Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Le Mot Juste 3

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

A couple of days ago I couldn't think of a word, you know how it is. I described it to my wife, she drew a blank too. I looked at a couple of online Thesauruses, no luck. After 30 minutes it popped into my head; it was something like enervating or disinterested. That sort of word.

Then at dinner tonight we were discussing the flu going around. A daughter was drawing a blank on the word she wanted. She was saying the flu "passes on, it's easy to get sick." Oh yeah- flu is contagious.

New topic: English isn't all that English anymore, not since the 11th century when Guillaume le Bâtard, William the Conqueror, became King of England, and brought all that Latinate Norman French with him. About 45% of modern English is French-sourced: words such as impartial, attorney, celestial, venison, verity and velocity; but not words such as fair, lawyer, heavenly, deer, truth, and speed. And yes, words such as disinterested and contagious are also French-Latin.

So I have a little two-part hypothesis:

1. When an Anglophone can't remember a word, it's most likely to be a Latinate word like velocity, not a West Germanic word like speed.

2. The Anglophone will try to describe that forgotten word using mostly West Germanic words.

Considering that almost nobody speaks English with any awareness of where any word might have come from a thousand or more years ago, isn't it remarkable that this fundamental split in the language still exists subconsciously after so long? Is it merely syllable count? I doubt it. This must get at some inherent difference in how Romance and Germanic languages work at the most primal level. And do German speakers therefore think differently than we do, not having a French-soaked vocabulary and grammar? And likewise the French- what do they miss from not having West Germanic nuts and bolts in their tongue? Does English confer benefits on the speaker's brain from being dual-sourced? And when Germans or Frenchmen forget words and try to describe them- are there any patterns to the words sometimes forgotten or always remembered?

As we say in English: I. Don't. Know. But I do wonder.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hide in Plain Sight 2

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

I know, I beat this Annunciation to death. But I wouldn't if it weren't full of Biblical-Catholic content. I blame the artist, Matthias Grünewald. For now let's just focus on a single theme: overshadowing. A theme I beat to death, but only because it too is full of Biblical-Catholic content. I blame the Holy Scriptures.

So let's look at this blow-up:

1. Bottom right: the Ark of the Mosaic Covenant, about to become the Ark of the Old Covenant.
2. Left: Mary, about to become the Ark of the New Covenant.
3. Upper left: the Shekhinah, the Glory Cloud of the Mosaic Covenant.
4. Upper left, inside the Shekhinah, the Holy Spirit.

This is the moment when Mary accepts God's uhh, proposal, delivered by Gabriel the messenger; and Mary learns how this baby-making will, you know, actually happen: "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." The Shekhinah makes God the Father's power manifest in his physical creation, the fallen world we inhabit. And we know the Holy Spirit later showed himself as a dove at Jesus' baptism, so why not here as well?

Now this is interesting: we expect the Holy Spirit to come over Mary (in this painting, over her womb). But the Shekhinah does too, both in Scripture and in the painting. That is, the power of God the Father, as expressed in the Glory Cloud, has shifted from overshadowing the Old Ark to overshadowing the New Ark. That makes sense- the Old Ark contained God's Stuff: the Ten Commandments, the pot of Manna, and Aaron's Staff. The New Ark contains God Himself, little zygote Jesus. I mean, if I were God the Father, this would be a no-brainer: my child trumps my stuff.

Strictly speaking though, Mary is not just an Ark, because she doesn't hold stuff. She's also a Tabernacle, where a living being dwells. Now you may reasonably think that both Noah's family and baby Moses were living things inside Arks. That is true, but neither Ark was a dwelling per se, in which one settles down. They were temporary protections which had no intrinsic longterm value; and both Noah's family and Moses abandoned their respective Arks for appropriate dwellings.

This difference between Arks and Tabernacles hints at a bigger difference between God's presence in the two Covenants. In the Old Covenant (O.C.), God himself was spirit, and his Stuff in the Ark made physical testimony to Him. In Catholic terms, the Stuff was an O.C. analog to sacramentals such as Holy Water. But in the N.C., mere Stuff is amped-up by Jesus being God in the flesh. To some extent, yeah, Jesus' body is stuff, but it's as integral to his divine being as our bodies are to our human existence. Living stuff, fused with unique spirit. The stuff of Jesus' body, or even my body, has moral aspects that don't apply to say, rocks. Or a pot of Manna. So think of Jesus not as a sacramental such as Holy Water; but as a sacrament such as Baptism. All the difference in the world. And the idea of Mary being not just Ark, but Tabernacle, a little house for God to live in, expresses a whole new reality about how God will from then on dwell among his people. In other words, the N.C. counterpart to the O.C. Ark of Stuff is not another Ark of Stuff, but God Himself physically among us, dwelling in a house.

