December is more than the "last month of the year." It is generally too cold to be autumn, and too warm to be deep winter. At least in these parts we seldom have a white Christmas. December is often devoid of major natural disasters (through a few floods have occurred in this month). December has its own blessings: holly and street lights, smell of cedar, clear calls of the screech owl, crow, wild turkey and coyote, the sound of crystal-flowing creeks, wood smoke curling from chimneys, clean frost-coverings, walnuts ready to be shelled, smoked hickory-scented hams, colorful early sunsets, and Christmas carols interlaced with added cheer. Sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells make December unique.
Evergreen watching sentinel on the night of Messiah's birth, You stand in wintery landscape, solitary witness on our Earth.
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Early December splash of color, following extended warm weather period.
Marbled orb-weaver, Araneus marmoreus.
December 1, 2020 Selecting Relevant Information
Did you ever go to a state or world's fair or a national convention or conference? Was the parade of colorful attractions all vying for attention somewhat disconcerting? Our world of emails, phone calls, TV ads, and reports offer instant and plentiful information, but does it improve our quality of life? Information is certainly available, overly available: some good, some perverse, some worth pondering, some deliberately false, and much worth passing over -- but the selection process can become daunting in itself. In fact those who study creativity find that focus is a necessary ingredient -- and ill-directed information is distracting. Can we avoid what Alvin Tofler coined in 1970 "information overload?"
First, we need essentialinformation -- bus schedules, currency exchange or withdrawal outlets, restaurants, rest facilities. Certainly, in order to stay abreast of friends and family we need the basics about health, suffering, marriages, births, deaths, and other vital aspects of our loved ones lives. Essential information extends to staying alive. Where do we get food, water and public transportation? Generally, governmental information may be a good source, but having trusted companions who know where to go for essential information is always best.
Second, we need semi-essentialinformation such as current news, data about candidates for election, offices of those who care for our health, auto repair places, and spiritual sources of comfort. Managing this information is challenging enough for most of us (see May 11, 2017). In fact, much of such information is from word of mouth, from trusted relatives, friends and neighbors. How else do we determine who will give us the best service?
A third level is current information of what is occurring in our world today. Here the picture rapidly gets far more complicated. Information outlets must be selected wisely or else there is a blur. If it takes twice the time to get news due to ad breaks, try alternatives (public radio or daily briefs from specialized news services such as those dealing with environment, energy, health or religious news). Weekly news magazines of a more serious nature save energy and time as well. Thomas Jefferson never read daily newspapers; he counted on longer term digests.
The fourth level is entertainment or free-time information. The caution light goes on: social media and chat rooms are time consuming. Use that rich source of information, the Internet, wisely. Employ a method of sorting and removing junk mail and phone calls including restricting time when reviewing emails. Information seeking can become time-consuming. Before we know it, we become addicted to information-seeking and “that ain't good.”
Prayer: Keep us, Lord, informed as to how to act in a world of multiple detours and false attractions; keep our eyes and ears modestly fixed on your inspired directions.
December 2, 2020 Being Effective Charities among the Poor
Assistance programs in poorer nations are going through a period of soul-searching in recent years. Throwing money at people is certainly no answer -- and there is less to throw anyway. Doing the assisting while remaining apart from the people has its weaknesses as well. The poor are truly in need of food, health, and lodging, and problems must be addressed right now. Those seeking to give assistance do differ in meaningful service. Effectiveness depends on how well these groups enter into solidarity with the suffering multitudes in the target places, and whether assisting group members actually enter into a simple lifestyle and thus think an act together with those they serve.
Brandon Kohrs (whose family is a member of my parish in Stanton, Kentucky), while a medical school student at Ohio University, spent his summer break with a medical team helping to treat the poor (mostly children) in and around Goma in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As with all such volunteer experiences, this became for him a steep learning curve about the needs of sub-Saharan Africans. He shared his rather complete and highly insightful journal with our parish, and a portion of his insights are worth repeating here:
By our knowing the right people, progress (in health assistance) can be made. Mindlessly throwing money at a problem is not the answer; it will only make things worse. If you want to make a difference, you need good moral people on the ground who will see your project through.
I saw a number of ineffective charities during my time at Goma. Heal Africa, which was in the center of Goma and is supported by Oprah (an American TV celebrity), seemed to be more worried about maintaining their image and keeping their staff happy than they did about helping the people. (People who work there stayed in beautiful houses overlooking Lake Kivu; they drive cars that will never break down, and they got a month of paid vacation to any destination they would like, while charging 100 dollars a night for any room in their hospital). All this does is create a dual economy that prevents need from getting to the places where it needs to go. I am not saying that Heal Africa does not do a lot of good; I am sure they do. However, when people begin to worry more about maintaining image than maintaining lives, they become incredibly ineffective, and their goals are not reached. Sustaining the goals becomes a bigger goal than sustaining the people. It is amazing that small charities like the Project Congo and the highly criticized Catholic church, have done as much if not more good for the people here than all the multimillion dollar charities combined. It is because their focus is still with the people.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to know when and what to give with all of our hearts for the sake of others. Let us never forget that our loving service is directed to those in greater need.
Cordwood home, Appalachia Science in the Public Interest. Livingston, KY. (*photo credit)
December 3, 2020 Advocating for Cordwood Buildings
While directing Appalachia -- Science in the Public Interest (ASPI) I decided to both build a cordwood building as an office and later residence and to cover the exterior walls of the mobile home (60 feet by 12 feet) with cordwood siding. The buildings are featured as one of our most popular videos in our YouTube site. The cordwood office/house is 38 years old and still serviceable; white oak tornado-damaged trees were cut into 16-inch blocks of cordwood for siding. The cordwood for the old trailer was essentially a byproduct (12-inch pine blocks) intended for chipping by a local forest products company; the blocks were cemented with Brixment mortar mix on both interior and exterior ends with air space in the middle. The space between the cordwood and exterior and interior walls of both building was filled with half-inch Styrofoam insulation board.
Over time the exposed log ends have been treated with a one-to-one mix of turpentine and raw linseed oil, with addition of paraffin (one ounce per three cups of each of the major ingredients). The only bad feature in this wooded area is that wood bees prefer to embed in the wood and must be discouraged by the periodic treatment. Further details are found in our contributed chapter in Cordwood Building: The State of the Art by Rob Roy.
From our experience cordwood buildings have a number of advantages well worth enumerating:
* Warm and snug in winter and cool and comfortable in summer without the need for extra winter heating or air conditioning in the warmer weather.
* Cheap to build using recyclable wood from other processes. Part of the economy is that this can be constructed by a single person operating alone, if need be, as far as the walls are concerned; there's no heavy logs to be put into place; nor does the supporting walls need added log supports.
* The buildings have an added beautiful due to the wood finishing and the feeling of living truly in the woods. Those who have lived or worked in cordwood buildings testify that they are wonderful places to gather, live, and work.
* Cordwood buildings are somewhat fireproof provided the roofs are not combustible. Siding logs are so interspersed with cement that they are not combustible in normal wildfire events.
* Cordwood buildings are model green buildings, for the materials require relatively little processing, can be derived from native materials close at hand (low transport energy costs), and are able to create a pleasant green atmosphere.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to furnish lodging and working space for all, and to use low-cost materials close-at-hand.
The Jefferson salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum, native Kentucky species.
December 4, 2020 Insisting on Some Domestic Renewable Utilities
Part of the difficulty with transfer to renewable energy sources is a large-scale mindset -- large wind or solar farms, hydropower plants, biomass plants near wood wastes, or geothermal systems producing electricity. We have been conditioned by our economic system to think large and mega- in scope. The corporate investments and government are to blame for funding large-scale showcases. We hear about larger profile wind farms and solar industries hiring dozens or hundreds of workers and consider this the regular process of attaining a renewable energy economy.
Massive renewable projects mean higher profiles, larger employment and output numbers, and broader access to investments and government funding. However, size options may be a further consideration. In fact, smaller renewable projects, though not as attractive from a media standpoint, can make major contributions if more numerous and widely distributed. In fact, many have held for years that these small-scale solar, wind, geothermal and biofuel resources when coupled with comprehensive energy conservation would reduce new fossil fuel powerplant needs to zero, and enhance more sustainable and effective energy programs.
Today, a host of environmental groups call on Congress to slash oil, coal, ethanol, and nuclear subsidies while savings billions of dollars over the next decade. How about returning some of this in the form of loans and tax write-offs for small-scale renewable energy projects? Ethanol could be reduced in its credits and more agricultural land given to direct plant food production for the world's needy. How about a quick start by halting the tax breaks to the big oil companies with their record-breaking profits? As we have stated on numerous occasions, loan guarantees for the nuclear industry are horribly misappropriated, since renewables come at a far safer and lower cost than the nuclear industry -- and are surpassing that outworn energy source.
Paybacks on the small-scale may come slowly, but they can surely come when applying the newest technologies in wind and solar -- and the fuel sources are essentially free. On the other hand, the hidden environmental costs of non-renewable coal and oil are known and worth retelling to the public. The high carbon dioxide emissions are on schedule to causing the predicted catastrophe by mid-century, along with permafrost melting that releases untold amounts of methane gas (with 25 times more greenhouse warming effect than CO2). In fact, the goals sought at the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord are not being met, in part due to the U.S. Administration foot-dragging. Maybe the recent election will change all of this very quickly. Domestic low-input solar, geothermal and even wind have a role in the changing economy.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be concerned about our domestic quality of life, and to turn our minds to simpler ways in which we can be direct participants in saving our wounded Earth.
December 5, 2020 Considering 30 Non-Monetary Christmas Gifts
Every year this website makes some sort of effort to reduce Christmas commercialism and to put Christ back into Christmas. This always comes around tomorrow's feast of St, Nicholas, for in many countries of Europe and elsewhere this is a period of giving gifts to youth. Today, a convenient gift is some money or a purchasing card at specific stores in the vicinity. When two-thirds of the sluggish economy is based on consumer buying it appears unpatriotic to do what we suggest: Buy essentials.
Instead of money, here are this Christmas gift suggestions:
1. Promise to visit a homebound person each season (or more frequently) in 2021.
2. Exchange periodicals with a friend who has some of the same
3. Assist a neighbor in pruning, watering, raking, composting,
4. Help some youngster with homework, or promise to give him
or her some quality time in 2021.
5. Fast once a week to assist another to abandon the smoking
6. Offer a day of sacrifices for a sick person and let them know exactly when
it will be.
7. Connect regularly with a loved one on the Internet and speak off the
need to live more simply.
8. Pick and share some wild greens, berries, nuts, or fruit.
9. Invite a reader to trade books or donate to library.
10. Give some time for garden work or assistance.
11. Be open to go at any time to chat when a depressed person
has a bad moment.
