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St. Elizabeth of Ravenna Catholic Church
Yearning for Running Streams
As a doe longs for running streams, so longs my soul for you, my God. (Ps. 42:1)
The Psalms speak often about our yearning for God – and so it is. But we yearn and long for many things in various degrees of motivation and commitment. We Jesuits are called to practice an indifference that can be of various degrees of severity. There’s indifference to wealth or poverty, health or illness, a long or short life, and maybe mental strength to weakness. I must confess I once yearned for a longer mortal life, but as we age and find what is required of others to keep us going, the desire to suffer through more lessens and we begin to look more to the beyond. In fact, our future desires change with time, and older aspirations seem so immature and imperfect.
An aged stance moves to the direction of doing what God wills, since the divine sustains our lives whether to last a day, week, month, year or beyond. This life is what God has in store for us – and our indifference prepares us to turn everything we are and have to God. All mortal life has been and continues to be a gift – that grows in immense appreciation with time. If average male longevity is now 78 years, why not give God special thanks when we live to exceed that magic mark? Let’s make the best of what we have left and treat that remainder with the deepest respect, for it is soon passing.
Today is one more day, an opportunity to serve the Lord in our own unique manner. We need to see this as a challenge, to be a little more inclined to yearn for God. We also have the space to burn off some of the gloss of disorder that our imperfections have caused in disrupting the social order. Our past failures haunt us and make us throw ourselves on the mercy of a forgiving God. The chance to live today or tomorrow is a God-given gift of making straight some of the obstacles we have placed on our journey of Faith. We are given this precious additional time to make right what has been wronged.
What will we yearn for in 2023? The fact is, we are people of mixed emotions and we may even find it difficult to sort everything out. We yearn for world peace, social justice, elimination of hunger, climate change for the better, security within our home town, better roads on which to travel to work, courage to say no when we must, staying within a good range of health, faith for relatives, completion of studies, and on and on. And then there are the secrets known only to God. Our list may just continue growing, even while realizing it never reaches perfect equilibrium. Let’s be honest: do we yearn for God as much as deer for clean water? I do not know, nor will we ever. But does our longing for God grow with the years? These current questions stand before us in the starkness of modern reality and the great uncertainty of these times.
The Earth Healing family team, People's Climate March, NYC.
(*photo by Mark Spencer)
January 1, 2023 Making This a Day of Peace
Each First of January seems much the same in our daily routine, unless we choose to make it a special event. New Year's Day is more than a midnight countdown; uniqueness occurs with a surging sense of hope that this can be the initiation of the best of times. The Messiah appears on the octave day of Christmas and we celebrate with the Prince of Peace. While global peace is not fully realized, it is our hope that this could be the year when it comes to be. We reaffirm our willingness to help embrace, proclaim, and pray for world peace. We are reminded that 2023 is the start of something new, and a hope that the pandemic is very much behind us.
Embrace peace. We start within our hearts, though mindful of troubles outside ourselves. If we look within, we see the incompleteness of peace in our entire being. The challenge for us is to make this day of peace a reality, to seek to resolve our unfinished inner conflicts and to do so here and now. We are challenged to overcome our restlessness by reaffirming our goals with God's help. We declare once more that we will do the best we can and simply admit our limitations. Yes, we can live more simply, take more care of how we are, and be critical of what we say. Furthermore, let’s resolve to engage in physical exercise a little more.
Proclaim peace. We crave a growing sense of interior and exterior peace, but are all too often quite quiet about it. Recalling the activities of pre-pandemic years is difficult. All too often a silent but noble call for peace says: less militarism and more concern about addressing hunger; fewer F35s and more resources directed to improving the global infrastructure. This universal yearning for peace means beating swords into plowshares. The world of immense military spending (57% of an American budget now under review) must be part of pruning the budget, since there are millions in need of accessible housing, nutritious food, formal education, proper health care, and environmental preservation. Why all the sophisticated weaponry? Why does the military/industrial complex dictate our policies?
Pray for peace. We pray for peace throughout the world and especially in Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Ukraine, Palestine, and every hot spot on the globe. Prayer is the least and most that we can do. We are unable to make peace alone; we pray that others join us in this Earth-circling embrace. We are all so addicted to materialistic endeavors and cannot pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. Levitation is hardly our gift. Only the Lord can raise us from the mud that sucks us down in our human-generated quagmire. In God alone we trust. On New Year’s Day we take the time to ask once more for divine help.
A delicate web of ice.
January 2, 2023 Keeping This Website Operating
For two decades Earth Healing, Inc. has operated a website incorporated as a non-profit in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This website has received over 200,000,000 recorded hits and perhaps an equally sizeable number of unrecorded ones as well. Records show reception in 125 countries on a monthly basis over the past twenty years.
Along with a wide variety of environmentally related texts, much credit is due to our website manager Janet Powell, furnishing pertinent beautiful photos to accompany the words for each day. People comment on topics and sometimes request us to take up their favorite themes. However, publicizing these comments would take us into a realm that requires far more resources than what we have available. We strive to show environment in a balanced manner while aware how misdeeds hinder a higher quality environment, and how conflicts fracture the solidarity so needed today. Earthhealing is not the domain of the concerned alone; it needs to be a global practice.
With each passing year and our advancing in years, we raise the issue as to whether we ought to continue this public interest service. It is not always easy – though it is very satisfying – work; it continues week after week and never once being late during the two decades. We ask again, "Should we continue the Daily Reflections with its photos and variety of sub-themes?” Certainly this website allows us to go out to the entire world, but are there not competitors in the field and doing good work? In the past two decades a host of environmental writers and organizers has surfaced, and each seeks a following to help curb climate change and usher in a more sustainable world.
These questions raise the issue of our general sense of duty and devotion. We receive little financial support and even perhaps a dose of hostility, because of our critique of the current unjust economic system. Why are there billionaires in a world of destitution and unfair taxes? We strive to present the current environmental crisis as one of lack of willingness to make profound changes needed by our wounded Earth. Instead of daily reflections, should we devote more time to direct action?
Let's step back and thank our readers for their interest, loyalty, support, and positive comments. Recall that our limited resources show that the poor are called to rise and lead. Special thanks to our Earthhealing team who faithfully ensure that the materials get out on time. We are not perfect, but that is what we say about the world also. We don't apologize even while we question our continued existence. On second thought, we recommit ourselves for as high a standard as we can muster. While other websites have blossomed, no one fully addresses the complex issue that is still before us. For that reason, we are convinced we must continue the struggle.
Kentucky ice storm, 2009.
January 3, 2023 Preparing for Winter Emergencies
Appalachians open a persimmon seed and look inside. If the image on the seed is a spoon it will snow heavily this winter, if a knife it will be icy, and if a fork it will be more or less mild. What do you find this year -- if you trust such folk practices?
* Be ready for utility failure. We could experience the breakdown of electricity (if you are not solar equipped) or land telephone, if you still have one. Being without electricity is serious in a world depending on lights, heat, cooking, and computer. Keep a supply of potable water on hand; have a battery-operated intensive light and radio; keep a mechanical can opener and extra blankets on hand.
* Store a backup heater. This is needed to keep pipes from freezing. Be especially careful when using kerosene or another combustible heater. Vent emissions properly.
* Stay put and keep a positive attitude. It is always good to have available a little unfinished work project and reading material to endure emergency conditions in an efficient manner.
* Dress warmly. This is not a time to risk getting a cold or chill. Many prefer heating the domestic space far too high and compound emergencies with health problems. When venturing outside, stay well dressed and wear good shoes for traction.
* Check on the welfare of neighbors, especially the shut-ins and elderly. Have enough supplies to share with them through the emergency period. An ice-covered automobile is a challenge to deice and make ready for emergencies. For cars that are not protected by a garage, only keep a door unlocked if the vehicle does not have a warning light that continues to burn while parked.
* Drive with super care. Sometimes we must venture out to assist another and know that ice and especially "black ice" can prove fatal, as happened to one of my young parishioners in 2009.
* Store ample ready-to-eat food that is both healthy and satisfying (canned vegetables, crackers, peanut butter, canned fish, citrus and other fruit, raisins, prunes and dried dates and figs, quick-energy granola bars, nuts of all types, etc.).
* Attend to pets and local wildlife, especially if you have birdseed and have initiated a bird-feeding practice.
* Keep snow removal tools and sand or ash at hand for use. Clean the steps, paths, and sidewalks for easy access for yourself and others. And go easy on any physical ice removal undertaking.
* Stay cheerful, play music, and maintain an upbeat spirit.
A winding path through Kentucky woods.
January 4, 2023 Enjoying Peanuts 365 Different Ways
Over the past few years this website has featured types of edibles (soups, salads, oatmeal, and peanuts) that can be prepared in a different manner each day of the year. The original goal was to show that we do not have to eat exotic foods from distant places in order to have variety in our menus. Locally-grown food, for the most part, will suffice -- though we do eat bananas and drink coffee. Much of the basic ingredients can be home-grown from mine or local gardens and fields.
We think it is wise to reexamine using basic low-priced American materials that give a sense of variety to our daily fare. For the sake of those who do not use (or cut back on) meat and animal products, we limit our attention to plant products, even in the soups and salads. In actuality, the goal of a change for every day of the year does not meet a second challenge of a variety for every day over a two-year span, thus the successful effort of finding 730 peanut uses. All the while, we are aware that a number of people are unable to ingest peanuts due to allergies over which they have little control.
