For me, February may be the shortest month in actual duration, but the longest in psychic time. Will the winter ever end? What will overcome cabin fever and the itching to get outdoors and till the soil? The lengthening days are welcomed, as is the sound of the cooing mourning doves -- the first harbingers of spring. It is the month of Ash Wednesday, when we hear the awesome words "Remember that we are dust and into dust we shall return" -- and we receive the mark of our humility on the forehead. For many of us it is the beginning of outdoor work: trimming grapes, pruning trees, cutting back herbage growth, sowing peas, and caring for thriving seedlings. We rejoice with the faint hue of yellow green as it appears on the willow trees, and we strain to discover the budding crocuses, the greening wild garlic, the first snowdrop, and the flourishing chickweed. We may find a stray blooming dandelion.
You give gentle cheer on dreary days never much with gushy praise; Just a dash of greenery when needed, a spark of hope when heeded.
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February 1, 2016 Healing Earth through Caring for Plants
Our life's journey is epitomized through caring, in some degree, for someone or something. We strongly suggest for 2016 that this caring be focused on plant life or gardening though you may choose animal care. Don't let this dissuade you if heavily committed to extended care of pets, birds or other wildlife. Just don't see your animals as lunch meat, but rather as companions. Plants are less sensate; they come eventually steamed, boiled or raw in salads. But plants need care in germinating, pollinating, watering, fertilizing, thinning, cultivating, and harvesting.
The key to healing our wounded Earth is by touch, just as physical touch helps heal the human body. Gardening is a practical and accessible way to touch Earth meaningfully. It is not a symbolic exercise that could turn some of us off. Through gardening we feel Earth: warm or cool, moist or dry, granular or fine, firm or soft, shallow or deep rooted, and how well inhabited with earthworms. This sensual communication with Earth tells us much about ourselves, our origins, and our ultimate destiny ‑‑ from dust and to dust. We spring from Earth and will return to her, but with a special spiritual uplifting that goes beyond. In healing Earth we are made whole. Gardening gives us HERENESS, focus, release of stress, and assurance to overcome obstacles.
Our modern complex culture is one of alienation from Earth and her rhythms. Approximately half the world's people live in urbanized areas, often removed from natural phenomena; they reside in high rises and apartment complexes, or suburban homes with rules for tending their sterile monocultural lawns. The universal desire to touch Earth in a meaningful fashion becomes harder and harder as blacktop and concrete and even artificial turf greet increasing numbers of urban dwellers. Furthermore, artificial lighting at night blinds viewers to natural moonbeams and a starlit night. People lose the sense of Earth and heavenly time and space. Their insensitivity is contagious and spreads to others.
On the other hand, healing can become collaborative action as we work on projects with people of good will and simplify lifestyles together. Some may prefer a ceremonial touching of soil in a ritualistic setting, accompanied by poetry, song, dance, procession, and other symbolic or liturgical activities. Yes, this may have merit but hardly that of the humble act of meeting humus on its own terms? Ritual is good but can be a coverup of failure to participate in practical and necessary plant care. We seek a spirituality that is "down to earth" and not one of fiction, of dream worlds, of distant cosmic reaches beyond our imagination, or of conquests that will never occur. That is why we must become creative by touching soil, whether a pot, a plot, a yard, or a vacant lot demanding to be cared for. We need a love affair with the plant life of this world to keep us even-keeled.
Prayer: Lord, direct our longing to our troubled Earth and afford us opportunities to care for her in our own special way.
Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see...(Luke 2:29-31)
Today we observe the Feast of the Presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple. This is part of his initial journey and the ending of a journey of faith for two elders (Simeon and Anna) who see their hopes come true. Simeon delivers some frank words to Mary indicating her own growth in involvement along with the maturing of Jesus. One single episode is an intergenerational journey of beginning for Jesus, maturing for Mary, and closure for Simeon and Anna; the narrative contains monumental texts.
Mary and Joseph make the world's greatest presentation in the form of a pair of turtledoves, the humble offering of the poor. In this formal temple setting at the beginning of Jesus' life the elders speak; Simeon is moved to make a formal proclamation: Jesus is to be 'A light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel... You see this child; he is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected' (Luke 2:32, 34). Simeon adds significant words to and about Mary, the child's mother, And a sword will pierce your own soul too -- so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare. Anna talks about the child as the deliverance of Jerusalem. Both elders use solemn prophetic language.
Mary spends a lifetime reflecting in her heart on these words and messianic actions occurring before her eyes. She sees her reflection move to action -- and this triggering further reflection. During the course of a lifetime a sword of sorrow will pierce her heart as she accompanies the passion, death, and resurrection of her son, along with the beginnings of the Church at Pentecost. She teaches activism (e.g. at the Annunciation, the Cana banquet, and at Calvary as well as at Pentecost).
The Messiah's journey focuses on the Temple -- from his presentation as an infant, through the teaching and cleansing to his condemnation at the trial before his death. The Temple is to be destroyed a few years after Jesus' presence and about when Mark's Gospel was written, after a traumatic revolt and defeat of Jerusalem's residents. From a holy place, the movement would see a metamorphoses into becoming a "temple of persons," a movement foretold to David when he resolved to build a temple to the Lord, and God saying the "House" would be of his (David's) royal lineage: from holy place to holy person; this house would last forever. The ultimate mission is meant for more than the people of Israel; the Temple is to be in every heart and not just in a single place. A growth of understanding of God's presence is linked to the Temple itself and ourselves, for we are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to become your living temples and to become focal points for spreading the Good News.
Frosty chill fills the air at rustic Kentucky farm.
February 3, 2016Encouraging Activism among Seniors
Throughout the ages other prophetic and heroic followers of Christ have showed the way to peacefully conclude their lives of service in a courageous manner. Some do this in sacrificing for others for an entire life; others accomplish noble deeds for country, family or faith; others live quietly but with a sense of loyalty to ideals through work. Many of us are struck by the faith of seniors, whether our forbearers or those we meet in life. They exit from the mortal realms with patience and astounding courage, teaching us how to live and teach others at the approach of death. They anticipate a triumph and energize us as they eagerly await what is beyond the horizon.
Seniors come in various categories: doers, those wishing to be doers, and frozen non-doers. Doers participate even while immobile through an enthusiasm for assisting those who are more publicly active. They endure the actual diminishment of energy and just slowing down. Spiritual wisdom teaches us to use our abilities and circumstances to the best degree possible.
Seniors are precious blessings, not burdens. They have lessons to teach, if youth come near and intergenerational opportunities prevail. They can be creative amid their growing limitations. Some can be volunteers at the service of others; all can to some degree exercise their civic duties through email, phone, letters, and personal conversation and prayer. The infirm, to the degree they are mentally able, can be encouraged to offer their sufferings with Christ on Calvary. No good deed is ever lost; the more we believe, the more we become empowered.
For the greater part seniors are in the moments of diminishment of life. Illnesses start cropping up and demand attention; beauty fades, energy seems to drain away. This is part of life's passivities or the sufferings that come when in the inevitable decline of activities. However, here seniors can find opportunities to become more socially conscious through connecting and encouraging others experiencing similar circumstances. For example, in his immobile years Estill County judge Ralph would make phone calls to encourage other shut-ins through conversation, and play his musical instrument for entertainment via the phone, a senior contribution to a life of public service.
St. Theresa the Little Flower learned in the midst of her illness to continue corresponding with distant missionaries in French Indo-China; she offered prayers for and encouragement to them. She was stricken with tuberculosis and spent the last convent years confined to her bedroom, and still her love of God was outstanding -- and thus she is patroness of foreign missions; her autobiography and her "little way" led to becoming a Church Doctor. While young in her early twenties at the moment of death, she shows the way to offer what we have for the needs of others.
Prayer: Lord, teach seniors to see their immense potentials.
True nobility comes in working with our hands. This is often overlooked, especially since so many expect that we are to be liberated from work by innovative labor-saving techniques. But is true liberation a workless one? Granted, we need not do what a machine can do repeatedly in a mind-numbing manner; let's let robots do such work. However, non-monetized and creative forms of service take more than robots or even occasional volunteers; they need to be regarded as professionally executed by those best suited. Services and all work need those who enjoy what they are doing and find this combined as authentic livelihood. We all need to look about and discover needed work opportunities or where work is done but goes uncompensated: caring for abandoned children, settling homeless refugees, training unemployed youth, attending to forsaken elders, teaching illiterate folks, giving essential health care and repairing deteriorating infrastructure of our highways and transportation networks.
