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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.

A series of written meditations and reflections

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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

August 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Al Fritsch

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August turning leaves of the poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans.
(photo: Janet Powell)

August Reflections, 2010

     August is a time of hidden change -- and yet we know from the greenness of foliage that this is a high season for growth -- green corn, pastures, soybean fields all that will soon turn golden in the coming month.  Greenness does not last, no matter how much we would like it to.  Like the ripening fruit that abounds on trees and heaps of produce in farmers' markets, the good blessings of this month are here to enjoy -- but enjoyment includes the foreboding of change just below the August surface.  So much for the mood, but that should not stop us from enjoying the good things that abound for a brief time:  the sensation of hot weather and cool water; the taste of ripe peaches, cucumbers and tomatoes; the sound of growing corn on moist August nights; the smell of earth after the rain;  and of course that sight of greenery all around.  August is the pentacle of the middle-aged growing season, and now it starts the almost imperceptible downhill decline towards autumn's rest.  Let's make the best of what is passing, for seemingly July's endless summer does have an end in sight.  Yes, August is glorious, but it is a fleeting phenomenon.  Sic transit gloria mundi.








Poke berries, ripening on stem.
(*photo credit)

August 1, 2010       Spiritual Motivation:  Becoming Truly Secure 

      "My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many good years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time." (Luke 12:19)  

      This kind of foolishness is never far from most people's minds when a little extra material security happens to come their way.  The added stuff will carry one over for an indefinite future -- or will it?  Perhaps God has other plans for all of us.  The foolish ones forget that material security is an illusion, and yet money and material things mesmerize many who think that the more plentiful the possessions, the better prepared for the future.  Few reflect that spacious villas crumble, fields erode, and fleets of vehicles need servicing, protection and sometimes crash.  Unfortunately, the foolish do not look beyond the immediate wants and have no long-term future in mind.  Where are the deeper spiritual and lasting motivations? 

      At the death of confirmed materialists or those who put trust in political or economic power, we pause and ask ourselves some basic questions.  What moves us?  Were we envious of their achievements and now feel triumphal that theirs was no lasting city?  Do we gloat that their peers, followers, relatives and neighbors are like lemmings rushing to the sea of mortality?  Do we have a perverse satisfaction in their ending?  Are we powerless to change the foolish motivations of others when our own are imperfect?  Here are some approaches in our discussions with them: 

      Materialists act foolishly.  Jesus gives us the primary way to view the quest for material wealth and security.  Within our community are people who work hard for such gain and then something strikes them, whether cancer or a speeding car or mental difficulties.  Their material empire fades virtually overnight and many of their efforts seem to have been in vain.       

      Giving people are at peace.  The second approach is to show spiritual benefits resulting through giving of self for others.  Most likely such people are all around us, if we but look out and observe carefully.  They are the selfless caregivers who seem to always have enough and yet share radically with others.  If we trust in God and strike out to help our neighbor, the Lord provides in ways we do not at first anticipate.     

      Material gain can be frustrated.  Confront materialism by pressing for removal of the excessive gains of those who need to share with the ones who have little.  Challenge youth who are bent on the road to material success to see the futility of such strivings.  Health and education costs are high and need to be provided for, especially for those under one's charge.  But what is enough?  When do we stop?  How do we attend to other basic needs?  Can one easily perceive the addictive nature of material things?  

      Prayer:  Lord teach me spiritual motivation and to see this so clearly that it becomes evident in the world in which we live. 







Red admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

August 2, 2010       Coal Ash:  Searching for a Greener Solution  

      In December, 2008, the coal ash impoundment at the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston Fossil Plant collapsed, and 5.4 million cubic yards of coal fly ash sludge escaped and damaged homes and contaminated the Emory River.  Cleanup costs are over one billion dollars to date.  Coal ash storage is present in over five hundred U.S. sites and constitutes a problem.  The 150 million tons generated  annually in the U.S. is regarded as second only to mining wastes in the total American waste stream.  Real puzzles challenge us, namely, how do we reuse this potential resource?

     Environmentalists are quick to point out that this ash contains lead, arsenic, mercury and chromium and several metals toxic in large quantities but, in some cases, essential in trace amounts.  Chemical analyses show these metals entering waterways when barriers break as at Kingston.  Some folks scratch their heads saying, "Aren't these substances found in coal naturally?"  For them the problem is failure to use all the large amounts of combustion products.  "Isn't manure a good fertilizer when scattered but a stinking mess when heaped?"  This puzzle is harder because simply scattering ash is not a good solution.  

      Regulators know that the immense amount of coal ash is a puzzle; they are caught in conflicting demands from various interest groups and thus have avoided any specific regulation.  Many environmentalists want to treat coal ash as a hazardous waste.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has vacillated through the year-and-a-half-old Obama administration.  Regulatory proposals have been changed, deleted, appended and essentially rewritten.  Two options emerge under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act:  Subtitle C regards coal ash as a hazardous material requiring federal monitoring and control of handling, transportation, disposal and reuse (coal ash is currently used in a host of applications);  Subtitle D treats coal ash as a waste material as is household garbage (here the EPA has little management authority).  Obviously, many environmentalists opt for the first option and see the hand of special interest groups in textual changes in the working document; for them, an extended rule-making period has led to weakening of original regulatory proposals.  The White House Council on Environmental Quality, along with other governmental agencies including USDA, has opposed this Subtitle D approach.  Business and some in government believe that designating coal ash as hazardous will reduce reuse possibilities. 

      Let's consider a second practical environmental perspective, namely an aggressive reuse program ensuring "locked" reuse of coal ash and little prospect of escape.  The wisdom of Solomon could apply to the coal ash puzzle.  Emphasis on encouraging enterprising users to help rid powerplants of waste, is safer than rules to contain ash over time.  We need to regard the ash as a resource and encourage its use in beneficial industrial and other applications.  

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to use our waste products wisely.








Pink-tinged color of dry-site Queen Anne's lace, Daucus carota.
(*photo credit)

August 3, 2010       Environmental Solutions:  Work and Pray 

      Yesterday we mentioned the "Coal Ash Puzzle," and ended with a short prayer that wisdom be gained.  We do not want to give the impression that prayers at the end of reflections are afterthoughts.  Rather, the intent of our "Daily Reflections" is that solutions to real problems will only be achieved in the milieu of respectful and earnest prayer.   

      Work in solving environmental problems is of utmost importance.  One could not reach long-term solutions if the howling mob is ready to lynch those giving a "wrong" outcome.  Physical circumstances demand a certain tranquility, proper work conditions, cooperating team workers, access to all the required information and a regulatory atmosphere wherein agreements are translated into policy, action and enforcement.  Work is certainly essential on all fronts.  However, the elements listed are not sufficient for longer-term solutions.  Secular problem-solving goes only so far when it comes to healing our wounded Earth.  

      Prayer is also of utmost importance, for through prayer we --

      1. Enhance mutual respect for all parties involved in solving the problem.  A respect for God extends to respect for all human beings and for the flora and fauna of our planet as well.  All creation is part of the glory of God, and in an atmosphere of thankfulness we find our part in the creative process, and we do this with enthusiasm -- the God within;

     2. Recognize the seriousness of issues and avoid denying their existence.  We can see blatant faults in our world; we can begin the process of remediation, but we do not see deeper causes without an atmosphere of prayerful alertness.  This requires a spirituality that does not flee from problems but accepts the puzzles of our times as related to social (and eco-)justice issues; 

     3. Take responsibility for being part of the problem at least through citizen neglect to act; the need is to participate in seeking forgiveness for human mishaps whether caused by us or others.  Let's extend the blame as something social and ask God's forgiveness through prayer.  To accept blame is empowering, for we can see all past mishaps as joint learning opportunities;   

      4. Exude confidence that real solutions can be reached for the benefit of all, and refuse to be tempted to move on to easier and different matters.  This confidence becomes contagious for it means to involve all people, especially those so often overlooked in problem-solving activity; and  

      5. Show appreciation for all good gifts in our world. 

      Prayer: Help us Lord, to teach a secular society of the power of prayer in attacking the environmental problems of our age, and show those who seem unconcerned that there is a duty to enter into the healing process in a prayerful manner. 






Summer bouquet of cone flowers.
(*photo credit)

August 4,  2010    Offshore Energy:  Wind and/or Oil 

      We hardly have to be reminded of the millions of barrels of oil that have escaped into the Gulf of Mexico waters since April 20th.  The time it is taking to halt the gushing well has resulted in one of the planet's most serious disasters.  Fishing, tourism and the quality of life along the entire Gulf Coast have been disrupted -- and then the blame game and lawsuits begin.  Are the environmental risks associated with fossil fuel extraction and use worth their becoming part of the "essentials" of modern life?   Renewable energy, such as wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and some biofuel sources, is a different matter; these sources are far more environmentally benign and do not involve major risks.   

      The offshore territories along the United States shores are immense, are near one-third of our major population centers, and are in close proximity to potentially large-scale offshore wind farms.  Of course, some Cape Cod residents have found their prized unobstructed vistas threatened -- though their reasoning may try to hide such motivations of privilege.  If wind, the fastest growing American energy source, replaces fossil fuels the air will be cleaner; and wind farms bear far fewer environmental risks.  Offshore wind is like prairie wind;  it produces needed electricity but is far closer to major consumption areas.  Utilizing offshore wind is a win-win situation.  This opportunity for energy also applies to the transportation sector, fueled by a major portion of the 20 million barrels of petroleum consumed in the U.S. each day.  However, wind is a candidate to furnish the electricity needed by a new generation of vehicles now dependent on petroleum.

