A quiet late autumn evening
1, 2008 Ten Ways to Get Ready for Winter
folks find winter so troublesome that many flee south on I-75 and
I-95 like the Canadians and the geese. Those wise northern dwellers
know that warm seasons are best spent in cooler climes, and winter
in warmer ones. In fact, the fuel to go from one place to the other
and back is less than that required by summer-cooling in Florida or
winter-warming in Ontario. The great majority of us do not want to
tip North America into the Caribbean, and so we stay put in our
homes. Can we make winter life easier? Here are a few ways:
Insulate the hidden places that were forgotten last year, for
example, the cracks under doors or the outlets for electricity.
warmer clothes, maybe some of the newer fabrics, which wick well and
keep the body dry. A purchase at a yard sale or a used clothes
place may help enhance the winter wardrobe also.
Exercise outdoors daily when possible. It is a mistake to stay
cooped up indoors, and expect that the weather will not affect us on
infrequent ventures outside. Get out except when it sleets.
4. In case
the power goes off, store at least two weeks supply of food that
needs no or minimal heating or cooking.
Automobiles should be well maintained with proper oil, tire treads,
clean air and gas filters. Ensure there are a flashlight, sleeping
bag, and other emergency materials.
home and do less travel. If you must make a journey, learn the
highway conditions, listen to or watch the weather reports, and stay
on top of the current weather maps.
7. Now is
the perfect time to peruse reading matter that has been saved up
through the more active months.
feeding is a rare winter pleasure that is good for those who stay
through the colder seasons. Feeding wildlife may make them
dependent on us but, with respect to birds, we have already so
damaged their habitats that feeding is only partial compensation.
Auxiliary utilities need to be checked -- wood stove fuel, stored
extra supplies of water, and solar units for lighting.
removal equipment is an area of special attention -- shovels, boots,
scrapers, sand, and deicing agents (use salt sparingly, for it harms
vegetation). Be on guard against excessive physical exercise when
deicing or removing snow.
Prayer: Lord, make
us aware of the winter season and the ways we can adjust to it while
retaining our own prayerful equanimity. Keep us watchful during this
The changing autumn
2, 2008 Remembering National Events
us remember 9-11 (2001) or the day Kennedy was assassinated,
November 22, 1963. A thinning group of us remember that this coming
Sunday will be the sixty-seventh anniversary of the attack that
initiated our American entry into the Second World War and the song:
"Remember Pearl Harbor." As an eight-year-old I stood on the church
steps on December 8th, 1941, and discussed with my classmates
whether the Germans would bomb New York or points closer. The war
was to become part of our lives for four years, even when actual
warfare was far away in Europe and the Pacific.
national tragedies make indelible marks on our minds and yet time
softens, embellishes, and intermixes these events with somewhat
related ones. Many of us like to hold these events sacred; we show
our mental control by recalling them to others as though we have a
unique possession. We seem to think that to forget the past
condemns us to returning to similar conditions and repeating past
mistakes. But slippage occurs and we can have slippage of
collective as well as individual memory. We sympathize with those
who endured the Holocaust of the Second World War, and who now are
confronted with writers who say it did not exist. Those who endured
such ordeals often fear that future generations will not learn from
the painful lessons of the past. Yes, memory is fragile and the one
remembering risks being considered old-fashioned and out of touch
with modern reality. Are we afraid that our history will become
cobwebbed space that others prefer to overlook and scoff?
may affirm that memories are somewhat sacred and need preserving in
oral tradition, written records or oral and videotapes, still some
memories are painful; people regard it as mentally healthy to omit
or avoid them. However, national memories ought to be preserved for
they often tell us much about ourselves and our emerging culture.
Some of these are what we are proud of and some are so very
painful. No one finds delightful that struggle associated with the
slavery in our early republic. However, in such a recall we find the
roots of racial discrimination. What does "property" mean? How do
we treat laborers who ought to own the fruits of their labor? Why
do citizens defend and perpetuate certain economic conditions?
say about our nation could also be said about our families. The
pain of the past is part of our being who we are. Family events are
well worth remembering, and December is a perfect time to celebrate
sacred memory. Encouraging the next generation to respect and
revere the past is a challenge whether that is our collective or
family heritage. Such awareness generates a healthy respect for our
past, and respect is needed for healing our wounded Earth as well.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to remember the great events of our lives and to pass
these on to the next generation just as we are
remember our sacred traditions.
A Kentucky streambed in evening
3, 2008 Our God Within
function as balanced human beings we look at the functioning of our
hands, head and heart. The three "h's" form a harmony
when working together and being of use for service to others. It is
easy to recognize hand service: such workers push brooms and pick
up garbage; they build and repair, restore and preserve. However
hands are not headless or heartless, but are most important for
human activity for most other animals do not have similar
dexterity. The hands symbolize the creator in all of us -- though
some people with great effort, can even create without hands. The
head person within us directs the movement of service, organizes the
hands to proper action, and formulates a word of encouragement to
others; the head is involved in reflection on the works of the
hands and articulates the final handiwork to be of service. The
heart takes it all in, and with the work of hands and the reflection
of the head, it gives a sense of belonging and love to the services
favor the use of mind and the glory of mental exercises would
contest the sequence of hands, head and heart, and say the head
comes first. Head work comes before all action; without a good
head one could not think and speak a word to the world -- but, in
reality, head and hands work in unison and give a human aspect to
our work. Others would say the heart is first, and in some way they
are right; no one works without an element of love (whether of self
or others) involved. But in the harmony of service that we perform,
it is the heart that is touched by going out to others and planning
to say good things to them. We find that words cannot express it
all, and so must muster up the resources of the heart to truly
respond. However, arguments about which come first are basically
pointless. Quibbling only distracts us from the desired harmony in
our work in which hands, head and heart act together.
thinkers (St. Thomas and St. Augustine) argued from stances which
showed the Trinity at work in the process of learning by the human
being. In some way, this basic insight taken from Faith seeking
understanding is what is done here but with a difference. Here one
argues from an activist agenda, a position of political and
technological activism, of public participation and interaction with
other citizens, of humans' and other creatures' (plants and animals)
needs in the environmental spheres and the work we have done to
produce crafts, arts, and technological innovation. From the record
of activists one discovers the interface of Earth and heaven, of
God's image within us and our response in humble action. It is our
participation in the Trinity in action from within the harmony of
our bodily functions.
Prayer: Lord, show me that my very integrity depends on the
harmony I create, I restore, and I promote to the rest of the
world. My harmonious activity shows your presence within and that
You are the true source of my enthusiasm. Keep me enthusiastic
both for my
well being and so that I can be a model to others.
A night drive through Crab Orchard, KY
4, 2008 Automobile Accidents
say the accident will never happen to you. We travel too much and
we can get distracted, or at least the distracted cell-phone user in
the next vehicle can cause the unexpected to happen. Right now
ensure that you have a flashlight, flares and up-to-date insurance
papers in the car that you are driving. In case of that accident
remember the following:
calm. Determine if anyone has been injured and requires immediate
medical attention. If needed, call the emergency number for an
ambulance and call the police.
the possibility of further damage or injuries. Turn on the hazard
lights and, if possible, move everyone away from traffic lanes.
However, don't move seriously injured persons
cars, if operational, out of the traffic flow after marking the road
to show the cars' original position. Route traffic around unmoved
vehicles. Use flares or have someone signal with a flashlight or
Exchange basic information with anyone else involved in the
accident, namely, name, address, phone, registration numbers and
license plate numbers, as well as name and address of insurance
companies or agents.
* Try to
get names and phone numbers of witnesses for later insurance
discussing the accident particulars, or admitting fault or answering
questions about what happened. Save that for the police and
awaiting the police, assist the injured and then take down accident
notes about weather and road conditions, and anything out of the
ordinary about other cars and drivers. Include street names, mile
marker readings, traffic signals and directions of the cars
the police arrive, cooperate fully. Try to obtain a copy of the
official accident report or the file or item number for your
soon as possible, contact and report the accident to your insurance
company. The agent will give instructions on filing a claim. If
you later receive calls or letters from others in the accident,
forward them to your agent. Also keep the agent informed of any new
developments, added damage to your car, or new medical expenses
related to the accident.
it all, stay calm and patient. Accidents happen.
Prayer: Lord, protect us on our busy road of life.
