Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fine Art 11: Die Maria Schützt Euch

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Let's jump right in: I read Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke for the first time in 1982. Here's the backstory, but you don't have to look at it. All you need to know is that the Cornet is a prose poem in German, and an elegant introduction to the language.

Yesterday I was admiring Hans Holbein's portrait of St. Thomas More:

So much of who I think More is comes from this painting. And the same is true for Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII. And Erasmus. And Anne of Cleves. So I started aimlessly browsing all the Holbeins I could find, because you can often see a lot just by looking. By and by I came across this one:

It's called the Darmstadt Madonna. It follows a standard formula in which the patron (in this case, Jakob Meyer, mayor of Basel, Switzerland) is at the right hand of Jesus, the Trinity, or a saint; and other members of the family, both dead and alive, are distributed starting at the central character's left hand. Notice in this case that although Mary is physically dominant, nobody looks at her: the patron focuses his gaze on baby Jesus, as does Mary herself. That's a little Catholic digression about a content-packed painting which is not the subject of this post.

But what struck me is Mary's cloak resting on Jakob's shoulder...a type of overshadowing I hadn't ever noticed before. Mary is protecting Jakob by 'spreading her wing' over him, recalling numerous Bible and liturgical examples of protective overshadowing. I assume that Jakob will extend this protection over his family, and that's why Mary's cloak doesn't overshadow to her left. This image of Mary's protection reminded me of a line from the Cornet, when two soldiers go their separate ways:

"Kehrt glücklich heim, Herr Marquis. > Return happily home, Herr Marquis."
"Die Maria schützt Euch, Herr Junker. > The Mary protects you, Herr Junker."

So then I wondered if that was a standard German idea, to seek or enjoy Mary's protection. A quick search on "schutz maria" turned up a town called Maria Schutz in Austria, but I was looking for piety, not places. Tried "schutz madonna", got Schutzmantel Madonna right away, which simply means Protection-cloak Madonna. It's a very common Catholic image in German-speaking cultures:

Looks just like his Momma.

Is the Son's swaddling cloth overshadowing his Mom?

Both the Queen Mother and her Son the King wear crowns

Even popes and bishops want in.

The Schutzmantel Madonna is such a vivid image that I want to get a statue like these for catechism class. It'll fit right in with our recurring theme of overshadowing. Yeah, I could print off a nice lettersize handout of one of these photos (and I may do so regardless) but a 3D teaching tool works better than its 2D version.

And the Schutzmantel isn't just a religious concept. The traditional way a German man would legally demonstrate his adoption (or legitimization) of a child was to publically extend his mantel over the child; so Mary isn't simply protecting a bunch of people- she's adopting them as her children. There's just something about a statue that'll make that point better than a picture. But for class we'll first do a quick skit of Mary extending her beach towel mantel over a couple of her peers. Once the kids figure out its significance, then I'll pull out the statue, we'll discuss some of the German history behind it, and connect it to the Bible examples we've already covered. Then right before class is over I'll distribute a Schutzmantel Madonna handout, and have the kids explain to me how they are going to explain it to their parents for homework.

Figure no more than 5 minutes on the skit and statue; no more than 2 minutes on the handout and quick review.

This material is also covered in this short audio file.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Sun Poured In

Thanksgiving Day was cold and clear, and My Fabulous Wife was adding Blondie ingredients to a mixing bowl on the kitchen island. There's a big skylight over the island, which was lit up like all outdoors. I idly watched Janet pour in a bag of little tan goobers. What's that stuff? "Butterscotch." Huh- you put butterscotch in Blondies? "Yep." Huh...and I was seeing the sunlight all over her and the bowl, and trying to recall something about the sun and butterscotch that for a few seconds gave me that Jesus-kill-me-now good feeling.

Later that night I was still trying to make sense of sun and butterscotch. Searched online for "sun butterscotch" and found:

And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses.

Oh that's right, it's from Chelsea Morning by Joni Mitchell. I probably first heard it sung by Judy Collins on the radio in 1968, when I was 11, then later on by Joni. Chelsea Morning has always colored my image of Manhattan: bright, busy, full of possibility. And it also influenced my idea of romance.

So I listened to it again; and at 56, it moves me more today than it did when I was young. For as well as the lyrics hinted at the love I imagined as a teenager, they better describe the real love I have now. 'Cause in my life, every morning is a Chelsea morning.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I heard
Was a song outside my window, and the traffic wrote the words
It came a-reeling up like Christmas bells, and rapping up like pipes and drums

Oh, won't you stay
We'll put on the day
And we'll wear it 'till the night comes

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I saw
Was the sun through yellow curtains, and a rainbow on the wall
Blue, red, green and gold to welcome you, crimson crystal beads to beckon

Oh, won't you stay
We'll put on the day
There's a sun show every second

Now the curtain opens on a portrait of today
And the streets are paved with passersby
And pigeons fly
And papers lie
Waiting to blow away

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too
And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses
Oh, won't you stay
We'll put on the day
And we'll talk in present tenses

When the curtain closes and the rainbow runs away
I will bring you incense owls by night
By candlelight
By jewel-light
If only you will stay
Pretty baby, won't you
Wake up, it's a Chelsea morning

Chelsea Morning lyrics © Joni Mitchell/Crazy Crow Music/Siquomb Music, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Liturgical History in Four Hours

 Maybe not this exact style

Today I gave the last of four 1-hour presentations at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church here in Greenville, S.C.  The overall subject was liturgical aspects of a Catholic church, divided into 4 threads:

1. The Biblical concept of overshadowing. Overshadowing was traced from Exodus through the Acts of the Apostles, and into the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I also explained the symbolic overshadowing function of a baldacchino.