Why the selection of peanut for variety? Here are what we regard as good reasons:
* Economic -- Peanuts, except in years of shortages, are rather inexpensive, especially when compared with other commercial fruit and nuts;
* Versatile -- Peanuts lend themselves to so many ways of preparation that we exceeded the first 365 ways on December 2nd, or almost a month ahead of schedule;
* Available – Peanuts, peanut butter and peanut oil are readily available throughout the year in local grocery stores and, when vacuum sealed, keep for a length of time;
* Adaptable -- Peanuts can be converted easily and often in a short period of time to new ways of enjoyment and do not have to be incorporated into dishes taking much time to prepare;
* Healthy -- Researchers find that people live longer when consuming nuts on a daily basis, perhaps due to the balance of various nutrients found in nuts;
* Ecological -- The amount of land, fertilizer, and care for a pound of peanuts in contrast to animal products make peanuts a green food that should be encouraged, for all but those who are allergic to them. The allergic conditions of a few must be respected and so proper labeling is demanded -- but not the banning of them from school cafeterias;
* Popularity -- Kids like peanuts, peanut butter, and goods derived from the lowly peanut, and few turn away from these varieties. Those uses developed over time are actually wonderful discoveries; and
* Patriotic -- Peanuts are more American than apple pie.
Hills of Appalachia along the Rockcastle River, Kentucky.
January 5, 2023 Healing Scarred Mountains
Mountains can be denuded of forest cover and yet have been known to rebound. Our hills here in Estill County Kentucky were once denuded to make charcoal for an early nineteenth century iron industry. However, the hills have recovered with forested vegetation. Mountains have endured earthquakes and fires, ice ages and severe floods, and yet continue to heal to some degree. However, the wanton greed of recent generations has caused massive terrain changes and mountaintop removal. Denuded mountains can be healed; leveled mountains cannot. Mountains can be ruined for while looking powerful, they are truly fragile. We observe the reclothing of denuded land; when leveled and severely cratered, scars remain like World-War-I-ruined landscape at Verdun, France.
When driving through our countryside, we note some minor scars of previous road clearings and developments starting to heal over and that old building sites revert back to forested areas. I recall near Livingston a small saw mill of the late 1970s, which has now almost completely disappeared, covered by small trees and bushes. Virginia creeper returns as do blackberry canes and black locust shoots and then the tulip poplar, black locust, pine and early forms of tree cover. The mountains again take on greenery though often that demands much time, for even healing such milder wounds is still a long, slow process.
While mountain healing can sometimes occur, it is far more difficult when terrain itself has been profoundly altered. In modern times we have replaced axe, oxen, pick, and shovel with highly mechanized means of extracting coal and wood resources, namely, heavy trucks, backhoes, and massive earth-moving equipment. These modern innovations compact soil, tear down entire mountains, and destroy forest cover so needed to offer a sponge-like mat in the event of heavy rains. This brings us back to the conditions of exploited mountains. Resilience is not a miraculous happening; it does require nature to work unhindered over time. However, human beings can frustrate natural processes through deliberate greed and poor management. Yes, lush and fertile plains in Africa and the Middle East have been turned into desert through human neglect and mismanagement. Could that happen to our Appalachian Mountains?
We are called to hasten the day of the coming of the New Heaven and the New Earth. Hastening includes allowing natural processes to work and to augment their healing process. We can renew, but only to some extent, for we are limited healers. The best we can do is stop the massive earth-moving endeavors and adopt a policy of leaving fossil fuels where they are; we can turn to renewable energy sources, thus keeping mountains intact and able to be resilient. It takes brave souls to speak publicly about halting coal operations. We mountain dwellers are shaped by our landscape and yet we experience sickness and mortality, but does this mean harming our mountains? If we wound our land, we harm our human communities; so, let’s keep mountains healthy.
Planning Amid Dramatic Changes
At the start of each year, we speak of the limits to our compulsions to plan for what lies ahead. With aging and all the associated challenges, we become aware that effort must be made to transition to new surroundings through special care and attention. The world doesn’t just float along. We participate in our own diminishment and have a key role to play in seeing that all moves ahead smoothly. To deny the process is occurring is a major mistake. In reality, we are moving to something new and we are called to be as alert as possible (though some of us are losing our ability to cope with the situation). Here are my suggestions, which are in a development phase.
Take time to plan for what is coming. An address change demands that we pick and choose what to pack and what to discard or pass on to a meaningful caretaker. Make quality time to perform this task, for it makes life in the coming months far easier.
Cultivate the partners who will take over some of the current services and activities. I hope that the group I help found forty-six years ago (Appalachia—Science in the Public Interest, or ASPI) will continue to show a willingness to insert my materials and programs into their own expanding work.
Keep certain issues and interests alive. One does not abandon everything when moving from place to place. Much of the past is behind us and some is closed down, but also key ingredients are worth fostering, even when we are unable to give full attention to it. Preserve some of the past as best it can be done.
Start communicating with the people at the receptive place or group ASAP. The more we know about what is coming, the better, but we must admit that there is much about our immediate future we have to leave to the lord, and yet find opportunities to look ahead as best we can.
Keep a positive attitude. Change is coming whether we resist or assist, and so our efforts should avoid sentimentality, though occasions for celebrating our new transitions are very much in order. Cry when the time comes and smile more often.
The impossible is overcome by a sincere trust that God will provide in ways we cannot imagine. If we do the best we can and place the rest in God’s hands, we show our growing dependency as we near the end – when all supposed independency fades; we ultimately only carry our love with us.
Planning reaffirms that we intend to remain part of the aging process. We know that all depends on God, but part of our presence with the Lord is that we are engaged in all parts of our life, even the dying down of ambitions and motivations. We work with the Lord and let God do the rest.
An indoor January bloom of paperwhites, Narcissus papyraceus.
January 6, 2023 Celebrating Epiphany as a Global Event
Raise your eyes and look about, they all gather and come to you. (Isaiah 60:3)
While Christians are continually called to our universal mission to the entire human family, today is a special time to celebrate that calling. For some Christians this is THE major Christmas event. The Good News of salvation has come to all in the person of the Prince of Peace. On Epiphany, we become "wise men," bringing gifts of willing service to those who are in need. We come from East and West, North and South. Our journey of faith and service becomes meaningful with a sure faith that the star leads us on to locations where people are in need.
The manifestation of Christ starts at the International Dateline in the Pacific and includes the flourishing humble churches of Oceania and the Philippines, those many scattered islands on which the glory of God is first announced each day. The Earth continues to revolve and morning light comes to the communities coming to life in China, Vietnam, Japan, and Korea, strong devout churches with a Christianity implanted and growing amid the ancient cultures of Asia. Then on and on the planetary journey goes, and Central and South Asians awaken.
Then the sun arises in the land of Christ, in the ancient and recently war-torn Christian communities of the Middle East, some on guard against those seeking to harm them. Then day begins in Africa with its immensely blooming faith and its filled churches and vigorous singing and dancing. Joy finds its way throughout the vastness of Eurasia in snow-covered forests and over frozen but sparkling lakes and rivers. Sun streams in through stained glass of cathedrals in Europe, less crowded but just as majestic and filled with a history of divine worship and monastic chants. And then finally the sun comes to our Western Hemisphere with its various churches from Canada and Alaska to the tip of Argentina.
Epiphany's texts tell us we are one people who need each other and who have much to share and celebrate as brothers and sisters. The Messiah comes! God's healing word goes out to the ends of the Earth to all creation. Our celebration includes a mandate to heal the broken world. Through social media we become more aware each day of the longing of those in good times and bad, of the joys and sorrows of our ever-closer neighborhoods. Let's resolve before the sun sets this day to do greater service for the needy tomorrow. Instant global communications make us ever closer to those in distant lands, for we know in an instant about tragedy and special celebrations. Universality is a reality and this consciousness of ever greater togetherness is enhanced by social media. The light of the world shines and enlightens us to know the reason for this season. Christ is our light.
Facing winter's chill.
January 7, 2023 Reforming the Current Economic System
Peacemakers are tempted to say "compromise," and feel pressure to do what the status quo wants them to do. It is like being tempted to sit down at a good home-cooked meal, as one compromising consumer advocate (Ester Peterson from the LBJ Administration) once suggested to resolve nuclear policy differences among proponents and opponents. The trouble is that home cooking does not settle every dispute, especially when one side is in the ascendancy and the other a mere prophetic voice. It takes more than the conviviality of a meal.
We are immersed in a global capitalistic system and so some compromising and pragmatic voices try to defend the system even while admitting faults. These nod at the J.P. Morgan $13 billion federal fines for deceptive practices -- and legal settlements are by no means over when even massive payments are still "tweaks." So are tolerating tax havens estimated at $30 trillion and silently allowing the rising disparity of wealth in this and other countries. Changes must come, even when we are not ideologically inclined to say what they will ultimately be. And this is why global economic problems need to be addressed not on a one—by- one basis, but in their entirety.
The trouble is that this current global system cannot be successfully tweaked -- and here neo-liberals do not give good service by their short-term solutions; they do not give an adequate response to concerned citizens about the inherent lack of sustainability in the current political/economics/social system. This system could have alternatives, but the conversation is muted. In truth, it is highly tempting to say some possibility of compromise could be achieved, if finances were regulated on a global scale, military spending brought down, and a totally renewable energy economy established in the shortest time -- along with fair taxes on all. However, these tempting elements exceed mere tweaking; they demand fundamental change, and that is defined as an “economic revolution."
Problems within this unsustainable economy are acknowledged: workers with little say on their livelihood; ever-greater amounts of accruing wealth in the hands of a few; and failure to redistribute wealth through fair taxes. The greatest problem is the status quo seekers with power at their fingertips to denude any positive alternative. Allowing injustice to continue is like asking a slave driver to compromise and reduce beatings to half the number: a mere license to continue injustice under the guise of "compromise." The will to change means overcoming the addictions of our consumer culture -- cheap bread and circuses for the multitudes. Treating injustice as a potential compromising situation is kicking the proverbial "can down the road," and enlisting the poor to do so through the promise of future wealth. Tweakers beware! A just society must be built on firm ground.
