Friday, February 08, 2008

Confirmation class outing - Penang Botanic Gardens

How shall I liken taking the class to the Penang Botanic Gardens, the Home of Penang's large monkey population? Carrying coal to Newscastle? =) I don't know.


On Sunday, I took the students from my Confirmation class to the Penang Botanic Gardens for a session in the outdoors. I think it’s important to get out of class once in a while. We left by bus. Unfortunately, the large bus we chartered was in a accident so the driver substituted it with a smaller bus which could not accommodate my class. Some went there with their parents and others, like the teachers, stood. Fortunately, it was but a 10 minute drive away.


So, 30+ students made their way to the gathering spot, which was by a waterfall and beside a stream for the session on Baptism. Lillian, my co-teacher can be seen here giving part of the session.


I spoke later, using the prayer of the blessing of the water during the Easter vigil as the template. Using the bible, we moved through this prayer, so rich in scriptural allusions, to explain the significance of water, over which the Holy Spirit hovered at the dawn of creation. Water again is used by God, to destroy sin in the Great Flood which Peter says prefigured baptism. By passing through the waters, on the Ark, an image of the Church, Noah and his family were saved while sin was destroyed in a second creation. The Israelites passed through the waters of the Red Sea where 400 years of slavery was ended by the power of God who separated the waters of the Red Sea with a divine wind, the Ruach Elohim which is the same word used for the Spirit of God. By crossing the waters of the Jordan, the Israelites who wandered in the desert for 40 years have come into the Promised Land. Baptism also brings us to the Promised Land, the Church, family of God. All these images and types were fulfilled by the Sacrament of Baptism, being born from above by water and the power of the Holy Spirit and being brought into God’s covenant family and made his Sons and Daughters in truth.


We also learned new words like gennatha anothen, being born from above, baptizo and berit and diatheke, the Hebrew and Greek words for Covenant.


During the lessons, we were constantly distracted and interrupted by the residents of the Gardens, the monkeys. Their presence and forays near us and our food excited the students and made it difficult for them to focus. Note to self: Bring monkey poison for the next outing.


After our lunch break, we played a game using water pistols. The day was hot and being sprayed was a relief. Many chose suicide just to get cooled off.

I then gave the second session, which flowed from the first, from baptism bringing us into God’s covenant family. I touched on the Lord’s Prayer, the Pater Noster.


The Lord’s Prayer us truly a model prayer and is way we should all be praying. But it is also a radical overturning of our conventional models of prayer and a great revelation on the nature and essence of God. When we prayer, we often conceive of God as the Great Cosmic Vending Machine. In goes a prayer and out comes what we want. God always answers our prayers but sometimes the answer is no or not yet. Our conception of God affects the way we pray. But Jesus, knowing that we often approach God only to ask and always focussing on us and ourselves and our wants and needs turns it on its head by teaching us to pray the our Father. It’s a vertical prayer first and foremost, directing our gaze beyond ourselves and upwards to God. Thus the mnemonic ACTS.



Thanksgiving and finally, after all that,


God first. We second because He is God and we aren’t.


I then introduced and explained the parable of the Prodigal Son, which of the entire corpus of Scripture, is the clearest and most accurate depiction of who God our Father really is. God is a Father who grants to His son, a son who could not wait for his death, what the son wants. Regardless of how this pains Him. This same old, rich and respectable Father who runs to meet his bedraggled, unkempt, smelly, pig feeding son and hugs him and restores his honour and sonship and orders a Feast of celebration before words can be uttered the because the son had turned back to him.


God is our Father. But He is also the Creator and Lifegiver. Both one and the same. What a great truth, was awesome wonder the Son has revealed to us that the Almighty is also Father, so easy to please and so hard to satisfy.

Because time was running out, I only had time to explain the basics of the most importance. When we pray for God’s Will to be done, and for God’s Kingdom to come, we pray for our own salvation because God’s wills us to be saved and His Kingdom is us with Him in Heaven. God is only a prayer away and the distance between us and Heaven is not light years of space but sin. When we choose not to do this, God has no choice but to tell us: Your will be done. And we end up in Hell.


We also talked about the daily dependence on God for our provision and the importance of the communal ‘our’. It’s never ‘my’ but ‘our’ for the Fatherhood of God, OUR Father is tied up with the brotherhood of man. We who share the Body and Blood of Christ, and following the adage ‘You are what you eat’ are really and truly one flesh and one Body in Christ. We are truly brothers and sisters, children of our Common Father. And so, this confession has social and communal dimensions and responsibilities.


And we talked about the most important part of this prayer. Forgiveness. Where other religions might extol forgiveness as a virtue, Christianity says that forgiveness is the essence. In fact, such is the importance of this clause of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus reinforces this clause by repeating it again, stating emphatically that the forgiveness we will receive is the forgiveness we mete out to others.


All in all, it was an okay trip and I hope they learned from it and become better Christians for it.


Nothing is impossible with God, so perhaps in time, these can actually, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be transformed into miles Jesu, soldiers for Christ.

The stranger we roped in to take our photo when I was forced to join me the group.

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