A transplanted native bamboo plant takes
root and grows upward
5, 2008 Hobbies, Crafts and Arts
year near the feast of St. Nicholas (tomorrow) we are reminded that
craft products made by the giver are ideal Christmas gifts.
However, there are still more reasons to engage in a hobby, craft,
or art. Productive leisure occupations should spring from the
deeper reaches of the psyche and our creative urges. In his
retirement years my father carved extensively, everything from
statues to bookends. However, those who go beyond hobbies and
practice crafting for a living as professionals have a more serious
commitment and harbor immense pride and enjoyment in their work.
regarded both writing and gardening as fitting into these
crafting/arts categories. These two practices yield produce that
can be seen and shared with others, and something that both the
producer and the receiver can enjoy. All who are artists and
crafters anticipate making certain products that will be available
in some public manner. They take pride in expressing the fruits of
their skill or expertise quite well. They may devote considerable
extra time and resources to advertising or widely publicizing their
products, or they may feel satisfied to share them with a few choice
relatives and friends. Artistic expression gives satisfaction
whether it is sophisticated or primitive in character.
whim or instant impulse some people launch into a hobby or crafting
venture and do not persist. They soon discover that it takes time
and patience to make something presentable. They find out that the
craft selection ought to be undertaken after deliberate
consideration and not impulsively. A friend and well recognized
professional artist, John Freda, started as an expatriate in Italy
with very simple art materials because he could not afford expensive
ones. He advises that, if you are creative, make a small investment
in basic materials and produce something with all your heart. If
you are moved to continue, then invest more. Excelling may require
artistic courses and books on the subject but, more so, it requires
selecting a hobby or craft that makes use of locally available
material whether products from native trees, local pottery clay, or
wool from one's sheep; consider using professional resources close
at hand -- including the expertise of those who will assist in
launching the practice. For making pine cone wreaths, one needs
such products as heavy cardboard, adhesive, shellac, tools (shears,
pruners, pliers), heavy string, evergreen boughs, magnolia leaves,
osage oranges, cones, nuts, milk weed pods, fox grape or kudzu
vines, or seed heads such as okra or thistle or other local
materials. As a budding crafter you may produce some ornaments this
year and more skillful ones for next year. Think about ways to
improve and be willing to ask advice from someone more advanced in
the craft or art. Take courage, for with time and effort you can
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to be creative in new ways or to
efforts in existing arts, hobbies and crafts.
Home-made notebooks, gifts made with love for
family and friends by Katie Kalisz
The "worst Christmas ever" happened in our family nearly thirty years
ago when my five children and I were preparing for Christmas
without a father. They anticipated a Christmas not too different
from their other Christmases, but for a single parent, a lot of
additional responsibilities had been dumped on my head. Always the
"Supermom," I rose to the occasion as best I could.
It wasn't enough, I discovered, as I observed the Christmas morning
disappointment on my children's faces as gift after gift failed to
impress or warm the hearts of even the seven year olds. The brave
"Supermom" fell apart and broke into tears of disappointment and
exhaustion -- something the children had never witnessed. Their
shock and concern over the scene was obvious, and they understood
that even though it was Christmas morning, we had to talk.
The children learned that even "Supermom" couldn't do it all, and they
had to take more responsibility and help out more. "Supermom"
learned to let go, delegate more, and focus more on the meaning of
the event. As the Grinch paraphrased, "Maybe Christmas doesn't come
from a store. Maybe it means just a little bit more." That was the
day we decided that Christmas needed to be about love and not about
presents. We made a plan and decided that beginning immediately,
Christmas would be about giving of ourselves, of helping, and of
love. Starting at dinner, they all pitched in to lessen the load on
Mom-no-longer-Super! Together we laughed and talked and sang as we
prepared dinner, and had a wonderful rest of the day.
Their plan: from now on, Christmas gifts had to be made by each giver,
gifts of time, talent and love. They also had to be wrapped without
traditional wrapping paper: comics, fabric, brown grocery bags,
wallpaper, etc. The next year we started with the nativity set on
display in early December. Everyone started early, making gifts for
each family member. A gift of one twin was a doll dressed exactly
like her twin sister. Another was a cake in the shape of a car for
an older brother. And so it went. There were projects with glue
and fabric and poetry and music and flour and sugar, but each person
made something for each family member with so much love that it
spilled out all year. Their creativity overflowed to include
wonderful wrappings. On Christmas Eve we read together the book,
"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" before Mass, ending with knowledge
that we had the Best Christmas Ever.
Now nearly 30 years later, the custom continues and has evolved. The
family has grown to include spouses and many grandchildren, but we
have our celebration mostly intact. Our nativity set is the center
of the celebration. Gifts to each other are often performances and
gifts of other talents: music, art, poetry, websites, dance, puppet
shows, carpentry, memory books, etc. But each person gives TIME,
TALENT and LOVE....
Phyllis Fitzgerald, Newsletter from the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center,
Louisville, KY November, 2008.
Coralberry, a winter
treat for many species of birds
Preparing the Way
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
We are preparing the way when we search our interior disposition and
when we seek to bring balance and order to a fearful disturbed
world. We may have relatives overseas in harms way; we
know there is no easy solution to conflicts; we experience
financial conflicts and know of folks who find it hard this winter
to pay for heating bills. We hear a second refrain: make
straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! (Isaiah 40:3).
Our world of conflict has become a wasteland, and by working
with the Lord we can make a difference; we can straighten
crooked ways through bringing about justice for all.
John the Baptist unexpectedly
appears in the desert or the wasteland to preach reform, which is
needed in preparation for the advent of the Messiah. John is
dressed in camel's hair and eats wild honey and grasshoppers, goes
into a wild area, which could hardly support anyone. John
speaks plainly and his intention is to get people ready for the
coming of Christ. He harkens back to Elijah the prophet, a
simple person with a mission and with evangelistic fervor. And
John's simplicity is soon observed.
Through our baptism we are called to bring the Good News to others.
Scripture says that the true prophet is one who:
* is anointed by God for renewal of a people;
* is chosen from the ranks of ordinary people;
* lives simply in contrast to neighbors;
* witnesses often alone according to a unique personality;
* is willing to perform a public act;
* seeks to elicit a profound renewal from the audience;
* encounters difficulties in being heard; and
* accepts the fact that he or she is not being entirely successful.
Saint Peter (2 Peter 3:8-14) tells us to be patient and to be people
who await new heavens and a new earth; we are to do more than
be just mere spectators; we are to hasten the coming of the
day of God. Thus we enter as participants in bringing about
the end of the times; like John we are to prepare the way of
the Lord. We have an urgent mission, saving our threatened
Earth and the inhabitants who dwell thereon. We do this by
exposing the negative activities that harm our world and by
affirming those activities that bring about better conservation,
renewable resources, a just world system. As a prophetic
people we affirm that religion is not a private matter but rather a
public social enterprise involving our whole being. Through
collective encouragement we are to do our part in healing our
Prayer: Lord, if we desire peace we must help establish justice
through prophetic witnessing. Help us to enter into the
process of saving our fragile and wounded world.
snowy day near Cave Run Lake, KY
8, 2008 Eve and Mary: Choices
He went in and said to her, "Rejoice, so highly favored!
is with you."
The drama of salvation included two women who appear prominently in
our Sacred Tradition and Scriptures -- and both act freely according
to our human ability to make choices. Eve, the mother of the
living, and Mary, the bearer of God, make monumental choices.
One says "no" to God and the other "yes."
Today we celebrate the gift of God to Mary ---- a gift that makes
the first moment of life so precious to us as Christians -- and even
more so for Mary. On Friday we celebrate another Marian
feast especially related to our Western Hemisphere, Our Lady of
Guadalupe. Juan Diego, the poor Mexican who, in 1531 received
the apparition of Mary, was the simple agent who was to pass on a
message to the entire Church. Mary acts as agent just as in
her motherhood she does something many of us are unable to do and
that is physically bear the savior. However, all of us through
baptism share some things with Mary: we are immaculately
conceived into the Church itself; we can bring Christ to others.
St. Paul tell us that from the beginning we were all conceived in
God's plan and we are people who can freely choose. God's gift
is freely given and invites us to acknowledge the gift of choice in
constant gratitude. The drama of the Eden event is retold
today with the garden of abundance, a tree of good and evil, and
still our first parents say a definitive "no" to God's intentions
for us. We inherit that tendency to say no on many occasions.