12. Help with hints for "year-round" gardening, and spend time showing an amateur just how to go about doing it.
13. Donate a special cooking dish to someone this month.
14. Review clothes wardrobe and offer surplus to charity or a local yard sale.
15. Watch over a residence when another desires a vacation.
16. Do a good deed for a caregiver.
17. Share info from Internet information sites.
18. Remember a loved one who passed away on a special date.
19. Celebrate or host a special occasion during 2021.
20. Volunteer to do something special at church.
21. Help monitor voting records of elected legislators.
22. Offer assistance to someone with poor eyesight.
23. Carpool on some special event this coming year.
24. Remove snow or ice on one of the rare storm events.
25. Connect newly arrived residents with like-minded people.
26. Bake something for a shut-in.
27. Recycle a treasured item and explain why it is special.
28. Take a hike together in each season.
29. Promise to decorate the grave of a loved one.
30. Carol, decorate, or extend Christmas greetings.
Prayer: Lord, at least allow me to do some of these in 2021.
Experiencing Endings and Beginnings
December brings change: at the start it is the beginning of the liturgical year and at close the ending of the calendar year. To our surprise this is the month of hidden growth and maturation. Yes, winter starts a new growing year -- the plant's root system; it's a time to consider our maturing spiritual journey. This is now Advent season, a time of watchful waiting for the coming of the Lord. Vigilance does not mean looking to heaven for a miracle, but rather redoubling our involvement in life's spiritual journey. At Christmas we acknowledge the historic coming of the helpless infant Jesus; we are keenly aware of the ongoing Calvary event in the suffering of those in the pandemic; we await a renewed future. In this normal holiday season, we are urged this year to stay closer to the homeplace, and reach out with good will through social media.
We seek to bring happiness in our spiritual journey. Our presence is God's presence and so, like Mary on the road to Bethlehem, we bring forth the hidden Christ to a world craving to receive his love. Thus, we relive Christmas both in childlike terms by rekindling the spirit, and in mature terms by finding ways to help those in need. The current pandemic is certainly a challenge: we look about for some natural signs that things will get better. Yes, the season includes pungent natural scents and tastes, the vibrations of those who celebrate, and sights of lights in the midst of early winter darkness.
The natural world adds to the rhythms of this time -- in both faint and dramatic ways. We have to recognize each as part of the inviting celebration in sight, sound, smell, taste and feeling that is very distinct for this special season. Sharing is truly part of our December events. However, the simple hug, as part of that sharing, is missed this year when we are cautioned to keep a social distance. We extend "hugs" through kind words spoken when others are in need and crave a social connection. Let's find ways.
Glistening Razor Fence at Manchester Prison. In my years of prison service at the Manchester Kentucky Prison I observed at a distance, especially at Christmas time, the giant seasonal display of sparkling lights, something the prisoners within could never appreciate. On closer inspection we find razor wire and guard posts. When the spotlights are shining during a clear cold wintry night, the place sparkles like sprawling shrubs with a million Christmas lights. But behind glittering wire, a thousand unfortunate prisoners are cast away from society. Some keep the secrets of their own offenses; others remember hurt caused to loved ones back home; many regret lost time that could have been used to make a decent living. Can't we rehabilitate offenders?
Christmas-Caroling. Singing is part of the life of simple happy people, because it resonates with the native land itself -- for hills and valleys, lakes and plains sing along with all creation. Singing extends to the angelic choir as well; the arrival of an awaited One, expected for thousands of years, is something Earth, animals, people, and angels enjoy expressing. Someone starts a chant and others take it up -- and that is the native way of turning songs into prayers bound-heavenward. Universal resonance embraces all creation; song waves go out from one singing group to the next, a concatenation of singing groups, each expressing joy in its own way. The vibrational ripple effect spreads, moving forward to the entire universe. And strangely enough, we discover deep harmony when singing or listening.
The Humble Christmas Tree. The tradition in our family involved setting out the weekend before Christmas to select a native red cedar (Juniperus virginiana); this "tree" would reign supreme and be decorated for a whole month in a prominent place in our home. Our farm had limestone soil, and thus contained more than enough cedars, a "weed" bush. The selected cedar filled our house with a special scent, something that only Christmas brings. Cedars are friends, bushy, make good hedge, are green year-round, and tolerant of air pollutants. Cedar wood is an excellent preservative when fashioned into containers (the cedar chest); and cedars make wonderfully fragrant decorative boughs, bearing the nobility conferred in Old Testament times on their far taller cousins, the cedars of Lebanon. God's advent in flesh is to simple people, in simple hill country, in a stable with farm animals. The cedar tree adds to that simplicity.
Providing Christmas Treats. Americans often seek to attain material goods which, in turn, do not truly satisfy. That's a secular and materialistic "Christmas" story. In order to combat this, all of us need to spend greater effort in pursuing spiritual awareness and discovering the Divine Presence in our limited span of time and space. Different practices have always made Christmas special for the young and old alike. We strive to remember those near and far, especially the have-nots of the world. At this time of pandemic, let's assemble Christmas baskets for those needy who are near at home. On another level let's work so that the hunger of so many may be relieved by socially-just policies in afflicted lands. The Christmas bounty is to be shared with all.
Affording Time for Everything There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven: (Ecclesiastes 3). To embrace another has its special place at times of mourning, on arrivals and departures, within sincere fellowship, with congratulations, and in times of need and sickness. Gesture says more than words, brings togetherness, and expresses both compassion and joy. Just as there are times for embraces, there are times when others need to be left alone, to figure things out by themselves; they need personal sacred space. In this time of massive pandemic, we must refrain from embracing and shaking hands; our greetings are from afar, with kind words from sensitive people aware of social distancing. The challenge is to find proper ways of celebrating the season.
December 6, 2020 Practicing Patience in Troubled Times
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard "delay," but he is patient with you. (II Peter 3:10)
On various occasions I am told I lack the virtue of patience. Such an admonition makes us humble. Astute observers are correct, and yet to practice patience is quite difficult for those of us who are living on the fast track, eating (even home-prepared) fast foods, driving often near or above the speed limit, using fast-track forms of communications, and seeing the number of mortal days ahead as dwindling. In short, lack of patience in our fast-moving world is a cultural defect afflicting more than a few of us. We expect more: from cooperative traffic lights to instant checkouts, and from banking service to electricity delivery. Lack of instant service frustrates us and we often neglect to simply smile.
A holy impatience is possible and even needed. If we see someone beating up another, we would do more than say to the poor victim, "Brother have patience for the Day of the Lord is coming, and your oppressor will get his just desserts." Rather we show our impatience and attempt to halt the assault either through our powers of persuasion, passive resistance, physical restraint if necessary, or by calling 911 for police protection. Thus when troubles involve another, we assist them, and merely not knowing them does not allow standoffishness. Failure to defend another is never a mark of patience but of cowardice. Failing to defend ourselves is part of practicing needed patience.
Patience is something to do with our expectation of the Lord. We help prepare the world for the coming, but realize that we are imperfect, and even our sincere efforts may lack total success. By realizing our limitations we are challenged to grow in patience. In fact, if we ponder a bit, limitations become an opportunity to grow in the Lord. We trust in God's own patience and mercy; we beg to do better with divine grace. However, others, upon seeing us not lose heart in our imperfect efforts, find encouragement in their own road to perfection. We are doing the best we can and pray for improvement, for patience is a slow-growing social virtue.
Holy impatience involves not being satisfied with efforts we and others undertake to bring about social justice to others; this requires an internal balance, namely, an acceptance of our own limitations and shortcomings. Even these, when sincerely acknowledged, have a sense of powerful witness to the need for God's grace. We may have to stand honestly before the Lord and before our fellow human beings and admit limitations; we offer ourselves as a witness to the need for all to improve together. We may even beg from others who have a wonderful sense of accepting delays and lack of success, and grow in our trust in the Lord.
Prayer: Lord, help us with a sense of humor to see ourselves as people in need of your mercy; balance our need to have a holy impatience with injustice and patience with self-limitations.
December 7, 2020 Championing Smokehouses on Fire Safety Day
My dad smoked hams and took great pride, rising in the middle of the night to stoke the hickory fire as an essential part of the smoking operation. This generally was a December exercise though much depended on when the "hog killin’" occurred. The cold weather and the perfect condition of the fattened animals had much to do with precise time and subsequent meat-smoking operation.
Smoking food materials is a convenient low-cost preserving technique used through the centuries. Many primitive people found that by applying smoke to salted meat and fish, and even to apples and certain fruits and vegetables that these materials could be preserved through the winter months. One must realize that some Appalachian apples were treated with sulfur for preserving, and that meats are treated with salt and nitrates (health effects must be noted). The wood used for smoke has been selected for smoke flavor: hickory is the favorite in eastern U.S. and mesquite in the western part. Pine and other softwoods could give off tar and volatiles that mask the good flavors. Actually, the utilitarian reasons for smoking food compliments the gourmet aspects of scent and salt- & sugar-cured flavor, and preserved texture of the food. Enjoyment is a collection of various sensations.
Health considerations today limit the popularity of smoked products. Of course, smoke has its small amounts of carcinogenic substances. The poorer folks who could not eat large quantities of smoked meat most likely would have died from other causes long before the smoke ingredients did their damage -- and that is sufficient cause for telling those living longer to eat everything in moderation, for excess of almost anything harms us. Enjoy smoked products with limits as to amount and duration.
Domestic smokehouses demand care in construction, because builders tell us that construction materials can enter into the taste of the product. My brother Charlie sought to build a perfect smokehouse so it could replicate the taste of smoked ham and sausage that our dad had achieved. My mother's people prided themselves in meat-smoking expertise, causing some competition with the branches of our family.
Specifications in constructing a building include an eight by twelve foot structure with a concrete floor. Asphalt roof tile is avoided due to possible flavor contamination, though certain wooden shingles are possible; a metal (steel) roof is preferred. The building siding can be rough-cut, neutral wood (no pine or synthetic formaldehyde plywood or treated materials). Obviously there are no windows to the smokehouse and the only major aperture is a front door. However, eaves are vented to allow accumulated smoke to exit.
Prayer: Lord, the Scriptures testify that good aroma pleases you, Creator of all our senses. Help us preserve what is good, and to see that, by enjoying foods, we serve you more fully.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Good Shepherd Church,
December 8, 2020 Proclaiming Mary, Mother of the Poor
On this day we recall Mary's Immaculate Conception, God's special gift. Doesn't this make her removed from other poor souls? On the contrary, we also see that Mary's total purity and transparency opens her to being "poor in spirit," sharing with the poor, and identifying as being in solidarity and thus directly among the poor.
Being Poor in Spirit: Mary is the first and most purely the one who is "poor in spirit." This quality of a Kingdom person that Jesus speaks about in the discourse on the Beatitudes (Matthew Chapter 5) concerns a radical dependence on God, and the knowledge that all that we possess we owe to our Creator. Mary shows a total trust in God in the Magnificat upon her visit to Elizabeth; she is the precursor of those called to totally trust in God's will. While some trust in their talents or wealth, trust in God makes one forsake false gods (money and material possessions). By pondering these gifts in our hearts and by trusting in God we abandon self-centeredness and jealousy; we discover a freedom that results in a groundswell of gratitude from our hearts. We enter the world naked and leave it so, except for being clothed in acquired love, God's gift to us and our openness in response.