All that said, this is really a post about Catholicism and how its architecture may communicate Bible Truth. Here's a photo from my church, St. Mary's in Greenville, SC:

A lovely visual shorthand for the Holy Spirit spreading its protecting wings over Mary and Jesus, recalling the Annunciation and numerous additional Biblical references to overshadowing. But wait, there's more! Not only does this liturgical detail allude to Jesus dwelling in Mary for 9 months, but connects that idea to the present day, and extends it indefinitely into the future. Have a look:

There ya go, the big picture. As Jesus once dwelled under the shadow of the Holy Spirit in Mary, he remains overshadowed by both Holy Spirit and Cherubim, now dwelling in the little houses, the Tabernacles, in Catholics churches the world over. And Jesus will continue to dwell in them until the New Covenant passes away, and we live together with Him forever, bodies and souls united in the New Jerusalem.

In Catholic churches, big ideas hide in plain sight.

Audio version here.

Church photos by Arlen Clarke, Choirmaster at St. Mary's

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pitchers 23: Isaiah's Crèche

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Every year we take about 30 minutes of the last class before Christmas to create a Nativity based on Isaiah's prophecies. Here's the text in case you want to do it in your class:

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. The camels should be spitting. Let's compromise- this one will spit....and this one has manners.

"....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. So what goes in a manger? Stuff to eat. Yes. [Jesus goes in the manger] So why is Jesus in the manger? 'Cause it's his crib. Well, yes, but why is Jesus put into something that you put food into? No guesses? That's ok, we'll come back to Jesus being in the manger later this year. Now 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. "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 pagan 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.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pitchers 22: Mary, Elizabeth & All That

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Board from tonight's class, about half was erased so this is a second go-around. I could really use a bigger board.

Stuff covered on the board: Old Ark, New Ark, overshadowing by the Most High, Ruth and Boaz (more overshadowing), Holy Spirit (more overshadowing), Glory Cloud & Meeting Tent (more overshadowing), Zechariah and Gabriel in the Temple, seasonal significance of conceptions of John & Jesus, Mary and Elizabeth, what Elizabeth means, Immaculate Conception, infinite God Himself growing inside little-bitty Mary's tummy, Mary the Mother of God, Council of Ephesus, Mary had no other children, the Trinity present at the Annunciation...maybe that's all for the board.

Stuff covered by skits: Annunciation, desert life w/ umbrella (more overshadowing), a Jewish wedding w/ beachtowels (more overshadowing), Elijah & Elisha w/ beachtowel (more overshadowing), Ruth and Boaz w/ beachtowel (more overshadowing), the Visitation replete with a leaping rubber fetus.

Stuff otherwise treated, including some review on the fly: Bible as iceberg, couple of Isaiah's prophecies, Malachi's Elijah prophecy, Zechariah smartmouthing to Gabriel, Zechariah's spectacular prophecy, marriage, making babies, not being able to make babies, adopting babies, women making baby deals with God, Nazirites, Samuel, Samson, cousins, my wife when she was pregnant, what Joseph must have thought, Uzziah & Joseph, what if my wife had been pregnant with God the Father's baby, fetal alcohol syndrome, baby birds and momma birds, spreading your wing (more overshadowing), David's Psalms about seeking God's protection from Saul, the mystery of women growing other people inside them, seeing my kids be born, terms of endearment for my wife.

Filling an hour with compelling Christian witness is easy if there's a Bible handy and a classful of terrific children.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Glory Cloud

This post links to Sunday Snippets

This year so far is the best year I've had catechizing 6th grade, which is saying a lot, since even the worst year (which I clearly remember) was still a good year. It takes a couple of months for the children to adjust to how class works, but lately we've become quite the little family, laughing, learning, anticipating, finishing each other's sentences. It's like sitting around the dinner table and the topic of lively conversation is always Jesus and his Church. The last two classes were like group flow-states, if that's possible. The kids believe in themselves, partly because they know I believe in them and love them like my own children. Every Wednesday night we hit the ground running, and they are fearless thinkers, knowing that even a fabulously wrong answer can still be a good answer.

Last class we were discussing this Annunciation, and how aspects of both Church and Temple are present in the building.

 Panel from the Isenheim Altarpiece

The kids can relate new stuff to old stuff on the fly, and one of them asked if there had been a Shekhinah cloud over the Temple, as there had been over the Meeting Tent. "Huh...maybe as long as it contained the Ark; y'all may remember that the Ark was gone by the time Mary was born. But there's a Glory Cloud in the painting. I see it! Yes! And in the cloud? The dove, the Holy Spirit! Yes! But is it overshadowing the Ark? No, Mary! Yes, because...Jesus is in her? Yes, as of that very moment when both Holy Spirit and Glory Cloud overshadow her. Yes, what? Is there a Shekhinah in church? Uhh...never thought about it. I guess not. Well, maybe it's there but we can't see it because of sin (being blinded or veiled by sin is a standard idea). Wow, you could be right! There's all sorts of glory and saints and angels at Mass with us, so I wouldn't be surprised if the whole church (arms waving around) might be lit like the sun with God's presence. It might be like visions Isaiah and Daniel had (they know them). Wow. We'll get to some of that later this year." And then we continued to discuss the painting.

