A final ripe mulberry, picked from a productive
August 1, 2009
Harvesting and Thankfulness
turn the harvest month of August into one of thanksgiving for gifts
given, namely the first fruits -- grain, fruit and vegetables.
The English church has a Lammas Day or "loaf plus Mass" from
old English. Like other feasts (Christmas, Easter, All Saints,
etc.), the day most likely substituted for a pagan feast. On
August first, the Roman pagan feast became the day to commemorate
"St. Peter's Chains," that is, the miraculous deliverance of St.
Peter from prison. This feast originated as the dedication day
of the church of the apostle Peter (S. Pietro in Vincoli), erected
on the Esquiline Hill in Rome in the fourth century to venerate the
chains that bound Peter before his death in 64 A.D.
Thanksgiving, for the bounty that is exploding all around us in
fields, yards, gardens and woods, is our particular theme for the
month. Grain combines are now operating from Texas through the
Great Plains to Canada, harvesting the wheat that is bread for a
hungry world. For many in Europe, this is vacation month, a
time to relax and see nature's bounty. For others on this
planet, this is the time for added work in harvesting the fruits of
their sowing. We often postpone our thanksgiving to after the
gathering, namely to Thanksgiving Day
in late November. However, August makes us aware that
gratitude knows no limits, for God's gifts are numerous and embrace
all times and places.
about and see green fields of soybeans and corn that will not be
harvested until immediately before or after frost. However,
August is when many American farmers fill their silos for the cattle
during winter. Furthermore, the garden harvest is also peaking
for a variety of vegetables, and especially such bulk crops as
tomatoes, beans, and sweet corn. Farmers' markets are brimming
with cucumbers, melons, summer squash, cantaloupes, okra, and, don't
forget, zucchini. The bounty of peaches, plums, quinces, early
pears, apricots, and summer apples is worth savoring and preserving.
While blackberries are generally past season, except in higher
altitudes and northern climates, still this is the time of
elderberries and blueberries. Many of the garden herbs are
gathered and dried. Every effort is being made to preserve the
flavors of August from the surplus produce.
and plenty go hand-in-hand in August. Yet in drought stricken
lands of Africa this is not the case. The heat overcomes the
people and livestock in parts of the Horn of Africa and beyond. Our
gratitude includes responsibility to share our gifts with others.
The human family is not equally blessed in immediate food supply,
and we who know plenty are called to share. Thankfulness and
generosity are twins, and August is the time to express this in
Prayer: We thank You, Lord, for the good land that produces the food we
need to sustain life; we thank You for the produce
coming from that fertile land.
Move us to share with others.
Image taken at Takuma refugee camp, Kenya
(* photo by Zorian, Creative Commons A-N 2.0 licence)
August 2, 2009 Hunger
in the World
Lord gave them bread from heaven.
of both a physical and a spiritual variety, exists in this world.
These types of hunger afflict the very poor in the first case and a
cross section of population in the second. In actual fact, God
is the provider of physical and spiritual bread, and God expects us
to be the normal deliverers of this largesse.
miracles have occurred in history but human channels are the normal
practice. Even the manna in the Sinai is a natural phenomenon
that can be found today in the same desert areas in which the
wandering Jewish people were directed to it at the time of the great
Exodus from Egypt.
with great urgency, we are called once more to deliver provisions to
the needy. We become God's hands and feet at work to feed
unfortunate people who will die without immediate assistance.
Hunger cannot be put off and delayed. People need today's
bread. God has given plentiful gifts to an entire world, and
we must take immediate steps to give charity at times of drought,
floods or other calamities. We must share resources that can
produce either adequate food for all or resource-intensive foods
(animal products and prepared foods) for a privileged few.
Furthermore, we must ensure that cornland is used for food and not
for renewable fuels for wasteful vehicles. And finally
international policies should support small farmers to enable them
to feed their own needy populations.
concern about global physical hunger should not diminish an equal
concern about the spiritually deprived: the people sated with
allurements of every sort and overcome by despair and helplessness.
The spiritually hungry are all about, and it takes effort to
discover them and their condition. Some people are more
experienced in ministering to them, but all of us bearers of Good
News can help identify those in substance abuse situations or
overcome by the trials of life. We certainly should do more
than tell the caregivers about them; we can encourage them to
change and pray for their recovery. Quite often a gentle
invitation can make the difference for the spiritually hungry.
steeped in the Eucharist are meant to be bearers of provisions
(physical food and spiritual assistance) for the struggle against
hunger in all its manifestations. Our gratitude moves us to
action, and this gratitude is based on the Eucharist food that we
receive. Through this sacramental grace we become all the more
aware that some around us are hungry and our own worthiness in
receiving the Eucharist rests in part on how willing we are to share
with those who are hungry. God gives us gifts; we acknowledge
that they are gifts and thus share with others.
Prayer: God, our Father, gifts without measure flow from your goodness to
bring us your peace. Our life is your gift. Guide our
life's journey, for only your love makes us givers as well.
A backyard retreat, Washington Co., KY
August 3, 2009
Stay Nearer Home This Year
Sometimes we are drawn to distant places and peoples; at other
times we simply want to travel less, enjoy more and stay at home and
rest. During this economic downturn it may prove more
meaningful to curb the luxuries that include unnecessary travel.
Such a change may prove more memorable in the long run. More
rest and less stress go hand-in-hand.
Change the pace. Varying routine may prove more important
than acquiring long distance destinations. For those who
travel some distance to and from work or other activities, the one
change needed is less travel by staying closer to home. For
some, this "vacation" may best be achieved by simply having an
unplanned week and let come what may -- for we live too often by
rigid schedules. Resolve to break routine in diet, sleep
habits, and exercise. Put down the phone and relax from being overly
connected. Ask these normally connected ones to honor that
Enjoy the uniqueness of our home place. This downturn can
become our opportunity to know the locality. When visiting the
local place, discover how much local treasure is worth valuing and
promoting to others who think that distant travel is the ultimate
pleasure. An added benefit is that doing so supports the local
economy. But even better, help redefine local vacationing in a
to be easy on yourself,
especially if reaching certain destinations and travel conditions
are stressful. Avoid congestion by traveling before or after
the crowd has started or finished, or choose a less popular day or
even time for vacation. It is not difficult for most of us to
anticipate the more congested times and places when reaching the
local destinations. However, even local conditions are full of
surprises -- such as accidents or unexpected popular events.
more time to reflect. Vacation could be incorporated into
a retreat setting and situation. This can prove to be a change
of routine and an opportunity to communicate with the Lord rather
than always with certain friends, colleagues or partners.
Vacation periods may be times to reset our direction for the better.
Taking a pen and pad could come in handy for new thoughts and ideas
that are worth recording.
Become locally present.
Few of us savor the good things in creation that are all about.
These become our teachers and guides if we only allow them.
Our appreciation of the flora and fauna is our way to spread Good
News to all creation. In some ways all creatures know when we
enjoy them, and they become present to us.
Prayer: Lord, give me a chance to rest when and where rest is due, and to
be able to achieve this without traveling great distances.
An old, abandoned barn in Anderson Co., KY
August 4, 2009
Consider Nut Tree Plantings
often are moved to reduce our carbon imprint by planting trees --
and that is good. We know that Americans during the last two
hundred years have contributed twenty-seven percent of the total
carbon dioxide that is now in the global atmosphere. Planting
trees is a way of rectifying some of the carbon burden we have
imposed as a people. Why not plant productive trees that
are large enough to make a difference (too many of the fruit trees
are dwarfs or semi-dwarfs)? The larger nut trees give some
shade, often grow to sizeable heights and take up that extra carbon
dioxide while providing valuable food for wildlife and us as well.
An added benefit is that high grade black walnut (Juglans nigra)
logs can bring high prices as well with maturity -- for they are a
sound economic investment.
the walnut there are other shade trees that are beautiful in shape
and appearance. The American chestnut is on the road back to
its illustrious place among the great shade trees of our land.
Beech, pecan, and hickory in many varieties are prized trees, which
offer plentiful supplies of nuts at least every other year.
Chestnut wood is found in ancient barns still in good condition;
hickory wood is good for smoking foods; the walnut's grain and dark
color are prized for everything from gunstocks to furniture.
and state agencies sponsor nut and especially black walnut plantings
both individually and in plantations and often offer seedlings at
nominal fees. Young trees will bear nuts as early as six years
after planting. Usually pistillate (female) flowers produce
nuts after being pollinated by staminate (male) flowers of the same
tree. In a very early or very late spring, the pistillate
flowers may not be ready when the pollen is shed. Different
varieties of walnuts have overlapping pollen-receptivity periods and
can pollinate each other. Thus groves have advantages.
Walnut trees develop deep taproots and should be planted in very
deep well-drained soil generally in the fall (with husks on) or
early spring (with husks removed). The trees need plenty of
room to grow and should be planted 10 feet apart for timber and 60
feet apart for nuts. The soil for walnut trees should be
slightly acid with a pH of about 6.0. Foresters advise that
soils be tested before planting. Nitrogen and potassium are
especially needed by walnut trees for nut production. The new
trees also benefit from the addition of manures and organic matter
to the soil. Weeds should be kept away from the base of the
trees to reduce competition for moisture and nutrients. Avoid
planting them near garden areas (especially near tomatoes and
potatoes) or most berry patches (except raspberries). Walnut tree
roots exude juglone, a substance toxic to some plants -- and
hickory has similar problems. Ask your county agent to suggest
the best nut varieties for you.