Barred owl, the wise one.
January 8, 2023 Being Baptized to Serve Others
I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people
and light of the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.
(Isaiah 42: 6-7)
These mighty words from the Prophet Isaiah are meant to move us in the presence of the Messiah. Yes, Christ came and was baptized by John as a foretaste of what we are to do and become when brought into the family of the Lord. Why shift focus so quickly from him to us? Why not focus instead on what Christ did when he came? If Baptism is the start of his ministry, isn't time better spent trying to imitate him in seeing what he has done all in total trust of the divine will in action?
These questions do not tell the entire story. Study and learning about Christ have a passive sense of rest in preparation for action. However, we imitate by doing, and in reflecting on our deficiencies we try once again openly and humbly. Of course we focus on Jesus Christ, but that focus is not on a past event alone (three years of his public ministry). Christ came; Christ comes now; Christ will come. We make Christ present through serving with our feet, hands, heart, and voices. We carry on as commissioned, as active members of the Body of Christ through the Baptism we have received. This sacrament of initiation purifies us for the task ahead; it invites us into the divine family; it sets us apart as Christians to bring merciful healing to a troubled world; and it bonds us to Church with like-minded individuals.
The cynic may ask, "Did Christ liberate any prisoners?" Our answer is that the mission foretold by Isaiah initiated a process that has taken at least two thousand years and will continue to the Second Coming. Christ initiated a process by liberating individuals through forgiveness and healing. We enter into the Isaiah prophesy itself for in individual liberation and through social justice. When judges demand that California reduces its prison population by tens of thousands, they are helping to fulfill the words of liberation of prisoners. We in America, with the highest prison population in the world, are democratic people who can influence reduction of prisoners through service projects.
Baptism is a call to be empowered through the grace of the resurrected Lord. We are God's beloved through incorporation into the divine family and immersed in the ocean of divine love. With this love we are called to do wonders, and that includes liberating prisoners and being a light in darkness. The mission before us has immense possibilities, if we but listen, reflect and then act with the Body of Christ.
Explore fungi in winter's forest.
January 9, 2023 Supporting Hospice Programs
Every day is a good one to admire and support the hospice workers, who through care and kindness make the ending of life of the dying a far more loving and dignified experience. These good caregivers, often volunteers or working at moderate wages, give both compassion to the dying and courage to loved ones who become exhausted and stressed from grieving and expectation of death. The dying crave a special accompaniment to the moment of departure at this most important moment in life, the "hour of our death" as recited in the Hail Mary.
People say they want a more familiar and friendly place to die, though at times the best assistance is through institutional care facilities when the home setting and loved ones are incapable of doing the best right at the end. Whatever the ultimate circumstance, the presence of care-giving people is highly appreciated by all concerned, for mercy is called for at the end -- and hospice folks often fill this need.
Compassionate loved ones prefer to carry through to the moment of dying, but find the task can be overwhelming. Here hospice workers come and give that service in the home in the best manner possible -- for final decisions rest with close relatives and especially the one empowered as primary decision-maker. Hospice work includes controlling pain, doing the bathing, and assisting with medical needs. Presence counts much. In this final hospice period, many types of medicine unrelated to pain relief are usually withdrawn, and the dying person is relieved of unnecessary tubes and apparatus that simply stand in the way of a high-quality end of life. Loved ones need to be convinced of the inevitable and here the hospice person has an important role.
Hospice services can be part of a normal professional health care facility, whether stand-alone hospice facilities or integrated with local hospitals. In one Milwaukee hospice program, some two-thirds of the patients are able to die in the familiar settings of their own homes, while those who returned to a hospital setting ordinarily do so for a few days or, at most, a few weeks. Some hospitals now have hospice units which are quite well provided with staff and equipment; they are often decorated in a home-like, non-institutional fashion. Hospice can work well at institutions and in conjunction with family wishes.
The process of dying is natural, though sometimes family members of the dying person remain in a state of denial; they do not realize that their own acceptance is part of the dying process, namely the courage to "allow" the person to depart from their company. Thus, the close ones often have to give permission for the dying person to pass on to the Lord -- and here hospice workers can play a vital background part. Systems shut down and acceptance is critical and needs support. Review: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization <www.nhpco.org>; and Hospice Foundation of America www.hospicefoundation.org.
Leaf od the American sycamore, platanus occidentalis.
January 10, 2023 Championing Snow Benefits
Snowfalls come often when we least want them, but beyond emergency preparation (January 3) we can actually welcome them, for they have overlooked benefits worth mentioning.
Snow is healing. Let's see the gentle side of a snowfall and its pleasant blanket. Snow is not a threat unless we are unprepared for it. Once prepared, we find this snow soothes Earth's wounds and scars. Snow is a natural care-giver of wounded land. Snow is the temporary but spotless garment of the naked landscape, and this gives both us inhabitants and land itself a sense of wellbeing and new-found dignity. We are tempted to hope snow will stay forever, and let land rest and convalesce in all her beauty. Furthermore, snow comforts us and helps to soothe our nerves. Hear the sound of tinkling, falling snowflakes; other noises are muffled and we focus on nature's concert, the creator's work with earthly musical instruments.
Snow is something necessary. When we suffer from droughts, we appreciate the moisture added by snow to our hills and forests. Snow offers an effective protection against winter forest fires and furnishes us with needed ground moisture for the coming growing season. Snow is a resourceful blessing that adds to the gurgling brook and the flow of the rivers and streams, especially in our mountainous regions. Even in areas such as last year’s five- to ten-foot snowfall in California, we know that water shortages are overcome by the extra abundance of moisture in the winter season.
Snow is inviting. Snow offers the youthful, whether young or adult, a time to romp and play. Once I was amused while two grown students from tropical lands (who had never experienced snow close up before), ran out and rolled in snow, laughing and carrying on like four-year olds. Snow triggers the youth in all of us, if at least for a moment; we older folks know that after the initial exuberance, snow chills us and can wet our clothes if allowed to melt. For a short while, snow is more than a blessing; it is a dash of heaven on Earth. Some of our best memories of the past include bobsled rides down the snow-covered hills of Kentucky. Climbs back up required exertion, but the rides down were like pure abandonment from the gravity of concern.
Snow is overwhelming. Is it true that God designs the pattern of each snowflake in a different way? Who can say that with any sense of definitiveness? Is that a major question when we get past the heavenly gates? Snowflake total uniqueness cannot be proved or disproved. Let's say the tiny fraction of all snowflakes recorded has never included a match. All snowflakes may be different, and that possible uniqueness magnifies the mystery of snow. We are created deeply unique, and this adds to our sense of wonder in snowy wintertime.
Prairie restoration project. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.
January 11, 2023 Treating Our Wounded Earth with Care
Once a year we reaffirm our commitment to healing our Earth, which has been so damaged by human greed. Our planet suffers from lack of respect, a virtue in sore need in a world looking for what is "deserving" of human comfort. If we are seeking to heal the Earth, we must be willing to regain self-respect as well as respect for life and our neighbors, whether human or other. This goes beyond neglect of proper titles, which often cultivates an informality that can devolve into disrespect. Perhaps an informal attitude is comfortable, but at other times we see the effects of informality on lives of disorganized people who need more established relationships to give balance to their lives.
Some of the informally-inclined regard Earth as a product that they can seize and call their own by some law of property "rights" that knows few limits. This informality about acquiring land resources is documented by Richard Kluger's book Seizing Destiny: How America Grew from Sea to Shining Sea. Disrespect for the Native American inhabitants becomes painfully apparent with 400 treaties, none of which were strictly honored. It is the informality of the powerfully ascendant culture. This wrongdoing has had drastic effects on our land commons, wildlife, and all areas of community. If we are so bullied to allow others to tramp on what is ours (not mine), then we are partners in eco-crimes that perpetuate themselves into a culture of consumption. For 300 years the practice has been to strip land and move on.
Primitive peoples may be far more "developed" when it comes to respecting creation. Native Americans only harvest every fourth ginseng plant; they ask forgiveness and show thanks for the animal killed to provide food; they consider it necessary to walk gently on the fragile Earth; they do not gather more than what is needed for the coming season -- and share what is gathered. In fact, in areas of limited land, our forebears showed respect for God's creation; we need to rediscover that legacy and apply to our use of resources. We cultivate a return to respect through religious reverence -- bowing before the Holy Name, silence in the presence of the Lord, prayer before meals, proper gesture, and sincerity of the handshake of peace. Reverence includes respect for what is due to all and to express this publicly.
Without a profound respect, we are imperfect caregivers, when healing is a prime activity for all concerned citizens. Wasting electricity or water is a form of disrespect, as is trashing what ought to be recycled and that includes land. Lack of encouragement for those seeking to live simply is disrespect. None of us aspire to be informal caregivers, nor should we expect informality in healing our wounded Earth. Formal attitudes of respect call forth the best of our compassion. Growth in renewed sensitivity takes time and concerted practice. How can we become more ecological, if we are irresponsible to our fragile planet?
New Albany Shale creekbed, Boyle Co., KY.
January 12, 2023 Exposing the Term “Hillbilly” as Disparaging
As we approach Martin Luther King's Birthday, we pause and review our own journey to remove any form of racial or other discrimination from our world view. We are one family and do not like to disparage any of our brothers and sisters through remarks, bad jokes, acts of segregation, or regarding others as outside our ranks. Do we harbor hidden biases and ought these be made public?