      In contrast, the drive to increase petroleum sources by expanding offshore exploration and development has taken a hit, as average Americans observe on TV, tourist beaches covered with tar balls, marshes being threatened by the millions of gallons of seeping crude oil, and fishing banned in the best fishery areas of our country.  All of this is the result of one deep-water oil well that has had an accident.  Petroleum extraction is risky (eleven died at the ill-fated offshore rig fire), as is that of coal (two dozen American miners were killed this past spring after underground extraction mishaps -- and a host of Chinese and Russian miners as well).   

      Today about one-third of our domestic petroleum supply comes from offshore sources -- and the ill-fated Kerry-Lieberman energy bill contains key provisions for expanded offshore drilling for petroleum.  If the funds slated for loan guarantees for expensive eight-billion dollar nuclear powerplants and for research and expansion of oil and coal utilization were channelled into low-polluting and far less-expensive wind and solar energy sources, our nation would be on the right track.  

      Prayer: Lord, give us the vision to look beyond unobstructed offshore vistas to see safer wind farms furnishing less threatening sources of energy to satisfy our essential needs. 








Fowler toad (Bufo fowleri) on slab of fossil-laden Lexington limestone.
(*photo credit)

August 5, 2010       Hemp Reintroduction:  The Time Has Come 

      In a former reflection (see May 11, 2007) I mentioned changing my mind on twenty-first century cultivation of hemp.   While discussing possible alternatives for former tobacco farmers in our just released book, Tobacco Days, I could not give enough time to any one crop alternative.  With all the emphasis on reducing climate change and curbing offshore, ruptured oil wells, the time for natural fibers such as hemp is right.  Need we be reminded that American industry (e.g., DuPont with its Nylon) did a vast disservice to American farmers by getting hemp banned in the 1930s for supposed drug reasons (confusion with its cousin marijuana);  the real reason for the ban was to remove competition with the emerging synthetic fibers derived from petroleum products.  A false drug charge did economic damage then just as a more valid reason is reducing tobacco crop possibilities now.  Let's redress past grievances; hemp is environmentally more benign than extracting and refining petroleum for synthetic fibers.   

      In 1859, central Kentucky was the hemp-growing capital of the nation and really the world, since Kentuckians at the time prided themselves on having better hemp than even the Czar's Russia.  Just before the Civil War, the U.S. produced 143,000,000 pounds of hemp and half of that was in Kentucky; the Bluegrass State remained number one in production with 88% of the acreage until the turn of the twentieth century.  Rope, twine, burlap sacks, wrapping for cotton and canvas were all requiring immense quantities of fiber.  However, American hemp became a victim of both alternative practices and outsourcing.  Hemp, the substance with 25,000 uses (fiber, feed, food and fortune), lost its luster with the demotion of sailing, since steam-driven vessels that lacked sails did not need canvas and rope (Kentucky Explorer, June, 2010 pp. 46-48).  As time went on, jute- and other hemp-growing regions of the world furnished cheaper products for the American market, especially after the demise of the slave farm economy.  

       Granted the reintroduction of hemp will require a capital investment on the part of small farmers, but easy loans could get them started in business, for the payback is quite promising.  Potential markets exist or will be reacquired through active promotion.  Why should not hemp be returned to the list of the major agricultural crops on a par with corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat?  It is a healthy replacement for tobacco.  Weak objections (especially when marijuana is being legalized in other parts of our country) should not stand in the way of hemp's reintroduction.  Our farmers need added income (and hemp can yield about 800 pounds or more per acre).  Furthermore, hemp is ecologically friendly and requires little in commercial pesticides, cultivation or commercial fertilizers.  Finally, the agricultural history of the "momentum of an early start" favors a high-quality product like American hemp.  Friends of agriculture need to get behind American hemp.    

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to find honest agricultural needs and to promote them for the welfare of our farming families. 







Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) at the gate.
(*photo credit)

August 6, 2010    Transfiguration:  A New Heaven and New Earth

      The verdant season of mid-summer stimulates us to reflect on our part in renewing a troubled Earth.  It is a perfect time to pause and celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration.   

      To transfigure means to transform or change the outer appearance.  The event we celebrate today is where Jesus is going up the mountain with his chosen disciples and becoming exalted or glorified in appearance along with Elias and Moses, an event that foretold his glorious future -- and ours as well.  This prefigured the resurrection event that was to come for Jesus and thus gave him the consolation and support that all human beings need.  However, the event and how to respond or celebrate it appear as mysterious to us today as they did to Peter and the disciples two thousand years ago.  How do we celebrate this event by more than witnessing with the disciples as spectators?  Is there an aspect that involves us along with the Lord in a participative manner?  

      Individuals discover the glory ahead.  We have our mini-transformations through smiles each time the Lord gives us some consolation, some sign that a glory road is ahead for us.   This may be encounters in natural settings (a sunset or sunrise, the glory of a morn in spring, birds singing, etc.).  At other times we experience consolation at funerals of a faithful person;  we hear that our lives will be transformed, not ended, and this gives believing survivors hope of what is to come.  We are meant for the glory of eternal life, and the glorious Liturgy, which celebrates the life of the dead person, is a sure sign of future exaltation. Amid flowers and music and communal prayer we have a solemn promise that glory will come -- and this is a consolation for believers.

      Communities worship as one.  What occurs at funerals when we need special consolation also occurs for believers who gather in larger festive celebrations.  A festival or well-executed, major public event can be the occasion when a transformation occurs in our attitudes to the world around us.  Our spirits are raised for the harder knocks of life ahead, and this is something we really need.  We see our journey of life as suddenly highlighted.

      A New Heaven and New Earth are promised in Scripture.  It is fitting that our active participation is expected in the light of the mandates given at Pentecost to spread the Good News.  We are more than spectators; we are actors on the stage of cosmic transformation.  The ordinary consolations, meaningful funerals and grand liturgical celebrations inspire us.  We are called to be dispensing sharers of hope given to us through the empowerment of the risen Lord.  Our message is Transfiguration; we console those who lose heart; all must work together and heal our wounded Earth. 

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the consolations that we need to keep going, and to share these spirited happenings with others.  Help us to experience them with Jesus, our beloved brother who goes ahead of us in glory.   He is our promise of eternal life.   








A lovely task for the buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia).
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

August 7, 2010       Euphoria:  A Worker's Attitude

      Earlier this year, my brother Frank and his wife Mary went to China for the Shanghai World's Fair.  In conversing with the people they met, they observed a sense of euphoria among Chinese workers.  It may have been to some degree the selected people they were allowed to contact, but they suspected it was a more general mood.  The Chinese they met explained their vigor and high spirits as stemming from the experiences of their parents and the previous generation; those unfortunate souls had experienced the horrible effects of the cultural revolution and, as survivors, impressed on their offspring the blessings of better working conditions.  China seems to be a nation making itself anew with massive outlays on building infrastructure (railroads, highways, factories, apartment high rises and parks) -- and the expansive mood is contagious. 

      Many of us experience some euphoria in the work we do -- and only feel limited by flagging energy levels and lack of time to allow the attitude to grow on us.  Maybe our culture is such that we are not permitted to express the fact we enjoy our work and it gives us energy; we may be restrained because so many of our compatriots are un- or underemployed.  We may feel that to express our own euphoria is to rub salt into the wounds of those looking for work.  I was haunted by a recent picture in America magazine of a New York City unemployment line and the looks on the faces of those standing in line, especially that of the most prominent lead person;  his dignity seemed shaken and he had a forlorn almost despairing expression on his face.  "I can't compete."   

     We hearken back to a suppressed film clip of one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's last talks where he sought a guarantee of the "right to work" to be guaranteed along with other of a new Bill of Rights.  Why are we not insisting on the right of every citizen to work as a privilege of citizenship?  Our nation certainly needs labor to rebuild and expand a decaying infrastructure -- roads, bridges, trails, parks, and educational facilities.  We could accomplish this with a twenty-first century version of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Why shouldn't the funding sources be the public coffers?  Does the United States need to fund large military projects in which the cost per dollar spent hires few Americans (e.g., ten people per million dollars WPA-type versus two or three people per one million in military expenditures).  The best funding source may be redirected military funding (57% of our total federal budget).  Can we afford to be "the policeman of the world?"  America has real infrastructure needs;  we have people willing to work;  we have military funds as well as taxes from the wealthy and from breaking open the tax havens (with task forces from other nations).  Rebuilding America would most certainly allow  euphoria to grow. 

      Prayer: Lord help us to roll up our sleeves and expand work opportunities for all the unemployed -- and to find the funds to give them employment.





