This year is a Holy Year of Mercy and that presents a challenge -- how we can improve our sense of mercy in every connection: family, neighbors, local and distant citizens, and to a wider family on this planet; this extends to local and distant plants and animals, to the planetary creatures, and to the total environment. Let's not forget that we must be merciful to ourselves, for we ought to be watchful of our personal health and consuming attitudes of ordinary life. God's mercy needs to be ours; let this be expressed in the respect we show everyone.
Hedera Helix, evergreen delight, always looking up to higher climes, ornamental of walls and barriers, stately showcase for all to see, social climber among the herbage, and all envy your costly Ivy League.
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January 1, 2016 New Year's Starting Something Afresh
This Holy Year of Mercy (2016) should enhance our own reflection and self-improvement. We all need to constantly start afresh: each morning rising, each week, each month, each year. New Year's Day is a perfect time to start. However, let's not bite off more than we can handle and then begin February disheartened that resolutions are already lapsing. That is why one or two such resolutions may be sufficient and maybe a third -- but show mercy to yourself. Consider resolutions that tap into hopes, goals, talents and ambitions.
Perhaps it may help with your own resolutions that this series intends to focus on two aspects in 2016: Jesus Christ Activist (please download free from Brassica Books) and "The Spirituality of Gardening," formerly on this website. A number of reflections each month will be derived from these writings. Jesus is the model for our activism; he calls himself the vine with some awareness of grape-growing, and he is the good shepherd with sensitivity to animal care; he shows how to serve others through washing his disciples' feet. We are called to do something external -- and my suggestion is to consider gardening, either alone or with others.
We farm escapees (or exiles) would like to make gardening a year-round experience and invite all to participate, whether in spacious rural areas or more confined urban ones. Gardening is not just for others or later; it is an inviting practice here and now. We work within the limits of our time and the space at our disposal; we strive to see how this practice enhances our journey of faith. Rest more easily in knowing that gardening is for all who challenge the class distinctions between experts and inexperienced and between producers and consumers. We could fulfill part of our food needs with what we produce, and we will do this in such ways as to enhance the environment and to gain self-confidence in simpler living. Let's become gentle revolutionaries who believe in the power of starting small at the grassroots and gradually influencing others to imitate our example. What we sow will ultimately bear fruit in a broader arena.
In this spiritual journey we find that each season has its own character: spring is full of energy, summer offers endurance, autumn is right for thankfulness, and winter harbors a sense of pensiveness and longer term planning. Since gardening cuts across the distinctive seasons it takes on differences with each month of the calendar and virtually each week. Perhaps my gardening experience will not be yours, but I'm confident there are some similarities, especially in the pattern of our spiritual journeys. I invite you to discover your own spiritual growth through the seasons by means of domestic gardening.
Prayer: Lord, give us the perseverance to start something afresh knowing full well that you alone give us the energy to continue or outlook and resolution. Teach us to become eternal journeyers on a never ending road.
January is a special time for yearly planning, though we really ought to review our activities on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. This is especially important for the environmental crisis trigger us to review our manner of acting. Pope Francis, in Laudato Si, extends the invitation to undergo conversion in our use of resources. In turn, through planning and conversion we ought to make a small part of the planet a better place, whether by a raised bed, a series of potted plants, a backyard garden, or a vacant field. Some people deny that they can change the environment, but their false humility hurts us all; others see the task ahead and yet postpone engagement or instead escape to worldly allurements.
Know what we have and maximize our impact. When it is too much for us alone, join with others in a community working group. We discover access to physical and financial resources through help of others. Sometimes in our age of materialism the more selfish folks will hoard what they have and fail to share with those in need. Part of our impact is to uncover such practices and make them known to the public for the benefit of all, for liberation involves seeing problems and beginning a healing process.
Unite with people doing similar things. I cannot do it all by myself. Working together we can maximize what are the limited resources we each have individually; together the community has a hidden dynamics that needs to be shared and combined. Coming together requires a delicate giving and taking, of immersing with respected gifts and not bending to those with oppressive powers. A federation of resources is better than a capitulation by the weaker to the stronger. For instance, environmentalists differ in talents, motivation and means of obtaining results, and thus a respect for differences is important if used collaboratively.
Talk about urgency. Those who are more lighthearted will say that there is no need to be too serious about Earthhealing matters, as though nature will automatically heal itself. Yes and no, for all too easily, climate change deniers are working to continue the status quo privileges and may oppose and belittle our efforts. We cannot tarry but must act now.
Accept limitations and make them known. The System that seems triumphant would have us believe that inability to equal the wealth of the elite is a weakness with no workable solutions. Challenge such a popular media position that is really defending the status quo and its growing inequality among the classes. We must be realistic in confronting our limitations, with an optimism that these can be overcome through cooperative action. Small increments of success are worth celebrating -- and involve our trust in God working through us. Understanding our powerlessness transformed to empowerment requires a spiritual insight that comes through prayer.
Prayer: Lord, help us to know, respect and share our limits,
and encourage others to participate.
January 3, 2016Epiphany: Establishing Firm Paths to Peace
Lift up your eyes and look round: all are assembling and coming towards you, your sons from far away and your daughters being tenderly carried. (Isaiah 60:4)
We are starting a new year and we are immersed in festivities in the twelve days of Christmas. Like the wise men we are on a journey seeking the Prince of Peace, and we need help to follow the points of enlightenment. We too carry peace offerings that are the best we can give. We are reminded that evil lurks in this real world and can weaken our resolve within the body of believers. The Magi are sincere in their efforts and God is guiding them so they do not fall into a trap; divine guidance is with us also.
Our journey of faith today is as risky (if not more so) as that at the first Christmas. These are trying times and yet ours is more than a solitary pilgrimage. We travel on the road together as a collaborative enterprise with the light of faith to guide us. The Epiphany, or manifestation of Christ, is the results of both our efforts and that of the Spirit directing us. We are called to show Jesus to an ever more secular world, and yet while few in number we intend to persist. Our goal is to reach and unite with the Lord and to offer him as Prince of Peace to a hungry world.
In this year of mercy we show mercy even to those who seek to damage or destroy our efforts. We do not condescend to imitating the cruel actions of ISIS (the so-called Islamic State): forced conversions, executions, enslavement, etc. The horror of evil frightens us and moves some to react in uncontrolled anger. We come closer to the Prince of Peace and see our need to further communication. Thus we too bear simple gifts and open hearts, the Magi of today. We too seek out answers from the knowledgeable; we are open to the leading lights of our day; we listen carefully to the Holy Spirit speaking within us and must change our paths.
As members of communities of faith we seek answers from all parties and do not pretend to have all solutions on our own. A peace must be intercultural and embrace economic and social justice in ways that are just emerging. Part of the struggle today is the lack of economic opportunities for the poor and unemployed throughout the world. Securing economic wellbeing without resorting to military power is a goal that ought to be sought in every way possible. Granted, this is quite difficult in the tangle called "Middle East Conflict." However, diplomacy is possible to some degree as we have witnessed in Iran, even amid a tremendous effort to destroy diplomatic efforts. Peace through cooperative dialog is still possible, but we must believe it will occur.