In the 1940s, I grew up in segregated America near the town (Washington Kentucky) where Harriet Beecher Stowe saw a slave sold, inspiring Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1851 -- and arousing the conscience of a nation. In my early school days, it made me angry to see our lily-white school bus pass up our wonderful black neighbors and forcing them to take a small vehicle to a one-room "colored" school. I remember we had family discussions on segregation and decided that black workers who ate the same food could share our dinner table, a real break with local tradition. We were taught to respect our elders of any race, because we found so many black folks amid their sufferings to be truly wise, compassionate, and forgiving. Perhaps that was and is reverse stereotyping -- but so be it.
Living in the Appalachian Region allows me to recall racially segregated days and find that other remnants remain of equal par, but pertaining to white residents. We would never use the "N" today, but what about the “H” word or “Hillbilly?” Some in their bliss may say they loved to be called by the “H” word. It means they have not yet understood that it is not beneficial in every circumstance. For instance, strong public interest citizens in southeast Ohio have tried to alert legislators to terrible toxic conditions at the Portsmouth nuclear facility. Legislators were told by US Energy Agency personnel that the tale was by a bunch of Hillbillies – as though they need not be believed. The prolonging of getting this devastating issue settled is directly due to the bias described here.
Racial discrimination still haunts us all in often hidden ways. Hearing the "H" word and seeing it on artifacts and in advertisements brings back memories of racial segregation. "Oh, they don't mind being considered different." In fact, on closer examination, we find Appalachian culture is looked down upon; the "H" term contains excess baggage that demeans a culture. Discrimination does not disappear unless publicly exposed for what it is. Some within this region kid themselves with this "H" term and some restaurants and programs use this in their title and think it is cute. Pressure has not yet developed to change it.
I beg pardon for all of my race who looked down upon, enslaved, segregated, lynched, and disparaged members of another race. What is so comforting is that many people are quick to forgive and allow us to move forward in this imperfect world of different races, creeds, colors, and cultures. Let's go forward.
Reviewing Our Ingrained Biases
We all have a handful of biases – some, such as what we like to taste or smell, are of a neutral nature and others, dealing with human equality, ought not be there. Most of us know the difference. Time near the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. is ideal for reviewing the biases that hang over from previous prejudices and we ought to review them seriously.
I readily admit that segregation and bias against black people were prevalent in my youth, at the time of the Second World War. However, I did not like what I saw. I burned up when our bus passed by my black friends who had to go to a modest one-room school. People ate at separate tables. We had a family discussion as to whether we would break that tradition and have black people eat with us at table –and integration won out—one of the few early cases of meaningful family social justice discussion.
My bias for glorious local history blinded me to something prevalent in my own county. At the time of the Dred Scott Decision in the 1850s (escaped slaves could be returned to their lawful owners), a host of law enforcement personnel was recruited from our area (names still prominent today) and these went North across the Ohio River and captured escaped slaves and brought them back to KY, storing then in barn bins that can still be seen today. More than anything else, this “lawful” practice enhanced Northern bitterness and flames of that terrible conflict that followed. Thus, I was forced to address the bias of our County.
I vividly remember burning with anger that the blacks were bused to a one-room school, while the public and private school whites were taken to the public schools and then the Catholic whites on the same bus to our parochial school in Maysville. The desegregation that followed in the Eisenhower years was actually well received within the schools themselves, because the athletic prowess was enhanced in basketball by racial additions. Young folks certainly did not want to return to previous conditions.
In those days a highly respected black man would be called ’Uncle’ in an obituary. Whites and blacks were fed equal qualities and proportions of chicken, ham and cobbler; still the threshing tables would be segregated – and a reason given that all liked to be among their own. One argument was that black people were not as intellectually sharp as white ones. Frankly, this bias has been the hardest to overcome – which it must be. Part of January reality is to find biases to humans and expose them as part of Christian spiritual growth.
Imagine nature's sounds of creaking branches with ice.
January 13, 2023 Healing at All Levels through Music
We need the healing provided by natural music in the form of pounding surf, rain drops on the window, chirping birds, squeaking ground squirrels, and rustling leaves. Certainly all these have a way of soothing our nerves. Still, something more fits into the field of "natural music" that we often overlook, namely the healing effects of certain forms of music by human composers who enter into the cooperative act of creation in some fashion. On this birthday of Stephen Foster, who captivated the hearts of many (especially older generations), we can truly celebrate healing forms of music.
* Liturgical music is heavenly, and composers have that mysterious manner of capturing us, allowing angels to descend and listeners to briefly ascend to the heavenly court. Monastic music gives church gatherings a special flavor that allows us to find the Lord's presence. Our brokenness seems to fade when we experience God's mercy in chant and church music. Homilies and sermons attend to the mind, but liturgical music touches the heart.
* Secular music can heal the distracted soul in times of sickness. Such music can transport us out of our misery to anticipate better times ahead. Music elevates us above our ordinary lives and gives us courage and hope that improvement is possible. Music extends beyond the life of the composer and offers a taste of eternity. We would not be totally human without music.
* Youthful and companion music and songs around a camp fire bring a sense of solidarity so needed in our fragmented society. The proper musical instruments and the ability of all to sing along gives a sense of cohesion that we all long for in so many ways. Thus, knowing the oldies is as important as listening to entirely new forms of music.
* Making music brings a sublime sense of enjoyment in the faces of the privilege music makers. Gathering to perform or to sing along with music-be moved in the depths of our hearts. A mother's lullaby, someone singing in the shower, or those who sing or whistle while they walk or work all have a sense of primitive creativity, even when general audiences may not appreciate their efforts.
* Our family's music was central to special events and often the focus was with 19th-century composer Stephen Foster's haunting melody "My Ole Kentucky Home," a sentimental lament of being away from home and the times that would never return. We sang this at my mother's funeral while taking her to burial. Our family loved to sing together renditions of my mom's favorite, "Ole Black Joe." Celebrations, both times of joy and sadness, are found in timeless folk songs that all feel free to sing together.
Patterns in shale. Rowan Co., KY.
January 14, 2023 Exploiting Tar Sands and Shale Rock
Canada has a reported 180 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, of which 95% are in oil sands, but much of which would be difficult to remove and process. The more available reserves have major problems including liberating oil from sand or rock: water required is hard to decontaminate, landscape does not heal easily, and heavy oil requires effort to transport and is fraught with risks of dangerous spills and refining problems. Recent opposition to the XL Pipeline across mid-America was certainly justified.
The world is using more fuel each year and the rise in carbon dioxide levels make inevitable climate change a reality with frightening consequences. While renewable and essentially carbon- free alternatives exist, the big oil companies with enormous influence on governmental policies make one last desperate attempt to include tar sands in an acceptable energy mix. The jury is out as to whether they will succeed. Fracking for both natural gas and petroleum changes the equation; cheaper natural gas delays growth of renewable energy -- and there are environmental problems also.
In the early 1980s, besides tar sands, vast oil shale fields were touted as fuel sources of the future. According to estimates trillions of barrels of hydrocarbons were trapped in both eastern and western North American oil shale fields. The first experimental plant in western Colorado was closed down in 1982 due to operating costs and water shortages. At that time considerable attention was given to the Devonian Shale outcropping in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee. These eastern fields were estimated to contain 400 billion to 2.6 trillion barrels of oil. At public hearings and conferences, we asked pertinent questions as to whether processing shale rock could really give net energy returns.
Once liberated, both tar sands and shale rock contain petroleum products, but the effort to remove these when we should be moving to a carbon-free energy economy simply distract from the task at hand. The heart of the matter is not cheap natural gas from fracking operations or the pie-in-the-sky tar sands or shale- bearing fuels turned into petroleum products. The heart is the will power to move to an energy mix that has the lowest environmental impact on our environment.
Air and water need to remain uncontaminated; electricity needs to continue uninterrupted through combinations of solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal -- and transitional natural gas. Yes, leave tar sands and shale oil in place, for water needed for extraction must supply food-growing needs. Clean up the environment and don't add processes that will dirty it. Tar-sand-fracked petroleum is the epitome of our dysfunctional carbon-based energy economy, which does not yield net benefits due to high environmental costs. Common sense calls for confronting Big Oil and fighting tooth-and-nail for a zero-carbon economy ASAP.
Eastern Kentucky farm hound, loyal friend.
January 15, 2023 Humbling Words by John the Baptist
A man is coming after me who ranks before me
because he existed before me. (John 1:30)
In today's reading there is a simplicity in John's words which really shows the greatness of this prophet. He is to prepare the way for Christ -- and this is precisely what he does. At times, John's own disciples regard him with a deference that he finds uncomfortable, for it is not he but the one he prepares for who is "great." Thus, in deep honesty John is able to turn the faces of all to the one who is the subject of his ministry, Jesus.
Imitation to some degree is possible for us. There are many things in John's life that we cannot or will not be able or willing to imitate: dancing in the womb, going into the desert to live, eating a diet of wild honey and locusts, baptizing great numbers, facing the king head on, speaking the truth to a hostile establishment wherein he literally loses his head -- and not fully knowing Jesus in his lifetime. However, John's greatest achievement is to step back and let the Lord's words and actions become paramount. This `we can do and do well if we try. We can know the Lord even better than John did in prison, and still prepare the way of the Lord for others to follow.
We can step back for others. As we move through life, many things appear that are closed to our achievements, and we accept our limitations for what they are. However, we can do simple things in imitation of other humble people. One of these is to step back and let others do what they are best at doing. This could make the world a better place. By stepping back, we usher in God's presence to others who do not recognize that God is here with them. We are not top dog; we are not initiators of powerful deeds; God is. Stepping back for God to show greater glory to the human race is a deeper and more penetrating spirituality that is answering our call to diminish, while the divine glory shines forth. God works through us, if we are as transparent as Immaculate Mary was at the birth of Christ. Her monumental choice gives a transparency that we can strive to imitate -- because we too are blessed by God with a call to service.
We come to know Christ. Jesus affirms that John did not know Jesus in the way we do. Certainly John strived to know him and still stepped back in trust that a light was coming, but not yet shining for him to perceive. And Jesus said this was a mark of John's greatness. On our journey of faith, we have more knowing to do, but we have sacramental tools to assist us. We want to know the Messiah as well, for he gives us the mission (as mentioned last week in the Baptism discussion) to spread the Good News to others. How can we better imitate him in this service required of us as recipients of the definitive Good News, something that John the Baptist was not privileged to possess in his life, because of his circumstantial distance from Jesus?
Kentucky River Marble, dolomitic limestone from the Oregon formation, with fossils.
January 16, 2023 Seeing Youthful Visions and Elderly Dreams
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men see visions. (Joel 2:28)
Are dreams to be quickly forgotten? What if they are so earth-shattering that they could help fashion a new world order? Joel speaks of a new age, when the Spirit will direct the lives of those coming to the Day of the Lord. Ultimately, listing dreams that are possible templates for an ideal social order is not an exercise in futility, but the expressed wisdom of elders before their final hours -- a final hopeful fling to help hasten the Day of the Lord. However, throughout history people from Sts. Augustine to Thomas More and from Ben Franklin to Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of lofty goals that were possible. Jesus certainly encourages this.
Some still laugh at Jesus the dreamer, or wistfully sigh for ideals beyond their grasp. Norman Thomas as quoted in Conscience, by Louisa Thomas, Penguin books, 2012.
What brings on such dreams? Consider this suggestion: we seek a legacy, a mark left in a changing world as we make our departure. Some express this as dreams that their offspring will succeed, their businesses prosper, and that The American Dream painted in materialistic shades might endure. For those of us parentless and yet desiring a legacy, are drawn to meaningful dreams. Those of us who believe in an afterlife could learn from St. Theresa, the Little Flower, a doctor of the Church, who asked God that her good works might flourish after her early death from tuberculosis. And her prayers were answered with the most successful autobiography ever written, along with a multitude of miracles to punctuate her favor with the Lord.
Can we follow Theresa's example and pray that our good works may succeed beyond our mortal life span? Our dreams reach for a better life for those who follow us. Would that these hopeful works benefit all ages, whether with our names attached or these remain anonymous. Certainly, these elderly dreams will only have enduring benefit through heavenly grace. It is not a false idol of this materialistic world, but rather the wish that God's kingdom comes soon. May what appear as utterly necessary for the world actually occur, even if beyond our sojourn on this Earth.
One prayer at the newly ordained priestly ceremony is that the works of the person prosper -- but why stop during a serviceable lifespan? May the works we begin have continuance for the betterment of our world. Was Theresa's request selfish or utterly selfless, since they are God's works? By her example we dream as elders for eternal life and continued life of our works.
Hardy purple dead-nettle, Lamium purpureum, blooming in January warm snap.
January 17, 2023 Striving to Impose Democracy?
Benjamin Franklin's Birthday is a perfect day to reflect upon democracy and how much the philosophy of this founding father of our Republic might have to say about the growth of the democratic spirit. Perhaps Franklin might say that our primary concern at this moment of dysfunctional government is the flowering and modeling of that democracy here at home rather than abroad. Freedom is the heart's desire, but one can hardly impose free choice on another, no matter how good we think the future result should be. We are tempted to "impose" because so much of what is troublesome today in our social order is imposed on us for better or worse. Threats to our freedom and democracy are being imposed. Thus, urgency arises of countering worldly force with some sort of protecting shield.
Yes, freedom is not the license to do entirely what one pleases. Democracies require some regulation for the sake of protection of individual and community freedoms. To impose on others what we still have as insecure in our own land is unhealthy hubris, for it blinds us to minimizing our problems close at hand. Maybe the founding fathers must be referenced again, for they chose to form a government that would become a "democratic republic" in order to make a more perfect union. That perfect union is still a work in progress, and it does not follow that we Americans have the arrogant task of being self--righteous "policeman of the world."
Democracy as a system of governance springs from the will of a people who express their interior desire to be free citizens, or simply self-sustaining individuals. Democracy is a fragile structure, and responsibility is needed for its endurance. To make democracy work in this country we must exercise proper civic and political will to work for betterment. We cannot let autocrats impose their will on the people. Naysayers may glory in a paralysis of our American government, which could devolve easily into an escape through autocratic rule as one way out. Recall that Hitler won a democratic election in 1933. Democracy can be destroyed from within just as easily as imposing democracy from without. The issue is not to impose democracy, but to ensure democracy through a renewing revolutionary spirit at home that attacks the ills we have within.
History is our best teacher and can enlighten us about proper democratic process. The long Afghanistan military adventure did not result in an imposed democratic system. Some policies can hasten democratic process, but inherent antagonism between warring factions can retard that process -- and Middle East factions have a negative power to spoil democratic process and hasten from spring to a summer of discontent. Our attention must focus at home, especially on the movement to cast suspicion on the current voting procedures – with some wishing to impose their policies and candidates. Our focus must be preserving democracy at home, for it certainly can be threatened by home-grown extremists.
The Kentucky Bluebird Box designed by Wayne H. Davis.
See here for plans.
January 18, 2023 Confronting the Global Immigration Phenomenon
Current global immigration represents the largest movement of people in human history. At last count the total number of immigrants was 232 million or 3% of the world's population, while it was only 170 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990. We are all aware of the movement of people from sources in the Middle East conflicts to relatively more peaceful settings. We are also aware that African immigrants within the continent or to places outside of it are a sizeable portion of the immigrating masses today. They come through at high transport costs in unsafe leaky boats; they brave rivers and deserts. They come with few belongings and high hopes that work opportunities await them in the host country. Upon surviving a journey more troubles occur, for dreams are not reality -- and they are foreigners with few contacts, language skills, and places of residence. Unfortunately, few in the host lands greet immigrants.
Matters will worsen. Several causes may exacerbate this immigration phenomenon: political and economic instability in one’s native land; higher unemployment rates in nations with growing populations; lower birth rates in some traditional industrial nations; loss of low-skill industrial jobs due to automation; vulnerability to human abuse; and inevitable climate change. People are desperate for jobs and few are available in their homelands. Many Egyptians, including millions of youthful unemployed with college degrees, vie for limited openings; many head for oil-producing lands like the Emirates and Libya with now majority immigrant populations. Germany and other low birth-rate nations actively seek skilled immigrants, but find themselves burdened by the unskilled. Physical abuse of the arrivals is a matter of deep concern, especially for vulnerable young women.
Immigration which includes both refugees and economic immigrants are a major problem for some target countries, which have a surge of hostile residents. The numbers may not have reached their peak, for the rapid effects of climate change are already allowing for surging seas that flood lowlands where many of the world’s poor have homes and make their livelihood. Yes, all of us are strangers and guests in this world, even the "First People" or Native Americans. We may say longer-staying residents are more entitled to benefits, but are they? Since we all share some immigrant status, we need to treat those who come more recently with ever deeper compassion and respect.
Family unity is at the heart of immigrants' hopes. Today we mark the beginning of the Week of Unitive Octave, when we pray for the union of all Christians and the People of God. Few areas of potential unity require more attention at this time than providing decent livelihood for all people. Many immigrants go to great expense and risk to find work. We must help establish working conditions at home where people can raise families in relative peace and security -- and also assist those who move elsewhere.
Exploring edible lichens in winter.
January 19, 2023 Searching for Holy Wisdom
Wisdom is in our thoughts during January when we reflect on the various epiphanies of Jesus to the outside world. His public life opens to us a challenge to follow in his footstep -- Holy Wisdom himself. Distant wise foreigners took great pains to seek out and find wisdom in Bethlehem. Throughout the ages others have traveled their own journeys to where the Spirit led them to Jesus. Many wise elders have had a harder time in physical travel and make journeys of mind and heart. Their commitment to continued search can become a teaching experience for others. Perhaps we need to reaffirm that our "Daily Reflections" are more than a repository of thoughtful nuggets; they are meant to be way to the wisdom of Jesus.
Gazing into the heavens was the activity of the Wise Men mentioned in Matthew Infancy Narratives. They were certainly involved people, searchers or researchers in their own way. They were not stay-at-home folks, when willing and able to journey to distant and unknown places to find the goal of their searching. They anticipated what they would find at the end of the journey -- the seat of Holy Wisdom. Thus, they carried with them the most precious gifts they could safely convey to a very important though yet unseen person, and they encourage us to do the same.
While our hills so shade a portion of the Appalachian sky from immediate view, we do our sky-gazing to the best degree possible. We are also handicapped by light pollution unknown in the broad desert reaches of the Middle East, from where these wise men originated. We don't all live in big sky country and yet our modern accumulated knowledge surpasses that of the ancients. Will we use this to acquire wisdom? Our enquiring minds are similar to that of searching souls from diverse cultures through the millennia. We can touch on the sciences of astronomy and astrophysics. We can observe billions of stars through telescopes and with photography that are at mind-boggling distances of multiple light years. We are small before such an array and yet privileged to be present on this living rotating planet in a great sea of darkness. God's grandeur surrounds us in our travels to gain wisdom.
Back to being wise without immediate star-gazing. The Light of the World has come to us at Baptism, comes each sacramental encounter, and will come in glory at the end of this age. Our past gave us an initial orientation (knowing the direction of East); our hopeful future sets our journey on a quest for a person; our present involves an encounter with the Messiah who is here present to us. Past and future meet at this instant irreversible moment. Faith colors our past experience and hope of eternal life makes our future a bright horizon -- and both meet at this present moment of Divine Love. This gives us enthusiasm to search for and find Holy Wisdom as an ongoing quest.
