A frozen creek in Winter. Mercer County, Kentucky.
February is sometimes regarded as out of place, since it comes
after the beginning of the year and before the spring season
starts. My response is "there is nothing slower than molasses in
January except molasses in February." When sunshine seems to have
a stronger and longer intensity and day begins to overcome night,
then we know there is a promise of greater things to come.
February is mercifully short because we are so anxious for the end
of winter -- at least many of us are -- I think. But while the
month lasts we ought to endure with patience; we ought to strive
to be more perceptive and discover that things are starting to
happen, that wild garlic is starting to grow, and that another
growing season unfolds before us. We learn during Lent to take one
thing at a time, to stay close to the movements of the Spirit in
our lives, and to look more at our relationship with the Almighty.
Let us give special attention to this February for the crisis
facing our planet has never been clearer and nearer than now, as we
prepare for the coming decades of global warming and its immense
aftermath. What can we do to heal this troubled Earth and how can
we get others to help us?
All wildlife can become our teachers provided we are humble
enough to learn lessons from them. Tomorrow is Groundhog Day and
an opportunity to learn from one of the most humble and down-to-
Earth of all creatures (Marmota monax), the hibernating woodchuck
or North American "groundhog." One of our truly American fables is
operative tomorrow, for if the groundhog comes out and sees his
shadow, he retreats into his burrow for another six weeks of
impending winter weather. Never mind that no one has ever done a
study to see how correct at weather prediction the groundhog has
been in the past century. Fables are not meant to be analyzed.
The lowly groundhog does not have an appearance of a teacher
and that itself should teach us not to have presuppositions based
on initial appearance. It is rusty brown and somewhat unkempt as
ought to be expected after sleeping an entire winter in a simple
hole in the ground. However, simple living does not distract
groundhogs from being especially diligent; the awake time is well
occupied and these busybodies scurry about for food and other
business. We may regard them as somewhat piggish in appetite but
they adjust well to virtually any plant food available for they
have a very wide ranging menu. No finicky eaters here. A single
groundhog can wipe out a garden in a very short evening visit --
that is if it is "Hagar the Horrible."
Well then what is it they teach us? Few creatures are more
peaceful than the mild mannered groundhog, which regards its best
defense as a hasty retreat into its burrow, not a fight. The
groundhog is not overly aggressive and thus it can become an easy
target for dogs and more aggressive wildlife but peace is its
mantra. In fact, the young groundhog is downright cute and is as
attractive as a ground squirrel. Kids may befriend a special
groundhog and find a good pet. This is our only day in the year
named after a species of wildlife -- no Cougar Day or Wildcat Day,
although some call Thanksgiving "Turkey Day," because of a
traditional dish. The wildlife honors go to the lowly groundhog -
- and yet honor in lowliness does not make them proud. Groundhogs
are self-sustaining, non-intrusive, non-biting, resilient, in no
need of special protection; they go about their own business.
If the natural niche of the American carnivores is depleted,
then herbivores can have a field day. Hav-a-heart traps, made to
capture prolific wildlife in a humane manner, may not be
appreciated by those whose property is targeted for wildlife
dumping. Maybe the lowly groundhog tells us to welcome back the
carnivores such as wildcats and red foxes. All the while, let us
welcome back a harmony of all wildlife and give primacy to the
lowly and humble groundhog.
Prayer: Lord, Creator of all things even the most humble,
allow us to open our eyes and learn from nature, finding even here
the attributes that come from the Almighty, and to learn to be
ourselves in a humble way thus making the world a better place.
...because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have
prepared for all nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:30-32)
Today on Candlemas Day we celebrate the presentation of Jesus
as the light of the world. After his Ascension Jesus did not allow
that light to go dim for he also designated us, his mystical body,
as the light of the world (Matthew 5:13). We are more than candles
or symbolic fixtures; we are light, we give light and we reflect
light in many ways a few of which are given here:
As photosynthetic light we help enliven others, acting as a
catalyst to move the world forward to the end towards which it was
created. Others grow through the light of our encouragement;
As guiding light we show the way. Light is a guide for others
and we become a lighthouse that directs the ships at sea. Let our
good deeds be seen by others (Matthew 5:16). As Earth healing
instruments we guide a world that is distracted and not focused on
important issues. We may not know where every danger is located
but our beacon makes others aware that some danger is present. How
people guide their ships and stay clear of material shoals is up to
them, but the alert is given and remains steady throughout;
As enlightened by the Spirit we give insight. There is much
written and spoken about the over-emphasis on negative
environmentalism (pollution and depletion of resources) as well as
the promise of positive environmentalism (appropriate technology
and simpler ways of living). A balance of both is needed to the
degree that is called for at a given moment, and that balance takes
a special insight that only dawns upon us with time (Isaiah 58:8).
As light converted into heat we warm the hearts of others
grown cold through insensitivity brought on by over affluence and
the drive to gain material things. We are a healing presence as
though the full spectrum of spiritual sunlight; we refresh and give
joy and health to others by being present to them;
As a reflection of the Savior we exude mystical Light (see
February 6, 2005). Our light has a timeless quality for it reaches
into the past event we celebrate today and far back still more to
that first moment of light (Genesis 1:3). Our light has a history
and is also a promise of things to come, a foreshadowing of an
eternal spring when there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth;
As a security light we give others the courage not to lose
heart but to assist in the awesome work ahead. Our light furnishes
a space for people to do meaningful work.
Prayer: Lord, help us to realize the strength of the light
that we are given in Christ and help us to extend the rays of his
glory to others around us.
An old friend, American beech, Fagus grandifolia. (*photo
February 3, 2008 Pray and Live the Beatitudes
Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Matthew 5:1-)
As we prepare for the Lenten season we need to focus again on
the humble and lowly. The poor are with us first in our being
aware of them, second in being the subject of our charity, and
third by inviting us to identify and become one with them.
First, there is the question of sensitivity. If we are not
aware and know the poor of this world we cannot be saved, You did
not feed me when I was hungry (Matthew 25). Thus our own salvation
in some self-interested manner is tied up with knowing that poor
folks are among us if within our immediate vicinity, at least in
the global neighborhood that is within the reach of our television
cameras and Internet connections. The poor and sorrowing and those
who are merciful are striving in their own way to live -- and we
need to assist them in some manner. This requires that we are
aware of their sheer numbers and their closeness to God.
Second, we cannot just be aware of them but we must also do
something, and thus we must have compassion and sacrifice for them
in more than the basic necessities. Here I invite you readers to
join me in simplifying your eating habits beginning in Lent. Only
when taking a snack or meal at a fast foods restaurant do I begin
to see how much processed and prepared foods cost. But we can save
some of that food budget by doing more of our own cooking, by using
less meat and resource intensive foods, by introducing substitutes
that are just as nutritious and less costly, and by donating the
difference to the poor especially in parts of Africa where every
dollar makes an immense difference in the feeding and educating of
orphans and single parent families. A wide variety of authentic
agencies exist that will receive and use donated charity quite
efficiently and effectively. Make a resolution and with each
saving of normally budgeted food items add a dollar to a jar. At
the end of the month sent the money to a relief agency.
Third, we are invited into God's family and that includes the
Trinitarian mystery; we are invited into the communion of the
saints who have gone before us; we are also invited to be not just
with the poor on occasions but to be identified with the poor -- to
be lowly and humble. Many would argue that poverty is not a good
thing and that we should not identify with poor folks, but rather
hope they will identify with us. Certainly a modest life for all
is a hope for those who are destitute, who live a dehumanizing
condition beyond normal poverty. We identify with others within to
remove destitution and raise all the poor to a higher quality of
life. The lowly, not those in high places, can initiate and
sustain a global raising process -- and we are part of this effort.
Prayer: Humble Jesus, teach us to live with the poor, to see
their needs, to answer those needs, and to be one with them in
every way especially in moving the world forward to a more
equitable distribution of resources.
This Mardi Gras period is a good opportunity to reflect on our
drinking habits, from water and beverages to strong drinks to soft
drinks. Informed decisions are highly important in drinking habits
because our body consists of a surprisingly high percent of water
and is quite sensitive to liquid intake. Is our water pure and
free of all contaminants? What about other beverages that add to
the moisture content of our body weight? Some drinks have good and
bad aspects: many people promote nutritious milk and milk drinks,
(though some people have lactose intolerance); fruit juices are
beneficial (but some shun the extra calories); herbal and non-
caffeinated teas are healthy (though many prefer caffeinated
drinks); and others choose bottled imported water (is it of higher
quality than local sources?).