Servants of the Lord are we. We are called to work and create a better place, a New Earth. In washing the disciples' feet Jesus shows that dignity rests in service to others; this lesson extends to the entire Body of Christ. Society has been held back far too long by elite "thinkers" who allow "slave labor" to do what was below the elite's own dignity. This creates a false impression of the nobility of thinking and the slave labor quality of services -- cooking meals, serving needs of the helpless, building houses, and transporting goods. The work of hands is relegated to a minor servant's role way below the presumed dignity of the privileged. Forgotten is that dreams come in doing as well as the pastime of sleep, and the dreams of a better world involve dignified work by dreamers. Some toil is overlooked, forgotten or regarded as thankless.
A revolution in our social and economic System is being called for at this time -- and this will take effort. Certainly we must think through new ideas and open them to practical application. In fact, innovative ideas occur through reflecting on practical work. Hard work is the substratum on which further reflection must occur. It is best where possible that the reflecting agents are also the ones deeply involved in the practical applications for their heart must be in the work. This means getting one's hands dirty.
Thoughtful reflection can be regarded as work also, and so should effective promoting, explaining, writing, organizing, speaking and investigating. Let's not forget those too weak or ill for manual work who pray for the workers. Folded hands in prayer is a manual exercise and has its own nobility when joined in building a New Earth. Thus, the entire community of workers are needed; no one is expected to shirk or abstain. Only by doing things are we guaranteed that our lives have meaning even beyond so-called retirement years. A communal effort is critical.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see that healing our wounded Earth
involves the work of our hands, a worthy and dignifying operation.
Spring garden edge: Ornithogalum umbellatum, star of Bethlehem.
February 5, 2016 Garden Work and Leisure Time
It takes time and effort to make a garden both productive and beautiful. This comes as no surprise to the accomplished gardener, but is often a bitter lesson to beginners.
Developing leisure time. A garden is a beauty to behold and worthy of admiration, especially by the one(s) directly involved. Progressive seasons take differing amounts of effort, but none is exempt. Actual gardening activities are quite varied, and exercise calls forth many of our bodily muscles. For older people, it is generally a gentle exercise that can make our bodies respond with a feeling of wellbeing and is more leisure than unpleasant sweaty labor. If the garden is not overwhelming in size, it beckons participants to set their own leisurely pace.
Rendering gentle exercises. Garden work is often merely a variation in daily physical exercises, for no operation is overly repetitive for a manageable plot. Large-scale gardening operations involve repetitious harvesting or planting exercises throughout the day; such work can be hot, tedious and back‑breaking; furthermore, pay for day laborers is low and deserved raises are to be called for. If a domestic garden is not overly large or has enough helping hands then the exercise, while physical, can still be regarded as pleasureable recreation. Gardeners can choose the period of day for going outdoors and can vary the gardening operations to reduce strain. In rare cases garden work takes on a little more stress (to harvest or plant before a storm).
Knowing moderation. Some gardens demand traditional ground breaking or clearing that is beyond our waning physical endurance. Don't hesitate to call for help even though you insist on being "the gardener." Those people of eroding stamina should be willing to call out for assistance. It may be that a platform for growing crops or that bean poles must be constructed with help from another. Cooperative efforts enhance the social content of gardening. Proper modifications occur over the years as to type and size of crop grown or choices of work during early morning or late evening hours when summer sun is less intense. I've changed gardening practices over time; it overcomes my dissatisfaction with waning strength. It's okay to be cooperative in gardening.
Championing exercise. In gardening, virtually all body parts are used -- legs, arms, back, etc. This broad-based physical exercise, along with fresh air and full spectrum sunlight, permits the gardener to remain quite healthy even without doing other exotic exercises. Mid-winter is a tempting time to backslide on physical exercise. We have to remind ourselves of the advantages of PE that can occur without a single expensive exercise device. Year-round gardening offers low-cost exercise for every season.
Prayer: Lord, help us to find the time and energy to engage ourselves and help build a better and improved environment. Give
us the courage to ask for help when needed.
February 6, 2016 Gardening as Re-Creation in Sacred Space
Gardening is part of a cosmic process -- an extending of the effects of healing to our small portion of the world around us. Yes, we start small, but by doing our work with care and reverence, we are initiating Earthhealing that should be the enterprise of everyone of us. This Earth has been purchased at an immense price -- that of the blood of Christ. It is an act of communion with the Creator, a participation in a total oblation or sacrifice that makes a profane Earth into a holy place. Merely wishing to garden is not sufficient; wishes become a holy action when we assemble our shovels, rakes and hoes, roll up our sleeves and start to work.
Re-creation is part of the ongoing creative process and a chance to reclaim areas damaged by misdeeds. Gardening is creative through involving minerals, soil, air, water, seeds, helpful insects and willingness to sweat. We enter into God's work as believers and accept the invitation to participate using our own creative skills to make the world a better place. In the process we learn more about ourselves and what we can do as healers. Through gardening, people experience birth (planting and watering), life (cultivating and tilling), and death (harvesting), a reminder that we welcome our own part in natural processes, which coalesce and enter into collaboration with the Lord.
Truly, touching the Earth is necessary for gravediggers, mud puddle players and potters. Gardening can be a common touching experience involving young, middle aged and old alike. We are being called to communion, touching soil, whether in a potted plant or outdoor plot. Meeting Earth becomes a golden opportunity for oneness. We join with St. Francis and experience an I-Thou relationship with fellow creatures in an extended Martin Buber sense. It is not the I-It relationship of a corporate farmer's tilling operation or someone cursing the slave labor at hand. We are touching and touched by soil in a reciprocal relationship of togetherness. When we touch soil reverently our mutual communication extends, and gardening becomes our sacred teacher; this affords a sacred moment when our hearts and minds turn to praise of the Creator of all good things. On the Sabbath God marvels at divine creation, and we likewise enjoy a sacred experience with regular visits though harder in winter. At this sacred pause memory of past harvest and anticipation of upcoming ones coalesce.
Sacred sites offer opportunities to communicate with Earth, plants, neighbors and with our God. Sacred sites are those locations designated as a meeting place with the divine, where all senses are fully stimulated and where people can rest, find God and find themselves. These are places set apart from the more stressful world, which are known to act as magnets to draw believers together. Certain springs and rock formations were known from pre‑historic times to involve the sacred; so now our garden is an ideal candidate for sacred space. It is a place we grow to respect and an ideal place to pray, surrounded by joyful plants, especially at sunrise or sunset. Within this community we can commune with growing plants, for those with green thumbs have learned a secret of enhanced productivity by loving plants.
We make sacred garden space by our sweat, much like cemeteries hallowed by the blood of fallen heroes. Well, it is not quite the same, but then our sacrifice is less also. To consecrate specific plots is a forerunner of our reconsecration of an entire Earth already hallowed by the blood of Christ. Through our healing we rededicate a harmed and misused Earth, starting at our home that was most likely situated on pristine wilderness. Really our efforts bear witness to a long history containing the devotion or rural forebears on distant garden plots, repositories of past gardening experience. Sacred space can become a public testimony linking past experiences with neighbors in a cooperative endeavor.
Prayer: Lord, help us experience the special place of our garden that extends to the entire planet and cosmos. Give us the grace to engage in a re-creative process, making over that which has been damaged in any way.
February 7, 2016 Are We Willing to Be Prophets and Fishers?
Here I am! Send me. (Isaiah 6:1-8)
Isaiah sets a tone that we are often reluctant to imitate, and that is becoming the prophetic witnesses of Good News. Heaven only knows there is a great need to set this world on a better course. The superrich get richer and the rest of humanity lingers and this threatens the very democratic foundations of our nation and world. Many refrain from their singular calling in troubled times: they deny the serious situation; they excuse themselves through a false humility; or they seek to escape responsibilities through a lure of attractions and distractions. We can become profoundly dissipated; we cry out for the saving hand of God that becomes a special purpose as the upcoming Lenten season (so early this year) approaches. Time for action is urgent as the window is closing on efforts to halt climate change.
In the stillness of this winter when the snow falls, it dampens outside noises and forces us to stay put; we have a precious moment to stand before God as Isaiah's moment of grace appears. If we are people who thank God in a spirit of ongoing gratitude, we find the gifts given deserve a recognition that goes beyond mere words; the call is to specific responsible deeds, whether these be caregiving for others, fulfilling our current ministry, moving to other fields of service, or allotting free time for the benefit of our fellow human beings through civic deeds. God is more than willing to join our efforts and empower us through active companionship. If we turn to God we can be powerful instruments of change. But like the disciples upon seeking a marvelous draft of fish, we must believe.