Prayer: Lord, help us to correct the misdeeds of our past by
planting productive trees in our vacant landscape.
Lush understory of Kentucky forest
August 5, 2009
Gratitude for Mid-Summer's Green
a walk and enjoy the intense mid-summer greenness. This August
phenomenon is especially true in the Bluegrass State and at this
time of year when we are blessed with normal summer rainfall.
The peaking of greenness announces the changing landscape that is
here but a short while. We are powerlessness to restart or
halt the change for we can't stop the flow of time. We can accept
this flow and enjoy it while it lasts; that is much to be
countryside is verdant: fields in the full bounty of pasture and
cropland, gardens, lawns, roadside greenspace, and all the trees,
with the exception of the black locust, which has turned brown
already. Some varieties of trees seem to sprout fresh summer
additions, which add pale hues to the sea of dark greenery.
Even the farm ponds take on a mid-summer green algae growth, unless
an effort is made to keep it off. Amid this intensity of color
appear hints of change in the air. In a few weeks the blades
of the full-grown corn stalk will turn yellow; the gardens and fruit
trees will yield their fruit and the soybeans will turn yellow and
the pods mature. This green landscape is now highlighted by
patches of goldenrod, the purple ironweed in the pasturelands, and
the subdued pink and purple of the joe-pye weed.
farmers this is silo-filling time. Various types of foliage
can be used, but we were blessed in past operation (a half century
ago) to be able to use sorghum cane and green corn. We would
take corn knives and cut the first two rows by hand so that the
binder could come through and bind the corn/sorghum into bundles.
These bundles were hauled to a stationary chopper set up next to the
silo. The bundles were fed into the chopper, and the resulting
green pieces were blown into the silo by air generated in the
chopping device. Our task as kids was to distribute the silage
chopped pieces. We maneuvered the delivery pipes so that the
silage would be evenly distributed throughout the silo area, and we
tried to tramp the loose silage into place. We would relax and
climb higher up the silo and jump down into the loose silage as a
youthful way of packing it. As the silage piled up higher, its
increased weight had its own settling effect. Upon filling the
silo we would haul up buckets of dirt to seal the silage in place;
this would cause further settling and reduce spoilage.
was a wistful time for we knew that vacation was coming to an end,
another school year would soon start, and the freedom of summer
would fade. Even when young, we knew the greenery would not
last forever, and the summer crops would soon be ready for bringing
to the barns and storage areas. We Kentuckians, swimming in a
sea of greenery, experience the nostalgia of fleeting beauty.
Still we are thankful to be able to seize the passing moment.
Lord, give us a sense of gratitude for beauty that is here and yet is
passing; this speaks so much of life's journey.
Butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa
August 6, 2009
Rid the World of Nukes
again! Imprinted on my mind is that defining moment when
I sat listening to the radio on August 6, 1945, and heard the news
about the terrible bombing of Hiroshima in Japan. The
startling announcement that our country had dropped a special type
of bomb that destroyed an entire city in one explosion wiped out
whatever romantic notions of war still remained in me. The
bomb contained an unheard-of power of devastation and caused
thousands upon thousands of deaths and injuries -- and most of these
victims had never put on a military uniform.
unanswered questions surfaced. Why non-combatants? Why
total war? Was it end seeking to justify means? We
trusted our government and its decisions, but couldn't that powerful
bomb have been dropped off the coast just to show what power could
be brought to bear in these final months of war? Why so many
deaths of the innocent in a war that had already cost so many untold
millions of lives? The imaginary glamour of winning a war
faded into stark reality. In the previous years warfare had
turned more ghastly after the Hamburg and Dresden bombings by
saturation incendiary devices and their fire storms and civilian
deaths. Were we becoming a calloused people? Hiroshima
was an entire city destroyed by one bomb! America, the land of
the free, was ushering in an atomic age -- and delivered this weapon
of mass destruction.
bombings of Hiroshima and later Nagasaki must never happen again.
Thus the onus of containing and eliminating these weapons of mass
destruction is upon us as people who seek to be peaceful. The
contagion of nuclear weaponry has now spread to other so-called
military powers: Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India,
Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and Iran, the most recent aspirant.
Proliferation is even more frightening when the weapons get into the
hands of a rogue state or terrorists. The United States and
Russia are by far the major holders of such weapons -- and so must
initiate their elimination.
atomic age began on the mid-summer feast of the Transfiguration when
the Lord fulfills a new order of justice and peace, all manifested
in the drama of Jesus between Moses and Elijah. On Mount Tabor
we rest with the disciples in the security of Christ conquering evil
and preparing for a reign soon to come. But we cannot merely
stand passively by. As democratic people we must press forward
for nuclear disarmament in every way possible. Hiroshima and
Nagasaki in anguish cried out, Never again! The nuclear race
began soon after 1945 and has not yet ended. August 6 is
sobering, for the light of transfiguration and of nuclear explosions
has ushered in a battle of good and evil, in which we are
participants, and the immediate consequences are uncertain.
Prayer: Lord give our nation the courage to lead the way to the
elimination of all nuclear weapons on this Earth. Teach us
that we cannot tinker around with nuclear energy and expect the
specter of nuclear weaponry to
be removed. Help us go cold turkey.
Phlox divaricata, blue phlox, surviving on
outskirt of Cromer Ridge
August 7, 2009
The first off‑road vehicle site in Kentucky;
very convenient for the riders from other states,
just off I‑75 at Exit 49.
also ever so nice for green eco‑people,
who show it to the media and other voyeurs,
like a paraded freak, without involving local people.
odd part is that most all ORVers disobey the law
driving more than a quarter mile on public road,
using private land with no written permission.
dares denounce tourism ‑‑ budding business number one,
except that leakage here ‑‑ tourist money going outside
is at one of the highest rates in the world.
Residents know there's something mighty wrong,
and we're reaching the limits of tolerance.
deceased ASPI board member said he kept the
watermelon patch free of ORVers by using piano wire.
vacillate; my days of a trusty shotgun are gone;
these holes of ass now are allowed to trespass.
what won't work:
Posturing about closing off the area by decree;
Elites feeling sorry for the land and people;
Talking to the ORV association as though they have power;
Asking manufacturers to stop the ads
that show vehicles on fragile lands.
hate resorting to booby traps
with a host of shysters in the wings
to sue and take our property in a wink.
"Somebody might get killed," you say! As though the
five or more ORV riders killed each year
are not really dead ‑‑ just pretending.
Let's get some things straight;
those in the public interest aren't runnin' for office
and we don't care a whole lot about feelings.
like your support in whatever fashion given,
but so‑called hillbillies, the last such slur,
crave something more, respect for land and people.
P.S. This vintage poem was created on July 25, 2001;
unfortunately, much of it is still pertinent in the summer of 2009.
Heavy-laden berry viens provide weeks of organic
August 8, 2009
Degrees of Environmental Greenness
be "green" in many ways: with envy, with foliage, with
environmental practice and beautification. With reference to
being ecologically green, the first level involves people wanting to
save a river or endangered species. Specific laws, regulations
and restrictions are imposed by a level of government to see that
this takes place. People try to stop air or water pollution,
or deforestation, or to save the gray wolf or bald eagle.
Actions on this level include climate change battles now being
second level of greenness looks beyond distant or unrelated
polluting culprits to ourselves. We are humbled to discover
that we all are partly to blame, in our use of resources for a host
of consumer products that we find convenient. It is our
consumption of goods that takes resources and accounts for almost
two-thirds of the American economy. Such immense consumption
patterns result in heavy non-renewable energy consumption for our
electricity and mobility and take resources to replace the many
items created, produced and promoted through a subtle process of
planned obsolescence, i.e., rapid changes in what is fashionable.
Under these circumstances, greenness goes beyond recognized dirty
air and water; it includes consumer choices that have so much to do
with the current economy. Being green may be turning off
unused lights or equipment, installing fluorescent bulbs, driving
more energy efficient vehicles and growing part of your own food,
and a host of current simpler living techniques and consumer
still deeper level we need a certain solidarity with our fragile
Earth, a treatment of this beautiful planet as a sister or mother or
other close relative -- for thus it is. Green folks are able
to express this relationship in song, poetry, prayer, dance or other
artistic and spiritual ways. This deeper level may not be
primarily a natural consequence of the first two levels, but rather
a major ingredient in the relationship of primitive and
nature-loving people to their Earth, eco-spirituality expressed in
different ways. Today people adapt the spirituality of others,
but this spirituality may not fit their particular environment.
We are not
islands to ourselves but must live with others in a fragile world.
To shut ourselves off in ever-shrinking natural wilderness areas is
not being green; to forget this in our "consumer" culture is a
matter for urgent review. China, India and other developing
nations are increasing their appetite for the very resources, the
extraction and processing of which have damaged the planet during
the last century. Today, the Earth, threatened by climate
changes with serious ramifications for the world's poor, cries out
for help. True solidarity hears the cry of the poor -- yes,
poor people and poor Earth. At this deepest level of
environmental involvement, the emphasis is on social justice.