Magnificent patterns of the blackberry lilies.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

August 8, 2010     Destiny:  The Best Preparation Is in Giving 

       When we have had a great deal given to us on trust, even more will be expected of us.  (Luke 12:48) 

     Individually, many people are unwilling or reluctant, or they loathe talking about their ultimate destiny.  Take a survey and find this subject utterly unpopular, and yet it is as inevitable as taxes and death -- for it follows the latter.  Since some do not believe in eternal life, believers living in a secular culture may feel restrained from bringing up the subject.  Our short-term perspective is often the product of this culture; we speak openly about acquiring, servicing and hoarding material things for near future use.  Ultimate destiny is not a proper subject in our polite society.  Only slightly more acceptable is a lateral destiny of gifts to be shared with those in need here and now.   

      Peter asks Jesus a good question:  Is this message (Luke 12: 32-48) meant for the disciples only or for the whole world?  Lest we forget, all Scripture has both an individual and a social message, and the story of keeping our lamps burning and being watchful certainly applies today, both because traditional fuel supplies are  dwindling and because we are often so distracted by other things.  However, destiny includes individual and social levels as well as current (spatial) and future (temporal) dimensions. 

      Individually, we believers strive for an eternal destiny, and show our appreciation for that promised destiny by the quality of the work we perform.  The more appreciative we are, the higher the quality of the work.  God has entrusted much to us -- reading talents, comprehension, reflection and resulting action.  Through using entrusted and undeserved talents we show appreciation through responsible service to and for others.  God does not need these gifts, but our fellow human beings and neighbors who share this planetary space do.  Gifts given to us must be used properly, for we are reminded that it is more blessed to give than to receive.    

      Socially, the same arguments can be made for sharing resources with people in other lands.  The destiny of our country cannot be a selfish one, for our future is also wrapped up in sharing our national goals and resources with others.  In the longer run, this may demand the surrender of national sovereignty to a broader world system of governance -- a destiny.  However, our destiny is also spatial right now;  we must share hoarded resources with our needy neighbors in other countries, for gifts received are morally destined to be shared.  Our nation must act in an appreciative manner and see these as God-given gifts.  Thus to share both sovereignty and current resources becomes a type of spiritual security that is far superior to the military security we maintain.    

      Prayer:  Lord, Jesus tells us to be always prepared.  Help us to see that preparing for our destiny is achieved through sharing what we have (material resources and sovereignty). 









A community garden in Lexington, KY.
(*photo by Sunny Montgomery)

August 9, 2010     Urban Gardens: Twenty-First Century Victory Gardens 

      We note that "urban gardening" is a popular topic for articles and media discussions.  Environmental awareness, social concerns, anxiety about purchased foods from unknown sources, and pure economics lead many urbanites to seek out space for growing things.  The first hurdle for many urbanites is the prevailing concept that farming or gardening is an exercise of simple folks -- mere sowing seeds and reaping mature crops -- and nature does the rest.  Once this bias is overcome, other issues need solving.  Urbanites generally have less space to grow things.  Lack of experience and lack of abundant space can be compensated for in several ways:

          Be Patient.  First, gardening is a learned art and not the result of a textbook exercise; mistakes can occur and can be embarrassing.  No one starts gardening as an expert.  Be aware that it takes time and ongoing experience.  

     Select according to available space.  Some have vacant yard space or a nearby undeveloped plot of land.  That is great, but some are more confined;  they may have a roof, but gardening on roofs has added problems and costs.  What about window sills, stairs, landings and porches.  Use flowerpots and start growing things -- but not necessarily corn or potatoes.  

      Select proper produce.  Parsley and dill thrive in flower pots and are productive year round.  Herbs are favorites for urban gardeners since they take up less room, are near at hand, and have wonderful flavor for immediate cooking needs.  Besides growing herbs, consider greens since these are expensive and can grow well in smaller space.  Also certain types of tomatoes, when well fertilized and amply watered, can bear a healthy crop from one or two vines.  Don't try space-demanding corn.  However, select crops that bear through the winter when protected such as kale, endive, Swiss chard, mustard and collards. 

      Start simple and simply start.  Begin gardening in any month. However,  August has some advantages as a time to start pots of herbs for indoor growing during the coming winter.  Refrain from purchasing gardening paraphernalia, for most will be underused in urban gardening.  Consult other local gardeners and that will save expenditures.  Consider your own composted kitchen waste as a source of fertilizing material.  Start plants in spring if you prefer not to buy them.  Trade with other urban gardeners.

      Learn from the experienced.  Elders in your neighborhood can give some very helpful hints to you on gardening.  Use the resources available.  Just as the "Victory Gardens" were extremely popular during the Second World War and the thirty million resulted in substantial urban production, urban gardening could occur again with many physical, mental and economic benefits.

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the opportunity to touch the soil in some way and thus be more in tune with your creation.









A heart in the clouds (look closely).
(*photo credit)

August 10, 2010     Reality:  A Basis for Authentic Spirituality 

      A generation raised on novels and computer games can hardly find time for a heavy dose of reality.  Some only pause to satisfy physical hunger or thirst, snatch some dream-filled sleep, and get medicine for imagined or real ailments.  For many of our people, reality is too hard to handle and must be shoved to the recesses of mind.  Why be serious about long-term spiritual salvation, community goals or planetary prospects?  Often we place reality between a pessimism that leads to paralysis or cynicism and an optimism that sounds good on the surface, but can also diverge into the fantasy world just mentioned.  A certain sense of realistic hope is absolutely needed, but an overly optimistic or pessimistic set of expectations is not reality either.  Realism is seeing the inevitable up ahead, unless we make immediate and effective changes to secure the good and avoid the foreseen bad effects.  Climate change can be a realistic exercise if we allow it to be.

      Authentic spirituality is based on realistic assessment of who we are and what we are capable of doing.  Through an enthusiastic spirit people are open to loving service to and with others.  Thus the dual role of such a spirituality is improvement of the soul's wellbeing before God and doing so by being attentive to the needs of neighbors.  For those who cannot assist in a concrete way, the arena of praying for the good of others becomes a realistic spiritual frontier.  Fiction-oriented spirituality can make servers fool themselves into thinking that they can achieve imaginary grandeur and selfish satisfaction; on the other hand, they may fail, stumble over hungry, homeless or wayward neighbors.  

     Spiritual discernment, generally with assistance from others more versed in spiritual ways, is called for today.  We can fool ourselves, if we are not realistic in our outward service.  A pessimistic outlook will convince us that we are limited and that service is for others to do.  An optimistic outlook can say things are already taken care of and little more needs to be done.  Thus a fiction-driven life may lead to inaction: this includes denying that a real need exists;  this may be conceding the need but feeling ill-equipped and thus excusing oneself from entering the fray;  this may involve knowing the problem exists but simply escaping from it using imagination to fortify one's irresponsibility.   

      Sometimes our denial, excuse or escape could be triggered by a real inability to handle a given situation -- and maybe an assessment is demanded to reconsider options.  However, this does not mean inaction.  Spiritual realists can offer prayers as a form of sharing and concern for those in need; in some cases concern leads to finding assistance for the needy.  Know what can be done directly through works of mercy or through prayer;  however, the realistic focus is the here and now -- not there and then.    

      Prayer:  Lord, direct us to the HERE and the NOW and the WE, and help us integrate our spiritual concerns to include all three. 








The cool tones of water.
(*photo credit)

August 11, 2010      Reclaiming the Commons:  Our Maritime Commons 

      Recent happenings make us more aware that the vast oceans and gulfs can become polluted by human activities.  One single BP oil well has done immense damage to a vast sea.  Sailors tell us that they see plastic and other junk out on the high seas;  we hear about fisheries being under heavy stress in many parts of the world.  Water, making up four-fifths of the surface of this planet, is no longer pristine;  we need to protect our water commons because oceans are the last exploitable frontier on this planet.  Immense resources of minerals, natural gas and oil lie near or under the ocean floor, inviting still more human activity. 

     The maritime commons has a rich store of natural treasures as, for instance, many colorful but quite fragile coral reefs.  These reefs are often tourist destinations but their vast expanse makes them nearly impossible to police.  Furthermore, rising ocean temperatures, acidity and general water pollution are causing the coral color to fade and coral formations to erode.  Some coral is stolen or damaged by human misdeeds, but that amount is quite small compared to damages from global climate change. 

      Exploitation of ocean mineral and petroleum resources will most likely continue to occur due to poor regulations on the part of nations with shorelines and the United Nation agencies.  Overwhaling is occurring and is a challenge to check and regulate, especially since some is done under the aegis of scientific research.  Currently overfishing, especially by the use of corporate factory ships with immense draglines, takes in many marine species indiscriminately, and injures or kills many others in the process.  Corporate mineral and resource extractors are poised to start massive extraction processes when the technology is fine-tuned.  Corporate interests influenced the United States not to sign the "Law of the Seas" in the early 1980s so as to keep UN-sponsored international rules from being effective.  

  Another age-old worry, piracy, continues to plague this planet even though monitoring systems can today tell far more about the whereabouts of these "demons of the sea."  These pirates are most active in recent years off the coast of the Horn of Africa, in part due to the dire poverty and lack of regulation in the failed Somali state.  Nations with their shipping interests at stake are taking measures, but what are a few protecting vessels in vast regions?  Concern is that this lucrative piracy activity, and the escalating ransoms required, will spread to the rest of Africa and beyond. 

      Shipping discharges and spills of course have captured the news and the 2010 BP catastrophe has eclipsed the March 24, 1989, Exxon Valdez oil spill.  All of this has happened while a new congressional energy bill seeks to expand offshore oil drilling.    