Every January near the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Christians of various persuasions come together and pray for unity. In fact, this is a major prayer of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. From the start of Christianity there has been an emphasis on dealing with unified actions. But Christian divisions arose, and some became quite violent through the centuries. Tales of these woes fill many books, but on a happier note, the unity that is prayed for is being answered in various ways.
First, there are large numbers of Christians of different denominations who are being persecuted and killed in Africa, such as in Nigeria, Uganda, and Mozambique. Christians universally condemn persecution of other Christians and also of other religions, such as Moslems in China. These are of the human family and deserving of care. Another global phenomenon that we all must face is the hunger that plagues large parts of the world. Many of these victims are not Christian, but all hunger is painful. On our last day, we will be asked whether we fed the hungry with no distinction as to religious designation.
There is expanding cooperation with others in destitute areas of Africa and Asia. Various ecumenical groups have chosen to work together, and do so with a growing understanding of the need to be of Christian service that includes both working and praying together. Many of us fail to see the gradual growth of unity.
A shocker for most people is that the curses placed on Eastern and Western Christians a thousand years ago have been removed and thus this division no longer exists; Catholics and Orthodox associated with Constantinople are really one, and when the Pope and Patriarch meet together, they are actually of one body. The tragedy is that Putin and associates withdrew the Russian Orthodox portion from recognition of the prime patriarch, and removed over half of the members in the process.
Another recent occurrence is the breakaway of Methodists in large numbers within their denomination over a conflict about the place of gay rights in their church service. In a year or so the world’s Methodists could form a new, more traditional church at a global level. This issue is affecting other traditional Protestant groups as well and leading to splitting of denominations into liberal and conservative elements. Even amid such cleavages, still the segments attempt to stay together over environmental and certain social justice global issues.
Unity among Christians may, in one way of seeing things, be a long way off. However, regarding degrees of unity we may actually be drawing closer. In areas of world service, many if not most Christians think together and defend each other in times of need. Many might even allow the Pope or other world Christian leader to speak for them in times of crises -- and we are in such times. When we can speak with one voice in very important matters, we seek other opportunities to overcome our differences and to live with them as best we can. Our growing unity demands continued prayers.
Peering into the woods at evening.
January 20, 2023 Knowing Someone Who Remembered the Civil War
Memory is a precious divine gift and worth being thankful for as long as we are mindful. When we age, our recent memories are harder to retain (what I ate yesterday); however, some memories from older times are still vivid. Our neighbor across the road in the big 19th century brick house was Ole Joe Davis (see Website story). He was ancient -- ninety when I was ten. He too was blessed with good memory of his youth; he would talk to whoever took the time to listen. When he in the 1860s was my age in the 1940s, the Civil War or "War between the States" was raging, and he could tell specific tales about life in those turbulent years.
Mr. Davis' gait was extremely slow, and it took a half hour for him to come to our house. He wore one of those classic straight brimmed straw hats from the 1920s. When Mama was alerted that he was coming for a visit, she would dispatch me to sit and listen to him -- for he called her "Lizzy," a supposed term of endearment (his mother's name), but Mama did not like it, and she did not want distraction from her busy house/garden work. That was a pleasant assignment for me and resulted in my treasuring the art of storytelling in which many Kentuckians excel. Without Mr. Davis' natural storytelling finesse much of his legacy would be lost -- for none of his many children apparently had offspring.
Mr. Davis tailored his stories to those who could and would listen. He vividly remembered both the start and the finish of that bloody civil strife of over 160 years ago. His father was apparently called up to the Kentucky Home Guard at a critical time when the Commonwealth attempted to remain neutral as a border state in 1861. Yes, his family did own slaves to the best I could gather and the decennial censuses indicated. However, the Commonwealth was truly divided over whether that "Peculiar Institution" would continue, since many slaves could easily escape across the Ohio River to freedom. Mr. Davis experienced the local fright when General John Hunt Morgan's raiders came into this region hunting horses, not knowing where his father was when soldiering, the tearing apart of a family when relatives joined the other side, and the need to keep cash in both American and Confederate currency. And decades later he provided for a shell-shocked son, a veteran of the First World War, who never fully recovered.
In 1943, we siblings lost both our maternal grandpa who lived two miles away and our beloved neighbor "Ole Joe Davis." They both left indelible marks on us. Years later, when I returned to record the Davis family graves and original homeplace near the Lewis County border, I experienced the fragility of human history. Only by happenstance could I discover the abandoned cemetery of his Revolutionary War forebears. Mr. and Mrs. Davis had nine children but apparently no grandchildren, and so a living family tradition could have been lost. I have tried to be a good neighbor of one who recalled distant events, and pass them on.
Tree embracing parent rock.
(*photo by Greg Wake, Creative Commons)
January 21, 2023 Giving Hugs to Others
Today is National Hug Day and, in these times of heightened disharmony, hugging could have global implications. Would that Arabs hug Israelis, Japanese the Chinese, and Northern Irish Catholics their Protestant neighbors. The universal gesture is worth more than a million words. A planetary hug fest would do much for overcoming our antagonisms.
Awhile back, a Kentucky Monthly article entitled "Hope, Healing and Horses" detailed how much sick children gain relief from dealing with gentle horses at Lexington's Angel Heart Farm. One of the photos shows a little child hugging the neck of a Welsh pony "Katarina," demonstrating the power of equine therapy. In truth, dogs do the same at hospitals but therapy horses have their place. However, we can go further and say a human hugging humans has therapeutic value as well: at the death of a loved one, the return after a long absence, the report of grave illness, the child or spouse who craves more attention, the thanks to someone who gives a gift or a kind word, the thank you for a little gesture of good will, the reward for doing a good job, the return home from work or study, or just the opportunity to share a sincere peace prayer.
We enjoy when someone sincerely extends a hug, for it communicates much more than words. Knowing that I am concerned about the environment someone asked if I am a tree hugger. Frankly I am for rather practical reasons of measuring the girth of a tree using body parts. By extending two arms fingertip-to-fingertip it is almost exactly six feet)); lifting one hand from the entire span cuts a half foot and lifting two hands gives five feet within an inch; by lifting hand and arm to elbow reduces a girth total of a foot and a half and twice over cuts the width to three feet. Without a measuring tape I can come within an inch or so of the girth of any tree -- and so my tree hugging has practical silvicultural results. As for hugging trees for their own sake I refrain. Horses, yes; friendly dogs or cats, yes; but wildlife requires some restraint. Hugging plants, well not so much, though I do not fault those who do.
Hugging may break the personal space of another lacking the culture of the embrace. Most people know just when to hug and when not to. The emotionally immature may break into that space and may invite the other to become more inclusive in the act. A young child learning to walk is a candidate for a hug as well. Winter is more the hugging season: some hug mufflers, others dolls, more the fireplace, and many bed covers, and most hug other people very much at this time of year. Hugging is a universal human expression worthy of promotion at least one day a year. Warmth and endearment exude from one "hugee" to another. Note that the pandemic’s lack of hugging has had emotional implications, which call for quick return to the practice. Let safety distance give way to a universal hug.
View along Thompson Creek, Mercer Co., KY.
January 22, 2023 Motivating Us to Serve Others
January includes the beginning of the "Ordinary" liturgical season, the time of counting the weeks of the year and finding the routines are based on our perseverance and fidelity to our own unique calling. In the Gospel reading today we discover the apostles being called to leave all and follow Christ. Their lives engender mixed motivations, and yet the Spirit's call breaks through the shades and shadows of personal fears and imperfections. The Lord's disciples are free beings and can say "yes" or "no" to the Spirit's prompting. Some respond wholeheartedly; others exercise their freedom by suppressing the call. Our hope and prayer are that all who are called find wholeness in going out to others and adapt service as a balanced expression of love of God and neighbor.
Material motivation through ubiquitous allurements creates static noise that distracts us to a deeper mission. Those who want to save enough money or other resources to satisfy their own and loved ones' health and retirement needs, have somewhat salutary motives. However, the companion problem to the call is how much is enough? In this age of consumer madness and desire to acquire an ever-larger piece of the pie for comfort and security, something in the heart of the material-minded keeps harking about something more. Often the questing soul is disturbed or a conflict arises that shows the futility of solely material goals. Are there limits to acquiring material goods and is there something more meaningful in life?
Spiritual motivation touches us at the time that we are called to become more perfect, to rise above the material concerns that tend to crowd out the desire to be of service to the needy. Self-interest can only go so far; there are only so many new experiences or degrees of comfort. Spiritual calls can break through in thunder, or earthquakes, or waves at sea in the form of whispers. But listening means distancing ourselves from material allurements and hearing the anguishing lament of those suffering. Will we respond in a generous way, or decide to postpone this service call? Now is the time to respond; now is the moment of decision! Some will deny the call, excuse themselves as unworthy of it, or escape at least temporarily to other allurements. Others working in trust of God will respond to the deep down stirring in the listening mind and heart. We are called to serve.
Our response to the call depends on our proper motivations. Social communications include a sender and receiver, both active participants. If open to the Spirit, we seek to be generous in our response and to be willing to give something of ourselves to the caller. If we are committed to communication over a broad range then we are open to those who seek our help unexpectedly. The Spirit draws us out of life’s busyness to give others time and effort. How motivated are we to respond generously?
Cedar grove filters weak winter sun.