Our resources belong to all of us, not just to the privileged few.
Prayer: Lord make us green with the deepest hue and help us spread the
message of environmental awareness to others as well.
A great-grandmother's cultivated rose,
passed through several generations
August 9, 2009
tasks demand our complete presence, not just being physically at
this place, but being really here in spirit and in heart. We
have spoken earlier (August 3) about being present to the flora and
fauna. Here we look at our presence with God and other human
beings. We must be open to what moves us to join or connect
with others, to the spiritual dimension in our lives and mission.
If we act bored or inattentive we will do the task poorly and thus
be doomed to fail. "He simply is not here" may mean that he is
physically present but not fully participating in the activity that
is expected. This is not good and we know it.
times, our degree of presence to others is a critical matter.
We may be physically in the room when it is necessary to visit sick
people and give them consolation. It is not that we have to
involve ourselves in physical healing, for that is impossible when
the person is dying. However, we are asked to simply be
present in mind and heart. Others know very soon just how
present we are to them through response, eye contact, facial and
bodily gestures and in many ways. We speak to a person on the
phone and we soon know that they are multi-tasking. In
astonishment we ask, "Are you driving?" The answer is often a
also speak of God's presence to us: in the world around us; in
the gathering of two or more at prayer; in the attention we give to
the Lord right here; in the Eucharist. God's love extends out
to all the world and without that presence we would cease to be.
Thus there is a divine presence that only the mystics probe to some
degree. But presence really take two from our standpoint.
While God is always present, never absent, still it is our awareness
or lack of it that involves our total presence before God. God
is present to us but is not overbearing. We must respond for
God, whose invitation is gentle and loving and expects our openness
as a response.
reflect on the Eucharist, we know that God is present in a special
way. We ask about how open we are in response to this special
presence. Do we respond with head and heart? Do we
acknowledge the Real Presence of the Lord in a number of external
gestures: through respect, by bowing and/or genuflection
depending on culture and physical condition of the person? The
Presence of the Lord is shown by a burning sanctuary light and by
our open affirmation that God is present with the people. God
does not need this sacramental presence, but we do. We need
the physical/ spiritual reality before us, in order to achieve the
tasks before us. Furthermore, we need to make God present to
others by bringing out their openness to the spiritual dimension of
their own lives and work before their Creator.
Prayer: Lord, make us all the more aware of your Real Presence in our
midst. Teach us to respect this presence and to bring it to
those who are in need of You.
A lazy friend on a hot summer day
August 10, 2009
Animals as Friends
This year I have reflected often on the Gospel of Mark (16:16) that
tells us to go out and extend the Good News to all creation.
A few years ago, a small girl in Ethiopia was being forcefully taken
by a group of men who wanted her to enter into a forced marriage.
Three lions chased off the seven men and sat beside the frightened
child for half of a day until help from her village arrived -- and
then the lions departed. The people called it a miracle, but
it also showed that animals have a sense of human beings in trouble,
and they strive to help. Animals, even wildlife, are our
friends as part of the family of all creation. That friendship
was shown by such saints of old as Francis of Assisi, Blaise and
others. Maybe some of the tales are fictional and maybe not.
If we extend to animals such friendship as wildlife sanctuary
caregivers manifest, then there is a mutual response. It is
this mutuality that is so called for today in an age where
heartlessness is accepted as the norm -- and fear of wildlife
becomes quite pervasive. We recognize this friendship
and the continuity of life with the family of all being.
colleague once commented that God created dogs because we humans
need companions who ask no questions. A loving dog knows when
we suffer and need an uplifting. The seeing eye dog and the
security guards of our homes and businesses are our companions.
Some dogs sense when a diabetic needs a treatment even before that
person does -- and so sound the alarm before the person can blank
out. Companions, whether domesticated or wild, make life
better for us; their presence improves the quality of our
lives. Often the young and the elderly crave companionship,
and animals often fill the void. Over five hundred senior
citizen facilities with aviaries and fish tanks attest to trying to
fulfill companionship needs. Pet stores show this as well.
to observe wildlife, especially birds; we go to wildlife refuges and
zoological gardens; we are fascinated by animal pictures and movies.
Our attraction to animals and plants in a broader living community
is part of being human. When we extend love and respect to
them, we go beyond being merely human and take on the character of
God's own ongoing creative act. We know that hardened
criminals who are allowed to be dog trainers for the challenged take
on a new lease on life -- and are humanized in the process of being
trainers. We delight in feeding squirrels and birds and in
simply observing wildlife. Our total community life is
improved by the presence of wildlife and diminished by the loss of
endangered species. Even though not next to us, wildlife is
part of a community that adds spice to the total human family's
journey. Furthermore, animal life that is nearer to us
requires protection, for these animals answer our quest for
companionship here and now.
Lord, teach us to love all animals and regard them as friends and
companions on our journey through life.
Carduus nuttans, a beautiful exotic plant
August 11, 2009
American Ethnic Change
American ethnicity is my long-time hobby; see Ethnic Atlas
of the United States,
<earthhealing.info/EA/into.html>, in draft form. The hope is
to have a complete publication after the 2010 census is recorded.
Then ethnic changes starting in 1980 can be more definitely shown
for each of the 3,000 counties of our country. The data for
the current atlas totals 25,000 entries for the fifty states, mainly
from the 2000 U.S. Census. The cut-off per county is generally
1,000 people, and smaller concentrations are thus omitted as they
fall below the "ethnic radar screen." Having computerized
ethnic maps in composing this atlas, we will now find it easier to
record 2010 changes in the next two years.
Ethnicity has an environmental component. We respect our
forbearers, those who nurtured us and gave us our good habits, and
we learn from them to respect our planet Earth. In recent
decades, a trend among the upcoming generation is to forget the past
and to glorify new gadgets and fashions. Respect erodes
through historical illiteracy, lack of civility, and a desire for a
melting pot that blurs the rich ethnicity that makes us who we are.
In an age when languages are dying out worldwide at a rate of one
every two weeks (by UN estimates), we find interest in our ethnicity
threatened. Many forget that ethnic differences add richness
and toleration to our American mosaic. Certainly, however,
some individuals are concerned about ethnic identity loss and strive
to reestablish their roots through genealogical research, return to
lands of origin, and recording the thoughts of older relatives.
people cling to ethnic groups on arrival to America. With time
and cultural integration, they lose contact with the Old Country,
elders die, ethnic social societies erode, and youth find more
exciting things to do than to dress up in native costumes, learn
ethnic dances, speak quaint languages to grandparents, and attend
specific ethnic events. Ethnic churches and parishes that were
so prevalent before the First World War tend to be merged or closed
as succeeding generations move to the suburbs. Growing numbers
of people continue to enter our country especially from Latin
America, Asia and the Middle East; they desire to retain their
ethnic identity amid the pressures for assimilation. In fact,
Spanish is rapidly becoming the second language of our country, thus
slowing the normal pattern of assimilation through a rapidly growing
transplanted Hispanic culture.
contrast, many people, especially the English or Scotch-Irish,
declare themselves to be "American" or non-designated.
However, they are static or declining in numbers while minorities
(Hispanic, Afro-American, Native American, Asian American and
Pacific Islanders) are increasing faster than the majority white
population. Non-designated folks are numerous in Appalachia,
the Ozarks and the Southeast. And many are intermarrying and
losing their close identity to ethnic enclaves. We await 2010.
Prayer: Help us Lord to know and respect our forbearers.
A cool, shady cove provides a relief from
August 12, 2009
Ten Ways to Beat the Heat
the month when temperatures ordinarily soar to the nineties
Fahrenheit and we learn to live as best we can. The papers
tell of people, even young athletes, dying from heat stroke or
elders suffering in uncooled apartments. We all need ways to
beat the heat and to help others, especially the elderly poor, to do
Rest, if possible, during the hottest part of the day.
Drink plenty of water. We sometimes think that alcoholic
beverages are good substitutes, but they generally take more
moisture than they replenish, and cause lightheadedness and rapid
intoxication as well. Soft drinks and other beverages are
okay, but good water is the best.
Eat more lightly. Keep to cold soups and dishes.
Coffee may not help for some. For them, more frequent
restroom trips indicate the dehydrating effect of too much coffee.
Encourage others to drink liquids. When in desert areas,
guides always tell hikers that they may be unaware of severe
dehydration until it is too late.
Wear the right clothing. Many prefer broad-rimmed straw
hats. All ought to wear loose fitting light-colored clothing
and concentrate on such fabrics as cotton.
Move more slowly. The amount of liquid needed varies
according to a number of factors -- how much liquid loss has
occurred over the past day, the size of the person, the amount of
perspiring, and the rate of emission of body fluids.
Limit mid-day activity. If you must engage in outdoor
activity whether jogging or walking, do this in the cooler parts of
the day. Minimize such activities during mid-day and carry a
water container with you.
Weight-watchers beware. Lowering weight can be easily
achieved by reducing body moisture content. When doing
exercise one can eliminate four pounds (two liters) of fluids in a
single exercise. Liquids need to be replenished. Achieve
weight lost in less rigorous and safer ways.