      Prayer:  Lord, incite us to act to save our seas -- the treasure of your creation that is entrusted to us. 








Prairie that is ready to be cleared by scything.
(*photo credit)

August 12, 2010      Scything:  Attending to August Weeds 

     I do not recall when I last used the scythe (pronounced like "sigh" plus a "th" at the end).   Do you know the tool?  Scything comes through Old English from Latin scindere (to cut).   Many are unfamiliar with this hand tool that, like many I used in youth, is now displayed in museums.  The scythe is better known among small farmers and families in poorer lands and is still used for cutting grain and hay.  My dictionary judged it necessary at this entry to show an illustration, namely, a fellow cutting grass with this large curved, handled instrument with a cutting blade at right angles to the bottom.   

      To scythe properly requires skill.  The blade needs to be kept parallel with the vegetative surface and allowed to glide smoothly, while the operator grips the curved handle by two pegs sticking out from the handle.  I feel the sensation as though I were taking the  instrument to cut those worrisome August weeds.  When done well, the vegetative stubble could have a lawn-like look -- but you had to be a good handler to achieve this appearance.   

     Considerable time was spent scything in moist periods between the harvest of silage and tobacco when weeds grew so fast you could watch them rising -- well almost.  That was the time you had to clean the hedgerows and borders and around the orchard trees and other inaccessible places where the bushhogs and mechanical mowers missed.  Daddy insisted on a clean farm.  Scything became an opportunity I had to bond with our black neighbor, Dennis Smith, who was about my age.  I worked one side of the fence and he the other.  On other occasions, scything was a singular activity for one wielding such a dangerous weapon could easily hurt others.  

      At the home place we had two such cutting instruments, one an antique, non-descript lightweight cutting tool that could do a good job;  but it required special skill to cut well with even and steady strokes.  The other scythe was a red-painted heavier instrument, which I liked because it could easily cut thick saplings and briars with a single stroke.  Daddy kept both implements sharpened and ready by use of a round grindstone mounted on a stand;  this stone could be turned by hand (a younger assistant) and revolved over a pan of water and thus kept moist at all times.  The scythe's edge had to be sharp, for weeds were tough and occasionally we missed and hit a rock or wire in the fence that could take the sharp edge off quite rapidly.  Effort was made to avoid such mishaps and only glide the blade a few inches from the soil surface.  With proper sharpening and handling a sizeable amount of work could be done in a short time.  Maybe we all need to enjoy using handtools. 

      Prayer:  Lord help us to respect those who work with their hands to gather crops and beautify the landscape.  Help us respect the nobility of human sweat and the tools used to accomplish the feats of labor.  In so doing, help us create an environment in which all can exercise their right to work.










A collected old coffee container becomes home for new family.
(*photo credit)

August 13, 2010      Collectibles:  Educational and Green Aspects 

       People will collect material items of all types or such things they judge needed for a rainy day.  In our materialistic culture businesses seek customers for collections of leather-bound classic books, antiques, paintings, figurines, coins, baseball cards, or heavens knows what.  People may hoard items for future use:  types of clothes, garden seeds (that will go out of date), survivor supplies, or reading materials that are for the rainy day. 

      Collecting is in the blood of many but not all.  A number of folks want to travel light through life and thus rid themselves of anything under the title of "junk;" often they pass the stuff on in yard sales or give it to friends and relatives who fit into the collectible class.  Some pride themselves on seeking to invent new uses for the collected items.  Others simply transfer collected items from their home shelves to a school or museum, especially if they can persuade the institution that the insects, fossils or stuffed birds are of value to viewers.  With time, collectors come to understand that collectibles take up space and are often of only temporary value.. 

      For another group, collectibles are business ventures, depending on whether some fellow out there with money wants to make purchase.  Old comic books or certain novels are now worth hundreds of dollars because someone wealthy wants to collect them.  Collectibles increase in value with current interests and when artists become popular and thus become the "tulip bubbles" of this century.  The wealthy become collectors by loving the art or the investment potential or both.  Where does art for its own sake stop and greed enter the picture?  Beyond art does this go also for guns, stamps, pottery, cane chairs, beer cans, blue bottles, bottle caps and barbed wire?   Think green.  Collect items with some lasting educational and social value.  One who collects tree leaves in order to learn all the local trees has education in mind -- and a desire to impress on a community the treasure of the surrounding flora.  Thus certain collecting activity becomes a model teaching device, namely a respect for the local environment.   

      Greenness extends beyond the item to the manner it is collected.  We don't shoot a bird to paint it in detail;  rather, photograph it at different angles.  We need not root up a rare wildflower; be environmentally conscious and take a picture on the trusty camera (note our over one thousand nature photos on this site). Green collecting is now in vogue.  Photographing in detail is better socially and environmentally than obtaining and storing -- and libraries and nature centers are getting the message.  Twice while directing a nature center I was asked to accept college botanical collections that were cluttering their respective institutions;  collecting photos of items is less costly. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to gather benefits that will last forever, and to see limited value in material collectibles. 









Wild hyacinth, Camassia scilloides.
(*photo credit)

August 14, 2010      The Great Divide:  Rich Get Richer and Poor...  

      Reasonable people agree that wealth differences exist in our world.  There are the rich and there are the poor -- and most of us can make distinctions.  Wealth leads to better access to health, education and quality of life for some.  However, the poor suffer from lack of power, access and influence and opinions vary on what to do about it.   

      Free marketers hold to the myth that a "trickle down theory" of "the invisible hand" is operative;  they are convinced  that more generated wealth will lead to a growing middle class and ultimately (if all are willing to wait) benefits will reach down to the underclass.  Some contrasting of statistical averaging of GNP and aggregate national populations may indicate this when comparing years or decades.  But is the increased wealth spreading to more people?  That is not always so!   The equalizing distribution dimension is often neglected, and so billionaire numbers increase and the number of the hungry also expands -- when it should have been contracted in this past decade by one-third through UN millennium goals for that decade.  Wealth generates greater wealth and then we hear about 100 or 500-to-1 pay difference between American CEOs and laborers.  

      Earlier this year the then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown remarked about the statistic that the richest 10% were 100 times better off than the poorest 10%; he called the fact sobering but insisted there was a leveling off of inequality in the last decade.  However, as reported in The Guardian Weekly (February 5, 2010, p. 14) the 2009 report, "An Anatomy of Inequality in the UK" had the opposite conclusion.  Optimists see improvement if only for some. For them, patience is needed on the part of the have-nots who ultimately will be rewarded.  However, the Great Divide in wealth exists and actually deepens.  What makes this somewhat unsettling is that access to communications allows poor folks to see the differences, and yet they can do little about it.  Patience wears thin for the unemployed or youth with no prospects for jobs.  Such long-term conditions give birth to terrorists.  A military action is hardly a solution, for such action leads to similar reaction.  

      Voices are heard echoing across the Great Divide.  There is emerging a moral demand to hear the cries of the impatient who want benefits in health, adequate food and decent housing.  Development, without strict governmental controls and distribution restrictions, will lead to greater accumulation on the part of the privileged.  In turn, this will result in greater impoverishment or less relative growth of the less financially well-off portion of the population.  Those left behind are not just found in wealthy lands;  entire nations especially in sub-Saharan Africa are being left behind in relation to richer countries.  

      Prayer:  Lord, your priestly prayer (John 17) calls for all to be one.  If oneness is to be our goal, we must bring justice to a world that is horribly divided.  Help us remove this divide.










Our Lady of Guadalupe, Good Shepherd Church, Frankfort, KY.
(*photo credit)

August 15, 2010      Mary:  Gentle Woman; Revolutionary Model 

      On this feast of the Assumption let us reflect on Blessed Mary's role in the world today.  We may part company with traditionalists who turn Mary into a passive being who does no more than stand stoically as drama swirls all about her.  These idolize Mary, but fail to see that a plaster statue is not a living person, a person who has made the world's greatest choice -- to accept into her womb God-becoming-man.  Mary is not plaster;  Mary is a real leader who is ahead of us in time -- her assumption is a fore- shadowing of our resurrection and an eternal embodied condition.   

      Many of us champion the gentleness of Mary, and rightly so, for she is not loud, bombastic, or overbearing.  Mary's qualities are far more loving and merciful, and thus gentle in a quiet and subdued manner.  Her confidence requires no shouts or wild gesturing.  At Cana the words, "Do whatever he says," were not said so loudly that the entire room heard her.  Mary stood at the foot of the cross when disciples went into hiding, and yet her standing was a gentle objection to a system that crucified her son.  Mary's gentleness seems foreign to aggressive modern business practices but it stands in contrast at times when we have questions.  

      A business professor reminded me that if I quote Mary's Magnificat some might think I am a "socialist."  For him, that would be a catastrophe -- a loss of funding and respectability.  I am unable to pinpoint the authoritarian Latin American leader who did not allow his subjects to write the Magnificat for he thought it might greatly disturb the poor and give them ideas; do not talk about those in high places being brought low and those who are in low ones rising.  That is revolution!   