God calls, gives us the grace to respond, and helps launch us into the deep waters where others struggle for life. Even amid difficulties and risks we ask ourselves if we are willing to say with Isaiah, "Here I am." Being meaningful citizens we do not have to leave home; we can work with the resources at hand: phones, the postal system, emails, neighborhood meetings. We can write letters, comment, use Facebook, Twitter, sign petitions, encourage friends to become citizens. The power of God can work within us. The disciples hear Jesus on the shore of Lake Galilee. We stand before him when Jesus calls us, but do we listen and follow his mission? "Here" includes Calvary-made-present in our world, an entry into the urgent divine moment, NOW, and space, HERE.
The task ahead is daunting. Jesus says, "Put into the deep water and lower your nets for the catch" (Luke 5:4b). The risk of failure is always present. However, God will shower us with the tools to undertake the tasks ahead -- if we but truly trust in divine assistance and companionship. By staying "present" to God's unique calling, we launch out to be fishers of the reluctant, the people in our lives. There's vulnerability on the sea of life.
Prayer: Lord, give us grace to stay "present" and mean it.
There is nothing wrong with being sensual if applied to the right times and places. Feeling the vibrations of our Earth is part of a vibrant eco-spirituality. The nature-loving green advocate for our wild Earth is at one with primitive cultures and those living near wi ld places. These participants in the rhythms of mother Earth form a global community, which extends beyond the human to the plant and animal worlds. We could even say more, for a living Earth includes the planetary movements of land masses, clash of geological plates and resultant movements of earthquakes and volcanoes showing dynamic power at work under Earth's surface.
When we become aware of these geo-rhythms, their ancient history and future possibilities after our mortal end, then a humble recognition of our place on the planet becomes more apparent. We make a slight movement of sway and dance; we like to be in rhythm with Earth's movements and experience kinship with all matter. Most important is that this feeling is not static but has a motion to which we can tune in, feel the subliminal sound and enjoy it. We resonate with the Big Bang; we can pick up Earth's beat; we are "with it."
Our sense of community with all creatures is one of eco-spirituality. Our understanding is that this is a public expression of God's glory; we transform our spirituality shared even with non-believers into public religious practice through acts of gratitude. Thus, a singular and rhythmic form of eco-spirituality is expressed with other like-minded believers through authentic religious worship. Furthermore, this embrace of faith encourages us to deepen our sharing with strangers. This moves us to an inclusivity through interreligious and ecumenical efforts.
Those who call themselves Christians or adherents of other traditional religions do not have to neglect or change religious practice to have a deeper sense of spiritual growth that includes being attuned to the Earth. An intensity is found in communion with the Lord of Creation, for rhythms intensify through practice, but especially through sacramental life. In fact, finding God in all creation is part of an authentic and universal religious experience; this grows as we present ourselves to the Lord and trust in the Spirit moving us forward.
Gardening allows us to feel the rhythms while working the soil itself. Each season gives a different rhythm and through fine tuning we become aware that different locations (valleys, mountains, lakes and deserts) have their special vibrations. We discover these through our feet and hands in walking, running, dancing and working soil in a meaningful fashion. Gardening uplifts us through the quality time and effort that we give to having communion with Earth herself. The garden exudes vibes.
Prayer: Lord, help us vibrate with people, plants, animals and Earth. Intensify this as part of our ongoing spiritual growth.
February 9, 2016 Mardi Gras: Perhaps It's Time to Celebrate
I once attempted to spend some three days before Ash Wednesday in New Orleans at an extended Mardi Gras. So much for that one attempt. We parked where a native resident advised was a safe place (even though marked a parade route) and went about town for a few hours. Upon return to the car we discovered it was impounded. We went to where it was parked behind a high fence and with a guarded gate. It took all my extra cash meant for entertainment to ransom the car. C'est la Vie, for full time Mardi Gras celebration. Henceforth, celebrations were abbreviated but not eliminated all together, for we ought to celebrate before Lent.
At times we do need reasonable celebrations and that can be salutary, especially just before this upcoming solemn season. In times past on this day before Ash Wednesday, homemakers ridded the food pantries of animal fats prior to a rigid meatless Lent; not only meat but also animal fats were not consumed during the forty days of abstinence in these stricter times. At Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) the left over fats were consumed in the form of tasty deserts and baked goods. These were not commonly enjoyed except at Christmas and major feast days. And of course the feasting extended to dance and song in the spirit of festivities soon to abruptly end in Lent, a contrast that had its own educational value. Life moves on for better and worse.
However, when those Lenten periods of self-sacrifice lessened in formal intensity, pre-lenten celebrations continued, but with a more secular character. Even the notion of "Shrovetide," the period of confession and penance, shifted from prior to Lent to the Lenten season itself. Thus the preparation for the Lenten period on this day has a celebratory mode, but not anticipating a rigid and sacrificing time span to follow. This should not mean that we are liberated from fasting, but rather that we can construct penitential exercises more in accord with what we as individuals can decide.
With the threat of secularity and relativism in this day, we should still accept the solemn mood of Lent. Today's celebration is in contrast to the serious nature of current problems: from the threat of severe climate change to growing disparity of wealth; from widespread migration crises to the violence of ISIS. These issues weigh us down and can bring on individual and group depression that make us aware of modern burdens. It is certainly not a time for a Puritanical approach to these pre-Lenten days. Rest is a counterbalance to activity -- and humans need both. Our world is in the midst of several crises and we need to muster our religious resources in order to keep our trust in God alive, our faith nourished, and our assistance going out to all victims of weather extremes, global warming and the cruel effects of warfare.
Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of when to be free and laugh, when to become serious, and when to see prayer both in celebration
and in private moments with you.
Snow-covered stone benches along hiking trail.
February 10, 2016 Ash Wednesday: From Dust through Dust to Life
Remember that you are dust and into dust you shall return. (Liturgy)
Ash Wednesday starts in all the somberness of a new season of serious reflection; this somber purple follows immediately after the abrupt celebration of colorful Mardi Gras. On this day we confront our humanity and from where we sprung as well as our mortality, our stance before God, and our ongoing eternal life. Certainly from dust to dust with a familiar marking on the forehead and a certain faith that new life is in the making. Dust is being made holy through these efforts that include a collaboration in which we participate in making a New Earth.
In various ways dust is a pollutant, a nuisance, an embarrassment, a challenge demanding attention. Yet at times dust has value: the wind-blown dust (loess or fertile loam) that settles and fertilizes certain landscapes; the dust from graves regarded as first class relics by those who respect the dead; the dust of mortal remains demand proper burial. We are made from and into dust; we pause and ponder how dust enters into our own life cycles.
Dust and ashes are rich in symbolism:
* Penitence -- Dust and ashes are signs of repentance and a humble stance before God. In fact, up to medieval times dying individuals were laid on sackcloth and sprinkled with ashes as a reminder of their condition before the Giver of all life; * Subservience -- The vanquished was adorned in sackcloth and ashes before the conqueror; * Mortality -- We are reminded in Lent of our mortality. * Cleansing agent -- Homesteaders percolate water through ashes to leach out alkaline (lye) ingredients for making soap. Pure ashes can clean oily fabrics. * Fertilizer -- Wood ashes are scattered on the garden or other growing location as an organic supplement that adds potassium and trace minerals. The ash is alkaline, and too much would raise the pH beyond the range optimal for most vegetables. Through ashes comes forth new life.
* De-icer -- Ashes are a deicing agent in winter time.
* Cutting agent -- In seeding an area with very small seeds farmers often mix the seeds with an abundant supply of dry ashes, which affords a more even dispersal on the field or plot. * Triumph -- In cricket the winner holds up a trophy that contains ashes, signifying that the loser has been vanquished.
For the Christian dust seems lifeless but has a potency for transformation. What we are and have is the basis for a New Earth rising from the dust of previous times. We have been invited as baptized into the Divine Plan to help transform lifeless dust.
Prayer: Lord, show us through dust from where we came and after this brief period of mortal life a destiny that has eternal promise in which we will truly participate.
The "handiwork" of a spider frozen in winter.
February 11, 2016 Inventor's Day: Work of Hands, Head and Heart
Everything comes to those who hustle while they wait.
Thomas Edison's birthday (1847) offers a perfect occasion to celebrate Inventor's Day. Did you ever list all he invented: carbon microphone, electric power distribution, incandescent light bulb, mimeograph, movie camera, phonograph, telegrafo quadruplex, etc., etc. He is certainly worth honoring. How about paying tribute to the millions who in some little or profound way made life a little easier for themselves and others, in other words hustling while they wait. They have been willing to use hands, head and heart. Hustling is an image of the Trinity at work.