January 23, 2023 Spreading Word through Digital Media
Yes, this is Handwriting Day and mine is getting more illegible by the year. A shaky hand doesn't help, for I can hardly read my own handwriting. Let's observe this day in a broader context, and reflect on turning handwritten notes into reports and books. Some early scribes did this through the printing press, later typewriters, and then in recent time through computers and hand-held electronic devices. Reediting through modern rapid word-processing methods has been a way of speeding the word to others via public means. Virtually no publishers (whose ranks are thinning) are willing to publish hand-written manuscripts today. Perhaps poor penmanship is the culprit -- and the added effort to translate the material.
Published thoughts. We sometimes have a theme that we feel is worth developing. We prefer to put this unpolished gem in more coherent fashion and thus write, and revise, and revise again. The deluge of written information makes it a growing challenge to gain limited attention from others even with a fortunate search engine and a skillful web manager. People today skim quickly, discard emails (though in theory the record is not lost), and are attracted by enticing material. Books in paper seem to have greater endurance and, if one can attract another to spend time, the reflection has an audience.
Digital and paper. Warren Brunner's photos with my texts for each month using all five senses were published in paperback form: Appalachian Sensations: A Journey through the Seasons is available through Amazon.com for a moderate price. The paper gives permanence to those wanting to reference texts and to activate the senses as well. The Brunner photos were well matched by the late Pat Brunner and designed in a pleasing format by their daughter Gwen (and grandchildren as well). Once published, availability has become the foremost characteristic of the digital age, and specialty writers have a better chance through these modern global publicity opportunities. They do not have to search for the perfect publisher to test the potential market.
Digital publishing. Having said this about publishing paper editions, still much is worthwhile through electronic media -- or we would have abandoned "Daily reflections." Speed is important in this fast-changing world; seeing short-run or dated information brought to the public with deliberate speed is a hallmark of the global Internet. Public availability and endurance are added positive characteristics. Through the clever use of search engines, people today can reach potential readers formerly accessed through hit-and-miss browsing in bookstores and catalogs. Today, access to book reviews, pricing, and purchase and shipping information is at one's fingertips; obtaining books and reports is so much easier. It takes less effort to publish today than before, for current digital publishing is seemingly unstoppable.
Birdwatching the sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis.
January 24, 2023 Choosing Hobbies Well
January is National Hobby Month. It is fitting to consider the diversions that allow us to temporarily escape from life's stresses. Balance includes having a healthy hobby that does not overly consume our attention. However, in rare cases, the hobby can become a fulfilling opportunity for budding into a livelihood. Most often, confirmed hobbyists plan ahead, appraise their practice, and share their excitement with others.
Expand hobbies with time. Has anyone assembled a listing of hobbies according to resource use, travel time, and ecological content? Such a list could be similar to our rating of "Green Recreation Activities" three decades ago. Some "hobbies" acquired during normal retirement years become particular callings and may involve public interest environmental issues, volunteering in areas of deep social concern, and assisting in church-related and civic centers. It may be wise to play off of longer-term hobbies where there were social, cultural, or historical ramifications. A hiker may help with a local wildlife survey.
Choose environmentally benign hobbies. In choosing new or expanded hobbies one should minimize resource consumption. The better hobby choices need less travel; e.g., traveling all over the world to expand local bird-watching to distant exotic species is not a green hobby. It is often better that the hobby is of a social nature rather than an individual one, for companionship is a benefit. This is a difficult call, because some want a hobby that will take them away from the busy everyday mainstream in which they find themselves. They want to get away and fish or camp or ski. However, individualistic hobbies can be socialized by joining hobby clubs; gardening can include neighbors in work, advice, and sharing produce and information; hiking can involve groups who like natural settings.
Think twice about a collecting hobby. President Franklin Roosevelt, who took stamp collecting seriously, regarded it as a diversion from his massive task as commander-in-chief at the time of war. In my youth, I was an avid stamp collector, but later decided that it took too much time and was not something a poor person should be so involved in. I virtually gave away (for $25) the 12,000-stamp collection and later regretted it, for its value could have accrued much over time. But on entering the Jesuits, the stamp-collecting allurement never returned, even though a multitude of beautiful postage stamps are issued daily. Some collectors specialize with collections accruing in value (as most certainly mine must have) and are really budding capitalists. Perhaps, if hobby collectors anticipate donating to a museum or library that will benefit the public at large, there is some redeeming value in this type of hobby. You can share home-grown veggies while alive; you can will stamp collections to libraries.
Delicate ice crystals on frosty morning.
January 25, 2023 Celebrating Chinese New Year Festivities
Tomorrow will be the closing of the week-long Spring Festival Golden Week holidays following the Chinese New Year last Sunday. Perhaps no other ethnic group is so captivating the minds of Americans at this time. I enjoyed reading weekly reflections on "Awakening Green Dragon" by a friend, Alexander Lee, who has taught English in China and written informative blogs about customs and cuisine of that grand nation; theirs is one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world -- and Chinese are proud of it.
Americans enjoyed the ascendancy of the twentieth century and, if water shortages or civic unrest does not stifle the world's most populous nation, the 21st may be China's century. China's vast population strives to rise from poverty and is succeeding at a very rapid rate through industrialization, urbanization, and a drive to get ahead. Through a certain sense of thrift China has the world's largest financial reserve. However, should Chinese reach our levels of consumption, one wonders whether that nation and world's environment can endure it. Today, China is scouring the world for energy and other resources to meet their insatiable demand for petroleum, iron ore and minerals of every type. They are going to Sudan, Libya, Gabon, Nigeria, and other parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, and acquiring European ports, as well as a Euro-Asian silk route.
The Chinese are rapidly promoting a globalized world view, but that may mean picking up some bad habits as well as good -- environmental degradation and especially air and water pollution, a rapidly expanding automobile economy with its congestion, problematic labor relations at home and abroad, rampant consumerism, land development with roads and malls, heavy use of tobacco, and a disparity between the urban well off and the rural poor. Although a controlled Communist economy, China winks at some of the Marxist principles of strict equality of the masses. And disparity of wealth emerges as in our own country and Western Europe.
China has much to celebrate, especially the historic feat of raising six hundred plus million out of poverty over a two-decade period. China has entered the world scene also through UN actions and often acts as mediator in the ongoing South Korean/American dispute with North Korea. The Chinese human rights record has much distance to travel. While freedom is coming slowly to China, we do hope that Chinese churches are able to function freely and that political prisoners are released and capital punishment abolished -- and that last hope applies to our country as well. Perhaps the desire to be like the rest of the world may help in a transformation towards a democracy. The hope is that China will soften its stand and permit free exercise of press, speech, and religion. The community of nations ought to be thankful that a strong militarism has not yet developed and may not plague China in the coming years -- we hope, we hope. Happy New Year, China!
Remembering summer's zinnia garden.
January 26, 2023 Preparing Remotely for a Garden in January
January is ideal for developing garden plans before the springtime outdoor work starts. Let's make this period prove that an early start is our best kept successful gardening secret.
* How about creative choice of varieties? Let's select a number of vegetables/herbs, say thirty or so may be the goal of this garden year. Review which veggies or herbs did not do well last year, and replace these with another of different variety. Maybe it is time to add a few perennials (herbs and vegetables) to lessen the work and number of annuals needed. Which wild plants (poke, sorrel, violets, dandelions, etc.) should be included in the varieties allowed in the garden? Or you may prefer fewer choices -– and it is all the more important to choose them well.
* Where will the seed be procured? Do we save our own or need another source? This is the season for opening and reviewing catalogs that have come in. Don't neglect to consider one’s own home supply of saved seeds, or exchanging heirlooms with friends and neighbors.
* Should we consider current existing or expanded garden space? Decide how much ground will be tilled in the spring. Was the garden too small or too large? In case of a possible dry season, what is the existing water system for needed irrigation?
* Should we map where certain vegetables are to be placed? Deciding on the exact location of vegetables is too restrictive; it is better to have some flexibility to benefit from success of existing flourishing varieties and to provide space for some interplanting. Flexibility in gardening has always proved better from the standpoint of creativity and unexpected seasonal conditions.
* How about keeping records of production? It is nice to keep exact records of total yields, but this does get cumbersome, especially when giving some produce away and allowing others to come and harvest. Keep a good notebook in a handy place to do the recording in busy times.
* How about soil amendment? Now is the time to procure some wood ash for sprinkling on the garden to add needed minerals. Take care not to over-apply ashes. Obtain extra organic materials as well. Consider where to obtain some cured horse manure or other natural fertilizers.
* How do we include the community? Gardening is something personal, but something for the community as well. What is a way to get others involved in growing their own produce this year? Point out the unused space that they can activate or where a neighbor would allow additional gardening.
Reflecting by water's edge.
January 27, 2023 Being Mindful of Fuel Economy
Certainly with each passing year fuel efficiency becomes a more important consideration in this country. The best way to save fuel is not to use the vehicle itself; just walk or bike for very short trips. Good planning in purchase, maintenance, and operation are still excellent fuel economy practices -- and we ought to be constantly aware of how our vehicle is performing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provide a series of suggestions that will help with our budget:
Get a fuel-efficient vehicle. New vehicle choices must regard fuel economy as a major factor. Hybrids and electric vehicles are worth considering as prices become more reasonable.
Hold to slower speeds. Each five miles per hour one drives over sixty is like paying an additional quarter per gallon for the gasoline. Jump starts and stops are inefficient and yet this is becoming the rule. Unnecessarily idling wastes fuel as well.
Combine trips. The USEPA and FTC say that several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm. A little planning will go a long way in allowing drivers to combine trips and get more tasks accomplished each time the car is used.
Select the right octane level. This suggestion is more evident to most drivers today because of the high price of fuels. However, some still over-purchase higher octane fuels. Unless the car is knocking, the use of higher octane is a waste of money.
