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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

December 2009

Copyright © 2009 by Al Fritsch


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A quiet morning in early December
Barren Co., KY
(photo: Janet Powell)


December Reflections, 2009

     We come to the final month of 2009 -- a year of many happenings. In some ways, we began to close things down after celebrating Thanksgiving. Winter is settling in, and we grow with the changes: we wear heavier clothing; we protect ourselves against flu; we harvest the persimmons or Appalachian "sugar plums;" and we plan for possible travels on icy and snow-bound roads. Likewise, we need to keep the late garden greens covered, and to continue our outdoor physical exercise, even when the weather is not overly cooperative. In December we tighten down the hatches, store in the basics, and learn to keep indoor temperatures lower. We discover that comfort can be achieved by an extra sweater in place of a raised interior thermometer reading; maybe we can be persuaded to accept a "polar" energy-saving household or work space of sixty degrees or less. In fact, if we remain in warm clothes, the lower temperature is more healthy. Amid all the protective measures, we still have time to prepare through decorations, songs, and Advent prayers for the coming of the Prince of Peace this Christmas.









A glimpse into the past (Zoophycus trace fossil), as we think about the future.

*photo credit)

December 1, 2009  Turn Our Thoughts to Copenhagen

     Glaciers are melting; oceans are rising; more frequent violent storms and floods are coming; flora and fauna are under severe impact;  human-caused mishaps abound.  These are not passages from Revelations or the predictions in the Gospels;  these are the results of knowledgeable reports by respected international groups in the year 2009.

     Oxfam International says that small farmers around the world are suffering.  Seasons appear to have shrunk in number and variety; rainfall is more unpredictable, tending often to be shorter in duration; winds and storms are felt to have increased in strength; and unseasonable events such as storms, dense fogs and heavier rains are more common.  Oxfam concludes that climate related hunger may become the defining tragedy of this century, (The Guardian Weekly, July 10-16, 2009, p. 1-2).

     The Global Humanitarian Forum, headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, says that climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths each year, and this will rise to a half million each year by 2030.  If climate change is not brought under control, 310 million more people will suffer adverse health effects within a quarter of a century;  and economic costs due to these conditions will rise from $125 billion today (more than all humanitarian aid to developing nations) to $600 billion a year by 2050.  (The Guardian Weekly, June 5-11, 2009, p. 1-2).

     On October 12, 2009, the British Committee on Climate Change reports on efforts to reduce United Kingdom 1990 greenhouse emissions 80% by 2050; annual averages are dropping less than 1%, rather than the 2-3% average anticipated.  "The market, left to its own devices, is failing to deliver.  Consumers are not buying energy efficient appliances or insulating their houses, carmakers are failing to get emissions down and powerplants still prefer fossil fuels to greener alternatives.  A bracing dose of re-regulation was prescribed" (The Economist, Oct. 17, 2009, p. 66).

     Will there be positive results from Copenhagen?  While the developing nations face stark consequences just described, the developed nations are slow to move even according to Kyoto Protocols (the European Union greenhouse gas emissions have dropped 2% since 1990 and the United States has risen 14%).  Since the turn of the century developing nations such as China, India, and Brazil have overtaken and surpassed the developed world as emissions leaders.  Poorer nations call for funds to help tide them through conservation measures needed to meet their share.  India does not want to reduce its own emissions until it is equal on a per capita level with those of the West (that means doubling current Indian emissions).  If the developed lands do not conform to strict lifestyle changes neither will the equally materialistic developing lands.  Is the stage set for Earth's mutually assured destruction?

     Prayer:  Lord, awake us to the consequences of our actions.






Nature's reflections
*photo credit)

December 2, 2009  Question the St. Francis Pledge's Completeness

     With our growing doubts about the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, all of us need to ask whether we are doing our part in bringing about a green solution.  Is merely taking vaguely worded pledges sufficient, for even when we do our part, we are not addressing the bigger issues?  Are we only tweaking an addictive materialistic consumer system and addressing neither our own individual difficulties nor those of the global policy of mutually assured destruction of our planet?  For instance, the following popular pledge that is moving about church circles is a perfect "cultural" -- not countercultural -- product, something that the Christ who drove the moneychangers from the temple would most likely not have felt satisfied reciting.   Ought we? 


     The St. Francis Pledge to Protect Creation and the Poor

     * Pray and reflect on the duty to care for God's creation and for the poor and vulnerable;

     * Learn about and educate others on the moral dimensions of climate change;         

     * Assess our participation -- as individuals and organizations -- in contributing to climate change;

     * Act to change our choices and behaviors contributing to climate change;

     * Advocate Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact the poor and vulnerable.


     Certainly we have done these five acts and more:  we called for prayer yesterday; we educate others as this website strives to do;  the two hundred Earth Healing environmental resource assessments over two decades speak for the value of assessment by both individuals and organizations;  99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle and Healing Appalachia: Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology are directed to personal change; and advocating Catholic principles and priorities as they impact the poor are important. 

     But are stating these enough? Doubts arise for unless the advocacy becomes more specific, most will ignore the social demands on each citizen.  A capitalist (as well as communist) materialistic culture continues to degrade the world, and unless all the weaknesses of the "free market" and "consumer culture" economy are directly and explicitly addressed, business as usual, with tweaking of various techniques and devices, will only at best slow the steady and inevitable destruction of our planet.  The part that is not addressed in the pledge is that -- Our consumer culture must be confronted and condemned -- not tweaked.  The reason most are reluctant to become full pledge-makers is that they do not want to bite the hands that feed them.  Instead of being countercultural, they conform and in no way confront the "economic system."

     Prayer:  Lord, buck up our courage; strengthen our backbone.






Tree identification tags at the Mary E. Fritsch Nature Center
Appalachia - Science in the Public Interest (ASPI)

*photo credit)

December 3, 2009      Participate in Eco-Walk Programs

     In our town, on every second Sunday of the month some streets are closed off so that citizens will have a chance to get some exercise; they are invited to walk together for exercise and fresh air.  Four years ago Mazda Motors, the Japanese automaker, encouraged its 20,000 employees to walk to work in order to improve workers' health and to cut back on air pollution.  Those who walked more than four kilometers on a round trip on a regular basis (at least 15 days a month) received the equivalent of $12 per month.  Some workers left a bus or train early and walked the rest of the way on foot, so that they could reach the acceptable total distance.  Mazda is not alone;  a year before, Yamaha, the motorcycle maker started a similar eco-walk.

     Obesity, commuter congestion, air pollution and carbon footprints are all reasons for considering eco-walks as sound policy.  However, these exercises should not be done only on an occasional basis.  They should be regularly used.  Nevertheless, walking to work or for physical exercise requires safe walkways that are not always accessible to people in our urbanized and overly congested world. 

     All too often parents seek to be good to their charges and so take them to the school door with no chance for the youngster to have any extra exercise.  The cars move ahead one car length at a time.  Each child performs the least amount of exercise in moving from vehicle to school door.  Later, after school with its similar door-to-door pick-ups and drop-offs, some of the more dutiful parents drive their kids to an exercise place so as to prevent the youngster from becoming a complete couch potato.  It's a far cry from when we'd decide to walk home from school for several miles rather than take the bus.

     Walking benefits go beyond fuel saved and less air pollution:

     * Walking allows us to look out and see the countryside, and get a feeling for the environment in which we walk;  that gives us a different perspective from that obtained in an auto ride. 

     * Walking allows us more time to pray and reflect on what will occur that day or the following weekend;  driving requires concentration, a note to emphasize to vehicle cell phone users.

     * Walking becomes an example for others to follow;  many passing drivers will say to themselves, "I really should be doing the same thing for my health and well being."  Convincing?

     * Finally, walking is a public act of commitment to saving Earth's limited resources by immediately understood green action.

     Prayer:  Lord, You walked together with our ancestors on their journey of faith.  Teach us to journey, through walking with You.






Winter's arrival on snowy mountaintops, Harlan Co., KY

*photo credit)

December 4, 2009         Have a New Soup Every Day

     Today is my 338th soup of this year:  Cream of Celery and Potato Soup.  The food creativity resulted from accepting the challenge that I could live with daily variety on a food stamp-size food budget for a year -- and still share the money with an orphan in India.  True, many of these soups are simple modifications of standard soups, but they do represent a series of culinary delights on a slim budget.  In winter, it is time for cooks, acting like jazz improvisors, to step forward with their creations.  Send some of your varieties for 2010.

     Having soup during hot weather (it was fortunately a mild summer by Kentucky standards) was unusual.  However, winter has few other rewards as great as hot soup.  The original concept of soup-making must have been food conservation, namely, saving all the cooking juices and leftovers and putting them together into one batch.  A creative cook can change the taste of soup in endless ways because of the variety of basic ingredients and spices that can be mixed in.  However, some basic soups such as split pea soup come out the same way week after week unless -- we change the nature of it by adding spices, veggies, herbs, meats, bouillon or combinations with traditional soups to create a new essence of soup.  Why keep to the old recipes?