I know this vignette is a small thing, but for that weekly hour of class we hover on the cusp of Heaven. This is my life. As the song says, God Has Been So Good to Me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Res Ipsa Loquitur 16: Mass Density

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets
James Tissot Strikes Again

Six minutes on a Scripturally-packed part of the Mass, in this podcast at Source and Summit; and a winsome conversion story by host Marvin Max.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pitchers 21: Uzziah and Mary

This post and the next link to RAnn's Sunday Snippets
"What animal is that? That's an ox. Doesn't look like an ox. Well, two oxen then. It looks like just one. OK, it looks like one ox, thanks for agreeing with me. Now stop whining and look at Uzziah."

Read and draw: "And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzziah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzziah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God."

We discuss how the Ark was too pure to be touched by sinful humans, which of course is why it had carrying poles. One of the kids asks, Do you think Mary could touch it? "Wow, I don't know. I suppose; although I don't think she would have presumed to do so. And the Ark was gone by the time Mary was alive. Good question."

I was tempted right then to digress a bit about Mary being the Ark of the New Covenant, but decided to let it go. But next month when we get to the Annunciation, I'll introduce the New Ark concept by starting with this Old Ark scene from 2Samuel. I'll ask who remembers the question someone asked about who might have been able to touch the Ark and live. That'll be the jumping-off point for talking about Mary the New Ark containing sinless baby Jesus inside her for nine months.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pitchers 20: Qodesh Qodesh

This post links to Convert Journal
From the Nov. 5 Catechism class

Drawing and reading about the Holy of Holies*  in Solomon's temple: "The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; and he overlaid it with pure gold.  In the most holy place he made two cherubim of wood and overlaid them with gold. The wings of the cherubim together extended twenty cubits: one wing of the one, of five cubits, touched the wall of the house, and its other wing, of five cubits, touched the wing of the other cherub; and of this cherub, one wing, of five cubits, touched the wall of the house, and the other wing, also of five cubits, was joined to the wing of the first cherub. The wings of these cherubim extended twenty cubits; the cherubim stood on their feet, facing the nave. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles." Not included in the text is the High Priest at lower right, and the LORD's presence hovering over the Mercy Seat. Cherubim's swords are my addition based on Genesis.

I first drew the 30 x 30 x 30 shape of the space, and the kids recognized it as a cube. Then the other details were added on the fly as they came up while reading. The cube will matter this spring when we draw and read about a much larger one described in Revelations: "The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its breadth; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and breadth and height are equal." The other bits will matter when we transition from God's Old Covenant dwelling to his New Covenant dwelling.

When teaching adults, a picture is worth a thousand words. A live drawing is worth five thousand words. And with kids, a live drawing is worth ten thousand words. When I get to Revelations in April, will they remember the shape and stuff of the Holy of Holies? You bet they will.

*Qodesh Qodesh, קדש  קדש, Holy (of) Holies.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Make Babies

This post links to Convert Journal
Yes, that is a Platytera. It's OK to laugh.

6th-grade catechism class naturally covers a lot of Catholic themes during its year-long trip through the Bible. One of them is marriage and children. I don't ever stand in front of the kids and say, "marriage and babies are good, and divorce and abortion are bad," I let them figure it out as we go, helped along with personal testimony from me. I don't form consciences so much as create the opportunity for the kids to form their own consciences themselves.

Here's a list of Bible bits that the kids learn about and discuss, my intent being to help them develop a Catholic worldview without being didactic about it:

1. Creation. God's last and greatest creation is a man and a woman together, creating babies. But not just any man and woman, a husband and wife, a marriage: one man, one rib, one woman, one flesh.

2. After all, the first commandment is to "be fruitful and multiply," more pithily expressed in class as "make babies."

3. The Flood. As soon as Noah steps out of the Ark, God reminds him and his family of the first commandment: "Be fruitful and multiply."

4. Abraham and Sarah become the parents of a nation.

5. To accomplish #4, Abraham and Sarah have a miraculous pregnancy. They're so happy that their love has at last made a baby that they name him Laughter.

6. Pagan peoples living around Abraham kill their own firstborn children and offer them to strange gods, but God doesn't require that of Abraham right off. But when God does ask for Isaac's sacrifice, Abraham must feel as though he's been asked to kill all the laughter and joy in his life.

7. Isaac and Rebecca have a miraculous pregnancy, and Rebecca bears Esau and Jacob.

8. Jacob and Rachel have a miraculous pregnancy, and Rachel bears Joseph.

9. Manoah and his wife have a miraculous pregnancy, and she bears Samson.

10. Elkhanah and Hannah have a miraculous pregnancy, and Hannah bears Samuel.

11. Psalm 78 says God "appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; 6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God." So even kids not yet born or even conceived still matter to God.