Sharing blessedness: Also in her Magnificat, the hymn of total dependence on God, Mary shares with her cousin and with all of us her unique situation of being most blessed among all. Instead of separating from us as an elite person, Mary invites us to share the discovery of hers AND our blessedness by God's generous hand. God showers blessings on all creation, and utter gratitude is to be our initial response. We share in Mary's blessing through our Baptism in which we are immaculately conceived into the community of believers -- though we are people who stumble, and imperfections hold us back. However, our moments of acknowledging God's gifts floods us as well as Mary, who is able to recognize spiritual poverty transformed into plenty. Through greater sharing in community, we gain a better grasp of our unique individuality -- particular blessings God gives us to share with others.
Being in Solidarity with the poor: In the middle of a federal security prison while celebrating the Liturgy with humble people on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12th), I was once able to understand a little better Mary's solidarity with the poor. While some regard their individual possessiveness as their own "right," others see the fullness of their impoverished condition and cry out for God to be with them. Mary, fully united with her son, hears the cries from prisons, hospitals, and abandoned homes. She appears to the poor in special ways and special times. Mary offers compassion just as she did at the foot of the Cross. In the fullness of her pure heart Mary sees the Calvary of the poor. She is mother to us all; she says without hesitation, "We the Poor."
Prayer: Lord, help us to imitate Mary's spirit of poverty and share with her solidarity with all the world's poor.
A coal-fired powerplant in western Kentucky.
December 9, 2020 Substituting Fossil Fuels with Renewable Energy
Switching from coal to natural gas is a popular energy option in the past few years with the ability to fracturing shale formations and freeing cheap and plentiful gas. In the recent presidential campaign much was made of halting shale oil and gas extraction and further curbing of transitional fossil fuels. While natural gas replacement of dirty coal is looked upon as less pollutants, that is not necessarily so -- if the far more powerful global-warming methane (25 times that of CO2) leak in large amounts either through gas production and use -- and that now is being emitted from melting permafrost. Really, more popular natural gas applications are actually accelerating climate change.
Renewable energy substitution made impressive gains in 2020 and hopefully in 2021. The solar, wind, hydropower, biofuel and geothermal renewable contributions now account for one fifth of U.S. electrical generation and will be expected to continue to rise in the next few decades. While renewables are showing rises due to greater safety, rapid implementation and rapidly reduced overall costs, still the use of energy in auto and air travel along with heating and cooling in more parts of the world is prolonging the use of fossil fuels in countries like China and India. In the first half of this century the total energy use is doubling.
Environmentally, the continued high fossil-fuel utilization, even with some cleaner combustion methods and hypothetical trapping of CO2 will result in the predicted two degree Celsius temperature rise -- and even higher without proper curbing methods being applied by all nations. Though sounding small, such temperature rises will have a profound global climate change effect, resulting in accelerated melting of glaciers and rising ocean levels; these ocean expansions will displace tens of millions of some of the world's poorest people (especially in Bangladesh and Pacific Island nations). When snow- and ice-cover at the poles melt more sunlight is absorbed into the open water and reduced reflection back into the atmosphere results in increasing water temperatures and release of greater amounts of methane in melting permafrost areas.
Warming increases spell catastrophe. Add to this environmental effects from fossil fuel use include mountaintop removal in Appalachia, oil spills in areas of ocean drilling, and damage to groundwater sources for drinking due to increased fracturing of shale formations in natural gas extraction. Also tar sands, especially in Western Canada, is a source of dirty fuel extraction. We urgently need to convert non-renewable energy sources to renewables ASAP. Can this substitution occur fast enough? No one knows the full answer, for much depends on a far greater determination than witnessed for the past few years by the U.S. administration. Certainly some countries, cities and regions have made great strides, but the pace is not fast enough
Prayer: Lord, give our policymakers a dose of common sense.
A mighty old tree. Bernheim Arboretum and
December 10, 2020 Celebrating Trees or Vestigial Paganism
We celebrate trees and many of the delights of shade, nuts, wood and fruit appear on "Daily Reflections." However, our ancient Germanic ancestors may have thought trees to be gods. To admire trees for beauty, color, shape, utility, toughness, moisture retention, wind control, and added property value is one thing; to give trees divine attributions is another. Trees certainly attract us with their height, strength, and power. Those peoples of old turned their veneration of trees into divine attributes and thus a trace of idolatry may still be with many of us.
Trees entered into my early and later life: picking fruit, climbing, trimming, and raking leaves. In fact, a prize family tradition was an annual hike on our nearby hillsides to select a wild cedar tree for Christmas (we were depression children); we enjoyed cutting it, bringing the prize home, inhaling the aroma that would fill our humble domain, and preparing the stand on which it would be decorated by the women of the house (distinct tasks were apportioned). It was also the boys' task to take the shotgun and blast down some mistletoe to hang in unsuspecting parts of the living quarters. The decorated tree became a center place with its blinking lights and its tin "icicles" that were recycled from year to year as were the cotton, top star, and the "made in Japan" ornaments. Under this beautiful tree were placed humble gifts to be opened in a family circle on Christmas Eve.
Age takes its toll on good things and distant memories. Upon maturing I have had my doubts about Christmas trees and have even said so to our late editor, Sally Ramsdell, who had a Christmas tree farm and sales program for a period. As my sense of resource conservation grows I have come to see cutting live trees for decorations as wasteful. Digging them up and replanting in one's yard after Christmas and as shade or wind breaks certainly has value. However, an artificial tree allows reuse and less expenditure of materials in annual choice and purchase -- and then disposing of the dried waste material in the following January.
I have now reached a third stage running from affirmation of the humble cutting of a Christmas tree to a neutral stance, and now in older age to a more cantankerous approach. Is the Germanic Christmas tree too reminiscent of the practice of worshiping the god Thor? Certainly trees can be mighty! Didn't Boniface hack down the last grand tree god, and must there be some sort of residual respect verging on adoration in the bones of those who witnessed the tree fall? I am now convinced that Christmas trees are residual or vestigial remnants of a long forgotten paganism that comes to light with the coming of God among our own at Christmas -- and it is deserving of being rooted out. Am I right about this? Is this a vestigial pagan practice?
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to see the beauty of trees left in the woods; help us find the Lord in our hearts and homes and know where to look for all creatures in the proper season.
Hastening the Day of the Lord
This current pandemic causes us to slow down, pause, take careful note, and become attentive to the needs of people who are hurting in many ways. The mental strain is immense for perhaps a quarter of the population, so let's become ever more sensitive to their needs. Through social media we become more aware of our hurting neighbors. We cannot forget that another critical issue -- climate change -- demands some of our focus also; there's only a limited time to address this issue. We are the catalyst in a distracted world, expecting to revitalize the discouraged and establish the conditions for effective global collaboration.
Seeing God in All Things. NOW is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. "Faith is seeing the brilliant continence of Christ looking up at us from every creature." With time we become aware of the Divine Presence in our midst -- a special HERE. This is an enlivening atmosphere where the HERE is truly ecological, holy and consecrated -- and our awareness of it grows at moments of urgency. It is divine Mystery emerging, a reality that we have not been fully aware of in the past, but which emerges amid our troubles. This Presence of God is both divine and human; it defines who we are, where our environment fits into the picture, and our spiritual growth among WE of good will.
We are called to be creative, not awaiting the Lord in blissful lethargy, but in active work. Being limited, we begin to see the need for spiritual growth. We focus on the person of Christ in whom all creatures have their being (Colossians 1:16), for here is the fullness of one whom we strive to follow. As being equivalent of biological catalysts, we become effective when we fit into certain vital notches and, through this fitting, increase the process of hastening the day of the Lord. Timing is of the essence, lest the catalytic action is retarded. NOW is the acceptable time, for we have our special place in history. Jesus freely accepts his role and his mission in time; we are called to accept our role. In a fleeting moment of gratitude, we realize that God has privileged us to be here and now at this time and place. However, we have our limitations, and so we strive to be conscious of time and we rest when exhausted.
God's healing power goes out to all the world through us as inspired and formal agents of change. Within our believing community (HERE), and in these final times (NOW), we learn forgiveness and a sharing in Jesus' saving work of redemption (WE). Three levels of awareness emerge: that of space (with Divine Presence), of time (definitive end) and of social interaction (social collaboration) -- and the three are conjoined mysteries, separate and yet interrelated. And this interrelationship grows as the consciousness of God's Presence emerges. When taken as a total, still more is perceived: HERE centers and focuses our direction; NOW involves urgent work and still is projected to a distant end point; WE becomes the field in which we operate.
Seeing our role as catalysts. Believers have a special role to play in these critical times and we must become aware of the calling. Our growth in consciousness involves specific place (our current stance), time (the present moment), and creatures in our support community. Urgency impels us forward and stimulates our enthusiasm; the need is to remove barriers of segregation so we can work better together. Our being HERE with God allows us to be centered and not thrash about for new direction. We look to Jesus as light of the world, salt of the Earth, leaven for all; catalytic light triggers life and photosynthetic growth. Yes, we are special catalysts, mindful of proper placement and timing, and aware that agents must be properly placed for meaningful actions to occur.
Through our baptism we become agents of change -- enzymes, leaven, yeast, chemical catalysts, all dynamic strategic agents; we are called to leaven the global dough and allow it to rise but we are immersed in the dough. Dough needs yeast in order to rise, and we immerse ourselves at strategic locations to cause leavening to happen. The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21). Note: woman agent.
Since everything is coming to an end like this, you should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait and long for the day of God to come (II Peter 3:11-12a) (Jerusalem Bible). This passage is translated differently in other editions. To long for and wait for the coming of the Lord is somewhat passive and does not fully express an active engagement. The Holy Bible New International Version says, "as you look to the day of God and speed its coming." A slightly different translation is found in the Inclusive New Testament with the words, "Look for the day of God, and try to hasten it along." The concept of speeding or hastening (speudonitas in Greek) is affirmed by Scripture scholars and thus Peter's words contain an active sense of our participation in the upcoming event. To hasten is to accelerate much like leaven; recall Jesus' teachings about the coming of the Kingdom of God. Eschatology involves our participation, not our mere viewing.
Placement and timing are of the essence. People working together and conscious of each other's needs, enhance awareness; the process is not automatic, nor always moving towards progress, for process is not always and everywhere progressive; freedom is involved. Hindrances, such as environmental damage, need to be exposed and overcome. Catalysts are fragile and need to be protected from poisoning; they need to be encouraged.
We want the Lord to come; it's in Scripture, prayer, and liturgical songs. We need to make it a real petition in our prayer life. To say "Thy Kingdom Come" becomes more than a prayer, a hope, and a yearning: we are within a partly realized Kingdom. We are catalysts, but we need God's grace to succeed in our work of bringing on the Kingdom. Ours is both hope and total confidence that what we do now will have a successful fruition in due time.
Photos by Warren Brunner
December 11, 2020Reflecting on International Mountain Day
Today we can celebrate International Mountain Day in several ways: go on an international tour of another mountain range far from home and spend some time sightseeing; take a virtual trip through viewing a film involving mountain settings; hike into the nearby mountain range or spend an afternoon picnicking there; read about distant mountains or review photos of mountains on another continent; or just appreciate highlands that one is fortunate enough to live near. Mountains are truly a blessing!