Our "creations" are from some form of originality that stirs as an intuition from within and, while involving all body parts, are quite often the work of our hands. Yes, handiwork, whether artistic or practical tools needs the fashioning process that could be done by feet from a few skilled handless individuals; still in most circumstances they require the dexterity of fingers at work in coordination with each other. What results is concretizing our ideas; intelligent fashioning adds luster to the final product.
The word from within is the idea which while there at the beginning is made verified in the construction process. We would not have something new without the material being fashioned into an art piece. The absentminded are certainly not inventors, for it takes immense concentration to produce a product, whether new music or story or dance or artifact. Hands and feet do not act alone but respond to the creative idea taking form before our eyes. It certainly takes brains to invent something new -- and to hustle.
The spirit of the inventor comes in the handiwork. Though in some instances the creator wishes to discard products, still the normal human procedure is to bring this to the light of day. This means having an observer affirm what the inventor has done. The impulse is there in being human: show the work to others to be used, admired and shared for further inspiration. Perhaps further benefits will follow from the dynamics of admiration and all will profit from the art's productions. Motivation for such production is mixed, but at the core this work of the human heart is to be shared in some fashion.
The Father, Word and Spirit do not do the specific operations subscribed here singly, and yet there are distinct persons shown to some by perichoresis, or a mighty and powerful dance. In one sense, neither does the inventor use single members or abstain from the entire working with a social commons. There is a total togetherness in the operation of the new handiwork going out in a loving act to be shared by others. Today we must work together to achieve still more important results, the working together is what has a Trinitarian imprint -- and rightly so. We work in commons.
Prayer: Lord, show us to be made to your image and likeness.
Through the treetops. Pine stand, Red River Gorge, KY.
February 12, 2016Praying for Our Governmental Leaders
On Abraham Lincoln's birthday it is a perfect time to recall that governmental leaders find practical problems extremely difficult; our glib solutions may not work for a number of reasons that are beyond our limited citizen's purview. The ultimate responsibility for such important decisions rests with leaders as individual or as a small group. At times, we suspect that these leaders take their tasks too lightly and that adds to differences between us and them -- and our resolve to see changes made in governance. We must fight temptations to abandon our vigilance.
Some liturgical and formal ceremonies include prayers for leaders, but my perception is that this is more rarely done than frequent. The very leadership of a nation, state, county or city depends on the good graces of leaders who have all people at heart, not special interests of a privileged few. By the same token, good leadership involves our affirmation that these leaders, for better or worse, must act properly. They must affirm us and we them for the benefit of all. To sustain leaders with a balance in their judgments and policies demands the grace of God to be with them. We have to pray that this be the case for they are stewards of the grace of governance and we are to be vigilant in their performance.
Ideal leadership is not always the case. We find that many practicing "religious" people are quite cynical and even hostile to certain governmental leaders; these cynics create an atmosphere of bad vibes that permeate communities and actually create an air of hatred and negativity that cannot help in proper governance. Lincoln knew of this opposition not just from those who rebelled, but also from copperheads within the Union itself. His is not a singular situation, for in many instances in our nation the atmosphere was poisoned by barriers of dissent that handicapped the chosen leaders. Some opposition is motivated by cultural, religious or racial differences and with the hope the leader fails. However, these opponents may be first to demand governmental action in times of extreme weather damage or terrorist plots.
Prudence calls us to pray that current leaders act within a responsible manner during their tenure of office and that, if there is deficiency, that our efforts at civic democratic practice will help bring about improvement. The common good demands political, social and economic structures that function well for all the people. Both current leadership and our citizens' efforts at replacement takes sincere prayer. God guides the fortunes of people and, when we work in unison with the Creator, the policies and practices that benefit us all can be more effectively pursued. In an age of nuclear weapons held by the steady hand of leaders in a half dozen countries we better extend our quest for prudence to all nations -- and pray that all leaders steer a straight course.
Prayer: Lord, show our leaders the way to proper governance and help us to be of good will in praying for them, so that we all can work together in a community of love and mercy.
One would think that in a thriving democracy that every effort would be made by the general citizenry to enhance voter opportunities. In actual fact, American citizens do prefer that others can vote easily and yet there is a reluctance to extend these benefits. Is this mainly due to negative status quo forces afraid that more voters will turn down the existing privileges for a few once they realize current oppressive conditions. The near consensus for needed change actually exists in this country while alternative sources seek further restrictions on time, place and degree of voter participation. It is as though two currents are counter-flowing at the same time.
Automatic registration. It takes an effort to go to a place to register for anything. Youth with educational concerns do not like added bureaucracy. Some 87% of Americans polled support the proposition that all U.S. citizens upon reaching eighteen years (already for men to do military draft registration) should be registered to vote. This would add a new generation of voters.
Compulsory voting. Many nations of the world with varying degrees of democratic practice require citizens to vote. If we are willing to live under the laws of the land and contribute in time of emergencies, we must conceive of the exercise of our voting rights to be a privilege worth safeguarding. Failure by large numbers at election time is a sure sign of erosion of civic duty,
provided conditions to vote are satisfied and without hurdles. In fact, a majority of Americans (57%) favor compulsory requirements.
This comes while some fearful groups would like to restrict the time and places of voting to exclude supposed undesirables.
Electoral College. We have a holdover from the slower days of our infant democracy. This did not recommend direct elections for the president but the gathering in each state of electors who then voted on several known candidates. Unfortunately, this now strange system still holds and the actual election of the American President is through this outdated electoral system (most popular candidates have lost). Some 89% of Americans polled favor changing to popular vote that can be gathered rapidly and safely with today's communications' network.
National holiday. Many working people find it difficult to take off or find late time to vote on Election Day. Often large lines form at certain polling places at after-hours periods. If this were a national holiday as in many nations the additional time to come and vote would make this less a burden on the working class. This should be coupled with extended time to vote by absentee ballot for those ill disposed or traveling. In fact, 91% of American polled by the Progressive Turnout Project favor a national holiday for Election Day.
Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of justice that include enhanced opportunities for all citizens to practice their civic duties.
February 14, 2016 Temptations: Part of the Human Condition
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and when they were over he was hungry. (Luke 4:1-2)
We all certainly know temptations in many ways as part of the human condition. Jesus endures all that is human except sin. Jesus is tempted, for empowerment can be so easily misused and divert attention to false detours and allurements. From Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13 we read about Jesus' temptations -- to wealth/security, fame, and power by turning stone into bread, flying off the parapet of the Temple, and falling down and adoring the Evil One. Jesus successfully overcomes temptations to fame in this world by a simple life, with the ignominy of the cross, and through obedience to the Divine Will.
Both Matthew and Luke speak of these three temptations, though in different sequences. However, unlike our first parents and Israelites wandering in the desert, Jesus resists the temptations of the Evil One. How are these temptations related to Jesus' ministry? Joseph Fitzmyer asks, "Could it not be that Jesus recounted some form of these stories as figurative, parabolic resumes of the seduction latent in the diabolic opposition to him and his ministry?" (St. Luke Vol.1, p. 509). Each temptation as a broad class that can affect the ministry of Jesus the Activist:
* Wealth/Security -- Jesus as led by the Spirit out into the wilderness and tempted; Jesus fasted forty days and was hungry and was tempted that if he were the Son of God he could turn the multitude of stones all around into bread (a bakery project of immense wealth and security) and responds from Deuteronomy 8:3 "Man does not live on bread alone."
* Fame -- Positioned on the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus endures the temptation to do something dramatic, to have a spectacular entry into public life through the flair for attention and drama, and to be an instant hero. It seems so tempting to start with the eye of the world on you, and showing that God's power can overcome what human physical conditions are unable to.
* Power -- Jesus is taken to the high mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world and told they are Jesus', if he falls down and worships Satan. For the budding activist in Jesus the enticement is present, for through a small gesture so much could be achieved. Jesus' response is to worship the Lord our God alone.
Jesus' temptations do not cease in this desert episode. Recall that Jesus is tempted when Peter seeks to restrain him from the trip to Jerusalem. Jesus' response is "Get behind me Satan," thus indicating that this was a very real temptation.
Prayer: Lord, help us to overcome the temptations of this age, those of attraction to allurements and those that would have us refrain from action that is highly needed this year 2016.
Winter plumage of Northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis. (*Photo by Sally Ramsdell)
February 15, 2016Overcoming Temptation
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked. (Genesis 3:6)
Temptations occur to all of us with free will; these are tests to act or not act, to act one way or another. Adam and Eve were tempted and succumbed after being blinded into thinking that the fruit of the tree could make them like God. In failure, they discovered their nakedness. The Israelites were tempted when wandering forty years, and they turned to Canaanite idols and hardened their hearts. Again and again they confronted evil, fell, and had to be renewed. We are tempted also:
The AA person looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Yes, the desire for drink does not go away, but trusting in the Higher Power with others who are striving to do the same allows me an ease in resisting the urge to drink. I simply have to have others at this time in life -- and perhaps into the foreseeable future. The 12-Step Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Program works and with each passing day we gain confidence to remain substance free. My trust in God grows but it takes a community to see us through."