Keep indoors or in the shade. The shade is at least twenty
degrees cooler -- and even more in the deeper wooded areas. My
house is cool with no air conditioning thanks to the large nearby
elm tree that gives enormous shade benefits.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to know how to withstand the heat and
assist others in doing the same during the hot periods of summer.
Spotted St. Johns Wort, Hypericum punctatum
August 13, 2009
The Gift of the Volunteer
(Homily at a Christian
Appalachian Project volunteer anniversary)
Sharing is a two way-street: the services given by a generous
volunteer and the reception given by hospitable people who can use
assistance. The prophet Elisha receives hospitality in a very
simple and sensitive manner from a couple who are really of modest
means. He is invited to come and stay at their house -- just
as many volunteers come into a welcoming community and are thus
encouraged to give of themselves. The "prophet's reward,"
spoken of in Matthew's Gospel, is what this hospitable couple
receives -- the promise of a child to come within a year.
Generosity given and promised reward received.
teaches his disciples how to be persons on a mission -- how to best
spread the Good News to others in the world. He requires a
dedication that goes beyond family devotion. He also says he
expects the hearers of the Word to return generosity as well.
The generosity given by the disciple is the same generosity that is
returned in hospitality. Both are needed so that the Word can
grow and increase in the world. The paradigm shift after
Vatican II is that the giving of the Word is not the totality, but
the giver must grow from the faith already present in the hearers,
so that Good News can be a sharing. The missionary tells of
the gift of Scripture and Sacraments; the other expresses a
receptivity coming from human and cultural values already present.
Thus two gifts are communicated through the agency of the Church --
the Word of God and presence of God in the world and culture.
Thus the missionary is a bridge between the new members and the
already existing community.
volunteers you have shown that you have dared to give to others;
upon reflection you find that you have received as much as you have
given if not more. All areas of poverty have great needs and
yet in fulfilling these needs we find a great wealth amid the
poverty. I find this; you find this. As volunteers
you became the messengers who bring the Good News and suddenly find
out that you receive the Good News. For too long, Appalachians
have suffered from a stereotype of being poor mountain people.
You have been able to dispel those misinformed impressions.
What you found in coming here is that the supposed dull and poor
people were quite bright and possessed a spiritual wealth to share
with others who need to grow in faith. These people have a
smartness to survive in poverty and skills to get by on far less
than others could realize.
Again, Appalachia remains open to all volunteers. What you
came to give is what you found as a gift -- people willing to share
of their own spiritual depth. As residents and volunteer
receivers, we again welcome you and remind you that you are always
welcome back. As people growing in experience, the volunteer
becomes a sensitive person willing to go out from whatever
circumstances and share with others in need.
A Bluegrass stone fence, Mercer Co., KY
August 14, 2009
Domestic Tornado Shelters and Food Storage
had some rather difficult weather in Kentucky in the first half of
2009 -- unusual storm damage from ice and wind in winter and
tornados in spring. In one storm two persons lost their lives
and a dozen homes were destroyed in the adjacent county. I endured
that severe storm in my parked car which was not damaged.
However, many wisely chose to spend time during these storms in
shelters in or near their homes. Some of these shelters are
built solely for storms; others serve as storage space as well.
suggest that root cellars used for food preservation can also serve
as tornado shelters. For centuries people realized that root
cellars were ideal for storing surplus crops for winter in a
non-processed manner. A wide variety of home produce can be
stored successfully in root cellars: potatoes, beets, apples,
cabbage, cauliflower, endive, celery, turnips, squash, endive, and
peppers. Some people store certain vegetables in boxes of
moist sand to preserve them from drying out. My mother would
also store the canned preserves in our cellar on shelves built above
a 3-by-12-foot by 2-foot-deep potato bin. Once built, there is
no energy cost as with deep freezers -- unless we count an electric
An ideal root cellar should be accessible from the kitchen.
Every foot away from the kitchen counts, so plan it with convenience
in mind. The space will naturally be dark and cool, since the
earth serves as an insulating and temperature modifying agent.
As very young children, we would retreat to the coolness of our
cellar during hot summer days to play card games. A moderate
humidity is expected in an underground structure and is needed to
keep produce from drying too much. However, moisture must not
be allowed to accumulate, and so the cellar must be equipped with a
drain. Within this space or at dryer locations elsewhere
(attics or upper floors) one can store onions, beans and peas.
Higher shelves should be used for pumpkins, squash and canned food.
Herbs are better preserved for flavor in dryer places.
type of root cellar may vary from larger exotic types of separate
underground buildings to metal drums stored in a hillside.
Easy access is important. Some prefer cellars with concrete
floors, but gravel or even dirt floors are generally satisfactory.
Ideally the space should have good ventilation and be made
rodent-proof. A roof of a separate underground building that
is heated by the sun may yield too high a temperature for an ideal
root cellar. One may add a sod roof that would reduce the
temperature to a suitable range, though added weight requires well-
reinforced roof structures. A basement addition or compartment
under the house may prove to be the most easily built and maintained
root cellar. Popular magazines and the Internet provide
numerous tips on design, construction and maintenance of these
structures. And they are ideal places to sit out a tornado or
Prayer: Lord protect us as we strive to protect loved ones in stormy
A fresh nest of the Carolina wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus
August 15, 2009
Mary and Choice
a choice in a single moment. Would she say yes and be with a
child who is the Messiah, or would she be like others who might say,
"I have to have some time to think this over"? Mary had
already decided to be totally open to the Lord, and thus in this
spirit of openness the new choice came easily. "Fiat!"
Let it be done, for this is God's will. Thus Mary made the
greatest choice ever undertaken.
made the definitive choice, Mary experienced happiness that knew no
bounds but in time this would be intermingled with sorrow and
suffering. Thus we celebrate with her in her choice.
We honor Mary with many feast days, about a thousand opportunities
in an average lifetime (at least one a month). These feast
days, like today's feast of the Assumption, invite us to imagine a
young maiden who, upon choosing, immediately undertakes a difficult
fifty mile trip to stay with her cousin Elizabeth who needs her.
She does not kneel in rapture as some medieval paintings portray,
but rather she takes a donkey on a dusty road, alone with the
God-within, not in the soft light from stained-glass windows.
She is first among those who give heart-felt sharing with the needy.
Blessed are you among women. Our choice is to turn to Mary
who is blessed and who sincerely acknowledges her God-given
gifts. In giving her honor, we discover that we are also blessed
people, and understand not our nothingness but our somethingness,
most blessed of Earth's creatures; we come to realize that
this human life is a gift from the Creator, not of our own making.
In our gratitude we discover our place in the grand plan of
salvation. We find Mary and want her at our side both in
life's struggles and at death's portal to new life. Mary,
mother of the Church, is caring, nurturing, guiding, and healing,
actions that we need to imitate.
projects transparency allowing us to peer into her pure soul.
She acknowledges that she is the most blessed of women, not by what
she does but by what God does for and through her. Hers is a
mark of sincere humility. She directs us to Christ as any
mother does. She is a prism through which shines the Light of
the World. To imagine Mary standing above us on some pedestal
obscures the fullness of her very down-to-earth gifts. Rather,
Mary goes ahead of us in the Assumption, for we too expect to pass
into heaven after death even though our reunion with our bodies will
occur after the final Judgment.
motherhood is God's way of teaching us the values of womanhood as
well as motherhood. Mary stands for the unique contributions
of all women to an understanding of how we must nurture precious
things, and how human beings must heal and be truly compassionate.
Empirically, I note that women intuitively grasp the need for
healing our wounded Earth, and they respond with a sense of
compassion in an inherently womanly way.
Prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
A fencerow in rural Laurel Co., KY
August 16, 2009
Nourishing Belief in the Future
the living bread come down from heaven.
challenge today is one of preserving sustainability for the planet
on which we live. Thus the problem is one of immense
importance for it involves us all. We are called to take part
in addressing this challenge, and so our mission is urgent.
Our efforts must be meaningful. Therefore we need
nourishment to sustain us during the mission we have to perform --
for such efforts require our entire being. Those of us who are
mindful of the work ahead must have a clear vision that results are
not short-lived. The importance of the work makes the ultimate
goal that of eternal destiny.
temptation is to retreat from this massive challenge and
conclude that the task is too big for us. Instead of
deliberate engagement, we may fall victim to individual piety and
devotion and the tendency to focus on our precious selves -- "and
the world be damned." Such people are enveloped with a despair
as to effecting change and, instead of having faith in the future,
they believe that if we just endure the present condition cheerfully
all will be fine in the long run. Thus they conclude that it
is satisfactory to "make work" and "spin wheels." A sterile
fidelity overwhelms these believers, and for them success is
expected through a later miracle. They have little faith in
helping to create a future.
call for those seeking eternal life in Christ is that the will of
God is that all be saved. Furthermore, it is God's will that
we enter into the salvation process in some way, to repair the
damage done by human misdeeds, and to bring creation back to an
ordering that is needed for the longer-term. Thus the love of
God extends to all people and all creatures. The love includes
our companionship and responsibility in extending divine love
through saving deeds. Creation and redemption involve us --
only in so far as we are part of the Body of Christ.
bring us to one conclusion: the nourishment required for the
profound activities that we are to undertake can only come if we are
fully members of the Body of Christ; we must be part of God's family
for only God's nourishment can sustain us. Since that
sustenance is of love, then only Love can be our food, and God is
love. Thus the food we must receive to undertake the urgent
tasks before us is God self. Some people fail to see the need
for constant nourishment and try to struggle on their own as though
they need no divine assistance.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to participate in the banquet by
grinding wheat, crushing grapes, baking bread, fermenting wine --
"the work of human hands." Help us to process the food of
eternal life and to consecrate our efforts through the solemn
liturgical process. Give us the insight to see the nobility of
our work in a cosmic transformation that becomes the glorious ray of
the heavenly Jerusalem, the eternal city.