     Traditional pea soup attracts a certain group of people, namely the ones who like the same things over and over.  They have their place in the world, but it truly takes more effort to keep to the traditions than to adapt the philosophy of a new soup every day.  "Split pea people" like operas sung a certain way, Thanksgiving meals with certain courses in a proper order,  Sacred Liturgy performed exactly the same way with homilies of the same words said again and again.  For these folks, vacations involve going to the same places and indulging in the same entertainments as practiced year after year.  These folks complain to the cook who has made a different soup -- and that can be an indictment rather than a compliment by saying, "Don't foist your creativity on me."    

     With growing tolerance, we return to the original idea of soup being the nutritious leftovers mixed in creative ways.  Using our talents to vary our meals can be a challenge and an opportunity in a food short world.  Shake up those who see routine as their God-given right; rather, make each day a unique and special gift from the Creator.  While routine saves time, it can become a rut that fast food giants also see as profitable; they want customers to order only a limited variety of hamburgers, fries, and hot dogs.  We note that the affluent who eat out often can afford to choose from a host of ethnic restaurants (Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Thai, etc.).  Why not everyone create variety at home?  In fact, the "burgoo people" of Kentucky insisted on variety of ingredients, including an assortment of hunted varmints along with root vegetables.  Pioneers believed in culinary adventure; so ought we.

     Prayer:  Creator Lord, make us creative in soup-making skills.






Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming
*photo credit)

December 5, 2009      ARE the United States Unique?

     Before the Civil War citizens said, "the United States are."  Afterwards "is" meant our single nation.  However, each state has unique culture, philosophy and descriptive adjectives such as:          Alabama -- most...folksy      Montana ...vast, expansive






Early December snow in Kentucky
*photo credit)

December 6, 2009      Prepare the Way of the Lord

     We are called to be road and bridge builders, and thus are answering the command to serve others.  We do not literally straighten the highway curves, though some of our Appalachian roadways could benefit.  Rather, we are called to help straighten the spiritual and social conditions on all levels of community and citizen action.  John the Baptist, the true simple living person, was most forthright and open about what needed to be done in his day.  We are called to show the same determination in addressing the addictions of our people to drugs and consumer products.

     Individually, we must discipline our lives, much as did the simple living John the Baptist.  We find Advent as well as Lent to be periods to control our appetites and build our resistance to the world's allurements.  The Lord wants us to be able to say "yes" to God, and to say "no" to such distractions as drugs and consumer luxuries.  Such straight talk is achieved through self-sacrifice.  Our culture hardly believes in sack cloth and ashes, but it ought to look behind the symbols.  Instead of expensive wardrobes and gifts expected for Christmas, we ought to prepare ourselves through fasting and self-denial, through living more simply, and through encouraging others to do the same.

     Regionally, we must confront the problems facing our communities, whether these be heavy drug use, lack of employment opportunities, or destruction of our environment through overuse of resources in our individual and collective lives.  People feel disconnected, and they need to regain a sense of community through joint activities and programs to enhance their family's well-being. 

     Nationally, we need fiscal responsibility as well as proper caring for the health of all the people.  As mentioned on December 2, we must address the cultural expectations of an economy based on consumption of goods, and transform that into one of a service economy.  We must encourage fair taxes and accept strict regulation of the greedy moneychangers in our Wall Street temples.

     Internationally, the world's people must begin to feed those who are hungry, and support those who need spiritual guidance.  Most of the problems facing our world would be addressed, if those who are privileged were to contribute to those who do not have enough.  We learn from John the Baptist's proclamations that the act of straightening out the crooked ways is a public act, something in which we all can participate.  John and later Jesus had the courage to face up to this immense opposition at the cost of their own lives.  Why in this upcoming season of peace, tranquility, and friendliness bring up such pressing problems as individual restraint, regional awakening to drugs, caring for resources and assaulting ongoing privilege?  The reason is that preparing the way means helping to establish justice for all.

     Prayer: Lord, You prepared a people for the Messiah's coming;  prepare us to be co-preparers of the New Heaven and new Earth.







An old appliance, in need of inspection before use
(Frank Lloyd Wright's Rosenbaum Home)

*photo credit)

December 7, 2009      Ensure Fire Safety

     Fire Safety Day allows us to recheck on everything so that our upcoming holidays will be safe and more joyous ones.  We know that before this month ends some tragic accident or fire will appear in the news and involve merrymakers.  Well in advance of the celebrations let's ask ourselves some basic questions so that dangers can be uncovered and fixed before the guests arrive:

     * General interior safety -- Do you have an early warning system in place in case of fire -- alarms, numbers to call, serviceable fire extinguishers?  Is there a fire screen when an open fireplace is used for cozy fires in this winter season? 

     * General exterior safety -- Have the chimney and flues been checked this year?  Do you compost and refrain from burning garden or home-generated wastes that cannot be recycled in other ways?  Is the house equipped with lightning rods?  Is there cleared space from which combustible brush and thatch have been removed?  What about leaves in the hidden places of the yard?  

     * Home decorations -- Do you decorate with materials that are not easily combustible?  Is there a fire safety consideration in selection of ornamentals?  Are exterior strings of lights properly hooked to the system?  

     * Festive practices -- Are all lit candles attended to at all times?  Do you refrain from lighting candles on Christmas trees or near potentially flammable evergreen decorations?  Do you omit the use of fireworks in the home environment -- and leave that to the officials who are trained for such displays?

     * Home safety regulations --  Do you forbid smoking of tobacco or marijuana on the premises, and realize that cigarette paper is made to burn well, something like a dynamite fuse?  Do you have exit routes thought out in advance, and all residents aware of how to open windows and exit the building?

     * Internal safety measures -- Is access to matches difficult if infants are around?  Do any of the appliances malfunction or spark when used?  Are any of the circuits overloaded?  Have electric safety plugs been installed especially near water sources in bath room and kitchen?

     * Kitchen safety -- Are you aware that many house fires relate to cooking?  Is combustible oil handled properly near hot surfaces?  Are paper towels kept at a distance from hot surfaces?  Do you have sufficient heat pads and gloves?    

     Prayer:  Lord, You gave us fire to keep us warm and to cook food.  Allow us to foster a sense of care for the safety of all residents and visitors, and to treat our gift of fire with respect.







Mary in the garden, Cane Ridge Meeting House (KY)
*photo credit)

December 8, 2009       Proclaim Mary -- Mother of Earth

      He went in and said to her, "Rejoice, so highly favored!
                The Lord is with you." 
(Luke 1:28)

      If fragile Earth is dear to us, we must show devotion by protecting her.  If one must be humble when close to humus Earth, so those who are most humble are the ones more down-to-Earth.  If we are all blessed by being close to Earth, she who mothered the One coming down to Earth, nurtures and "mothers" Earth herself.  Why set Mary on a pedestal, for her role is one of service on this Earth -- and she needs to be closer?

     From the beginning of creation Mary was special in the mind of God;  throughout the long course of salvation history Mary had a preparatory role, which she discovered as a young lady of her culture, which included the longing of Chosen People for the Messiah's coming.  Furthermore, she was down-to-earth in her manner of life:  her counter response to Eve's "no" to God's command to abstain from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3); her helping to create a new Garden of Eden by a "yes," Let it be done according to God's wish; her deep reflecting on things in her heart; her allowing her son to leave home on his mission; her times of happiness, sorrow, apprehension and joy; her standing at the foot of the cross; and her presence at Pentecost. Because she is willing to trust even though she does not fully understand, she is truly the mother of all the living and of all people of hope.  She is filled with the Holy Spirit, who inspires and remains with her.  She is taken into heaven ahead of us.  

      If Mary finds favor with God, so should we who seek to be in divine favor.  By assisting in protecting Earth we also bring salvation to it -- just as by her "fiat" Mary did two millennia ago.  As members of the divine family through baptism, we participate in healing Earth with Mary even though she has been very highly favored:

    *  We were in the minds of God from all eternity;

    *  We bear the traces of the faith of our ancestors who lived, hoped and trusted in God to keep their offspring in the faith;

    *  We were immaculately conceived into the Body of Christ at baptism -- though we do not remain so due to our imperfections;

    *  We await the coming of the Lord into our lives as Jesus comes to each of us in the sacraments;

    *  We bear Christ to others as part of our mission in life amid joy, sorrow and troubles;

    * We take risks and trust God's grace on our journey of faith;     

    * We are thrust into the cosmic struggle of good and evil;

    * and we beg for the transparency of Mary to look ahead to a New Heaven and New Earth.

     Prayer:  Lord help us to see that just as Mary is totally open and transparent in her radiant being, so we need to see our mission to enter with her into the role of healing our wounded Earth.