12. In Psalm 128, David reflects on the joy of family: "Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table."

13. Israel falls on hard times, and some parents kill their babies to appease Molech: "Are you not children of transgression, the offspring of deceit, you who burn with lust among the oaks, under every green tree; who slay your children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks?"

14. But God still loves his children in both fatherly and motherly ways: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands."

15. God knew Jeremiah, and had a job for him before his mom was even pregnant: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

16. Baby-killing continues in Jeremiah's day: "Stand in the gate of the LORD's house, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,"I will let you dwell in this place if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt. The people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by burning incense in it to other gods; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal." The kids figure out on their own how such passages relate to abortion.

17. Zechariah and Elizabeth have a miraculous pregnancy, and Elizabeth bears John.

18. Mary has the most miraculous pregnancy, and bears Jesus.

This is not an exhaustive list, just the things we have time for in catechism class. By the time we get to Mary, the children can place her at the end of a line of mothers that stretches all the way back to Eve; and have acquired a holistic Scriptural basis for a pro-life conscience.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Greenville-Ephrathah 16

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets
L'il 'phrathah

Adopted Son of Ephrathah Josh Bathon was recently accepted to the Novitiate for the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Josh officially became a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross in August. After a Novitiate year of intense prayer and continued discernment in Cascade, Colorado, Josh will profess temporary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in August 2015, then return to the University of Notre Dame for 4 years of graduate theology, followed by Deaconate ordination in September, 2019, and then, God-willing, ordination to the Holy Priesthood on April 18, 2020.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


This lesson plan was originally posted at the Sophia Institutue for Teachers
and links to Convert Journal. Live version is here.

not exactly

Every year in our journey through the Bible and the Mass, the kids learn about All the Arks. Like everything else in our Salvation History curriculum, I cover them as they come up. But the theme of Arks teaches a useful Catholic lesson that can be covered in a single class period like this:

0. Prelude: the Garden of Eden.

Per Genesis 2 and 3, Eden isn't the whole of the Earth, but a distinct, separate place:

"And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers."

[I draw a quick picture of God, Adam, Eve, the Tree, and the Snake; and show them contained within the Garden.]

God dwelled in Eden in some physical way with Adam and Eve:

"And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

So even though Eden is not an ark, it prefigures arks:

a. God is present in Eden in a way that he is not present outside of Eden. In more general terms, what's inside of Eden is better than what's outside of Eden.
b. Eden is relatively small, and holds precious things inside: God's Stuff. That is, the Tree of Life; and Adam and Eve before they sinned.
c. It's protective.

1. Noah's Ark

"God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch."

[I draw the Ark with people and animals sticking their heads out.]

Right off I ask the kids what an ark is. Someone will say a boat, which is the starting point for looking at what an ark is, because it's not always a boat. In the case of Noah's ark and Moses' ark, the Hebrew word is tebah. Tebah is only used in these two cases, but no-one is sure of its meaning. To keep it simple in class, I say tebah means container. And if the container floats, then it must be a boat. Then we discuss the Ark's 'arkiness'. It contains God's Stuff, precious things, i.e., Noah's family and the animals; things are better inside the Ark than outside; it protects; and it separates the relatively good inside from the sinful outside.

2. Moses' Ark

Exodus 2 says "1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took to wife a daughter of Levi. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 3 And when she could hide him no longer she took for him an ark (Hebrew- tebah) made of bulrushes, and daubed it with bitumen and pitch; and she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds at the river's brink. 4 And his sister stood at a distance, to know what would be done to him. 5 Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, and her maidens walked beside the river; she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to fetch it. 6 When she opened it she saw the child; and lo, the babe was crying."

[I draw the squalling baby floating in the basket.]

The kids will jump all over this Ark because they already know about Noah's Ark: baby Moses is precious; he's God's Stuff; he's better than what's outside of the Ark; he's protected. The Ark floats so it must be...a boat, yes, but in general an ark is just a container.

3. The Ark of the Covenant

Before getting to this Ark, the kids have to know about Moses and the Israelites' exiting Egypt, and becoming nomads for 40 years. Being nomads, they live in tents. So if God is going to dwell among his people again, he needs a tent, too; what in Latin is called a tabernaculum, a little house:

"And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it."

[I draw the outline of a big tent, just walls and roof. Then as I continue to read, inside the tent I draw the ark; the rings and poles; the seat; and the cherubim and their wings.]

"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. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. 17 Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 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. 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. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel."

Now we learn the contents of the Ark: a pot of Manna, Aaron's staff, and the Commandments. The kids once again can explain the arkiness: only God's Stuff goes inside; the Stuff is protected; it's better than what's outside the Ark; it's separated from the sinful stuff outside. If your kids don't know about the contents already, you'll have to give them some background before you start on the scripture bits above. We learn a new Hebrew word arown, which means chest, and the word always used to denote the Ark of the Covenant. I point out it's another word for container, kind of like tebah. (You can skip the Hebrew if you want to.)

Time permitting, I'll draw how Solomon's Temple placed the Ark in a cube-shaped Holy of Holies, a box-in-a-box concept of sorts.

4. The Ark of the New Covenant

[I draw Mary and Gabriel]

"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, * the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. ...And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" 35 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."

[I add a dot to Mary's tummy.]

Through guided discussion/ Q&A the kids sort out:

The dot is Jesus. Jesus is contained in Mary's tummy. He will dwell in Mary for 9 months. [I show Jesus growing bigger inside Mary.] Jesus is way precious, more valuable than just God's Stuff- Jesus is God Himself. If Mary is containing Jesus then we might refer to her as an Ark, the Ark of the New Covenant. Because Jesus has no sin, and lives in Mary, connects to her through his belly-button, Mary has no sin either. She and Jesus are separate from the rest of the world in that way.

5. The Tabernacle

[I draw the east end of a church interior, basically an altar, some candles, and a big crucifix.]

I get the kids to quickly tell me Jesus' story in stages: Jesus was born, became an adult, founded his church, died for our sins, resurrected, and went to heaven. But Mary's not the last Ark, nowadays we have one in every church. If the kids can't guess what it is, I re-read this bit of Exodus: "And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it." They then can connect the tabernacle, the little house in that Exodus passage, to the tabernacle in the Church. [I add the tabernacle to the picture, and always show it as a little house with a gable-roof.] We see how they are related, and also how like Mary, the tabernacle isn't just a container for God's stuff, but a little house for Jesus to dwell in. It's close to how God and Adam and Eve dwelled in Eden together, but Jesus doesn't talk or walk around in the afternoon like God did in Eden. If a child asks why we don't call the Tabernacle an Ark, I remind them a house is a container that people live in. So Jesus' container is called a tabernaculum, Latin for little house, or tent, like the one God dwelled in among the nomadic Israelites.

6. The New Jerusalem

But remember as we say at Mass, the Church is a pilgrim church, which means it's on a journey. At the Second Coming, we will have reached our destination, and we won't have the Church anymore. In the Book of Revelation, St. John says: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; 3 and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them."

So what sort of place will this be, where a few billion of us (one hopes) will dwell with God? Let's see: "And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal...The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its breadth; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and breadth and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits by a man's measure, that is, an angels. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass."

Kids don't know what a stadion is. Now I draw and talk, "Let's see how big this New Jerusalem is...a stadion is is about 1/10 of a mile long, so it's about one thousand two hundred miles long...and this dot is a person...and "its length and breadth and height are equal" like so...and the kids figure out as I draw that the New Jerusalem is a huge cube. Why, it's just a big container, a huge...Ark! So at the end of our long journey from Eden, we'll live with God in a big Ark, where all of us can fit. We won't be separated from God ever again.

Then we do a quick review of all the Arks. If the board is big enough I don't have to erase, so I can point to all of them. And I remind the children to always think of all the Arks whenever they think of one of them.

Cube photo by mytho88.

Monday, August 4, 2014


This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets
prepare & persevere

Anticipating the start of Wednesday Night Sunday School, channeling Steve McQueen: "A lot of people go through life doing things badly. Teaching’s important to men who do it well. When you’re teaching, it... it’s life. Anything that happens before or after... is just waiting."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Old Stuff

This post links to Convert Journal and RAnn's Sunday Snippets
see if it still works

Let's look at some miracles.

First, God thought matter into existence. That is, some of his immaterial love is so dense that it actually manifests itself as stuff. You know: fermions, gluons, bosons, all the impossibly tiny little grains of love that everything else is composed of. Then he thought the stuff into things such as our bodies. Isn't that miraculous? I think it is. And until the Fall, it was all good, being ultimately made of love.

But we sinners have made a mess of it, and now know God at a remove. Still, God helps us and communicates to us, often through physical bits. F'rinstance after the Flood, God used a rainbow to communicate something important to Noah's family...ehh...I forgot what it was.

Regardless, God later mediated his power through Moses' and Aaron's staffs. They whacked the Nile, canals, the Red Sea and rocks with miraculous results.

Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground due to the power in the Ark of the Covenant.

Elijah and Elisha each crossed the Jordan on dry ground by striking it, Moses-like, with a cloak.

At Elisha's instruction, Naaman the pagan leper was cured by bathing in the Jordan.

After Elisha passed away, a dead man hastily thrown onto Elisha's earthly remains was restored to life.

But miracles aren't just an Old Testament Thing. God kicked off the New Testament by putting a star in the sky...something to do with Jesus.

Jesus worked miracles too, often fixing not just physical problems, but spiritual ones, "healing the sin-sick soul" as the song says. And he worked these miracles through his physical nature, living stuff face-to-face with the afflicted or an intercessor.

Sometimes Jesus didn't even need to be directly involved, but simply physically available, like a cloak or a bone. Recall that the woman with a hemorrhage barely managed to grab the trailing tassel of Jesus' prayer shawl. Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.” Just plug into the Holy Battery, get a nice jolt.