      Mary's Magnificat are gentle words with great potency.  Whether Mary said the very words or not, her spirit is captured in this song that needs to be treasured and repeated by the Church each day.  This is what we are attempting to do in our "Blue Book" that is found today in the Special Issues section of this website.  We regard this as a spiritual foundation for a new world order, a replacement of the elitism of the more distant past in its noble classes and of the immediate past in its privileged wealth of the few.  This is the rising of all people, and especially the poor, through Mary's encouraging words spoken in a gentle manner.  

      Mary, as model, tells us that all people are to glorify God and thus discover the blessings in their God-given powers.  Mary brings revolution with a gentle touch, but nonetheless profound change.  Her Jewish tradition is honored and yet her "fiat" (let it be done) is new with the power to change a world order.  See her as model for what is new and magnificent and yet is sensitive about the past.  On this day we testify that change must come, so let's help extend and usher it in while being sensitive to the past. 

      Prayer:  Mary, gentle mother, inspire us to act in a profound manner so that our world will be better for it.







Many strands of an extensive spider web.
(*photo credit)

August 16, 2010       Peacemaking: Tearing Down and Rebuilding                                                    

       Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the Earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51) 

      The reading that would have come yesterday (the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time) is worth reflecting on any day.  In Luke's Gospel Jesus challenges us through his honesty and directness.  If we accept the invitation to follow him, inevitably we will find that divisions may appear among our friends and relatives. Some will walk away and others loudly disagree with what we are doing.  They may interpret peace as seeking an enticing tranquility devoid of confrontation.  However Jesus' way is different;  he is not silent, complacent, or withdrawn.  He enters into the public forum and demands open commitment on our part as his followers.  He accepts divisions and tries to overcome them.   

      To follow the Lord to a new energy level means breaking with friends bent on concrete ways of the past.  If we do not break, we are bound down and cannot help form new structures -- a new order.  From a chemical standpoint, bond-breaking often (but not always) generates an internal energy that results in a new bond-formation.  From a political standpoint, firebrands are those who torch the barriers that hold society back, but they have to treat fire with respect.  If they are energized to forge the new in tearing down the old, they must also be willing to retain the good from the old. 

      In order to build something new we must become somewhat more sophisticated in what we do.  Yes, we may tear apart the bonds of the past, for they hold us back;  failing to act -- as though inaction is a virtue -- is really a fault.  We must be willing to accept the risk of contention and controversy.  Jesus says over and over, "Peace be with you" to people who are troubled.  We need to be at peace internally, so that we have the stamina to live through controversy and build up a lasting global peace.  The risk that we might be marginalized should not stop us.  We must act by "dying to self interest" in order to be of service to others.

      In the 1970s the Bishop of Nashville was troubled by having his flock on both sides of the bitter Blue Diamond Coal Strike (some as strikers and some as owners of the coal mine).  Justice called him to risk much in order to bring the controversy to a head and help settle the issue.  He listened to both sides and insisted that the strikers' grievances must be heard.  He realized the awesome task of bridge-building takes its toll and risks having one party given more attention than the other.  However, one party may need greater attention because it is weaker or under-represented.  True bridge-builders need to establish equality and accept that discord may occur within the construction process.  Being Christ to others means accepting the risk of division.   

      Prayer:  Lord, allow us to hear today's word:  Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more."    (Luke 12:48)






August hike to a favorite sitting-spot.
(*photo credit)

August 17, 2010     The Blessings of August:  Thank God 

      At this time of high summer it is good to pause and thank God for good things that abound all around us.  Thank God for -- 

     * Security personnel who guard our buildings, keep our streets safe and watch over local, regional and national security; 

      * A sense of gratitude that we have survived the hot weather and we have now moved into the second half of summer; 

      * The gift of being able to pause even when other activities seem to demand all of our time.  In this pause we give a pure and undemanding thanks to God for all we have -- and bask in the reflection that this is why we were created as free beings; 

      * The warmth of the sun in hot weather as well as the contrasting coolness of the water we drink up, bathe in, wade through and swim about in;  

    *  The particular tastes of August -- ripe peaches, crisp cucumbers, green beans either fresh off the stalk or cooked, and the same for "roasting ears" of corn, and juicy, ripe tomatoes;  

      * The sounds of growing corn on moist August nights, of swimming pools in midday, of quarry operations in the distance, of tractors in the fields, and of cawing crows pleased with the sight of filling ears of corn;  

      * The smell of earth after the rain along with the recognition of all the benefits that a rain at this time of year can bring to the maturing crops;    

      * The sight of greenery all around and precious eyes with which to see and admire such sights; 

     * The means of communication whereby we are not isolated but can receive good news (and bad) almost instantaneously when generated and transmitted globally;   

      * Good neighbors who become summertime friends when weather allows us all to circulate in the neighborhood; 

     * Minds in which we can still process the vast array of data coming to us each day and memories that allow us to retain what we receive in the mind; and 

      * Mobility to the degree that we can move about here and now.  Being unable to rise, walk or run is a burden on the sufferer, a loss of freedom.  Thank God for mobility past and present.

      Prayer:  For all these wonderful August things we thank you, Lord. 






Ripening blueberries!
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

August 18, 2010      Blueberries:  Beneficial in So Many Ways 

      Each month we ought to feature one or other fruit or berry.  While the peach is a major August favorite from the American South, still a wider-ranging American candidate could be the blueberry -- that berry from tiny huckleberry varieties to large cultivated ones the size of marbles grows in many parts of our country from deeper south to farther north.  In some parts one could designate blueberries as July's or September's fruit of the month, but let's rest with August.  Whenever, the blueberry is sought by many birds bears and humans.  Blueberries' distinct blue to purple/black color is so rare; the taste is subtle and yet exquisite; the nutritional value is immense; yields are sizeable -- and there are no blackberry and raspberry thorns to contend with.  Furthermore, the blueberry is cultivated to such an extent that the cultivated varieties have features that equal or exceed their wild cousins. 

  Blueberries are inserted in literally hundreds of recipes from muffins to cobblers and pies, and from pancakes to scones. Blueberries are flavorful when fresh, after being refrigerated, and after being preserved as frozen.  Some like them fresh on breakfast cereal, in jellies and jams, in ice cream and cakes, and with cream or when mixed fresh with other fruits.  The color adds to the attractiveness of the final dish.  Picking blueberries for cooking is often desired because they keep better than strawberries and many other berries.  Also they can be enjoyed right off the bush. 

      Once while hiking on the Appalachian Trail, our party stopped for a rest, and I stretched out on the rare  grassy knoll near trailside.  I looked up and saw that I was right underneath a blueberry bush with fully ripe berries, and by simply raising my head a few inches could graze some berries right off of a branch.  No fooling -- it was not a dream.  Never again in my life was there such a pleasant experience -- all due to a mountain blueberry bush. 

      Besides being naturally tasty, the blueberry is touted as a beneficial food in perhaps more ways than any other commonly available food.  A University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center study is often cited as suggesting a reduction in belly fat occurring from a diet rich in blueberries -- thus improving one's heart condition.  Others speak of health benefits ranging from improved digestion and urinary tract health to brain food and reduction of the effects of Alzheimers and cancer by eating blueberries.  Certain blueberries are high in antioxidants, neutralize free radicals and provide a rich source of fiber.

      Many fans want to grow blueberries.  It is wise to learn which of the many available varieties grow best in your vicinity and whether your own microclimate (whether a north-faced hillside or sequestered valley or proximity to a building) is suitable for a particular variety.  Blueberries thrive in acid soil and so can grow where many other plants find it difficult.   

      Prayer:  Lord, help us discover available nutritious foods.





Delicate seeds of the white sweet clover, Melilotus albus.
(*photo credit)

August 19, 2010     Marginalization:  Jeremiah, Jesus, and FDR

      The "marginalized" are those at the periphery of a predominant culture;  they may be groups or individuals who are known but that the powers-that-be have decided to ignore.  Few enjoy being overlooked, and so effort is made to stay in the mainstream.  Note: some margins are meant to be barriers in order to prevent the wayward from influencing youth and others -- and thus marginalizing is not inherently wrong;  however it can be a dangerous practice in an open and freedom-loving society.

      Jeremiah the prophet tried with all his powers to convince a distracted and affluent people that their days as a nation were numbered.  The people were distressed with his message; he had to be overlooked for he was bothersome.  Was Jeremiah the father of the "marginalized"?  While the word is somewhat new, the phenomenon of being marginalized is certainly not.  Today, sophisticated methods are employed to bring about the marginalizing condition.  

      Jesus directly confronted the establishment, a sure candidate for marginalization.  Thus the plot was hatched to silence him because he was popular with the crowds.  We note that crowds that sang "Hosanna" on Palm Sunday yelled "Crucify him!" on the following Good Friday.  The defense mechanism of marginalizing the potentially popular is as old as political action itself in its many guises.  

     Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was president of the most powerful nation on Earth through the Great Depression (1933-45).  When he became ill at the closing of the Second World War his final State of the Union address was broadcast on radio.  The filmed portion of that message (given on the radio) where he called for a second "Bill of Rights" was suppressed from the public;  FDR called for every American to be guaranteed a job with a living wage, a decent home, medical care, protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness and unemployment, and freedom from unfair monopolies.  The film was locked away, but Michael Moore's film team unearthed it from an archive in South Carolina and concluded his "Capitalism:  A Love Story" with it.  FDR, the grandfather figure of my youth, was marginalized and his final message deliberately suppressed.   