Leaves of the kudzu plant, Lincoln Co., KY
*photo credit)

December 9, 2009       Recognize Kudzu in Our Midst

     Kudzu does not conjure up pleasant memories in the southeastern United States;  however, in Japan, the country of origin, the plant is regarded with respect.  Why the difference?  The Japanese regard this as a native species that when properly controlled has many good uses as food and feed and fiber.  However, in the United States the introduction and cultivation was terribly mishandled -- and kudzu has gone wild.  All parties agree that kudzu has many good properties that led to its U.S. introduction: its easy adaptation and vegetative proliferation as potential livestock feed.  However, traditional Japanese control techniques of careful cultivation were foreign to Americans.

     Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) arrived in our Southland from Japan at the New Orleans Exposition in 1884; it was seen as an exotic ornamental with sweet smelling flowers and lush foliage.  By the turn of the 20th century, a southern agricultural association was promoting it as a fodder for cattle.  In 1927, a Georgia promoter declared, "Cotton isn't king here anymore; kudzu is king."  By 1934 the U.S Soil Conservation Service had introduced this plant as a species for use in eroded ravines and for reclaiming road and railroad cuts.  About that time academic research at the University of Georgia found hormones to make kudzu grow faster.  After the Second World War, the truth began to dawn: kudzu was an uncontrolled menace, growing rapidly beyond intended areas, climbing over buildings and large trees.  This exotic species was an invasive.  By 1993 the cost of fighting kudzu was estimated at $50 million annually.  (Reference: Kurt E. Kinbacher, "The Tangled Story of Kudzu," in Auburn University's The Vulcan Historical Review,  Volume 4, Spring, 2000.)  Now it is double that amount.

     Granted kudzu has benefits.  It has a potential to support bioremediation efforts to regenerate the fertility of nutrient-depleted soils.  As a legume it has a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium and can fix nitrogen in soils.  Besides, kudzu is a green manure, will out-compete weeds, returns nutrients and biomass to soil, and makes a fine mulch and an animal fodder comparable nutritionally to clover and alfalfa; the plant is rich in vitamins A, D, calcium and protein.  The uncontrolled proliferation of kudzu was only gradually recognized because the Japanese saw no control problems.  Thus America's first revegetation efforts became a miserable failure.  As a postscript, kudzu is now an invasive exotic species choking out native species throughout the Southeast.  It covers over 7,000,000 acres of land, or equivalent to that of Maryland. Some eradicate the pest using chemical herbicides.  Newt Hardie of Spartanburg, South Carolina uses volunteers to spread sheets of thick clear plastic as a defoliant, and then attacks the root crowns with pruning saws and hand plows, a process considered seriously by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to be responsible in introducing exotic species, to test them before widespread introduction, and to respect the native species with which they will coexist.





Morning sun rises on a December day
*photo credit)

December 10, 2009    Participate in Human Rights Day

     On Human Rights Day let's think of how meaningful the day is to us -- who may regard all the human rights as possessed.  First, we participate by seeing the wrongdoing at a distance, calling for a halt and for the beginning of forgiveness, and enter as a community of the hurt to enhance human rights.  Our participation follows the three levels of humility by St. Ignatius of Loyola. 

       A first level of participation is seeing that wrongdoing has occurred, and that this requires initiation of the process of forgiveness.  We know others are being hurt and "they," though separate from us, need our help even while at a distance for lack of close kinship.  We speak out for them by exposing wrongdoing and calling for change, because current conditions cannot be tolerated.  Reconciliation needs to occur, not between culprit and we as observers, but between culprit and victim;  this involves the set of past circumstances becoming present to us.  The act of hostility must be pointed out and required to cease in whatever manner possible by enlisting the help of others (whether a personal quarrel or an international human rights abuse case).

     A second level is recognizing that distance hinders full reconciliation.  Standing apart from the culprit and victim is part of the problem.  Therefore we close the distance and halt the wrongdoing to the degree that we can; we call to the victim to begin the forgiving process.  Our own reluctance to become party is part of the dysfunction resulting from the cumulative social effects of wrongdoing.  The human family has been hurt, and our strained relations do not allow us to be identified yet with the victim;  we only speak up for and to the victim to initiate the healing process.  From the existing distance we call upon local wrongdoers to stop beating their spouses or disturbing the peace of the community.  We enter a situation deserving change, but do so reluctantly.  Unease makes us see that observation is not enough.  We are part of the problem and must forgive ourselves in order to be a true party in reconciliation.

     The third and deepest level is to become at-one with the other parties in creating a better future.  Forgiveness is not forgetfulness; it does not overlook the wrongful action and thereby, implicitly, condone the wrongdoing that has occurred. "We forgive" means a forming of community between we (observer, victim and culprit).  All are hurt; all are needing reconciliation as friends.  If the person who is doing a wrongful action or omitting doing a rightful duty, is a relative, acquaintance or collaborator, it becomes more obvious why we must speak.  As part of the "we" in the process, we come closer and enter into the reconciliation process as friend to the one hurt and also to the one hurting.  Thus at this deepest level of reconciliation the entire human family is involved.

     Prayer:  Lord, make us true peacemakers in helping others gain their own human rights whether in our backyard or at a distance.








Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) on forest floor
*photo credit)

December 11, 2009      Contest Urban Sprawl

     Several times a month I drive through urbanized Madison County, Kentucky, on the way to Lexington.  This county, including the towns of Richmond and Berea along with Eastern State University, is one of the fastest growing in the state.  Literally hundreds of acres of formerly highly productive farmland are being scraped and bulldozed into new housing, commercial establishments, and suburban roadways.  For idyllic landscape lovers, it is not a pretty sight.  Some of us may remember pictures of or actual visits to European cities with neat divisions made between what is urban and what is rural.  With proper planning and building regulations, much of Europe lacks the sprawl found here in Madison County and elsewhere in America.  In fact, some speak of urban sprawl as threatening some of America's prime farmland. 

     American urban sprawl is due to use of private automobiles and relatively cheap fuel for commuting, to the status of owning greenspace, to the desire to escape congestion, and to the quest for open space and fresh air.  Deeper causes include the unfettered activity of real estate developers and the lack of zoning and land use regulations.  Kentucky hurts, for it loses over one hundred acres of farmland each day.  Because of its relatively small size -- Kentucky is thirty-fifth in area -- the state is heavily impacted from this undirected sprawling of city into countryside.   In Mason County, Kentucky, where I was born, the once beautiful rural countryside near my homeplace is now overdeveloped with scattered housing -- and that in areas containing modest farms in the 1940s.  However, it is comforting to see that some very marginal farmland is being utilized by establishments bordering the recent, limited access AA Highway, running through that familiar countryside of younger years.  Change occurs and we can do little about it.

     Sprawl not only pollutes the scenic view but consumes prime farmland, only some of which can still be used as backyard gardens.  One map by the American Farmland Trust shows large patches of the United States with prime farmland and heavy development.  In fact, if the trend continues in our Bluegrass State, the tourist attraction of landscape charm will be lost along with its associated business.  Traditional farming ultimately loses in the development battle.  Leapfrogging (creating idle land between new  developments) isolates traditional rural communities, raises land prices, results in more trespassing on land and therefore crop damage, and creates opposition to such farm practices as manure spreading.  Sprawl can be checked through proper types of zoning and land use regulations, which gain favor as citizens see the need to retain open undeveloped space.  Proper planning is needed to preserve the character of the landscape -- but it takes community effort to achieve modest results.  It must be said that more costly fuel along with a desire to cut commuting time, has made a return to central city urban living an attractive alternative.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to respect our land and to see beauty in proper planning and use of our precious greenspace.







Vivid rainbow after a rain shower on a December day
*photo credit)

December 12, 2009       Make This a Peace Celebration Day

     How can we celebrate peace when this nation is engaged in two wars?  A ministry of thanksgiving directs us to show appreciation where we can for the gifts God gives us -- and peace is one of these gifts.  It is important to find peacemaking elements within our world, to recognize them and to work to improve them.  We celebrate the following: 

     * The peace within, consisting of the peace God gives us for striving to do what is right.  Over and over in the Sacred Liturgy we say, "Peace be with you."  Thank heavens for this peace experienced by many people.

     * United Nations peacekeepers, and the UN commitment to bringing about peace in this war-torn world.  What would it be like without such an international body? 

     * Church leaders who seek to bring about a reconciliation among peoples who have distrust, and who belittle or persecute others.  Interfaith accord is a way to peace

     * International relief organizations who administer to the hungry and oppressed, and help small farmers in developing lands.

     * Our American peacekeepers who work in the Middle East, North Korea, the Balkans, parts of Africa and in all places where discord is occurring.  Where our military acts as caregivers in regions afflicted by natural and human-caused disasters we have ever reason to be grateful.

     * Governmental peacemakers at all levels of governance from local to national.  Police and many others give a service that is peace-making in nature, and they deserve to be thanked and appreciated.

     * Peace organizations committed to confronting our warlike attitudes, to challenging obscene military budgets of this and other industrialized nations, and pointing out the utter futility of armed conflict.   