Prayer: Lord, we seek your help as ultimate Peacemaker; help us to listen to the voice of the Spirit and follow your guidance through peaceful means and without resorting to weapons of war.
Gardening involves many aspects calling for monthly focus:
* Time for attention -- take time to be involved in enhancing this particular growing area or general location, for the focus is a way of relieving stress;
* Garden Practice -- see how this seasonal reflection is characterized by a particular garden activity or emphasis that can help give variety to our lives;
* Gardening Benefit -- link each month with a known gardening benefit that applies more particularly to the season; see that produce will be forthcoming through investment in effort; * Garden expression -- discover how our resulting garden becomes a public sight that adds beauty and delight to the surrounding neighborhood; and
* Gardening is a form of praying -- offer an appropriate prayer to God at the start of each operation for the gift of land, seed and growing season.
Each month offers the gardener a particular benefit:
January -- Opportunities for year‑round physical exercise;
February -- Enhancement of our eco‑spirituality journey;
March -- Growth in psychological health through gardening;
April -- Better protection of the environment;
May -- Beautification of the landscape by gardening;
June -- Chance to practice resource conservation;
July -- Ensuring a higher quality of life;
August -- A training model for folks at the grassroots;
September -- Ways to improve family/neighbor bonding;
October -- Improvement of community and global relations;
November -- A powerful statement for social justice; and
December -- Economic benefits from growing your food.
Consider your own long-term, budding, or hopeful gardening experience. Discover opportunities for openness to God in and through gardening wherever you are. Keep good gardening notes; spend time just being present in the garden; record reflections; spread the word; and share insights with us at Earthhealing.
Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of a productive future, even as
we know all the while that you are the master of our earthly time.
January 5, 2016 Jesus Christ Activist: A Work-in-Progress
I have come to bring fire to the Earth and how I wish it were blazing already! (Luke 12:49)
As first described on December 26, 2014, our book-in-the- making on Jesus Christ is now available through Brassica Books. This can be downloaded free of charge in its digital format with an invitation to forward comments and insights for future improvements. A work-in-progress seems a propos since this theological discussion demands time for institutional peer review -- and improvements can be pointed out and facilitated through this process. Besides, the tentative approach to current publication invites others to enter the composition stages in works that are changing rapidly -- and Christian activism is catalyzed by Pope Francis' encouragement. Recall that this collaborative work could never have been possible prior to the digital revolution, where changes can be easily inserted while retaining textual integrity. Individual ideas can still be properly attributed, along with proper copyright protection. Transparency is championed and beneficial.
Action, and all the more Christian action, speaks louder than words, and Jesus who washed the feet of the Apostles calls for service through action. For the Christian this becomes the foundation for Jesus Christ-centered activism. Why free of charge when we deliberately fail to get the benefit of publicity from the world's prime book distributor, Amazon? I insist where possible to follow the wishes of Society of Jesus founder St. Ignatius Loyola, to perform our apostolic ministries free of charge. Hopefully others will follow in this emerging collaborative age and more works will be presented in such an open source fashion.
We are all called to be like Christ, and for many ordinary folks "activists" are conceived of in a somewhat disparaging manner. People think of acting before reflecting, being too forceful or irritating, being disrespectful of the status quo, or trying to make radical changes spontaneously. Surprisingly, the "Lamb of God" appears in Scripture quite aggressive: Jesus calls for a fire to be lit; Jesus cleanses the Temple and cuts short his public ministry; his activism is encouraged by the activism of his mother Mary as well (e.g., at Cana). When offering proof for his basis of ministry he presents deeds of an activistic healer, comforter, and peacemaker; this becomes a template for followers who for salvation must feed the hungry and do works of mercy.
In many ways, modern activism is countercultural, for the current economic System does not want forms of activism that call for radical change and revolution. Those who lack courage to act are bound to the claustrophobic attitudes of the status quo. Jesus calls us to service; this must take on a strongly activistic character, for Christian are agents of change.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to be activists in this critical age.
January 6, 2016 Make Pope Francis' Encyclical a Reality
Here I (Francis) want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of home which we share. (Laudato Si #13)
1. The papal encyclical, one of the longest in history, is addressed to all people and not just to Catholic bishops or people.
2. The urgency of the times demand that we give this pastoral message serious consideration, not just knowing what it says but bearing a moral duty to bring a message to all people of good will.
3. The environmental crisis, and especially the phenomenon of climate change, is of human origin and is due to overuse and misuse of fossil fuels and other resources.
4. It is our moral duty to be concerned about these present conditions. Future generations will be affected in adverse ways by our current actions. The environment is fragile and "is defenseless before the interests of a deified market" (LS # 56).
5. The poor will be most affected by climate change (low-lying urban areas, island nations, droughts in Africa). It is our responsibility to look out for our poorer brothers and sisters.
6. We must initiate a dialogue and debate among those who hold other views, especially those who deny that climate change is occurring at this time. The virtue of prudence demands such a discussion for, if mounting scientific evidence is correct, the planet's vitality is at stake.
7. Those merchants of doubt would desire that the discussion be open ended and that the status quo should continue since there is no clear consensus. However, the ploy of continuing as usual is their opportunity for profits from an unsustainable fossil fuel economy. The tools for engagements are multiple.
8. Unequal wealth and the power of concentrated wealth bother many patriotic Americans. Super wealth must not be permitted to purchase elections, unduly influence legislators and control the media. True conservatives must address the challenges before us.
9. The present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view (LS #61). The response after the financial crisis of 2007-08 did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world (LS #189). It is our duty to take up this matter as responsible citizens.
10. We need to consider individual and community conversion
from wasteful ways of acting. This touches us all.
Prayer: Lord, make us serious about current environmental conditions and resolve to do something about them.
Perhaps no issue has so enthralled me for so long in my life as the primacy of action versus that of theory -- a more academic tendency. I never believed that we start with a theory and then act; we start acting and when finding it is not perfect, we move then to theory as to why it is not. I understand in part but never perfectly accepted G.K Chesteron's "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." Yes, we do not wait until it is perfect to act but I prefer the adage modification, "Anything worth doing is worth doing better." This give us both the drive to act and that of subsequent theory for developing ways of doing things better.
Certainly reflection and action go on simultaneously. However, is this more than what comes first, chicken or egg? We are thrashing about when leaving the womb and ever since. We act because we are living; we think about how and why we procrastinate. Too often we act through intuition and justify what we do later, though we learn through others that impulsive action is hardly ever without need of improvement. However, some of us are champions of the primacy of action. In all due respect, others are slower to act and prefer to think matters through over a period of time -- but how long and in every circumstance? When action must occur ASAP, caution can become culpable and betrays a lack of courage.
While the weakness of activists is to act without sufficient reflection, still that of non-activists is to sit back and let others take risks, pretending that caution is a sign of intelligence. These are the ones who delay and deny a need, or excuse themselves for not being able to act at a given time, or are drawn away by allurements of the world. I think the weakness of the activist is better excused than that of the procrastinator or hesitant. We can never act perfectly, but if we regard our actions as worthy of reflection and improvement, then the next needed action will come with speed and greater degrees of perfection.