Mary is conceived immaculately pure and has God's full favor from
the beginning of time. Her soul is transparent, something a
person can look into and find the crystal of God's light shining
out. We honor Mary for her gifts freely given and freely
received. We strive in our spiritual journey to see that our
souls need the transparency to allow God to be seen within us.
Mary as a young maiden has a unique moment in history to be
instrumental in the coming of the Messiah. God gives her a
special favor and she freely responds with a "yes" in contrast to
the definitive "no" of our first parents. Mary is free,
responds freely but is not trouble free. She is destined to be
the mother of sorrows, for a sword is to pierce her heart. She
allows her son to follow his calling, for he leaves home, opens his
life of mission, and endures suffering and death. And Mary
stands beneath Calvary's cross.
Through baptism we are called to reflect upon God's gift and to
imitate the purity of Mary. Just as Mary makes haste to assist
her cousin Elizabeth, so we rediscover how to say "yes" to God in
our own lives here and now. Just as Mary was totally open and
committed through her "yes", so we seek to say "yes" in our lives.
Prayer: Teach us Lord, to know the momentous gift of choice
and help strengthen our will to
Snapshots along the roadway,
Franklin Co., KY
9, 2008 Some Hard Questions in Hard Times
As we move through the holiday season and many of our citizens find
it difficult to change their buying habits as Christmas comes
closer, we ought to ask some hard questions about the economic
situation in which we find our nation and world is in:
1. Why is it that such an unregulated economic system allows the
most lucrative players to have their profits guaranteed and
privatized and their risks socialized? Why must the lower
economic classes accept these risks through federal handouts?
If risks are socialized, should not the profits be as well?
Are not the commons such that the benefits should be equally given
to all, not just to the privileged few?
2. Has the lack of regulation been due to the power of the
established wealthy to dictate to legislators laws that work to
their own advantage? Will such a continuation of privileged
practices erode the democracy that we all defend?
3. Is it right that CEOs of the financial systems (and others as
well) take any amount of salary that their greed dictates and the
corporate system in which they operate allows? Or are there
limits to salaries of the privileged few when people hurt so much
for lack of essentials in the world in which we live?
4. Aren't the world's resources including financial resources part
of a commons that belongs to all and especially the most vulnerable?
Under what law of nature or of an interpreted "divine right of the
moneyed" should this unjust system of inequality continue to exist
-- and ought we oppose it as God-fearing people?
5. Is there not a better economic system where gambling with the
life savings of people is not part of the legal game? The
question was seriously asked in a Time (October 13, 2008)
article about the $700 billion autumn American bailout package --
"What is the difference between Wall Street and a casino?"
Time's answer is that on Wall Street the dealers get paid a lot more
and are allowed to bet alongside of the customers. Isn't it
time to stop this gambling with the wealth of our nation as well as
6. Is it right to give money as handouts to citizens in order
to stimulate the economy when what is handed out is simply an added
indebtedness for a future generation of people? Should an
unthinking expenditure of future funds give the wrong message that
it is okay to borrow and borrow beyond the means and time when the
borrower will be alive to bear the repayment responsibility?
7. Is this American and perhaps global capitalistic system not
a perfect example of the "Emperor with no clothes? Where will
this end? Utter bankruptcy?
Prayer: Lord teach us to be honest with what we have and not
to use what should belong to
Enjoying the beauty of dim afternoon sun
on a winter's day walk
10, 2008 Winter Nature
Winter in temperate zones can be problematic, if one wishes to hike
in summer clothes. However, winter hiking with a few extra
layers and comfortable shoes can be fun. Once engaged, we are
generally happy we made the decision. Winter has no worrisome
insects; the air is crisp; the sights are more visible; the terrain
is easier to traverse; those fearful of snakes are relieved.
Exercise and nature learning. Nature walks have advantages
during any one season -- and that includes winter. One gets a
chance for excellent exercise, which is not too hard on the body.
The chance to get some full-spectrum sunlight plus fresh air is
always good and affords us some Vitamin D as well. We are able
to break out of ourselves, and to see a little of the rest of the
world. Each nature walk is the time to activate our senses.
We become more alert to smells, sights, tastes, sounds, and feelings
in being closer to nature. Winter is when we observe
topography and especially rock formations in greater detail; the
shapes of trees along with quality of bark and trunk and
relationship to neighboring trees are more evident without foliage;
the sounds carry more distinctly whether of scampering varmints or
the cawing of crows or the honking of geese. Winter's running
streams give a particularly enchanting sound.
Some like to think ahead before the walk, and maybe winter is a
perfect time for doing so. In the proper season, nature-lovers
may find it worthwhile to carry books on trees, birds, insects,
mammals, rocks, or flowers and mushrooms. Without
overburdening ourselves, let's take what is most needed, whether an
extra windbreaker or socks, water or juice, a few snacks to tide us
through, and other items depending on our personal needs. Some
like to carry extras in a knapsack, a fanny pack or a jacket with
ample pockets. As always attempt to travel light.
Be open to new possibilities. Don't limit your space and time
too much. Some of my best youthful memories are of hikes we
took on Sunday afternoons across the countryside. Some like to
follow the same routes, but for the majority, hiking a little off
the beaten path makes for a chance to see the unexpected.
Record those unexpected events and sights in writing soon after
and fellow travellers may make or break a hike. Some hikers
prefer to travel alone and be their own boss. Others like
companionship that adds spice to what is experienced. That
companionship may be naturalists (having acknowledged or regarded
expertise), those with about equal knowledge, or those like
grandkids who may be eager learners but know less than you the
master hiker. They may be people just wanting someone to take
them for a hike. Added company may help determine the
distance, time, mode of transport, and route of the hike -- and the
Prayer: Lord, teach us to walk gently through the woods to
show our respect for nature. Help us leave no scars, litter,
deep footprints, graffiti, or campsite residue. But inspire us to
A windbreak protecting an Iowa farmstead
When traveling in South Dakota in 1955 we observed groves or lines
of trees standing near the farm buildings and fences. The
trees were part of the conservation wind barrier work of the 1930s,
planted to allay dust storm damage that had wrought such destruction
during the Great Depression. The Scotch pines my dad planted
in our old orchard to the northwest of our house served as
windbreaks, as did the mulberry, locusts and hackberry that
voluntarily grew at the edges of the pine grove.
December is a good month to think of designing and establishing
windbreaks for next spring. Consider it either at your house,
or that of people who complain about high winter fuel bills.
These could use some extra trees on the side(s) of the prevailing
wind; in our part of the country, this is generally the north or
west side. It may be best either to talk with local
experienced residents or the county extension agent or to audit your
own wind conditions by checking at various times of the winter for
wind direction and speed.
Windbreaks are useful because they can create a cozy micro-climate
for your homestead. Dense windbreaks provide the greatest
protection when they are two to five times broader than the height
of the trees used for the break. The drawback of such a dense
break is that negative pressure builds downwind and can draw the air
diverted by the barrier back toward the ground. A windbreak
pruned to allow air to flow through it would reduce this effect.
Another helpful and energy-saving idea is to place low-growing
evergreens close to the foundation of the building. By
preventing wind from whipping around the foundation, evergreen
shields can create an air pocket close to the base of the structure.
In the winter time, these air pockets can sometimes be as much as
ten degrees warmer than the ambient outdoor temperature. For
decades, windbreaks have been popular among rural homesteads on the
Great Plains to help lessen soil erosion and protect wind-sensitive
plants. Their time has come elsewhere. Vegetative
barriers for buildings provide a relatively warm environment at
The ideal barrier is planted perpendicular to the prevailing winds
and is composed of parallel rows of evergreens (such as Canadian
hemlock, spruce or white pines) with shorter trees at the outer
perimeter, and taller trees nearest the buildings. In our
cedar-growing part of the country this evergreen is ideal for wind
barriers. However, white pines grow very well in our temperate
climate and could be used for windbreaks as well as spruce and other
evergreen species. The final barrier should be forty to fifty
feet upwind from a single-story building and include the layers of
trees of desired density. Initiate tree planting immediately
after building or acquiring property, for wind barriers may take
time to become fuel savers.
