"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Starting Miracles.

My Yr 9 students have been struggling with Miracles as a topic this term and it has been a struggle from the outset, if for no other reason than spelling. If I have to correct “miricals” one more time, even though they have copied it from the board, I may run screaming from the building. You see “miracles” on the board, look down to your book and write “miricals.” How does that happen? Repeatedly?

Of course, the first issue is that of definition: what are we talking about when we talk of miracles? Blank looks from the hormonal hoards. It takes some time, and with heavy guidance from me, to decide on “A dramatic and unusual event which goes against the laws of nature and is caused by God or one of his agents.” This takes us down an unexpected line of discussion in relation to what constitutes an agent of God. Predictably angels come in for some considerable forensic examination and I find myself explaining the mindset of the medieval artist.

O.K. I’m a Medieval Pope.

They look less than convinced.

Jordan, you’re Michelangelo.

Jordan looks pleased.

Michael, Old Boy, I need a nice fresco on the ceiling of my new chapel. Nothing fancy, just a Biblical story. How about the Nativity?

Right you are Guv.

So Michelangelo goes away and gets out his Bible. What’s in the story that I need to include? Stable, check. Mary and Joseph, check. Infant, doddle! Cattle, easy-peasy. Shepherds, yeah, yeah. Wise men, O.K. Innkeeper, no probs. Angels … Angels? Oooh, Angels.

What does an angel look like? I ask. Surprisingly for a group of avowed Atheists they soon build up a picture: M & S floaty nighty, pigeon’s wings and a tinsel halo.

Musical Instrument of choice?

“Harp.” They chorus happily, entering into the spirit of the occasion.

(I ponder, briefly, how far we have moved in five minutes from the lesson plan on miracles – sorry: miricals.)

I draw said angel on the board and they pronounce themselves happy.

How did we get to this?

“Well, it’s in pictures.”

“And adverts. Have you seen that advert for cream cheese where …..?”

And so it goes on. Having established that this image of angels is firmly established in the international psyche I try to explain that Medieval artists were faced with representing something visually where there’s not much in the way of description to go on.

They needed to get over the idea of something spiritual rather than human otherwise we’d be looking at these paintings asking “Who’s that man in the background?” or “Why are those women falling out of the sky?” The angel as we know it is the artistic compromise.

“Are you saying they don’t look like that then?”

Well done Sherlock.

“What do they look like then?”

O.K. What does “angel” mean?

There is no response.

It’s a Greek word. I venture.

Still no ideas.

There’s no real reason why you should know. I was just wondering if anyone did. It means messenger – or more specifically, God’s messenger. What does God’s messenger look like?

Perplexed looks. This is marginally encouraging as it indicates some level of mental activity above and beyond maintaining a heartbeat.

Do you remember when Mrs. Cooper sent a pupil down with a message last lesson?

“Are you saying Emily was an angel?”

I’m saying Emily was a messenger. What does a messenger look like?

“Could be anybody.”


“I don’t get it.”

Why does God’s messenger have to look picturesque?

“Coz it’s an angel.”

And angel means messenger. Why couldn’t anyone be God’s messenger? Please don’t say “because we don’t have wings.”

“So anyone could be an angel because they’d be being God’s messenger? Would they know they were an angel?”

Maybe. Not necessarily. Some angels appear to be spiritual beings: I’m just saying that the images of Medieval artists might not always be helpful, that’s all. What was an aid to faith in the middle ages seems to be quite the opposite today: "Who'd believe in one of those winged things?"

I remember going to a primary school nativity where the Head had dressed the angels as postmen.

“I don’t get it.”

Postman – messenger – angel.

“Oh right. Now I get it.”

We go on to talk about Prophets and Saints and, of course, Jesus as agents of God. There is a glimmer of hope that we might, at last, move on to talk about miracles.

Any questions on anything we’ve looked at so far? Jordan?

“Who’s Michelangelo?”

(Cheers to TheMe for the suggestion)


  1. You see “miracles” on the board, look down to your book and write “miricals.” How does that happen? Repeatedly?

    Why, it's a miricul, of course.

  2. "Michael, Old Boy, I need a nice fresco on the ceiling of my new chapel. Nothing fancy, just a Biblical story."

    I can see it now.

  3. Your students remind me of the Book and Play by Barbara Robinson that was called "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" over here in the US, but "The Worst Kids in the World" over there in the UK. I'm sure you must have either read it or seen it.

    BTW, I love Jordan's question. And I love your teaching methods! Can I sit in on your class, Sir?

  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1IJiAXjj7k

    Thank you for the joy and the reminder.