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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.


A series of written meditations and reflections



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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

February 2009


Copyright ę 2009 by Al Fritsch

Winter ice on Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota
(photo: Janet Powell)


                      A February Day

       When winter extends itself in frosty clime,

          and spring won't come, nor poems rhyme.

       Such is the shortest month sublime,

            but longest by far in psychic time.


       Sing out winter's final dirge,

        Fault the neighbor, mall-led splurge.

       Exercising urge, fasting purge,

        Greenhouse starts when spirits surge.


       Candlemas Day, a feast of light,

        For days get longer, an hour less night.

       Hear the mourning dove, birdsong-starved delight

        Listen! the tree sap's finding height. 


       Pouring molasses in January's a chore,

        but molasses in February is still slower.

       Winter, winter, may it ebb away?

        Modest delay, oh fibbing February! 

Colorful bracket fungus on tree
*photo credit)


February 1, 2009        Speak with Authority

     I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all that I command him.  (Deuteronomy 18:18b)

     Putting 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.

     I 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.

     Years 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. 

     Words 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.  

     We are 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
*photo credit)

February 2, 2009      Recognize Candle Power

...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..

    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.

     The 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. 

      Advent 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.

     The 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
in Have-A-Heart trap to be removed from kitchen and relocated to nearby abandoned farmhouse
*photo credit)

February 3, 2009      Show Hospitality to Wildlife 

   Around 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. 

     However, 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.

     For 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.

     A 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. 

     Prayer:  Lord, You welcome us to assist in enhancing all wildlife;  give us a generous spirit of hospitality.





A trail through the forest, possibly a fox
*photo credit)

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 house
*photo credit)

February 5, 2009     Expose Our State Religion         

    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 Economic System.

         The god in whom we trust is our money.

         The high temple's sanctuary is Wall Street.

         The indoctrination system is the mass media.

         The sacred orders are the noted business degrees or

             the privilege of all the wealth you want.

         The current high priest is the FTC Chairman.

         The hierarchy are the notables on Wall Street.

         The clergy are second string bankers and the business elite.

         The parishes are corporations and banks.

         The pews are the automobiles and computers.

         The aisles are the Interstates and Internet.

         The prayers are e-mails and ATM transactions.

         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 Spangled Banner

            before each game.

         The excommunication is jail for felons -- especially for bucking the System.

         The main sins are being humble instead of greedy,

               public interest instead of self interest,

               living simply instead of being a wanton consumer,

               and not questioning the American Way.

         The missionaries are free trade folks

               working through American embassies.

         The goal is the total triumph of greed.

         The dutiful rank and file are the housing, universities,

               businesses and, unfortunately, many churches.  

         The heretic is the one who disagrees.

         Woe to you who do not follow the System;  you will be

               rendered powerless and marginalized. 

     Prayer:  Lord teach us to tear down the idols of our land and rebuild them to be models of peace and justice.





Our Lady of Guadalupe, Good Shepherd Church, Frankfort, KY
*photo credit)

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 opportunities.

     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
*photo credit)

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 thing.

                     FIRST ROBIN

         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 homestead;

         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 spiritually? 

     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 salvation.

     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 family.

     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
*photo credit)

February 9, 2009      Confront Noise Pollution

    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 solution.

    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 branches
*photo credit)

February 10, 2009     Acknowledge Our Need for Rest

      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, in winter
*photo credit)

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 insects. 

     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 community.  





UK, London - Westminster: Parliament Square - Abraham Lincoln statue
*photo by Wally Gobetz)

February 12, 2009   Celebrate Abe Lincoln's 200th Birthday

     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 politically;

     * Foresee a better future for all people;

     * Be enthusiastic about the difficult tasks ahead;

     * Overcome poverty, resource deficiencies and handicaps;

     * Treat fairly those who are underprivileged;

     * Become color-blind when it comes to distribution of work and responsibility;

     * Overlook those who call us bad names or demean us;

     * Be exposed to public scrutiny and the risk of ultimate
             sacrifice for the good of all;

     * Adhere to the rule of law and the love of order;

     * Realize that the sun can penetrate the darkest clouds;

     * Show love and loyalty to family and friends amid adversity;

     * Accept that we must work with those who are mean-spirited;

     * 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
*photo credit)

February 13, 2009         Initiate Ultra-Early Gardening

     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 risers.






Heart of Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana
Heart of Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana
*photo credit)

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 vintage. 

     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 successful.

     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 encourage.