Hard drinks are a problem area because some seem to be
susceptible to alcoholism and are unable to control drinking
habits. Many, and especially pregnant women, ought to be aware.
In the past the lumping of all alcoholic beverages into a single
category was too simplistic, for the age old (and biblical) red
wine with its merits should not be lumped with all hard drinks of
high alcoholic content. Moderation is the order of the day and
excess can be quite disturbing to daily performance of duties and
overall health. The harder the drink the greater the caution.
The ubiquitous soft drink makes us ask, "How often do I quench
my thirst with a soft drink?" Is the water fountain difficult to
find? Or does the fast food restaurant expect the customer to
choose a soft drink? Is it customary to hear the refrigerator
doors slam and then the hiss of the escaping carbonation? Calories
mount unless we choose the distasteful diet concoctions or bottled
water. A major portion of our one hundred pounds plus of sugar
per-person-per-year is found in soft drinks -- great money-makers
for bottlers and fast food places, but how much is this resulting
in overweight clientele? Why are the Coca Cola/Pepsi commercial
wars directed at cash-strapped schools? While milk consumption
among youth has plummeted, soft drinks have doubled in consumption.
Road sides are inundated with soft drink bottles and cans, causing
neighborhood visual pollution. More resources go into making the
beverage container than the contents. The number of soft drink
containers produced is staggering, and only about half of the
billions are recycled. Soft drinks are not foods and should not be
a food stamp choice -- even though soft drinks producers disagree.
Better drink choices need to be forthcoming. The habit of
carrying around a water bottle is a good thing and certainly pure
safe water needs to be promoted. Refill form the tap. Bottled
water is competing with soft drinks for more shelf space but the
containers are becoming a major resource and environmental problem.
Prayer: Christ, Living Water, teach us to choose good things
to drink so that our bodies remain healthy and of greater service
to the Almighty. Make us into springs of living water as well.
New beginnings are always part of our lives. Lent can be a
season of new beginning as we prepare for the spring that is soon
coming. This is Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) when
in the past the animal fats were consumed in good culinary treats
before the fasting season began. Here the call is more refined and
means getting rid of wasteful distractions and allurements so that
the season is one of coming closer to God. Suggestions include:
Rise with enough time to start the day well. Give yourself
plenty of time for the preliminary exercises of the day.
Start with a prayer or meditation. Thank God for living this
day and ask the Lord for the strength to carry out the things
ahead. Often the Scriptural readings of this day or of the weekend
ahead can be the starting point for a meditation. This selection
gives us a focus and prepares a spiritual climate in which we
discover more about our own faith journey.
Lay out daily plans. Part of prayer could be planning for the
day ahead. It may help to jot down a general set of major
happenings expected in a day book and ask God for the strength to
carry them through. Often the change called for in Lent is to lay
out the daily plans the night before.
Reduce food intake but ingest something for the stomach.
Absolute fasting may be what you intend but one hopes you are not
planning to do work on an empty stomach for that may handicap what
you intend to accomplish -- a very important consideration. If
fasting, at least take some liquid. This suggestion is based on
the Catholic Christian concept of fasting which calls for a reduced
amount of food for two of the day's meals, but not to judge those
who choose a more rigid regime. Note: I usually eat my largest
meal early and the lightest later in the evening and so the timing
is important for many of us.
Change the routine slightly. Lent is a time when we prove
that we are not a slave to the routine. It may mean more sleep or
a mandatory rest period during the day that allows for the needed
energy and stamina to complete the day well.
Exercise during the day. All of us need the physical exercise
that it takes to remain alert. This may mean some walking to
office, work or school or an outdoor or indoor physical routine
early in the morning to sharpen our senses and tune our bodies.
Prayer: Lord, give me a handle on the time that is before me
as spring approaches. I realize that time is short and is really
getting shorter with each passing year, so help me to improve my
use of that time. Inspire me to fine tune my habits and practices
as the year progresses. Allow me to be closer to you during the
coming forty days and see this not as a time of dread but of
Squaw root, Conopholis americana with Opiliones (species unknown). (*photo
February 6, 2008 Ash Wednesday's Message: Sacrifice and Love
Remember that you are dust and into dust you shall return.
Many of us are highly influenced by these somber words at the
beginning of the Lenten season. However, the message of a
relationship to dust is not the whole story, and that is why Lent
has an ever deepening meaning. We spring from Earth and our skin
and bones return to the same Earth, but in the meanwhile we show
love through sacrifice -- and the immortal and eternal residue of
love is what we cultivate and bear with us on our journey.
This body begins from dust. When we think of the dust or
humus from which we came, we grow in humility and feel its totally
leveling effect. We realize that life is a gift from God,
something we certainly do not deserve in some manner of inheriting
a right to exist. In God's plan, we were freely and lovingly
created and we continue to exist in a sea of love. Our origins are
not from some premortal necessity. In fact, all those who are
connected with our lives -- parents, community, nation, church --
are within God's generosity as well. We look back at our earthly
origin as part of the immensity of God's creative love shown in the
breath of life. We are embraced by Divine love.
This body will return to dust, and so today as ashes are
placed on our heads we become all the more aware of the second
aspect of stewardship along with the gifts given, namely, the short
time we have to complete the journey of life. It's a fleeting
period when we grow in love and prepare to take the only thing we
can carry with us when life is ended and we seem to fade. We take
eternal love, which surpasses faith and hope at that moment. Our
attention to better self-control, which we consider again during
Lent, encourages us to remember that life is so short and that we
must act with dispatch and ever-increasing effectiveness.
Lent adds another element as the season culminates in the
suffering and death of the Lord. Much of the sacrifice we will
make in this life may be through the suffering on our journey of
faith. We realize that we miss the mark in our spiritual life, we
need to be willing to let go and to acquire the new -- our leaving
home and parting from loved ones, the times of childbirth,
ailments, wasting diseases, and loss of powers, and ultimately our
mortal life. When the sacrifice is made in union with the
suffering and death of Christ, we add meaning to our efforts, the
combustion in the sacrificing fire of our respective lives. The
remains are truly ashes, but the spiritual ashes include the act of
love, of God, who is Love. God gives us life, and we return that
love in one grand oblation within a well-worn journey of life.
Prayer: God of all creation, you give us this day when we are
in immediate touch with sacramental symbols of past and future --
of our ongoing journey of faith. You are here with us, loving us
and having mercy on us. As ashes fertilize new life, so let our
deeds be filled with your love and manifest it to fellow travelers.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis),
showing brilliant plumage. (*photo
by Sally Ramsdell)
February 7, 2008 Creative Meals for Lent
A food-conscious world consists of low-carbohydrate, low-salt,
low-fat, low-cholesterol food, no mercury-contaminated fish, no
artificial coloring or preservatives, and no pesticide-contaminated
produce. Did I leave anything out? And what is left over
generally costs dearly, or the items are not readily available in
our local supermarket. Furthermore, Lent occurs when fresh local
produce is difficult to obtain from our garden or yard. Yes, Lent
becomes a challenge worth meeting with creative culinary ideas.
Introduce lentils in a soup, for these are a nutritious
supplement that can help create a main dish. Add garlic and onions
and perhaps some whole tomatoes with some carrots for flavor and
color. Put in your own spice or herb to make this memorable.
Make cornbread a staple. When you bake the corn bread you can
add a variety of ingredients that give it a special and unique
touch for the season. Consider adding canned whole kernel corn and
also some hot peppers (before the baking operation tones down the
spiciness) -- and add cabbage, green peppers, onions, etc.
Add a touch of sweetness in times of fasting and receive the
added energy needed. You can use natural sweetening agents even if
in small amounts: honey, maple syrup, apple syrup, sorghum or
commercial molasses if the others are not available.
Consider oatmeal mixed with flax seed (for omega-three); this
cereal is both good as a cholesterol-reducing fibrous morning meal
or can be mixed with eggs to form a scrambled-egg dish that can be
garnished with green wild garlic sprouts or early dandelions from
the garden and yard.
Try a crock pot delight with a base of mixed beans and
chickpeas with an additional variety of vegetables such as a
brassica from the greenhouse or protected garden along with
cabbage, green peppers, and Jerusalem artichokes or salsify.
