In this painting, The Angel of the North by Ojibwa artist Blake Debassige, we can see how some First Nations artists are integrating the spiritual traditions of their own people with those of the Christian tradition. The painting also reveals the connection between the natural world and the spiritual world.
What familiar symbols can you find?
What elements in the painting show the importance of the natural world to Aboriginal peoples?
Note the wings of the angel in the painting. They are shaped like the wings of an eagle, a spiritual symbol often seen in Aboriginal art. Placing the wings of an eagle on the shoulders of an angel symbolizes a merging of Aboriginal spirituality and Christianity. the angel is drawn as a two-dimensional, transparent figure, revealing the spiritual nature within – a style that is common among the Woodland school of artists made famous in Canada by Norval Morrisseau. The rays from above suggest the presence of the Great Spirit or God. The angel has released one of her sacred feathers as a gift to those who live on the Earth for use in their sacred rituals. The eagle is one of the most sacred spiritual symbols for Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Angel of the North and other similar paintings illustrate the way in which some peoples have integrated their spirituality with their Christian faith.
Judith Dunlap, When You Teach in a Catholic School(2004) states that yes, religion is taught but faith is caught by being around people who are confident and willing to share their faith. We can touch the heart through rituals, by creating an influential environment and again, by being a personal witness. Rituals bring people together; they teach us there are certain ways to do things, they make us feel good as well as give vitality to the people involved. We can grow as faith community by starting (and maintaining) a ritual; it can include words, actions, symbols and/or music. The environment in any room, not just the religion class, can also influence faith by creating a feeling of peace and welcome through the use of lights, pictures, music, rugs, and/or plants by tapping into our senses. Last, personal witness isn’t just limited to staff in the school. We must remember to include and invite other witnesses like parents, community members, elders, priests, etc. to help our youth grow by sharing their story.
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
Think of events that will happen in your school this month. Are there people that can be invited in to help celebrate these events and share their story?
The fundamental source of human knowledge is encounter with the world and its history through experience. The guiding intent for the curriculum is to educate people to become fully alive and free human beings. In a Catholic context this source and this guiding intent both point to the experience of the community, an experience where Jesus Christ is encountered and the values of the Reign of God direct human action and being. Simply put, we learn through life.
Catholic education brings a focus to learning to discover, evaluate, interpret the human experience, which is always in transition, in ways that enhance and deepen appreciation for the gift of creation and provide insight into how learning can lead to fullness and freedom for all people.
Strategies to develop a respect for the life-giving dimensions of tradition:
Provide access to the tradition of human culture–works of art, literature, etc.–as a way of engaging learners in conversation with the past
Invite learners to bring the symbols and artifacts of tradition into their own lives with a questioning and interpreting attitude
Invite learners to come to know for themselves the wisdom, knowledge, or beauty, of the tradition
Allow for the occasion for moral discourse and provide access to models of responding to the moral questions raised by the study of the past
Invite learners into a critical assessment of experience so they may discern what is life-giving and life-enhancing
Celebrate the hope that comes with recognizing God’s continuing action in the life of the community
How can tradition be life-giving in Catholic education?
Masada is an oblong mountain in Israel, near the Dead Sea. It has steep sides but an almost flat top and a panoramic view of the land around it.
In 70 C.E., Jerusalem was conquered by a Roman army, and the temple was destroyed. A group of about 1,000 Jewish resisters, called Zealots, fled Jerusalem and went to Masada. A fortress stood at the top of the mountain. Surrounded by ravines, the fortress was approached only by two narrow tracks. The Zealots took refuge in this inaccessible place.
The 15,000-man Roman army laid siege to Masada. Because of the mountain’s steep sides, they could not come close enough to the fortress to take it. Finally after a two-year siege, the Romans managed to build a ramp up one of the slopes of the mountain. When they entered the fortress, they found the Zealots dead. Rather than surrender to the Romans, the Zealots had killed themselves. Only seven women and children, who had hidden in a cistern, remained alive to surrender.
Today Masada is a symbol of freedom and independence for the Jews. Why do you think this is so?