Prayer: Thank you Lord, for the gift of trees to help
insulate our homes from the cold
Scenes from Abraham Lincoln's New Salem
by Mark Spencer)
12, 2008 Establishing a Global Village
Idealists can paint a picture of a global village as though already
established if we just open our eyes and see. Maybe a realist
should not deny the ideal but caution that it has not yet been
reached. Pessimists may question whether such a village is
even able to exist without breaking up into warring factions.
are incorrect in saying that such villages are unnecessary since any
well organized gathering can furnish its own food, housing and other
However, total self-sufficiency is a mirage that does not exist in
an interconnected world in which some affect others to noticeable
degrees. Even isolated inhabitants of the Amazon may awaken to
the destruction of the environment all around them. Because
total self-sufficiency is impossible, the ideal of a global village
has merit even if it is not yet fully attained. We need
villages integrated into larger and larger aggregates of
interlocking groups because we are brothers and sisters with basic
needs and collectively we need to confront the greed of others.
To attain that ideal of working together we must still strive to
begin with our own backyard, the template of the healthier world.
In this sense the "small is beautiful people" are correct for the
local has great though not total importance. Our backyard
should be an ideal sight to behold, not a storage place for junk.
We can enhance our dwelling space by organic gardens, composting
bins for domestic waste materials. properly-labeled recycling
containers, fruit trees and edible landscape, solar or wind energy
producing units, and a rainwater container.
domestic covers a broader area than the immediate individual
backyard, and could embrace the front yard, the neighborhood across
the street, and immediately adjacent farm or neighborhood property.
While it is estimated that over half of Americans have yard space,
others need to share or extend their "yard" to neighboring lands --
vacant lots, ornamental yards, unused portions of cemeteries,
institutional land that could be rented or leased or donated for
gardening, composting, recycling, energy generation, and water
storage. We do need to help each other at the local level.
Infants, seniors, the mentally and physically sick add to the
betterment through their good will. We need others. As
our awareness of environment grows, we find that no smaller cluster
of villages can survive without involving more and more -- and
eventually a planet. Responsible protection and enhancement
are a cooperative global enterprise.
Prayer: Lord give us the willingness to establish the
harmonious global village in which we all strive to be part.
On this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe we seek to help establish
that harmony among our brothers and sisters in this hemisphere so
that it can extend from here to people in the entire globe.
Let our concept of village ever expand until all are a global
A freshly prepared garden
spot, waiting for spring
13, 2008 Garden Economics
As harder times await us this coming year, we could do well to
review the possibility of supplementing our income by growing higher
quality garden produce. Homegrown fruit, berries and all
produce are fresh, can be chemical-free and are gathered with little
effort; dried mint can be used as a beverage to replace expensive
coffee (5 to 10% of average food purchases). Various local and
exotic greens, fresh herbs such as basil and parsley, and fresh
tomatoes and cucumbers can be grown for a span of months when
started early with protection and protected late in the
growing year as well. Higher quality, commercial organic
produce often costs more, and thus added savings can accrue to
Overall economic advantages include; the land used does not
have to be cultivated in grass or other ornamental cover; the
materials produced are supplementary to an ordinary food budget and
can lead to cuts in purchase of some items; shopping time is
reduced; seasonal surpluses can be preserved to supplement
non-seasonal food needs; the garden can produce provisions for
local needy folks; the land value of the property can be enhanced
through productive gardening; there is less need for personal
vacations and special recreation because gardening involves
exercise and reduces stressful conditions; and the potential for
income from selling surplus produce at a farmer's market begins to
emerge with time.
If one calculates the number of hours spent gardening, the produce
may not be regarded as paying for itself. However, gardening
serves as physical exercise and has other non-economic benefits.
Small-scale gardeners soon realize that they need to work many hours
to make what others regard as an average income. They know
that many commercial gardens operate by piecework, and small-scale
farming often is "subsidized" by volunteer labor. Because so
much time is required for quality gardening, we soon account it as a
true labor of love and consider the joy of gardening as part of the
value. Economic savings become the dessert, not the substance
of the gardening banquet. A good rule of thumb is to consider
half of gardening as work and half as pleasure; the work includes
the bonus of economic savings and the recreation gives non-monetary
pleasure -- or recreation time that could be spent in expensive
pursuits such as the casino or movies.
Gardeners quickly learn that non-basic paraphernalia such as small
carts and compost tumblers are costly and basically unneeded.
Money for seedlings can be saved by growing your own. Other
savings include using older and heavy-duty implements that can be
acquired at yard sales, obtaining nitrogen from legume cover and
urine, using flowers in place of biocides and other pest controls,
saving non-hybrid seed from year to year, keeping economic as well
as garden-produce records as well as time spent on operations, and
keeping track of yields for future planning.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to see that gardening is a form of
prayer that adds to the whole
economy of salvation.
brilliant rainbow, just after sunrise
by Sally Ramsdell)
I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.
Gaudete Sunday means rejoice, and this we must do,
showing joy at all times through praying without ceasing (I
Thessalonians 5:16-24). We constantly give thanks for what God
has given us and at the same time we beg for things not yet
attained. Rejoicing involves a number of aspects. The
first of these is the realization that the kingdom is already in
process of coming and we are part of this; this awareness of ongoing
advent is itself a grace or gift of God. Seeing all of life as gift
and that our responsibility flows from that gift turns us away from
being ungrateful as though spoiled by good things. Such
gratitude does not allow us to be satisfied with the present world
conditions but rather satisfied that we are called to overcome
The second aspect of joy is that we see the need to confront the
injustice of the world around us, but do not lose heart in
undertaking such a confrontation. We have the trust and
confidence that God will give us the resources to undergo this
confrontation. The fullness of the kingdom has not yet been
reached, but we are called to help overcome the difficulties
encountered. During Advent, we proclaim a time of jubilation,
which includes the oppressed -- the homeless, sick, prisoners, those
in hospices, the elderly, and the overlooked in any way.
Jesus, the liberator, is coming again. He teaches us to
acknowledge the existence of unjust conditions without hating the
perpetrators or ignoring the victims.
Interior peace comes in liberation that includes no omission and
no hatred. God is with us in our efforts to assist the divine
plan of establishing the kingdom.
In today's Gospel reading (John 1) we have a third aspect of joy
beyond gifts given and service rendered by us as participants.
John the Baptist testifies to the light; we are also witnesses to
the Light and in so doing we find our calling to be reason to
rejoice. We rejoice because we have been liberated from
ourselves and can be of service to others in such a way that they
are called to change, and we trust that they can do so. This
sense of freedom brings about an interior peace that can radiate out
to others and fills us with enthusiasm; we are energized to continue
in our efforts. Enthusiasm means the God within or God's
presence with us; it can be contagious, for if we are happy workers
so will others be. The result is an enthusiasm giving new
life, allowing us to bubble over with exuberance but also to be calm
enough to conserve our energy and afford to be models for others.
Prayer: Lord, make us the steady people who testify to your goodness, but
being thankful always for gifts given. In these hard times
keep us from being dispirited by injustice all around and help us to
be constantly enthusiastic in spreading the Good News to others,
helping them be transformed into agents of joy.
15, 2008 Lighten up: It's Divine Humor
In Advent we strive to rejoice and yet we are all too often saddened
by the world filled with crises, terrorism, and many individual
concerns and troubles. It is often hard to manifest and retain
a sense of humor in such trying times; this is especially true
when friends lose jobs, fall into debt and see their homes
foreclosed. How can we stay light-hearted without seeming to
be forgetful of others in need?
Humor can be the subject matter of a homily, but you have to be an
accomplished humorist to pull it off, and many of us lack that
talent. Now, God has a sense of humor, or at least it appears
that way in the course of the events of creation. When the
barns are full and all seems perfect, then something else happens to
the self-satisfied. If humor is a good, and all good comes
from an all-good God, then we expect that God has a sense of humor,
I suspect that if any of us would write a script for the coming of
the Messiah, we would change what actually occurred. It seems
good in timing that when the whole world is at peace and the Roman
empire has a transportation system that would not be equaled again
for 1,800 years, the Messiah would come. Okay, so far.
But what about the place? Not Rome, the seat of power, or one
of the major cities, but the back country in a remote rebellious
province of Galilee? What about the promotion personnel and
leading "advance person"? How about a fancy dresser and good
talker who could get along with all kinds of people? No, the
role of messenger falls to someone in camel's hair, who lives in a
forbidding place, is uncertain of his place in the scheme of things,
eats grasshoppers dipped in wild honey, and speaks of people of
influence as a "brood of vipers." Anyone who would prepare for
the Messiah's coming in such a setting must be the product of divine
From the story that is transpiring we could note things in our own
lives. Maybe we should see the light side of life. I
can't do the task because I do not have a million dollars, or a
golden voice, or an "in" with the right government leader.