The question for activists is: Are you willing to reflect on how well or poorly the action went after that portion has been committed? Being willing to mull over actions is the key to good reflection, not so overcome with the need for a developed theory that no action occurs. Unfortunately, too often the motivation of good considerable antecedent reflection paralyzes the budding activist to where nothing occurs when action should be taken. In some way we must cultivate purity of heart so we can see what must be done and do it quickly when necessary. So-called intuitive behavior is not innate, but a cultivated response in which we are moved to act when needed -- so often unexpected.
Climate change issues are in the ASAP category. Those saying they need time to reflect more must be prodded to act now. Is it incomplete theory when prudence says to take needed steps today?
Prayer: Lord, overcome my hesitancy when action is needed now. Prepare our hearts to see what must occur for the benefit of all.
Unplanned garden: volunteer gourds in compost pile.
January 8, 2016 Garden Size Determination
Never bite off more than what one can chew; we can easily choke. Let each garden expansion be well considered before undertaking, whether moving from pot to a plot or the expanding of backyard to side and front lawn. Access the resources of space and personal energy and time to meet expanded garden needs. Often the advise of others proves most helpful, especially in moving to more visible locations and before the eyes of the neighborhood. What more can be handled successfully and in good grace?
Pot to plot: The vast majority of readers are pot (not marijuana) growers and so this is the first area of focus -- the small indoor gardener with some flowers and herbs moving to the great outdoors. Really one may consider an increasing number of potted plants with ease of maintenance as a primary consideration. Much more can be grown well in winter such as leafy greens as well as extending herbs from a handful to a dozen or more. Sometimes attention will soon turn to spring plants and so selection, sowing, and thinning will take up time. You may have only a small external plot to transfer potted plantings during the "growing season."
Backyardto side or front areas. Exterior domestic gardening can become a public statement and worthy of defending to all who happen to observe. A backyard is less visible, and so mistakes are minimized; moving to more visible side or front locations demands courage and more exacting gardening methods. While it is estimated that more than half of Americans have yard space, still some of this land is too shady or occupied to warrant vegetable growing. However, a little creativity can open such areas to further development, for fences can be used to grow vine materials (beans, cucumbers, etc.) and lattices attached to outbuildings. An often overlooked impediment are neighborhood regulations on uniform lawn care. To overcome such powerful peer pressure it may take nerve, extra social interaction and proving that gardening areas can beautify a neighborhood and improve property value.
Gardening beyond the domestic scene. Some of us are caught by lack of space to expand at home and thus want to garden in other available space, e.g. a nearby vacant lot, a neighbor's yard, a churchyard, unused portions of a cemetery or farmland, land set aside for future development, or institutional land that could be rented, leased or donated for gardening purposes. Often rural areas have more excess land that could be cultivated; however, urban areas are often blessed with alert advocates willing to find even roofs that could be turned into greenspace, and that means more than lawn grass. Brownfields (ex-industrial sites) may be available but will require some extensive remediation and new soil cover.
Prayer: Lord, we are often called to expand our efforts for our own and others' benefits. If extended gardening is our calling, help us to list the advantages and be open to added work requirements on our part; help us to enlist the help of others.
Selection of the year's garden varieties can be made far too quickly. Recall that rotation from year to year is needed to control pests and for soil health. Put time into 2016 selections.
* Desirability -- The most important factor is what do folks like to eat? People do not want to plant varieties that will not be used or have a detrimental effect on other plants. I ceased raising gourds in my gardens when I found they could flavor adjoining members of the squash family.
* Soil -- What can and cannot grow on a particular piece of land? Some varieties have difficulties. Soil improvement may include addition of sawdust, sand, humus materials or fertilizer.
* Microclimate -- General climate zones are found in most gardening books and these are helpful in seed selection. However, we recognize local microclimates because there are great differences depending on which side of a hill a garden is located, whether on high ground or river bottom and how near it is to forested areas. Some regions experience early or late frosts and these determine selection of certain varieties.
* Space and placement -- Some vegetables take more space to grow (land area) such as pumpkins or corn. An economy of space may limit how much of such crops are grown. Some vegetables are tall and some squat. Put taller growing plants (corn, Jerusalem artichokes, caster beans or sunflowers) or those growing on trellises on the northern side so as not block the sun from lower growing vegetables.
* Amount of sun -- A major determinant is how much sun falls on a particular site throughout the year. Insolation on a given site or portion of a site can be established by the use of a handy particular instrument (solarpathfinder.com). Some plants are shade tolerant and some are not.
* Excess produce --It may be the selection results in more than a taste for the season. Peppers may be plentiful. Think ahead just how you plan to preserve or give away produce that others will accept and appreciate.
* Faster growing varieties -- Omit planting slow‑growing plants when the hope is to have two crops in a single growing year. Parsnips, peanuts, and salsify grow quite slowly, but some can be interplanted with ease. Spring greens planted in between rows of peanuts can be harvested before the space is needed by the peanuts.
* Changing landscape -- The gardener/artist knows that design is necessary to execute a mind's eye vision onto stone or canvas or a longer blooming landscape. The garden becomes our canvas and, through pictures taken at a definite location for each of the growing months, the gardener as artist draws a blueprint of the coming season. An alert artist realizes that successions of flowers are needed to fill in gaps when others die back or when some fail to produce anticipated blossoms.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see the treasure of so many plants, to see the benefits of each, and to select wisely what we intend to give attention to this season.
I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people.
(Isaiah 42: 1-7)
Isaiah speaks of the Servant of Yahweh, and this is applied by the Church to Jesus' manifestation and preparation for public ministry. Jesus is called to a committed life of serving others, announcing justice for all people, being a light to the nations, freeing captives and confronting a repressive system. The decision to begin is the critical moment in the life of a radical activist. Jesus comes to John not because he needs purification, but because he wants to experience the lives of others in their utter humanness; they seek forgiveness of their sins, but he is sinless and yet takes on others' burdens while showing mercy and love.
John the Baptist, a humble prophet and activist of the times, is led by the Spirit to perform a public act of piety through baptizing. He is called to prepare the way of the Lord, the coming of the Messiah. He chooses a wilderness habitat, simple clothing and food, and a life of austerity that draws disciples to his side. Most likely his lifestyle is associated with that of Qumran, as recent scholarship has unearthed. John gathered disciples and becomes popular for his direct preaching. However, with Jesus coming on the scene, John regards himself as unworthy, prefiguring our own unworthiness to the awesome task ahead of us.
A voice cries in the wilderness; Prepare a way for the Lord, Make his paths straight. (Matthew 3:3; Isaiah 40:3; John 1:23)
John the Baptist's prepares the way for Jesus and senses his importance, but remains unaware of Jesus' very different personality from his own. John's words and actions are retold by St. Paul, Before John ended his career he said, 'I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal' (Acts 13:25).
Jesus dissuades John's reluctance to perform the ceremony in these words, Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands (Matthew 3:15). This is a major preparatory act for ushering in the Messianic era and formally launches the ministry of Jesus -- and John shows hesitancy. As Jesus comes up out of the water the second epiphany occurs (last Sunday was the first) with the dove and words, This is my son the beloved; my favor rests on him (3:17). Jesus starts his journey, one ushering in mighty works of making humanity whole again and close to God.