The variety depends on your own taste and the added flavors can
depend on herbs you care to add. Note what is added for you may
want to repeat at a later date -- or are you just spontaneous?
Select herbal beverages to help flavor dull February.
Consider a Lenten cookbook. I have two energetic close
relatives cooking in different kitchens, who are excellent cooks,
want to address the Lenten meal problem, and have asked me to
compose a prayer for each day of a Lenten cookbook. During this
Lent in 2008 they are experimenting with a series of dishes and
will hopefully have their cookbook available for next year.
Prayer: Lord, help us to rise to the challenges facing our
lives and to do so with a positive attitude. If we can overcome
the routine food needs, maybe we can be an inspiration for others
to tackle the bigger things of life.
February 8, 2008 Efficient Vehicles and Global Warming
Federal auto efficiency standards have finally been raised for
the first time in over a-quarter-of-a-century to 35 miles per
gallon by 2020. High time! The cumulative savings for this
entire nation in money, petroleum resources and cleaner air will be
so immense that one can only wonder why it took so long. We are
talking about tens of millions of tons of absent carbon dioxide
emissions. Considering the fact that there are two hundred million
vehicles in this country alone, and this does not count the rapidly
growing motor fleets in such populous and economically growing
lands as China and India, we come late to the goal of efficient
vehicles. If we take a lead as Americans maybe, just maybe,
emerging middle class nations will follow suit. For the sake of
this planet's health they must join us.
Few older vehicles are fuel efficient and yet the nation
continues to tolerate fuel wasting power vehicles, motor homes,
SUVs (the petroleum addict's last fling at gas consumption), and
gas guzzling trucks as part of the 2008 vehicular generation. This
comes when hybrids have been getting 60+ miles to a gallon for a
decade. The technology is out there; new fuels are available or
rapidly becoming so; solar-powered electric vehicles are
operating, and the hydrogen economy is coming in a few years. All
are ready but the will power of drivers and companies.
Car Talk is a rather humorous weekly radio show on National
Public Radio with callers being subjected to playful ridicule for
bringing up their difficult and supposed "car health" problems.
While listening, we wonder whether we are any better than the
callers even when we realize their inexperience in car maintenance.
Our respective vehicle manuals say it all, but these are not the
most popular reading materials. Keep tires properly inflated, oil
changed at regular intervals, timer belts replaced at specific
intervals of about 60,000 miles, spark plugs and air and gasoline
filters replaced, and on and on; have tires checked for excessive
wear at the time the car is up on the rack, and rotate tires on a
regular basis. Our regular mechanics are like a primary physician;
they remind us of auto repair needs when we neglect automobile
care. It pays to patronize good vehicle service places.
Now I am in my seventies, and our Jesuit superiors require
that this age group must take the AARP drivers course for safety.
This autumn, upon turning the mile marker "seventy five," I must
take a more formal driver's test with a professional driving agency
and the frequency of this road testing increases with succeeding
years. Eventually, I shall experience the imposed immobility of no
longer being able to drive -- and such is life ahead of us.
Prayer: Lord allow us to be modest on our journey in life.
Show us that the resource waste of driving inefficient vehicles is
at least collectively sinful, if not perhaps individually so as
well. While encouraging us not to be judgmental, at least help us
to talk about energy waste to those whom we meet.
Nada como el sol (nothing like the sun),
soaking up winter rays. (*photo
February 9, 2008 Praying from the Heart
All, even the speechless, are called to communicate in some
way. Merely talking to ourselves is hardly communication and some
would regard it as senile or anti-social behavior. We realized
early in life (even shortly after birth) that communication between
people is vital to comfort, care and just being human. Gradually
cries and whimpers became spoken words and then we began to expand
our arena of social contacts. Quite early for most of us we were
invited through baptism into the family of God. In response to the
divine call founded in love, we were asked to love God with our
whole heart and soul, mind and body. How else can this be done but
by talking with and listening to God?
We talk with God in four ways: We ask forgiveness for faults
committed especially when offending someone and we pray thus at the
start of the Divine Liturgy; we sing out our praise of God's
greatness at the Gloria; after hearing the word of God read and
spoken about, we petition or "pray" (English meaning "I beg you");
and then we participate in the heart of the Divine Liturgy itself
which is our highest form of prayer -- thanking God for all things.
Our prayers can have differing degrees of intensity: we offer
prayers each day for various causes that are close to our heart and
thus turn our hearts to prayer. Some periods of the day should
become our special personal time with God in a more intensive
manner; we may wish to do this through formal ways of praying
(memorized prayer, rosary and meditation on the mysteries of the
life of Christ, reading or reflection on Scripture, private
conversation with the Lord, the Jesus Prayer, and other ways).
Find the one that suits you best on this stage of the journey. On
either a daily or weekly basis we pray with a community in a more
formal manner. Ancient Brother Schwakenberg was a gardener at our
Milford Ohio Novitiate; I went past his open door and he was
talking as though someone was in the room -- it was the Lord.
When busyness, sickness or confined circumstances overwhelm
us, we find our prayer more challenging. We are forced to modify
our prayer habits, to retreat into the silence of our hearts, that
ultimate personal space where we can find God in more intimate
terms. A sick person or one in prison will not be able to have a
special time or secluded place for prayer; a busy parent must look
doubly hard to find time and place to get away; a nervous person
may want to walk or exercise while meditating. My cousin, a
medical doctor, would take a half-hour afternoon nap, no matter how
many extra patients were in the waiting room. He needed that rest,
and so did his patients need his rest. The retreat to a period and
place of recollection is sought after by many and yet few give it
special consideration. In fact, prayer time is one of the first
things to be sacrificed because of the pressures of the day. In
such cases a final recourse is the prayer of the heart.
Prayer: Lord teach us to pray, to pray always and to pray
from our hearts especially when duty calls us to other things.
Temptations occur, and they may be either to act or not to act.
The big question is not their occurrence but how we deal with them.
Adam and Eve were tempted and succumbed after being blinded into
thinking that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and
desirable for gaining wisdom to be like God. In failure, they found
their nakedness. The Israelites were tempted when wandering forty
years, and they turned to Cannaanite idols and hardened their
All too often we are tempted to refrain from acting -- to deny the
need to act, to excuse ourselves or to seek to escape into the world
of addictive behavior.
Immediately after his baptism by John, Jesus is tempted. Mark's
Gospel account of Jesus' temptations is brief, but both Matthew
11) and Luke (4: 1-13) speak of three temptations though in
sequences. However, unlike our first parents and the Israelites,
Jesus resists. These tests deal with his public ministry when he
announces the liberation of captives "with the power of the Spirit
within him." How are these temptations related to Jesus' ministry?
Father Fitzmyer asks, "Could it not be that Jesus recounted some
of these stories as figurative, parabolic resumes of the seduction
latent in the diabolic opposition to him and his ministry?" (St.
Vol.1, p. 509).
Besides the temptations to denial, excuse and escape (the sins
of omission that strike us all), we are also tempted to secure
material comforts as though these are ultimate security. "Not by
bread alone" is the Deuteronomy quote, which Jesus uses in response
to the test for material comforts. In this age of utter materialism
we too are enticed to "need" more and more such goods. We are
tempted by a desire for spacious homes, boats, fast cars, stocks,
insurance policies, checking accounts, and goods of every type.
However we are all called to a spiritual poverty that allows a
security not found in overabundance but in trust in God's plenty.
Another temptation we face is that of fame. Positioned on the
pinnacle of the temple, Jesus endures the temptation to do something
dramatic, to have a spectacular entry into public life through the
flare for attention and drama, and to be an instant hero. So often
we would like to soar above others like a figure skater who floats
about effortlessly. We dream of obtaining fame through deeds of
glory; we are enticed to a fictitious world and forget that
to God's will is part of an ever deepening mystery, which is part of
the journey of our lives.
We also seek power over others in many ways and fail to see
that this is corrupting. The splendor of God's creation can
mesmerize us, allowing us to be detoured into seeing creatures as
idols or the beauty as a diversion. Instead we are to be single-
hearted and chaste in our quest for God; to God alone do we fall
and worship; only in God do we trust.
Prayer: Lord, help us to overcome our temptations.
February 11, 2008 A Simple Global Solution: Solar Cookers and Ovens
Global use of solar food cookers (ovens) offers the potential to
save forestlands, for over a billion people depend on forest growth
to furnish the fuel to cook their food. With both fuel and food
prices escalating throughout the world, we realize that the very
will be hurt the worst. In some countries, lower income people spend
a quarter of their money on kerosene or other fossil cooking fuels,
or at least a day a week gathering ever scarcer firewood. Besides
making possible economic savings, solar cooking devices are easy to
build and maintain and their proper use can be taught easily; only
minimal cultural changes are required. The solar cooking process is
smokeless and thus avoids harm to cookers' lungs. The cooker is a
low-priced way to purify water in areas with danger from intestinal
disease; water is pasteurized by heating at least to 150 degrees F.
The solar cooker must be placed where it receives sunlight for
a number of hours depending on time of year and geographic zones --
working well in the tropics year-round. When the sun is one-third of
the way from horizon to overhead, many easy-to-cook foods will be
started and will be ready at midday. The closer the sun is to
directly overhead, the greater the cooking power. Most intense
cooking takes place from two hours before to two hours after true
noon. In temperate zones the angled winter sun is weaker. Dust and
smog slow cooking time, but generally cooking time is unaffected by
wind, humidity and outdoor temperature. Solar box cookers are
insulated box-within-a-box containing a dark cooking pot to absorb
sunlight (converting light to heat). Shiny surfaces of aluminum or
Mylar reflect rather than absorb energy on reflectors and inner box
surfaces; sunlight passes through a tight-fitting transparent
material which traps longer wave heat energy. These solar units are
equipped with adjustable reflectors directed to sunlight. Simple
cooking devices are made of cardboard with reflective sheeting,
glass for covers, darkened cooking utensils, and sawdust or crumpled
paper for insulation. More permanent cookers made from pressed
earth, brick, stone, or wood include fiberglass insulation and
reflection surfaces and are still more efficient.
The amount of cooked food depends on box size. Even the smaller
units described can cook up to 10 - 15 pounds of food on sunny days,
through slow cooking techniques. Add no water and retain nutrients
when cooking meat, fresh fruits or vegetables. Cook dried beans and
grains by adding normal amounts of water. Gentle cooking
temperatures of 200-235 F are ideal to refrain from burning food.
Even tough meats are tenderized. No stirring is needed. Checking
food frequently by opening the lid slows the cooking process. It's
best to move the cooker with the sun, especially in winter weather
on cloudy days. The cooking times for the specific Lilongwe Solar
Heater (see ASPI Publications) are: beans - 3 hours; rice, fish and
chicken - 1 1/2 hours; vegetables - 1 hour; and beef - 2 hours.
Prayer: Lord, help us to assist others in the two essentials of
food and cooking fuel and help them to see the sun as a way to ease
their pain and needs, because the sun is free.
The Berry House, Springfield, Kentucky.
It is in this home that
Thomas Lincoln proposed to Nancy
Hanks (Lincoln's parents). (*photo
by Mark Spencer)
February 12, 2008 The Beginning of the Lincoln Year
One year from today will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of
Abraham Lincoln, and so today begins the Lincoln Year. During the
coming thirteen months ending with February, 2009, we will reflect
upon some part of Lincoln's life and upon photos of scenes
with his roots and early life in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.
Since Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin near Hodgenville,
Kentucky, his roots are a good topic for an initial reflection. His
pioneer grandfather was killed by raiding Indians and his father
being a younger son had to struggle first in the home of his widowed
mother and then on his own, since he inherited very little if
anything but an experience of homesteading practices. Lincoln's
mother, also coming from humble circumstances, had to make do with
virtually no formal education and meager living conditions in the
beginning days of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. She and after her
untimely death his step mother were able to show a deep sense of
trust that he would do all right and succeed in life.
Lincoln came from a homesteading family and they were far more
skilled than one might imagine, or how else could they have
Building a house from logs, as done where he was born and then, as a
youth when the family moved to Indiana, involved hard work and
survival skills -- with which his father was highly acquainted.
Lincoln acquired these skills and did not let seemingly major crises
hamper the ability to use them wisely and well. When in late 1862
Lincoln was under immense pressure to fire one or other of his
cabinet (e.g., Seward and Chase) he related to a legislator that
young he learned how to bring pumpkins home on horseback by
one on one side and one on the other with a rope tying the two
together. He kept both opposing cabinet members even after they
submitted resignation letters.
Lincoln's spiritual upbringing owed much to his step mother and
the rest of his family, even though he was reluctant to acknowledge
it. Lincoln was a God-fearing man but not a member of a particular
church. He worshiped with his parents in the Baptist tradition in
his youth but never became a church member, and apparently did not
acquire the fervor that his parents had for that particular service.
During the Civil War he did attend a Presbyterian Church in
Washington with his wife and family, but he did not make any motion
to become a member. The pastor prayed at his death. However, the
war did make Lincoln a prayerful man, one who turned to God often,
and he grew in compassion for all who suffered through that
horrifying ordeal. He surprised his cabinet by acknowledging that he
made a vow to God before presenting the emancipation proclamation in
its final form -- and he had to suffer much in presenting it for
there was bitter opposition.
Prayer: Our Alpha and Omega, our Beginning and Ending of all
things, You are our ultimate root and the One who gives root to all
that we are and can become. Help us to be grateful for the great
people who have influenced our lives in so many ways.
The stately blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) in winter. (*photo
by Sally Ramsdell)
February 13, 2008 Develop Bird Habitats
Birds are under stress due to the loss of habitat both in our
country and in lands to which many of them migrate for winter. This
loss can be compensated for by some species (certainly not by those
needing extensive wilderness). We can do this in our own backyards
through the creation of "wildscape," which is appealing to a wide
variety of birds from colorful bluejays and cardinals to the more
drab but just as precious and vocal species, which do not mind being
near human habitation. Refraining from use of lawn chemicals is a
necessary beginning in attracting birds. The best way to determine
whether someone uses these herbicides is to see whether robins
frequent the particular green space.
Specific details on what to plant for birds, as well as bird
nests and bird baths, are given in a host of nature books, manuals
and websites. Retired University of Kentucky Professor Wayne Davis
has created bluebird boxes and Carolina wren boxes which prove to be
favorites for these birds (even on the property where I reside). If
you go to Dr. Davis' house in Lexington, Kentucky he will give you
boxes only on the promise you put them up and maintain them.
Residents may want to go a step further than just making the
landscape attractive, and actually declare the backyard as a bird
"sanctuary." That is sufficient and no governmental certification is
needed. Bird sanctuaries allow aviary invitees to nest, rest and
feed there without endangerment from prey. Feeding birds is frowned
upon by some nature purists, but some of us regard it as a positive
countermeasure to the vast destruction of normal habitat in
urbanizing America. Sanctuary fragments are inherently limited by
nature but are often necessary for survival of the semi-tropical
migratory wildlife. Joining of adjacent properties would create
larger contiguous areas for the better health and well-being of the
permanent and migratory bird populations.
Birds make good neighbors for shut-ins and the elderly who are
rather limited in mobility. The kinds of birds attracted can be
determined to some degree by the type of seeds and other bird feed
furnished. Native Americans Cherokees in the Southeast attracted
martins through gourd houses to control mosquito pests. Hummingbirds
are attracted by sugar water feeders and red flowers; interplanting
these flowers in herb and vegetable gardens may prove attractive to
a mix of hummingbirds and butterflies and create a quite delightful
scene for elderly spectators. Affording safe nesting places take
precedent over bird feeding and watering, for in overly fragmented
landscapes the birds are prey to cowbirds who lay eggs in other
nests, which leads to competition and excess labor by the victims.
Keep the squirrels out if you can, and allow the bird to feel free
from the danger of hawks.
Prayer: Lord, you have given us the song of birds to lighten
our hearts and their colorful attire and wonderful movements to
appeal to our eyes. They are a delight to behold and enjoy, but we
must take time and care so that they have a safe habitat.
The heart of a tree.