Hematite Lake (Land Between the Lakes)
August 17, 2009
Growing Disparity of Rich and Poor
Our current economic downturn makes us aware that wealth is
certainly not evenly distributed within or among nations. The
Economic Policy Institute states that the top 0.1% of wage earners
were paid 20 times what the bottom 90% received between 1947 and
1979; this disparity grew to 77 times by 2006. Also in
1979 some 34.2% of capital gains were paid to the top 1%; this
figure grew to 65.3% in 2005. According to the Census Bureau
during the period while this phenomenon was occurring, the income of
the average American male worker actually stagnated and people made
ends meet by the rise in women workers in the labor force.
this growing disparity was due to the removal of high tax rates
resulting in part from the decline of unionism and the union
influence on political groups. Furthermore, some argue that
globalization put a downward pressure on unskilled wages and
rewarded those at the upper end of the salary scale. Financial
incentives and risks by hedge funds became a route to great wealth.
The information just discussed points to how the disparity of wealth
has been occurring in the United Staters. The United Kingdom
has experienced a similar pattern. Unfortunately, that growing
disparity is even higher among poorer nations where some live in
utter affluence and many others in destitution. An awakening
is occurring, especially since so many nations are falling into
hopelessly high levels of indebtedness. In 2000, the Year of
Jubilee, we recalled the biblical passages to forgive debts during
that period. And this mandate was partly addressed.
However, the continued national indebtedness and the existence of
vast wealth among the affluent makes us deeply uneasy.
Discontent with free market capitalism continues to mount.
Social mobility, that last-century U.S. dream, has slowed down and
in fact is less apparent in America than in such egalitarian
societies as Norway or Denmark. A janitor's son has little
hope of rising to be a company executive. Ethnic minorities
have even less chance. According to the
Economist, "More or less Equal?" (Special Report, April 2, 2009)
a black American born into the bottom fifth of income groups has a
42% chance of remaining there in contrast to 17% chance for a white
Why do we
allow this disparity to continue? A host of factors are
involved including media favoritism for the wealthy, control of
legislators by the wealthy, and unrealistic expectations by the rank
and file who think they can swim against the current and some day
become rich. If we are one Earth, then we must be one people,
and oneness means a sound, equitable and shared economic system.
Disparity and lack of economic mobility amount to outdated
enslavement. Intolerable debts on poorer nations and excessive
wealth ought to be the content of nightmares, not our reality.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to a holy discontent; help
us cleanse the modern temples of such perversity as excessive
Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora
August 18, 2009
Appropriate Technology and the Economic Downturn
times demand changes in the way we live. Past extravagance is
no longer viable, and so we look at sustainable ways practiced by
our forbearers. What we term "Appropriate Technology" (AT)
borrows generously from the wisdom and experience of the past, and
yet adapts these practices to what is suitable and proportionate to
similar modern circumstances.
defined as environmentally benign, affordable, community enhancing,
and people-friendly technologies such as solar energy applications,
organic gardening, and low-cost housing made from local materials.
When people need to cut back on affluent practices based on
convenience and fashion, a number of opportunities afford themselves
-- and considerable literature is available to assist, e.g., 99
Ways to a Simple Lifestyle; Healing Appalachia: Sustainable
Living through Appropriate Technology.
to practice what I preach. My residence's main lighting
fixtures are compact fluorescents; the Honda I drive gets over
forty miles to the gallon; I have introduced edible
landscaping to over a third of the parish grounds and that involves
both fruit trees and an organic, raised-bed garden intermixed with
flowers and vegetables. Since the house is blessed with a
giant elm as well as with a nearby sycamore, maple and wild cherry I
do not use air conditioning. I have a clothes line; water is
conserved in a number of ways as is the electricity for appliances
and equipment; virtually all waste materials are recycled locally
(plastics, paper and metal)or converted into mulch in the compost
accepting AT we offer opportunities for others to see what we do
first hand and thus gently encourage changes in their own lives.
Thus AT practices become Good News; these ways are not only workable
and economical, but also can offer the chance to exercise and touch
the soil, to be in tune spiritually with our Earth, and to do all
this through affordable means. AT activities produce results
here and now that can be easily seen and understood by others.
AT is a promise for the future that we help create.
provides the tools needed for simpler living and for downsizing our
lives, a pattern necessary in this age of economic turndown.
Rather than being a negative return to the past, AT brings the
higher quality of time-tested past practices to full fruition, thus
honoring those who went before us. AT appeals to all ages and
backgrounds. Folks can gain a simple expertise that is
valuable for their own lives and the lives of neighbors. AT is
not static; it grows with the age, requiring research and
sharing of experiences in a wider world of practice; AT
proponents smooth rough edges and find ways to make the applications
Lord, teach us the gift of healing through the use of appropriate
technology. Help us to be satisfied by down-scaling our own
lives and assist us to give a good example so that others will do
An assortment of home-use chemicals
August 19, 2009
Toxic Chemicals in Your Home
will never forget a conversation with an intern about thirty years
ago. She had gone back to Vermont for a home visit in the
middle of her internship and told her mom she was working on
household aerosol sprays. Her mother dismissed the so-called
problem by saying there were no aerosol sprays in her house.
The intern performed a thorough survey and found four dozen.
Over time, I have irritated a number of school kids' moms, when the
youth have gone back from school and performed a preliminary search
in their homes to their parent's dismay. No one remembers
everything; no one is perfect; kids can be good auditors.
what constitutes toxic chemicals:
paints and solvents, petroleum products (oil gasoline, etc.) and
auto materials such as anti-freeze and brake fluids, building
materials, hobby materials of various types, medicines,
pesticides and fertilizers, strong household cleaners and desalting
materials. Medicine cabinets are expected to have their
drugs with exotic names and formulations, many of these still toxic
if misused even well after their expiration date. The space
beneath the kitchen sink generally houses the second highest store
of chemicals and especially aerosol sprays. Are they all being
used or have some been abandoned?
Resolve to be toxic free to the degree possible.
My experience as a chemist makes me wary of the dangers that
lurk in the use or misuse of commercial chemicals. Avoid
exterminators, if possible. I personally prefer crickets to
exterminators, for these friends are cheaper, environmentally safe,
won't harm residents, and will eat virtually all unwanted critters.
in forgotten places.
Toxic chemicals are usually known as toxic and thus are stored away
in remote places -- and can be forgotten there. It may be the
cellar, the remote storage area or even the attic. Most
likely, surprises will greet you. How about the garage and the
outbuildings that are really somewhat removed from the house;
these places are near enough to take leftovers and yet far enough to
evade occasional observation and clean-ups.
rid of these forgotten items. Most local governments work with
state and federal agencies in collecting and disposing of toxic
chemicals. Contact them. Don't flush chemicals down the
toilet or drain. Some suggest pouring waste oil along the
exterior basement wall, but it is better to deliver this to waste
oil collecting centers. Freeing your homes from toxic
materials is a good practice before the autumn heating season
begins. Recall that many average American homes have more
chemicals than an 1850 scientific laboratory. Homemakers know
little about the chemical toxicity and potency of all under their
care; they are not experienced in handling the whole array of
household chemicals properly. Resident or visiting toddlers
may unearth toxic stuff.
Lord, teach us to respect all of God's creation and to be doubly
cautious about human-created products.
Three hummingbirds, one feeder
by Walter Para, Stanton, KY)
August 20, 2009
Dealing with Terrorists
think we can deal with people of various sorts, even those who
challenge us on occasion. Some even think they can
successfully confront those who frighten us as creators of terror
through their evil intent. Can we really deal with a crazy
person who is bent on destruction at an individual or community
level? What about a perfectly sane person who feels impelled
to correct a perceived social injustice through his or her own
action? In fact, the uncontrollable nature of their threat
makes them instruments of power and drawers of attention in the
wider public arena.
since 9-11, the London and Madrid bombings, and the more recent
attacks by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, we take
terrorist acts and threats seriously. We support caution on an
individual level and the ongoing activities of the U.S. Department
of Homeland Security, as well as state and local governmental
agencies. The current trends make massive gatherings more
dangerous and the everyday public gatherings for commerce and
celebration more challenging. Will these trends reduce us to
mere tv spectators who only venture out to occasional gatherings?
drives certain people to be terrorists? We may attempt to put
ourselves into the shoes of a sane suicide bomber who is a member of
an insurgency movement bent on overthrowing an unjust government or
political or economic group. Terrorists in another age were
often called partisans or freedom fighters. By designating a
certain person as a "terrorist," we place his or her cause outside
our world view. Terrorists may think of themselves as
potential martyrs, and even heroes and heroines. Instead of
feeling shame, their peers and families may have a high regard for
their efforts. They may be motivated to become a weapon of
mass destruction. We disagree with their reasoning, motives,
and limited outlook, but we must acquaint ourselves with the
situations of hopelessness that cause such acts.
possibly condone the modern terrorist act, but can we be sympathetic
to the underlying difficulties that these people endure? Many
are driven to desperate activities for a number of causes:
unemployment, poverty, lack of future betterment, and undemocratic
and repressive regimes. We can exert compassion for the person
while not condoning the motivation or the act. Terrorists see
black or white in a gray world, but don't we do the same at times?