Jesus' calling to active ministry is a public act with many witnesses present, even though they lack understanding of the significance of this event. All this occurs on the banks of the rushing Jordan River when the spring tide is high from the snow-melt of Mount Hebron. The rapidly flowing water announces the coming of the Spirit now hovering in the form of a dove.
Prayer: Lord, show us the profound calling of our Baptism.
God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race, and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our world ambitions; we must be self-retrained, and live good and religious lives in this present world... (Titus 2:11-12)
Our Baptism is the most important event beyond birth and death in our lives. In some cases it occurs later in adult life, but in us cradle Christians it is a particular dramatic event. The infant's sheer receptivity stands out for viewing, along with the hopes of baptized parents, sponsors and friends. This is to be the start of a new life on a highly spiritual plane. We have great hopes for each candidate, thus begging God for the grace that they follow in a faithful manner. Some little ones react to the waters of baptism with a startled look, others with a cry, and some with a smile that gives us all joy. Even those with a full-throated cry make us hope that they proclaim God's word with courage throughout their lives.
Many of us do not recall or determine the exact date of our baptism; yet this is the most profound occasion in our lives. We enter into the Family of God in a very special way in a process called divinization, that is, becoming godly in a special manner (see day after tomorrow). Obviously, we were not present at the drama of Jesus' baptism, but we do experience other people's Baptisms that harken us back to the shores of the Jordan. Our baptisms become the foundations on which are manifested God's privileges to us as part of the divine family in which we can now perform great deeds. They are energetic beginnings to promising lives ahead, whether short- or long-lived.
Our Baptism washes away the stain of sin and bestows new life on us, thus preparing us to be bearers of Good News. Baptism is a launching pad that harnesses the unique talents and aspirations of each of us. How we respond over time adds much to the importance of the event itself. Our noble state of life comes with solemn vows, for every Christian is vowed in the life ahead to renounce Satan and all the allurements of the Evil One. Living this out requires a growing faith fed by sacramental life. Still, journey specifics are both active and somewhat hidden; the way is long and we can falter, forgetting the nobility of the baptismal calling.
In growing in age and wisdom we find ourselves in need of God's grace and return to the proper journey. We learn ways to conserve our limited resources -- when we sleep, eat, exercise, work, pray, and relax. However, the extraordinary nature of Baptism startles us; we want to be more like Jesus who spends his earthly ministry doing good for all. Baptism comes but once, an event demanding constant recall and celebration.
Prayer: Lord, in reflecting on the Gospel of Sunday, we discover that our own Baptism events are worthy of gratitude in both word and deed.
January 12, 2016 We Are Called to Do Great and Cosmic Deeds
I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater worksbecause I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
Some would say that the Christian sense of being powerless when acting alone is a wrong attitude and perhaps secularists will have a field day. However, it is the "alone" portion that should be the point of contention, not the powerlessness. While the lonely may see little that can be done in a materialistic world when striking by themselves, still each person can make a choice that is empowering: she or he can have faith in Jesus and in doing so be on the road to doing great deeds. Part of that road is the Baptism event that we have just mentioned yesterday. In and through our Baptism we enter into the divine family.
A Journey of Faith. We Christians are a body of believers who mutually share in the process of becoming one with the Lord. This coming together is initiated in Baptism, but involves fulfillment through our whole life in and through reception of the Eucharist. We cannot do much alone, but with others we can do great things as members of the Body of Christ. We gather and witness the event of consecrating bread and wine into the Lord's Body and Blood. Pope Francis reaffirms this act of cosmic love: "Yes cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world"(LS #236 quoting John Paul II Ecclesia de Eucharistia #438).
A Transformation. We enter into the Body of the Lord; thus, the spiritual event occurs once more when Calvary is made ever present and we are there. This spiritual transformation is so immense that only God can be the food and energy we need to carry on. This is not a mere symbolic action; it is something profoundly real and spiritual, yielding an empowerment to perform future works of greatness. Today, more than in any previous age, we are called to help save our wounded planet. This can only be done in and through the saving work of Christ on Calvary, now extended in space and time. This is the Mystery of Faith that includes us in the action -- and so we must fully participate. Our lack of faith delays the outcome; our fullness of faith accelerates the coming event. We partner through action in God's magnificent work.
Great Deeds. Our working with the Lord is to give glory to God, and so we help in the re-creation process. In past ages many were fearful of material things -- and we still fear thunder and lightning. But matter even when powerful, is created for good and we must respect and enhance that good. Jesus perhaps healed a hundred lepers; modern medicine has essentially eliminated leprosy, a development in lands steeped in the Eucharist -- a great deed. Shut-ins with a deep sense of faith can be powerful partners in the work of saving our wounded Earth. Let's join with them.
Prayer: Lord, fashion us into cosmic actors and actresses.
In making these gifts, God has given us the guarantee of something very great and wonderful to come: through them you will be able to share the divine nature... (II Peter 1:4)
Humanity is in the process of evolving and rising to the promise of greatness provided we exercise our willingness to respond to opportunities before us. A future calls out to become something greater, to rise above the current level, and to take on a more godly character expressed through love and mercy. In and through our Baptism this is a participation in the Divine Family, a promise open to all believers. It is this call to which we are moving in the divine plan surpassing any naturalistic dreams; secular forces left on their own or under influence of the Evil One would lead this wounded world to utter desolation and destruction. We are called to glorify it.
The nobility of this calling avoids a spirituality that sees us as a small part of the great web of life or of all the vast cosmic universe. Materially, we are so small -- but really are we? We have a spirit that reaches out in time to eternity, for we exist within the web of God's plan. From early Christianity (see quote from St. Peter) we see the promise as members of the divine family. In a rather shocking fashion, fourth-century Eastern Doctor of the Church St. Athanasius of Alexandria says, "The Son of God became man so that we might become god" (small letter "g").
This sharing in the divine nature through the sacrament of Baptism is an overwhelming gift. Furthermore, Athanasius argues that Jesus has to be divine in order to cause our divinization; he proceeds to make clear distinctions in the controversy with Arians, who held Jesus was not divine. The modern secularist are modern day Arians who see Jesus as a wonderful person but not divine; they are confronted by inherent limitations.
God gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature... For this reason, those in whom the Spirit divinized... (quoting St. Athanasius in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1988). Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body (#1997). It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism (#1999).
Note: the term divinization is not to be confused with divination, or recourse to Satan or all forms of sorcery in which one attempts to tame occult powers so as to have a supernatural power over others -- a false notion of greatness.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to venture to dreams of greatness and at the same time to understand that we are empowered to go beyond dreams to godly acts worthy of members of Christ's body.
January 14, 2016 Black Lives Matter: A Touchy Issue
As we approach the birthday tomorrow of Dr. Martin Luther King, we ought to give attention to a racial issue of policing within the black community -- a focus of recent months. Honestly, as a white person in the past year I first found this focus on the conditions of black folks (Black Lives Matter) as disconcerting: in one instance, it is a welcoming trend because deaths at the hands of policemen seem more related to race than we would like; on the other hand, I do agree with social justice advocates who say "all" lives matter, not just black ones. Nonetheless, let's weigh these two attitudes, for they both have merit.