Maybe God continues to work wonders in the most unusual ways.
Those of us who exert power will be put down, and those in low
places raised up, as Mary says in the
Magnificat. That is part of the humor of God. The
empowering of little people is a sign that unexpected things are
happening and will soon happen again. It is not necessary that
we expect the incompetent and the drifters to have the last word,
but we must expect the unexpected, if that mysterious will of God
continues to operate in our world.
Prayer: Lord teach us to lighten up and to see humor as good for the soul.
Help us take a second look at what are regarded as the serious
things of life. Today, the serious role of capitalism is being
questioned -- and maybe that is a good thing to laugh at and thus
change. Help us to laugh when others think things are
terribly serious -- and to do so
with a kind heart.
An opened walnut
found on the forest floor
16, 2008 The True Meaning of Gifts
I distinctly remember one of my very early Christmases when
stationed in the Northeast as a newly ordained priest. After
the Midnight Mass I was invited by a local family for their gift
opening event, which was for them a traditional holiday affair.
In the course of the evening I got a distinct feeling that members
of this family were pretending to enjoy opening the many expensive
gifts given to each other. These gifts did not seem to be
deeply appreciated by the young members even though the gifts were
way beyond the price range I would have paid. I seemed
powerless to reach out and touch their searching and lonely
hearts. I came away with a bit of sadness even though they had
not neglected to give me a gift as well. A lingering feeling
persists: gifts ought to symbolize an act of love, not the
value of the materials in themselves.
With harder times this Christmas many people are buying fewer
material things and engaging in some soul searching on how to teach
their children and loved ones what the true meaning of Christmas is
-- and what gifts of love mean. Christmas is meant to
celebrate the most spiritual act of self-giving the world has ever
known. Through recent times the feast has been replaced by a grand
show of materialism; this is the utter defiance of God's gift of
Self through the substitution of material things -- electronic
gimmicks, clothes, recreational equipment, and household wares.
This year the pattern of past giving could be different. This
is a perfect opportunity to tone down the material concerns of the
past -- and to explain to youth that economic times call for
something else. Besides, the lessons are the best of Christian
education. How about gifts to others especially the needy, in
the name of the loved one? Also consider pooling names and
giving just one within a given group. See "Twelve Gifts in
Hard Times" on December 6.
Special attention is given this year to the youth of our nation.
Many of these have to experience the limits to giving. Even
Christmas gift trees in parishes are arranged as a location for
expensive purchased gifts to be distributed to those who have less.
How about more essentials and less luxuries? Still the goal
should be to give fewer material things and more spiritual gifts
such as prayers and services. Address the charges of being
stingy or uncooperative in a forthright manner. Help youth to
become proud of refraining from expensive gifts and to be willing to
discuss these cut-backs with their friends.
Prayer: Lord, show us that this year of harder times is a
perfect opportunity to teach many about the true meaning of
Christmas and about the importance of spiritual gifts. We can
join the poor Christ child in a special way and realize that we need
to share with those more needy than we are. Lord, teach us
that to be sensitized to the poor is itself a valuable gift;
to respond as best we can makes this gift all the more precious.
Tiger Moth: Grammia species
by Marge Para)
17, 2008 Enlightened Self-Interest,
Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me -- it is the Lord
Yahweh who speaks -- to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of
the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke, to
share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to
clothe the one you see to be naked and not to turn from your own
kin? Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound
be quickly healed over.
A colleague once said he was a firm believer in enlightened
self-interest, a term that is as near an oxymoron as any I knew then
or know now. I was speechless at the time, because I never
expected the comment from someone in the public interest field.
Since then I have had utter contempt for this concept; it seems to
be the motivation behind so much of what has gone wrong within the
hyper-capitalist system that plagues this nation and world.
To be enlightened is to be aware of something through insight, but
to say "enlightened self-interest" really implies that there is
another alien or distant set of "unenlightened" self-interest that
may be destructive and negative. Our problem is not with
enlightenment, but with turning self-interest into a virtue through
enlightenment. We find many tooting their own horn to
emphasize the message or the messenger; too many horns are a racket.
Self-interest bankrupts social capital and weakens our democratic
process. Some argue that all activities are self-interested,
and enlightenment is an attempt at be honest about an imperfect
human condition affecting low and high rollers alike.
It is not enlightenment to choose self-interest over the public
interest. For those who do so, the pressure of self-interest
closes like a noose, which strangles a fledgling public spirit.
The struggles of life to obtain the bare essentials of food,
shelter, health and basic education overwhelm many and become a
personal, family and community interest -- and are legitimate.
Self-interest soon proceeds to greed and involves the power that
comes with controlling resources. It stashes away the nest egg
and excludes others in need. A complete inner focus betrays a
social dysfunction of the body politic, which invites service for
others. Self-interested people surrender to the temptation to
serve themselves as mini-gods, to overlook others, and ultimately to
break down the social connections that bond us all in community.
Enlightened self interest is a refutation of the public interest to
which we are all called, if we are to retain our democracy and
public spirit. While some never abandon the self-interest of a
spoiled infant, others mature into citizens who assist their fellow
Prayer: We want to be of service but the most enlightened way is to use
as models those who have been of public service to their neighbors.
Help us find and follow enlightened people who have
others at heart, not their own
Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) on a snowy
18, 2008 Good Grief
It is the commonly held perception that the
Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year "holiday season" should be the
happiest time of the year. For some, especially youth with no
calamities in mind, this is perhaps true. However, the holiday
season can be a time of sadness for those who have experienced a
death in the family, being away in another country, a divorce, a
tour of military service or an imprisonment. A surprising
number of people will not be home for the traditional family feast
days, and the closeness of family life will be sorely missed -- and
the ones away and the left at home all suffer from a grief at
holiday time. Many churches, civic groups, military families
groups and others have developed committees, which give special
attention to the members of the community who have just lost or are
separated from loved ones -- especially at this time. Since
the reasons for separation are complex, most practical suggestions
are approximate at best, but may be helpful nonetheless:
* Try to remember the missing person. Don't try to forget for
that will only exacerbate the grief;
* Give yourself the gift of healing tears and encourage others to do
* Ask others for their help in time of your need and be sensitive to
the needs of others who are grieving;
* Keep traditions that bring you comfort and encourage others to do
* Visit special places, which bind you to the other;
* Listen to your body, and take time to rest, refresh and renew;
* Don't wait for other people to bring you happiness; and
* Light a special candle in celebration of the love you still share.
Final note: Some call the explanation "good grief" an
oxymoron, i.e., a figure of speech in which the opposite or
contradictory ideas or terms are combined (e.g., thunderous
silence). But is it? There is a time to laugh and a time
to cry, and thus allowing time for grief can be something good.
To part company, and to do so with love and longing for reunion, is
in keeping with the season, and this challenges misconceptions about
grieving. Don't suppress grief, but allow it to flow naturally
for it is part of being human; don't tell another that his or her
grief will be short-lived for they may not want it to be.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see the time for everything. Jesus
wept -- over the death of Lazarus. So ought we to
express our emotions at certain times.
Harvesting a Christmas tree, to be
decorated with edible trim and used to
enhance wildlife habitat after the holidays
19, 2008 Safe
The holidays are meant to be a time of celebration. However,
every year we read or hear reports about some unfortunate case of a
home fire or human injury caused by the decorations in this season.
Why should this occur, granting all the emphasis in recent years on
the use of fire retardants and non-combustible materials? We
no longer light candles and place them on live Christmas trees or as
crowns on the heads of youth, practices that our safety conscious
twenty-first century would cringe at doing. Using evergreen
trees or boughs for decorations along with open fires and lighted
candles has been an invitation to a disaster waiting to occur.
All too often those celebrating have their attention diverted to
others and simply allow the danger to go undetected until too late.
But is lack of holiday safety only past history?