      Depending on personality, the marginalized react differently, with surprise, anger, self-pity or a sense of resignation; almost always they find it uncomfortable to be regarded as a "nobody."  Some may passively accept their condition with humor or stoicism, and live with it; even here their firm testimony may be observed by others and they can influence these few while cut off from a main stream.  Others accept the existence of the temporary condition, but refuse to accept it as normal.  They stand at risk. 

      Prayer:  Lord teach us to know when we are marginalized, and inspire us to respond effectively to this inevitable temporary but not permanent condition.    





The red fox, Vulpes vulpes. Washington Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

August 20, 2010     Imperfect Prophets;  Unclear Prophetic Messages 

  Jesus was a prophet and Jesus acted perfectly.   Unfortunately for us, baptized and confirmed with the Holy Spirit, we are called to be prophetic and yet we are imperfect people.  We tend to forget that the prophetic message is rendered more effectively through perfect internal conduct.  Thus we may have a sound message such as the one presented first by Pope Paul VI, "We must live more simply so others may simply live."  Those words need to be pronounced from our tongue and through our daily lives;  the expression in word and in deed must be balanced and operative.   

      We often focus totally on a specific prophetic message that seems more akin to our goals at a particular time.  The message seems so clear and so straightforward.  Why cannot others see the truth as we see it?  Perhaps we need not so much to hone the message into clearer terms as to look more deeply into ourselves.  Can we be better and then be able to express our message better?  Other prophets of old discovered this need as well and sought to improve their personal lives.  Unfortunately some did not.  Thus down through history we saw imperfect and even false prophets.   Words and actions were out of balance -- and an observing public was able to detect this fact.  People speak in admiration of those who are "true to their word."  These are the folks who testify to the truth in simple ways of both word and action. 

      In this series of "Daily Reflections" we have taken a strong prophetic tone as to the need to save our wounded Earth.  We need to pause occasionally and see whether these wounds are all external to us or whether some of these are deep within us as inhabitants of our Earth.  If we ignore and fail to address these internal wounds, we are unable to spread the word with force.  History has shown that charismatic speeches are not the sole domain of the more perfect people;  false prophets can also be charismatic and can lead others astray by their words.  But the false prophet has only a short-term impact.  We need to be in it for the long haul.  

      Granted, modern prosperity Christianity speaks from tailored-suited, bejeweled speakers who tell materialist-oriented audiences that if they pray hard enough they can be like them, the materially endowed.  This perverted Christian message is contrary to what Jesus said and did.  He preached internal simplicity as well as radical sharing with others; he suffered and died because of his teachings.  Material success was never part of his message though it is often that of the false prophet. 

      Being imperfect we are tempted to remain silent, but that need not be the case.  In a humble way we are called to speak even while imperfect, and others will come to understand our ongoing efforts.  We can and must seek to perfect ourselves in an ongoing enterprise, an internal undertaking that accompanies our prophetic word.   

      Prayer:  Lord, help us see the need to speak prophetically and to live internally the goals we express to others.





A maze of flower clusters at sunset.
(*photo credit)

August 21, 2010     Interconnectedness: Salvation Is for All

    They will proclaim my glory to the nations. (Isaiah 66:20) 

     The work of salvation extends to the entire world;  it is universal in scope -- and this is Good News to all peoples, especially the poor who are often overlooked.  People are meant to be liberated from being marginalized; they need to hear that they have a role to play in a world that has in the recent past glorified charity, overlooked injustices, and tolerated an unemployed class.  To allow unemployment when people want to be productive denies them their free expression of what it takes to live a meaningful life.  A system that tolerates unemployment is really repressive, and this corrodes the democratic spirit.  This joblessness drives some to desperation and even to terrorism.  Privileged exclusivity (jobs for some and not for all) harms the participative work in which we are to jointly share.  

      At this present moment, we proclaim God's glory by being productive in word and in deed.  Yes, experts and geniuses have roles to play, and so do ordinary people, for we are all called as brothers and sisters to glorify God together.  Small groups can work together, but others left out can spoil the works.  The challenge is to bring us all together, to work together as bridge-builders and community organizers.  If there is to be privilege in this world, it ought to be the privilege of assisting others to be inclusive.  Exclusivity hurts family and community relations and leads to basic insecurity in our world.

      Inclusiveness extends to the entire chain of creation, and thus we show this by living sustainable lives and using the resources at our disposal in such a way that they can be shared with others including future generations.   When resources are wasted in unsustainable ways, we damage the entire world order.  Our interconnectedness means we are aware that we must consider resources and preserve the habitats of all creatures.  Isaiah says that Jerusalem will be restored and become a drawing card, a magnet to attract others.  Our believing community is this city; we can make it into a glorious model for future generations.   

      We have the difficult task of hearing the cry of the poor, especially those who suffer through hunger, poor health, and inadequate housing.  Others, especially primitive peoples are witnessing the quality of life deteriorating.  For centuries, the Sami of Lapland in northern Europe have been quite sustainable in the way they cared for their harsh environment.  Now they cry for justice, not charity; they suffer because of climate change and yet their threatened sustainable ways have much to teach us if we but take notice.  The Sami want connections, not external largesse, a sense that their message is received and considered seriously.  

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the sense of being connected with others and, in so being, extend our deeds to cementing the bonds that unite us as one through acting and listening.





Lemon balm with visitor.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

August 22, 2010     The Narrow Gate:  Self-Satisfaction and Smugness   

  Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those who are first who will be last.  (Luke 13:22-30)

     Our life's journeys are in for some surprises.  We hope for the best, expect elements of the worst and find living a challenge in itself.  Our best preparation as believers is to commit ourselves to humble service according to our baptismal vows to follow Christ and avoid evil.  We are to serve the needs of others and trust in God's mercy and love.  We look to the examples of others who perform humble service and through their efforts attain eternal salvation. Often we misunderstand our total commitment to Christ; we neglect the call to avoid excessive desire for and possession of material things.  These material acquisitions and unfulfilled desires distract us from service for the needy;  they  desensitize us to the needs of others and we become consumed by material distractions in our consumer culture.  We become self-satisfied to the degree that consumer goods can do that.   

      In our better moments we are drawn to focus on Christ, deny ourselves, and accept responsibility for our individual selves and neighbors, along with an expanding arena of responsibility that includes the local and total world community.  The road may seem easy, and the door wide, but it is somewhat constricted on closer examination.  The narrowness is rendered by the focus we must afford ourselves, a turning of our attention to what really matters in this troubled world -- to humble service through Christ for and with others.  The universal outlook mentioned in yesterday's reflection is expressed both in word and deed.  Service to all others with whom we come in contact is our concrete testimony to being inclusive.  We become confident in doing this through our union with Jesus expressed through love.  Our faithful community declares this in the Creed, and each individual knows this to be part of our mission.   

      We trust that God's mercy will prevail.  A note of caution: we cannot accept being "institutionalized" and thinking another individual or agency will do the hard work of helping with salvation apart from our own contribution.  We are called to take on the responsibility to be doers; we serve through encouraging others to live a simpler life and to focus on God's work.  We must set up conditions to challenge the smug folks who are mesmerized by the consumer goods all around them.  Let's shake our own and their self-confidence in material things.  If we do so, they can join us in seeing the narrow gate of attending to what really matters. 

     Prayer:  Lord give us the courage to see our work as humble service for and with others.  This takes attention to what really matters, a narrow focusing on spiritual values and a turning away from the glitter of material goods all around.  Help us to discover ways of breaking the grip that consumer products hold on our neighbors as well. 






Tireless worker ants carry eggs.
(*photo credit)

August 23, 2010     Fear:  Need We Be Fearful or Fearless? 

       All of us know times of being "afraid," of being fearful, being apprehensive, being paralyzed with fright, and being watchful and cautious.  We need to distinguish, for some fear is salutary and some is not.  Being afraid in the dark or being fearful of a grizzly bear is to be alert to possible danger;  this we must be at time.   We are also apprehensive of future results and thus are "afraid" when going to take an exam or to see a doctor.

      Fear of the Lord (December 11, 2007) is a gift of the Holy Spirit for we dread offending God in any way.  Our mission in life is awesome, and yet we are aware of weaknesses that hold us back from goals; we fear failure in what is entrusted to us.  Fear of God involves proper concern over whether gifts given are properly shared with our neighbor.  An extension of this respectful fear is our conduct to others in the human family;  that includes our courtesy and civility.  We ask ourselves whether we still respect our culture, our national symbols, our religious practice and way of treating the environment.  Does respect erode through our inaction and neglect?  We need a reserve of fear and trembling, and to incorporate them in our accountability for gifts we possess and need to use well.  Fear of God is salutary.

      Fearlessness (Matthew 10:31), on the other hand, is often preached by Jesus.  Be not afraid is the message Jesus gave his disciples on a number of occasions, especially when he had just performed mighty works of calming the sea or appearing to them after the Resurrection (see June 22, 2008).  Misplaced fear can stalk us and play tricks on us;  our fears can be real or imagined; fear can be a virtue or an illness.  As believers, we are mindful that we can overcome paralyzing fear, for God is with us.  Our life's journey is not a cold, harsh, lonely trip to an abrupt end; rather we have travel companions to a New Heaven and New Earth.  Earthhealing involves an element of trust and concern, for our planet is fragile and our efforts are often imperfect.  We trust that divine providence overshadows all actions and that grace is sufficient to heal in a meaningful manner both at the individual and the global level. 