First, on a racially charged note, media events involving white victims seem to get greater attention then to black victims. This is truly unfortunate. The same may be said about the American prison system, where many of us with any contact with correctional institutions have seen numbers of black (and Hispanic) inmates far out of proportion to the population. Many prisoners simply should not be there and with proper legal representation would not be. We have emphasized that more black young males are incarcerated (and lacking liberty) than were enslaved prior to the close of the Civil War. Our black brothers and sisters deserve fair treatment.
Second, we hasten and say that all lives (black, white, yellow and brown) matter and hopefully to the same degree. We must acknowledge that if victims are relatives or neighbors we would be more affected and our grief perhaps greater. That is simply a normal reaction. But ideally any mistreatment of an individual of whatever race or color should trigger the same reaction. Yes, all lives matter and we all must affirm it. This takes a special reflection on each of our parts. We come with certain prejudices that are difficult to remove and saying that ideally everyone matters does not give special attention to those who are hurt more often. Some have been singled out for profiling and it is wrong.
A final note: in the push to get "black lives matter" to the forefront, this should never be done to the sacrifice of freedom of speech. Invited guests have a right to address an assembled audience without fear of being intimidated. Crowding out free speech to get a point across has the elements of authoritarianism surfacing; this deserves correctives as much as certain policing attitudes do. In reality, the thin wall of current civility, especially in this land with far too many guns, requires a strong and motivated police force. The message to them when forced to act in split second notices is that all lives of whatever color or race matter. However, blind biases may give a slant to actions that show racial profiling. Behind this is something in much of us -- a tinge of racial bias that surfaces all too regularly in times of acute tension.
Prayer: Lord, help us to be color-blind in our preferences and still see that some groups are in need of special attention because of past prejudice against them.
Congratulations to Fr. Al, as he makes Ralph Nader's "12 People Who Made a Difference" list! Click below:
Al Fritsch. A Jesuit priest and PhD, Al Fritsch was the environmental consultant at the Center for the Study of Responsive Law in Washington DC before returning to his roots in Appalachia to start the Appalachia Center for Science in the Public Interest. Using applied science and technology, Al Fritsch is a driving force for sustainability and maintaining a healthy planet.
Passive solar greenhouse. Central Kentucky, USA.
January 15, 2016 Year-Round Gardening
January involves staying close to the fire, watching snow storms from the window, cracking nuts and eating from preserved pickles and fixing soup from canned, dried, deep frozen, and even fresh greenhouse produce. It is also a time to gather greens such as Swiss chard, kale and collards from the greenhouse, cold frames, or both. Now is the time that we are confirmed that year-round gardening is a good thing, even though the late summer and autumn are the critical times to sow for winter and make this happen with success. Really this is the time to affirm year-round gardening as a goal -- and this is the one month to lay out extensive plans, especially for new selections and methods. The following may be helpful for both novices and advanced gardeners:
* Plan what crops you want to try through the cold season (let lettuce go to early spring or tomatoes to summer) and choose from an immense variety of hardy leaf varieties (collards, turnip greens, kale, mustard, Swiss Chard, etc.);
* Read up on the sub-varieties and talk to accomplished local year-round gardeners (who know what is best to grow);
* Accept plants grown by experienced folks or jot down their bits of advice and store in your gardening notebook;
* Order seeds at this time, for January is best for that exercise when the winds howl and the snow drifts swirl outside the window. Your expert friends know some favorites worth noting;
* Do initial comparative shopping by comparing a variety of catalogs from seed companies worth contacting during this month. After acquiring your favorite companies it may prove good to stay with them over time;
* Exhibit the produce of year-round gardening to those who have never ventured before to undertake gardening. Include a spoken or written explanation of how produce was grown; and
* Recall the added blessings of year-round gardening: exercise for winter months with additional ingredients of fresh air and plentiful sunlight; consider an attached solar greenhouse that give supplement heat to offset heating bills and lower climate change effects; and welcome opportunities to consider advantages of free solar heating supplement on sunny winter days.
Solar greenhouses have been discussed before (September 8, 2008), along with considerable easily available literature. References give useful hints as to site selection, construction, size, type of vegetables, insulation of, materials for and maintenance. Greenhouses may be free-standing or attached, the latter adding solar energy to domestic space on sunny winter days.
Cold frames can be inexpensive, easily erected mini-greenhouses; they can be temporary (plastic or fabric covering over hoops) or of a permanent variety. Cold frames extend the summer growing season and can cover root and leafy crops.
Prayer: Lord, teach us that spreading the Good News includes
ways to grow our winter produce.
Some people like to start their own plants; they have a control over what they grow and at far lower costs than through commercial purchases. Gardeners can be assured when sowing seeds at the proper time that these will be available when they desire to transplant. Then the economic reasons emerge as one becomes more assured, for individual plant costs mount as the major gardening expense -- and many plants are weak or are not suited to the climate. If you want to start seedlings, now is the time to start.
Pot and carton seedlings are easily sowed and cared for, once the process is regarded as winter chores. This gives the gardener something to do in the lazy month and also it is heartwarming to watch the sprouts come forth and grow virtually before one's eyes. Taking time to thin to the proper number per section is time consuming and yet an easy project. In a number of cases the thinned sprouts can embellish winter dishes.
Prime choices for seedling fall into at least three categories: those plants such as herbs that could stay in pots throughout the year, whether placed outdoors in summer or not; the early crops that in our warmer zones do not do well in springtime that turns quickly to summer; this is common with brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, etc.), along with leafy ones that need milder spring growing seasons (lettuces); and summer crops that need early start (tomatoes and peppers).
Greenhouses that have a supply of night heat in winter are perfect for starting certain seedlings. I found the solar greenhouse to be a good place to start celery and kohlrabi. It may be necessary on cold winter days or nights to cover the seedlings with a sheet of light remay or other cloth protection. Some prefer to use electric warming coils to assist in the early stages in greenhouses. It is good to furnish fresh air to circulate for brief times. Note that most cold frames do not have the concentrated heat needed for seedling starts.
Start hot beds if you have access to composting manure. The beds are really low-lying "cold frames," which are banked with horse or cow composting manure (generating warmth) placed under and around a frame that holds windows for overhead cover. My successful commercial gardener Uncle Louis used to start his beds immediately after the New Year's celebrations (January 2nd), and this became the official start of the gardening year. We also had hotbeds at home, expecting to get all our tomato and pepper plants from that source. One special key to hot bed success is to allow fresh air in the beds on warm and sunny winter days for moderate periods of time. At the end of the seedling season the frames and window covering were stored for the next year and the manure spread on certain growing areas.
Prayer: Lord, keep us working for the good of all and to find time to assist in getting the right things started on time.
January 17, 2016 Cana: Manifestation of Spiritual Empowerment
Do whatever he tells you. (John 2:5)
We are celebrating three great manifestations of the Lord on the first three consecutive Sundays of January: the star leading the Magi to Jesus, the baptism of Jesus by John, and the changing of water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana. Each is a manifestation of divine intervention. The evangelist St. John says the Cana Event is the first of Jesus' public signs and "so revealed his glory." The story is thus more than details of what happened at a wedding, though Jesus' presence gives marriage feasts a special blessing. Cana stands out as a single instance when good things just unexpectedly run out; resources may be plentiful, but not available when and where people really need them.
We can never rest satisfied that our duty is complete if we simply do not have essential resources available to people here and now. The confidence that Jesus will do something is also to apply today to us, members of the Body of Christ called to do something in a resource-inaccessible world. We can act through spiritual empowerment. The power we have in the risen Lord is not to change water into wine, but something far greater: we have the power to change wine into the blood of the Lord. This consecration and profound transformation is a process that gives hope to a doubtful world. We are suddenly able to enter into the creative power of God at work in the world. We can partake in a profound transformation, for at the Last Supper Jesus promises that we would do great things.
Our regular Eucharist is equivalent to today's Cana event: we come together to express joy, we celebrate a new bond-making event, we witness to a profound event, and we cheer on the participants. But when problems arise, we realize our limitations and look to the cooperative efforts of divine grace. But we are baptized as other christs in our world. With Mary's confidence, we can take on the role of Jesus and intervene even when we think our time is not perfect. As at the wedding feast in the divine liturgy, Christ assumes the role of groom; he is the groom of the Church and we too must accept our role of teaming with the Lord, the world must be moved to action. To answer the plea of a needy world makes this our participating cooperative mission.
Our divine liturgy is also a public event, the initiation of our ministry for a particular span of time. We give witness that immediate shortages of essential resources can be overcome in God's good grace. Just as Jesus responds to the urging of his mother to do something, we hear Mary's call to us to do something for our world in great need of the basics of life -- and to work with Christ to bring this about. The changing of wine to Christ's blood makes us participants in sacrificing for and serving others.
Prayer: Lord, help us to know when resources are needed; give us the courage to initiate a needed transformation and to have the confidence that with your help we can complete the task before us.
When we see Jesus working public miracles and know that such powers are beyond us, we still wonder how we can imitate him in what we do. Yes we can even act in celebratory ways and be quite effective. Let's loosen up and become ourselves.
Pete Seeger was a great musician and a passionate environmentalist seeking to save the Hudson River and the total environment locally and beyond. He served as an advisor on our newly created environmental center in DC. When our materials on calculating the expenditures of consumer goods were presented to him, he was frank in saying they would not be well received because they could not be popularized. Such calculations would prove a chore. Instead, he preferred a popular more celebratory type of approach through song, and in due time his environmental approach proved highly successful. It is better to sing than to calculate.
This consecration and transformation of wine into the blood of the Lord allows us to enter into a new and cosmic activity, and we do so in joy, being empowered to act within a worshipping celebration -- the Liturgy. We are God's hands and feet (creative hands and dancing feet); we are now called to perform the greater works that Jesus promised his Church would do -- and that is a liberating message. We do this with utter delight and joy, for victory is promised and achievable.
The Eucharistic celebration proceeds in much the manner of a wedding feast: we come together to express joy; we celebrate a new bond-making event; we witness a profound event; and we find cheer with Christ in our midst. The liturgy emerges at the moment when we perceive a world paralyzed by allurements and forgetful to help redistribute essential resources to those in need: they have no food or lodging; the commons are being enclosed; earth is losing its vitality through climate change. With the confidence of Mary's trust, we act as Body of Christ to help save our people and planet. As at the wedding feast, in the divine liturgy Christ becomes the party savior -- from embarrassment to success. We are part of Christ's Body performing the work he asks us to do. We are to make up all that is still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church (Colossians 1:24).
We too must act as servants and do what Jesus says. The Liturgy is a celebration and believers (as part of his Body) are able to perform a public work of importance. As Christian non-violent revolutionaries we are to change a selfish and outmoded system through the act of celebrated transformation, if we have the courage and trust that Mary had at Cana. Only Christians steeped in the Eucharist have realized a transformative act that we can do through consecrating; as Nicolas Zernov says, we no longer fear nature but can work with nature.
Prayer: Lord, help us to be celebrating activists who know that ultimate success will be achieved, and we have a role to play.
As we approach the feast of the conversion of St. Paul (January 25th) we spend nine days praying for unity among the Christian bodies. These prayers over the past century may be bearing fruit, for Christians seem more able to work together now than in times past. Numerous signs show that unity is possible.
Family of God. Our world is in trouble and a global effort among all people of good will who believe in a future are gathering through NGOs and non-profit organizations called to work together. Thus, an interreligious trend is effective. We continue to be collaborative so that the emerging system may be one of justice and fairness. Religious groups cannot be fighting, and we are more aware of this with the rise of ISIS and its warped sense of conversion to a cruel cultic belief. Furthermore, the climate change issue cuts across religious boundaries and demands total cooperation among people of different faiths.
Body of Christ. Within the Christian tradition there has been a reemphasis on Baptism and how much this initial sacrament binds all Christians in the Divine Family in a very special way. Thus, the first religious togetherness is that of Christian faith, to which all the baptized profess. This means our first calling is to pray for each other and have a special interest when persecution occurs (as it often does) against those within our community of faith. We speak of the Eastern Christians who suffer so much today in Syria and Iraq; this cuts across ancient dogmatic dividing lines. Aid such as efforts in the Catholic Near East Welfare Association goes to all Christian denominations on an equal basis. The CNEWA periodical One has monthly articles on Orthodox and other Christian groups with a shared sense of urgency. Our oneness is in prayer and mutual assistance in these times of troubles.
Growing Intercommunion. After the mutual excommunications by Catholics and Orthodox were lifted in the 1960s, we are truly one and do not yet fully realize what that means. A shared creed is of course a sign of closer unity, and so is a mutual recognition of fraternal bonds as symbolized with Pope and Eastern Patriarch coming together on numerous occasions to pray together. Unity grows and is not one dramatic event from on top; as Christian people we need to celebrate through sharing in a number of ways. On local levels churches tend to share programs on problem areas such as religious liberty, right to life and feeding the poor.
Overcoming differences. A mutual understanding by Lutherans and Catholics as to the ancient faith and works controversies have been a great step in coming closer together. Today, many denominations celebrate Christmas even with creches and shared songs and liturgical events; in America Thanksgiving is a time of inclusive services leading to a sense of unity through Baptism.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see the oneness of the human familywith ever increasing bonds of unity in mutual service.
In the United States, every four years on this winter day in the January after leap year, the national Capitol in Washington, DC is the scene of the presidential inauguration, either for the first or second time. Frankly, the expectation of this occurring a year from now has filled me with dread, for a non-ecologically inclined person may be the one being sworn in. If a Republican-dominated Congress introduces Senate Bill #1 of the current Congress that would attempt to reintroduce the XL Pipeline, then thousands of the environmentally concerned will have to fulfill their pledge of civil disobedience -- and then what will be required of us? Certainly many things can happen in twelve months, but the outcome is at this moment uncertain.