* Wealth/Security. In this age of utter materialism we are enticed to "want" more and more goods. We are tempted by a desire for spacious homes, boats, fast cars, stocks, insurance policies, checking accounts, and every type of goods. We covet resources belonging to others present and future, and overconsume what we have; we place security in material things and military hardware. We are called to a spiritual poverty with the poor Jesus.
* Power: We seek power over others and fail to see that it can corrupt. The splendor of creation mesmerizes us, tempting us to seeing creatures as idols; we lust for power and satisfaction of bodily passions. Instead, we are called to be single-hearted and chaste in our quest for God; we discover others can control our lives when we are disconnected from divine power, but spiritual empowerment occurs in Christ. We can regain control over life.
* Fame: We dream of soaring among others like a figure skater who floats about effortlessly or by being among the privileged. We take pride in accomplishments, are enticed to the world of fiction, become angry with barriers in our way, and take pride in who we think we are. Like Adam and Eve we are tempted to see ourselves as gods, insensitive to the needs of others. On the other hand we can recall that obedience to God's will is an ever-deepening mystery.
During troubled times we are tempted to inaction: we deny the critical conditions of the present moment; we think in false humility that the tasks ahead are too great for us; we relieve ourselves of the current burdens by forms of allurement. Yes, and when beset by such moments we recall that God never allows us temptation beyond our endurance. God is with us.
Prayer: Lord, others overcome temptations and so can we, if we turn our minds to you for help in our own troubled times.
Curvature of "bench tree." Woodford Co., KY.
February 16, 2016 An Outdated, Unsustainable & Intolerable System
As Pope Francis has said "the current System is outdated." He also says it is "unsustainable" (Laudato Si) and "intolerable" (in talk in Bolivia). I agree with all three assessments but find the first to be the least challenging for defenders of Capitalism. I admit that an alternative does not exist at this moment; this should not stop us from proposing major changes. Some would prefer adjustments and others of us see the power of the existing status quo as smothering minor System tweaking; thus a complete overhaul is absolutely necessary -- and some American political candidates and those in other lands are calling for revolutionary adjustments.
The System is outdated for the following reasons:
* Inequality is increasing in the present globalization where a privileged few go unchecked in wealth accumulation;
* Some wield immense power through money and consider that they can override the democratic process; and
* No present tax program controls the gain in private wealth that is occurring globally in unhealthy amounts. * The System is unsustainable because:
* It is heavily immersed in a fossil fuel economy that only strengthens a climate change scenario of a rise of two degrees C and this is menacing the very vitality of our planet; and
* The current economic System results in consumer growth of luxury items that have damaged and endangered threatened species, such as elephants' ivory and tigers' body parts.
The present System is intolerable because:
* Poverty is stuck at unacceptable levels with no immediate relief for a billion or more people in developing countries;
* Jobs can be moved at will to nations bidding for lower safety and environmental standards. There is currently no way of halting escape industries and, though some progress has been made, the stubborn persistence is unjust. Furthmore, much despair plagues a world of immense un- and under-employment and that is nurtured and tolerated by the current System; and
* International trade packs often give special favor to groups in wealthier nations at the expense of poor ones.
Examples of working economic innovations are rare as long as the power of the current System can suppress the yearning of decentralized and non-competitive alternatives. However, while a new System is not yet in place, still elements that are working could coalesce to produce a new economy that is collaborative, non-competitive and non-profit. No one can prove that profit-making is a prolonged driving force for new accomplishments, for many non-profits succeed as well or better than profit makers. Rather than a dog-eat-dog world, the basic principle of sharing the commons with all is necessary for a future just society.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage and strength to question,
confront and offer a substitute for the current economic System.
February 17, 2016 Spiritual Sight: Seeing with Eyes of Faith
...Nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.
Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (Harper, 1960 p. 30).
This reflection title contain an inherent difficulty: it could be interpreted in a very elitist or even a Gnostic fashion, namely a view different from the hoi polloi. On the other hand the thrust is that all by the grace of God have the capacity to see if they take the effort. Unfortunately, many are blinded by secular allurements or by a failure to prayerfully reflect and show gratitude. In addition, we all need corrective lens, for crass materialism blinds us even when we do not admit it. With 24-7 advertising and noise on every side, we tend to be distracted; we fail to see the Divine Presence in our midst.
The vision of the emerging Kingdom of God is not reserved to only the chosen few, but through selflessness great numbers can bring about a lifting fog on a winter morn. We pray that we can see our direction and focus attention on Christ in our midst. Truly, Teilhard adds that this seeing is "by virtue of the creation and incarnation." I prefer to say this emerging vision grows also by virtue of Calvary and the Resurrection, the entire Christ life. As part of the Body of Christ we find the vision of Christ in total ministry on his part and on ours. In many ways of healing, teaching and acting we help bring about God's emerging Kingdom.
Yes, it is possible as Teilhard says, with God's help, to perceive the connection -- even physical and natural -- which binds one's labor with building a New Earth. Our dreams include seeing this happen in little ways so easily overlooked, a faint glimpse of a freshness that is emerging and is a vast improvement of existing conditions amid the social media and cultural revolution that we are experiencing today. In a spirit of hope we get that glimpse of a future that includes justice for all, when the commons can be shared with all who have essential needs -- and when injustice is no longer tolerated. The affirmation of faith in a just future opens our eyes to what is really occurring; we realize that advancement comes with a positive approach to service and suffering in union with the crucified and resurrected Savior. It happens!
"Faith is seeing the brilliant countenance of Christ looking up at us from every creature" (my ordination card). This is not a singular apparition; rather, this is a social experience gained in selfless work and sharing that we have with others. Caring for others is the lifting of the veil of blindness and is experienced by selfless souls in every land and age. Suddenly the hard rock of materiality softens but does not disappear. Freshness springs up that transfigures an apparently hardened world and the glory of Christ shines before the believer. It is coming if we but see!
Prayer: Lord, give us eyes to see beyond ourselves so we do not trip and fall; help us to look out and see you in the fullness of the creation in which we exist and are helping to bring about.
Kentucky native Barred owl.
(*Photo by H. Patterson, Creative Commons)
February 18, 2016 Hoot Owls and Haunting Sounds of Winter
One of the haunting sounds of winter is that of owls whether they be hoot owls or screech owls. The naked forests and the stillness of crystalline winter nights allow these sounds to travel over great distances. Owls are the majestic rulers of the top of the aviary food chain and know it. They catch mice, ground and regular squirrels, rats, rabbits, fish, hawks and other birds, and even pups and cats. They are termed by naturalist Barbara Hallowell and others "the tigers of our woodlands."
We simply admire the equipment of these night hunters -- with eyes as big as those of humans, placed with depth perception at the front of the head, and containing many rods for night vision. And wildlife experts tell us their daytime vision is even better than their nighttime. The owl's head can swivel over three quarters of a complete circle, moving in one direction 135 degrees and then rapidly back in the other the same number of degrees, without the body's changing location. We can hardly do a 90/90 degree set of head turns. The tracking of prey depends on both perceptive sight and sound. Owls fly at night within a dense forest, communicate with others over surprisingly long distances, and yet can be quite silent in their swoop (due to types of feathers) to catch a prey.
The owl's ears are holes in the side of the head that differ from each other in size and position. This allows the owl to determine the location of the prey. This prey can be swallowed whole or torn apart with the beak and claws as food for the owl's young ones. Defiantly, owls leave their little balls of undigested fur and large bones immediately beneath their customary nest, the leftovers of dinner after regurgitation. Owls see no need to hide.
The great horned owl appears to be king (or queen) of our forests in Appalachia. The usual hoot (two shorts and a long with the conjunction in between) comes generally in the early hours before dawn and occurs more often during the winter mating season. These beautiful distinguished creatures have to get the nesting season started early because it takes about three months, once the owlets hatch, for these youngsters to be fully operational. Nesting in such cold weather is not easy for either the brooding mother or the food-gathering father, but they go about their duties with diligence and cooperation.
Owls are often maligned as evil or spooky, but this is unfair, for owls hunt for basic food for themselves or offspring. They are not entertained by a struggling prey, but do their work in a very professional way. They must eat, feed a busy mate, and furnish a perpetually hungry set of owlets -- and this takes day and night hunting. Really we owe owls gratitude or one would be overrun by mice. Owls spice our forests and enchant our cold winter nights.
