Colorful bracket fungus on tree
1, 2009 Speak with Authority
will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all that I
command him. (Deuteronomy 18:18b)
words into our mouths is one thing; bringing these words out at the
proper time and place is another. We ought to see that the Lord
gives us words to speak and we must do so with care.
remember standing by the blacksmith's anvil in the building which
served as our family farm carpenter shop and tobacco stripping
room. Daddy told me that the cattle he had just sold to a trader by
word of mouth (and not yet delivered) could now have brought much
more due to a sudden rise in cattle prices. I remarked that we
could sell them on the open market, since no written contract had
been drawn up. Daddy turned and said, in shock, "But it was on my
word." The cattle sale was a loss, but I never forgot the
conversation, and in some ways the money lost was outweighed by the
lesson taught in moral behavior. One's word is what is most
important, and on that word we live.
later, I began to realize the value of that word, spoken and not
necessarily written, and I know that Kentuckians and others harbor
the same reverence for the spoken. While it is a wonderful
treasure, many people don't recognize it for what it is -- a verbal
contract sealed by the worth of the persons involved in speaking.
What is important is to see that our word in our covenant of love
with God should be based on the same intensity as our traditional
spoken business agreements. We are given a voice to speak and so
our words need to be clean and fresh and full of meaning.
mean much in our lives and so we are drawn to speak with authority
like the measured words of experts: in the vows of Baptism, in our
confirmation ceremony, in our words seeking forgiveness at the
sacrament of reconciliation, in the religious and matrimonial vows
taken, and in promises made. How true are we to those words spoken
in solemn ceremony? In our speech we reveal the serious nature of
our inner struggles and journey, and through speaking we resolve to
do better. When a word is wrongly spoken, in anger, or as a curse,
or as an ill-phrased remark, then it comes back to haunt us.
wrapped in the great Mystery of God with us, and in that we find
that our own spoken word is a model of the speaking of God through
Jesus Christ. We speak what is in our hearts. As Christians we
know Christ is in our hearts, and so what we speak has Christ behind
them. Our "authority" is not from us but from the spirit who speaks
within and for us. We bring God to others in such words, and in
seeing that we need the Lord to speak boldly and forthrightly we
take on the Lord Jesus in our speech.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to speak when we must, to say the right thing, and to
see that you help us speak when in need.
Make our words your hold Word.
Snow on bright foliage
2, 2009 Recognize
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..
The feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary is also called
Candlemas Day, the day when the candles used in liturgical
services throughout the year have traditionally been blessed. It is
a fitting time because this is also the middle point of winter, the
week when winter is half over by the reckoning of the span from the
winter solstice to the Vernal (spring) Equinox.
ancient wax-and-wick means of lighting is a truly symbolic
instrument. It can be a guide; it illumines the way within the
house just as a lighthouse directs ships on the seacoast; the
candle gives a gentle light, much as Mary gave a gentle glow in her
life; the candle is associated with festive events, for it gives
dignity to cold, dark interiors. In the way the candle burns it
produces an atmosphere that is truly uplifting; it is truly
liturgical; it beckons us to gather like moths; it bonds through its
rays. Its flicker adds a sense of harmony to the interior
environment with shadow play -- a one-candle-power light show.
candles give us confidence that darkness can be conquered;
Christmas candles and light announce the coming of Christ to an
awaiting world; church candles at the feast of the Presentation
foreshadows the strength of sunlight that is coming; baptismal
candles signify that we are light to others; the Easter New Fire
tells us that Christ ushers in a new Creation; and the Paschal
Candle announces The Risen Christ. Lighted Easter tapers carried by
the congregation show that we strive to imitate the Risen Lord. All
candles point to Christ as light of the world.
Second of February has both religious and secular significance,
because of its placement at the beginning of this mercifully short
month. All creatures -- human and non-human (including groundhogs)
-- crave the coming of spring; all creatures are focused on what is
to come, that is, an end to our half-spent winter. We need to go to
the door and look out at the seemingly lifeless landscape. The
flickering candles tell us to look ahead.
Prayer: Like Mary, Lord, help us bear the Light of the World in to Sacred Space -- our
wounded Earth. Help us hold up the light and proclaim the Good News
that the future will be better.
(Left) A bowl of chopped nuts,
to be spread at forest's edge for wildlife consumption.
(Right) White footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus),
enjoying cheese treat while
to be removed from kitchen and relocated to nearby abandoned farmhouse
3, 2009 Show Hospitality to Wildlife
Groundhog Day we reconsider our relationship with wildlife. Last
autumn we had a memorial farewell to Bob Beck, a local Kentucky
naturalist who was a true friend of wildlife. He greeted and fed
the many birds that came near his house and he fed and salted a
small herd of deer who came to see him as their friend. All of us
both wild and tame have come to miss Bob this winter. Maybe the
neighbors did not appreciate his attracting so many deer, but they
admired his kindness to others. Bob taught us all that wildlife is
a delight to behold, observe over time, photograph and just love for
what they are.
some in both rural and urban areas find wildlife to be a problem for
gardening and flowerbeds. How do we find the balance in wildlife
presence in our midst? How does one protect lawn shrubs and garden
from deer, coons, rabbits, squirrels, mice, and groundhogs? There
is as much written about wildlife control as about wildlife
attraction (bats, bees, birds, butterflies, frogs and other friendly
wildlife). We can invite wildlife that can enhance our
neighborhood by constructing nesting areas, bird boxes, feeders,
watering places and salt blocks. However, for some who hesitate to
offer positive enticements, wildlife may be regarded as pests. We
tell meat eaters that one ecological principle to consider applying
to overpopulated species is to harvest properly what grows locally.
Some want, or encourage others, to harvest deer for venison or
capture these pesky turkeys and geese for holiday meals. Others
prefer Have-A-Heart traps, and dump captured animals at
someone else's garden -- no real solution.
years when tending a relatively remote but wildlife-loving garden on
the banks of the Rockcastle River, I grew produce that the deer,
rabbit and coon do not like: okra, the nightshades -- potatoes,
tomatoes, peppers and eggplant -- and members of the onion and
brassica families (collards, kale, mustard, kohlrabi, etc.), and
melons, cucumbers, and squash varieties. At our gardens closer to
residences, we find that dogs are the best protection against stray
wildlife, which are attracted to delicious beans and peas. Some
gardeners even resort to building double fences about six feet apart
and four feet high to confuse the deer.
broader view of homemaking causes us to attract wildlife friends to
the garden for enhanced productivity. Song birds, decimated
through loss of habitat, ought to be welcomed as refugees and as
partners in promoting organic gardening; this is achieved through
providing winter feeding areas, nest locations and bird baths.
Some purists among the naturalist community disagree with positive
wildlife attractions; however, human activity has threatened these
species by destroying their traditional habitats. We may wish to
offer positive alternatives, whether for butterflies, hummingbirds
and song birds or other wildlife.
Lord, You welcome us to assist in enhancing all
wildlife; give us a generous
spirit of hospitality.
A trail through the forest, possibly a
February 4, 2009 Reaffirm Reasons for Composting
This year is a perfect time to recommit ourselves
to natural recycling of kitchen and yard wastes -- that is,
composting. Life is already returning to this seemingly lifeless
winter world and it is time for us to assist nature in bringing
forth new life. Yard wastes (grass, tree leaves and trimmings) as
well as non-meat kitchen wastes can be composted through the
combined work of earthworms, friendly bacteria, moisture and air, in
outdoor or indoor containers. The amount of time needed to turn the
waste products into humus for the garden will vary depending on
weather, condition of the composting medium, and the human
assistance. Composting works faster when the pile is mixed
occasionally to increase air flow, and when the proper amount of
water is present; a balance of carbon and nitrogen must be
maintained. Under suitable conditions, animal and human manures can
be composted for gardens.
We can list at least six reasons for composting:
1. Encourage natural processes -- Through
composting. materials that could be discarded are reused in growing
areas as organic humus matter. These include: yard products
(branches, leaves, etc.); garden waste (vines, stems, etc.); orchard
and agricultural waste; animal and barnyard wastes; and kitchen
wastes (non-grease products); some office and paper wastes.
2. Prevent pollution -- Potential burdensome landfill
discards are converted to welcome organic matter. This cuts landfill
volume in many places by as much as half.
3. Furnish a mulch source -- Composting is not only efficient
natural recycling but the product is valuable soil amendment.
4. Provide an Opportunity for Physical Exercise -- Composting
proves to be an ideal, virtually year-round, outdoor workout.
5. Present a Model of Environmental Education -- Composting
is an ideal way for educating neighbors in proper resource use.
6. Exercise Responsibility -- Through composting, one reduces
the waste in one's backyard and does so without burdening landfills
with waste. We take responsibility for wastes generated and do not
pass them off onto other (generally poorer) communities.
Devices and procedures for composting include bins that need not be
commercial or a waste of resources in themselves. For example,
outdoor composting bins can be made from discarded wooden pallets or
slabs; kitchen composting boxes can be made from wooden packing
crates or ammo boxes; large-scale operations use wind-rows made by
heavy machinery. One pollution prevention practice is to compost
waste materials directly in the garden or field space.
Prayer: Lord teach us to use resources wisely and to reuse
them in natural ways for the benefit of all.
Hackberry tree leans over old chicken
February 5, 2009 Expose Our State
Every year during Superbowl week, we are
forced to reconsider just how religiously people watch or
participate in this national event. Does this communal celebration
tap into the substratum of our common national religiosity that has
been tested by this dramatic financial crisis? A disquiet pervades
our land, and the "god" or economy in whom we have trusted so long
now seems shaken. Is our common concept of sporting events (real
money-making activities) a hollow celebration? Maybe it is time we
reexamine our undeclared state religion with all its
structures, rituals, and even its own god.
The State Religion is the American
The god in whom we trust is our money.
The high temple's sanctuary is Wall
The indoctrination system is the mass
The sacred orders are the noted business
the privilege of all the wealth you
The current high priest is the FTC
The hierarchy are the notables on Wall
The clergy are second string bankers and
the business elite.
The parishes are corporations and banks.
The pews are the automobiles and
The aisles are the Interstates and
The prayers are e-mails and ATM
The prayer cards are credit cards.
The creed is the American Way.
The church banners are advertisements.
The liturgical celebrations are sitcoms
and sporting events.
The Church picnic is the Superbowl.
The collection basket is the deposit
account and the collectors
are the IRS agents.
The introductory song is The Star
before each game.
The excommunication is jail for felons
-- especially for bucking the System.
The main sins are being humble instead
public interest instead of self
living simply instead of being a
and not questioning the American
The missionaries are free trade folks
working through American
The goal is the total triumph of greed.
The dutiful rank and file are the
businesses and, unfortunately,
The heretic is the one who disagrees.
Woe to you who do not follow the
System; you will be
rendered powerless and
Prayer: Lord teach us to tear down
the idols of our land and rebuild them to be models of peace and
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Good Shepherd
Church, Frankfort, KY
February 6, 2009 Identify Sacred Public
and Private Sites
Certain sites have special significance
religiously, patriotically, culturally or personally. They have
meaning for us and their presence reminds us of persons and events
worthy of continued reverence. We need sacred space. Variety can
enhance respect whether that be biodiversity, multiplicity of art
forms, different musical sounds and songs, or people each with a
special life story to tell. Sacred sites are the assortment of
locations (parks memorials, sites and shrines) where the heart, mind
and whole being are moved to the wonder of Creation; they can
trigger our collective memory. Through a sense of common purpose
most communities identify their own "Sacred Sites," that is,
accessible public places set apart by communities.
We each need to designate "sacred space,"
which stimulates all of the senses ---- the beauty of a unique scene
or vista, the scent of evergreens or seawater, the sounds of wind,
birds, or rushing water, the texture of rock or tree bark, and the
taste of sassafras or berries. Such a confluence of stimuli makes a
natural meditation area, a place to be alone with God. Many sites
are plainly visible and known to all; others are known to only a few
so trespassers would not discover the place. Our faith in the
Incarnate One is sensuous and Catholic Christians especially have a
propensity to find such sites of special interest. As Mitch Finley
says in The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (p. 19), "We like
to touch, taste, and smell God -- or, at least, we like to touch,
taste, and smell God's presence." Such sacred sites give us these
A sacred site has a powerful effect in
forming community as a natural gathering, reflecting, or resting
place. Particular site selection criteria include: secluded, but
not totally so, for people fear vandalism; accessible for a great
number of people; scenic and devoid of major distractions such as
noise; natural and with minimal development, conducive to prayer and
reflection; and held as unique by landholders, residents, or other
interested parties. In some cases, one finds out about these sites
through research and rediscovery. For instance, archaeologists may
uncover artifacts indicating that indigenous peoples worshipped in
this location. A certain site -- birthplace, imprisonment,
awakening, gathering, battle, or immense suffering -- becomes
hallowed by reason of an event that occurred there -- and we so
honor it as sacred space. Shrineless persons have lost direction.
Those confined by illness, lack of mobility
or imprisonment may discover sacred space within the heart. When
unencumbered we may ask: Is the place safe? Handicap accessible?
Well maintained? Does it have an atmosphere of peace? Is the
artistic decor and architecture uplifting? Is the place too silent
or too noisy, too claustrophobic or too spacious, too dark or too
light, too colorless or too colorful, too comfortable or too frugal?
Prayer: Lord, help us to discover
our sacred space.
Winter visitors at birdbath: American
Robin, Turdus migratorius and
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius
February 7, 2009 Come,
Come, First Robin
February may be the shortest month
in calendar time, but for me it feels like the longest. Will the
winter ever end? What will overcome cabin fever (being indoors too
long) and the itch to get outdoors and turn the soil? In the past,
"cabin fever" had a physical and psychological basis in fact; it
developed from lack of full spectrum sunlight and fully nutritious
foods (including enough Vitamin C), from lack of ordinary social
intercourse due to weather conditions and bad roads, and the
inability by many to get the fresh air needed to overcome the
depressive indoor atmosphere in the dark period of the year.
Yes, February's lengthening days are most
welcome, as is the sound of the cooing mourning doves -- those
wonderful harbingers of spring. We feel that February must be the
faint awakening of the new growing season. We strain our eyes to
see the faint hue of yellow-green as it appears on the willow trees,
and we search for the budding crocuses, the greening wild leeks, the
first snowdrop, and the green and yellow mist of winter-growing
chickweed. We discover the delights of blooming dandelions under
the leaf litter. We extend compassion to the returning robins who
have to suffer through unexpected cold spells -- or did some of them
ever leave? And while we await spring in different ways depending
on where we reside, here in Kentucky we sow our peas and set out our
onion bulbs with hopes that spring will soon come to us. When the
weather is a little more open we will set up bird boxes and start to
spade the ground. We will turn the compost pile; we will even
consider sowing some radishes and lettuce and cover the patches with
cloth as a temporary cold frame. Quite often we get ahead of the
weather, but when the crops survive we know we have done the right
No migrant so earns our gratitude,
When you bid the south adieu.
Perky, alert, wired and clued,
A soon-laden robin with ova blue,
To start a new brood
When that nest is through.
You honor us, your choice of place;
You could have graced another
The welcome mat is our greenspace.
You feast upon our space instead --
A sign that no chemical trace
Will harm what you have bred.
Prayer: Lord give us the patience to
endure the seasons we don't like, so that we are better prepared for
the ones that seem to be pure gift from You.
Taking a winter stroll by wheelchair
on hospital grounds
February 8, 2009 Cure the Sick
The whole town came crowding round the
door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind
or another. (Mark 1:33)
Jesus cures publicly and with compassion.
We are called to be like Christ in every way. Do we perceive the
urgent need to cure as well? To do so publicly? To do so with
compassion? Is curing a divine miracle and never beyond this
marvel? Maybe we can say a little more. We know that as
care-givers we can help heal the sick. The world is crowding round
our door and includes many who do not know where to turn for help.
Are we willing to bring healing to those in need both physically and
When we use the term "earthhealing," we
extend the powers of curing to this wounded Earth. Curing usually
refers to sick human beings, whereas the planet's woes are part of
the human misdeeds that need to be corrected through our actions.
An emphasis is made in earthhealing on remedial actions undertaken
to repair our damaged environment. As healers we are called to help
hasten the day of the coming of the Lord and the emerging of the New
Heaven and New Earth (II Peter 3:8-14). Through healing comes
Today, with miracle drugs and new medical
technology that eliminate diseases, replace organs and repair body
parts, we find a major research emphasis on cures of various sorts.
Many cry out and yet because the facilities or resources are not
available, they are neglected. The work of healing is one of
extending justice in curing to all, and to healing the ones who are
sick. This is a continuation of the healing power of Christ
extending to people throughout the world. The saving power of
Calvary moves out to all -- the healing of our wounded Earth and its
people -- in space and time. Through the mystery of the Eucharistic
event we enter into the curing ministry that Christ initiates as
mentioned in the Gospels. Through his incarnate bonding, Christ
becomes one with us so that we might become part of the divine
Jesus comes to heal all who are afflicted
physically and spiritually. Diseases of many types afflict many and
we are also called to engage in healing ourselves so that we can
help give care to others who are in need. Physical healing includes
such care-giving as nursing and caring for the sick, the
preventative care that is given through wholesome nutrition, care
for eyes and teeth, good environmental practices, and remedial means
of caring for those who are harmed or damaged in any way. At the
same time spiritual healing comes as well through baptizing,
confirming, reconciliating, distributing communion, anointing the
sick, praying with and for others, practicing the works of mercy,
encouraging the depressed, and developing a contagion of happiness
among all who await the coming of the Lord in longing.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to enter into
your curing ministry as it relates to a wounded Earth, people who
need physical curing and those who are in need of your mercy.
Ice on winter branches
February 9, 2009 Confront Noise
In winter, we hear distinct outdoor noises,
which are generally dampened by late spring, summer and early autumn
leaves. As the weather becomes milder a sleeping world comes alive:
barking dogs, squealing children at play, revved up motorcycles,
crows cawing, jackhammers, railroad trains, airplanes. These sounds
are measured in decibels (see Sounds and Silence in the
special issues section of this webside). With noise becoming a major
environmental problem, we must work on two fronts: to confront the
noise source and to champion silent space. Doing one without the
other is not sufficient, for one is the problem and the other the
Noise affects people urban and rural, rich
and poor, old and young, those indoors and those outdoors. Noise
affects us without us acknowledging its effects. In our culture it
is assumed that freedom of speech includes the freedom to make noise
-- but that is a misinterpretation. We are not free to harangue
others or pester them -- that is a misuse of sound. The noises we
make could be regarded as our desire to be noisemakers and attract
attention as boorish brats -- but that infringes on others' right to
their own silent space needed for health and well-being.
Youth are vulnerable to noise pollution,
since many attempt to tolerate loud music that can cause
irreversible inner ear damage. Teenagers attend rock concerts that
register 110 decibels or more, while 115 is the limit beyond which
the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) forbids any
unprotected exposure. Young children play next to noisy highways.
Senior citizens may live in congested noisy neighborhoods, and
endure the racket of a kitchen garbage disposal which can reach 75
decibels. The best estimates are that overall noise levels have
increased by about 20 decibels over the past half century. Leaf
blowers can reach 100 decibels for the operator.
The dangers of noise pollution have long
been recognized. A 1970 study for the City of New York warned that
noise levels in that city were "intense, continuous and persistent
enough to threaten basic community life." Some say that noise
increases the secretion of adrenaline in humans, perhaps because our
ancestors were alerted to dangers from the roar of the lion and the
screams of a baby. Studies by the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs
have revealed a causal link between noise pollution and sleeping
disturbances, increased blood pressure, irritability, and fatigue.
Little wonder ear protection is advised for those with prolonged
exposure at higher noise levels such as airline baggage handlers and
traffic managers. However, far more significant than living with
noise are attempts to confront the noise source: help obtain
silence zones for hospitals; see that noisemakers are challenged by
police; dampen noisemaking within homes, study and work places; and
get others to assist.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to
see when we must speak and when the activities we perform are judged
to be noise by others.
A quiet moment, admiring ice-covered
February 10, 2009 Acknowledge Our Need
Silence is golden, but do we value it as a
time to rest? A busy society always gives special attention and
approbation to those who are active -- even superactive. Why? The
simple response is that silence is an environmental need, so that
earthhealing can proceed; activity must always be in harmony with
rest. Unfortunately people often quietly hope that their silent
space is not infringed upon in waiting places, on public
transportation or in Church before the beginning of a Service.
We all need rest but some get along with less
than others. The busybody must respect another's need for rest.
Some overly active people drop off asleep at a moment's notice at a
movie theater, on a passenger train, during a lecture, or even
reading this website -- heavens forbid. Even people who say they
can tolerate noises will doze off given a moment of silence.
People, who are solicitous about their own
health and well-being, should create and preserve their silent
space; here they may obtain enough sleep and rest and nap time
during a busy day. We can each ask ourselves if we get enough sleep
and we can be willing to admit to the need of more. Being
sleep-deprived is never healthy and results in poor performance in
driving and other needed activities. Do I take some breaks during
the day? Am I willing to increase break time, if need be in driving
and elsewhere? What about the longer breaks that are needed in our
lives? Free days and days of rest? Annual vacations? Even the
possibility of sabbatical leave over longer periods of time?
Many of us tolerate (or think we tolerate)
chaotic situations. Even those with so-called "nerves of steel" are
not in complete control. Rest places and times are most important
to all of us. Many stress-related industries recognize the need for
rest through mandated time-off periods; through state and federal
regulations, transportation personnel are required to keep logs and
take mandatory breaks. Assembly line workers are required to do so,
as are certain service employees, and traffic controllers.
Rest is required but when our lives lack the
regulations we can be harder on ourselves. Many of us (including
this writer) spend far too much time before a computer screen, which
may or may not have attached sound. Dr. Sydney Blair, a medical
expert on hand-related health problems, told me that no one should
spend an excessive length of time at a computer. Really? Only two
hours a day. On the other hand, medical experts predict a spate of
computer-related occupational hazards, namely stress of the eye,
hand, back and neck. Spending entire days at the computer should be
questioned. At this point I will take a break.
Prayer: Lord, You rested on the
Sabbath, and intend that each of us do the same. Activity without
rest makes for a stressed person who can forget to be thankful.
Help us to see the need to rest and relax, since we are not the
masters of our time and we all need continued harmony in our lives.
A tree-lined buffer zone near a home,
February 11, 2009 Construct Privacy
Screens and Noise Barriers
We are driving along in an urban or suburban
area, and the walls soon appear. They are concrete or sometimes
wood, and they stretch for miles and miles as we drive, often on
both sides of the road. It is like moving through a canyon, and we
become irritated. But that evaporates as we remember the homeowners
who would otherwise have the intrusion of noise and of people
looking into the backyards when residents want to swim or party.
Why should others infringe on the residents' privacy? However
costly the barrier, there are also benefits, which go beyond the
residences that adjoin the highway itself.
The gated-communities of elite colonies do
not appeal to many of us, but realizing that intruders are both
noises and roaming trespassers makes the outlay of cost a little
more justified. Are the civilized returning to the rationale of
castle building? People need private getaways from a fast-paced and
stress-laden world, noisy traffic and constant intrusions of ringing
phones, sirens and squealing tires. People want to privatize
themselves and their home, yard, and garden. Space may be fashioned
into a privacy zone. Wire or picket fences may not prove sufficient
if you are trying to escape the public gaze. And the desire for
privacy is good for mental and psychic health. Sometimes getting
away to a distant place will help satisfy the craving for privacy
for a short time; when this cannot be done, we must use
sound-proofing and other devices to make our own private space. In
rare cases, we have only our interior life and thus private space
can only be within our hearts -- though such limited space is a
challenge in satisfying our deepest needs.
February is the time to order plants --
including vegetative privacy barriers for living or work space.
Consider rather dense shrubs or trees, which can be placed at the
property or space boundaries. Vegetative barriers are aesthetically
more pleasing, can be cooler in summer, and allow for natural
nesting for insects and wildlife -- and they cost less to the
pocketbook and in resource use than constructed "artificial" barrier
walls. For such vegetative barriers, use native plants, if
possible. In many eastern parts of the country evergreens such as
cedar or white pine furnish a thick and inexpensive natural
barrier. In others, such hedges as Manchurian cherry allow for
quick-growing vegetative barriers that increase privacy and reduce
noise. Dense non-native hedges or shrubs should only be considered
if they are not invasive. Watch out! Hedges (like mock
orange, tatarian and other honey suckle, and European privet) have
become popular methods of limiting the visibility of the property.
Consider snowberry, wisteria, and viburnums as possible
alternatives. Hedges such as holly varieties are dense, bear edible
fruit, display attractive blossoms, and encourage beneficial
Prayer: Lord, allow us to make way
for the sacred space we need for rest and privacy -- provided the
methods we use are in keeping with the common good of the
UK, London - Westminster: Parliament
Square - Abraham Lincoln statue
by Wally Gobetz)
February 12, 2009 Celebrate Abe Lincoln's
As a loyal Kentuckian I admire our sixteenth
president. I have visited virtually every place dear to him --his
birthplace, early home, Springfield. Illinois house, Salem haunts,
mother's cemetery, stepmother's farm, the Speed (his best friend's)
and Todd (his wife's) Kentucky homeplaces, the room in DC where he
died, and his tomb in Springfield. Visiting these shrines to our
beloved president is akin to a pilgrimage in which we resolve to....
* Strive for goals that seem beyond us;
* Proclaim equality among all our people;
* Work with those with whom we disagree
* Foresee a better future for all people;
* Be enthusiastic about the difficult tasks
* Overcome poverty, resource deficiencies
* Treat fairly those who are
* Become color-blind when it comes to
distribution of work and responsibility;
* Overlook those who call us bad names or
* Be exposed to public scrutiny and the risk
sacrifice for the good of all;
* Adhere to the rule of law and the love of
* Realize that the sun can penetrate the
* Show love and loyalty to family and
friends amid adversity;
* Accept that we must work with those who
* Forgive our enemies;
* Speak good words briefly and to the point;
* Show utter compassion for the ones
condemned to die;
* Place a deep trust in God who makes all
things right; and
* Encourage faith in a future that will be
fulfilled after we are gone.
Prayer: Lord, help us to admire the
great leaders of our past and to pray that their virtues be passed
on to current leaders and to all our citizens.
Bamboo, nurtured through winter's chill
February 13, 2009 Initiate
While seeking to soften the widespread
financial crisis we may decide to supplement our food budget and
assist needy neighbors by expanding gardening operations in 2009.
My great uncle would start his hotbeds on January 2nd -- not wasting
any winter time. He was an ultra-early gardener. However, February
is a good time to take our January resolutions and begin to put them
into effect. Maybe this sounds foreign to those in more northern
Wisconsin or New England, but in the broad growing zone in which
Kentucky finds itself, we can and should start early. And this
involves over half the American population. Think gardening while
it is still winter!
While my mother was still an active
gardener, she would always sow her peas in February. She said that
the March cold spells would not harm these hearty plants and it
allowed for a bountiful early harvest -- and she always had a good
crop. I have tried to follow her example, for it involves a good
gardening practice involved, namely, start gardening as early as
possible for good results. Obtain onion sets and plant the
brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli,
kohlrabi, kale, etc.) into the ground as soon as possible, so they
will bear before the late spring worms and heat get to them. If
drought must come once more, it usually delays until after spring.
Add radishes, lettuce, endive and spinach as well. The secret is
early gardening even though some crops may be at risk due to late
winter spells. While autumns tend to linger, springs move quickly
in Kentucky, and many spring crops planted too late turn quickly to
seed in early summer.
This attention to the late winter weather
allows us to couple early planting with assisting certain crops
through the use of temporary cold frames and mulch. These are
described elsewhere and help crops weather late winter cold
episodes. The gardener realizes that the protection is often from
cold winds as much as from the temperature itself. If you live in a
growing zone that is further north and you never start a garden
until say April or May, I will repeat the advice -- even there start
a little earlier. Some crops can stand the late cold weather quite
well. Think of not waiting for doing your spring gardening until
the tomatoes can be planted outdoors. If you are serious about
gardening, then resolve to be an early gardener. It results in a
very positive attitude about all tasks ahead.
Gardening at the first opportunity carries
us well when summer slows us down. Don't wait to the last moment;
it is too stressful. Under some extraordinary circumstances one may
succeed in being late; if it becomes a habit, it makes others
distrust your work ethic and may result in less cooperation. And
healing our wounded Earth does require a sensitivity to what needs
to be done here and now. Replace "better late than never" with
better early than late.
Prayer: Lord teach us to become the
early birds of our world for our healing ministry requires early
Heart of Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus
February 14, 2009 Turn Words to
Deeds on Valentine's Day
In the later part of the fifth century A.D.,
Valentine's Day became one more Pagan feast that was "baptized" or
affirmed in its good qualities -- as are all non-Christian rituals
with good elements worth celebrating. This early love feast was then
associated with an early Roman martyr named Valentine. Much
of the current tradition of gifts of cards, flowers and candy is
from late Middle Age and more recent traditions. The more
light-hearted and comic Valentine presents are of even more recent
Many of us find it easier to say "I love
you" to another through deeds rather than words. The billions of
verbal expressions over the centuries seem hollow when spoken;
loving deeds have so much more meaning than loving words. We sense
this inadequacy when trying to console a person over the passing of
a loved one. All words fail us -- and that is why those who send
flowers or cook a dish for the survivors are really trying to
overcome the verbal handicap through concrete deeds. How do we
express what is deep in our hearts -- through our mouth or through
the works of our hands with a little mix of heart in them?
Yes, we are drawn to speak because we so
often attempt communication through words or at least symbols.
Really the Valentine is a symbol seeking to express the extended
love of what God has shown to us. In turn, we show our gratitude by
sharing that love with others. Perhaps this is the perfect time to
ponder Alfred Lord Tennyson's words in In Memoriam, "'Tis
better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."
Our words us at times; we stumble; we are embarrassed about fumbling
expressions -- and yet we continue to try even when only partly
God is Love, the Holy One who extends love
to us. Our existence is the divine loving deed; the inspiration in
our heart is the loving act first spoken by the Other to us
personally in our coming to be. So often, as fellow Jesuit Max
Oliva writes in his book, Free to Pray, Free to Love, we do
not have an adequate awareness of the unconditional love that God
has for us. In part, this is due to our lacking of love for
ourselves. We find it difficult to see how God could love us so,
since we are more aware of our own failures. Max Oliva quotes
Thomas Merton, "To say I am made in the image of God is to say that
love is the reason for my existence, for God is love."
Prayer: Oh God of love, allow us to
love as you have loved us, and to express this in some way to
others. Make our concern and compassion a part of our prayer to
You. Teach us to comfort others with gentleness. Show us how to
touch this Earth tenderly, to feel the warmth of your love found in
the creatures all around us, and to demonstrate that through loving
care of all creation. Help us break out of ourselves and to become
more whole and loving in our relations to others. Inspire us to see
all creatures as members of the community of all beings, that they
are part of one family, which we are called to protect and
A thick coating of ice
February 15, 2009 Touch the
If you want to you can cure me. (Mark
Jesus feels sorry for the simple request of
the leper and responds that "Of course I want to!" "Be cured!"
Jesus touches him. We find several revealing characteristics of
Jesus in these few words: he has ongoing compassion for others,
especially those who come to him for curing; he regards the request
as part of his ongoing mission and that is an unquestioned part of
him; he effects the cure as requested; he goes out of his way and
touches the leper, something that is not always regarded as proper
in his world where one could be easily contaminated by another.
People make equivalent statements to the
world community of care-givers: "If you want to you can cure me."
Are we as willing to touch the sick as Jesus was (not just those
with contagious diseases but all people)? We are part of that
community of compassion and so we respond in a manner similar to
Jesus, "Of course we want to!" However, for us the action of curing
is more than a verbal affirmation. To be cured takes some effort
and is not always successful. Effort means a variety of medical
technologies and medicines, some of which cost much. In fact, it is
not the possibility of curing that is the major barrier today but
the lack of affordable and available medical care for all the people
-- not just in this country but throughout the world. Some might
say, "If we can not provide for our own Americans, why even consider
the sick in distant and poorer lands?"
Compromise may be necessary in an effort to
get more care to the greater numbers. It sounds reasonable, and
certainly a limited amount of rationed care is necessary if medical
resources are finite. Rare and high-priced procedures and medicines
could be limited to those of greater need such as people with
dependents, but only as last resorts. Care is meant for everyone.
However, even within this compromise mode
of curing, certain facts should be remembered: personnel are
theoretically plentiful -- resources including human care could
include the training of people to help with the care-giving; needs
are really here; the cures are theoretically available and some such
as forms of vaccination and malaria prevention are quite
low-priced. The barrier to world health is the availability of
resources. Certainly by diverting only a small portion of the
world's one-and-a-half-trillion dollar military budget this could be
provided (even tithing the military budget could be immense). The
fact is that our resources are here but are misspent and highly
controlled by those in power. High priced salaries of the
military/industrial complex could be redivided in the
health-delivery systems of the world; hospitals furnished; generic
drugs manufactured; and health systems established to handle the
crushing case load. The war against disease is on!
Prayer: Lord teach us to do the
possible and the necessary.
February 16. 2009 Utilize Wood
Presidents' Day is an opportunity to
review our proper utilization of wood. A youthful Abe Lincoln was a
rail splitter and grew up in log cabins; Washington chopped cherry
trees -- at least in myth, and he surveyed the woods of Virginia.
How do we utilize our wood, treat our forests, and care for our
trees? Cutting down trees is one thing; preventing pollution by
utilizing wood wastes is another; reducing carbon dioxide through
healthy forests is still another. Industrial chippers would like
to consume the whole tree: branches, leaves and trunk -- even
possibly roots, if they could be extracted easily. There are good
and bad forest practices, some far more sustainable than others. A
number of ways of using wood "wastes" include:
Cones, needles and leaves -- thatch,
decorations and compost.
Roots -- decompose, or use for erosion
Trunks -- discarded logs for wood
critters, defective logs for fuel wood and knots for making bowls,
or small cedar logs as cordwood building
Branches -- larger ones for Shitaki
mushrooms, smaller ones for walking canes, pole ladders,
Bark -- tannery products, natural
dyes, siding, mulch, cane back chairs and baskets.
Sawdust -- carbonaceous organic matter
for compost toilets, packing (especially cedar), paths for
gardens (especially herb gardens),
soil amendment, insulation, and pressed logs.
Shavings and chips -- animal bedding,
packing, trail surface, and tender for starting wood stove
Post Ends and slabs-- borders for
flower or garden beds and siding for cordwood buildings, siding
exterior and interior walls, compost bins, and fencing.
Even the words "wood wastes" are a
misnomer. Nothing ought to be wasted in using a tree and the more
careful lumber processors and builders know this quite well and so
do deconstruction people. In wrecking a building some materials need
only nail removal. In fact, demolition sites as well as
construction sites are potential mines for good quality materials.
Old wood is perfect for creative types of furniture; planks can be
used for scaffolding, rafts, boat docks, and animal pens. A bit of
caution: take care, for salvaging can be dangerous work.
Prayer: Lord, give us an
appreciation of trees to such a degree that we always respect their
presence and use them well; help us never waste valuable wood
Invasive exotic Oregon grape, Mahonia
aquifolium, (removed) Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
February 17, 2009 Tackle Invasive
In February, we have ideal days to work in
the woods before the sprouts and foliage come out and the
temperature gets oppressive and the bugs appear. This is an
opportune time to remove invasive species -- and it is good winter
outdoor work besides. Though verdant kudzu is a little tamed in
winter, still we know, from the vines that cover telephone poles,
trees, and even buildings, the heavy green foliage cover that is
soon to come in summertime.
Some ecologists regard exotic invasive
species (those introduced and growing without natural enemies and
under suitable soil conditions) as the most serious worldwide
environmental threat. Unfortunately we do not have to look far to
discover examples of the plant invasives. Kudzu, Japanese
honeysuckle, and autumn olives were promoted by nurseries, used as
cover crops or found to be bird feed. No exotic species that is a
potential invasive should be allowed until its growing habits and
controls are fully understood. Here both state and federal
regulations ought to be placed on importation of non-native species,
on planting and care of existing ones, and on nursery sales.
A difficult problem associated with
threatening invasive species is that what is worrisome in one part
of the planet is not necessarily so in another. Horticulturists are
slow in getting certain plants excluded from nurseries throughout
the country, because in places of origin the plant is fairly well
controlled. Even kudzu is controlled in Japan. A general rule is
that domestic growers should not introduce new species, and should
rather give preference to growing native ones that we all understand
and can control. Naturalized plants can be tolerated, if they are
not invasive and have no likelihood of spreading rapidly. However,
the history of kudzu in America shows a well-meaning effort to
introduce a rapidly growing foraging crop from Japan, where it is
used for grazing by goats and other livestock and carefully pruned.
Kudzu societies with aggressive promotion schemes existed in the
United States South in pre-World War II days. Kudzu liked the
southern American climate so much that it went far beyond pasture
fields and road cuts and began covering entire countrysides.
Some invasives could possibly be controlled
through economic utilization. For instance, kudzu green matter is
animal feed but who can afford full-time goat herders? The root is
a source of starch for highly prized Japanese dishes; vines can be
used for making baskets and other craft products; and plant protein
could be extracted and used for food supplements. Killing kudzu
with herbicide is a last resort, but rooting it out with equipment
is nearly impossible. Returning again to the trusty hand tools and
willing muscle in late winter is a better approaching.
Prayer: Lord, direct us to what
needs to be done to preserve our native species; guide us to be
cautious about introducing species could prove to be invasive
A dedicated group of volunteers, working
to complete a new home
February 18, 2009 Accept Old Age
Wisdom creeps in when we realize that it is
more cool to live one's age than to try to be someone younger. It
does not mean we should stop taking care of ourselves, or should
"retire" for that matter. Pacing ourselves is better than stopping
Yes, we are old when --
* Anniversaries outnumber birthdays.
* Tools we used in youth are found today in
* We name favorite movie celebrities, and get
a blank stare.
* The price we expect to pay for an item was
about right thirty years ago.
* Over half the obituary notices are persons
younger than we.
* There's a new ache each day.
* Christmases come much faster than when we
* There are more funeral gatherings than
* One remembers clearly things forty years
ago, and can't even
list one thing that happened last
* The old home neighborhood can't be
* We start to thank God for allowing us to
* The geriatric catalogues have some good
* Every scale seems to be weighing too heavy.
* They tell us to be careful shoveling snow.
* The waitress assumes you are wanting the
* World War II seems like yesterday; the
First Gulf War is a distant past.
* We begin to think it is okay to repeat
ourselves for emphasis.
* Youth for us is old age for the really
* Many seats look inviting until we remember
we have to get out of them sometime later.
Prayer: Lord, help us to grow old
gracefully and with a sense of humor in which many can laugh with us
at our foibles.
The Signpost Forest, international
assemblage of street signs and license plates
Watson Lake, Yukon
February 19, 2009 Attend to Entrances
Hospitality can and often is measured by the
appearance of one's property entrance and any signage present. It
is important to create a good first impression for it takes much to
change a bad impression in a short time. The entrance sign ought to
be welcoming: keep it brief; make it legible; make it prominent so
it can be noticed quickly; present it neatly. Entrances may be
inviting, friendly, and cheerful or, whether intentionally or not,
they may be foreboding. Signs such as "MEAN DOGS, ENTER AT YOUR OWN
RISK!" send a clear message: visitors, if you are able, come
prepared for a struggle. Less obvious signs of limited hospitality
include closed gates, apertures too narrow for most vehicles,
darkened walkways, and a forsaken look to the place. One
institution had five "don't" signs at the main entrance. Inviting?
Entrances tell a story in themselves. The
manner of presenting one's home or institution is evident at the
door, for your entrance is a statement to the rest of the world.
Embellish it with added flowers and possibly edible-landscape plants
such as berry bushes. These provide an initial demonstration of the
service given to others, along with a commitment to God, people and
Earth. Granted, decorations will take an effort on the part of
whoever manages grounds, but they are worth it. First impressions
last, and flowers can put the visitor at ease very quickly.
A working solar entrance provides an initial
demonstration of your self-sustaining relationship with your land.
Reference: Photocomm, Inc. 7681 East Gray Road, Scottsdale, Arizona
85260 (602) 948-8003. Depending on the amount of light
needed, and solar accessibility, systems can run less than one
thousand dollars installed. Through a local solar builder or
expert, find someone to help site the location of the sign for best
Characteristics of any directional signs
should include the following:
Functionality -- Essentially, signs
point the way out of confusion, to some other portion of the
grounds, or signify that the visitor has arrived at the correct
Sensitivity -- Through the entrance
sign, one gets the first glimmer about the mission and goals of
those who dwell here and the sign shows whether hosts are sensitive
to visitors. "You can't miss it" is the most inaccurate statement
Hospitality -- Allowing others to
enter and overcome their unfamiliarity with the place is important.
Occupants need to trust the good intentions of the visitors;
Warmth -- Beyond a kind invitation
is a spirit of the resident or group. In subtle ways entrances and
signs communicate the occupants' happiness and contentment. First
impressions are generally correct. At this deeper level, consider
ways of communicating the wholeness of being open to others.
Prayer: Lord, make us welcoming people
through our signs.
February 20, 2009 Frequent
Public Worship Space
We are all called to show gratitude to God in
public acts of worship in such formal sacred space as chapels,
shrines, cathedrals, and simple churches. Here people can generally
gather in unencumbered circumstances. These public spaces are
consecrated areas reserved for the worship of God, and made
available for prayer and reflection by all the people. The design
and functionality of formal worship space reflect cultural
sensitivity. If worshipers are elitist, the space is exclusive; if
they are pretentious and showy, the space is gaudy; and if the
worship is genuine but simple, the space may be welcoming and
receptive. However, attractiveness is not directly connected to
affluence. In fact, simple worship space may be quite tastefully
done and exude the warm feelings needed for worship. Decorations,
access, light, materials, and spatial arrangements help draw people
Throughout history, churches and sacred
space have served a variety of non-worshipping functions such as --
* "Bridges" or transmitters of culture. The
monastery served this function in the Dark Ages.
* "Sanctuaries" or places of protection for
those in trouble with the law. Today the church could serve as
sanctuary for native plants and animals, a function not often
implemented but most needed, especially among newer churches in
* "Educational facilities," either in the
use of the space in non-worship times for schooling, or through
decorations and art as a way of elevating the unlettered through
pictures, statues, and stained glass. Environmental education may
include posters, book corners, designated indoor or outdoor plants,
and expressive art.
* "Home" for a community that may not have
hospitable surroundings or dwelling places. At such times the place
becomes a warm and inviting space, where people know each other and
share experiences. It draws those who are otherwise isolated.
Worshippers who build their sacred space may
manifest creative and artistic skills and fervor. These cooperative
endeavors are key to building community. Work is enduring when
builders possess a sense of history and a knowledge of native
materials and practices. Down-to-Earth worshipers create buildings
that reflect their own aspirations. Today, worshipers assist in the
design of a worship space but leave construction to professional
contractors. In their design work, formal places of worship should
obey ecological principles: a location that "feels" proper for
worship; spacious only to the degree needed; heating and cooling by
using renewable energy sources; sharing space with others where
possible; and building tastefully using native materials.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to worship
together in spirit and truth.
Constructing an artificial waterfall, to
be powered by two flexible solar panels
February 21, 2009 Consider
A popular decorative and water-sounding
device is an artificial "waterfall" within or near a home. I once
saw a natural waterfall at the Burns residence in the Ozarks, where
a summer residence had been constructed surrounding it. Now that is
a rare site! In fact, building around natural waterfalls can
disturb the natural landscape that could be appreciated by more
people, and there can be technical problems associated with
variation in volume of water. It is better is to consider an
artificial waterfall that has many advantages such as a soothing
sound and a quieting atmosphere for all residents. And the water
can be recycled also.
Outdoor and indoor artificial waterfalls
come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The outdoor ones are usually
water troughs which flow at various slopes to a collecting pool,
from which a pump recirculates the water. These waterfalls contain
basins which can be decorated with objects such as rocks gathered
from different places. Solar water pumps can be modified for
circulating external waterfalls, operating when the sun shines or
immediately afterwards. Internal devices are generally far smaller
and can sit on stands. One called Moon Shadow Water Fountain
is a dish above which is suspended a globe. Over this a tube brings
water that flows over the whole surface, is collected and then
recycled. The variety of designs can recycle water effectively, and
the style can be selected according to sounds and sights pleasing to
Joseph Campbell characterizes the sound of
water as a primitive sound, which is recognized by all people. It
harkens back to our earliest instincts and our first emergence from
water millennia ago. Certainly this sound, along with that of a
burning hearth fire, are two of the most soothing, and can have
healing effects on the nerves. The same effects that are given when
speaking of external water fountains apply to both external and
internal falls, except that the bubbling spring effect of the water
jet is absent. The sight and sound can be healing all the same and
establish a nice ambiance for the room.
Some who design interior space suggest
installing artificial waterfalls in offices, banks, doctors' waiting
rooms, dentists' offices, and restaurants. Churches have added
permanent waterfalls to the indoor entrance area. Waterfalls are
sometimes temporary as at Easter time when running water is a
prominent symbol. The only disadvantage to the sounds is that it
can cause some members in congregations to use the restroom more
frequently. Devotees of Chinese philosophy have more elaborate
schemes of placing the running water at the center of the room, and
providing a reflection area for people to sit or observe the water's
movement and sound and utter a wish -- many cultures associate
running water with good luck. Today, such small waterfalls may be
considered ideal gifts for ailing or invalid relatives or friends.
