having more children? The New Ark, once containing not merely God's Stuff, but God Himself, now suitable for holding...regular stuff?

Of course not: as a consequence of being overshadowed by God, Mary's virginal status was permanent.  More permanent than even a marriage vow, or the healings worked through Peter's passing shadow: ever-virgin.

My umbrella eventually has to close; God's doesn't.

Credit to the San Miguel News for the chuppah; and Henry Owassa Tanner for his Annunciation. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Apple & Balloon

Our last class of the year covered December stuff: Immaculate Conception and Nativity scenes, mostly. We also talked about the transition from the Old Testament to the New, and got in a few minutes about John the Forerunner's miraculous conception.

For the last few years I've had a couple of girls portray this image, which I treat as the Great Hinge between the Testaments:

Yeah, I know, I show it in class every year around Christmas, and here at the blog. So what? It's a first-class catechetical tool, loaded with theological content like the work of Northern Renaissance artists such as van Eyck.

Anyway, the kids don't see the pic 'til we've discussed the content with our live models. This year, instead of saying, "Hey I need an Eve, get up here daughter...I need a Mary, yes, c'mon up," I did this:

"OK y'all I need two girl volunteers...two! not eight! And you aren't a girl! If you've already acted this year put ya hands down. Just one of you is left? OK daughter, you're it, come on up." I reach into my canvas bag. "Here, this apple's for you. Who is she? Eve! Yes, smarties! One more girl...NOT ALL OF YOU! Daughter, today's your birthday right? 12 years old on 12-12-12? Yes! OK, birthday girl gets the job!"

Now I pull out...a balloon?...and blow it up 'til it's about canteloupe size. "Here ya go, put this under your sweater like so. What's it for? Can y'all figure this out? She's pregnant! Ewww! Ewww! Ewww? Babies are great! Your mommas were pregnant with you! It's too weird! That's OK, you don't have to do it...who wants to be the pregnant woman? Me! Yes, c'mon up...there ya go. Who is she? Sarah! Good guess, but no. It's someone in the New Testament. Elizabeth! Ooh, great guess again, but no. Mary! Yes, and who's in the balloon? Jesus! Yes!" And from there we have the usual discussion followed by the image handout and more discussion. I like it better with the props, because then the kids can figure out, instead of being told, who the women are.

Couple of cartoons from class, similar to those in prior years:

Pressed for time during the Nativity discussion, I forgot this bit of Isaiah: A multitude of camels shall cover you, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD; and thus left the camels out. But I remembered in 2010: