Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Biblical geography and children

Just prior to Advent is the perfect time to introduce children to biblical geography. Use a globe that doesn’t take batteries, so there are no sounds or lights to distract the children from the lesson. With a red permanent marker, place a dot over the land of Israel. When presenting the globe to the children, indicate where they live and trace the outline of their own country with a finger. Then turn the globe and ask them if they can find the red mark. Notice, with the children, how tiny Israel is compared to most other countries, and announce to them that God’s greatest gift to humanity was given in this small, obscure place. Ask them if they know what this amazing gift is. They will likely be able to name Jesus, but enrich that answer by announcing, “Yes, God gave us his very self, in the person of Jesus Christ.” With older children, ask them to consider why God might have chosen such a tiny land for this most wonderful gift. Reflect with the children on other things of great value and importance that are sometimes “hidden” or easy to overlook. Some things to consider are seeds, babies, or even hope.

For another possible lesson in biblical geography, show the children a map of the land of Israel (from the time of Jesus). Point out the bodies of water and the land. Explain that the Dead Sea (located at the southern end of the Jordan River) contains so much salt that nothing can live in it. Tell the children that Jesus spent much time with his friends on the Sea of Galilee (at the northern part of the Jordan River) and that he was baptized in the Jordan, by John the Baptist. With the smallest children (ages 3 to 6), only point out the three most important cities: Nazareth, where the angel visited Mary and told her she would have a most wonderful baby; Bethlehem, where Jesus was born; and Jerusalem, most precious of all the cities in the land of Israel, where Jesus died and rose from the dead. If possible, mark these three cities with a dove or flame for Nazareth, a gold star for Bethlehem, and a gold cross for Jerusalem. An added activity could be to provide each child with a Xerox of the outline of the land of Israel and three small paper symbols for the cities. After coloring the land brown or green and the water blue, they could paste the three symbols in the appropriate places.

With older children, point to several cities that were significant in the life and ministry of Jesus. Provide the children with Xerox copies of the map of the land of Israel with many of these cities marked with dots and blank lines. Perhaps have the children work in pairs to find each city in a biblical atlas, and then they can write the names of the towns in the blanks on their maps; then, on a separate sheet, they can write down why the town is significant and what happened there. Or provide Bible citations that each refers to a verse that mentions a given city, have the children look up the Bible verses and then locate the cities in their biblical atlases. Some verses to use are: John 1:28-34, Mark 1:9-11 (Bethany across the Jordan), John 2:1-2 (Cana), Luke 2:41-43, Luke 4:16-21, Luke 19:45-48, Mark 11:7-11, Matthew 27:50, Mark 16:1-6 (Jerusalem), John 4:5-7 (Sychar), John 11:1-2, Matthew 26:6-8, (Bethany of Judea), John 19:38 (Arimathea), Matthew 8:5-7 (Capernaum), Matthew 20:29-30, Luke 19:1-3 (Jericho), Matthew 21:1-2 (Bethphage), Mark 7:24-25 (Tyre), Mark 8:27-29 (Caesarea Philippi), Luke 1:26-28 (Nazareth), Luke 24:13-15 (Emmaus).

Not only is the geography of the holy land important for understanding the scope of Jesus’ ministry and for visualizing the location of each of these towns mentioned in the gospels, biblical geography helps the children begin to grasp the mystery of the Incarnation, by placing the events of Jesus’ life in specific locations. From these exercises, the children may begin to realize that Jesus walked on the same planet they walk on. The gospel writers mention these towns in their accounts for a reason. They provide documentary evidence of Jesus’ life and work.

To catechize the children to participate more deeply in the liturgy, challenge them to listen very closely to the gospel readings during the next several weeks, and ask them to notice how many of these towns they hear about. Each week, provide the children with the opportunity to share what they have heard and to find the towns in the classroom biblical atlas.

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."