Prayer: Lord, the sound of water
reaches deep within us. You are the well spring of life and remind
us through running water.
Ice "jewels" on strands of spider's web
February 22, 2009 Forgive and
Who can forgive sins but God?
God forgives, but we are often called to
enter into the forgiving process in special ways (whether as
confessor or as people who assist others to forgive). While unable
to forgive the wrongdoing, we must forgive those who do wrong to
us. It is hard enough to forgive another after some struggle and
prayer -- but so be it -- through the grace of a merciful God. Now
we ask whether we need to forget as well as forgive the
wrongdoer. Forgiving is part of healing; forgetting may be a
malady and not even necessarily a good thing. We forget names,
places and events and that is a burden, but what about forgetting
wrongdoers? And besides, by forgetting them do we really forgive
We all know too many stories of people
holding vendettas, feuds, ongoing fights, fierce competitions, etc.
Culturally we come to believe that forgiveness does not come
naturally. There is a supernatural aspect to it, and only by the
grace of God can we forgive. When asked, Jesus said to forgive not
seven but seven times seven times (really countless times). In the
Our Father we seek forgiveness because we forgive others. In fact,
forgiveness is a necessity so we can move on. And even for the one
forgiven there is a special need to rise and become one better -- to
take on a new life. So what about forgetting? Is that even
We forget people's names, our phone numbers
and clothes sizes, and even birthdays of loved ones. Forgetfulness
comes easy in these matters but all too often we have a hard time
forgetting those who have offended us in even some very small
matters. In fact, forgetfulness plagues us who are in our waning
years -- but often the misdeeds still stand out, the ongoing
stumbling points in our lives. We recall our own wrongdoing as well
as those done against us. Thus there seem to be deeds and people we
cannot forget -- nor maybe should we. These signal our rocky
journey and they help us avoid the pitfalls that may still be ahead
for us. Maybe we ought to pray for rather than forget the other
To fail to forget is not in itself a vice,
nor does it change the basic act of forgiveness, unless we want the
forgiven person out of our lives entirely. Scars remain; we find
that by not forgetting we find ways of associating the pain with
that which we also cause others; the experience of forgiving is
part of maturation; we let go even when we remember details, but we
do not allow the memory to change our once and for all act of
forgiving. To remember Calvary does not make us unforgiving
people. Rather, we see in Christ's act of forgiving the template of
what we ought to do. He forgives others' misdeeds. We show our
Christianity by remembering his saving deeds and forgiving others.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to forgive
and love our enemies. Help us to remember what we must and to add
even painful memories to our store of maturing experience so that we
forgive more deeply.
Overlook, Cumberland Gap National
February 23, 2009 Live in Hope
I can hardly imagine living without
hope. As for the future
of the world, there is a colorful
spectrum of possibilities,
from the worst to the best. What will
happen, I do not know.
Hope forces me to believe that those
better alternatives will prevail, and above all it forces me to do
something to make them happen. -- Vaclav
Havel has been a proponent of hope, and this
includes better alternatives to both the environmental and human
rights disaster of Soviet Communism as well as the excesses of the
capitalism that causes our financial difficulties today. The West
is also a system of impersonal power, especially through the
practices of multinational corporations and "the omnipresent
dictatorship of consumption, production, advertising,
Reference: Vaclav Havel, "Power and
Powerless" in Living in Truth (London: Faber and Faber.
People like Havel and Nelson Mandala have
suffered from long periods of imprisonment and have had the time to
reflect on what is happening in our world. However, even when
seeing the faults of the so-called enlightened cultures of the West,
they do not despair, though they easily could.
The same sense of hope can be said of George
Washington during the darkest days of the American Revolution. In
the winters of 1777 through 1780 his Continental army suffered from
lack of supplies, desertions, poor living quarters, and a lack of
general support by the Congress and other nations. Would it endure
and see the completion of the Revolution? Though Washington saw
the faults of the system that he was trying to overcome and the
inherent weaknesses of the colonies, he and his close associates
still had a hazy vision of a future democratic republic.
This same sense of hope can be found in the
life of Abraham Lincoln in the dark days of the Civil War from 1861
to 1865. Just as in the Revolutionary War, there were sustained
periods of time during the Civil War when the cause could have been
lost. It was enduring hope -- and prayer -- which made Lincoln a
great leader through a dark trial in American history. In much the
same way it was hope that carried Franklin D. Roosevelt through the
dark periods of the Great Depression and the period leading up to
and including the Second World War. Great leaders exude hope.
Today all citizens, leaders and citizens alike, need hope in these
troubled times. Unemployment is too high; credit is scarce,
foreclosures confront many; two wars drag on with an unclear ending
in sight. In hope, the root of terrorism can be exposed and
measures taken to change the climate of hopelessness, which
generated it in the first place. In hope, we can change a world of
haves and have-nots to one of justice for all people.
Prayer: Lord, give us a deeper sense
of hope that we can overcome the barriers that divide us people
Morel mushroom, a surprise find in the
February 24, 2009 Curb Fats
As part of Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday we need
to consider the original reason for this season and curb the fat
intake during the coming months. The ancient tradition involved
removing animal fats and meat from the kitchen for a totally
meatless menu. We all need some fat in our diets, but this is a
nutrition need, which most Americans do not have trouble supplying.
The smell of Big Macs comes to us on the byways and sidewalks, and
most of us find it hard to resist. However, we can curb fat intake
in several ways:
1. When having a meal in a fast food place,
stay with the salad or salad bar and soup, and forget the
and French fries -- which they always make an extra effort to push
off on us!
2. If you are not a vegetarian, consider only
low-fat meats at the grocery and also try those veggie
which are beginning to taste like the real thing these days.
3. Pass up the donuts and pastries in the
shopping line even though they seem tempting at first.
4. Buy unsaturated cooking oil for cooking
5. Omit butter and cream, and cut down on
spreads and cream sauces at meals. A good substitute for
is low-fat mushroom soup.
6. Fry less, and boil, broil, bake, saute, and
7. If you are a snacker, watch certain
enticing foods. How about popcorn, dry-popped and seasoned
chili and garlic powder? How about pretzels or fresh fruit or
8. Buy low- or no-fat selections: salad
dressings, milk and other dairy products, breakfast cereal,
9. Egg consumption can be reduced. We don't
need a breakfast defined by eggs. How about only
one or two such
meals per week?
10. Blot off fat when bacon or other cooked
meats are being prepared. Use paper towels or preferably
11. The taste of imitation creamer may not
equal the real stuff, but most people are willing to modify
12. Reduce the amount of cooking oil or fat.
Consider adding a dash of olive oil when fats and oils are
Middle Eastern people, who use olive oil for cooking, have fewer
heart attacks and
appear to be healthier.
Prayer: Help us Lord to see this
upcoming Lenten season of late winter as an opportunity to modify
our eating habits.
A misty morning, Washington Co., KY
February 25, 2009 Welcome Ashes
On this day one of the most meaningful
liturgical actions occurs in blessing ashes and distributing them to
the faithful people. Here is a holy time and place when and where
the sacredness of all creation becomes quite evident. Once a year
we confront our finitude in a special way. Time for us mortals is
limited, for life is but a brief candle, and our journey is short;
We are from and to dust, and ashes remind us of our condition.
Ashes (or dust) are a powerful symbol that
was used far back in Judeo-Christian tradition. Ashes were the sign
of penance and a humble stance before the Almighty. The cleansing
properties of ashes may be taken as signifying moral purification.
In the early Middle Ages the dying were laid on sackcloth sprinkled
with ashes and asked to affirm their condition before their Creator.