Prayer: Lord, give us the vigilance and sense of hard work of the owls in our midst and let their hoots be our call to night prayer.
Ephemeral pond, Tygart's State Forest, Olive Hill, KY.
February 19, 2016 Championing the Consecrated Life
The first draft of this was written in the middle of Pope Francis' dedicated year for consecrated life. That is a special focus on sisters, brothers and priests who take special vows to live in one or other of many forms of religious life. Most, but not all, are lives in community circumstances, for there are singular hermits included in the designation. The main three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience (see February 14th and 15th) are augmented in various religious communities by vows to stability (Benedictines) or special obedience to the Pope (Jesuits) or to forms of mercy, education, health care or charity.
Consecrated life becomes a commitment to grow in a certain arena of perfection so that God's call to service for others might be given in special public ways. Thus there is both a private struggle to become more "holy" with God's grace, and a public witness through formal vow to be of special service to others. From the first days of the Church as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, Christians gathered and consecrated their lives to sharing with those in need. In a broader perspective this gathering focuses on the vows of Baptism, the most solemn that every Christian undertakes at the initiation of the faith journey. We publicly say we renounce the Evil One. While consecrated life is added, it is the formal commitment already made in Baptism.
Consecrated life is the setting apart, in a highly secular world, of a lifestyle committed to establishing the Kingdom of God. While all Christians are called, some give the vocational call a responsibility through life in a special way. Since this is difficult and barriers present themselves, the journey is never perfectly performed, but still in the strength of togetherness we recommit ourselves to emerging perfection. Secular allurements are pinpointed and avoided and reaffirmation comes through daily prayer of the Church for the good of all. In consecrated life the grace of the God of love and mercy shows itself in a special way.
The consecrated are specially called to become exemplar living witnesses to the mission that is global in scope and cosmic in impact. The world is becoming one in Christ and those witnessing to this are to show an event emerging in what seems a permanently fallen state. The loyalty of the consecrated becomes a living word through deed that a selfish struggle for existence has a spiritual alternative worth championing. The consecrated person says "yes" to God through living the Christ life and showing that God's work is being done even amid the stumbles and falls of raw humanity. A definite horizon of glory lives beyond and is already taking shape by those with the eyes of faith. A dedicated life of hope counters a world that seems too full of injustice and greed. These who are consecrated are not necessarily better, only committed to becoming better in a formal way. They say the world can be hallowed.
Prayer: Lord, give us more people willing to live a consecrated life as special witnesses to what is emerging.
February 20, 2016 The Gardener's Act of Loving Sacrifice
Gardening is a human activity, which some regard as voluntary; others would say it is effort needed to help feed a family that suffers from trying conditions. Some gardeners see the operation as providing fresh food for neighbors who cannot afford the prices of healthy produce at the local market. Sacrifice of time and effort is involved. Still, many gardeners may focus on composing a beautiful landscape for all to admire the human touch to creation -- and raise minds and hearts to God.
For many gardening is more than a physical exercise of choice, a hobby, a pastime; gardening is a sacrifice for family or neighbors near or far. Motivations may be mixed, but in all one can "transfigure" the landscape entrusted to us as stewards of the land. Thus, gardening can become part of a classic definition of "sacrifice," or making something holy. Not that the land was not made holy already in the blood of the lamb; now that holiness gains a new public dimension, one of formal cooperation with the Creator in effecting a new creation, a deepening of holiness that is part of a cosmic enterprise recognized by all. We are helping to bear witness to the emergence of the Kingdom of God, both by what we see and do. To create a productive and beautiful garden is to work as the heart and head and heart of God. We enter divine Mystery in some small and humble way.
In olden times, the sacrifice to God by the chosen people (or by pagans to gods) was a bloody form of sacrifice. The animals were given back to God in recognition of the holiness of the almighty and a willingness to grow in respect for the divine milieu around. However, Christ became our sacrifice and since Calvary we have been invited to participate. We enter into what Teilhard de Chardin calls the process of "divinization," occurring through human activities and passivities. We sacrifice ourselves in the manner of the Messiah's self-sacrifice for others. In so doing we participate in Christ's sacrifice through willing prayerful union.
Gardening, like caring for the sick, educating the ignorant or simply obtaining livelihood through honest work becomes part of Christ's sacrifice. All our efforts add to the emerging Kingdom of God. Attention gardeners! All of this tilling and pruning is done as part of a momentous happening performed through sweat in our humble garden. So gardening done with openness of heart and conscious collaboration with the Lord merges as a single sacrifice initiated at Calvary and continuing down through the ages.
Prayer: Lord, you invite us to see that our humble gardening efforts are responses to your invitation to grow spiritually. Teach us to touch this Earth tenderly, to feel the warmth of your love in the plant kingdom and to demonstrate that loving sacrifice extends to all creatures. Help us to encourage others to engage in simple and honest work for the benefit of all. May they see their surroundings as sacred space. Inspire us to help offer our sacrifices in common with all people who believe in the future.
February 21, 2016 Transfiguration: Foreshadowing Glory
While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. (Luke 9:29)
During this liturgical year we reflect on the Transfiguration twice: the Second Sunday of Lent in winter and August 6th in the very middle of summer. We focus on different aspects of this one episode amid Jesus' activities, for it is pivotal in his journey to Jerusalem. This event is a pause in the journey, a foretaste of glory that will come, and a moment of needed consolation. Mount Tabor is a beautiful mountain overlooking the Lake of Galilee and the fruitful rolling landscape -- though the scene of an Old Testament battle. The flowers are in bloom; the sea meets land in perfect ecological balance. Here Jesus is given a choice moment where his glory, so cloaked by human trappings, suddenly unfolds before his closest disciples. This bit of Earth radiates its Creator, a spiritual reflection of the divine in our midst, an emerging glory to eyes who see, a special sacred place in a Holy Land, and yet a place with a sacred history.
Transfiguration occurs twice: Each liturgical year the Church gives emphasis to the twofold aspect of Transfiguration: reflection on a need for consolation in time of Lent and the upcoming Calvary event, and the glory of the Lord shining amid the full foliage of summer and the sure knowledge that future glory will shine beyond the withering ignominy of the cross. The Transfiguration event is recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels and in Peter's second letter; it refreshes and foreshadows future victory.
Jesus takes the three disciples up the mountain; this harks back in time to Moses going up Mount Sinai and receiving the Law. Here Jesus stands in center stage and talks with Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet. The placement demonstrates the central role of Jesus in Salvation History; he is greater than the supreme lawgiver and the great prophet -- and the Father affirms him as the beloved son. Jesus' face is radiant and shines like the sun to which Peter's reaction is to say -- "It is good for us to be here." In current language he could say -- "Let's take a selfie;" he offers to erect a stone memorial with three tents, referring to giving the Law as commemorated in the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Transfiguration gives a sense of what comes after suffering and death. Jesus needs spiritual fortification for his upcoming suffering and death -- and shaken disciples need some grace to carry them through trials to future glory. To be transfigured is to see the radiance shining through the ordinary daily life of each of us, for hard times precede final glory. Still, Jesus cautions the disciples not to tell this event to anyone until after the passion and death for it is understood in the light of the Jesus' Resurrection.
Prayer: Lord, help us understand the Transfiguration event.
Shale on the shore of Cave Run Lake. Rowan Co., KY.
February 22, 2016 Discovering Our Consolations
Master, it is wonderful for us to be here. (Luke 9:33)
In The Divine Milieu (p. 35) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says that we should bear in mind that we are still only halfway along the road which leads to the mountain of the Transfiguration. Just as Jesus is transfigured and fully participates in the wonderful event, so do we see a better world from mountain heights while still suffering in this troubled world. As weak human beings we need our moments of consolation, and an all-provident God provides them, if we open our eyes. We are not "spiritual marines" acting tough; we need a good word, a hug, and a smile from our Gift-giver. St. Peter's words after awakening from a trance at the Transfiguration event are quoted along with the afterthought that he is confused. However, his words have deeper implications than mere offhand remarks. We can see a future glory in moments like sunshine peeking through clouds. God gives us life here and now; we are privileged to be of service with an anticipated success.
John Freda is an environmental artist in Evanston, Illinois. He regards Mount Tabor as a place of consolation. During the time of the Vietnam War, he spent five months on a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley just to the west of it. Throughout those months he felt the mountain's atmosphere and its serene peace. John strives to communicate joy and wellbeing to the viewer; in his artwork consolation can be a radiant spark to help energize others in carrying on their mission in these troubled times.