Happy Valentine's Day! (*photo
by Marge Para)
February 14, 2008 The Manifold Mystery of Love
Love is --
the atmosphere surrounding our service for others,
the unattained goal of life towards which we strive,
the most elementary form of early communication,
the stirring deep within our bones,
the unsolicited smile to another,
the craving of our very souls for peace,
the unquestioned devotion of our pets,
the kind words when others have forsaken us,
the sacrifices of our parents and guardians,
the constant demands met without thanks,
the hurts that we endure
but do not return,
the momentary meetings of eyes with someone served,
the calluses on work hands,
the arms joined with others in prayer,
the desire to be united with another,
the many pleasures of life shared with another,
the grateful feeling of surviving the night,
the pause by a cook after serving
a favorite dish,
the attraction mixed with spiritual fulfillment,
the sincere kiss,
the time spent quietly with a loved one,
the radical sharing by those with little,
the heartbeat in unison with an unborn child,
the stark reality of enduring another's foibles,
the sincerity of the poor,
the rush of joy at the returning soldier,
the quest for protection by the vulnerable,
the hug by a speechless friend
at the time of someone's passing,
the goodbye between two when one is going to harm's way,
the appreciation by an elder
for a youngster's kindness,
the joy on a kid's face on a parent's coming home,
the firm assurance that all is okay,
the eyes of gratitude from the sick bed,
the pride in a job well done by a loved one,
the pleasure in watching a garden grow,
the confidence of the nurse with the patient,
the sincere thank you for help given,
the making-up after a quarrel,
the night's embrace,
the final meal with friends,
the peace of soul at Holy Communion,
the attraction to the deepest Mystery
at the moment of death,
Kentuckians love to tell stories because others love to hear
those tales. In fact, story-telling is in our blood, and we recall
at this time of year that Abe Lincoln loved to regale others with
stories from younger years, or those tales passed on to him from his
father and friends. A Kentucky "story" could be partly fiction and
maybe a bit of a lie at times. However, stories are of a wide
variety. Jesus' parables are stories passed through Scripture from
generation to generation, and from one time to another, since we
never tire in good stories. Part of the story telling is in the
telling and that is over and above the content of the story itself.
In youth, I told stories to my younger siblings and began to see
the telling must always be coupled with the story itself. Thus we
find that good story telling is an art:
Be vivid or graphic -- Even though an audience is not totally
able to retain the details, the graphic nature of the story allows
them to enter in with their whole being just as good color
combinations and proper details make for better paintings. Thus
naming a place and the exact location, the shape of an approaching
bear, the mental state of the person, or the effects of the specific
weather conditions may add flavor and attractiveness to the story.
Be aware of the audience -- Some cannot take too much gore or
long narratives or many sub-plots. If the audience is not with you,
it is time to shorten the story and bring it to a quick conclusion.
If they are with you, draw it out a little more. The environment has
to be right and the good storyteller has to know his or her
Be enthusiastic -- Nothing is worse than a tired storyteller.
Better to remain silent than to destroy a good story by a hesitant
narration. Storytellers repeat their tales over and over and
sometimes to the same people who do not seem to mind, provided they
are freshly and enthusiastically done.
Be light-hearted -- That is the best word since some stories
have their moments of humor and convey the sadness of life all at
same time. An overly heavy-hearted or morose story or a flippant one
are not good themes for storytelling.
Be credible -- The story may be a fable or a parable but it must
have some degree of authenticity. The theme or goal must be worthy
of belief even if the vivid circumstances are fictional.
Be yourself -- Personal stories told from the heart for a given
purpose are most often better than merely repeating what someone
told you. The story does not have to be long and drawn out, for
simpler stories have more punch. Longer tales are for long winter
nights by a fireplace with no television, a rare circumstance today.
Prayer: Lord, O perfect Story Teller, keep our minds open when
hearing and doubly open when telling a story -- and let your love be
the greatest story ever told, which we recall with enthusiasm.
We start to rest in a public place and suddenly in a loud voice
the person next to us starts talking on a cell phone. Our silent
space has been intruded upon, and yet we tolerate in silence the
impact it has on our lives. In many other ways also we are subject
to a massive assault on our personal silent space. We now know that
the law restricting telemarketers is regarded as the most popular
American legislation ever enacted and has recently been put on a
permanent basis. Through the many media outlets that enter our
homes, we are perfect targets of privacy intrusion, something
of in prior times of no television, radio, telephone or Internet.
Few things are more irritating than a telemarketer at meal time.
Most parents have difficulties getting everyone together for a
meal; the evening "dinner" or "supper" is ideal for finding all or
nearly all the family at home -- and marketers know this.
We need our private time, the moments we recoup or rest or sleep
or just do little or nothing. Energy restoration and mental and
physical health demand it both for ourselves and for those we
associate with. In former ages of slower travel and communication
the degree of intrusion was far less in most but not all
circumstances. One must note that Abraham Lincoln suffered much from
the constant intrusion by office seekers, office holders and the
plain curious. Being someone who always wanted to be available, he
soon found the intrusion quite detrimental to the immediate tasks at
Having said this, we must admit some have the energy to endure
and even apparently enjoy intrusiveness at given times and places
from certain individuals. Being "wired" means a) that people will
contact you and expect a response in a matter of a short time or b)
that you are stressed by busyness and constant intrusion. People are
always on call through such devices as cell phones and Internet --
that is, if we let them get away with it. Privacy becomes the victim
of instant communication even when we want to know if an earthquake
has occurred or a storm is coming quite soon.
We can restrict the instruments of quick communication, turn
them off and tell others when we are available, get an unlisted
number, and go on a no-call listing. We can limit the barrage of
commercials on television or radio and get blockage to the Internet
spam. Without taking community action we cannot do much about
outdoor advertisements that intrude on our "viewscape." How about
avoiding the ads that appear on vehicles, clothing, place mats in
restaurants, urinals, wastepaper cans, airline literature, the walls
of public buses, theater shorts, and on and on? We are plagued by
intrusiveness, today's plague. The door-to-door salesperson is only
a small component of the total. It is far more than learning to say
"no" firmly and politely. Only the smallest touch of curiosity
brings on what we deserve -- intrusiveness masterly performed.
Prayer: Lord help us to discover and retain our silent space so
that with heart and mind we can reflect on deeper things and cut
the distractions that make us so scattered and stressed.
February 17, 2008 Transfiguration and Earthhealing
His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as
the light. (Matthew 17:2)
The Transfiguration of Jesus is regarded as one of the luminous
mysteries. Jesus needs the consolation of this event to be energized
to undergo the mission that lies ahead (his suffering and death). A
glory will come beyond the short-term happenings, and this motivates
the action needed to move forward. Transfiguration is a temporary
look into the future, a moment of what is to come, becoming so
vividly present that it keeps us on the difficult journey now being
traversed. Jesus' transfiguration thus is a living, ongoing event in
which we as other christs enter in a very special way. Through his
transfiguration we are illumined into becoming enlightened members
the Body of Christ; we live with him; we suffer with him; we are
transfigured with him, and thus we will rise with him.
As other christs we accept the role of being healers of our
wounded Earth -- saviors in some extended sense. To speak this way
makes us uneasy because we know there is but one Savior. However, we
participate with Jesus as part of the Body of Christ in the saving
work of giving new life to our planet. What do we especially bring?
We must endure the effort it takes to heal and see this as part of
the ever deepening mystery of our vocation -- and unfolding of the
future right now. We bring to others an unfolding future of eternal
glory that is before us. We gently encourage them to have a faith in
that future and in the One who promises and makes it all possible.
Occasionally we come to the hilltop, a vista from which we look
ahead -- and that is our transfiguring moment. We stop for a brief
moment to rest for we all need moments for reflection. The sun
breaks through the clouds, and we strain to observe and listen to
nature -- the mourning dove, the robin and the distant crow. It's a
world we have so often ignored. Late winter has its variation in
shades. The shapes of trees take on a pronounced design before being
reclothed in a few months ahead. In faith, we look about for light,
inner light and outer light. Faith is that insight that there are
greater things in store. Also Faith is seeing the brilliant
countenance of Christ looking up at us from every creature. We need
this consoling moment of light, this seeing within and without in
harmony. We are not tough guys who can make it through life with
nothing but a vague promise. No, we also need the consoling insight,
the moment when we are encouraged by the Lord in sight and in word.
We are reassured that we are hand-picked and chosen, and we thank
for the privilege. We are blessed, and if we but listen, we hear
that we are called to act.
Prayer: Lord, we pause for a moment and we rest with You. You
give us a chance to see the light shining through the clouds of
and uncertainty. You speak if only in a whisper saying that we are
beloved and special; we are to undertake the mission ahead and to do
so with generosity and joy. And You are the giver of joy itself.