Putting ourselves in their shoes, would we not discover that they
live in constant terror, for in the eyes of the desperate the
wealthy are terrorists. A person who is unable to feed his or
her family is terrorized. If people are unemployed and with no
hope, is not a governmental terrorist act being performed against
them -- and are these so-called terrorists simply people pressed
into a corner? Should we reexamine what constitutes terrorism
in all its many aspects?
Prayer: Lord, instruct us when we pretend and when we extend
self-righteous language against
those who need our compassion.
Meadow fritilaries (Boloria bellona) on Itea virginica
(*photo by Sally
August 21, 2009
Rethinking Our Rest Time
As I age I notice that leisure time evolves in meaning, variety and
duration. What constitutes leisure is different from the
strenuous activities of yesteryear; it is less active and more
restful. We don't have the energy to enjoy the same leisure
activities as infants, youth and even the middle aged. Time is
running out for us and so we must run, but we take more rest stops
on the way. It is becoming clearer that rest is part of the
rhythm of life; it needs to be in balance with our activities even
when they slow down. I used to think we all need eight hours
of sleep, and maybe that is true of the stressed and overworked --
and some who simply need more sleep. But to place too rigid a
requirement is unwise. Rest can be leisure and this becomes an
life is not a seesaw between the lazy one's rest and the hyperactive
one's activity. With time we need fewer alarm clocks and
schedules. While tending in the past to be overactive, I never
ever burned midnight oil for any reason. Nor have I ever taken
a sleeping pill of any sort. Needed rest is taken on a regular
basis and extra rest is taken on rare occasions.
should be divided into night people and morning people and maybe a
certain segregation should be made accordingly. Too often the
night people keep the morning ones awake when they want to sleep,
and the morning folks stir the night ones when they want to continue
sleeping. Being a morning person means we rise well before the
sun, when the energy to start acting gets the better of us.
But then we wane long before the night folk at eventide. The
intolerance of our country for morning people is deeply felt, but
night people may say the same thing -- for all I know.
sitting in an airport or at a stop light, I see the next person is
busy dialing and talking with someone about virtually nothing.
Can't they just sit and do what the old southern lady said,
"Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits"?
Resting has a particular place
in the overly active person's life, for that is the time to let
ideas germinate, and to pray for the light to move towards the major
decisions in life. We need rest and yet far too many folks get
far too little of it.
not God, but finite ones. If God rested on the sabbath, we
should rest as well. We learn in life that our activities are
best performed when the rest component has been honored. We
can tell when others need rest by their facial features and shadows
under the eyes. Some of the sleep-deprived regard their
condition as a matter of status; it may be poor planning.
Let's value rest more. In rest we crave eternal bliss;
rest assures us that we are living well; rest is what the
restless can deprive others of in order to have companions.
Prayer: Lord, teach us that rest is golden, energy-building, blissful,
and, most of all, necessary. Teach us that rest for us active
folks is preparation for eternity.
Acrobatic young gray squirrel with onlooking indigo bunting
August 22, 2009
Don't Pet or Make Pets of Wildlife
accept the need for many to have pets, either to assist them as
"seeing eye" or watch dogs or simply to act as companions within or
around the house. But pets are animals under one's control to
some degree. Wildlife was never meant to be such, though some
can endear themselves to pet crows or raccoons or monkeys.
Even the more domesticated pets are bothersome enough to keep
maintained and safe from dangers -- but wildlife? Exotic pets
such as tigers or snakes can escape and harm or frighten neighbors.
Plants can escape as well. In fact, over 40% of all imperiled
U.S. native plants and animals are at risk because of invasive
species, which are not native. Most states have regulations
that restrict ownership of many of these exotic species and many of
us wish that these regulations would be extended to pit bulls, etc.
National Geographic has an article, "Attack of the Alien
Invaders," treating a series of plants and animals some of which
have been intentionally released or have escaped, resulting in the
uncontrolled proliferation of these ex-pets. This occurs, as
in the case of the Burmese python in southern Florida, in areas
where no natural predator restricts their rapid increase. And
animals can be invasive species (red fox, comb jellyfish, fire ant,
starling, nutria, etc.). America is awash with exotic pets,
mainly because people think it is a cute idea to capture one or
other variety that should have been left in its native wild.
In most cases, the animal will not find a mate and will simply
linger for a period of time and pass through life -- but it may do
damage or harm in many ways. Pet lovers forget what escapes
may entail. The invasive red-eared slider (turtle) eats native
frogs, mollusks, and birds and competes with native turtles.
enjoy wildlife from a distance either in pictures or through
binoculars. Wildlife, and especially exotic species, can be
uncontrollable under conditions of attempted control. The media all
too often have stories about how children and adults are mauled by
animals that seem cute and cuddly to the pet owner who may say,
"Don't worry, it won't hurt you." Pet owners have been jailed
for manslaughter. We read of a tiger that turned unexpectedly
on its trainer before thousands of people and left him gravely
The National Geographic article has one telling picture of a
young boy pleading with his dad to let him buy something in a pet
store. Who is really at fault? The youth likes what he
sees; the pet store offers a species that the wildlife
conservationists say should be left in the wild; the father
caves in. The blame goes further, that is, to a society that
permits the dangerous exotic to be placed in homes for keeping and
stores for sale. Stories of escape and lack of control abound
in our permissive society, which is now beginning to forbid
possession or to restrict use.
Prayer: Show us how to love other creatures without attempting to possess them.
Help us to let them be in the wild and thank You for allowing them
to be there in peace.
The rising moon through misty clouds
August 23, 2009
Trust in the Lord
who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and
we believe; we know that you are the holy one of God."
Eucharistic mystery requires faith on the part of the believer, and
this is folly for the unbeliever. In many ways this faith
grows along with trust.
this year I was captivated by a story of a young family who was
seeking to find a permanent farm in Upper Michigan, after spending a
good part of the winter in a temporary-housing camper. After
much travail and prayer they found an ideal farm in the perfect
location. The Michael Larner Family concludes their narrative
of their odyssey from February 2008 through August 2009 with the
words, "Jesus, I trust in You!" (Lambs' Quarterly, Spring,
2009, pp. 12-15).
often lack a sense of simple trust. Jesus promises that
whatever we ask will be given, if we firmly believe that it will be
done. Do we pray with that simple trust for what is needed to
save our wounded Earth? During the past five Sundays we have
focused on the mystery of the Eucharist. The conclusion in
Chapter Six of St. John's Gospel has a note of sadness: many
walked away in unbelief. This ending makes us aware that our
faith response is essential for the power of the Eucharist to
be felt by others. The trust is not an automatic or compelled
response; it demands our freedom and our participation.
brings us back to the crusade called for in healing our wounded
Earth. This healing is not inevitable. We can save our
planet through a real effort, but this takes work. We have the
nutrition to give us the energy to do our part. As we find
that Christ is with us, we grow in the urgency of the mission, for
he lives within us and guides us. But we must trust that the
power of God works within us in special ways. Without the
divine nourishment we can not continue.
Never before has the mission been so urgent -- and this mission is
open to failure. Never before has there been such a threat to
human existence (and that of other flora and fauna) on this planet.
The demand is for meaningful urgent action, which has the
cooperation and participation of all people of good will. To
continue to call for this participative action requires people who
have a faith in the future, a faith that is nurtured by real
spiritual food -- not by symbols, not by play acting. The
saving work in which we are engaged must be undertaken by God and
the food is nothing less than God self.
Prayer: Lord teach us to trust in you and to trust that we can succeed in
the mission entrusted to us of healing our wounded Earth.