For us today, in the ordinary flow of daily life, Transfiguration is a preview of eternal glory ahead -- and to which we are participating at this moment. We are not totally futurist in an optimistic way, for we have the headaches of the present weighing on us: air and water pollution, drug use, resource depletion, financial turmoil, abortion, and on and on. We yearn for the promise of the Lily of the Mohawks when her disfigured face during life was beautified in her passing to the Lord in death. Some fail to notice precious moments and surrender to allurements that are harmful, frivolous, and utterly distracting. Others recognize transfiguring events springing up that are capitalized and shared, for these are more than individual flowers for personal picking; they are before us.
The Lord promises that our prayers are always answered. We can hardly expect to pray for miracles in times of troubles. Through prayer, we realize our own powerlessness when acting alone or when ineffective in groups; we are enabled to act and the spice of consolation keeps us going. We, like Peter, are moved through impulse to memorialize brief glimpses of glory as passive spectators at the Transfiguration. Glory be to God for dappled things -- For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow...
"Pied Beauty" by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to join in the Transfiguration and to help in giving a ray of hope to others looking for consolation.
Fritsch family at People's Climate March, September 2014. (*Photo by Stefanie Fritsch Monroe)
February 23, 2016 Eucharistic Consolation and Divine Presence
The work of Earthhealing is immense and can dispirit us if we allow it to. It involves raising and supporting families and dependents, keeping ahead on an even keel among hard times, being encouraging and upbeat during times of struggle, and being able to tackle the depressing conditions that confront us. And we are even encouraged to do more through proper adjustment of lifestyles and cooperative endeavors with others. Add to this the struggles we have with emerging personal health problems or those of loved ones.
God is the author of all consolation; the divine favor comes in individual ways and especially in our communal Communion; it involves the promised assurance that the Lord is always with us in our journey of faith. Faith in the Divine Presence extends beyond an act of liturgical consecration and includes prayers of two or more along with other sacramental actions. God tells us that the present status quo is not a permanent state; we are in transition, on our journey to God. Material comforts and medicines are insufficient; we need the comfort of sacramental life. Faith that God is with us inspires the persecuted, prisoners, the sick and refugees and a host of travelers through hair-raising experiences.
Our vital work whether active or passive during these troubled times is of utter importance. When done with fullness of faith it helps change the world -- but we must believe. When we offer our efforts up in the ultimate Communion of Jesus on Calvary, we are entering into the saving of our wounded Earth. This task is open to everyone, but especially Christians are called to be an agent of change and so by adding a sense of faith to gifts God gives us, we are empowered to become revolutionaries.
Times call for consoling moments. Our own cooperative work as members of the Body of Christ has to be empowered to a very high degree. St. Athanasius, the fourth century doctor of the Church, argues in the case of our redemption that Christ had to be divine in order to cause our divinization. The same argument could be made today in the important work we are called to do. The Eucharist has to be a Divine Presence in order for us to have the proper food and nourishment for the important work at hand. Our food is God among us, and nothing less can satisfy what we must be and do. As agents of change our food must be God.
The reality of God-with-us gives us immense consolation, a sense that we are not alone and that God affirms us amid our infirmity; our struggles to survive are never lost; rather, they make a meaningful impact on our world. We reject being self-centered survivalists isolated in a threatened world; rather, we are sharers in the struggle to save our threatened world. Our effectiveness, whether at front lines or in hospital beds, cannot be easily judged. We are consoled in trying to do our best.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for consolations of the Eucharist;
with your presence we are fortified for our journey today.
February 24, 2016 Preparing Soil Plots for Maximum Growth
Growth is in the air as each day sunlight extends and we ache to get outdoors and turn the soil, even with winter lingering on. We look ahead to soil conditions, for these combined with adequate rainfall are the ingredients of a prosperous garden this year. Caring for soil is rewarded by generous harvests.
Tillage. We need to have loosened soil for crops to grow and so the right method of cultivation (spade, plow, disk or other) is normally the method used -- though some larger farms now resort to combined herbicide treatments with associated pros and cons. For gardening, lay off herbicides and prepare to put muscle behind a spade or a Rototiller or its equivalent. Generally, root crops need deeper and looser soil than leafy ones.
Fertilizing. Now is the time to think of obtaining some composted manure or to take your own prepared materials and add to the anticipated growing space. I find this a good time to scatter wood ashes lightly on the plots and follow with tillage. It may be opportune to have soil tested to see what must also be added. Whenever organic composting material is added consider working it in very soon so as to conserve all nutrients.
Cover cropping. Really this phase is not something to decide now, but rather the previous late summer. Some cover with oats or vetch or some recommended cover crop that can be plowed under come spring. I regard cover crops of edible veggies as having an effect if and when going to seed in the spring they can be cultivated in to add organic material to the land. Some even use radishes or other fast growing vegetation as a organic additive. The land with sufficient organic material will hold moisture better during the growing years and preserves looseness spoken of with tillage. Some rest soil through a cover crop that lasts an entire year.
Mulching. We need to consider protection in summer and so mulching of growing veggies is important. Some leafy crops can act as a living mulch. In other cases, cloth can serve as a protection against harsh weather in winter or summer. Depending on time of year and microclimates, a good organic mulch of various materials need to be inserted at a time of planting or immediately after. This holds in needed moisture and protects against weeds as well. Think ahead as to what to use and where the supply can be obtained.
Watering. Think ahead about water needs during the coming growing season. This may be a time to obtain a rain barrel for collecting runoff from a garage or other building. For larger gardens the notion of a cistern either under or above ground, should be a good option. Again, using rainwater in contrast to treated and chlorinated urban water is a major added benefit. Mulch and addition of water at the point of plant root zones are practices worth considering before the dry season commences.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to respect the soil entrusted to us.
Freshly-harvested garlic. (*Photo by GardenClub2011, Creative Commons.)
February 25, 2016 What is Likeable about Garlic?
What are those green shoots we see peeping up at us when the snow clears. Why it is that virtually global herbage Allium sativum, the "stinking rose." Well, there are wild and uncultivated varieties that many folks swear by; they are close relatives of lilies and onions. In this February in temperate parts of the world we see green shoots as one of the first signs of new life. In my youth when we operated a dairy, it was difficult to keep cows from eating these new shoots and scenting the milk.
Russians and many others realize the value of picking garlic tops and flavoring dishes -- and I try wild garlic spears in late winter. I prefer picking blades from the new cultivated garlic sprouting from the summer garden garlic "scapes" or top seeding bulbs I grow in my herbal plot. Gathering garlic in February is possible when winter landscape opens. The pungent cloves, the sub-sections of the underground, have a special taste that actually more people commonly like than any other edible.
In garlic we find common cause, whether shoots or bulbs, whether gentle flavor or strongly scented. We have to peel the outer bulb skin and cut and crush for a variety of culinary delights. The ingested garlic when metabolized releases a chemical, allyl methyl sulfide (AMS), that affects the breath and sweat for a period of time after being ingested. For those not eating garlic this becomes an unpleasant burden that garlic lovers seek to alleviate by fresh parsley, mouth washes and the urging of companions to join in garlic dishes.
And wild garlic is found all over the planet, with the exception of Arctic regions. Certainly it's found in every lawn. Thus it is better known than virtually any other plant through its ubiquitousness. Garlic is a perennial; garlic is loved; garlic is claimed to have many beneficial effects besides its culinary uses. Medicinally, garlic is almost as popular as ginseng when taken fresh and uncooked. Galen called garlic the "cure-all." It has been regarded as an antibiotic and a remedy for fungal infections, digestive disorders, chest problems, yeast infections, atherosclerosis, thrombosis, and hypertension to name but a few. Also, some regard garlic as a way to regulate blood sugar levels. But many of the claims are disputed, including the reduction of bad cholesterol (LDL). Garlic is thought to aid folks of all ages and to keep the blood flowing and the conduits open.
With chemical certitude we know that garlic contains many healthy ingredients such as Vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), and Vitamin C, along with traces of selenium, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus and other ingredients. Often people use garlic as a low-cost dietary supplement, even while it has its anti-social effects already mentioned. No wonder various cultures consider this humble plant as a way to ward off evil spirits.
Prayer: Lord, may we all share the good things of life.
Carefully camouflaged American woodcock, Scolopax minor.
February 26, 2016Parousia: Is it Coming Soon?
Quite frequently in the middle of social conflicts being battled today on abortion, same sex marriage and other issues, conservative voices speak of the "end of times." That is the Christian belief that at a given time (known only to God) the world as we know it will come to an end and eternal life will start in a definitive manner after general judgment. At various periods in history some, thinking themselves gods, make predictions that have failed. Is this heightened expectation of the "Parousia" or arrival of the Lord at the end proximate in our lifetimes?