Why is the next January 20th so critical? Because much depends from now until then on how the contenders for the presidency position themselves on ecological issues. It may be pay back time for whoever wins the presidency. Will the status quo fossil fuel plutocrats have their way and expect to expand the cheap petroleum from the second largest fossil fuel field in the world in the Canadian Province of Alberta? Will the investments of Big Oil billionaires be stranded by inability to develop this sure filthy global warming product? Victory or defeat hangs on the ability of an incoming president to pass or veto such a nefarious piece of legislation as the XL Pipeline that may undoubtedly reappear. Recall that it missed passage by three votes at the 2015 vote. A trillion dollars in profit is at stake.
Much water can flow under the bridge between now and then. We will no longer have the thin black line of the Obama veto ink to defend us. Some may hope and pray that the next president has the courage and intelligence to take climate change a an global issue of which the United States is a leading model. And then we also may hope that nothing stands in the way of the decisive approaches to the Paris Climate Change Conference of two months ago. The world is on a precarious track, and we can only hope world leaders including the Pope and current President are still speaking effectively this time next year.
These are times that try our collective souls, and this American election year is proving to be a watershed, not only on environmental issues but also on immigration legislation and policies related to foreign policy and fiscal responsibility among others. Perhaps no candidate is a perfect match for policies that each voter seeks to see enacted. Hopefully the best person in an imperfect world wins. Let's pray that excessive wealth will not decide this election and that all will be able to vote. There are no easy answers, and both electorate and candidates know it. The question is where will we be on January 20th, 2016 along with what is done immediately afterwards?
Prayer: Lord, give us the intelligence and courage to make wise decisions and elect leaders who will do the same.
snow and ice-covered bench along hiking trail.
January 21, 2016 Laudato Si (LS): Franciscan AND Ignatian
The Pope named his encyclical after the opening words of Saint Francis' Canticle of the Creatures, "Praise be to you, my Lord." This is obviously within the spirit of his namesake, who is also the patron of ecology. A Franciscan spirituality of love of nature and our responsibilities to all of God's creation is quite evident throughout the letter. We are reminded that the saint "invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness" (LS #12). The example of St. Francis leaving a portion of the friary garden always untouched was to be a model expression of God, the Creator of such beauty. Certainly an example of Franciscan spirituality in Laudato Si is evident, especially in the Introduction and elsewhere in a document intended for all people of good will (see LS #218).
The very inclusivity of the audience and the many references found in the encyclical from national Conferences of Bishops and other sources is clearly within the Franciscan spiritual tradition -- for St. Francis was a highly inclusive person to other people (including Moslems), animals and heavenly bodies. Furthermore, we recall that the lengthy reflection is regarded by the Pope as both joyful (in the spirit of St. Francis) and troubling (LS #246).
Delving into the roots of the Pope's own spirituality, we discover that he is equipped from his own tradition ("Ignatian," focused in The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius) to face these troubles. In fact, the discernment of such is within the best of Ignatian tradition and this practice was developed in troubling times and targeted for those discerning matters of profound choices in life. In the Pope's words, "Our goal is...to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it" LS #19). Praise, as in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, quickly leads to practical routes to action following the footsteps of Jesus' ministry, passion and resurrection. "This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of goods with which God has endowed her" (LS #2). Misdeeds come early and our need to address them runs throughout the whole document.
The manner of addressing this is in the Pope's own words, a need for change (an Ignatian concept). "Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change" (LS #202). While this is a responsibility of individuals in the basic Ignatian tradition, it has social implications for believers through "an ecological spirituality grounded in the convictions of our faith (LS #216)." "The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion" (LS #219). It is precisely this frontier social discernment that is paramount -- an issue that is a work-in-progress. Ignatian Spirituality has some points helpful for this global and faith-filled undertaking.
Prayer: Lord, lead us to proper discernment in troubled times.
The community conversion that Pope Francis speaks about in Laudato Si #219 really breaks into new ground; however, while large numbers of green-loving individuals make a difference, it is not enough. The window of opportunity is closing on remedies for climate change. A needed "discernment" entails weighing all the elements involved in a decision -- something akin to choices made by individuals involved in St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. There, individuals are free to weigh changes, be willing to understand current conditions, resolve to improve, use Jesus as a model, and pay attention to the movements of good and bad spirits. On the other hand, a social process is more difficult for sheer numbers of people involved. Prayerful collaborative efforts call for agents of change working within a body of people of good will. Unanimity is not expected, though believers must --
1. Know troubling conditions. The listing of climate change problems is proceeding quite rapidly, though a small number influenced by status quo fossil fuel and associated financial partners make it virtually impossible to achieve full consensus. However, scientific and prudential evidence makes it imperative to see the need to act ASAP. Complacency in denial, excuse and escape must be confronted early on.
2. Be open to listening. A "discernment," where the result is already known, is not a discernment but an exercise in self gratification. One must be willing to risk changing. An openness demands an atmosphere of prayer; people of faith must be willing to pray even when the greater community hesitates knowing that their prayer is powerful and promising; all should pray; some MUST pray.
3. Welcome Internet participation. An amazing opportunity exists to modify or change the existing System in order to maximize freedom and do justice to troubled local communities. Through conferencing, information gathering and sharing, petitions and communication with leaders, the poor and voiceless, the anawim of the world, are able to participate and have a voice with others. Proper discernment involves listening to all parties and being open to what all have to say.
4. Take practical first steps. Declaring Earth's sickness is a precondition; willingness to involve healing through moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy using global-type incentives and support systems as proposed by the recent Paris Climate Change Conference is an affirming start. Nations, regions and local groupings can take steps to invest resources at the locations where resource conservation is necessary. Learning from the poor means using appropriate technology as a commitment.
5. Articulate a realistic goal. The ultimate goal is to save Earth and to do so with deliberate speed which involves sacrifice.
Prayer: Lord, give us courage to act as a global community.
Congratulations to Fr. Al, as he makes Ralph Nader's "12 People Who Made a Difference" list! Click here to read.
January 23, 2016 Garden Record Keeping
Keeping records has several advantages: first it makes us aware with each day what we are doing and consider meaningful; second it is helpful in the short-term for recalling back when projects were initiated or certain events occurred; and lastly it may have longer historical meaning as part of a grander goal of one's life's work. Those who keep records are worthy of gratitude, whether they be hieroglyphics on ancient columns of stone or dusty archives in libraries for some future researcher.
Keeping garden records may be a compulsion for those of us with regular day book notations. I kept good garden records for a decade when seeking to determine how much produce could be obtained from a parking lot converted into garden space in an urban area. My current gardening is a simple showcase and source of fresh veggies each day -- and specific records are not forthcoming. However, I do champion general record keeping and do so.
Yearly records are worthwhile. Some, like my great Uncle Louis the gardener, kept exacting records (types and times of plants and yields) in red bound diary books for about forty years (about three shelf-feet of material). His was a more practical motivation for, knowing which plants were started at a given time, revealed how well the choice of seeds, planting times and weather conditions affected yields. For some, moon signs are worth recording and observing. I have come to believe they have significance.
Daily records need not be kept, especially by those who think this involves too much regimentation. One suggestion is to keep the process simple with sheets of monthly general reports or notes targeting specific vegetables and heirloom seed plantings. Times of sowing may be worth noting or more emphasis on the yields of each crop (in numbers if a small garden or in pounds if larger cropping is occurring). Make notations in a convenient place.