      Fear can be generated in order to bring about change, but we learn through experience that generating certain fears is not spiritually healthy.  Fire and brimstone messages may cause hearers to move to denial, excuse or escape or lose heart.  We must take corrective measures, but a positive approach to loving service is far better than a negative one of fear of eternal loss -- though that approach has worked on some.  We do experience fear and trembling;  we must realize God's ways are supreme; however, we are called to be God's companions in quickening an unbelieving world; we must encourage those paralyzed by fear and trust in the Lord.

      Prayer:  Teach us Lord to discern the times; help us fear when we must and act fearlessly when that is needed, for there is a time for everything under heaven.








Sulphur butterfly (Pieridae) on marigold flower.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

August 24, 2010       Population Decline:  The Ill Effects  

     The majority of European nations as well as Japan are in population decline.  Portions of the former Soviet Union are in steepest decline, e.g., Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (about 0.5% annual population decline).  Other eastern European countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic states show major declines also.  The phenomenon has spread to southern and western Europe (Italy, Austria, and Spain).  A few decades ago population growth was regarded as a harbinger of disaster, but now articles of population decline or "crash" bring on the fear mongers;  these call a fresh look at Europe and the Asian rim.

     Hoyerswerda, a town in east German Saxony, is featured in an article in The Guardian Weekly (February 19, 2010) p.25.  Within the last two decades this town has lost half of its population with heavy losses among young folks, mainly women.  This is not an isolated case for other small German towns and rural communities have also witnessed massive losses as internal continental migration continues.  Demographers point out that this goes beyond mere movement of populations from place to place.  In 1988,  216,000 children were born in East Germany; in 1994, 88,000 were born there, and numbers have not increased.  In that area over a million homes are being demolished.  In addition, most of Europe is running below population replacement levels and stability or slight increases in relatively more prosperous countries has occurred through immigration from Africa, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere. 

      Some paint a bleak future of inner towns and cities filled with empty buildings and crumbling infrastructure.  Depopulation brings on a condition of depression among the remaining people.  Other disadvantages of declining birth rates are obvious.  When the elderly increase in proportion to total population, this leads inevitably to skewing resources away from child educational concerns to those of health care and senior upkeep.  All the while, the pool of able workers dwindles and any substitution through immigration is frowned upon by more and more inhabitants.  Gradually, costly social networks come under fire (as has occurred earlier this year in Greece) and cutbacks in benefits are demanded for financial stability.  A vicious circle occurs with fewer women of an age to bear children -- and decline becomes more severe. 

      To date, North America has been spared from depopulation in part due to high immigration rates and high birth rates among recent immigrants, as well as certain minorities within our borders.  However, a slowing in births has the same effects as pointed out for Europe.  Ultimately population decline below reproduction levels is regarded as a threat to the culture of the place and leads to radical reaction, e.g., Switzerland's national ban on building minarets and France's and Belgium's laws against wearing the burqa.  Population growth is better than decline. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to be a balanced people, to see the family and community needs, and to encourage their growth.








Soft morning light falls upon a family farm.  Mercer Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

August 25, 2010       A Poem:  Deep Service  

          Nine ninety-nine and still more kind

             of serving folks;  some mean, some don't mind:

          Service stations, public relations,

            church, military, United Nations;

          Health, finance, guidance, tax preparers,             

            grief bearers, auto repairers, travel carriers;

          Some measured by punch clocks that dispense

            incomes spelled in bucks and cents.


          The Master of service came for others,

           Obedient to Father, gathered sisters, brothers,

          Toiling, praying, snatching sleep,

            Harvests to reap; promises to keep,     

         Took no wife, worked wonders, cured the ill,

            and on that Friday on a windswept hill

            gave up his life for sister, brother,

           and gave his mother to the care of another. 

          In a vernal call we vowed to serve,

             Never to swerve, reserve, lose nerve.            

          In the flush of youth it worked a while,

             wonders, yes and self-made style.        

          Now autumn's mist brings unrequited deed,

             Few wonders, not success, not fully freed,

          Loving fidelity alone, it's all we own,

             God speed, intone!  God Speed! 


A flower as a canvas of vivid colors of nature.
(*photo credit)

August 26, 2010       Capitalism:  State, Corporate or Neither? 

      The world knows little else today since the demise of many of the communist regimes around 1990 (USSR and its satellites and sponsored states in Africa and elsewhere).  During the last two decades unfettered capitalism under a variety of forms has dominated this world.  Ought this to go unchallenged when the gap between the rich and poor widens with each year?  Furthermore, certain nations struggle to keep social networks in place, and the unfortunate people in absolute poverty (hunger and inadequate housing) are actually increasing in number.  Adding to current environmental problems is the rising middle class emerging from poverty in Asia and elsewhere.  These people have such an enormous appetite for material goods that this herd of consumers can wreak havoc on limited available world resources and worsen resulting pollution issues.  To date, governmental restrictions have not slowed the march toward profound climate change.  Furthermore, misplaced faith in the "free market" is cutting off discussion of meaningful alternatives to current capitalistic systems.  

      China is becoming the economic success story of the twenty-first century, and its rise has been a short-term combination of state-run communist bureaucracy wed to an acceptance of market economics (though not totally free).   Politics and economics are not on the same track in China, for the government imprisons those who show opposition to their form of government or are overly critical of governmental misdeeds.  Chinese economics thrives while the social system is highly deficient.  Will an undercurrent of discontent topple a repressive state regime? 

      Corporate capitalism is just as dangerous (and maybe as threatened) as the state variety.  In part, this is because the private nature of this form of capitalism is more favored and yet the risks taken by corporations are insured by a compliant governmental system.  Concentrated wealth yields to power, and that to access to governments, and that to influence over governments.  Large corporations can overwhelm many nation states.  Such corporations are often directed by officers who wield power by diverting wealth to electing selected people and thus are able to gain control over legislators, legislative groups and resulting legislation.  Democracy can be and is being eroded by the exercise of corporate power -- and tea party folks overlook this corporate influence forgetting that the owner of the Boston tea was the multinational East India Company.  The story of private "capitalism" in cahoots with the state is often overlooked.   

      Contrasting state and corporate capitalism does not mean these are the only options.  Today, our Christian hope requires us to look beyond, for our civilization and the health of our planet are at stake.  Such elements as a strong regulatory government, fair taxes and democratic participation by all citizens are necessary.  Can an alternative system with these elements be established? 

      Prayer:  Lord, give our people hope for something better.






Reflections in a late summer birdbath.
(*photo credit)

August 27, 2010       St. Monica:  A Saint for Our Times 

      A good Christian wife and mother at the time of the crumbling Roman Empire can be a fitting model for this age, even when history attempts to, but never quite repeats itself.  Today we celebrate the life of St. Monica (332 to 387 AD); we are best acquainted with her through her son, St. Augustine in his Confessions (Book IX).  Monica is a person with many attributes:  prayerfulness and trust;  patience and endurance; single-minded acceptance of the state of affairs; and absolute confidence that, with God's help, people can be converted from wayward lives. 

      Monica was a North African and most likely born near Tagaste in what is now Tunisia.  Patricius, her Roman husband was violent tempered, a hard drinker, and unfaithful.  However, Monica's patience and prayer prevailed, and he was baptized shortly before his death.  Likewise, Monica was patient with her mother-in-law and won her over;  she gave great attention to her three sons, especially the wayward Augustine.  Monica learned of his move to Milan along with his partner and their son, and so she followed him.  Monica befriended the bishop, Ambrose, who took up the task of confronting Augustine and being instrumental in his profound conversion.  All through this period of uncertainty Monica practiced patience and poured forth her prayers to God.  A kind cleric encouraged her saying, "It is not possible that the son of so many tears could perish."  Monica saw Augustine baptized in 387 and died during the party's return trip to Africa.  She was buried at Ostia near Rome.   

      Monica had qualities we need desperately today:

      * Praying for wayward loved ones -- The mother of the great doctor of the Church (he was to live another 43 years of service after her death) was humble through it all.  Her life was one of never losing hope that her own relatives would be converted, and thus she gave her physical life for their spiritual ones;   

      * Persevering in prayer and fasting -- Today, the call is for many mothers and other close relatives to pray for the return of people to the graces of God.  During these troubled times, may each of us find in Monica the same fortitude and strength to persevere in begging for divine grace for those who are on wayward paths; 

      * Using creative means to call attention -- Monica left no stone unturned and begged for the assistance of influential people to assist her son in his moral and faith struggles; and 

      * Seeing potential in the loved one --  Monica could intuit that her son would be a powerful writer and defender of the faith, and so she threw herself wholeheartedly into his conversion.   

      Prayer:   May those who pray for backsliders find solace in St. Monica's life.  Through her intercession may the many who are wandering be brought to the service of God, the human family, and our wounded Earth.