But miracles aren't just a Jesus Thing, either. After the Ascension, Paul and Peter could also heal without being directly involved. Peter's shadow could heal as it fell on someone. And "God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them."

Sticks, bones, water, aprons, cloaks, people, the common stuff of the world; none of them magic, all of them sacramental. God has related to the world sacramentally since the Fall, and there is no expectation in the Bible that he'll stop until the Second Coming. Miracles aren't just a Bible Thing. So think of the sacraments as Jesus-supercharged miracles in which divine power still flows through bits and pieces of love older than Creation itself.

Think big. Think Catholic.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets.

Who Knew?

It's no surprise that the more clever the West becomes, the less inclined it is to take the Bible literally. Not that cleverness is a bad thing, but it does tend to feed The Pride Beast. And I'm not saying every Scriptural jot and tittle should be taken literally, if only because God can speak though the writers by using simile, symbolism, metaphor, and parable.

On the other hand, we aren't able to fully perceive the reality around us, even with the help of instruments. Are there more dimensions? Do time and space twist and fold without my noticing? Are there wormholes? Does Heaven surround us like the Cloud of Witnesses? Is the Universe a sphere, flat, or saddle-shaped? Given our limitations, is it possible that stuff in the Bible is literally true, but we just can't tell?

Look, here's an easy example. In Catechism class, we cover Isaiah 22, especially "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." Usually a child will notice that resembles Matthew 16, and ask if the key is real. We'll sort out that it's probably not a physical key that can open the House of David, since "house" isn't a single building, but an extended family comprising a kingdom. But it might be a physical, ceremonial key that symbolizes the power invested in the keyholder. Or it might be a physical key that actually opens a gate, or a room, or a chest full of money, and also serves as a symbol of vested authority. In any case, I think Hezekiah's key is real and physical whether it unlocks anything or not.

Later we get to Matthew 16, including, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Right away the kids ask: "Are those real keys? Well, first you tell me: is Heaven a physical kingdom? I don't think so. Right- where does your body go when you die? Does it rise up into the clouds like Jesus? No it gets buried. Yes. What goes to heaven? Souls. Yes. Are they physical? Umm...no? Right. But are souls real? Yes! Right- so some things are real even if they aren't physical, even if we can't sense them or see them with telescopes, microscopes, x-rays or whatever. So I think they are real keys, but they aren't physical, because the kingdom isn't physical. Yes? I saw a painting of Peter and he was holding regular keys. Yes, he's often shown with physical keys; they are a symbol of his authority. But how can a key be real if I can't hold it? I don't know- the same way a kingdom can be real even if it's invisible. The Bible is literally true in saying there's an invisible kingdom; and may also be literally true in saying that kingdom has keys."

The idea that there are real things that we only partly perceive, or don't perceive at all, but take completely on faith is normative in Catholicism. E.g., the miracles in the Bible are literally true, although what makes them happen is impalpable. And by extension all the sacraments are real, although their energies are undetectable as well. Put another way, the Church expects us to think of reality as being much bigger than what we can directly access via our sin-flawed physical existence; and thus Catholics are primed to understand the Bible more literally than anyone else.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Paroles d'Amour

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets
violets grow there the whole year 'round

Song lyrics have hugely informed my view of romance and marriage since before I could even read. For over 50 years I've sung the most influential ones around the house, at work, and in the car. Only in the last year or so have I recognized how being married for 26 years, having kids, grandkids & All That has deepened my understanding of those old lyrics for the better. Because I used to reflect on these songs, but now I participate in them.

I ached for lifelong love-

From France, Julien Clerc:

Comme un jour tu viendras sûrement/ One day you'll surely come
Dans ce salon qui perd son temps/ To this room where time stands still
Ne parlons plus jamais de nos déserts.../ We'll speak no more of just deserts
Et si tu restes je mets le couvert/ And should you nap I'll cover you snug
Maintenant, comme avant/ Now as before
Restons-en au présent pour la vie / Let's stay like this for life
Aujourd'hui, reste ici / From now on- stay with me.

My courtship was just like this-

From my grandparents' hi-fi, South Pacific (where men wear coconut brassieres):

Some enchanted evening
When you find your true love,
When you feel her call you
Across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side,
And make her your own
Or all through your life you
May dream all alone.

And this is still my wife, who turns 64 this week-

Younger than springtime, are you
Softer than starlight, are you,
Warmer than winds of June,
Are the gentle lips you gave me.
Gayer than laughter, are you,
Sweeter than music, are you,
Angel and lover, heaven and earth,
Are you to me.