May I make a suggestion? Obtain a copy (instructions on our website) of my co-authored Mountain Moments, with well over two- hundred color photographs by Warren Brunner, a Berea-based elder with a skilled eye for capturing good photos. Several who have copies of the book tell about sitting and just paging through and viewing the many scenes (and interspersed texts), and finding that the mountain-related pictures ease their tensions.
Reflection from Mountain Moments:
Mountains have strengths and weaknesses. High places mean power and haughty might, but those seeking such places will be brought low on the Day of the Lord. The Appalachian range is hardly lofty by younger mountain standards (Rockies, Himalayas, and Andes), since at best this range reaches a mile above sea level. Being older and wiser, the Appalachians teach us that all creatures need to bow low before the majesty of God. The irony is that in doing so, one receives a more elevated state for, through humility, we discover our true worth. Note that we speak in spiritual terms, for we do not advocate mountaintop removal nor the physical cutting of each of us down to a legless state. In finding our true condition we also find our true elevated state, for ultimately humility breeds honesty, and in truth rests justice for all.
Mountains have a hidden capacity to move us in so many ways. Their breathtaking beauty is just one thing; others include: majesty, power, grandeur, loftiness, challenge, mystery, haunting attractiveness, and sheer energy contained in our being close to them at times in our lives. I always see mountains as the hands of Earth lifted to Heaven in a prayer of praise -- and that these have been such for billions of years before the advent of we human mortals on or near their surface. We are the agents announcing the Good News of what they so silently portend through the ages.
Mountains are elders who have been here a long time and deserve our utmost respect. To reshape them for the pure greed of getting the coal cheaply is a desecration. Unfortunately, the leveling of mountains for quick energy is a recent problem, and thus makes International Mountain Day worthy of our attention.
Prayer: Lord, help us to celebrate the great gift of mountains, and to draw from them the utter emotions that assist our own practice of respect for your creation.
Many who are first will be last, and the last, first.
Jesus spends a sizeable portion of his public ministry curing the sick. When the ill seek curing, Jesus obliges; furthermore, he does so in an effort to elicit faith from the sick person. Total integrity of the human person is his goal, and it is ours as well. For Jesus, forgiving sins is a cherished goal, and the forgiven person -- whether he or she be Peter or Paul or Mary Magdalene -- joins the full ranks of disciples. In following Jesus, we help restore others to integrity and bring wholeness to our troubled world, and do so in part by asking citizens to help save our wounded Earth through use of their talents and experiences.
Sickness, recognized in its full reality, can become an opportunity to assist others through understanding the power of God at work within the condition of an illness that cannot be easily remedied. By offering their sufferings with and for others, the ill enter into the healing ministry through joining in Christ's sufferings on Calvary. For the willing sufferer, the ones obedient to God's will, their respective conditions become platforms for helping a wounded world -- care-giving while on the sick bed.
How about going a step farther? We have come to believe that social addiction afflicts the consumers of the world. What about those who overcome their individual addictions; they want to perform remedies that go beyond mere staying away from substance abuse (e.g., Alcoholic Anonymous)? They want to do meaningful actions while on the road to recovery. A recovering addict can take a personal Hippocratic Oath: I must do all in my power to heal others who suffer from the addictions of which I was once plagued. I was a former tobacco user and desire to do all I can to help others give up the addictive smoking habit.
Those who used substances such as tobacco or "consumer products" in an unconscious manner, and now are able through one or other method to break the spell, have an experience worth sharing. Our culture is addicted to consumer purchases and even thinks it is patriotic to do so; others have been hooked on opioids and still others on alcohol. Breaking loose from addictions in a definitive manner allows the ones so blessed to assist others on a one-by-one basis. Through their own public interest work they fortify themselves against lapses and assist others as models to be motivated to become liberated as well.
The challenge for the ex-addict to be compassionate and caring while also hard-nosed and effective is real but uncertain. Agents of change have a unique role to play: they discover new means of success when profound change of motivation is called forth; and they ensure that they themselves remain on the road to recovery.
Prayer: Lord, let us see the ex-addict as a humble person worthy of being enlisted to tackle the current addictive culture.
December 13, 2020 Presenting Good News with Advent Joy
The spirit of the Lord God has been given to me, for God has anointed me. God has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, Freedom to those in prison... (Isaiah 61:1)
Lighten up! The Light of the world is coming. This is Gaudete Sunday, a time to rejoice. We show our enthusiasm for what must still be done in 2020 and our preparations for next year. Yes, the shortening days are almost over, and a new growing season will soon begin. And this season of Advent is preparation for the coming of the Lord. Actually we know that this is a time of Good News through deeds -- the actual coming of the Word of God. This is a blessed event, for the Lord keeps coming ever closer to us with each Advent and liturgical year. This year we must make our Advent efforts involve practical solutions: dispensing charity, giving practical gifts, cleaning up environmental disasters, placing prisoners in community service, and making practical plans for 2021. The winter is upon us and this takes extra preparation.
We rejoice in knowing that we participate in the coming of the Kingdom of God that has already begun in our midst. We recognize imperfect human actions as cause of the damage done to our world; we are energized to participate and to constantly give thanks for what God has given us. We look back to the first coming of Christ; we look ahead to his second coming. This Advent is a special gift, with added responsibility flowing from that gift; what we are called to do is now accepted with gratitude. No, we are not satisfied with present world conditions, but rather grateful that we are called to assist in renewing a broken world with its threats by terrorist and through global climate change. Yes, the Lord calls us as humble servants to help save our threatened Earth -- a very noble calling.
We focus our attention on Jesus, the liberator, who goes before us. Amid the terrorist bombs and possible catastrophe there is a spirit of freedom stirring in the hearts of people everywhere. This should be affirmed with enthusiasm (the God within); it involves a faith in the future that can be contagious and reach to the homeless, unemployed, those in prisons and hospices, elderly, homebound, and those overlooked in any way. All are invited to take part in this liberation. The world must not remain captive to those of military or financial power; all may be able to share in what God has meant for us to participate -- in the global commons. To proclaim a favorable year of the Lord is to say we all are to share in generating justice in a collaborative fashion.
Prayer: Lord, make us steady people who testify to your goodness, but always thankful to being called at this moment in history; help us to be enthusiastic in spreading the Good News to others, and encouraging them to become agents of joy and change.
Send victory like dew, you heavens, and let the clouds rain it down. Let the earth open for salvation to spring up. Let deliverance, too, bud forth which, I YHWH, shall create. (Isaiah 45:8)
Dew is a gentle substance; it seems to come down from above and yet condenses down below. We look up to "the Heavens" and in a loose terminology regard this earthly phenomenon as coming from an outside source. Dew arrives quietly at night when we are asleep; it settles down on our landscape. When we stroll in the dew-covered grass as the sun is rising we see it sparkle as though a million jewels. We turn in one direction and these are rubies, in another sapphires, and emeralds in another. They are truly God's creature blessings that soon evaporate. And when dew wets the plants in dry times, it helps give them life as well.
The Isaiah scripture passage is appealing, for here we see the coming down from heaven -- that eternal leap of the Word; and at the same time the springing up from our evolutionary roots through a long lineage that comes to Mary in the House of David. Incarnation is that coming together of God and humanity into a single blessed person who is the center of the universe -- Jesus Christ. Herein rests the mystery of the Incarnation.
Incarnation is the meeting of Heaven and Earth; this is a work of God's mercy and care. God walks again with the people and divine power and love is manifest. Creation is a blessing that includes a vast array of gifts that are now visible in their entirety through this coming together, this sacred moment of history. The coming together is momentous, and Mary at the center of this incarnation event is the one who shows her passivity in humility (that is, knowing her greatness and blessings, but understanding that these are totally from God); she also shows her activity through the balanced response that involves her total consent to do whatever God so desires. She presents the double blessing to all humankind of what is given and recognized as given.
The kiss of Heaven and Earth gives way to the new-born who is the Savior of the world. The offspring, springs up in human ways, is born, cries, grows, learns to walk and run and read and write, acquires a trade, makes friends, reflects on the Scriptures, and departs on his mission. This tiny vulnerable offspring becomes "Light of the World" with heavenly grace and an Earth-tanned appearance. Salvation comes in deliverance that is initiated at the Incarnation event, where and when Heaven meets Earth in a most loving and merciful manner.
Prayer: We see the meeting of God and all of us as a sacred event worth memorializing -- and so we prepare to celebrate Christmas throughout this Advent season.
December 15, 2020 Making Environment THE Pro-life Issue
The vitality of our Earth is threatened, and environmental protection together with change in lifestyle is foremost in an effort to slow and reverse climate change. As our current bumper sticker states: "Pro-Environment is Pro-life." This says more than that environment is "a" pro-life issue; it is central to life on this Earth, for all other life issues depend on a viable planet.
1. The politicizing of pro-environmental stances now reaches a point where there is a fundamentally new situation. The first Earth Day in 1970 was politically neutral; today environment is regarded as a strongly Democratic partisan position. The issue has not changed, but rather aggressive anti-environmental thinking has been an Administration philosophy for the past few years. Yes, some who disparage environmentalism call themselves "pro-life."
2. A false concern has been fostered by corporations, and the same promotion agencies with a small group of scientists-under-hire; these cast aspersions on the medical research showing smoking as cancer-causing. For three decades they deliberately cast doubts, which offered tobacco companies the time to make tens of billions of dollars in extra profits. History repeats itself with oil companies now being the current merchants of doubt.
3. The fate of our Earth hangs in balance, since the United States has had a leadership role in resource utilization and consumption; the vast emerging world strives to imitate our consumer practices. Unfortunately, what we do, they want to do as well. Chinese and Indians and others want nothing more than to consume with the impunity of wealthy Americans -- and our Earth cannot handle the processing and pollution that results from such increased consumption. The projection is that twice the amount of energy will be needed in 2050 as was consumed in 2000.
4. The potential bridge exists where what is pro-life will bring together all people of good will. This desire to protect and enhance life calls for a new solidarity that strengthens our resolve to save our wounded Earth at this critical time. Life in all its forms is threatened, whether that be plant or animal or human. Fostering quality of all lives demands a basic respect for this "seamless garment," an interdependent web of life.
5. A teaching moment involves the inadvertent quibbling over whether it is "a" or "the" pro-life issue. Critics will see the connection and even argue that this is a legitimate issue worth distinguishing. Death under any form is death, and so is life -- even Earth vitality. Destruction of life on this planet is a form of suicide that must be addressed immediately with an urgency affecting people throughout the world. Continuing emissions of uncontrolled greenhouse gases causes everyone to suffer.
Prayer: Lord, give us courage to become public on this issue and to champion the vitality of our Earth -- a pro-life issue.
December 16, 2020 Downsizing Expectations Is a Blessing
Downsizing of lifestyle has become a necessity for many families when aging, health or financial issues make it imperative to reduce domestic maintenance requirements. Downsizing include cutbacks in luxuries, fewer restaurant meals or computer games, review of cable and periodical subscriptions, and making vacations closer to home. For retirees it means a smaller house or fewer vehicles; for others it might be deciding between cigarettes and food, or TV and basic utilities, or even severe limitations on food budgets and rent. Amazingly, the sacrifices may come with unexpected blessings and fewer things to worry us. In a longer run future expectations may NOT be downsized but rather result in some unexpected spiritual blessings.
