My backyard has a fairy circle, it shows up every year after the Spring Equinox (don’t get all pagan on me; Easter is dated from the Equinox and the full moon). Ours hasn’t appeared yet this spring, but I was digging up some weeds, and the soil contained the little white filaments from which the circle will inevitably spring.
I like to refer to fairy circles in Catechism class: if we look at only one mushroom at a time, we don’t see how they’re all connected, the big picture. And if we do look at them all, but only superficially, we see only the circle, but won’t be aware of the underlying web of what is called mycelia. As Wikipedia says, “Hidden in the soil is a huge network of threadlike mycelia. Mushrooms are not individual organisms. Rather, they are just one part of the mycelia lurking beneath your lawn.” I know, “lurking” sounds pejorative….just think of my yard’s fairy circle as another amazing and harmless bit of God’s creation where every part relates to every other part, and upon closer examination isn’t really a bunch of parts anyway, but is One Big Unified Whole. Like, oh, Christianity….especially in its fullest expression, Catholicism.
Catholicism has a lot of parts that we can see one at a time, just like each mushroom that pokes up: the Bible, the Pope, each Sacrament, bishops, nuns, the Mass, the Catechism, Holy Water, the Rosary, fish dinners, Easter Vigil, Novenas, scapulars, saints, relics, etc., etc. We tend to look at them individually- like looking at a single mushroom. Sometimes we think more widely and notice that taken together they form a visible pattern, like the fairy circle does. But like the fairy circle, the real story is beneath the surface…all the thousands/millions of threads binding every part to every other part. The mushrooms are just the visible part of a greater unseen reality. Like all of us being parts of the Body of Christ…not figuratively, literally. I guess we’ll see that clearly when our vision isn’t clouded by sin….
Oops, digressing already. But sometimes digressing is a good thing for Catholics…maybe even a requirement.
Hey, remember the blind men examining the elephant? The elephant was for each man simply the part he could feel: a snake, a tree trunk…a rope? If they’d walked around a bit, they’d’ve got the big picture and their understanding would’ve increased exponentially. But training kids (or anyone) to be hip to all these Catholic tendrils of mutual connection and reinforcement can’t be done in a class set aside for that purpose; it has to be woven into class all the time.
I envision a lesson plan as moving vertically. Class starts at the top of my legal-pad and reaches the bottom at the end of the period; at least that’s the plan. But the lesson plan anticipates moving vertically only 3/4 of the time. The rest of the time I expect to be going sideways, because I think of something related to the topic, or better yet, because one of the children thinks of something.
For example, when we discuss Levitical sacrifice and ritual cleansing, I emphasize that blood or water is frequently sprinkled on the people, such as on these occasions:
The first Passover:
“Moses called all the elders of Israel, and said to them, “Select lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood which is in the basin…”
Sacrifice of oxen as a peace offering:
“And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you…”
Ritual cleansing of a leper:
“…if the leprous disease is healed in the leper, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two living clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet stuff and hyssop; and the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water. He shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet stuff and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water; and he shall sprinkle it seven times upon him who is to be cleansed of leprosy…”
Ritual cleansing of a house:
“And he shall take the cedar wood, and the hyssop, and the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird, and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times. And he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedar wood, and with the hyssop, and with the scarlet.”
Ritual cleansing of a tent:
“And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day.”
Passover and other Levitical sacrifices are soaking wet with information that will apply to Baptism, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Mass, all of which come later. So during this lesson I want the kids to think sideways for a bit, in anticipation of those future topics.
“…so y’all see how how often blood or water got sprinkled on people and things to make them holy: either by marking them with the sacrificial blood, or by washing them clean with water. If you want to make something physically clean will sprinkling do a good job? No, that won’t do anything. So why just sprinkle then? Why not really wash? Well, it would take too long, and people have their clothes on. That’s right, and it’s not about getting physically clean anyway, what’s the point? Spiritual cleaning? Yes, and because we’re made of a…body’n’soul! yes, if we want our souls made clean, we…sprinkle water on our bodies? Yes, genius! Now, has anyone ever seen any sprinkling happen in church? I have! Tell us about it. Umm, the priest walks around with a bucket and a silver thing and slings holy water on everybody! Yes. That thing is called an aspergillum, it’s the Latin word for sprinkler-thing. Has anyone ever seen a priest use a bundle of sticks, instead of the aspergillum, to sprinkle the congregation? I saw that at another church! Yes, good. It’s very interesting. The bundle of sticks looks like a little broom, and I think it slings more Holy Water than the silver sprinkler, too. I like the sticks because that’s what the Israelites used to sprinkle blood and water all the time. Listen to this bit of sprinklering again: “…kill the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood…” Hyssop’s a kind of reed that grows around Egypt and the Holy Land, and most of the time you see that word in the Bible, it has to do with some kind of ritual water cleansing or blood sacrifice.”
“Remind me, who was Mr. Slinghot? Oh, David? Yes. When David was the King, he had an affair with a married woman named Bathsheba, and got her husband killed to cover it up. Later he repented from this serious sin, and wrote a Psalm about wanting forgiveness:
“…cleanse me from my sin. …Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” When David says “Purge me with hyssop” what’s he mean? No guesses? What’s Purgatory? It’s where you go to get rid of your sins so you can go to heaven. Yes. Purgatory comes from the word purge which means to thoroughly clean comething by getting rid of all the bad stuff, sometimes by burning. Purging isn’t pleasant like a bubblebath. So when David tells God to “purge me” what’s he mean? He wants God to get him clean. Yes, even if it’s painful. And he mentions hyssop, the bundle of sticks, why’s that? ‘Cause that’s how they sprinkled Holy Water on people. Yes, just like we do today. David wanted spiritual cleaning, not a bath. Remember the Catholic Fairy Circle with all the hidden threads under the ground (I may draw this quickly & re-explain as necessary)? Yes. Well, hyssop’s one of those hidden threads; when you see it, pay attention, it connects different parts of the Bible to Catholic things like Baptism and the aspergillum, the sprinkler we use in church. And listen to this Epistle: there’s hyssop and some other threads I’ve mentioned.”
“The Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that there is no forgiveness of sin without sacrifice. Yell the first time you hear a word that has to do with cleansing, sacrifice, or washing.
“..Moses…took the blood Blood! yes, of calves and of goats, with water Water! and scarlet wool, and hyssop, The Sticks! and sprinkled Sprinkle! both the book, and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament….he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged Purgatory! well, Purgatory is close enough, purged with blood…”
“Good. For the rest of the year watch out for these threads: Hyssop, and…? Blood? Yes, and….Water? Yes, and…what does the stick bundle do? Sprinkle! Yes, and…? C’mon, where might you go before heaven? Purgatory! Yes, which comes from what word? Uhhh, purge? Yes, purge. Which means? To clean! Yes. From now on when you hear these words come up in class, say so, and we’ll see what they’re connnecting to, especially in a few months when we discuss the Crucifixion.”
And at this point we’d return to our vertical progress through the lesson plan.
During this lesson I walk around the class, acting out Moses sprinkling blood on everyone, and a child will often point out without prompting that it reminds them of when the priest sprinkles water on the congregation. In that case I’ll praise them and digress from there. I might mention that blood and water are related to each other at the Crucifixion when both flowed from Jesus’ side, and they should be ready to think about that a few months from now. So how we go sideways isn’t especially planned out, and the kids will surprise me with the nimble-minded connections they make that I can build on. It depends on time, topic, and class participation. Regardless, though, some of the best learning occurs in those sideways moments, when we can glimpse yet another thread in the Catholic Fairy Circle.