This is my marriage-

From my dormroom stereo, Yes:

Hold me my love, hold me today, call me round
Travel we say, wander we choose, love tune
Lay upon me, hold me around lasting hours
We love when we play

Look me my love sentences move dancing away
We join we receive
As our song memories long hope in a way
Nous sommes du soleil
Hold me around lasting hours
We love when we play

This is my family-

When I was a cantor, Psalm 128:

Your wife like a fruitful vine in the heart of your house
Your children like shoots of the olive around your table
May the LORD bless you from Zion all the days of your life
May you see you children’s children in a happy Jerusalem

Now we’re in our waning years-

From my parents' hi-fi, the Four Freshmen:

As the days grew old and the nights passed into time
And the weeks and years took wing
Gentle boy, tender girl, their love remained still young
For their hearts were full of spring

Then one day they died and their graves were side by side
On a hill where robins sing
And they say violets grow there the whole year 'round
For their hearts were full of spring

From the radio, Minnie Ripperton, who died much too young:

No one else can make me feel
The colors that you bring
Stay with me while we grow old
And we will live each day in springtime
Cause loving you has made my life so beautiful
And every day my life is filled with loving you

And this my life even until today-

From the Greenville County Library LP collection, Billie Holliday:

Living for you, is easy living.
It's easy to live when you're in love.
And I'm so in love,
There's nothing in life, but you.

I'll never regret the years I'm giving.
They're easy to give when you're in love.
I'm happy to do whatever I do, for you.

For so long through so many songs I imagined lifelong love. Now I live lifelong love in ways I couldn't have imagined. The songs are old; but love grows, and blooms anew.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Plus des Sacraments

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

I was reading Michael Gormley's post, Teaching the Sacraments, felt compelled to pontificate on the subject, and decided to do it here and then link.

I used to teach sacraments to adults in RCIA, and to kids in Catechism class. With my current curriculum I don't have specific lesson plans for sacraments. But even when sacramental content is woven into the wider lessons, over the year a sacrament will get treated in 4 ways:

1. Each bit of OT scripture that we cover which is relevant to one or more sacraments is connected to that sacrament on the spot: anointing, washing, sprinkling, miracle bread, miracle flesh, Passover, laying hands, etc. are discussed at least briefly in terms of foreshadowing one or more sacraments. Typically I make the kids figure out which ones. I rarely hand out answers.

2. In the NT, every miraculous thing Jesus or an Apostle does is connected to a sacrament, even it's nothing more than observing that once again, a physical encounter is required with Jesus or an authorized agent in order to obtain particular graces or healing.

3. Time allowing, I also do something physical: run a skit, draw a picture, lay hands on a head, rub mud on eyes, grab a passing tassel, anything to put a visual stamp on the idea. By the time we get to Acts, an 11-year-old can tell me when I should lay hands on somebody.

4. I keep a stash of props in my bag. Hitting the rock with Moses' rod,  smacking the Jordan with my coat, or pressing a rag to a kid's forehead reinforces the physical, mediating nature of sacraments, even if I don't explicitly say so every time. Again, by the time we get to Acts, the kids tell me about it.

One thing I like about teaching sacraments on the fly is that it's virtually impossible for the children to not have a big picture of sacraments as a group of what, phenomena, that are integral to the warp and weft of Bible history.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


When discussing sacraments with 6th graders, I always emphasize that the physical part of a sacrament is more than a symbol. And by the time we even get to a sacrament (Baptism), they are already familiar with God's grace and power moving through physical media such as Moses' staff, Elijah's cloak, Elisha's bones, and Jesus' tassel. Later on when we get to Acts, they can figure out on their own how handkerchiefs and shadows can transmit healing to the afflicted. Catechism class is alive with God flowing through his Creation.

Ah yes, Creation- the stuff that God made in six days and all of it was good. As I say in class, "It was all good, morally good, even dead stuff like rocks. God makes only good things, that's just his nature." But then Adam sinned, messed up not just himself but all of Creation, and the rest is history. Now we struggle against the consequences of sin, not just spiritually, but physically: we get hungry, sick, injured, we hurt, we age, we die. Now you'll recall that if we graph the 6 days of creation, as days pass, the things created tend to be more and more like God. And at the top of the graph is Adam- well, no, Eve is at the top- well, no, something higher still...sorry for digressing. Anyway, before the Fall, everything was good. But in the case of a rock, only as good a rock can be. A plant would have more goodness in than a rock; a bug more goodness than a plant, etc. More like God = more goodness. By no small coincidence that also means: more like Adam = more goodness. But the downside is that because Adam's sin cursed the Earth (and by implication the rest of Creation) the things closest to Adam took the biggest fall from grace. Let's say Adam fell 50%. And the things farthest from Adam, such as inanimate rocks and water, lost the least of their goodness- maybe 5%. So when God works miraculously through sticks, water, oil, shadows and rags, I see it as a reproach: God chooses those things on the low-end of Creation because they may retain nearly all of their original grace-goodness conductivity. Stuff near the top is more flawed, more unstable.