Our Earthhealing efforts to address affluent people should result in permanent downsizing commitments; this can be done for the sake of the human community sharing a commons. People can fast before a medical test and be back on the routine food diet in a day; they can fail to drive while sick or during a bad weather incident. The temporary inconvenience is short-lived and can be handled with grace and good will. More permanent changes require deeper commitments. Without crisis situations material expectations often go unchanged; with prosperity comes more affluent lifestyles, and children are taught this early by parents, schools, and social media. Curbing material acquisition due to necessity is difficult and requires encouragement by others.
People who seek to keep up with neighbors may find out in casual conversation that neighbors are trying to keep up with them -- and that the panic to remain or become prosperous is a false expectation that denies peace of soul, proper sleep, and undue stress on both parties. The challenge is to accept downsizing as a more permanent and sustainable condition of our community and nation, and to see this somehow as a worthwhile goal. Yes, it is patriotic to downsize, for thus the rest of the struggling world has a better chance of sharing essential resources now consumed (with accompanying pollution) by a privileged society.
Furthermore, downsizing can be a benefit, and thus the permanence is something to be praised. In downsizing, gas-guzzling vehicles are forsaken because they cost more to maintain and operate, large or second homes are a burden to keep clean, longer vacations can be a bother when too numerous, home-cooking surpasses costly restaurants in creativity and flavor, and extra electronic devices are unnecessary and quite intrusive in the blessedness of rest time. All in all, the stress to make money becomes a consuming interest that says volumes to youngsters and even causes them stress in their educational and recreational programs. Why be the greatest in a worldly sense? Why not downsize and spread word that this needed in order to obtain a renewable energy economy?
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to see a downsized life as a goal worth doing, encouraging, preaching, and demanding.
December 17, 2020 Discovering More to Re-gifting Day
Re-gifting Day opens opportunities in the act of sharing. At first it seems a little cruel that we give to another what we have received as a gift through the efforts of a kind soul. Then we think again and realize that all we have in this world is a gift from God, and thus anything we share with others is re-gifting in itself. Why not make this a practice, which as originally intended meant giving to another what is not necessarily wanted or needed. In this we can execute a double giving act, and this fulfills the intention of the special event on the third Thursday of December. Some hints as to occasion and opportunities in re-gifting include:
* Current gift: If we know what the gift is, and it is something we find too difficult to consume at this time (sweets for example), give it away in the same beautiful packaging with change of receiver and donors names;
* Former present: If a previous year's gift has never been used and is in good condition, create some new packaging and give to someone who will most certainly use it better than I can;
* Favorite keepsake: If this is something around the house or office that could be shared because it is prized by me, then say so when giving this to another, for it shows the desire to share a special possession with someone special -- and can be welcomed;
* Shared treasure: Some things given to me are worth sharing at the time of reception because the other will enjoy the gift as much as I can -- and thus becomes all the more appreciated and not cast away as unwanted;
* Suitable transfer: This is somewhat trickier to successfully execute, for it can give the receiver the impression that the recycling operation is meant to clean the house rather than sharing something of value by the giver;
* Opportune ritual: At some times the need to give another a gift as at Christmas is part of a formality that is done out of tradition -- and the receiver knows that he or she is to take this offering as part of the tradition even when it was a gift; and
* Assisting another: A friend is baffled as to how to discover a good gift for the giving season for someone special, and you know that what was given to you could be a perfect solution to the other's dilemma -- and thus a doubly appreciated gift.
Prayer: Lord, help us to be grateful for things given and for opportunities to share them with others.
Promise or Peril: Presence, Urgency, Need
Earthhealing pessimists focus on global warming signs (e.g. rising sea level, deforestation, etc.) and speak of irreparable damage to the planet. Optimists focus on renewable energy and the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord. Tomorrow could bring catastrophe or a successful collaboration and renewal to the benefit of all. Which? Humans could rise, unite and save our wounded Earth, but this requires a growth in eco-spirituality -- our 2020 theme.
Divine and human presence -- HERE.If God is truly everywhere, then the Divine Presence invites our personal response in word and deed. Through our devotion to the Eucharist we are empowered to transform matter into the divine. Human beings no longer fear matter, but feel comfortable working with it and transforming it. Each of us is a single individual believer, called to be human and invited into the Divine Family. We are certainly not Christ, but we are other "christs," individually and collectively in the Body of Christ. As Teresa of Avila says, we are the hands, feet and eyes of Christ. Our awareness of divine empowerment grows with time through the nourishment of Eucharist.
Christian believers have a special role in this troubled world; we encourage each other and make Christ present to others. This emergence of Divine Presence is our collective fiat or affirmation. God is everywhere; God is within us; God is to be proclaimed to a distracted world. This immense mission comes with responsibilities: the more we become aware of our neighbor's needs, the more we are aware of our limited powers as purely human agents to bring solutions. We need the divine; we cannot act alone. The divine presence is the profound HERE that grounds our work. We discover our "right" place to be at this time; we humbly embrace God's presence in our midst.
Urgency of the times -- NOW. We realize what must be done as we call out Come Lord Jesus (Revelations 22:20). We know where we are, and we feel the movement to the end (final coming). Urgency places the NOW with the here, but we cannot determine the place and the acceleration to the end at the same time -- an inherent indeterminacy within our mission. Our time is better spent on doing the current urgent task perfectly, and abandoning speculation as to the exact end of time. We realize that we must undertake responsible service (a type of eco-stewardship); Jesus calls us to focus on him and not be allured by worldly distractions and speculation. This is the extended urgency that motivated apostles and missionaries to take Good News to the end of the world.
In realizing both urgency and shortness of life (Psalm 90:12), we seek wisdom needed to act properly here and now. We are aware of components that condition that urgency: a possible non-violent Earthhealing process; disparity of wealth that can lead to violence to redistribute or retain wealth; affluent addicts who are unwilling to change their ways; and many aspiring healers who lack the courage to become confrontational. Awareness of urgency creates a holy impatience, but harmonizing with the patience awaiting an ultimate event is a challenge. God is with us, author of our talents and time. Awareness of placement (HERE), propitious timing (NOW), and cooperative interaction (WE) must be seen as directed by God, lest we get distracted or burn out.
I have come to bring fire to the Earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! (Luke 12:49) Christ’s words become ours when we partake in a proper eco-spiritual discernment leading to action now. However, this generates an inherent restlessness. We are not only prompted to address social injustice in our troubled world, but we are also aware that a festering social disorder holds back the world process to its final culmination. We must address current issues while not hindering the coming of the Lord. To "hasten" means to move to the eternal NOW, when the present struggle will cease and the Kingdom comes. Limited time calls for focus and planning, and inner tranquility keeps us from panicking. May our holy restlessness grow and yet be given social encouragement.
Need for cooperative action -- WE. A phenomenology of one's journey of faith involves "I" the pilgrim becoming a disciple, "we" as members of faith proclaiming Good News, "some" as healers with limitations in need of social assistance, and a "few" with a keen awareness that we need divine assistance. Through prayerful discernment we discover our limitations, our relations with the God within, and the need to cooperate with other agents of change. We must be willing to endure a purging of selfishness by accepting ourselves and seeing God in others -- in their talents and gifts, often undeveloped, overlooked, belittled, or taken for granted. The Good News is that their talents can benefit the Common Good. With climate change as a global problem, the talents of those from all parts of the planet need to be recognized and utilized.
The task before us is immense; we are not just to become aware of the Divine Presence (HERE) and the necessity to hasten the Day of the Lord (NOW), but WE must engage with others in restoring all things in harmony. Such inspiration comes through the Holy Spirit, who is capable of such harmonizing. In finding peace of soul within, we discover our place, a point of departure and direction, a divine inspiring source; in noting our basic restlessness, we discover something lacking or limiting, namely, our lack of perfect cooperation among agents of change. We are inspired to accept others' imperfections and retain a simultaneous inner peace and holy restlessness. We need each other's help.
In Earthhealing we discover our new-found tranquility through God's Presence, even amid our fundamental restlessness in a troubled world. Loving God is primary; attending needy neighbors is our response. Inner harmony gives us the patience to await a final coming. Healing Earth involves knowing that it takes a unique union of divine harmonizing and human effort. We cannot act alone; we need God to give us placement and timing, and we need cooperative efforts of a community journeying together in faith.
December 18, 2020 Feeding the Birds Is Worth Considering
Why feed birds: I always resolved to initiate a birdfeeding project since in 1998 fellow Jesuit Jim Grummer suggested that bird feeding is legitimate, as so much of natural habitat has been disturbed; a good convincing argument, and so an artificial assist to our wintering wildlife should be encouraged. Furthermore, birds are under stress from predators such as diseases and cats and hawks. Birds that do not migrate have a hard time in our winter landscape, and even though we hope for milder weather, birds still must endure what is lying just ahead, and that could mean snow and ice storms. Vulnerable wildlife, our companions in stressful times, do raise our spirits and entertain the shut-ins and birdwatchers of all ages (see "Become Friends with Wintering Birds" 12/14/18). None of us like to see other creatures hungry, and thus wintering birds may need assistance at this time.
How to start: First we need a bird-feeding device, but this depends on which birds we intend to feed and other factors: how do we protect birdfeed from squirrels, raccoons and other critters wanting to devour wildlife edibles as well? Do we have answers for the domestic cat problems? Do we make feeders close enough to observe and yet removed from clashes with windows? Do we give birds a clear vision so that they can avoid the hawks overhead? In actuality the startup may require some forethought: type and location of feeders, selection of proper bird seeds, protection of feed against weather, and ensuring that birds can avoid window crashes, cats, and from scavengers.
Which ones to favor: We have a wide variety of wintering birds, some of which can handle their winter needs such as owls, crows, hawks, and wild geese (the last could go further south except they are opportunistic in taking advantage of corn fields with unharvested grain). The more favored for our largess include the colorful cardinals and bluejays -- quite aggressive in their own right -- and the smaller chickadees and wrens and songbirds that dart about in winter time, their twitters and tweets always lifting our spirits. Most often, the species of birds will be somewhat combative when it comes to feeders and yet, with sufficient variety of feed, all eventually get their fair share.
I have noted that the holly trees outside my window have red berries that in mid-winter are suddenly attacked by a swarm of starlings, and the fruit consumed in a matter of minutes. The same holds true for the persimmon tree that bears well every other year, which on a winter day is subject to a flock of hungry attackers. Granted, this occurs throughout our region, but is there enough fruitful habitat for all the hungry bird species? Maybe feeding the birds is a good 2021 environmental resolution.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to be sensitive to wildlife in need and to do something about it. Help us encourage those who are preparing to be kind to animals to acquire a bird feeder.
December 19, 2020 Being Called Radical Is a Compliment
Some with hesitancy and regarding this to be an accusation say, "You sound like a radical." My only answer is, "I hope so." To go along with a dysfunctional system and not set oneself apart is unwise. We must be uniquely radical if we hold true to our religious convictions. "Radical" from the Latin word "radix" means root; we must get to the root of our environmental crisis and seek to find solutions based on practical ways and resources at hand.