February 18, 2008 Presidents' Day and the American Way
This President's Day the election of a president is in the air.
While having much to be proud of, we Americans are always ready to
take a critical look at things. Our forty-three presidents have
varied in the way they perceived their positions. This is indicated
but the races going on right now by candidates, spending a billion
dollars in total campaigning; the process assures us that some think
the prize worth struggling over -- and the American public for the
most part agrees. In the person of one leader we place our hopes and
fears as a people, and thus that person in our age of super power
status holds immense power due to his (or possibly her) position.
The presidency is one branch of our government as defined by our
constitution, the oldest written one in the world. That constitution
is regarded as the crown jewel of our republic, a bedrock document
our democratic system, even though it was the product of a wealthy
and highly slave-holding class over two centuries ago. No one less
than Woodrow Wilson reminds us that our government had been
"originated and organized upon the initiative of and primarily in
interest of the mercantile and wealthy classes." We respect and have
through the years pressed for democratic reforms and broadened the
right to vote and hold citizenship. We accept the Supreme Court
decisions and interpretations even when we do not fully agree. Over
time land, air and sea transportation and communication networks
bound this country more tightly together. Our police system is
relatively stable and operative; our education system is open to all
people; our economy is operating smoothly; and our research is the
best. Our understanding of the presidency must likewise grow.
Our nation reflects the character and foibles of its own
inhabitants; it is not perfect, and honesty demands that we assess
the true "state of our nation." The nation started with a festering
slave issue that would not be settled until we underwent a bloody
Civil War. But we endured this struggle and though racial
inequalities did not cease immediately, progress has been made. Our
country treated Native Americans in a shameful manner starting with
actions within the Revolutionary War -- the only history I have ever
been unable to delve into because of the horror attached. The
minutemen of 1775 stood as models for what is needed today for we
have lessons to learn and conduct to change, that is, everything
consumer practices to entertainment, from resource colonization and
unilateral police actions to addictive behavior. We need to be
vigilant lest we become captive, anaesthetized and docile people and
forget our historic democratic roots. The various candidates need to
be mindful of this historic charge and constantly remind us to rise
and become once again a government of the people.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to say with full meaning "we the
people." Make this a special grace this year as we go about
a president to be our leader and embody our shared aspirations. No
one is perfect and we need to respect this fact, but help us choose
the best we have to fulfill this leadership role.
We are all consumers and we need to be so in an ethical manner.
Often when people have additional spending money they consume more.
With rising house prices during the past few years people borrowed
their home equity and spent more and more. Then housing values
dropped and millions suddenly found that they had spent too much and
owed more debt on the home than its market value. If the drop
amounts to twenty percent of pre-2007 prices, some twelve million
households will be affected; if a thirty percent drop occurs, the
number of households with debt greater than home value will exceed
twenty million. A dire condition based on consumption practices has
suddenly appeared all across our land. Excessive consumption by the
affluent, or those who think they are affluent enough when they
really are not, is wrong-headed -- and thus a rude awakening.
Excessive food leads to obesity; excessive domestic heat is
oppressive in winter and excessive cool air in summer is harmful to
health; inefficient vehicles are costly to driver and the planet;
excessive purchasing leads to a junked up environment and the demand
for too much space that must be heated, cooled and maintained.
People are programmed to be excessive consumers in many ways:
* Credit cards give one the notion that the credit is available
and the payment can be put off to a later day. I asked one who
started a business how he financed the operation. He replied,
"Through credit cards." Needless to say many do not have a handle on
their exact finances and thus do not observe the inevitable advance
of indebtedness, due to their poor record keeping;
* Sales lead to the panic to get to a sale before the greedy
nudge us out of a bargain and allowing the exclamation "Look how
I saved." and not "See how much I spent." Excess is a curse as much
as are destitution and lack of essential goods. A conservation ethic
is lacking in those who find the right level of spending
* Advertisements even to infants and youth lead to purchase of
products that are higher priced (e.g. popular brand cereals or
athletic clothes) and not really necessary but that are now
as essential to current lifestyles; and
* Rising lifestyle expectations based on media propaganda make
the consumer restless for processed and fast food, fashionable
clothing, inefficient vehicles, motorized recreational equipment,
all the home gadgets "needed" to live like our peers and neighbors.
We know that the more fashionable items are often the more
and so this triggers more consumption. Adding to this, planned
obsolescence is built into the buying habits as well.
Prayer: Lord, teach us as a people to buy when needed and to
refrain from buying when it is not so. Do not let us fall into the
trap of wanting something because another has it, or the temptation
to go and indulge in impulse buying. Teach us to be satisfied with
what we have.
February 20, 2008 Highlight Tame and Scenic Rivers
Rivers are generally living waters that flow clearly and enliven
our spirits -- though pollution has turned a number of rivers such
the Yellow River in China and the Ganges River in India into a
of pollution and sewage down near their mouth. At the sources of
both of these rivers the water flows pristine, and yet through the
onward movement to the sea the wild and the scenic give way to the
tamed and unsightly. However, even in taming of rivers there need
not be polluted water nor the loss of scenic beauty.
Our Kentucky River is both scenic and tamed with its series of
locks and dams to allow navigation on over half of the river's
length. At times of low water flow, such as the recent 2007 drought,
the pools between each dam are really the equivalent of a series of
lakes that hold enough water to permit boats to move from lock to
lock. On many American rivers the series of chain lakes/pooled
rivers takes much of the "wild" out of the rivers except in times of
severe flooding -- and then we pray for taming down the
Green renewable energy is now harvested from this tamed Kentucky
River. The Mother Ann Lee Hydroelectric Station at Lock and Dam 7
generates energy through the efforts of its recent owners, Lock 7
Hydro Partners; and the money obtained from the electricity
is funnelled into increasing the capacity of this powerplant that
built in 1928, and had been out of operation since 1999. Three
generating units will be running by late 2008. This plant is
certified as "low-impact" meaning that it obeys the following
requirements: proper river flows, water quality, fish passage,
watershed protection, preservation of any threatened or endangered
species, protection of cultural resources, and public access and
recreational opportunities. It is one of 28 to date that are
certified by the non-profit Low Impact Hydropower Institute. The
project invites green energy participants <www.eon-us.com>.
Some of the less developed and tamed rivers are designated as
"wild and scenic", and this formal state or federal declaration
protects a river from rampant development. The government protection
makes it less likely that developers will build on the banks,
foresters denude the river banks, and new roads be constructed along
its path. But the guarantee is not absolute, and so the protectors
must always be vigilant against extraordinary pressures from selfish
property holders to create their own viewscapes -- the "scenic"
building which becomes a blight to the river valley. Designated wild
river areas afford additional legal safeguards, which are imperative
to protect threatened and endangered species of flora and fauna
living in river watersheds.
Prayer: Lord, help us see that rivers are like the flow of
grace, through our participation in assisting the hungry world
around. We take in the water from the Source of all love and through
our work spread that resource to the rest of suffering humanity. We
are a passage way for renewable energy; we tame the wild and
God's manifest beauty all the while.
Find the toadstool, hidden amongst like-colored leaves (*photo
February 21, 2008 Earthhealing and We the People
Earthhealing has been discussed in many ways for we are all
called to help heal our wounded Earth, especially in the light of
rapidly worsening global warming. I can only do so much on my own
(water, energy and resource conservation) and we as family or
community can also only do so much as well (noise abatement,
gardening, community marketing). The deeper question is whether we
can do more as a people on a broader level than just impact a local
community. Last December the Bali Conference raised this in a most
searching manner and all participants came away seeing that we all
must act together or we will die separately.
Forbid wasteful practices -- Americans still have an outmoded
practice of purchasing inefficient vehicles if they can afford them
even with higher fuel prices and new restrictions coming into
A simple way to bring about change is to do what is happening with
inefficient light bulbs -- simply ban the manufacture and sale of
inefficient vehicles or inefficient electric appliances on a global
scale. That is the way to conservation -- if all are willing.
Mandate increased renewable energy contributions -- This
requirement could be coupled with mandatory limits on the amount of
electricity coming from non-renewable energy sources (coal,
petroleum, natural gas) and subsidizes and favorable tax incentives
for installing solar, geothermal and wind energy facilities.