Now here's another consequence of the Fall: we need faith because we can't perceive all kinds of stuff that affects our existence here and elsewhere. Think about folks in Eden: did they need faith? Sin hadn't yet pried Creation into parts, so I doubt it. Or those in Heaven? No. But now, yeah, sin truncates our perception. We see only dimly, or not at all. And stuff I think I see clearly, like a tree or my wife- I bet they look way different, more tree, more wife, to a saint peering down from heaven. Sin makes it harder for us to see the Good that's woven into the fabric of the Universe. Sin's effects make us divide reality into what's "visible and invisible"; but it's actually one big continuity. Just because we see it partially doesn't mean we can't try to understand it as a single unified entity.

But how nice of Jesus to institute sacraments to bridge that gap. You know what a sacrament is, right? "A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." That's a good Western definition. It points to the part we can see. Sacramentum is a practical word the Latin Church uses in place of the Greek word mysterion, μυστήριον. It makes perfect sense especially if you consider sacra-mentum is fundamentally a tool or means of making something holy, set apart. Like instru-mentum, a tool to construct something.

Too bad the Church doesn't yet again breathe with both of her lungs at the same time, because I'm fonder of that Greek word mysterion. Here's a good definition: "A mysterion is that to which signs refer; a reality laced with the unseen presence of God." I like this concept better because it directly addresses the bigness of the invisible reality, which extends far beyond the grasp of our sin-stunted senses. Beyond the normal...right?

Wrong. This may sound dumb: Eden was normal. Sin is not normal. Its consequences are not normal. The problem is that we wrongly assume what's normal is what we're used to; and all that stuff that's supposed to lie beyond our senses, well, it may be real in some detached way. But not as real as my fingers or my keyboard. Or at least the bits of them that I perceive. Who knows what aspects of my fingers and keyboard exist on the other side of my personal sin-constricted event horizon? And in spite of sin, reality remains "laced with the unseen presence of God." Laced? More like soaking wet with God.

So let's look at a sacrament: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery (megas mysterion)."  It sure is a mystery, because when my wife and I become one flesh, I know there is more it to than my senses can tell me. I mean physically more to it, not just spiritually. I don't think 'becoming one flesh' is symbolic or figurative. I think we physically become one flesh in a way that would be perfectly obvious to a saint. And that torrent of transcendent fusing while everything still looks the same to this sinner...well, that's the mystery. The merge, the one-fleshing is real. I just...can't...see it.

Likewise, we're literally part of Christ's body. Can you see it? Me neither. But it's not figurative, it's real.

I want to get to baptism in a second, but first let's consider this flag:

It's a symbol of America. But that's all it is. There's no metaphysical connection between the flag and the country. Burning the flag doesn't cause a fire in America. We could swap it out for another flag tomorrow.

But sacraments are different from a flag, and I am not content in class with calling the part of a sacrament that we can see a symbol, and leaving it at that. It's just the visible part of a bigger reality. Consider my wife. If I have a picture of her, that's a symbol. Burning the photo doesn't set my wife on fire. But if I'm looking at my wife- is she a symbol of herself? Oooh. Interesting. Living in the world I'd say no indeed, she is my wife, she is herself, not a symbol. But in the context of an unseen and larger reality, then yes, this bit of her I can sense is a symbol of the aspects of her being I can't sense. Or only sense fleetingly and dimly. If we both wind up in the New Jerusalem, of course there'll be nothing symbolic about her there: it would be The Total Babe for all eternity.

My point is that there are different levels of symbol; and Christians tend to regard the symbolic aspects of sacraments as being like the flag, when they are more like my wife. For example, we use water for Baptism. Some Baptists will tell you Baptism's nothing more than a symbol; doesn't do a thing. The Catholic Church teaches it's a symbol (an outward sign) that signifies what truly happens: sin is washed away. That's consistent with Acts: "Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins." Pretty clear- but did Luke mean it literally? Does the water actually wash away sin; or does God intervene when the water is poured? That is, on the spirit side, does the water do anything? Dumb old water? I think it does. That is, if the "cloud of witnesses" attends a baptism (and they probably attend them all), they see water wash sin clean off of the person, as plainly as I see dirt washed off of my hands. The wonder of that miracle (and sacraments are miraculous though not dramatic) isn't that it happens at all: it's no big deal for God. The wonder is that the unseen world pokes into the seen one for a few seconds. It's miraculous to us, yes. But it's also normal. It's normal for water to bear this Christ-infused goodness. Human beings, comprising a unity, a continuity, of body and soul, physical and spiritual, can be washed, body and soul, by water. Because like everything else, there are aspects of water we can't see. But then you ask, why doesn't water wash my sins away every time I bathe? Because Baptism effects a permanent spiritual change. Like an egg: one sperm, one time. It's normal. OK...but why don't people get their sins washed away the first time water flows over their heads? Because God leaves it us to intentionally bring a person into his family, and also to assume some responsibility. He does this with making babies; and with making Christians. Water always has the potential to wash away sin, but it happens only through our physical and spiritual cooperation with God's grace.

So think about sacraments as actual, physical, literal conduits of God's power that's not remote, but moves in us and around us. Think comprehensively- like the Catholic Church.

Fun related link here.