     * Individual peacemakers within families and communities who try hard to bring about reconciliation among warring parties.  Blessed are the peacemakers for they deserve all the support that they can receive.  They exude hope that the world can be a new and more peaceful place, where earthhealing may occur undeterred by threats of war and friction.

     Prayer:  Lord, at this season we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace into a world that is growing extremely tired of terrorist threats and warlike behavior.  We know that a truly peaceful world is a miracle, so help us Lord to believe in this miracle of lasting peace.  Give us the grace to do our part.







A young pup romps in a favorite swamp, a sincere expression of joy
*photo credit)

December 13, 2009       Rejoice in the Lord Always. 
                                                           (Phil. 4:4)

    In mid-Advent we anticipate the joy of Christmas on this Gaudete (joyful) Sunday;  we know with certainty that Jesus has already come;  we now await his Second Coming with eagerness.  Paul encourages us to fill our thanksgiving with the joy of the Christ who is with us.  Zephaniah says that we are to shout with joy and to be glad and exult with all our hearts.  (Zeph. 3:14-18)  Our sorrows and troubles are only temporary, and it is joy that fills our hearts at all times and gives us a hint as to how we are to conduct ourselves in this passing world.  We need to ...

     * be always joyful, for our salvation is at hand and we have Christ present with us.  Long-term sadness has no place in our lives;

     * never cease praying, for we have so much to be thankful for in our world;

     * striving to heal others, for then we can imitate the Christ who came here to heal the brokenhearted; and  

     * hear the words of John the Baptist,  "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." (Luke 3:10-18)

     At the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash.  At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win.  But one little boy stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry.  The other eight heard the boy cry.  They slowed down and looked back.  Then they all turned around and went back...everyone of them,  One girl with Down's Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, "This will make it better."   Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line.

     Everyone in the stadium stood, the cheering went on for several minutes.  People who were there are still telling the story!  Why?  Because deep down we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves.  What matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course.  (Email from Betty Henschen to Dick & Martha Lammers and shared at Christmas, 2005.)

     What is amazing about this brief story is that it is an example of people who run with joy, pray through their playful activity, are acutely attentive to the needs of others, and who share their radical giving by walking arm-in-arm with those who are the most vulnerable.  Rejoice, for here is an instance where those of sincere heart are able to teach the rest of us who strive to live in a wounded and overly competitive world.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to express our joy in public ways, to help it spread to others, and to make it contagious.      






A "mad" song sparrow (read the story of the "Mad Bluebird")
         (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

December 14, 2009    Become Friends with Wintering Birds

     According to tradition, the current Halcyon period refers to a legendary bird, identified with a kingfisher; this bird is supposed to have a peaceful and calming influence on the sea at the time of the winter solstice -- during its brooding season in floating nests at sea.  The calm season is like American "Indian Summer," or a short period before winter storms arrive in earnest. 

     The birds you see now remind us landlubbers that we have non-migratory birds willing to endure our winters; these have a similar calming effect on all of us permanent residents who must endure the coming winter.  Our colorful migratory species have moved to warmer climates just as some of our Florida-bound retires have.  The hardy birds remain and serve us as companions, and their presence helps calm our nerves.

     Someone asked me whether I know all the birds that are the permanent residents near my residence.  Well, they include the jays, crows, hawks, cardinals, buzzards, wrens, owls, and some geese -- but there are undoubtedly more.  Their darting about, their small twitters and tweaks, and their willingness just to remain and try to make it through the winter gives us hope we can survive as well.  They are here and they delight us, if we only look out and notice them.

     Today the official bird count by the Audubon Society folks starts, in order to ascertain the bird frequency in number and locations.  There's a special methodology used by experienced bird counters.  However, if you are a compulsive counter and birdwatcher, there's nothing wrong with engaging in the count and with time becoming professional about it.  I like to count hawks while speeding down the major roadways, but this practice can be dangerously distracting if taken too seriously.

     Some naturalists would argue that winter birds do fine on their own, even though their pickings are far more sparse than in summer.  I have noted that the holly tree with its red berries outside the window is suddenly attacked by a flock of birds in mid-winter, and they consume all the fruit in a matter of minutes.  The same phenomenon  was noted on the neighbor's persimmon tree, where the ripe fruit was consumed by another flock of blackbirds in a matter of minutes as well.  The winter birds seem to like feasting together, maybe a form of communal action practiced in times of scarcity.  Perhaps the current assaults on the environment require a certain flexibility on our part;  we need to feed birds simply to keep our friends healthy through the winter months. 

     Prayer:  Lord, be kind to the winter wildlife, for times are becoming more challenging for them.  Show them compassion, for they becalm us, make us feel secure and allow us to be more sensitive to all creation, especially the more vulnerable flora and fauna.  Inspire us to share our bounty with the wildlife.






Cisco, a new puppy to help ease winter'c chill
*photo credit)

December 15, 2009     Remember FDR and a Second Bill of Rights      

     On Bill of Rights Day we ought to see that the original ten amendments to our U.S. constitutions were both set in stone and erected with enough space to permit further additions.  Human rights are not to be shaved down or eliminated, but rather expanded to include other rights not considered in the past.  We are called to protect vigilantly the enunciated rights put forth by the Constitution's framers and other rights that we become aware of through the years.  Also our duties and responsibilities expand accordingly. 

     Martin Moore in Capitalism: A Love Story concludes with a talk by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who called for a second Bill of Rights to include such things as the right to a job and proper health care.  The thoughts FDR presented near the end of his life were accepted by other nations and became part of their social fabric, but not that of this country.  The challenge before us on this Bill of Rights Day is to make explicit the rights to all people, not privileges to a chosen few.

     Rights related to the sacredness of the human person:

     * to life

     * to free speech

     * to freedom of the press

     * to the redress of crimes and offenses

     * to freedom of religion and manner of worship


     Rights related to basic necessities and global commons:

     * To clean air

     * To potable water

     * To nutritious food 

     * To clothing for warmth and decent appearance

     * To shelter for security, protection from the elements

         without fear of foreclosure

     * To fuel for cooking and warmth


     Rights related to a citizen's quality of life:

     * To a job and to have meaningful employment

     * To literacy and freedom to transact business

     * To health facilities and protection

     * To fair taxes and clean government

     * to the chance to vote and to help determine government

     * To mobility in traveling freely from place to place

     * To proper police protection

     * To jury by peers

     * To Internet and global communications

           (Finland recently made fast Internet a right)

     * To access to cultural heritages


     Prayer:  Give us the courage, Lord, to expose and defend our basic rights, and to curb the privileges that strive to limits these rights.  Help us to impress on others the duties that come with acknowledgment of rights.









Snowy footprints on a cold December day
*photo credit)

December 16, 2009  Promote Good Reclamation Practice

     Healing our wounded Earth includes the therapy of proper reclamation practices, though publication of the total hidden costs of fossil fuel extraction would skew the industry faster to renewables.  We noted on December 9 that kudzu was once regarded as a healer for roadcuts, but proved to be a technical tragedy in our country.   The multiflora rose, a native of Asia, was originally brought to the United States in the 1800s for use as rootstock for grafted ornamental roses.  Through the 1930s and into the 1950s, this exotic was promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a "living fence" for windbreaks and erosion control.  Birds enjoy the rose hips, and thus spread the plant to a wide array of climatic and soil conditions through their random droppings.  This seemingly harmless rose is quite capable of choking out native plant life though persistent mowing can rid lands of the pest.  Likewise the invasive tree of heaven is found now throughout central Appalachia in sunny, disturbed areas and wastelands.  Japanese honeysuckle was propagated in America for landscaping and erosion control.  We know its aromatic fragrance, but it is as bothersome as its bushy cousin coral honeysuckle.

      The similar choice of invasive and exotic species such as autumn and Russian olives for areas disturbed by surface mining has also proved to be unwise.  These shrubs, which can reach twenty feet in height, were planted to control erosion, return nitrogen to the soil, and provide food for wildlife.  Birds enjoy the abundant small red drupes that mature in early autumn; they scatter seeds, contributing to making these species worrisome invasives that compete for open well-drained land.  These two tree species luckily are not shade tolerant and will not spread in already heavy forest cover.  To eradicate them requires repeated mowing and grubbing out the entire root system. 

     In the past, a cut-over forest would include many saplings and much understory growth, which could spring back rather rapidly following the axe-wielding loggers and oxen.  As the disturbance process continued with greater severity into the past century using heavier machinery and reaching wider areas, disturbances became more pronounced and resulted in flooding and erosion;  the ability of native vegetation to return was stifled.  However, better reclamation efforts were developed and federal reclamation regulations were introduced in the latter twentieth century to address poor reclamation practices.  Just as the original damage to the landscape was done with disregard to ecological principles, so better selection of reclamation species is important. Better plant selection is not everything;  quite often, the land must be prepared, properly drained, fertilized, planted, thinned, and protected so that the more natural succession of species will result.  All these operations cut into profits. 