Institute a carbon tax -- Some call for no new taxes and forget
that this ploy could do a special harm to the planet since the
of tax sources is going on all the time. Taxes can be a good way of
redirecting the policy on a regional, national or global level.
The causes of global warming (burning carbonaceous fuels) could be
taxed, thus pinpointing our efforts to clean up the total
environment. Such taxes would allow the current advantages of coal
and petroleum to fade and improve the renewable energy climate.
Promote resource conservation -- A conservation ethic should be
taught in schools and in civic and church circles. To fail to
conserve is to have a low regard for the people who are living today
and struggling for the essentials of life; it is also to show a low
regard for future generations who will need some of the resources
being expended. A conservation ethic needed today challenges the
modern consumer. Energy efficiency standards for automobiles could
be set still higher, to the optimum levels that are feasible. Green
housing measures should be enacted on all new construction projects.
Energy wasting devices should be banned. Food products should not be
turned into biofuels for inefficient vehicles.
Prayer: O Almighty Source of goodness, You established a people
to be your very own, to know, love and serve the divine majesty. You
gave us all good things and yet we use them in a wasteful manner and
fail to conserve and share them with others at this time. Grant us
the grace to see that we as a people are called to give special
service as models of both conservation and good resource use.
At this time we celebrate Brotherhood and Sisterhood Week; it
is a good time for us to review how well we work with others at
at work, at worship, within the local community and in larger
segments of our world. We know there are many professional groups,
programs, conferences, training sessions and websites that are
directed to better teamwork. All types of corporations require that
employees and managers emphasize cooperation as a key ingredient.
The military develops its manner of team performance in all of its
training; religious communities have their rules of life; schools
stress working in teams in athletic and academic exercises. Even
gangs that conduct illegal operations seem to know the value of
cooperative endeavors. In fact, cooperative models are all around.
On George Washington's Birthday (1732-99) we recall the life of
our first president. He was born one of ten children to a well-to-do
planter family at Bridges Creek in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
For Washington, leadership through cooperative endeavors became an
evolving experience. From the earliest time Washington learned the
cooperative practices in plantation work, land surveying, military
service, and statesmanship. Later his cooperative efforts included
helping to bring together diverse colonies of many traditions to
form these and finally the United States. The title "father" of our
country does have a host of patriotic overtones. Washington's
constancy in character was shown both in his Revolutionary War
military activities (especially the difficult winters of 1777-80),
and in his later service as the nation's first president (1789-97).
He knew the prize of working together was a growing sense of
individual freedom -- even though he was a slaveholder and a wealthy
(maybe the most wealthy) planter. Brotherhood and sisterhood needed
further development as the understanding of freedom expanded in the
succeeding centuries and they still need work.
Some of the best examples of the cooperative spirit are through
organizations termed "cooperatives." These groups require organizing
effort on the part of some and compromise and consensus on the part
of the many who become members. Though history is filled with
examples of teams, guilds, confraternities, unions, military units
and what have you, still the flowering of cooperatives is really of
recent vintage. However, the struggle to sustain cooperatives is
difficult, and even the best dairy or coffee cooperatives must
contend with the competitive economic systems which may deliberately
undercut them. When I was growing up our family was a member of the
Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative; this association brought
stability and fairness to many tobacco farm families in the tobacco
belt and was one of the best examples of an agricultural cooperative
even though the product grown was basically unhealthy in the way in
which tobacco products were used. Still a host of other marketing
and growing cooperatives are flourishing today especially in Spain.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to expand the cooperative spirit in this
age when the multi-nationals have so influenced the marketing of
goods. Show us that cooperation must be a human family endeavor.
New Forest, private preserve.
Bourbon Co., Kentucky (*photo
February 23, 2008 Plan Eco-Vacationing near Home
With the increase in attention to global warming and the need to
cut luxury travel that uses petroleum for transport fuel, we ought
give serious thought to a basic tour principle: Spend vacations in
local travel; make transoceanic trips very rarely, cross-country
infrequently, and local ones far more frequently. Seven reasons for
local focusing include:
1. Choose an accessible place as the first consideration. It
does not take all your vacation time travelling to reach a
destination when it is not far away. Often people forget that the
journey coming and going can be quite tiresome and not an integral
part of vacation enjoyment.
2. Acknowledge the hospitality that can be offered locally as
much as in a distant place. Familiarity with culture, language and
practices can reduce the tensions rendered by not knowing the place.
Let overseas travel be experienced in college academic or specific
professional experience, not a shorter-term vacation.
3. Select a beautiful place with care. No part of our country
is far from uniquely beautiful settings; it is a matter of learning
about where they are and going when the opportunity arises.
4. Think green, for all touring should be ecological in nature.
Consider good camping sites or places for reasonable bed-and-
breakfast accommodations and mom-and-pop dinners. One needs to
remember that all regions are fragile and some more so than others.
Choose activities that fit into green recreation categories.
5. Support the local economy, a patriotic reason for remaining
near home. All too often we hear of benefits to the economies of
places we visit and yet the ultimate amount of money going to the
locals over and above what goes to airlines, travel agents, hotels,
etc. is meager at best. By patronizing local businesses, we can
ensure that are money stays in the locality and thus can help
the local economy and environment -- less polluting air travel.
6. Let personal economy and a lower expenditure be part of the
vacation plans. You will not be able to brag about distance places
visited, but you can give saved funds to charity and be proud of
doing so. Thus from a personal standpoint the charity can add to the
pleasant memories of a particular vacation period.
7. Realize that less stress is placed on the leader of the
vacation party and on all participants, if travel is reduced and
there is less need to contend with luggage, airport screening and
parking pressures. We often forget that the purpose of vacation is
to lessen stress. For further suggestions see our Ecotourism in
Appalachia: Marketing the Mountains.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to choose our vacation while being
mindful of others, even our planet Earth.
The water that I will give will become the spring of eternal
life. (John 4:14)
This globe would be a barren, lifeless place without water. The
connection between life as we know it and water is exemplified today
by the Mars search vehicles moving about testing for traces of
moisture and possible past life forms on that planet. We all know
that much of the surface of our globe is covered by oceans and seas,
which give the blue-green color to the Earth from a distant space
photograph. Physical life and water are connected.
Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink. We know that
our water can become contaminated and that this affects human
Over a billion people lack safe drinking water and are subject to a
variety of water-borne diseases. The quest for clean and drinkable
water is rapidly becoming a major problem in many so-called
developing countries, as more and more people compete for limited
high quality water supplies. Drinking ground water from newly dug
wells in parts of Bangladesh has led to arsenic poisoning (while
collecting plentiful rainwater in cisterns is often overlooked);
rising tensions in parts of the Middle East are triggered by limited
quality water supplies; shrinking glaciers and snow packs spell
shortages in parts of Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Without sufficient water of a certain quality our plants would
wither and our animals would die of thirst. Much of the land-based
wildlife's time is taken with hunting for food and drink. As
plentiful wetlands dry up or are developed, flora and fauna suffer.
If and when global warming changes precipitation patterns,
numbers of wildlife will face threats of extinction through
floods or lack of ice.
We formally enter the body of believers through the cleansing
waters of Baptism. Thus from the start our spiritual life is
connected with water, the living flowing water of this primary
sacrament of our salvation through Christ, Source of this living
water. If we are saved through water, we are called to save the
water. A humble beginning includes a humble calling. It is our
Christian duty to save water at the individual, household, local
community, regional, national and global levels. Water conservation
awareness is part of the Good News, and that is especially true as
see Christ, the Living Water, asking us to follow his example. To
waste even water is to deny God's goodness in all things.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see the value of our salvation by
undertaking crucial actions that are before us. In gratitude for our
Christian faith we are to save and help others save water, this
essential of life. Springs of living water are acts of love
translated into an active concern about our neighbor. Help us Lord
quench the spiritual and physical thirst of all our neighbors.
February 25, 2008 To Jet or Not to Jet: Flying Is for the Birds
Astoundingly I once looked forward to air travel and now I
despise it. It certainly gets us from place to place over great
distances far faster than walking or traveling by sail ship, but it
has some obstacles that need to be considered when we discern
we need/ought to make the next trip. Here's are some considerations:
Questions before getting tickets -- Do I have to go in the
first place, for so much can be achieved by less frequent trips, by
phone or email or teleconferencing? If not too distant, could I car
pool and drive? Will others present get something out of my being
there, or could I contribute in my absence by sending some written
materials if done well? How many people will be at the meeting
thinking it is work or is an excuse from work? Just the thought of
going may so disconcert that I fail to enjoy the trip.