Keep the auto well maintained. Keep the engine tuned and on a regular checkup routine. Keep tires properly inflated and aligned -- this can increase mileage about 3%. Use the recommended grade and type of oil and change on a regular schedule; friction-reducing additives in motor oil can improve gasoline efficiency.
Be wary of "gas-saving" gadgets. The USEPA checked over one hundred commercial fuel enhancers and found very few actually provide any extra efficiency benefits.
Finally, consider fuel alternative vehicles. FTC rules require labels on all new "Alternate Fuel Vehicles" (compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, methanol, ethanol E85, biodiesel, hydrogen, propane, electricity) to give the vehicle's estimated cruising range and general descriptive information. Alternative fuels may reduce harmful pollutants and exhaust emissions and assist with national energy independence. The number of stations available for alternatives is growing; in the U.S. we are rapidly approaching accessible charging stations within the range of all but a small fraction of vehicles.
Spirobolid Millipede, Narceus americanus, protected in a cave environment.
January 28, 2023 Reducing Stress and Living a Higher Quality Life
On the birthday of composer of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it is a good opportunity to listen to music as a good way to reduce stress. Balancing the striving to heal our wounded Earth has artistic components such as photography, and can include music-making as well. Other stress-reducing practices include:
* Go outside and take a brisk walk. This outdoor exercise opens the door to fresh air and possible full spectrum sunlight. It is astounding how much the outdoors takes us away from inner pressures that can build up in the claustrophobic surroundings of interior work space. It may be of short duration or a longer three-mile trek, an all-day walk, or a longer-term undertaking.
* Reserve time to merely sit and listen to the natural sounds of nature all around us: birds, wildlife, trees, breezes, and rain. Some of this can be listening while in sheltered areas.
* Meditate. A prayer or meditation period gives us a sense of presence with the Lord, a period when the past and future is shut out to some degree and we clear the mind for true listening. To remain perfectly still and turn our minds to the Lord calms our soul. We say in a word or two that this is the best we can do at this moment -- and that allows the stillness we need in life to penetrate our bones.
* Get additional rest and sleep. Too often it is not additional physical activity that can relieve stress as much as obtaining a little more rest than an overly busy life allows. Take an occasional break and even an hour or so afternoon siesta may be what the doctor orders. Some suggest that the time needed to flush the brain's waste materials is why sufficient sleep is necessary -- especially to avoid Alzheimers.
* Confide problems to a friend. Often the need to open oneself to others makes a stressful condition be seen in a new light. Some keep too much inside themselves when a little more transparency may be a spiritual tonic needed for the desiccated soul. We all need companionship, especially in tough times.
* Spend more time with your hobby. This is more a needed diversion rather than an escape from pressing problems. Allow the creative spirit to flourish in some way.
* Check the weather. If this seems strange, it shouldn't be. Some of us are disquieted by sudden drops in the barometer. That may be more pertinent to those of us affected by abrupt changes in weather patterns, but perhaps we all are affected to some degree. Maybe we ought to be aware when the full moon comes as well.
Ant explores yucca blossom.
January 29, 2023 Reflecting on the Beatitudes
The Beatitudes are in some ways Christ’s preamble for social justice -- the reign of the Kingdom. However, at times we are puzzled as to whom they are directed. Are beatitudes for all believers or for those who are poor and in need of blessings? Or do they have meaning 2000 years ago and also for us today? Or are they more a hope and promise rather than an actualized condition? In truth, they may be all these things at the same time, and that is worth reflecting upon.
Grand reversal: The material goals of the world around us contain affluence, financial and physical health, popularity, audacity, power over others, and fame and fortune. In grand reversal, God shows favoritism to those of the other end of this materialistic spectrum: the poor, mild-mannered, disliked, lonely and overlooked, and those who stand for truths that are despised by the powerful and affluent. The beatitudes taken in their entirety have all of the elements of a Christian way of acting. They speak of the way Jesus lived and directed his attention; here we find the solidarity of Jesus with all who were not regarded as materially empowered. Jesus has always had a high regard for these very unfortunate people and expects us to do the same.
Promise: Blessings are generously given out by the Lord, and to those who fall within the Beatitude’s categories. The present tense is used and thus applied to those receiving the message by Jesus. However, the sufferings of the many down through the ages are the crosses that make Calvary present in every age. In this regard, today’s sufferers find Jesus in solidarity and with a deep sense of compassion for them. A promise of blessing includes both the lifetime of the sufferer and also the eternal life that is awaited in hope from a merciful and generous God.
Opportunity to Give Blessings: We wish to imitate Christ and so we seek to give blessings to others at special times and places. Jesus invites his followers to extend the beatitudes to those with whom they are in contact. We are to be people who bless others with the Good News of salvation. Not only are we willing to distribute a multitude of blessings to the forgotten and overlooked, we seek them out through an option for the poor.
Awareness of our needs: The beatitudes are meant for everyone in some fashion who seeks to follow in the Christian way. We can be recipients of the blessings of the Lord when we open ourselves to what the Lord bestows. The blessings in the beatitudes go out from Jesus at all times and places, and that includes us today. We not only bless, but are blessed in his presence – and we seek and need those blessings to continue in our way of life; we are expected to be meek, forgiving and peace-making in our everyday actions. Our call is to live the beatitudes and even be open to persecution, if circumstances arise. Happiness comes in living more fully the beatitudes as listed.
Celebrate the Year of the Horse. Chinese New Year 2014.
January 30, 2023 Exploring Personal Changes and Life Adjustments
The Feast of St. Paul is a perfect time to recall that this highly talented person abruptly changed his career in midstream. Perhaps many of us are looking for changes as well, but prefer not to be struck from a horse -- or while driving. Some lifestyle change suggestions are worth reflecting upon:
* Pray over the matter and start this reflection process prior to making a major commitment, even when financial situations require a rapid change in circumstances. This is an opportune time to become acquainted with The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, ideally suited for time of profound change. Here the expression festina lente (hasten slowly) becomes more haste but less speed.
* Don't feel that change is a betrayal of parents, friends, teachers, and others who guided you to past careers. In fact, the experience of the past will most likely be a major determining factor of the new option. You are not alone, for some estimate that a majority of working people change their careers in the course of their lives. Early retirees fit this category and often spend more time in the new job after retirement than in the original. People retire earlier, mid-life comes later, and people live longer.
* Take time to assemble a list of options before settling on a final choice. Prayerfully pruning these down by assembling benefits and costs is important. Discern well, or you will otherwise regret the decision. A job counselor may be appropriate as well, if you are quite serious about the new occupation. Even a volunteer position needs discernment, but not as much as for career changes, or the desire to take up a new vocation.
* Consider a greener environmental position, if you have the talent and are drawn to the work. The Earth is under immense assault and the number of experienced people filling key posts is limited. You may also be drawn to a church service position and can actually combine two options into one.
* Before making the final decision, it may be beneficial for you to spend some time at the new location in order to test your compatibility with co-workers. Things may look rosy until you start helping in the nitty-gritty tasks at hand and find that grass always seems greener on the other side.
* Try to reveal your decision-making process to confidants who know your talents and spiritual inclinations. They may point out the need to further discern or how you may be distracted by initial impulses. Wise comments are valuable in times of change and ought to be taken seriously. Changes can push or pull or both; come to benefit from past experience. Minimize the stress of change by relying on the Spirit who directs you.
Yurt in winter.
(*photo by Sam Mudge, Creative Commons)
January 31, 2023 Discovering the Yurt a Worthwhile Structure
The yurt is a symbol of cultural blending. We blend what we've learned, in this case, from Mongolian culture, with knowledge from our own time and culture. William Coperthwaite
Promoters of appropriate technology (AT) caution that bulk resources (water, food, building materials, and fuel) should be locally obtained, but other AT ideas and applications are welcome from all parts of the world when accompanied with cultural adjustments. It takes few transport resources and more creativity to blend distant ideas; it requires sizeable fuel quantities to transport bulk materials. Certainly this AT principle applies to the yurt, a type of housing used in Mongolia, which involves a structure held together like the staves of a barrel and covered with hides or other materials. For centuries Mongolians took temporary lodgings down and reassembled them quite rapidly, when they traveled from place to place with migrating herds.
We built a yurt at ASPI in 1982 and it was in service for over three decades. A platform was built with plywood on treated posts. The siding of this circular building consisted of two layers of rough-cut pine boards with insulation between them; the entire structure was held together with a steel cable at the junction of the siding and the eaves of the roof. The Yurt Foundation proposed a roof composed of 23 ribs made of plywood that fit together with a ring at the peak and that included a skylight as well as clear glass or Plexiglas at the lower end of each rib. The key was constructing the basic building in such a way that the cable held the walls together. After that, most of the construction was quite simple. While the ribs were attractive, they did not hold up in a strong wind storm, and so we reconstructed it with interlaced pine slabs covered with tar paper; the roof was sturdy but less scenic.
The ASPI yurt was used for intern housing even during the winter -- though it was not totally winterized. It had some insulation but didn’t have a heating stove within it. During the summer, the ASPI yurt proved to be an ideal retreat cabin and short-term housing. It was surrounded by shade trees and caught a good breeze. It constantly reminded us that yurts can promote themselves when constructed in an attractive manner. Furthermore, yurts can be built rapidly and at very low cost, especially when temporary or even permanent housing is needed. Yurts serve a variety of applications: lodging, retreats, offices, storage, and temporary shelters.
The Spruce Knob Mountain Center in the West Virginia Potomac Highlands has a beautiful double-deck yurt that acts as the nerve center and office of the establishment. The upper floor of this large yurt is an ample room for interns for short periods of time. The 400-acre grounds also include a number of smaller yurts that serve as storage buildings and cabins for interns and visitors.