     Prayer:  Lord, give us the courage to demand that proper reclamation practices accompany disturbances of our fragile Earth.







Nandina berries on first snow of 2009, Estill Co., KY
            (* photo by Sally Ramsdell)

December 17, 20099       Fly on Wright Brothers Day?

     Throughout the twentieth century many of us thought riding in an airplane was the thing to do.  However the second century of aviation brought in a number of factors that took the glamour out of this practice: standing in line, searches and shoe removal at airport inspection points; congestion and the flow of humanity boarding and deplaning; noise on approaching and leaving aircraft;  ticket counter encounters; airline delays and flight changes; cramped seating arrangements and the next passenger using a cell phone and taking up your space, and on and on.  Airports take up immense amounts of urban land; parking is hard to find and sometimes we forget where the car is parked.  The plane can carry a person to receive health care and it can carry a sick person and help spread a plague.  Are these little or big concerns?

     However, amid the inconveniences just mentioned we get to places faster through using the airplane.  Flying is more than exciting and exhilarating.  For the long distance traveler, flying beats other forms of travel such as the stage coach and the sailing ships of yesteryear.  The flying experience itself can be a welcome moment in our lives;  looking out the window as the landscape below flows past is a way of disconnecting with the concerns of everyday life.  Upon arrival and stepping of the plane we pause for a moment of rare thanks that we had no mishap.  We know many good things about flying:  mercy flights with humanitarian relief, the Berlin Airlift, search missions after human-made and natural disaster, and rapid travel for business or emergencies.  Consider the marvelous work of helicopters, which can pluck stranded people off rooftops in floods or rush them to hospitals from remote places.

     For better or worse, we are flying people.  Counterpoise those benefits just mentioned with the horror of a screaming fighter plane strafing innocent refugees in the Second World War.  Think of the bomber carrying the atomic bomb over Nagasaki or Hiroshima, or the terrorist commandeering a passenger plane and sending it into the Twin Towers with many innocent people aboard.  Think about the crop duster killing mosquitoes or the one adding chemicals to the food crops and harming farm workers.  What about the considerable fuel costs and air pollution involved in air travel?  Faster ground transport could replace half of those flights and even get people closer to their destination with ease.  Think of the time it takes to get to an airport, park, pass through inspection, wait, board, fly, disembark, and take the local trip to the destination. However, getting across the ocean more quickly has many advantages.  Maybe flying is a good thing when done infrequently and in moderation. 

     Prayer::  Lord teach us to recognize that the Wright brothers ushered in a technology that went far beyond their wildest dreams.  Show us our duty to ensure that this rapid mode of transportation is used properly  and adds to the healing of the Earth; help us to discern when to fly and when to use ground means.        






Rushing creek after December rain
*photo credit)

December 18, 2009      Appreciate Sacajawea Day

     Sacajawea, the Native American woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition in the early 19th century, may have been America's most unappreciated person.  She carried and bore her child and nursed the infant while traveling in some of the harshest of conditions;  she connected with other Native Americans in the vast lands which were traversed and acted as translator; and she became the valuable intermediary and guide for the historic expedition that tied our nation from coast to coast.  Without her the project would not have been successful.   However, she was simply dismissed at the end of the expedition with little fanfare and virtually no compensation for the work performed.  Yes, we now have a dollar coin that bears her image, but it is a little late, isn't it?

     As this Christmas season approaches, it is fitting to probe our memories, experiences and records for unappreciated people in our lives and within our local communities.  Many people do valuable services for which they receive little or no compensation;  they are taken for granted, and sort of overlooked for those who boldly step out in front and take credit for things they did not do alone.  The overlooked certainly should not be simply dismissed with little else.  They do not come to mind quickly, because we all are inclined to overlook others.  It's hard to furnish a name because by definition they are the unappreciated; these rise from this category upon being recognized for what they do. 

     We need to be sensitive to all who contribute to society.  They stop traffic for school children, pick up litter off the street, are quiet caregivers to loved ones;  they run errands for the shut-ins;  they cook and sell tickets and wait on us without us even looking up to see their faces.  It is time we look up, let our eyes meet theirs, nod a gesture of gratitude, and add a kind word.  This sensitivity or lack of it is highly tied to our concepts of privilege, namely, that we deserve the services of others, for we are paying for them.  However, in the long run we do not deserve these blessings.  Appreciation goes hand-in-hand with gratitude;  when we become more thankful for gifts received, we begin to notice the hands and persons who deliver these gifts to us.

     Much of this lack of appreciation results from our failure to slow down, to see others in our midst, and to take a moment to look around at the invisible people who are all about.   Does it take their death to appreciate them?  Or does it take the careful detail of history to discover a Sacajawea -- or for that matter the entire Native American culture -- of which she was an unappreciated part?  We tend to translate history into the feats of the mighty and the strong, and to forget that it takes many, including the forgotten supporters to give history its true meaning.  Appreciating history then includes giving recognition to followers as well as leaders.

     Prayer::  The Lord is coming;  let us appreciate this event and show our gratitude by saying "thanks" a little more often.

  The Lord is coming;  let us appreciate this event and show our gratitude by saying "thanks" a little more often.






Tree cavity with natural "awning"
*photo credit)

December 19, 2009  Show the Death Penalty is Not Pro-life

     It always mystified me that some who pride themselves on being "Pro-life" would still desire that criminals face capital punishment.  It is far more holistic to respect the life of ALL human beings, whether in the womb or beyond, whether in the cancer ward or on death row.  Furthermore this respect should extend to other creatures (flora and fauna) of the Earth as well.  We do not destroy animals for the fun of it, but in some cases animal life must be sacrificed so that we can stay alive.  We respect all of the precious creatures striving to live out their days.

     Some who call themselves pro-life limit the extent of "pro" and seem to dehumanize certain criminals.  This segment of the pro-life community will overlook the life of a prisoner on death row but will defend the human fetus.  This inconsistency greatly weakens the cause for life and a pro-life stance.  Whereas at least half of Americans would say they are in the pro-life camp, a far smaller fraction of that population desires to abolish the death penalty.  However, in all fairness, that minority is growing with the years, for the accepted cruelties of the past (hanging, drawing and quartering, beheading and crucifixion) are no longer accepted means of putting people to death.

     The death penalty has been abolished in half the nations, including the more civilized countries -- in Latin America, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, France, Germany, Italy, and Denmark.  The first countries to abolish the death penalty were Venezuela (1863), San Marino (1865) and Costa Rico (1877).  An increasing number of countries will not even extradite a criminal to the United States, if there is a chance the trial would result in the death penalty.  At least thirteen U.S. states have now abolished the death penalty: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin -- and Maryland is now being added.  Several others are for all practical purposes not implementing death penalty statutes.  Furthermore,  American citizens see the death penalty as inconsistent with the enlightened age in which we live.  Going to a public hanging may have been entertainment a century ago but not now.  Besides, in these hard times, statistics show that those on death row are very expensive to process and maintain. 

     Executing an innocent person is utter tragedy.  After investigation using modern DNA testing methods, a number of prisoners on death row are proven innocent, causing a recent governor of Illinois to call a moratorium on executions.  Why not give all criminals the life-giving opportunity to make restitution? What a horror are families of victims who delight in execution.  It is double victimhood!  The prisoners' restitution and opportunity to repay society in some way are far more humane and pro-life.  

     Prayer:: Lord, teach us to see life as precious in all aspects.

Lord, teach us to see life as precious in all aspects.







Sighting in Corbin, KY shop window
*photo credit)

December 20, 2009     Blessed Are You Among Women                   

     Women are usually the last to benefit from increasing income [but] they are usually the first to make sacrifices when the financial situation deteriorates.  The UN Standing Committee on Nutrition, 2009. 

     As we approach Christmas, we should remember that one mother had a key role to play in the sacred event we are about to celebrate.  God enters into our history in a special way through the womb of a humble virgin, who becomes the God bearer, Theotokos.  The days before Christmas are a special time for us to reflect upon the conditions necessary for successful birthing, and how adequate resources must be made available throughout the world so that these births may occur in a safe and healthy manner.  Too many women lack pre-natal care; too many women die at childbirth;  too many children enter life through unhealthy conditions.  There are reported to be fifty million anemic expectant mothers and one billion malnourished and destitute women and children, thousands of whom die each day from hunger and lack of proper health care. 

     These sobering facts make us reach out and give a special blessing to expectant mothers, and rightly so; social justice demands that we do so.  Part of this blessing is to help provide the care that is needed for a successful birth.  Mothers' proper care and nutrition, as well as their sense of hope in the expectant child's future, have a social dimension just as Mary's motherhood was a cosmic event two millennia ago.  Successful birthing of all women adds to the health of our Earth herself.  We need a gentle mother's touch to keep this world on an even keel;  we need to see a mother's act of giving birth as a social event, a bringing a new member of our human family into the fullness of a safe home situation.  Thus motherhood is more than individual; it has a social dimension involving us all: the mother's health and well-being in the child-bearing period, her birthing, and her ability to make the home a quality place for the child's upbringing.