Fire hazards still exist. Electric lights have not entirely
replaced candles, which project an ambiance of traditions worth
celebrating whether for dinner use or for centerpieces for wreaths
and other decorations. Some like the effects of candle glow or
of scented burning candles. Fires still burn in open
fireplaces and these provide more than warmth, for all human beings
are drawn to some degree to fire -- and we can still get burnt but
never more so than during the holidays. If such practices
persist, do take extra precautions, especially if young children are
Yes, Christmas is for kids. As we age we enjoy watching others
enjoy the glory of the holidays that take such a long time to come
when aged three (one-third of a lifetime) or six or nine years.
However, the hyperactivity of the indoor festivities can allow youth
to run about and even explore decorations. So often, children
are less supervised during festivities and so get into trouble more
quickly than at other times. Their supervisors are chatting;
white berry mistletoe is tempting; beautiful red holly berries need
touching and tasting -- and can prove poisonous and cause major
discomfort if eaten. The attractive red-leafed poinsettia is
not a salad either.
Paper or plastic streamers and flimsy ceiling hangings and outdoor
lights are part of the seasonal decor, which could be the cause of a
fire when one least expects. Needless to say, the house
interior should be a no smoking zone. Omit those lit candles
when combustible paper is hanging about. Christmas tree
ornaments are generally non-toxic today, but many folks have a
tradition of rehanging older ornaments out of sentiment. For
some reason, a tree is a perfect enticement for a mobile infant, so
take special precautions regarding both resident and visiting
youthful explorers. You may desire a lit yule log, but take
precautions and place a screen in front of the fireplace, even
though it unfortunately blocks off the direct radiation of the fire.
Prayer: Lord, help us celebrate without taking unnecessary risks during
this most wonderful season of the year.
A candle in the dark
20, 2008 The Winter
Solstice and Light
The Lord shall be a light to you forever. (Isaiah 60:20)
The days are shortest now, and daylight is all the more precious.
Ancient observers noted the longest and shortest days with great
accuracy. Stonehenge and many other places contain rocks or
other objects aligned to indicate the sun's position at the summer
or winter solstice. We marvel how ancient people had a deep
awareness of seasonal changes and especially the solstices.
For Christians, we find festivities of former times have been
"baptized," and we tend to celebrate feasts at those choice
primitive-religion times as well. Like the pagans of old we
note the days growing longer and celebrate Christmas -- the birth of
Christ. Darkness, which brings goblins and spooks to
imaginative youth and others, is not going to conquer us;
daylight will survive and grow in length again. Still darkness
has its redeeming elements: it is a time to concentrate and focus
with far fewer distractions; a time to pray and turn one's mind to
God; a time to rest and sleep unless we are nocturnal animals.
We value both daylight and darkness.
The winter solstice has been marked by primitive and developed
religions and spiritualities with certain fire rituals. Light
overcomes darkness. Light (candles, new fires, torches, etc.)
is associated in the biblical tradition with joy, goodness and
peace. The feasts of Hanukkah and Christmas enhanced these
nature festivals with new and deeper meaning, thus the fire rituals
and the seven candles of Hanukkah in the Jewish tradition, the
twelve days of Christmas, the Advent wreath, and the lighting of
trees. The December celebration of Kwanzaa by
African-Americans adds to the festive occasions involving lights.
Light serves many functions:
Guidance -- Lights in lighthouses and on buoys serve as beacons.
Without light, whether natural or artificial, we stumble, for
eyesight requires the gift of light. The blind can compensate,
but they cannot view stars, road conditions, sunrises or smiles.
Warmth -- Light enters a greenhouse on a sunny winter day and
the rays become trapped and produce heated space -- a greenhouse
effect. Storage materials release trapped solar energy at
Photosynthesis -- Light catalyzes plant growth and ultimately
produces food needed by animals. Also, our physical and mental
health require full spectrum sunlight, though too much sunshine can
be dangerous. Light triggers the production of vitamin D.
Knowledge -- Light means insight, new knowledge,
enlightenment, and intellectual growth. We become points of
light to others drowning in the sea of the darkness of ignorance.
Prayer: Lord, You are the light of the world; you ask us to
guide, warm, enlighten and
encourage others to grow as well.
The pure and simple
elegance of the paperwhite, Narcissus tazetla
21, 2008 Mary and Joseph
Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a
Savior. (Isaiah 45:8)
Christmas is soon coming; it is a season to relax, but often there
are stresses present -- some because of the circumstances that we or
our loved ones are experiencing; some just preparing for the
celebration. Our faith and prayer help allay such concerns but
they will not disappear, and it is better that we bear them with the
Lord who is present. Christmas concerns exist.
Mary's concerns are real. Something is happening with her
body, something never imagined by men who can't experience it, or
women who haven't experienced new life within. The youthful
virgin Mary is with child, and her spouse does not understand, the
family will not understand, the culture will most likely condemn,
and there is virtually no one to talk to about it except a distant
cousin. To obey God in this most holy way is beyond anything
asked before, and it floods Mary's mind with the inner turmoil that
comes with the reality of just living. But the one
within is mystery enough. How will the birth occur? Who
will help? Where is the money to supply the needed things?
What will the future bring?
Joseph's concerns are just as real.
We find Joseph, the just one, in
great turmoil as well. He is unable to comprehend one so
beautiful and so pure as Mary, his one love, to be with child by
another. How could it be? What is the explanation?
To put her away quietly is out of the question, though it is the
temptation. To expose her is unthinkable. To explain
this mystery by human reasoning is beyond human power, especially
for a simple carpenter. Only God knows! And in the depth
of turmoil that makes Joseph a just person, God speaks, for Word
gives life. Emmanuel is here. Mary is not to be forsaken
or desolate but she is to be his delight as she is God's delight.
But that mystery is only part of it. Joseph has three hurdles
at this time: understanding the condition of Mary who is with
child; getting to the census, as required by law with a
pregnant wife; and finding a place suitable for the birth of a
child. Joseph and Mary bear their deep concerns with fortitude
-- and so ought we.
Today we have concerns that can be stressful, and yet we face the
challenge as to how to deal with them. Concerns seem to mount
with our acceptance of responsibility, but we need not bear them
alone; we have the Holy Family on our side. Our concerns
extend to the entire world, a global enterprise embracing the
concerns of people everywhere. Mary and Joseph are totally
open to God's will, and that relieves their stresses in profound
ways. We know that stress can burn us up within and cause
paralysis; on the other hand our concerns, when part of a divine
family affair, allow us to be confident that unforeseen solutions
result -- when we have faith.
Prayer: Lord, open us to your will and mercy. Like Mary and
Joseph help us to bear Christ as
Good News to the world.
Cranks Creek Survival
Center, Harlan Co., KY
22, 2008 Tough Times for the Really Needy
We all too often feel sorry for ourselves during harder financial
times, but we still must ask once again, "Who is really hurting and
forgotten right now?" No matter how careful a concerned
community is, some souls fall through the cracks. In fact,
affluence easily desensitizes us to who is really in need. In
a mobile society with smaller family units, lone dwellers or the
friendless are often overlooked especially by those who are worried
about recent financial downturns and weakening portfolios.
The needy come in many guises: some permanently in institutions,
some temporarily in homeless shelters; some drift from day to day on
the streets often hiding their desperate conditions through
embarrassment. In hard times the overlooked are out there, but
it takes sensitivity and willingness to search out, find and assist
them. Let's not fail to look:
* In apartments of the elderly and senior citizens' homes as well as
* Under bridges and in the haunts of thousands of street people and
in the abandoned cars that they call home;
* In the soup kitchens where we may help out on this holiday, or in
the places where the needy would appreciate a kind gesture;
* In boarding schools, reform institutions and foster homes.
While many make an effort to see that youth get some special holiday
care, some of them may be forgotten;
* Among immigrants and new arrivals to this country, especially
those who have no church or community support system, and perhaps do
not understand the community fellowship of Christmas;
* With jobless and the poor who have had no celebrations because of
lack of money this Christmas. They may need far more than a
single day handout;
* In the ranks of the sick and handicapped who may be treated in a
negligent manner by overworked caregivers. They may need a
visit, a smile, a trip to church or the store;
* To those grieving the death of a loved one or who have experienced
a fire, which destroyed their dwelling, or have had a young -- or
old -- family member disappear; and
* Among the distressed and mentally disturbed who are unable to show
gratitude or say "thank you" for the visit, but deep inside these
also appreciate acts of kindness.
Prayer: Lord, help us to acquire the fullness of the Christmas spirit;
show us those in need so that we can help them
especially during this holy
Frost formations on
Can We Pray Always?