2. The Bible history of food miracles: from Manna and Quail in the desert, through the Last Supper, and into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

3. The Bible history of Arks and Tabernacles: from Noah's Ark through the Tabernacle in a Catholic church, and from there to the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation.

4. The Bible history of offering sacrifice: from Abel's lamb, through the Book of Revelation, and into the Liturgy of the Eucharist. 

The process included some Hebrew and Greek; audience participation; sacred art handouts; lots of drawing; lots of Bible; lots of learning; and based on comments, lots of fun.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets
At about this time every year in Wednesday Sunday School, we finish the Old Testament. Before beginning the New, we learn and review some big-picture ways to envision the Two Testaments, such as:

1. The Bible is an iceberg; the small part, the NT, is easily seen. But it's supported by the less-obvious OT. Be aware of the whole iceberg, not just what sticks out.

2. The Bible roughly divides into books written before Jesus was born; and books written after he was born. But the whole thing is about Jesus.

3. Two women personify the Testaments and their separate, but related plotlines: Eve, who freely cooperated with the Devil; and Mary, who freely cooperated with God. Every year we do a skit of sorts with two girls and analyze some sacred art featuring these two women. I always refer to the break between the Testaments as an intermission, or a hinge, and I open and shut my held-up Bible at the titlepage of the NT to make the point.

So last week I was looking at the lesson plan and thinking about the Hinge Thing, and how my Bible, the book itself, doesn't really have a literal hinge, since it "hinges" at every page. Which gave me an idea. I bought a nice, heavy 4" hinge at the hardware store with a removable pin. I needed the pin to slide in and out easily, so I filed the thick part down around the top until it did so. This Wednesday when we got to the end of the OT, we did the Iceberg Bit as usual. But then:

"Hey y'all I need two girl volunteers! Me! You aren't a girl. I want real girls. Yes, you two real girls come on down! Daughter One, stand here, and [I give her a hinge leaf] hold this in your left hand, out where we can see it. It's the leaf of a door hinge. You're the Old Testament. Daughter Two, what are you? The New Testament. Yes, and hold this leaf in your right hand..... Well? Well what? Well, do something! This is a skit! [They try to align the two hinge leaves. It's hard without the pin.] Whassamatta wit' y'all? Can't you Testaments get together? They need the stick thing! Yes, they need the pin. [I bring it out and slide it into place.] There y'all go. So tell me about them now. They make the Bible! Yes. And what is the pin? It''s Jesus! Yes, genius, the pin is Jesus. What holds the the leaves together? The pin! And all three together make...a hinge. Yes. But if I take the pin so...then it doesn't work. Yes, so in Bible terms, the two Testaments hinge upon...Jesus. Yes. OK, let me have the leaves...but don't sit down yet! Class, tell me: this girl is the...Old Testament, yes and she's...the New. Yes. But they aren't just Testaments-  they're also two particular women in the Testaments....." And we segued into item 3.

Some teaching points:

1. This is better than my old way of just telling the kids Jesus forms the hinge between the Testaments. This new way the kids have to figure it out instead of being told.

2. It's better when they figure out an abstract concept through something physical than without something physical.

3. The hinge is like a book even though it didn't come up.

4. I could also have done this by simply pointing to a hinge on the door to the classroom. But it's better to have the kids physically participate; and it's better for them to see there is no hinge unless the pin holds the leaves together.   

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Transformation vs. Multiplication

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

Y'all know the Cana miracle, right?

 1 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. 3 When the wine was almost gone, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They are almost out of wine." 4 And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Now a stone jar was standing there, able to hold twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, "Pour the last of the wine into the jar." Then He said, "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast." So they took it. 9 When the steward of the feast tasted the wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now." And they distributed it to those who were seated; as much as they wanted.  And when they had drunk their fill, there was wine left over.

OK-  I'm teasing: that's not how the miracle goes, although my version might seem plausible. Typically somebody doesn't have enough bread, or water, or flour, or oil; and a little bit miraculously goes a long way. But unlike other food miracles in the Bible, Cana's miracle is about transformation, not multiplication, and thus more impressive: making wine out of water is more remarkable than say, Elisha making twenty loaves of bread feed a hundred men.

Why does this matter? Because by miraculously transforming water into wine, Jesus sets a precedent for His invisible transformation of wine into blood. That is, a dog miracle* prepares us for a faith miracle.

Audio based on the above text here.

*And what's a dog miracle? It's one that can be accepted with little-to-no faith. For example, at Cana even a dog could have tasted and seen that water went in and wine came out. People will easily believe what they perceive with their own two eyes or other bodily senses (well, most of the time: John 9) . People love visible miracles, such as making the paralyzed walk...they don't require much faith. It's the invisible ones, like forgiving sins, that are tough.