     Mary's unique womanly role is something only women can play.  Perhaps within Mary's affirmation to be a mother is found the unique gender role that brings about the healing of our wounded Earth.  Mary's motherhood, is her partaking of a divine gift given to females.  Mary gives birth to Jesus.  All women, especially mothers, enter into this nurturing act, and the child-bearing role of birth of each Christian, is when this is more clearly manifested.  Truly, not all women are mothers, but all women (and men) must help give birth to a new world order. (See Special Issues "A Priest for Equality Expanding View").  A mission as monumental as saving our planet and changing our social order demands our global concern.  Making each and every child-bearing event a success takes all of us working together as a concerned people.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to prepare for Christmas in a very special way, to see that mothers everywhere have the health and safety needed to bring their offspring to full term.






Stately old oak
*photo credit)

December 21, 2009     Welcome the Winter Solstice

     In the northern hemisphere the winter solstice is the darkest day of the year (very dark at the North Pole and Arctic regions).  Those of us who prefer not to drive at night find that it takes extra planning to travel in the shortened window of daylight.  We "day people" have to search hard for the benefits of this short light period.  Actually the world needs a certain amount of darkness for chemical reactions, decomposition, nocturnal activity, and rest.  Darkness is not something to be fearful about, since we know that although it is of fifteen hours daily duration, it has bottomed out -- something primitives of old were fearful about.  Rather for the next half of a year, light will increase.  Yes, the rest of winter lies ahead of us -- but at least from now on each day will get a little longer.  Furthermore, this winter is the season of root growth and the stirring of new life, which is fully expressed in the coming springtime. 

     Darkness is dispelled through light, whether the light of the sun and heavenly bodies or through fire and artificial lighting.  Decorative candles are encouraged provided they are placed away from combustible materials and attended to during a given festive period.  Throughout the winter and early spring we return to festivities of light -- Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Candlemas, and Holy Saturday to name but a few.  On these festive occasions we tend to light a single candle rather than to curse the darkness.  We appreciate the power of light to guide us and to dispel darkness;  and we find that people attract us who are enlightened. 

     When a person in hospice care passes from this world, the Appalachian people speak of "going to the light" as a sign of new hope and life.  We are more like moths than we care to imagine;  we are drawn to the light in our total physical/spiritual being.  All of us need light in order to remain healthy in both mind and body.  During this darkened season some people tend to lose their energy and actually need additional full-spectrum sunlight in order to allow the needed enzymes (and Vitamin D as well) to flourish.  Their physicians even advise them to obtain and use a full-spectrum lamp for upwards of an hour or more a day.

     Darkness is often equated with ignorance, the condition of the unenlightened.  Through light we receive "insight," and thus can find a clear interior pathway to solving problems.  Furthermore, many make use of the long winter as a time to focus attention away from the distractions of the outside world;  it is a time of study and reflection, for personal and community enlightenment.  The winter Solstice need not be a period of dread or foreboding.  It becomes a time of opportunity, a time when we reaffirm our faith that the days will get longer, that we can endure the darkness, and that there is the Light of the World at the end of the tunnel.  Spring will spring anew, and winter is its introduction.

     Prayer:  Lord, allow us to see this season as an opportunity to grow in the light of grace.




Scenes from a Christmas hike
*photo credit)

December 22, 2009      Do Something Special at Christmas    

     God gives a special gift to us at this time and we, in turn, must give something special to make this a memorable period.  Some suggestions are:

     * Special attention -- See to it that those who are foreigners or newcomers take part in American Christmas festivities.

     * Special words -- Express gratitude for gifts given in prayerful thanksgiving to God, in attention to those who do the ordinary services that are taken for granted, and through talks, conversations, homilies and friendly greetings.

     * Special feed -- Treat your pets or nearby wildlife to something special to express the expanded community of all beings.

     * Special visit -- Give a special visit to those in hospitals, prisons, or senior citizen places during this holiday.  Assist in delivery of gifts to those who are often forgotten.

     * Special events -- Try your hand and voice at caroling.  In many respects this is one of the best ways to get into the Christmas spirit and help others do the same.

     * Special help -- Volunteer to take someone to Christmas Liturgy or other celebrations.  Going yourself is one thing;  taking one who generally cannot or will not go is another. 

     * Special rest period -- Be kind to yourself and refrain from extra travel;  just rest long in preparation for Christmas.

     * Special foods -- Make a change of menu and eating habits.  Today is the day to cook or treat others to a special type of meal that you have not experienced during the year.  Is it to be Thai or Armenian or Alsatian or something else?

     * Special service -- Visit those who cannot have a family Christmas but will miss having one.

     * Special reading -- Find an environmental essay and read it carefully -- and resolve to help do something about it.

     * Special reuse -- Recycle one of last year's gifts to another person;  it may be your favorite gadget or ornamental object, and that gives the gift special meaning.

     * Special connection -- Look over the mailing list and make a personal call to someone you overlooked this past year.  Make it a special Christmas treat.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to be of special service to others and to see this as a way to give all we meet a deeper spiritual meaning of the Christmas holidays.





Maple leaves collect winter snow
*photo credit)

December 23, 2009  Twas the Day before Christmas... and Panic

     Yes, it's just before Christmas and all through the house... panic is all about.  There are gifts to purchase and wrapping paper and extra food and fuel for the vehicle and ... much to do on this last and most important shopping day before Christmas.  Panic is not allayed by encouraging one to write a poem or a witty essay -- that time has long passed.  Nor can one bake cookies, make candy, construct a fancy birdhouse, or do a million other things dreamed with time before Christmas.  Here are some shopper hints: 

     If you must shop, do it second-hand for good reason --

     * Secondhand places are not as crowded as are the Walmarts and the other markets of tacky new things fresh from China;

     * Secondhand items are most likely made in America and of high quality;

     * Without a pushing crowd there may be extra precious moments to decide exactly how this or that gift fits the needs and temperament of the recipient;

     * It is ecologically more responsible not to drain more resources required to manufacture a useless gadget from scratch;

     * It feels good not to give extra profits to billionaires, but rather help keep a modest-income shopkeeper alive and well;

     * It allows one to shop without too much shoppers' guilt, something that can destroy the spiritual nature of Christmas;

     * It relieves the stress of getting an expensive item home and wrapped without breaking it; and

     * It is inexpensive, but includes the content of love so needed in this season. 

     If you decide not to shop, it is all the better to --

     * Look for some of last year's gifts that are unused and worthy of being recycled (but not to the giver);

     * Ask neighbors whether they have secondhand items that are worthy of being Christmas gifts;

     * Wrap and give the book that you enjoyed most this past year, and realize that as gift a little part of you is given away;

     * Consider some creative gift wrapping;

     * Forget the food item and prepare something creative with what is around the house;

     * Prepare cards and tell your friends you will pray for them;

     * Just call and chat awhile and say that you want to donate money saved from gifts to a favorite charity; and

     * Take a break and get a nap, for the rest will do you more good than burning the fuel to get to the secondhand store; and

     * Cook up extra and give to someone who hates to cook, so there is extra for the guests who come to visit.

     Prayer:  Lord, quiet my nerves and allow me a quiet moment that will do so much more than busy work.  Help me refrain from expensive gifts that can become materialistic distractions from the true meaning of Christmas.





A dusting of snow on cedar branches
*photo credit)

December 24, 2009     Profess Our Creed through Deed

     The Word became flesh -- an unfolding deed in our midst.  We in turn, are willing to do something (a deed) through our professing of word (a creed).  Christmas is the story of the Word entering in a special way into human history.  This is the time when we solemnly profess that we are to help make history in what we do in the service of the Lord.  Our faith journey includes the history of our worshipping forbearers, who helped bring us into the world and nurtured our faith.  Let's bear christ to others.  Thus a fuller understanding of the mysteries of our Faith involves transforming inspired word into meaningful deed.  In turn, by reflecting on accomplished deed, we are better to spread the Good News or sharing Word throughout the world.

    Nicene Creed                           Inspired Deeds
  1. We believe in one God,       Expressing profound reverence in 
the Father, the Almighty,            all we do; refraining from
maker of heaven and earth...         wasting any of Earth's       
                                     resources, for all created   
                                      things are good.

    2. We believe in one Lord,   Becoming other christs by openly
Jesus Christ, the only son           spreading the word and working 
of God eternally begotten...         in harmony with our neighbors 
                                     through direct service.      
    3. by the power of the Holy   Converting military programs into
Spirit he was born of the            peacemaking and peace-keeping
Virgin Mary and became man...        operations for the betterment 
                                     of all peoples.

    4. he was crucified under     Compassionate service involving 
Pontius Pilate;  he suffered,         care for threatened and     
died, and was buried.                 endangered plants, animals,
                                      human communities, families,
                                      and cultures.          