As we approach Christmas and New Year's, we ought to quiet down for
a little bit. We should wrap our prayer life as a loving
present to God in thankfulness for all good things given. Let
us add a special prayer that we have a growing concern for others in
our midst. We find ourselves busy and yet we are called to
pray always and to talk with the Lord as a nearby neighbor and
companion on our road. Can this be done in our super-active
world? Perhaps this season is the time to try praying.
We can speak of the willingness to pray, but that means we have control
of the situation. We can speak of the gift of prayer and that
we are powerless to fully implement that gift. What the saints
teach us is to be open to the gift and to seeing its fullness in our
lives and that of others. Our openness may allow the prayer to
be short, spontaneous, and informal -- perhaps even conversational.
Formal prayer can be helpful at specific worship time and place:
we affirm our journey with others; we emphasize the sacredness
of time and place; we do not multi-task on God. Our
communal prayer affirms the togetherness of the Godhead and our part
in the family of God and makes us mindful that we are not alone in
the struggle to find God.
Praying always adds zest to life; this form of informal
togetherness means our communication with God as the principal party
is ongoing. We are able to reach beyond our immediate
particular needs for health, courage, endurance, peace of soul, and
forgiveness and open ourselves to more. If we choose the topic
of prayer, we are in control and think we can turn on or off the
listening God as though we have a cell phone communication -- that
is switched off for eating, sleeping and recreation.
Keeping the cell phone to God always on is the only way to "pray
always." Let us break informal silence or active noise with a
simple "Thank you, Lord." Our utterances are inspired by
God and yet we are free agents who can speak thus and continue what
we are doing.
The prayer of petition has a special place, especially at this time
when we seem overwhelmed by materialistic allurements. We are
often confronted with a host of needs -- our own and those of our
friends and relatives. Prayers of petition may be communal or
private petitions, which open us to deeper levels of spiritual
growth. We need to pray in our own way, possibly by a
particular prayer, said over and over. We may even find that
our way of praying changes with the seasons that we experience in
our spiritual journey of faith. We may see the morning
as different from the evening and the days of the week as varied as
well. Can praying be as natural as breathing?
Prayer: Lord, help us to be able to talk with you at all times
and places. Show us all time and space to be sacred in some degree
for you are here and now. Some times and places emphasize the
sacredness a little more. Make this season one of those times
of your own making and ours as well.
Snow squalls across a
Lexington, KY reservoir
The Word Proclaims Peace
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad
The Christmas Story is old, and yet ever new when retold by
believing folks. This story of salvation history constantly
gives us hope that a better day is dawning, a day when peace will
come to our troubled world. We have experienced war and
conflict all too long and forget that peace is possible. All
the while we are moved to retell this story of word-becoming-flesh
with freshness for it renews itself in the telling. It's a
story of an innocent and pure virgin who is surprised to find God
asking something very special of her -- to bear a child who is the
Savior. She consents; her husband-to-be is in
consternation until he is asked to take Mary for his wife.
Then the Census decree demands that the couple travel with a
soon-to-arrive babe over rocky roads to Bethlehem, a small place
with little housing and mere caves, which served as stables.
Angels and poor shepherds are witnesses to the birth. It's
God's way of entering the human scene with all its uncertainty,
bewilderment, turmoil and chaos. And yet here is a spoken Word
coming into an imperfect world to re-establish harmony through word
and deed made one. Are we now inspired by this event to make
our words overflow and take on the flesh of living deeds?
As an environmental visitor to Israel,
I only saw Bethlehem once from an overlooking knoll,
the city meant for peace and yet no peace;
I saw it from within a barbed wire enclosure,
a camp used by English, Jordanian, Israeli troops.
Here was a tranquil city seen from a military outpost;
It made me wonder how war and peace can mingle
and give some true meaning to a world called "home".
How are we the powerless to save this wretched land?
Speak, Bethlehem, speak!
Christmas offers a word of meaning that is spoken in order to
trigger a saving deed. This utterance is in the form of a
clear infant cry that breaks the silence of a waiting world.
To say "peace" with an emphatic voice no matter how humble the
setting, triggers a catalytic effect upon a locked up and lifeless
world. During this precious season some prefer to think of
toys, holly, jingle bells, and Santa Clauses; however, the
spiritually-driven yearn for peace, though it seems ever so remote
behind the barbed wire of inertia and distant conflict. Speak
up for peace!
Prayer: Lord, help us to speak words of peace that are not hollow ones
that we imprison in our old selves. Help us to speak at this
Christmas with a message of old that is truly renewed. Please
God, become one with us once again. Give us the courage to
help create a Holy City, a Hold
Land, a Holy Earth.
A walk on Christmas Day,
From the low hills the shadows cast,
Bethlehem, peace-loving site,
glow within a stable fast,
faint at first, now eternal light.
From the cold of first winter's air,
Numbing chill, sharp with bite,
Heaps of straw, a gentle touch where
God's warm breath fashions all aright.
From the quiet comes a baby's voice
Out of the pitch black void of night,
Soft music and then a trumpet sound;
Tingle, jingle, utter delight.
We strive to taste the Bread of life,
Dough made ready to reunite,
yet needs to bake in bitter strife,
When God will make all things right.
Scents strong and weak perfume the gloom,
Give earthy fragrance to the plight,
But somehow a red rose does bloom
For the sweet Lord is born this night.
A blessed Christmas -- AF
A house stands silent
upon an Anderson Co., KY ridge
26, 2008 Keep a Quieter House
In holiday season the parties and celebrations are louder than usual
and we just might decide that the living or working space needs to
be a little less noisy. Fortunately a few suggestions may not be
costly to implement in money or time and will help reduce stress and
tension on the part of certain affected people:
* Turn the volume down on the stereo, television, radio and the
computer. Use cell phones away from other residents;
* Use foam pads under blenders, mixers, and all vibrating appliances
and instruments; insulating materials work well under
dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers and around banging pipes;
* Put rubber or other treads on stairs (they are also safer);
* Oil squeaky doors and hinges;
* Lay down carpeting to absorb noise, especially in second floors of
structures that have little acoustical protection. Arrange drapes,
heavy curtains, or cloth wall hangings when noise penetrates the
indoors. Upholstery and furniture covers and other fabrics add
to the quieting effect;
* Install sound-absorbing ceiling tile in kitchen and recreation
areas as well as rooms where people are disturbed by noise.
Sound-proofing material is reasonably priced, but you may discover
that empty paper egg cartons do an excellent job;
* Lower the volume on alarm clocks, door bells and other alerting
* Refrain from purchasing or acquiring noise-making toys for kids,
for these can really disturb a household. Some noisemakers
cause permanent ear injury. If the noise is quite loud, register a
complaint with the Consumer Product Safety Commission;
* Obtain a noise meter and go from room to room in all living space
areas. Find out the decibel readings, which should be within
the human safety range. Mere noise tolerance is not the whole
story, for residents can be seriously affected without complaining;
* Learn to speak more loudly and/or slowly. Often one or
another person is hard of hearing, and so it is a good practice to
have ears checked for hearing loss; Operate power equipment
only during normal waking hours, and slow down engine settings; and
* Don't forget to remove your shoes when coming in late.
Prayer: Lord, we are told to listen attentively, but how can
we if noise overwhelms us. Help us know how to quiet things
Raccoon tracks, left
behind in the snow
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I set before
you death or life, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so
that you and your descendants may live in the love of Yahweh your
The feast of the Holy Innocents is traditionally celebrated on
December 28th and commemorates infants slain by King Herod in an
effort to kill Jesus; the king put all males under the age of
two in the Bethlehem environs to the sword in an effort to get rid
of his possible competitor, Jesus. However, these innocents
are only part of an immense multitude who have often not had the
opportunity to choose life in its fullness. Holy
innocents involve all who find it impossible or difficult to choose
life: the unborn with a parent who does not wish to carry the fetus
to term; African children with no medical assistance; those on death
row or who are imprisoned as a result of being framed by others;
residents of war-torn nations or areas of immense drought;
endangered species threatened by air or other forms of pollution;
and seniors and invalids who see no future.
Each of us ought to have a right to life opportunity and the chance
to choose life in its fullness. We ought to appreciate the
value of life in an atmosphere of freedom. That choice rests
on the often unpopular or overlooked "right to life" principles:
Life is affirmed as part of the creative act and especially
voiced by believers who see Christ as way, truth and life.