An August scene: butterfly on ironweed plant.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

August 28, 2010      The Corporate Person:  A Form of Idolatry 

      On this feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, it is most fitting to highlight the terrible toll taken by our U.S. Supreme Court in its 5-4 Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission.   Here corporations considered "persons" now have a First Amendment right to free speech.  These creatures of the state can now influence legislation by spending unlimited money on elections.  Goodbye democracy.  The shame is that the five majority were Catholic justices.  Didn't they understand the Christian and sacred concept of the human person, a creature made to God's image and likeness?  

      The tendency to idolatry is not something out of fashion, for all people tend to idolize objects and some institutions of their own crafting.   They tend to give attributes to corporations that belong to human beings, that is, to persons created to God's image and endowed with powers of free will.  These human persons have inalienable rights as spelled out in our Constitution as well as duties and responsibilities to protect and enhance the common good. 

     In contrast, the "corporation" is a creature of the state, a legal entity that is a humanly-conceived tool to enhance industry and commerce for the common good.  Over time these state creatures have been granted human characteristics, namely the right to property and the protection of the first amendment as though they were human persons.  Democracy is forfeited when power stemming from unrestrained corporate wealth is used to influence elections, and the elected are subject to the influence of the purchaser.  What was endowed as a tool becomes an idol, and elected citizens now become subservient to the corporation;  they practice idolatry as though it were patriotism.  

      Capitalistic "theologians" scramble to find adequate Scriptural quotes and historic thinkers from whom to justify this perversion.  Through confusion, the U.S. Supreme Court regards created human instruments (corporations) as endowed with divine-given attributes solely reserved to the human family.  Powerful corporations are puppets of their directors who receive influence that overwhelms the citizenry by influencing the legislation through power, access and influence.  Idolatry comes when this accrued power is attributed to itself (the giving of a human artifact as something that is God-given).  The sacred God-like character of free, rational human beings is bestowed on a lifeless tool of the state, an irrational corporation that can be guided by directors to paths of self-interest devoid of responsibility or duty.  Idolatry follows from the perversion of a divine bestowal and when made operative this becomes an abomination.   

      To attempt to do something about this condition see <www.DontGetRolled.org> and read Public Citizen News, March/April, 2010 for ways to promote a new constitutional amendment.  

      Prayer: Lord, help us expose the inanimate corporate "person" for what it is, and to encourage others to do the same.








The tiny, but remarkable beetle.
(*photo credit)

August 29, 2010     Humility:  Ways to Become Exalted 

      Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.  (Luke 14:1, 7-14) 

      "If you do not toot your own horn, no one else will do it for you."  Self-promotion is an American trait and thus foreigners trained in this country who seek to enter our labor market tell how difficult it is;  they say that self-promotion goes against their own cultures.  It is our curriculum vitae-oriented society that seeks to promote us and where we studied, degrees obtained and accomplishments achieved.  It is such a part of our life that we hardly think of it -- and yet the story in today's Gospel makes us pause for a moment,  At times, St. Paul lists his hardships as though they are accomplishments when in union with the Lord. 

      There are times to flaunt credentials and times to be silent.  Let's say you attend an event hoping to be recognized for some work performed selflessly;  instead you are totally ignored and someone else doing what you regard as of far less importance is given public recognition.  Only you and no one else (unless they judge from your body expressions) will know that you are humbled by being there, and made to applaud the achievements of the other.  Someone who knows better may even come and rub salt in the wound by saying that you were overlooked.  Unfulfilled expectations are humbling.  When we take such events with grace and humor we are exalted while humbled and are the better for it. 

      We can humble ourselves in sincere ways and yet do it without fanfare.  One way is giving credit to others when some could have gone to ourselves.  Through our good graces, partnerships may flourish and others receive a portion of credit, if not more than they deserve.  Another humbling opportunity comes when we encourage those who are bashful and retiring, especially when others overlook them.  During public events we make an effort to promote and broadcast the importance of humble activities that are so often overlooked.  We give thanks to the Lord and credit where credit is due, even at those rare times when people give us credit for successful happenings.   

      Sometimes humility is accepting the passivities of life such as limited talents or suffering from disease or infirmity.  When we do this in good grace, we show ourselves to be humble servants of the Lord.  In acknowledging our weaknesses, we still seek to spread Good News even when subject to possible ridicule.  When we speak the truth, we may risk being shown our own imperfections.  We accept the limits to our work here on Earth and simply say it is the best we can do.  We acknowledge that the more talented and spiritually-attuned can and do perform jobs better that we can.   

      Prayer:  Lord, show us many new ways to express humility, for you have called us to great things (much in the pattern of Mary's Magnificat).  We do not deserve this calling but accept it;  forgive our imperfections so we can respond with enthusiasm.








Droplets of water on greens.
(*photo credit)

August 30, 2010      Watering:  Slaking Thirsty Garden Plants 

     My garden watering is now done principally utilizing an installed barrel to hold rainwater;  that is far superior to using chlorinated and expensive municipal water.  Dry periods come often this time of year, and good quality water even in smaller quantities is far superior to chlorinated water.  Should you hear voices from plants saying, "Water me," weigh this carefully, for most plants just look thirsty in their silence.  If water is plentiful, give thirsty plants an ample dose.  If water is scarce, follow the helpful suggestions made last summer (July 15, 2009) namely:  use domestic water preferably non-treated water;  use waste water (dilute urine can be put on for autumn delicate leafy plants);  water in late evenings or early mornings; soak seeds before planting; use row instead of surface cropping in dry times;  direct water to the plant base and not over foliage; water every other day rather than daily;  practice garden "triage" on the plants. 

      A more refined set of suggestions is meant for those who have a traditional rain barrel, and who will divide the fifty-five gallons over a possible dry period.  Beyond that, other sources will be needed for the small urban garden of 400-square feet (my garden's size).  Assume seven watering sessions of eight gallons every other day for two weeks, hoping for showers at times.  The order of watering might include no spraying or foliage wetting.  Applications depends on the amount of water available:   

     First level watering includes new seedlings and early plants (keep covered with Reemay in order to reduce moisture evaporation).  Water such crops as close to plant base as possible and attend to spinach, endive, kale, mustard, Swiss chard and collards.  If weather is dry, avoid leaf lettuce altogether.   

      Second level watering (if ration is sufficient) includes those needing the most watering such as cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, peppers, celery, many herbs and legumes (again at the base only).  Often tomatoes need to be picked early due to watering demands.  Some gardeners will insert a tube into the ground next to tomato plants and insert water without moistening the soil surface.   

      Third level watering is the root crops such as beets, onions, garlic, parsnips, and carrots, matured crops such as sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes, and drought-tolerant okra, mint and peanuts.

      A question arises about most herbs and flowers.  Follow your own instincts but try to water younger and transplanted herbs first and then the rest.  Take some plants you expect to grow during winter into the building early, because this avoids drying out further during an autumn drought. 

      Prayer:  Lord, remind us as we water plants that your graces are distributed generously to us all.  Help us to be resource conservative people.








Fresh eggs on unripened mulberry fruit.
(*photo credit)

August 31, 2010    Finished Program:  Time to Move On  

      But life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish my race I have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me -- and that was to bear witness to the Good News of God's grace.  (Acts 20:24) 

      Perhaps, like St, Paul, we find definitive times in life when a particular phase of our journey is ending -- and we would prefer to see what has passed as a completed achievement.  With summer's end those who had a graduation in the spring are now ready to start a new aspect of life;  thus the old is now fully finished and a new career or aspect of life is starting.  It may be taking on a new job, or having a child. or losing a resident to college life, or accepting so-called retirement.  It may be a dying person preparing for the transformation to eternal life.  "One must pass the baton."  For some, life is more race than mere journey.

However, finishing something need not be melancholy or full of remorse;  in fact, let it be filled with the adulation of the "last hurrah" and the feeling that what took so much effort has become a definitive step forward.  In this more positive approach one refuses to walk backward in history, or to be filled with regrets.  Life is not ended but is transformed, and fuller life lies ahead.  Time to move on is a time containing hidden possibilities.  Yes, past security must give way through hope to better times. 

      We seek to heal our wounded Earth.  Coming to see the effects of human misdeeds is an initial learning period, but that has its limitations.  Knowing is not correcting.  We face reality and the challenges that are formidable; but we can finish the next stage, if we have confidence that better things are possible through our efforts and God's grace.  Renewal can bring improvements.  Even death itself need not be a loss.  In a Christian sense, a better world awaits those of us who freely prepare for it.  Old economic, political and social structures had a place, but let's accept that they are outmoded and something new is needed.    

      The past must be remembered and respected, for it has much to teach.  A fruitful past is one that expresses the need to undergo a metamorphosis, a shedding of old ways and a taking on the new. Accept the fact that we have outlived this old structure and are preparing for the new one where democracy will be enhanced, prosperity will be distributed to all, and the poor will have  influence.  God is at work in the world through our efforts.  Moving on is really an expression of that hope in concrete ways.  Despair about the future will paralyze as much as an antiquarianism seeking to remain in the past will stifle creative ideas.  Hope for a better future energizes us, allows us to see new opportunities and gives us the possibilities to incorporate the best of the past, thus conserving it and allowing it to color the new creation. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to complete things and to start new ones; also allow us to see that the new can be an improvement and that it is urgently needed. 

Copyright © 2010 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved.

Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Janet Powell, Developer
Mary Davis, Editor

Excerpts from the JERUSALEM BIBLE, copyright © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday & Company, Inc.  Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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