    5. On the third day he        Proclaiming all to be Easter 
rose again in fulfillment            people in a life renewed
of the Scriptures.                    by forgiving others and     
                                      giving new life to all,     
                                      especially prisoners and the 

    6. he ascended into heaven    Encouraging realistic dreams and 
and is seated at the right          radical sharing of the Earth's
hand of the Father.                 so that all may have adequate
                                    food, water, clothing, housing, 
                                    education, recreation, and    
                                    basic health benefits.        
    7. He will come again in      Preparing for the return of glory
glory to judge the living           by enhancing the infrastructure
and the dead, and his Kingdom       of our transportation and     
will have no end.                   communications systems in order 
                                    to respond better to immediate 
                                      needs and natural disasters.

    8. We believe in the Holy     Enthusiastically conducting
Spirit, the Lord, the giver         educational and demonstration
of life who proceeds from the       projects, especially targeting 
Father and the Son.                 youth and their teachers.

    9. He has spoken through      Speaking out publicly for peace,
the prophets.                       justice, and the environment:

    9. We believe in one,        Ecumenical/interfaith activities,
         holy,                      public spiritual exercises,
         catholic,                  global outreach programs,  
      and apostolic Church.       historical perspective in talks
                                    and educational activities.

   10. We acknowledge one baptism  Forgiving all who are in need,
         for the forgiveness         extending a blessing to all
         of sins.                    through sacramental action.
   11. We look for the             Promoting appropriate          
resurrection of the dead              technologies that
                                      have been proven successful 
                                      in the past and are joined to
                                      current ways to enhance life
                                      and prepare for the second
   12. and the life of the          Championing a New Heaven and  
        world to come.                New Earth filled with
                                      justice and love. 
        Amen.                          We all say "Amen." 






Merry Christmas!
*photo credit)

December 25, 2009     Live the Magnificat   




   Our souls proclaim God's greatness as we say today

      a bang, a cosmic flash, a universe in ageless delay,

   comes in a moment, Christ-laden in a sublime and quiet way,

      to one who partakes in a divine and human play.

   Tis a simple maiden ready to say a sincere fiat,

      and then give the world its grand magnificat.


   Certainly blessed is she and also we,  

       but still in such a lesser degree

   than she, in the words of writer Charles Peguy 

      "To her who is all faith and all charity

       For she is also all HOPE," the world's light,  

    womb-hidden, now translucent to our delight.  


     Some try to shout aloud, proud and haughty in places sky high

       inflated by their roles amid the hawker's cry.

     Note their making, breaking profit-laden try,

       even buy rules that announce that "nothing goes awry."

    They will come down, either a miracle making things aright

        or by our God-granting, temple-cleansing new-found might.


    Bringing low the high by divine stroke, perhaps not so;

       The anawim must be lifted up for all to know     

    and discover our God in utter gratuity, not false show,

       even while tempted to seize what is rightly ours to bestow.

     However, it's not ours to grab, nor the rich to give,

        rather in mercy's freedom we come to share and live.


     But how can this sharing be, if some refuse to yield

        property, not theirs entirely but a commons field?

     Here magnificat gives us its plan unsealed,

        only by lowly work can a world be healed.

     We, like Mary, utter a new fiat and are Christ bearers

        taxing, prodding, forcing wayward wayfarers.   

    Painted red unfairly, instead, covered in her mantel blue,

      Easter people find the risen Lord's power breaking through.     

   Revolution, dawning when a restless Spirit blew  

      a Pentecost of hope on many, not a privileged few.

    Converging in a global glue, not chosen words the only key,

      but God-given mercy shown by us in deed. Indeed, let it be.


          Peace and Blessings this Christmas,





Heaven meets Earth
*photo credit)

December 26, 2009   Confirm a Down-to-Earth Spirituality

     Christ comes down and is down-to-earth; he comes among us as the Prince of Peace; he is in our midst and throughout our wounded Earth.  When we come to and enter the infancy "crib" scene, we see a cluster of shepherds and animals with the Holy Family;  we experience a moment of light and comfort and joy -- a sacred time;  we feel the warmth of light and heavenly music -- a sacred place.  The scene appears to be a chance gathering, a brief moment, an unexpected place, but it is far more.  Yes, the shepherds would return to their watch; the infant would be scooped up and taken into exile; the place would soon be left behind.  However, here and now God enters the human community in a special way. This scene makes us a little more down-to-Earth in our struggles to become a community of believers, the WE;  our inclination is to share both the blessedness of this momentary feast and the urgency of current problems, the NOW;  we come together rooted in our local environs realizing that global problems are recognized through instant communication giving us one world, the HERE.  Being down-to-Earth includes being in community, aware of time and rooted in place.

     Some creation-centered folks attempt to launch their spiritual journey out into the vast universe with its incomprehensible distances of light measured in tens or hundreds of light years; out there we observe the tiny specks of twinkling stars, which ancients thought were lights in the dome of the heavens.  Through scientific experts, the THEY, explain that the cosmic process took billions of years from the big bang unto now, the THEN, and that our world extends in a macrocosmic sea of unimaginable distances, the THERE.  On the other hand, Down-to-Earth Spirituality starts with the grandeur of God's creation that is just below my feet, that I touch with my hands, that I know from immediate experience.  Our Earth not as a speck in the void but the ground of my being.  Earth's dust is my origin and this mortal body's destiny.  Earth is the mother of us all, warm, living, a microcosm.  Starting here allows me to find myself here where I am located, now at the present time,  and through the we, a believing community who support each other.

     The whole universe shows the handiwork of and presence of the Creator (Psalm 24).  Where and when is this clearer except where and when it is nearer?  No far reaches, only to the mind and heart where the law of God is implanted.  God admires all that is made and finds it good (Genesis 1:3).  What is here can be personally inspected and blessed now.  God's imprint is with us at this point, for Emmanuel is with us.  Once when I was explaining this down-to-Earth approach of starting at the microcosmos, a devotee of a "Universe Story" with its macrocosmic emphasis, asked whether I could explain the microcosm in the manner that others explain the macrocosmos.  I declined because that would be fundamentalistic, and that is not where we ought to be coming from.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to be near others who need support;  help us to see our spirituality starting right here and now, not in distant places and times.  Help us to remain always close to You.









Fruits of winter, clinging to vine
*photo credit)

December 27, 2009      Give Sacred Space to Youth

     The feast of the Holy Family is always challenging to us, especially to those of us who do not have the opportunity to raise offspring.  What would I do if my pre-teen charge should suddenly disappear, an event that causes consternation in any family?  We wonder what runs through the minds of Mary and Joseph when Jesus' absence is realized.  This was something new, a beginning of an awareness that family life changes with time, and nestlings abandon the nest and take up their own lives.  Every family learns that private space is demanded by all, even the most perfectly acting youngster.  Over-protection and constant cell phone use is not good;  youth also need silent space to find themselves.

     Jesus is on his own psychological journey;  he has always been obedient and is still an exuberant youth, able to move faster than kinfolks in that traveling group of old and young -- moving slowly from Jerusalem back to Nazareth.  His parents lose contact with him, though he is confident that he can catch up after attending to "his Father's business" in the temple.  Here is a youth breaking away, and what is most telling is that his parents become willing to accept this as part of his journey of life, his ongoing bar mitzvah.  Anxiety is turned into joy, as Jesus rejoins them and goes back to Nazareth and becomes obedient to them;  he advances in wisdom and age and favor.  We realize that within the Church the parallel of the Gospel of Luke -- the Acts of the Apostles -- shows disciples forming new communities, each of which advances in age and wisdom and favor before God and fellow human beings.

     All young people must be given the sacred space needed for finding their own chosen vocation -- and parents can only do so much.  Unfortunately, with the great demands placed on people today, youth grow up too fast.  Parents pay for a variety of youthful needs and especially costly higher education; debts mount.  Thus today the pressure is to conform to parental expectations and acquire a paying job in the best position possible and in the shortest time.  Previous volunteer opportunities are at a premium.  In this brief window into Jesus' early life, Mary realizes that her family is not static but a dynamic reality.  Jesus would move on, for he is on a mission.  Mary ponders in her heart this event  among others in the brief and hidden history of his growing up.

      The Holy Family's qualities include compassion, kindness, humility, mutual forgiveness, obedience of children (Colossians 3:12-17).  Compassion involves pondering in our hearts; kindness is needed for creating healthy home environments;  humility permeates all family relationships; mutual forgiveness heals old wounds and invites new life.  Through obedience, Jesus submitted to Joseph and Mary -- and he grows in wisdom and age and grace into adulthood.

     Prayer:  Lord, help our families to imitate the Holy Family itself, and to have the courage to submit to your will and share in mutual respect for the needs of each other.  Let all be patient to assist and support those who are growing into maturity.