The web of life (Cardinal Bernardin) includes many strands that,
when broken, cause the others to unravel. To pick and choose
one or other group and omit the others is not being "pro-life."
Defending the right to life involves direct confrontation as
well as enhancing the quality of life for all.
Respect for life is a delicate cultural matter and requires us
to renounce the culture of death in all its forms.
The responsibility to enhance life rests most on those closest
to life, as is advocated by applying the Principle of Subsidiarity
(June 16, 2007). Others assist as best they can.
The state defends the viability of life but must leave basic
choices of rearing and education to parental determination. No
matter how awesome the responsibility, choices in an atmosphere of
freedom must rest with the primary providers -- though the state has
a role to play.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to choose life in all its forms and to assist
others to do the same. Help us to respect the fragile nature
of life and to champion it against all who propose or
champion the culture of death.
Stately old oak in winter
28, 2008 The Holy Family Presentation
Because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for
all the nations to see. (Luke 2: 30-31)
And who is this Jesus who is the saving one? The early church
asked this question and so do people in every age. Part of the
Luke and Matthew infancy narratives seeks to answer this.
Joseph Fitzmyer says that there is a historic nucleus to
those parallel stories: the reign of Herod, the virgin Mary, Joseph
being of the House of David, angelic announcements, Jesus as Son of
David, the Holy Spirit, Joseph not being involved, the name
"Jesus," Savior, born after Mary and Joseph came together, the birth
place of Jesus in Bethlehem, and the childhood in Nazareth.
What we use as the Holy Family Gospel passage in Year "B" is the
story of the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple.
It is an initial faith journey. With due respect to their
humble circumstance, Mary and Joseph offer in sacrifice a pair of
turtledoves. In this formal temple setting at the beginning of
Jesus' life the elders speak. Simeon is moved to make a formal
proclamation: Jesus is to be a light to enlighten the pagans
and to be the glory of the people of Israel. He adds
some of the most significant words about Mary, the child's mother,
And a sword will pierce your own soul too -- so that the secret
thoughts of many may be laid bare. Anna talks about the
child as the deliverance of Jerusalem. Both elders use
spiritual language to present the one who is coming forth for all
We are descendants of people of faith who believed in the future to
such a degree that they bore and nurtured children and brought them
forth and presented them to the world. These elders presented
a future that included small and great achievements along with the
joys and sorrows of life itself. We respect their hopes for
the future, for through their deeds we find the courage and energy
to carry on. We have been presented to the world especially in
our baptism; we carry on traditions by preparing for the future
through the strength of families who formally present a new
generation to the world. Will they carry on? The answer
is hidden from the view of the presenters.
We were presented by faithful people; we must now do the same
for a coming generation. The HERE is the present condition of
our world where all are hungry for spiritual values; the NOW is the
times in which we live at the close of 2008. We remember our
past and those deceased loved ones; and we await 2009 and beyond in
hope. What greater promise than our love!
Prayer: Lord, we realize that in these difficult times, we are also to
present Christ humbly to the world. Help us to do this as
family people seeing that we are better represented as related
groups than as simply individuals. Help us to make 2009 a
family-centered one through more celebration, gatherings, and
our lives with those nearer and
dearer to us.
jumble of debris, collected near the Tyrone Rail Trail
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is a highly successful
conservationist organization, which is finding ways to convert
abandoned or unused railroad right-of-ways into hiking or biking
trails. The idea started small but now embraces over a
thousand trails in the United States with a total trail mileage of
about 10,000 miles and one and a half times that mileage in
the project stage. However, this effort only constitutes about
one-fifth of the abandoned railroad mileage in this country alone.
The heyday of railroads is over though some passenger trains are
making a comeback. Even though my parents could go to visit
relatives in remote locations by rail in the early part of the
twentieth century, that same feat by rail is almost impossible
today. The passenger and freight trains have given way to
autos and trucks. Since 1916, the 300,000 miles of railroad
track have been reduced by half. The total track mileage is
still shrinking even with a ten percent rail passenger growth in
2008 and some conversion of long-distance diesel-guzzling truck
traffic to energy-saving rail transportation.
The rails-to-trails concept does not necessarily convert the track
permanently to other uses, since a trail keeps the bridges, road
cuts, etc. in place. In fact, the conversion to trails is a
way of preserving the corridors from other forms of development
(buildings, fields, green space, streets, etc.), which would make it
virtually impossible to reestablish a rail right-of-way without
spending loads of money. A trail could revert to a railroad in
response to some future rapid transit demand, but it get excellent
use because the hiking and biking lanes are surprisingly secluded,
scenic and refreshing.
Rails-to-trails (RTC) goals include initiating as many projects as
possible, and even railroad lovers see this as something
advantageous in the longer run. The goal of more
physical-exercise routes also includes a network of trails, which
would span the United States from coast to coast. The RTC says
that one-third of the trail system already exists, while another
one-third is under public ownership and the remainder under private
control. The total project is ambitious and will require
considerable work. A third goal is creation of a "railbank,"
which preserves the corridors intact for possible future uses.
No railroad has returned a trail to its former use, but it could be
done. Billions of dollars have been spent on our interstate
highway system that does not allow hikers or bikers to use it.
Transportation money should serve people who wish to hike or bike
from point A to point B. A national trail system has arrived,
and a key to this is abandoned rail corridors. Resource
conservation makes this a win-win situation -- more travel and less
non-renewable energy use. For information write to: RTC, Duke
Ellington Building, 2121 Ward Ct., NW Washington, DC
Prayer: Lord help us to be mobile and to be resource conscious.
Holiday quilt barn square
by Sally Ramsdell)
* Why go to a party, when you can watch (or listen) to the launching
of the New Year in the comfort of home?
* Make a list of the things worth celebrating in the past year, and
cast it all in a positive light.
* Balance the checkbooks and pay all the bills before December is
over and 2009 has begun.
* Acquire a daybook for the coming year and put your address in it
in bold letters with a promise to compensate anyone who finds it,
should it get lost.
* Send an end-of-year donation to your favorite charity.
* Whittle resolutions down to one or two good ones, which are also
* At least resolve to keep exercising during the cold weather and
during the weekends in which you must travel.
* List all the books you have read this year -- and how much
television you have skipped through reading.
* Don't get caught next year without toilet paper. Store two
extra rolls in a place you won't forget. Now do the same with
the house and car keys and every other thing that can be forgotten.
* Meat substitutes have become so tasty that some find it hard to
tell veggie hamburgers and hot dogs from the real stuff. Maybe
this is a day to get some at the grocery store and test them out.
* Assemble the catalogs for ordering garden seed and fruit trees for
the coming year. Just be prepared, for this January exercise
will come sooner than you think.
* Okay, send a New Year's greeting to those Christmas card senders
you forgot, and wish them the best for the coming year.
* Take an inventory of all the mail that was not answered, and at
least shuffle the pile a little more. Really answer a few and
clean the desk top for the fresh start next year.
* Make an end-of-year phone call to someone who lost a near and dear
loved one during the past twelve months.
* Finally, plan to set aside a little time to archive your materials
so that they will not be a genuine puzzle in case you do not
survive, mentally or physically, this coming year.
Prayer: Lord, help us to be able to do what we just said.
Sunset, Lake Superior
A Gaelic Blessing
May the blessing of light be on you,
light without and light within,
May the blessed sunlight shine on you
and warm your heart till it glows
like a great peat fire
so that the stranger may come
and warm himself by it,
and also a friend.
And may the light shine
out of the two eyes of you,
like a candle
set in two windows of a house
bidding the wanderer
to come in out of the storm.
And may the blessing of the rain be upon you,
the soft sweet rain.
May it fall on your spirit
so that all the little flowers
may spring up
and shed their sweetness on the air.
And may the blessing of the great rains
be on you.
May they beat upon your spirit
and wash it fair and clean
and leave there many a shining pool
where the blue of heaven shines,
and sometimes a star.
And may the blessing of the earth
be upon you,
the great round earth,
May you ever have a kindly greeting
for those you pass
as they are going on the roads.
May the earth be soft under you
when you rest upon it,
tired at the end of the day,
And may it rest easy over you
when at last you lie out under it.
May it rest so light over you
that your soul may be off from under it
quickly and up and off on its way to God.
- Author Unknown