Green travel -- Heartaches accompany the green traveler. How
many tons of carbon dioxide and others pollutants does this trip
cost? Just the thought is overwhelming when we realize that future
generations may speak of this as the time when people felt obliged
jet about in the name of caring for others. Cars take more time if
the trip is over five hundred miles and more fuel -- unless you
carpool with someone else from the same direction or "triangulate,"
that is, do another service while traveling in that direction.
Jet fatigue, lag, induced colds -- A quick jet trip could get
us so out of sorts that we are not on our perfect behavior, and thus
the reason for the visit is really being compromised by the speed of
coming and going. Many times I have not survived the trip without
coming down with the shared germs from the trip. One hates to wear
a surgical mask on the airplane, but that seems appropriate to some.
Airport inspections -- They want to see everything fast and
complete, and without silly comments while in line. Discipline,
speed and facility are important and require a few more than two
hands at one time. However, when completed we feel that we have
finished an annual confession. We learn to deliver our ticket and
photo ID at the right moment (some wear the ID on a necklace around
the neck); we quickly learn to leave stick pins, nail, clippers,
scissors, and pocket knives at home. Are they asking too much?
Baggage -- Keeping it all together is somewhat difficult and
makes us wince when we see the heavily burdened person entering a
plane without being challenged as to checking the excess baggage.
Add to this those at the check-in counter who seem to be traveling
with their own library. My rule of travel was always, if I could not
lift my baggage with my little finger it is too much. However,
sometimes I would like to have brought an extra sweater.
Prayer: Teach me Lord to hate to jet and love to stay put, to
walk and leave it to the birds to fly, to communicate through less
expensive means but to do so with an expression of love, and to find
that the final flight at death must be fueled with love.
We might think that fairy tales and past legends are always found
in a distant time and place. Time differences do add to the mystery
and attraction, but such legends may be situated quite close to
By looking about we sometimes discover local historic tales of woe.
When I read Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of
the Underground Railroad by Ann Hagedorn, I suddenly discovered that
the book contained modifications of legends I had grown up with. In
our county were Uncle Tom's Cabin and Eliza escaping on the ice flow
with her child. However, they were now presented in the radically
different light of the underground railroad with a terminus across
the river at Ripley, Ohio. Black people really struggled to escape
from our beloved state. Mention was made of Charleston Bottoms where
our scout troop camped and the North Fork of the Licking River where
we caught fish as youngsters. The story was told of two horrible
incarcerations at the Washington jail less than two miles away from
home. The surnames are familiar names a century later but now
history reveals slavery in its veiled unpleasantness.
Real history and a series of folklore and legends are more than
that of a single (Mason) county. Add to this the multitude of
overlapping regional legends: the many haunted houses of our area,
some of which are known as sites of murders; the graveyards now
overgrown and forsaken; the Native American encampments and
settlements; the mounds a few miles away constructed by some pre-
Indian inhabitants; the campgrounds in the Civil War and their
treasures; the early flatboats converted into log cabins; the
antebellum homes with their hideaways and hidden closets; and the
abandoned roads on which white settlers came and livestock was
driven to market. The local and regional history and folklore record
could go on and on and surrounded me in my youth. But how much of
it was true and how much embellished?
Much of what is said about Abe Lincoln's very young years in
Kentucky is legend and lore. There is always the thread of truth
dealing with habitation and near location of one or other events in
his life. But the people started to spin stories even before a
person was laid to rest in his grave. The more notable the person,
the faster the growth of the legend -- and some stories are simply
not true. There is generally a purpose and goal in spinning such
legends. One may wish to be an authority on that neighbor and
embellish the few facts with stories much like the legends of the
many saints cropping up throughout Christianity. We treasure our
legends for they are the teaching tools needed to convey a respect
for people and places, even imperfect people and tarnished places.
Life journeys become part of our collective blessings and burdens.
They blend to become the experience of who we are. To forget legends
would be a disaster; to warp them would be improper; to retell them
in an interesting manner is always a challenge.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to tell the tales with some degree of
enthusiasm and accuracy and with a balance to both.
A lovely winter trio, taking turns at
the birdfeeder. (*photo
by Sally Ramsdell)
February 27, 2008 Support Local Tour Guides
We continue the monthly practice of highlighting individual
organizations or groups that help in Earthhealing. Some may be
surprised that with so many groups out there we would give attention
to "tour guides." This selection comes from years of listening to
such guides at a rate of one or two per year and finding that with
very few exceptions these people are exceptionally good at giving
attention to the subject, at suppressing any fatigue, at knowing
their matter quite well, and at being willing to answer questions to
the best of their knowledge with patience and good will.
In my seminary days we were housed in a former hotel at West
Baden, Indiana, which was part of a local tour from nearby
Frenchlick. The guide came within ear reach of my room and I daily
heard a fraction of part of his talk -- "...in 1901. After this the
place was" -- Astounding that the talk was so well rehearsed that
the precise wording was exactly given in the precise same space and
time each day. I never ever heard the rest of the story.
When helping to show my French cousins around three years ago I
noticed how offended they were at a Washington, D.C. museum because
it had a host of flags in the entrance but did not have a French
(perhaps a deliberate vindictive act at that time of anti-French
feelings). I was embarrassed as well since France was the major
contributor during the Revolutionary War to our becoming a republic.
However a day later when touring Gettysburg Battlefield I told the
tour guide who asked where folks were from that these two were
visitors from France; thereupon he hummed the Marseillaise, which
made their day and week. That tour guide did far more than just tell
an interesting story and for taking the time to involve all the
audience in his performance. He deserved the thanks given
The guide can be someone designated as such or a person who is
at a counter, who maintains the grounds, repairs the building, or
runs a local service station. People who are knowledgeable are of
importance in making or breaking the chain of events that makes for
an enjoyable experience. Some ways to support tour guides include:
* Give attention to what they have to say and stop people who do
not want to hear and interfere with the story;
* Ask pertinent questions to show that you are interested and
encourage others to do the same;
* If the script is incomplete, add a comment to educate the
guide and perhaps give him or her ideas on how to improve the
narrative (when others are not listening);
* Thank guides and tip generously for their services;
* Ask something about where they are from and their future plans
if they are guides for the summer months only; and
* Mention to their manager that they did a good job.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be good guides for those who are on
their journey in life; give to us a sense of enthusiasm and
creativity in the way we attract and retain their attention.
Here is an extra day -- or really is it extra? This all has to
do with the natural annual cycles of the Earth around the sun -- and
the size of minutes and hours and our clocks. Our Western Calendar
is based on a solar and not a lunar cycle as are many other
calendars. The solar cycle is more than 365 days and yet not a full
366 days each year -- and thus arises a problem that requires the
extra day every four years and a slight difference on special
calculations as well.
History. Julius Caesar authorized the Julian calendar in 46
B.C. using the talents of the Greek expert Sosigenes. The older time
calendar masters got it fairly close but not perfectly so and thus
the Julian calendar got behind by ten days in sixteen centuries.
Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the day following October 4, 1582,
would be October 15 thus dropping ten days. That was done and
promulgated in the Catholic countries of Europe and the colonies.
Protestant lands were reluctant to make such a papal-originated
correction, but they finally did so a century and a half later, with
the English colonies of North America doing so in 1752. At the new
decree, the day after September 2 would be September 14, a loss of
eleven days. Incidentally the difference in the Western and Eastern
Orthodox Easter occurs because the Orthodox churches (not the
where located) have not implemented the Gregorian reforms.
Fine tuning. The leap year system of adding a day every four
years is still not perfect. Thus there is a finer tuned correction
in the Gregorian calendar which occurs every four years but not in
certain centennial years. This added adjustment brings the
calculations quite near the exact timing of the Earth's annual path
around the sun. Three of every four centennial years do not have
leap days whereas the fourth does. Thus 1700, 1800 and 1900 had no
leap days, whereas our recent 2000 did.
Prayer: Lord, show us how to follow the nature course of human
events as they influence our own lives. Give us the peace needed to
better adjustment to how we live and cooperate with our brothers and
sisters all around us. Let us see that You are the author of life
and time and give us a little extra time to do something special
what we have. Today is one of those days. Help us leap for joy for
having a little more time to leap.