The simple play of a puppy
*photo credit)

December 28, 2009    Teach the Innocents to Pray

     Holy Innocents Day is a perfect time to consider the thousand children throughout the world who will die today from preventable diseases and malnutrition.  They are part of an extended community of the newborn male babes who were killed by Herod in the environs of Bethlehem two millennia ago.  The innocents of all ages whose lives were shortened by human malice or lack of sharing of resources were never able to reach their full potential of a long life and service to others.  Little wonder that for centuries this feast was placed very close to Christmas and the Christ child.  

     Many people young and old in our busy secular world take no time to pray and find the question "Do you pray?" somewhat embarrassing.  They will admit the need for prayers, and even ask others to pray for them.  They recognize the need for assistance from the Almighty;  yet they consider themselves as having more pressing things to do then to beg in prayer or to thank God for  gifts given.  Everyday private prayers are somewhat foreign until these people are caught in the ongoing news of deaths from terrorists, illnesses, auto accidents or examinations. 

     If parents are part of this group of the infrequent "prayers," then what about their children?  Are they being taught their morning and evening prayers -- the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Sign of the Cross, Grace before Meals  While these are common prayers with set formulas, they become personal and familial through use over time.  Adults and youth, who spend time praying together, stay together.  Do youth see parents get down on their knees, or just sit quietly and pray at the start or finish of the day.  Teaching a particular prayer is one thing; however, seeing another pray is a more powerful way of teaching the young the need to spend time with God.  At public functions some youth know common prayers and some seem very embarrassed by their own ignorance.  Let's pray that parents take the task upon themselves to pray for and with their children.

     Teaching youth has added advantages for parents and guardians: the prayers of the young are powerful, and we grow in understanding this with time; the prayer of youth can be very sincere and this causes parents and others to give more attention to their own prayer time.  Furthermore, parents realize that what is taught now is an investment for the future, for a habit of prayer can endure for someone's lifetime long after the teacher is gone.  All of us need God's help and yet we are sometimes remiss.  A few can be seen praying at shrines or at restaurants before a meal, or using prayer rugs at rest stops.  Let us all learn from those who pray in public; hopefully they may teach us all to pray.  The millions whose lives are cut short cry to heaven for a greater share of the world's plentiful resources.  This is something for all, young and old; we can all join in an act of prayer at year's end. 

     Prayer:  Lord, inspire us to teach the young to pray, for their prayers are powerful.





Anderson Co., KY barn
*photo credit)

December 29, 2009    Consider Insulated Window Shades

     Some of us put plastic on doors or windows that need more adequate insulation during the winter season.  However, there are more permanent devices that, once installed, do not have to be put on and taken off with each heating season.  One such permanent conservation measure that combines good ecological practice with craft and art is the insulated window shade.  This device comes in a variety of designs and can be effective, economical, and attractive for solving both winter's cold and summer's heat problems.  Around one-quarter of the winter domestic heat or summer cool air loss may occur from uninsulated windows through four different ways:  infiltration in gaps in the window, conduction, convection, or radiation. 

     Infiltration can be blocked by caulking, weatherstripping, storm windows, or a layer of plastic over the window.  However, the window shades can also do a very effective job in stopping energy loss.  Conduction is averted by the forming of a blockade of insulation and then trapping the air;  convection is blocked by the sealing of the edges so that air currents cannot develop; radiation is reversed with the inclusion of a reflective surface, which has the same effect as aluminum foil reflecting the sun's rays.  To make an effective insulating shade one needs one or more layers of insulating (air-trapping) fabric (e.g., batting), a reflective surface (e.g., Astrolon), a vapor barrier (e.g., plastic), and some way of sealing the shade on all sides.

     These shades are more effective, if carefully constructed using good insulating materials and fitted tightly to the frame of the window.  This tight fitting may be performed either by the use of velcro on the edges of the shade and frame or by a wood frame shutter that closes after the shade is lowered.  A roller and a Roman shade can be modified into a quilted roller shade made with layers of insulating materials, and covered on the inside with a quilted mat with Appalachian quilt designs.  For effective results in winter, the shade is raised in daytime to allow maximum solar gain and sealed or pulled down in the evening for maximum insulation.  In summer, the shade can be lowered in daytime to serve as a sun block, or kept lowered in order to conserve cooled air within the room.  Making window shades is one way less mobile people with sewing skills can be effective energy conservationists.  The product of their hands can be appreciated as a work of art even well after they have passed on. 

     ASPI has some examples of insulated window shades both in the Solar House and in the Mary E. Fritsch Nature Center.  One set is fastened with wooden shutters and the other has Velcro strips to hold the shade tight to the window frame.  ASPI also distributes Quilted Insulated Shades, Technical Paper-21.  More information can be found on the website <www.a-spi.org>.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us see that conservation work can be artistic, exciting, economical, effective and permanent. 




A rose to celebrate the end of 2009
*photo credit)

December 30, 2009     Count Your 2009 Blessings

     Our Christmas season includes many blessings that we take for granted and that people of two centuries back could have hardly dreamed about.  Recounting these blessing is a blessing in itself:

     * A lively faith that the Lord has come among us, and is to come again soon to establish a New Heaven and a New Earth, which we are to help bring about through our collective efforts;

     * The ability to use our own bodily functions (seeing, hearing, thinking, etc.) to the degree needed;

     * A plentitude of nutritious food that can be stored safely, potable water, sufficient clothes, fresh air and all of life's basic essentials;

     * Available medicines and measures to protect us from the illnesses that beset so many, along with health facilities and conscientious and devoted care givers;

     * Accessible transportation to take us easily to distant places in all but the worst weather;

     * Instant communication allowing us to speak on the phone to distant relatives and friends, and to send them rapid messages via the Internet;

    * Warm lodging that protects us from the harsh elements, and can be heated without an enormous expenditure of time and effort;

     * Adequate education and literacy to know the basics of language and to negotiate the demands of modern life;

     * Freedom of religion to celebrate the sacred events of this time and place without fear of persecution;

     * Basic security that is not perfect but does permit most of us to rest securely at night and without fear of major disruptions in our normal lives;

     * Friends and relatives who give and receive support, and service personnel who defend us, protect us, risk being in harms way for us, and are willing to come out when we are in need;

     * Wholesome entertainment that can keep us contented during this holiday season; and

     * Many things we have forgotten because of our limited memories.

     Prayer:  God, Giver of all good gifts, we thank you for blessing us in 2009 in many ways.  Help us extend this sense of gratitude to all our relatives, friends and neighbors.





Seed pods in winter, new life awaits
*photo credit)

December 31, 2009     Glance Back and Look Ahead

     The last day of the year is like careful driving -- looking back in the rear mirror frequently and still keeping our eyes peeled ahead on the coming 2010.  Past experience and future plans coalesce in making this a precious moment at year's end -- when we turn our minds to a combination of thanks for what has happened and petition for what lies ahead.  Glancing back involves an examination of where we came from;  looking ahead calls for plans as to where we intend to go.  Both are spiritual exercises; the past involves twists and turns and detours serving as guides, for we shape our past into a grand experience; the future is a horizon that is as bright as we are willing to help create it.

     The past glance includes the good and the bad, the successes for which we are thankful and the failures for which we ask forgiveness.  We cannot walk backwards for long, or else we fall again.  God forgives, and thus we turn our face to the future.  While glancing back for this moment, let's list all the achievements of the past year, the people served, the times of celebrations, the health and mobility and happiness we gave and received.  We may review our daybook or our memories.  It may be interesting to see where we were in January and how much our plans and life have changed in twelve short months.  Are we the wiser for what has occurred?  What about the unexpected deaths, illnesses, stresses and other events that entered our lives?  How much did we become concerned about the economic and political difficulties of our neighbors near and far?

     Looking ahead involves a faith in a future that is to come, and a hope that all will go well.  Some of us may ask a series of questions;  others may practice a certain indifference that says, "let it come to be;"  still others may find an uncertainty that can be stressful in itself.  For believers in an eternal life ahead, the future, while somewhat indefinite, does have a core perspective that colors how we approach the coming year.  The eternal life is like a sun just behind the horizon, and its eventual rising is our hope that orients us and draws our attention. Our past directs us as a guide; our future inspires us as a dawn of new possibilities that lie ahead.  With both of these we engage in the present moment, the NOW of our lives.      

     In an abbreviated format this could be more than a yearly exercise.  We may resolve to spend a few moments at the end of each day counting up our activities and finding how we adjusted to the time, the prompting of the Spirit, and our successes and failures.  Again we seek forgiveness and also thank God for letting us live that time and to be of service. St. Ignatius Loyola regarded these daily examinations as the most essential daily exercise. Consider the daily examinations of 2010  as a miniature of what we are doing here and now.  May our 2009 exit be our 2010 doormat.

     Prayer:  Lord God, we thank You for bringing us to this point. Forgive us for when we tripped and fell.  Help us rise up with new vigor and eagerly take on the challenges of the coming year.   



Copyright © 2009 Earth Healing, Inc.  All rights reserved....

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

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