Having worked on environmental issues for a half century, it has become apparent to me that problems are not always solved on ad hoc or individual one-by-one cases. Certain actions are needed in times of change, but they risk not being perfectly executed. Cleaning up roadside garbage does not address the consumption of convenience waste containers with no deposit for return and no regulatory oversight for paying litter fines. Downsizing as mentioned on December 16th can lead to reduced learning experiences or ability to offer hospitality in smaller dwellings.
A radical stance is not a popular one. Some advise that taking such a stance will not get donations from wealthy donors nor votes from the electorate. Quite possibly! However, shouldn't we look beyond donations and votes to determine what needs to be done? We MUST change a material profit-motivated system that allows some to be super-rich and influence the election of policymakers and ignore the essential needs of America's millions and the entire world's billions. We must see that an economy based on consumer spending for "wants" and not "needs" is unhealthy and unsustainable -- and current material appetites are insatiable.
Being "Radical" goes a step farther than exposing a misleading practice; corrective measures must be made at all levels: locally, we continue conservationist measures; regionally, we work for policy changes in policies dealing with blatant waste; nationally, we monitor and press Congress to live up to environmental and social justice obligations; globally, we work to change systems through use of the Internet for communicating, educating, and organizing others. "We" means involved in broader communities.
Lastly, a radical position may be proposed based on longer term success and commitment. If we believe in the future, then we trust that what we say today will be brought into effect in a future situation that is most likely beyond our lifetimes. We plant trees that take years to mature. Accepting the risk of being misunderstood or marginalized has a prophetic witness value. "You mean you do not mind that others scoff at what you say?" Yes, we're pained, when others do not understand. Perhaps we trust too much in the ultimate outcome to let the threat of opposition dampen what needs to be said here and now. Let's sustain our courage!
Prayer: Lord, in awaiting your coming we listen to the exhortations of John the Baptist. We are to make straight the way, and this takes effort at road-building -- a radical proposition.
Morning sunrise on cold Kentucky December day.
December 20, 2020 Honoring the House of David
This is the last Sunday of Advent. We have moved through this season from hearing Jesus at the end of public life telling us to always be watchful (Mark 13: 33-37), to the beginning of that ministry, when he is pointed out by John the Baptist (Mark 1:1-8), and that he will baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1: 6-8, 19-28). Now we move further back to before Christ's birth (Luke 1:26-38) and approach the time of his full coming into the world. We are preparing for the coming of the Lord and viewing History's total sweep leading up to the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us -- the heart of our Christmas celebration. The Angel Gabriel says that God will give this new-born the throne of his father David.
Jesus is from the House of David, that overlooked shepherd boy, slayer of Goliath, harpist entertaining the distraught King Saul, anointed early in life, unifier of Israel, establisher of Jerusalem as a seat of power, psalmist, prophet, aging monarch, and ultimately saint. Now if he can get the last ranking after all that, why can't many others as well? The Scriptures in the Old Testament gives David more narrative space than any other figure. He was destined to start the House of David with assurance that "your house and your kingdom will endure forever." The "house" is more than his son Solomon's temple; David's structure is a human family with a Messiah descendant.
All families have bright and dark sides, and David's was no exception. The Holy Book pulls no punches and offers no excuses. David, the innocent youth, moved through life and sinned seriously by taking Uriah's wife to himself, and then having Uriah placed on the front lines and killed in battle. When confronted by the prophet Nathan as to the one who stole a little lamb from the poor person, David was righteously incensed and wanted to bring justice to bear; however, Nathan's words, "You are the one," struck David so deeply that he repented his terrible deed and in his sincere repentance again found favor with God -- for God is always forgiving. Even more so, Solomon, son of that sinful event, was kingly heir and builder of the grand temple of the Lord.
The human house with a divine destiny manifests its strengths and weaknesses. That tells us again what we as Church are always called to do and be, namely, to acknowledge misdeeds and to seek sincere repentance so that our merciful God shows us favor. David confessed; so should we as we prepare for the coming of the Messiah in our own lives. In some divine way, we are invited as adopted sons and daughters into the House of David. We are favored by this special invitation through our baptism; we are God's people; we need to learn from our past mistakes and experiences and show true repentance. Then the Christmas spirit will fill our hearts and the mystery of Word-made-flesh dwelling among us will enrich our spiritual life and will inspire us to act in a godly manner.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to see your mercy with our family and community, and to always act according to gifts you give us.
Elegant patterns emerge in frozen Kentucky creek.
December 21, 2020Welcoming the Winter Solstice
Each year we pause to reflect on whether any good things can happen on the shortest day of the year, and always think of one or other, and find them worth noting in a whimsical way:
* Being the shortest day of the year this makes it the longest night of rest for all who need to relax -- and face it that applies to most of us;
* Remembering all the remaining Christmas errands that must be done before the end of the week -- and being able to stay cool through all the busy work ahead;
* Recalling that at least the shortening of the daylight has ceased, and for the next six months we can look forward to ever-lengthening days just ahead;
* Recognizing that evening darkness comes soon enough and nocturnal darkness leaves late -- but that makes us welcome tomorrow's sunrise with extra vigor and delight;
* Considering that short days are like shortening lives that occur with everyone starting right after birth, and with each year of Winter Solstices we commit ourselves to making the best of mortal life's ever-shortening span;
* Resting assured that longer nights make us aware of the need to read and reflect in a less hindered manner in the upcoming winter -- so compose a list of what ought to be achieved in this new season;
* Listening through the nights to the coyote, screech owl, wolf, hound dogs, etc.); their sounds are clearer in winter nights and are ever more haunting;
* Welcoming a new growing season, for the roots of the apple trees will come to life in a few weeks and start moving;
* Expecting the coming winter scenes of immense and fleeting beauty from new-fallen snow and even icy coverings;
* Getting out the snow removal equipment and any sanding material for the driveways;
* Blazing home fireplaces that have such comforting feelings that are so treasured this time of year;
* And realizing that this day offers its own uniqueness as does each and every one -- if we but consider time as a gift that must be used well.
Prayer: Lord, we trust in you as days will soon lengthen and an eternity stretches before us.
December 22, 2020 Proclaiming Burgoo: Kentucky's Premier Dish
Someone asked me, what does "Kentucky burgoo" taste like? Oddly enough, there is no distinct taste for authentic burgoo in the Kentucky tradition; we are people who do not always like precise recipes and we enjoy variation in tastes. However, specific recipes for burgoo can be found on the Internet, but these are well doctored and quite different from the original stew, the name of which originated in nautical slang and referred to an oatmeal porridge; eighteenth century Kentucky pioneers meant by burgoo a community salted and possibly spicy stew that contained a mixed variety of meat (preferably wild game) and vegetables (edible vegetation and herbs at hand). It tastes different every serving. The secret in old-fashion burgoo is the long cooking time (usually a day) and the open air cooking pot. This demands a concession -- twenty-first century environmental consciousness dictates replacing open fire with a Crock-Pot; this closed Crock-Pot also cuts cooking time considerably (to about eight hours).
Most modern burgoo consists of combinations of pork, chuck beef roast, and chicken (generally legs) and various meat stocks. However, the secret to modern authentic Kentucky burgoo is "wild game," which means hunting it yourself or contacting hunters who will donate their in-season catch: rabbits, squirrel, geese, deer, elk, quail, and turkey or even more exotic raccoon or possum. Some of these selections involve the Commonwealth's thinning of overstocked game that is allowed at various prescribed hunting seasons. I have had access to venison (deer) and used this as the basic ingredient since I neither hunt nor buy meat. For meat variety, I would prefer wild boar, but they are harder to obtain in these parts, and so I allow the substitution of donated pork. When venison or pork sausage is used, little browning is needed, but for chunky portions this involves cutting into manageable pieces.
Normally, modern burgoo includes the following vegetables: fresh peppers, potatoes (preferably new ones), onions, carrots, celery, along with canned tomatoes and frozen corn and lima beans. My favorite vegetables are always those at hand during the growing season. One can add okra but that was probably not in early pioneer burgoo. I like carrots, onions, peppers, winter squash, and tomatoes (when in season). Others that are easy to add include collards, kale, or cabbage and just about any other member of the brassica family. Some would say to slice larger vegetables, but the better way after a period of long cooking is to keep them as whole as possible, and thus they retain their texture, but cut up the cabbage. I add dried potato flakes to thicken the liquid stew. If meat has insufficient fat content, one ought to add cooking oil. Add salt, herbs, and spices according to taste and creativity. I grow garlic, basil, parsley, dill, and various peppers, but I leave out spicy peppers and offer eaters a bottle of hot sauce.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to cook native foods and to relish ways of giving satisfaction to those who enjoy good simple foods.
Mushroom patch appears after December rains.
December 23, 2020 Promoting Prisoner Community Service
At Christmas our thoughts turn to prisoners who crave to be home for the holidays, family people who hurt and know their loved ones hurt as well. A decade ago my federal contract for serving prisoners expired, and travel difficulties made me choose not to renew it. Why be the oldest government contractor? Virtually the only benefit (I loved serving prisoners) was being free to speak about current prison practices. The jailing process is expensive, one hundred dollars plus per day to lodge these poor souls, and resulting in long-term personal and social detrimental effects. Is this a truly restorative or transformative approach to justice, or just a way of placating vindictive citizens? Should non-violent offenders be imprisoned at a terrible taxpayer expense? Reference: Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America, The New Press, 2011.
Retributive justice: Prisoners find this season the hardest time to endure prison life, to comfort fellow prisoners, and to be nice to guards. Even the compassionate prison personnel (and there are many who are) find it difficult to deal with prisoners in such seasons of exterior joy and happiness. While the razor wire of the Manchester prisons shines with a "holiday sparkle," especially at Christmas, still joy is hard to find within. Many realize that their own loved ones suffer (often expressed through phone calls) by their absence, and that adds to the "holiday pain." The ones needing correction are needed by others on the outside.
Restorative justice: Offenders agree that restoring right balance is needed in our wounded society; furthermore, community service is an excellent option that can be a win-win situation. How about allowing these prisoners to work as local volunteers for non-profit groups (not the low-wage prison manufacturing operations)? The entire community (offender, offended, and general public) can all benefit from such service. Healing is given a productive opportunity to be achieved (see "Restorative Justice through Community Service July 27, 2017). Ernie Muhly has pointed out that asking offenders to be more accountable in community is a two-way street; we must ask communities to be more responsible in how they treat offenders, and this obligates them to discover ways to help convicts to reintegrate into society.
Community Service can be a win-win situation. The ex-prisoner is now able to prove him or herself and to exhibit responsibility in doing good; a community gets assistance; a genuine liberation occurs. The correctional justice system could pay minimum wage for a 40-hour week and still save 60% or more on incarcerating cost of each community service-released prisoner. Monitoring and paperwork could be the responsibility of the non-profit system, where the prisoner works. The total community benefits from the prisoner and genuine needs being met by the prisoner changes his or her life.
Prayer: Lord, as we near Christmas, help us to earnestly promote the liberation of prisoners for the benefit of everyone.