The Parousia is an event awaited by the Christian community of faith and becomes a moment of faith just beyond the horizon -- but whether rapid or slow in coming is disputed. For the impatient it is too slow and so they pray "Come Lord Jesus!" For others, the expectation diminishes since there is so much to be done in one's individual life and that of the broader community. Will this event happen in our short individual life span with its calamities? Migration of immense numbers of refugees and economically inclined individuals from lands of conflict along with ISIS and a systemic evil that lurks in the hearts of certain belligerents bring on heightened expectations. An inability of people to share resources or for some to be concerned about conditions only adds to religious fervor for the end to come soon.
I personally believe the end is coming "soon," but in the four billion years of earthly existence a thousand years is but a moment. Will it be today or centuries away? My intuition says it is "before" us whatever that means. However, some who expect an immediate coming will refrain from necessary work of preparing for it. Talk about the end should not distract us from putting all our efforts with God's help in hastening the day of the coming of the Lord. On that day the heavens will open and the Lord will come in glory to judge the living and dead.
My belief is that somehow this Earth will be involved and thus our marks of good or evil will be evident as the marks of the cross are on the resurrected Jesus' body. A New Earth may bear the wounds of pollution and still can be glorified. But we cannot sit back and wait, for St. Paul tells us that this is not proper. Expectancy, if not overdone, may be matched today by Christians who refute secular selfishness and greed. How should a feeling of closeness of Parousia affect our actions today? Jesus tells us to await that day with vigilance and a certain expectancy, but to continue doing the good work we are doing. This sense of watchfulness means we cannot be reluctant about sharing essentials and creating systems that are just to all. St. Peter says the delay in coming is due to the mercy of God who gives us time to treat our fellow creatures with justice and charity. We always have more work to do.
Prayer: Come Lord Jesus! Do not delay for we grow in anticipation of your mighty power so needed now.
Fossils in "Lexington" limestone, Middle Ordovician in age.
February 27, 2016Saying Goodbye to Fossil Fuels
Don't let me fool you; fossil fuels will be around long after we are gone. It is just that we ought to hasten the day of their demise and, on a positive note, usher in the age of renewable energy. These reflections have spent much time promoting wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and hydro. Yes, we strive to be more positive in our environmental programs. But shouldn't we spend some time campaigning to weaken the deadening hold of fossil fuels on our world? Aren't their pollutants hastening climate change and shortening the lives of many? Besides supporting renewable energy, here are six specific, but not exhaustive, ways to be effective:
* Promoting energy efficiency -- We know we should reduce use of fossil fuels in every way for both domestic economic and environmental reasons. How often do we leave electronic devices on when they and the lights could be cut off? Do we challenge friends and relatives to become more energy efficient? Let's extend energy conservation awareness to reduced private auto use and insulation in homes heated with gas and oil, along with other lifestyle changes; let these be part of a multi-phase program that can say farewell to fossil fuels;
* Petitioninglegislators -- Pressure Congress members to eliminate perks still going to oil and coal companies and to transfer favors to the struggling renewable energy areas;
* Confronting political candidates -- This is high primary season and when crossing paths with aspiring leaders quiz them about their fossil fuel biases. Make them declare themselves in favor of reducing climate change and make public how they will vote on renewable energy issues;
* Joining anti-fracking advocates -- No one should regard the emphasis in this country on fracking for natural gas and oil as a long-term good practice. This just prolongs the fossil fuel age and must be challenged at every opportunity possible. Some are making efforts to expose fracking pollution -- and new and stronger regulations are necessary at both state and federal levels;
* Targeting pro-life groups -- These rather active groups need to expand their outlooks from human life issues of birth and death to include the environment. Saving the vitality of our Earth is the ultimate pro-life issue; and
* Supporting divestment campaigns -- This is the prime time to target your affiliated institutions (universities, pension funds, etc.) to remove stocks from fossil fuel industries. As a non-capitalist I do not stress this action too heavily, and yet I concede it may have a long-term salutary effect of reducing the value of fossil fuel stocks.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to see the damage that fossil fuels cause and to determine to work for their reduced use and demise.
Blades of grass, appearing through winter forest floor.
February 28, 2016 Willing to Converse with Strangers
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink.' (John 4:7)
Jesus' chance meeting with the nameless Samaritan woman is an encounter with a simple "drawer" of water. Jesus' request breaks the routine of the woman's life, which is forever changed. Of all the conversations in Scripture, this is perhaps the most extraordinry. Jesus is willing to confront individuals and cultures; he and the disciples do not avoid the road detour so often taken by Galileans to skirt the hostile Samaritan territory; instead, they travel straight through Samaria; he asks water of a local resident and a woman at that. He tells her all about herself by a direct provocation, "Go and call your husband." Many would like to soften the exchange because our culture does not allow such intrusion. However, Jesus is gentle, earnest, and loving; he reminds the woman that she is right in saying she has no husband, for she has had five, but the one she is with is not her husband. The woman's honest acknowledgment and receptivity is astounding.
Jesus responds that if she knew him, she would have asked for living water that he could give. Jesus is also frank about personal religious differences. God is spirit and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Jesus is forthright and seeks to communicate -- a thirst for souls. This goes beyond a physical desire for water to a spiritual desire to bring souls to God. Jesus is living water; he is the source of all graces through which we act and so he is the wellspring of our lives. We learn that the waters of Baptism are meant to be a manifestation of freshness and the way to come to the divine life. Give me some of that water so that I will never get thirsty is the request of the woman at the well (John 4:15).
The continuation of the story within a story involves the disciples who return speechless that Jesus is conversing with a Samaritan woman, and they express this openly. They urge Jesus to eat, but he confronts them because the work of spreading the word is present; his zeal causes him to lose appetite before a vision of the field ripe for harvest.
The broader community is also confronted. The woman at the well becomes the first missionary, taking the Good News to others in her village in such a convincing fashion that they come to see Jesus. She raises an issue that confronts future missionaries and their unworthiness to present the message fully. Regardless of her low status in their midst, villagers come to see for themselves; they are drawn to her new-found enthusiasm on seeing the long-awaited Messiah. The Good News is spoken, heard, and repeated by taking the word to others. Furthermore, Jesus accepts the villagers' invitation to stay for a length of time with them.
Prayer: Lord, help us to be open to strangers and to discover their openness to becoming receptive of the Good News.
February 29, 2016 Leap Year Day: A Gift and Opportunity
In merciful ways, God gives us the extra time which we need to accomplish the work intended. Each fourth year this Leap Year Day reminds us of the generosity of extra time. Of course this is the product of corrective calculations to bring our measuring clocks in synch with Earth's travel around the sun. Nothing is perfect and that applies to our calendar years as well, so corrections are made.
The gift of timeis a leap into gratitude. Yes it is gift, for we did not deserve to be in the first place, or deserve to live a longer life than others, or live through this day as well. We are called in gratitude for being, being around this long, and expecting to be around a little longer, even though how long is uncertain. Maybe our time spent well is a recognition of wisdom coming with the shortness of life (Psalm 90). All we have to do is look back to things which seem like yesterday, and yet they were three-quarters of a life ago. We can't retard the quickened clock.
Time flies by leaps and bounds. This is truer as we age for a child of five has to wait a fifth of a lifetime for the next Christmas and that seems never to come. Psychologically, time appears differently, whether that is of something awaited in utter anticipation or looked ahead to as an inevitable end to enjoyable mortal life. For elders who recall with distinct detail some event of younger years, the time span from that happening seems so very short; then we recall that good times fly by leaps and bounds.
Leap years come with a confused tale. Certainly February for many of us is the slowest month of the year. So we find it hanging around just too long on this last day -- but wait a minute. Looking back, this confusion occurred four years ago today and that was a short time ago. Which is it, fast time or slow time? This leads us to take a second look at how we view our time. In one sense it is not ours and is precious. We ought to treat time as a precious gift to be treated with respect. We run the risk of misuse even knowing we have to occasionally "kill time" (have unscheduled periods) for our health and welfare.
We are to share our time. In some way time is not mine to attempt to hold and possess. To the degree that we share with others, to that degree we come to realize that God has shared the created time before us with us. Other possible beings remain only that, while we exist in this troubled period; this real time becomes a challenge to us to live with purpose and responsibility. We cannot take our time lightly, and the more we act with others the more we address waste and try a better performance. Time then becomes our opportunity to improve -- and good friends help us realize how fleeting and precious is this gift on Leap Year Day.
Prayer: Lord, you gave me this day, a time to be and enjoy being as well as sharing. Help us respect this gift and not clutch it as a greedy and disrespectful possessor.