Yellow wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia
August 24, 2009
Earthhealing and Environmental Consciousness
is God's marvelous creation in which we are privileged to dwell and
gather the fruits of the Almighty's handiwork. This planet is
fragile and can be damaged by human misdeeds. We show our
gratitude by taking on the responsibility to heal what has been
damaged by human ignorance, greed and thoughtlessness. The
healing task requires our concerted efforts, though we never thought
in such terms before the rise of environmental consciousness within
the last four decades. Three principal elements of this awareness
are worth our deeper and prayerful reflection:
All creation is good and marvelous to behold. This planet
was first seen from a distance through space exploration and
appeared as a beautiful blue-green globe. The photograph
engendered a sense of wonder and gratitude for being part of God's
handiwork. We praise the Creator who initiated the Big Bang
and transformation of elements to the present chemical structure in
those first micro-seconds of creation and then through a
14-billion-year history. We become aware of the macrocosmic
vastness and microcosmic complexity, the birth and death of
galaxies, and the expanse of unknown wonders such as dark energy and
matter not yet understood. The Creation is a sign of God's
The Earth is harmed by human neglect. Misdeeds occur, and
salvation demands a redeeming act. We recognize these misdeeds
done by us as individual humans and as part of the social body
having the freedom to choose good or evil. The choice of good
is the choice for life. In the process of industrialization we
began to observe misdeeds involving air and water pollution caused
by over- and misuse of resources. These include deforestation
and species extinction. We now are aware of climate change
resulting from overuse of fossil fuels. Recognizing our
misdeeds is a necessary part of the process, for we humans are to
blame and we must restore the disorder created by us.
Christians believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ and he is our
model and guide.
Earthhealing involves saving our Earth through a belief in the
future. We must all work together to save our Earth;
we must all have a sense that the work will bear fruit and that we
can shape this future. We need inspiration lest the enormity
of the work ahead overwhelm us. If we have harmed the Earth in
the past, a firm resolve to heal does not of itself protect against
continuing or future harm. Thus what is appropriate must be
sought and this extends beyond technology to include profound
changes in the economic and social systems of the past. We
must include all those working in sciences, crafts and arts; we must
be in communication and recognize the uniqueness of all human gifts.
The time to act is now, lest continuing tolerance of destructive
practices irreversibly harm our planet.
Lord, grant us the praise and thankfulness to appreciate the gift of
creation, the contriteness to see our misdeeds and the inspiration
to use our gifts to heal our Earth.
Eastern black swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes
August 25, 2009
Migrants and America
must not molest or oppress the stranger, for you were once
foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt.
was a migrant, a family man, a hard worker and a member of our
parish. One Saturday he went to the store to replenish
supplies using a friend's truck with which he was unfamiliar.
On leaving the parking lot, he stopped at the exit sign and extended
the truck too far in the face of ongoing traffic. In backing
up he apparently tapped a car just behind him. Not even
hearing this, he drove on to the next store. The woman driver
in the tapped car was irate that a person of his nationality should
"hit and run." She hailed the police and confronted Jose.
Jose was bewildered and the next thing he knew he was hauled into
court. I begged the woman to drop the charges against Jose but
for a long period she refused while making nasty remarks about
immigrants. The case was ultimately dismissed with Jose paying
the very minor damage -- and losing nearly a thousand dollars in
lost wages and fees.
is peopled by immigrants and has welcomed them when times required
willing workers. In tough times, the tune may be different and
so it is today. For the greater part, we are all strangers and
guests; even indigenous folks were immigrants at one time.
People come here legally or not so, because they see America as a
land of opportunity; they will use virtually any means to do so.
This allows them to be prey to the dishonest and to be lured to this
country with no provision for sponsorship. Many undocumented
workers are at the mercy of employers. Migrants often seek to
remain hidden and this takes a toll on their loved ones.
Although we do not have to have a totally open door policy, the
treatment of immigrants must be fair and just. Legislation is
now being crafted by Congress, and we hope this will allow for the
rights of all people even poor migrants. Certainly it can be
argued that it takes fewer resources to furnish employment for the
migrant in the land of origin than in the land of destination -- but
that takes social and political will on the part of two countries.
In hard times like these, the return migration is strong and is a
partial corrective measure to the utter disappointment of those
seeking to come and stay in our land.
there not be a reasonable flow of human traffic from lands of origin
that includes guest worker cards and reasonable opportunities while
here? Should our country spend less on physical barriers and
more on attention to regulation of employers who encourage illegal
entry? It is impossible to say "no" to large numbers of the
penniless, and still keep our name as the land of opportunity.
However, we need neither a totally open door nor a totally closed
door policy. Immigrants are valuable resources and the welcome
sign should be open to them.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to recall that we are all strangers and guests,
and not people of special privileges.
White snakeroot, Ageratina rugosum
2009 Compact Fluorescents for All
seek to reduce our carbon footprint in many ways, we find that the
best place to start is right at home and in local businesses, and
that indoor and outdoor electric light conservation could make a big
difference. Since safety factors drive increased outdoor lighting
(though some devices are less energy consuming there as well), we
focus on the indoors and our replacement of incandescent bulbs by
compact fluorescent lighting (CFL). Great advances have occurred in
the past two decades, and CFLs are now smaller, lighter and with
better color tone than in the past. The type that screw right into
the incandescent bulb socket are now available in home supply stores
and even supermarkets and economy stores. We can initiate energy
conservation in the time it takes to screw in a light bulb.
qualified by the ENERGY STAR program of the United States
Environmental Protection Program, use up to 75% less energy than
standard incandescent bulbs, which lose much of their energy in the
form of heat. Test the difference, but be careful not to burn
yourself. We are now finding that electric power companies are
assisting in promoting this change in both home and office.
last longer than incandescent bulbs, sometimes up to ten times as
long. Thus ultimate savings for this more expensive bulb come in
both energy saved and longer life. In our financial troubled times,
many look for quick-fix economies, and find that CFLs save money
without the major change of lifestyle practice necessitated by many
other conservation measures. If every family replaced its five most
used light fixtures with Energy Star qualified lighting, a saving of
$60 per year would accrue to the average household. Why not more
than merely five?
will help combat the climate change problems that loom over the
horizon. If every family in America would take the above step, the
amount of reduction in greenhouse gases would be one trillion pounds
per year (U.S. government calculations).
reduce energy needs so much that the simple step of removing the
five most frequently used bulbs as mentioned would cut the projected
need for new powerplants in half for the foreseeable future. A
combination of this and simple solar energy techniques could solve
America's impending energy crisis without building a single new
powerplant whether coal-burning or wind-powered. Make 2009 the
year for converting to CFLs in the greater part of the domestic
scene. The practice of turning on and off lighting requires a
slight adjustment: if a CFL bulb will be used again within a
three-hour period, leave it burning rather than to turn it on and
off, since it is the turning on that takes the most energy. Don't
extend this new practice to older incandescent bulbs. Having said
this, Philips Lighting is now marketing "Halogena Energy Savers,"
which meet the upcoming 2012 Federal efficiency standards.
Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of saving resources in the way we
arrange our homes and the lighting that these entail. Allow us to
be light to others so that our carbon footprint will be reduced.
Hearty, pesticide-free tomatoes, protected by
basil and marigold plants
August 27, 2009
Tomatoes and Avoiding Cancer
is the time for tomatoes right off the vine, iced and sliced,
stewed, crushed, juiced, fried, canned whole, in catsup, paste, soup
and sauce, and mixed with chilies, even in my mother's special
tomato preserves and green tomato mock mincemeat. An August
delight! Tomatoes play such a major role in the diet that we
forget they came late in European cuisine. Before the New
World was known, Italians had no tomatoes for pastas. When
Europeans came to the Americas they hesitated before eating
nightshade fruit on plants with poisonous roots, vine and leaves.
Not only is the tomato not poisonous, it is quite healthy with its
vitamin C and antioxidant properties, all good for the war against
cancer. Tomato connoisseurs only reduce tomato consumption
when their sweat becomes so acid that it irritates their skin.
Tomatoes are a mainstay in my garden: early ones for late June
and July, dark red larger beef steaks in August, cherry tomatoes for
all seasons, yellow less-acidic ones for September, Italian
varieties during dry times, and pear tomatoes for autumn.
Cherry tomatoes can hang in the greenhouse to ripen long after
frost; some wrap tomatoes singly and store them for
Thanksgiving and beyond. By other ingenious ways one can start
tomatoes early and extend the season for a half year or more.
We are careful for the unprotected blooms will not bear after
enduring low temperatures. Staking ought to be for some of
these, especially if space is limited. In wet times unstaked
tomatoes tend to rot.
foods also can be added to the diet to protect against cancer, along
with avoiding tobacco use and engaging in regular physical exercise.
As far back as 1982, the National Research Council released a report
that stated that proper diet may some day reduce the incidence of
cancer by one-third. Not all cancers are diet-related, but a
better diet will make us more able to battle the common diseases
that afflict our modern population. For instance, we are
cautioned that the proportion in the diet of calories produced
by fats should be reduced from 40 to 30%. A large portion of
the public who are suffering from obesity problems should consider
low-fat products. Fast-food customers should be especially
aware: reduce saturated fat and cholesterol-rich foods.
tomatoes, the daily diet should favor high fiber whole-grain
cereals, fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in Vitamin C
and Vitamin A. The heavy use of fiber helps us avoid colon
cancer. Emphasis is given to citrus fruits, dark-green and
deep yellow vegetables and those of the cabbage or brassica family
(kale, broccoli, collards, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage, Brussels
sprouts, etc.). Vitamins and minerals such as trace amounts of
selenium are found in the cruciferous vegetables (brassicas together
with radish, horseradish, turnip, etc. that have cross-shaped
flowers, pointed pods, and strong cabbage-like odors); these trace
materials inhibit the formation of cancer-causing chemicals.
Prayer: Lord, make us aware of the good foods of August.