December 24, 2020 Making Christmas Special for Young and Old
Tomorrow is the great feast of Christmas that is to be shared with all people of good will. How do we make this feast most enjoyable to all, the young and the old, without tiring too much each group? Yes, for those with energy and mobility it is to be a challenging day: a time to shout, sing, discuss, joke, carol, laugh with, cheer games, and meet another's vocal tones with near matching repertoire. Activity seems the order of the day, but this usually leaves some elders exhausted. Granted, we like to think of Christmas with all the thrills and starry-eyed enthusiasm that we had early in life when Santa visited, gifts were opened, and all the lights were aglow. Hopefully, the day will include a time of worship for the coming of the King of Kings -- and some prayerful blessings before a major meal. Also hopefully this is not a feast only for children; it is also a feast for elders -- Joseph, Wise Men, Shepherds both young and old.
A Day of the Young: This calls forth extra energy by the parents and grandparents of young children, those who want to entertain the young, and those who are old but think they are young. Youthful enthusiasm gives a different flavor to Christmas than that of older folks. Some churches make it an important part of the eve of this day to have a young people's choir, a play, and skit where the young recite the Christmas narrative with toddlers dressed up as shepherds and angels, and an older child playing Mary cuddling a real live "cherub" who is friendly enough not to cry at this occasion. All in all, youthful Christmas reflection comes through action whether it be preparing the house, caroling, or just preparing for actions to come tomorrow. They generally remember to pray for suitable snow for celebration.
A Day for the Elders: Yes, older folks are involved in cooking, gift-wrapping, decorating, driving, parking, greeting, visiting, eating, watching TV, and playing with the new games of the young ones. However, the day must be more -- a day of praying in different ways depending on one's age and inclinations. Should it not be a day of the Lord with a quiet moment, a getaway to a corner, a shrine, a wooded walk, a garden apart from others? Take this precious savored moment and thank God for all the gifts given, especially the gift of Jesus Christ. Make this reflection into a prayer of thanksgiving for peace, family health, and life itself. And some pray for snowless driving conditions.
And Christmas is a feast for everyone of every race, male and female, sick and healthy, young and old. Young people sing and recite words written for them -- and they often do it well. Mature people can give a moment of reflection and say "Thank you, Lord." Let this night before Christmas become a sacred time for all.
Prayer: Lord our God, with the birth of your Son, your glory breaks on the world. Through the night hours of a darkened earth, we people watch for the coming of your Son. As we wait, give us a foretaste of joy when Christ's glory fills the universe.
Reviewing Our Journey in Faith
My journey in faith is "our" journey (yours and mine together), with similarities and differences. These critical times call us to collaborate in renewing our wounded Earth. During each 2020 month we reflected on basic elements of an emerging eco-spirituality:
January's Discovery: Sensing Creation's Deep Mystery.
January is the month of new life, for plant roots are starting to grow as we awaken in winter's deep sleep. We glimpse into the distant and near depths of Mystery within, without and beyond. We are called through events and ever deepening process. We taste the sweet glory of a microcosmos beneath our feet and the macrocosmic universe far beyond. Harmony surfaces in many places and involves our hands, head and heart; it finds expression in all human undertakings and gives clues to deeper Mystery.
February's Invitation: Experiencing as Suffering Earth.
In mid-winter's grayness, we face our individual and collective wrongdoings: human imperfections, ecological damage, corporate greed and governmental acquiescence; we overlook the talents of others; we are tempted to deny, excuse and escape, but are drawn all the while to a sense of compassion. There's more than describing disasters; confrontation is necessary and requires courage to become authentic Earthhealers. But suffering remains and we discover that God gives it ultimate meaning.
March's Demand: Seeking a Radically Compassionate Model.
Christians turn to Jesus and find him to be a model of love and mercy, of balance and harmony, of action and passion. We gaze upon a glorious transfiguration: a simultaneous awareness of Earth's raw experience and Heaven's ultimate victory. As disciples and healers, we learn compassion; as activists, we experience pain acutely, face desolation squarely, and yet await ongoing consolation. We hear God's Word; we "enflesh" it with our earthly experiences; we imitate Christ, who is divine and human.
April's Election: Realizing Eco-Justice and Social Justice.
Spring means total house-cleaning and so we extend our vision to the whole world. We can no longer tolerate the division of haves and have-nots when the Creator's bounty is sufficient for all. The Holy Spirit inspires us to extend love to everyone and that is Good News. In following Jesus, we accept a preferential option for the poor -- the Anawim of God. In being among the poor we avoid a reliance on the affluent and seek power with divine help from within the poor community to act in solidarity.
May's Testimony: Proclaiming Power through Powerlessness.
In floral May, we focus more deeply on our eco-spiritual journey. Earthhealing operates at successive stages: being aware of the need to save our wounded Earth; recognizing that justice is due to all living creatures; realizing that the lowly must rise to take charge; finding the Risen Lord among the poor; and identifying Christ-like non-violent actions that respect all life. Christ transforms our human powerlessness into an empowerment directed to saving our wounded Earth.
June's Revelation: Championing Appropriate Technology.
In this growing season, our global outlook expands. We search about for appropriate technologies that are environmentally benign, low-cost, people-friendly and community-enhancing. The emerging mission is to spread this Good News throughout the world by use of the public Internet. Through the power of the Resurrection the poor are empowered to enter into a re-creation of Earth; healers are transformed through touching Earth into agents of a New Creation. Pentecost now becomes our basic healing season.
July's Finding: Looking to Jesus for Ecological Balance. In summer's activities we identify barriers to being proper Earthhealers: denial, excuse, escape, self-empowerment, fence sitting, spinning wheels, cynicism, and affluence. We affirm that Jesus is the perfect ecologist whose personal good qualities counterbalance all our barriers. Thus, through reviewing our talents, inclinations and shadow sides we strive to become better healers. This review allows us to expose allurements found in our surrounding materialistic culture.
August's Inspiration: Enhancing Our Enthusiasm.
In verdant August, we find that enthusiasm is the spice for healing Earth. We are inspired to discover a proper HERE and NOW and an enhancing WE that includes all people of good will. We strive to justify our restlessness that somehow energizes our enthusiasm; this restlessness stands in sharp contrast to the "comfort" levels sought by those who compromise their environmental stance with the materialistic culture. We affirm the Source of gifts, the Gift (Christ), and the Giving (the Spirit).
September's Insight: Affirming God as Fitting Nourishment.
In balmy September, we are immersed in the harvest season, saving our wounded Earth. We are nourished by Christ, the divine gift, lest our enthusiasm wane; we strive to be and encourage others to be prophetic witnesses who expose the destructive forces all around; in the Church we transform our individual enthusiasm into communal action following patterns in which God works with us. We grow in our sense of direction, urgency and collaboration. In the hunger of our restlessness we affirm only God is our food.
October's Lesson: Promoting Forgiveness in Earthhealing.
Mother Church gives direction, urgency, and movement to greater unity through the act of forgiving. The formal Spirit of forgiveness is the glue that can bind us together. This must be practiced both by individuals and by communities of healers. Thus, we are enabled to radically share with others and to encourage global eco-justice initiatives. We establish bonding with Earth, with plants, animals and other human beings. Through forgiveness, we seek interpersonal relationships based on kinship with Christ.
November's Offer: Intersecting Social Awareness and Destiny.
As leafless November arrives, we look to the promised goal of our mission, namely the New Heaven and New Earth. Reality calls us to extend neighborhood from locality to remote peoples. Our awareness grows: we can heal Earth if we have faith, and sacramental vitality. Authentic "Homelife" requires "homework," that involves planning, cooperating, mustering resources and engaging in nitty-gritty renewal. We envision all people having essential food, water, housing, education, and protection.
December's Vision: Hastening the Day of the Lord. Our ecological HERE grows with awareness of God's presence; urgency leads to a renewed NOW; success demands that WE collaborate globally. We discover through the God within that we are catalysts of change when properly placed, and that catalytic action involves hastening and accelerating the healing process towards which we are called. When all elements harmonize, we understand the direction of our healing with greater clarity. The mystery of divine purpose emerges gradually in space and time and within a faith community.
Conclusion: This year-long set of reflections on eco-spirituality is really a beginning, not a final word. As the new Administration comes to Washington, our hopes are that many of the principles stated throughout the year can now be made operative. This will require monitoring of our leadership in the coming months and years. While what was expressed in these Facebook pages may have been intended principally for believing Christians, still much will have ultimate application for all believers in the future. Faith-filled agents of change need an acute awareness of being part of the global Body of Christ and to engage in the ongoing vitality of sacramental life. However, this does not negate the critical roles of every citizen in helping to save our wounded Earth, in growing in ecological consciousness and in working together as collaborative renewers. All are invited to work on this critical problem of climate change -- and the more we are able to do so with enthusiasm the faster we can renew our Earth.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord; Stars of heaven bless the Lord; Nights and days, bless the Lord; Ice and snow bless the Lord; ...and on and on... (Daniel 3: 63-ff.)
On this and all major feasts the prayer of the Church includes this oft-quoted Old Testament passage recalling the praise of God by all creatures. Since the praise of all is given constantly, it still reaches a crescendo at the historic moment when the Incarnate Word came to dwell among us. However, this crescendo continues in our own time, when newly acquired scientific knowledge increases, and our wealth of information tells all the greater the extent of praise to the Lord:
All countless galaxies stretching for billions of light years, bless the Lord;
Millions of stars in each galaxy of different hues and shapes, bless the Lord;
Super-nova that flashes now or did 2000 years ago at Christ's birth, bless the Lord;
Land masses laced with rivers, lakes, swamps, deserts, and plains, bless the Lord;
Tectonic plates moving, slipping, sliding and causing earthquakes and volcanoes, bless the Lord;
Vast oceans with waves, currents, storms and hurricanes, and subtle affects on global climate, bless the Lord;
Viruses, bacteria, and all minute creatures that inhabit land, sea and air, bless the Lord;
Plants of a multitude of types and those that have evolved for millions of years, bless the Lord;
Trees of forests holding soil and moisture and furnishing fruit, nuts, and wood, bless the Lord;
Mammals and all land animals that frequented the land, sea, and air for countless ages, bless the Lord;
Whales and other sea creatures with their migrations, way of communication, and unique habits, bless the Lord;
Birds of the air of a thousand species with unique plumage and beautiful and varied songs, bless the Lord;
Human beings of cultures barely tapped and with thousands of strange sounding tongues, bless the Lord;
Intellects seeing ways for all people to communicate in instant messaging and enormous volume of content, bless the Lord;
Health care providers, who are foremost in innovative techniques that add to quality of life, bless the Lord;
People seeking peace and freedom, bless the Lord; and
Priests and people, who chant God's praises in solemn and joyful liturgical celebration, bless the Lord.
A blessed Christmas to all our readers!
Prayer: God of power and life, glory of all who believe in you, fill the expectant world with your splendor and show the nations the light of your truth -- Jesus Christ.
December 26, 2020 Balancing Time to Rest and Time to Act
Like Jesus who had to break away from a needed rest period to attend to those who sought him, we are sometimes required to give up free time for pressing matters. We have to balance the Judeo-Christian emphasis on Sabbath and other rest periods, and the need to assist others when they urgently seek help. We need time to pray, and offer Christmas blessings to all our neighbors. As 2020 draws to a close, we thank God for all gifts given this year.