A thick coating of ice
*photo credit)

February 15, 2009       Touch the Leper     

     If you want to you can cure me. (Mark 1:40)

     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.








Old fencepost
*photo credit)

February 16. 2009        Utilize Wood Properly  

     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 control.

    Trunks --  discarded logs for wood critters,  defective logs  for fuel wood and knots for making bowls,
           or small cedar logs as cordwood building material.

    Branches -- larger ones for Shitaki mushrooms, smaller ones for walking canes, pole ladders,
           kindling material.

    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
            or 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 resources.





Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Invasive exotic Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, (removed) Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
*photo credit)

February 17, 2009      Tackle Invasive Species

     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 species.








Habitat for Humanity Woodford County Versailles KY Kentucky
A dedicated group of volunteers, working to complete a new home
*photo credit)

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 everything.

    Yes, we are old when --

    * Anniversaries outnumber birthdays.

    * Tools we used in youth are found today in museums.

    * 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 were young.

    * There are more funeral gatherings than other celebrations. 

    * One remembers clearly things forty years ago, and can't even

             list one thing that happened last week.

    * The old home neighborhood can't be recognized.

    * We start to thank God for allowing us to wake up.

    * The geriatric catalogues have some good bargains.

    * Every scale seems to be weighing too heavy.

    * They tell us to be careful shoveling snow.

    * The waitress assumes you are wanting the senior plate.

    * 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 young.

    * 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

*photo credit)

February 19, 2009      Attend to Entrances and Signage

     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 solar utilization.     

     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 location;

     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 ever uttered;

     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.






*photo credit)

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 to pray.

     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 suburban environments.

     * "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
*photo credit)

February 21, 2009      Consider Artificial Waterfalls

     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 the user.  

     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
*photo credit)

February 22, 2009         Forgive and Forget?

      Who can forgive sins but God?   (Mark 2:7b)

     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 them?

     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 possible.

     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 person. 

     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 Historical Park
*photo credit)

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

     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, commerce/consumer culture."

     Reference: Vaclav Havel, "Power and Powerless" in Living in Truth (London:  Faber and Faber. 1989).  

     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 today.






Morel mushroom, a surprise find in the forest
*photo credit)

February 24, 2009      Curb Fats Twelve Ways

     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
             fried meat 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
          substitutes, 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 purposes.

   5. Omit butter and cream, and cut down on spreads and cream sauces at meals.  A good substitute for
              the sauces is low-fat mushroom soup.

   6. Fry less, and boil, broil, bake, saute, and steam more.

   7. If you are a snacker, watch certain enticing foods.  How about popcorn, dry-popped and seasoned
           with chili and garlic powder?  How about pretzels or fresh fruit or carrots?

   8. Buy low- or no-fat selections:  salad dressings, milk and other dairy products, breakfast cereal,
        baked goods.

   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
           beverage drinking tastes.

   12.  Reduce the amount of cooking oil or fat.  Consider adding a dash of olive oil when fats and oils are
          needed.  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
*photo credit)

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 world.

     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
*photo credit)

February 26, 2009          Eat Less Meat

    Along with ways to observe a penitential spirit during Lent, several good reasons for reducing meat consumption emerge:

    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 weight-reducing programs.

    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 toxic materials.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to share radically with our fellow human beings; help us to curb our meat consumption.






Gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
*photo credit)

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.








        (*photo credit)

February 28, 2009    Pray for Global Restoration

Good and Gracious God,

    Source of all Life,

    all creation is charged with your Divine Energy.


Ignite your spark within us,

    that we may know ourselves

      as truly human and holy,

      irrevocably part of the Web of Life.


All creation

    -- each star and every flower,

    -- each drop of water and every person,

    -- each and every atom, down to its very electrons,

             explodes with the revelation

             of your Sacred Mystery.   


Our minds alone cannot fathom such splendor.

Our hearts can only respond in awe, praise and gratitude.


Forgive us, we pray, our ignorance

and insecurities which

     -- blind us with your Thumbprint written large,

     -- deafen us to the sacred space

              between two heartbeats,

     -- prompt us in arrogance to demand and dominate,

     -- numb us to the destruction we've caused,

     -- 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 of,

           not apart from, your creation.


 Grant us the strength and courage, we pray

 for such radical transformation into your Kingdom.


Then we, too, with the very stones will shout,



by Michelle Balek  Pax Christi,  532 W. 8th Street 

                                 Erie, PA  16502-1343  



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

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

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