Virginia knotweed, Polygonum virginianum,
native Kentucky plant
August 28, 2009
Down-to-Earth Spirituality versus Pretending
order to heal our wounded Earth we must be involved and this takes
spiritual energy. We cannot pretend others will see the
problems and handle them for us. For better or worse we are
all connected and have a role to play: by acknowledging the
(no denial of problem); by
accepting our mission (no excuse for blame); and by becoming
involved in the outcome (no escape from healing operation).
Acknowledgment, acceptance of responsibility and participation in
healing are the triad of duties that require a deep spirit base --
one rooted in the Earth.
enemy of a down-to-earth spirituality is material affluence;
this condition elevates people to pretend to be the privileged who
see no problem, bear no blame and know how to solve any difficulty
in their own way and apart from the message of the poor. This
results in being spiritually ethereal, hesitant to look at human
causes, and unwilling to get our hands and feet dirty. In
plain language, affluence leads to ultimate ruin of our soul and of
the planet as well. Our challenge is to espouse an authentic
spirituality that keeps us genuinely rooted and yet with eyes on a
distant horizon. Is this possible?
First we are immersed in God's creation and thus praise the Almighty
for the opportunity of being here at this time. Being aware of
our local environment allows us to appreciate those who influence
our place and time: the HERE and the NOW and the WE.
Thus our spirituality is conditioned by where we are, the time in
which we live, and those with whom we associate. Due to my
time, place, and association, my spirituality is unique to me.
However, we know that things are wrong, though we prefer to transfer
the blame to some individual or group distant from ourselves.
To do this takes some "make-believing." As participants in our
American culture, we realize that much is based on pretending.
The suburb with its manicured lawn is fake "natural" landscape; the
gas guzzler, the spacious home, the recycling of unnecessary
consumer products, and the affirmation of short-term solutions to
problems are all pretenses. Pretending is culturally
acceptable and yet it erodes our integrity.
to reality is getting our feet muddy. Yes, we learn the season
of the year, the direction of the wind, when the berries and fruit
ripen, how much daylight is available, when the summer is now half
spent. Being down-to-Earth means we know what is happening,
are willing to make practical judgments and are determined to live
sustainably. We discover that our family includes all on
this planet and many of our brothers and sisters are without the
means of livelihood and resources.
Prayer: Lord, show us that our lives are short and Earth's needs are
urgent. Make us truly down-to-earth and willing to accept the
task before us. Teach us to welcome the work of healing our
wounded Earth and to serve those denied the essentials of life.
Wildflowers of August
August 29, 2009
have ever watched a robin enticing its young to leave the nest, you
have seen nature at work. The parent knows how to be a good
teacher by offering the youngster a morsel, and the hungry nestling
reaches out and out, leaving the nest in the process. The
young bird is being taught to fend for itself; it flits from
twig to twig and flutters down to the ground. The life of hard
knocks is now starting, and must occur so the young can mature.
the nest simply has to transpire -- and that is what is occurring in
many homes as well, about this time of year; young people are off to
school for the first time. Parents put on a confident face,
prep the youngsters with advice, and even shed a tear as they
depart. It is hard to let go, and especially if the loved one
has some challenges up ahead. This essay could apply not just
to those going to kindergarten, grade school, or college, but also
to the passing of a loved one into eternal life.
focus only on the home dweller with a school-bound resident, this
situation is beyond my experience. But if the hurt is two
ways, then the experience is more universal. I did leave home
even though I was as reluctant as most to admit a downside to the
leave-taking. Granted, through the cell phone and e-mail,
today's nest escapees and the empty-nest-holding folks feel far more
connected than they did a half century ago. And that softens
the hurt to some degree. Maybe the one leaving is not as hurt
as the one left. That parent or caregiver worries about little
and big things, how the leave-taker will adjust, and whether there
are dangers or risks lurking around the corner. Or maybe it is
missing the presence of the loved one throughout the day that
requires an adjustment.
Whatever the cause of the empty feeling, a void comes with the
emptying of the house, a void that can be overcome by other
activities. In rare cases the parent does not want to let the
youngster go, and thus through a series of activities, home
schooling and occupational tasks, keeps the person tied down.
Yes, the day is postponed awhile but must come. Softening the
departure for the one left behind may include:
Keeping in touch. Making connections is a routine matter in
this age of continued chatting on cell phones;
Giving more attention to local and regional matters, sometimes with
neighborhood civic groups, church or school;
Saying a prayer, for this is a difficult time for those who are cut
loose and must find their own way;
Encouraging the leave-taker through email or letters to become
immersed in the school work and extra activities; and
Preparing for the next home visit with something special that is
worth looking forward to.
Lord teach us that our life is one of letting go and
that leaving home is one phase
in this ongoing and eternal act.
Purple rose of Sharon
August 30, 2009
Acting Justly in Hard Times
one whose way of life is blameless, who always does what is right.
Gospel (Mark 7) gives an example of those who were concerned about
right action, but their concern involved petty things that were of
little importance. We sometimes wonder if the world around us
is more concerned about small things, while the big ones are being
totally overlooked. In fact, we wonder whether we are so
concerned with cultural correctness (sprinkling vessels or maybe
pesticide-laced produce), that we are ruining the world for a future
generation. In a nation that has had wasteful resource
consumption practices we ought to ask some meaningful questions.
These will make us more honest about the ways we act:
* Do we
acknowledge our misdeeds?
* Do we
spend too much on items we do not need?
the foods we like best always healthy and nutritious?
the cleaning agents we purchase really cleaning?
* Do we
really save fuel or only drive about needlessly with an economy
do we spend our free time -- as if some time is free?
asked these rather negative questions let us ask some positive ones,
for this exercise is not meant to stop with our admission of
shortcomings alone. In today's gospel passage (Mark 7)
the apostles are accused of overlooking the regulations that mean so
much to the scribes and pharisees. Better questions are:
we committed to doing what is right in hard times?
innovative ways do we use to bring about good environmental
do we give encouragement to others who are deeply depressed due to
financial difficulties and lack of employment?
Do we invite the unchurched and despairing to come and share in
much do we thank God for the good things given to us?
our hearts with the Lord and with those who suffer?
first series of questions refers to purifying our own hearts for the
hard times we all experience. If we are too utterly selfish,
then we continue business as usual when others suffer. When we
see challenges, we see these as opportunities to become more
compassionate towards those who suffer. We look beyond
ourselves and extend a hand to those who are less fortunate.
Saint James' Letter (Chapter one) mentions orphans and widows -- and
we add to this arena of concern all the world's needy. We seek
a merciful heart, willing to forgive quickly, and solicitous to
easing the burdens of those who find these times to be rough.
Lord, give us the ability to ask the right questions at the right
time and place, and to be open to the real needs of those around us.
A scenic creek along Kentucky's Bourbon County
August 31, 2009
Support International Relief Groups
are hard times for many of the world's poor. All of us who are
concerned hope that all the more fortunate continue their charitable
giving. The times are even tougher for those poor caught in
natural or human-caused catastrophes such as hurricanes, floods,
earthquakes, droughts and wars. Are there really more of
these, or does the global connection through instant communication
systems allow us to be more aware of them? This is in contrast
with situations of two hundred years ago, when it took weeks to hear
news from the other side of the planet. Our increased
awareness should be balanced by quick response and assistance,
something that takes more than what individuals can do on their own.
Relief organizations are crucial, and thus our support of them
should be commensurate to relief demands.
December 2004 rapid reporting of a major tsunami allowed agencies to
mobilize relief efforts for victims in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri
Lanka, and other nations bordering the Indian Ocean. Over two
hundred thousand people died in the tragic event; the worldwide
response was rapid, but the assistance was later reported to have
been maldistributed in some regions. It became evident in
reviewing the entire episode that the global alert system could have
been better developed, and this would have allowed many more people
to retreat from the path of the tsunami.
However, such warnings are not
always possible in times of earthquakes and other disasters.
agencies as well as alert systems could be better developed, and the
supplies stored in or near vulnerable regions such as at the
drought-prone Horn of Africa. A wide assortment of agencies
assist on a more routine basis in relief for refugees, orphans, and
victims of past disasters. These longer-term relief efforts
are often overlooked as less newsworthy than tragic events.
I admire a variety of groups that are non- sectarian or specific in
their charity such as Oxfam, the UN Childrens' Relief Fund, and
Catholic Relief Service, still I have a favorite, which is more
concerned about long-term relief and development, the Catholic Near
East Welfare Association (CNEWA). This organization assists
all Christian groups in the Middle East, from Ethiopia to as far
away as India in longer term relief and development projects.
What I like about this agency is that it quietly gives assistance to
clergy training and parish development programs among those who are
non-Catholic Christian (Coptic and Armenian Oriental, Syrian and
other Orthodox, Church of the East, etc.) as well as to oriental
Catholic groups. CNEWA assists in educational projects,
irrigation work, and small-scale business start-ups among poor
people with no other opportunities for help. The CNEWA
periodical, "One," keeps donors abreast of some of these
projects. Please visit their site: <www.cnewa.org>.
Prayer: Lord, make us global in our compassion, and help us assist others
whether in immediate or longer-term need.