We may be tempted to say that ashes are weak
symbols and only meant to be thrown out. That is not the case. In
blessing the ashes, the Church's ministers extend the Creator's
loving hand to what seems so commonplace. We see something holy
that others will pass over and tend to forget or ignore. For all of
us, ashes are a reminder of how fleeting is life and success. In
sacred time we accept Ash Wednesday -- a day of great significance
in the onrush of time for it gives value to time.
It is not enough to have a time set aside
for the presence of sacred ashes; the place is also important --
and that place is the living human beings who believe and thus give
this sacred practice a special meaning. The presence of the ashes
tells us and others that we are people who are committed to doing
special penitential deeds during the upcoming Lenten season.
Creative participation involves encouraging those living complex
lifestyles, those who are in life's ruts, the embarrassed and
diffident, and those who think themselves busy with many things, to
touch the Earth. It may be embarrassing at first for it involves
getting our hands dirty. But one can soften the invitation by
helping aspirants to anticipate the hurdles to becoming humble.
Truly, touching the Earth is necessary for grave diggers, mud puddle
players and potters. We should all reverently touch the soil, and
see this as a golden opportunity to enter into God's creative act.
Some prefer other liturgical expressions but welcome the role of
ashes and dust.
Blessed ashes signify the passing of the old
and the beginning of new life. Just as ashes can be a garden
fertilizer for future productive plants, so our involvement with
ashes can help enliven the world around us. If we are blessed with
humus or humble ashes, we need to extend that blessing to all around
us. Let us resolve to bless other neighbors, humans and
non-humans. Ashes are a start -- a fresh beginning for a troubled
Prayer: Lord, remind us that we are
dust and into dust we will return. Make us humble enough to see the
role of simple things in our lives.
Vegan burgers, on a summer's grill
February 26, 2009 Eat Less Meat
Along with ways to observe a penitential
spirit during Lent, several good reasons for reducing meat
Solidarity with Creatures.
Vegetarianism involves a sense of compassion. Abstaining from meat
is quite popular among those with a growing concern about the
animals, our brothers and sisters. Some cease eating meat because
of the inhumane environments in feedlots and massive chicken houses
where animals do not have the luxury of grazing and running in open
pastures. The bent drumstick is a harsh reminder of what is
happening in a poultry industry where the chicks can not stand up
straight and live normal lives.
Resource Conservation. As many of the
world's people become more affluent, people in other countries are
drawn to American customs including the multinational
fast-food-chain menus. The consumption of meat in our country
increased fivefold from 1950 to 1999 to 217 million tons, double the
rate of population growth. Meat consumption per person went from 17
kilograms to 36 kilograms. Meat diets consume more resources than
vegetarian ones, especially when the meat is produced from grains as
opposed to pasture. The various grain conversion efficiencies are:
feedlot cattle require about 7 kilograms for 1 kilogram live weight
of product; pigs 4 to 1; chickens scarcely 2 to 1; and fish less
than 2 to 1. The United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization
stated in 2006 that livestock production is responsible for more
climate change gasses (18%) than all the motor vehicles in the world
as well as being a major source of land and water degradation.
Livestock now use 30% of the earth's entire land surface, and 70% of
the former Amazon forestlands have been turned over to grazing.
Human well-being. Late winter is a
season when some of us naturally gain weight, and thus reducing food
intake is a propos -- and cutting out meat can be part of
this curbing of total food consumption. We may feel liberated by
Economics. Meat can be costly in
comparison with home-grown vegetables, whole grains, and soy
products. Our diet has no need of heavy meat expenditure. Most
other cultures are able to prepare smaller amounts of meat in their
cooking and have meals that are just as nutritious and tasty as our
huge hunks of beef or pork.
Health. While a strong argument can
be made that meat-eating in moderation can be healthy, still
excessive amounts can cause gout. Corporate-generated meat products
contain steroids, antibiotics and other powerful chemicals fed to
the meat animals. And what about the mad cow disease scare? Not
all of the growth hormones and agri-chemicals have been flushed from
the animal's body prior to slaughter. The meat-eating human being
is the end of the food chain, and subject to bioaccumulation of
Prayer: Lord, help us to share
radically with our fellow human beings; help us to curb our meat
Gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
February 27, 2009 Simplify Life
As a Community Project
Lent is a time to review our Western
lifestyles, renew our past resolutions, and try to take better care
of ourselves. We take seriously the message found in essays,
sermons and homilies: Americans consume about one-quarter of the
world's resources and only comprise five percent of the world's
people. If the rest of the world lived like us, the available
resources would be essentially depleted in a short time. All the
while, we know that the hungry and destitute are only a door step
away, at least via the television tube. The parable of Lazarus
becomes more vivid with each day. "Rice bowls" are passed out in
Lent-observing churches and schools; fasting includes coins for the
needy; maybe in Lent we see less television and use less meat. Yes,
and simplifying lives also saves money and resources. However, this
fact is not generally perceived immediately by individuals, and
especially by affluent people.
Living simply can have creative aspects;
this way of living has spiritual meaning to serious individuals, who
find it enhances prayer and can render Lenten fasting uplifting.
One of the great mistakes in simplifying life is to think only in
individual terms -- what I do to show others how simple I am and how
much I am an example for others to follow. In fact, living more
simply should be more a family, group, and community project than a
mere individual one. Within a community a new awareness begins to
emerge, namely, that affluence is addictive and deadening. An
awareness of simple living steps, such as eating less meat at meals,
or conserving energy, opens vistas for improvement; and this is
better achieved within group dynamics. Living simply is Good News
for -- and from -- all community members.
Within a sensitive community we address the
prevailing basic libertarian philosophy, "Let all do as they please,
provided it does not hurt anyone else." Simple living folks should
not be intimidated by that prevailing culture. Rather they must see
that excessive affluence has brought down nations, caused decline in
religious life, and led to massive inequalities and insensitivity to
human needs. Prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah and Amos say as much.
Communities can become more prophetic and show themselves to be good
promoters of simplicity. If we are ridiculed, at least it is a
community and not individuals who must bear the opprobrium.
Affluent living can be an addiction. An
intellectual campaign, even an Earth Literacy Program, is not
sufficient if people are addicted. Is it really right to sponsor
distillery educational tours or general lectures on alcoholism? On
the other hand, a successful Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program helps
people to strengthen their collective will power, proving far
superior to purely rational approaches to breaking addictions.
Maybe those of us with a desire to promote simple living could learn
a lesson from AAs. Simplicity comes in sharing communities.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to simplify
our lives in community.
February 28, 2009 Pray for Global
Good and Gracious God,
Source of all Life,
all creation is charged with your Divine
Ignite your spark within us,
that we may know ourselves
as truly human and holy,
irrevocably part of the Web of Life.
-- each star and every flower,
-- each drop of water and every person,
-- each and every atom, down to its very
explodes with the revelation
of your Sacred Mystery.
Our minds alone cannot fathom such splendor.
Our hearts can only respond in awe, praise and
Forgive us, we pray, our ignorance
and insecurities which
-- blind us with your Thumbprint written
-- deafen us to the sacred space
between two heartbeats,
-- prompt us in arrogance to demand and
-- numb us to the destruction we've
-- hold us hostage to "either-or"
thinking and living.
May we always walk gently upon the earth,
in right relationship,
-- nurtured by your Love,
-- taking only what we need,
-- giving back to the earth in gratitude,
-- sharing what we have,
-- honoring all with reverence,
-- reconciling and healing,
-- mindful of those who will come after,
-- recognizing our proper place as part
not apart from, your creation.
Grant us the strength and courage, we pray
for such radical transformation into your
Then we, too, with the very stones will shout,
by Michelle Balek Pax Christi, 532 W.