In Israel, I brought a milk glass from the previous meal down to breakfast and was met at the door by someone who was visibly shaken. I did not realize that the dish could not be included in the current meal by the rules of the religiously observant boarding place, for meat was being served. Were the small rules too overly important to the hosts or was there something I was culturally missing? These are culinary and culturally established rules and at first sight seem to be somewhat oppressive, and yet they were meant to show respect for the Lord. Do we have a respect for all religious traditions whether they be ours or others?
We read in the Gospels that Jesus was engaged enough to do what had to be done and yet free enough to take time off to pray. He teaches us to be innovative --even when our rest sometimes must be sacrificed. That requires a freedom to move as the Spirit directs us. Jesus, Incarnate Word and Lord of the Sabbath, is not enslaved by the Sabbath. He freely goes off to rest and have spiritual refreshment, not only on days required but at given times in his ministry. He encourages his disciples to go and rest after their emotionally expended "high" in having successful missions to others. Yet he is free to become active when need be.
We acquire the art of physical, emotional and spiritual balance, a condition that is beneficial to those we serve. We become a "Christmas event" or coming of the Lord to those who have difficulty finding themselves. As models for others to follow and as healers of our wounded Earth, we discover when to rest and when to be active; we realize the importance of Sabbaths and annual feasts and occasional jubilees and celebrations in our lives. We are to master our personal demands, for our balance helps those we have contact; we must take care of ourselves.
Do I make the time to rest, or do I see life as more and more work? Am I a workaholic in a world where the average time spent working has increased during the past decade while the labor-saving devices should have shortened work time? Do I pack more and more in shorter periods of time since there is little mortal time left? Do I appreciate the rhythm of rest and activity? Am I free to judge correctly when a rest period must be shortened or abandoned for the sake of helping others? Do I know when to start and when to stop? Am I well-balanced?
Prayer: Lord, teach us to rest when we need to and work when necessary, and to know how to be satisfied with each.
December 27, 2020 Recalling, Planning and Living Each Day
On Holy Family Day it is good for us to review the past year and prepare for the next one. At the domestic and community levels we show gratitude for surviving 2020, but hope that 2021 will be even better. When we focus on the place of our residence where things have happened and hopes are to be fulfilled this becomes the HERE of our lives, a locus of our attention and action. A combination of past review and future hope meet within the present moment, a NOW of our lives. When we realize that we must work together to be successful, this becomes the WE who are called to work in a collaborative fashion. Knowing time, place and community situation affords the best possibility for healing our troubled Earth and its inhabitants at the domestic and at broader levels of our society.
Recalling. Past achievements are measured, but we realize that the measuring devices are not perfect, nor are the subjects doing the measuring. Some of this judgment is left to the Lord. In wrapping up 2020 we ask pardon for our mishaps and failings and know they are mercifully forgiven. Faithfulness involves willingness to look back thoroughly and find there a forgiving God of mercy and love, a faithful God. We pray to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground of where we have come from, for that helps us to secure our bearing, the HERE, from where we continue our journey into the future. Our past experiences become the history of caution with which we prepare for our future.
Planning. Do some people exist from day-to-day and never plan anything ahead? Do some glory in this informality about tomorrow or the distant future? However, lack of plans makes us suspect that life is not taken seriously enough, for is there a sensitivity to the value of our service for and with others? Yes, some who have terminal illness focus more on the importance of today than many of us. Still we must try; being believers in the future we need to grow in watchfulness and stewardship. This effort allows us to know the NOW of the present moment. Planning adds to our physical, mental, emotional, psychological, financial, and environmental health and balance.
Living today. Our past and future come together within the local and domestic scene. Domestic means home and the word "eco" for ecology and economy indicate the order in our lives that include experience from the past and careful planning for the future. To see ourselves where we have come from and to hope for a future requires prayer today and with others. WE depend on God's help for we simply cannot do it all ourselves, no matter how hard we recall and plan. The memory will fade; the unexpected may occur, but we do the best we can. We do not know what the New Year will bring, but it's good to approach it with trust and enthusiasm.
Prayer: Lord, help us to look back without stumbling backward; help us look forward without totally wandering; help us to be able to do both as we journey with you with each succeeding day.
It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.
On the feast of the Holy Innocents we consider the seemingly senseless suffering of so many people in this troubled world. The innocents suffer, but why? However we gradually become aware that a law of Conservation of Suffering occurs: no effort is lost; all goes to building up the New Heaven and New Earth. We affirm this belief through our Earthhealing ministry. Our collective work is not "make work;" it is meant to be real healing; it includes selfless caregiving by unsung heroes and heroines; it fosters advances of medical technologies (e.g., today, leprosy can be easily treated in early stages); it encourages healers to use all resources at their disposal to alleviate the condition of the sick, and to follow in Jesus' footsteps as co-sufferers and co-healers.
The healing ministry extends beyond being directed towards alleviating suffering; it includes the active sharing and compassion by caregivers with the sufferers themselves. Whether these be at home or in a hospital, hospice, or senior citizen's home, sufferers and caregivers together have something positive to offer within a community. Far from being a "burden" on society, an untapped spiritual resource yearns to be utilized. Within a suffering-prone world we can exercise our priceless freedom. May sufferers hear this; all may offer what they endure with Jesus for the sake of others who may despair. Through willing suffering one's faith grows for God's power can act within a cheerful giver -- and this becomes the opportunity for compassion. Gradually we are aware that no suffering is ever lost; all is ultimate gain.
While limited in mobility, at least sufferers can offer their impoverishment in union with Jesus who suffers on the Cross -- an act that extends in space and time. Calvary is ongoing and makes good the present suffering as an immediate energy source for global healing -- something localized that is transformed into a global action. We offer sufferings along with Mary, John, and the holy women at the foot of the cross. At each moment we enter into Christ's work of salvation through extending Calvary in space and time in each Liturgy and time of prayer. Consider asking the ill and shut-ins to offer one or more days of their lives for others who suffer. The willingness to do so makes the praying person enter into a single global action as part of salvation history. Faith involves loving sacrifice with others so each can proclaim the Good News through the recognized value of cooperative suffering; encourage each other to make this a precious moment to do great deeds -- a fulfilling of suffering directed to a New Haven and New Earth.
Prayer: Lord, help us to convince the innocents of this world that by offering their sufferings they help heal our wounded Earth.
Work in progress as butterfly visits flower. (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
December 29, 2020Eagles and Butterflies: Sally Ramsdell
On this last week of the year we want to celebrate the memory of Sally Ramsdell, our Earthhealing team member, who passed away on August 22, 2011. Her photos have been used repeatedly during the past decade and will be used in future Daily Reflections. We recall the poem attributed to her memory at the year of her passing.
Eagles and Butterflies
I suspect eagles admire butterflies, their grace, busyness, and fluttering style, and their ease in knowing what's down below.
I suspect butterflies admire eagles their majesty, grandeur, watchfulness, they soar about and try to reach up high.
And I doubt that they ever eat each other; you see, butterflies are herbivorous and eagles always aim for larger game.
You realize, Sally was our golden eagle, ferreting flaws that we overlooked, watching what had begun as simply fun.
Sally, also admired the butterflies -- their color, striking beauty, their wide charm, captured photos we ne'er tire to admire.
Sally soars above us like an eagle; she flitters about like a butterfly, a soul with ease who always strives to please.
The moment Sally died her friend looked up, a soaring raptor's shadow passed above; a second shadow passed by, a butterfly.
Al Fritsch Revised 2019
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for good people like Sally who enriched our lives and whose talent continues to enhance the modest thought we present a decade after her passing. May she rest in peace!
December 30, 2020 Bringing Seasonal Warmth and Comfort into 2021
As a kid we probably asked at some point in the holidays -- "Why can't this last all year?" And parents rolled their eyes! They may have asked themselves how to answer that one. Feasting is our special seasonal holiday, but do not the Jewish, Hindi, Sikh, and Moslem people have feasts as well? Isn't this time the season of African-American Kwanzaa (December 26 to January 1), which celebrates family, community and culture? Special festive periods for all groups are times of joy, warmth, family togetherness, and love. Perhaps all of us need to discover how we can extend celebration not of our single feast but the plethora of other special occasions throughout the year.
Personal care: To feast well means we must feel well enough to do so. Maybe we could resolve for the New Year to select recreation practices that require less energy and resources (hiking, walking, biking) as opposed to high intensity and noisy forms (motor boating, joy riding, extensive auto or air travel). Another approach is on the opposite end of the activity spectrum: perhaps our comfort and joy can be better expressed through more rest and sleep and less work. Whether through more or less activity our goal is a good physical balance that carries us through 2021 and beyond.
Local actions: Our works can have some significance, if offered up to the Lord in a kindly manner. Do we enclose ourselves into our own cocoon and forget the broader neighborhood that our cheerfulness is expected to solidify? Do we find others in need and respond as a Good Samaritan to individuals who hurt? Do we extend our respect and warmth to the birds and squirrels and the plants and herbs in the garden and nearby grounds? Respect is extensive for it is not reserved only for single individuals who hurt, but to creation in its entirety, e.g., trees, birds.
Joyful work: When we extend our outreach to every creature we make "local" a broader action. This reflection was first drafted on September 10th, the feast day of the Jesuit brother, Blessed Francis Garate of Spain (1857-1929). For the last forty years of his life, Brother Francis was the doorkeeper at the University College in Deusto (Bilbao). The astounding thing is that he was known for his constant fidelity, hard work, cheerfulness, charity, and courtesy. He treated all, young and old, notable and beggar in exactly the same manner and always showed great joy in his work. The impression he made on so many was a legend and yet he had a most humble occupation.
Enduring reflection. Let's make this extended warmth and joy a New Year's resolution. Okay, we do not always keep resolutions and cannot remember specifics by the end of January. However, if this becomes an ongoing theme of a daily review, we may do better.
Prayer: Lord, give us the true sense of this holiday spirit, and make it part of our everyday life into the New Year.
For those of us who like to count things, the end of the year means a time for auditing what has been quantitative throughout the last 366 days (recall that it has been a leap year). But what purpose is it, for other than the one counting who even cares? It is well to know that the past has been subject to an accounting and the future is not able to be definitively counted; the present is all we have that is fleeting but able to be made more meaningful: in performing daily physical exercise, in eating nutritious food in moderation, in getting plentiful rest, in remembering those who pass on, in getting fresh air outdoors, and in thanking God morning and night.
Some find it's futile to count and that in some cases one might even become puzzled or have horrible consequences. The popular saying was that, in counting the stones at Stonehenge in England, one never arrives at the same number twice, for some of them are half buried or scattered; another tale is that the one who counts those stones at Stonehenge will die -- as will the rest of us as well (Stonehenge Complete, Christopher Chippindale, p. 45). Amid difficulties we know that those who count get a certain enjoyment out of it; others regard it as a distracting task. So be it!
Counting on Things That Count
Life's gone past -- heaven sent; Yes, 31839 My days of life so fine, Would they'd been better spent? They came, flashed now, and went. Repent! Repent! Repent!
Looking ahead, a must Horizon's haze divine, Hazy and unrefined line Filled with mist, fortune's dust, Ship-worn, age-acquired rust Only in God we trust!
Prayer: Lord, I can count on you to help me make next year a better one.