Mapping records are good for artistic and crop rotational information. Some design a garden so it looks beautiful to behold from a distance. Capturing this changing landscape in different months is important, and thus photo records have value for future comparison. Garden mapping may be useful for the effects of maximum production on a specific plot; this helps determine several year rotation for healthy soil conditions and for pest control.
Public records that are more or less available influence others to take their gardening seriously. Comparing these over time helps maximize yields even for small undertakings, such as backyard and roof projects. Some are taken up with companion planting, surmising that some plants are more amenable situated close to others. Records of harvests may help prove the point.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to record our activities always to help us improve in our service to you. If we find record keeping helpful we may be moved to do this for spiritual improvement.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favor. (Luke 4: 18-19)
Jesus enters the synagogue of his home town of Nazareth and in this familiar and public place makes his definitive mission statement using the words of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2). Jesus publicly announces that this text is "being fulfilled today." He lays his ministry out to hometown folks in a straightforward manner. The audience marvels at first and then changes over to a mode of rejection and anger. Jesus' message, as we will see next week, was one of going beyond the narrow outlook of his neighbors; he is moving out to a broader world in mission.
Liberation occurring over centuries tries the patience of many of us. The impatient who want Jesus to be a fighting Messiah, do not fathom God's plan; nor do Christians completely involved with personal salvation; nor do those seeking the role of their community in God's saving work. The performance of a faith community takes time -- many years. A certain "liberation process" is part of knowing and following Jesus, and this extends beyond our mortal lives. Systems must change and become more just. Yes, we need to be attentive to our own liberation from imperfections; we must also be attentive to the process of freeing oppressed people.
Corporations exist at the pleasure of citizens, and they need to be instruments of liberation, not tools of oppression. When these organizations function properly, they benefit the world; however, in an age of globalization they can become a subtle form of repression going beyond the moral limits of what they are empowered to do. They can and do become at times in Pope Francis' words, "intolerable." These can be unaccountable to governments by influencing decisions about labor safety issues, fair wages and environmental conditions. If a community does not like corporate policy, the company picks up and moves to unregulated areas. In such lax times over a century ago the U.S. granted corporations the "rights" of citizens; yet not a single misbehaving corporation ever went to jail, but rather influenced legislation for new laws.
Globalization has allowed the System to get out of hand; furthermore, many multinationals are financially more powerful than the developing nation where situated. A friendly and beholden government tends to overlook and permit these powerful institutions to lobby excessively, buy and retain candidates, and get tax breaks denied the less influential portions of the population. We need to challenge the System just as Jesus does at the start of his public ministry. However, beware, for this is a risky undertaking.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to join the process of liberation and be willing to confront the nation's plutocrats.
A determined group of southern Ohio whistleblowers have worked for over two decades to expose safety conditions endured by employees at the Portsmouth Diffusion Facility in the Ohio River Valley. At the time of operation in the late twentieth century, over 3,000 workers were at the plant. Legally-mandated radiation dosage records at the facility are alleged to have been conveniently lost, as charged by the group (IWA). These federally mandated records were doctored by plant managers more interested in their positions than worker safety. Newspaper accounts stemming from the IWA exposes say that 70,000 Dosimeter readings were 'changed'. Now a number of the former workers have emerging cancer problems and need assistance, hoping at this time for governmental investigation and testing of all affected workers -- a hefty expense for private operators or the Federal Government itself. Several affected workers have put their reputation and future on the line -- and this hometown case is not over yet.
Local issues such as worker safety have ways of becoming national ones, and national ones become global ones, such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre this time a year ago. In one's quest for justice it is at times necessary to take unpopular and even prophetic stances that turn out to be bigger issues than at first glance and have connections in far-flung places. Social media may enhance such issues or, since people move quickly to other issues, will soon ignore what appeared in headlines a short time before. Prophets speak once and then again and again.
Critics strive to undercut the whistleblower or prophetic witnesses by charging these persons with compromising motivations, or trap them with perceived or rumored past indiscretions. The critics may belittle the whistleblower or overlook them. The IWA has used only the most tried and true message of documentation and persuasion possible and continues for two decades to strive to get just compensation that may come to billions of dollars. Threats have been made and yet this group has the courage to continue.
Prophetic activists are led by the Spirit. In some rare cases we experience a very unusual thing. It is true that a prophetic message of persons harmed may open a can of worms for a greater number than the keeper of funds wish to address. Who is going to ultimately pay the bill? That scares the status quo to death. Recall that this only tells us that putting off worker safety issues for decades can be very costly. Certainly prophetic whistleblowers have taken immense risks; but so have workers who have seen their own lives shortened by taking on jobs with hidden harmful effects. Confrontations become part of civic duty and responsibility, and the resulting frictions are often inevitable and yet must be exposed. More power to the IWA!
Prayer: Lord, give people the courage to speak against the injustice of harm to workers; no matter how costly the truth, it
must be told and acted upon with utter tenaciousness.
January 26, 2016 Ban Fracking in Kentucky and Elsewhere
Liberation must include being free from the ill effects of a fossil fuel economy. Serious environmental reasons call for strict regulation on fracking natural gas, and have documentation as to detrimental effects from parts of America where the practice exists: loss of drinking water sources; land disturbance (e.g.,earthquakes) and loss of tourist potential; and air pollution and noise. Others counter with economic profits and national security and energy independent benefits.
The energy picture is changing rapidly in America and the world. Since 2010, the number of U.S. coal-fired powerplants have gone down by 200 from 523, and half will be gone by 2017. What is the transition fuel to replace coal? For several months for the past two years renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, hydro and biofuels) have furnished total new electricity capacity and with energy efficiency can be a feasible coal substitute. Natural gas producers claim they have the clean and cheap answer through fracking, but is it? EPA has promised and partly delivered definitive reports as to whether natural gas is more than a short-term cleaner substitute (less sulfur and nitrogen oxides, etc.). Methane, the main natural gas constituent, is twenty-four times more greenhouse effective that carbon dioxide. If gas escape rates in drilling, processing and transportation are above 2% (most likely closer to 4% or 5%) it is a longer-term dirtier alternative to coal -- and that could be pointed out by the coal industry.
Fracking retards renewable energy development. We simply must move to a renewable energy economy ASAP to save our wounded Earth --a moral imperative. Thus, we must ban any additional natural gas and oil fracking. Natural gas' presence in shale layers is no reason for extraction. Extra natural gas supplies will lead to enhanced gas exports -- and even raise domestic prices at home. This "godsend" of increased natural gas and petroleum since 2010, making the U.S. number one in fossil fuels, slows the advent of a renewable energy economy. Total renewable electricity generating capacity now approaches 15%; a possible "Manhattan Project" could make it 100% by 2030. This limits global CO2 increases and global warming to within manageable two degree C limits.
Fracking is a moral issue. New York has established a ban on fracking for environmental reasons as have many European nations. Our country needs to furnish moral leadership today on the climate change problem to pressure China, India and others to take renewables seriously. Our American fossil fuel increases may satisfy billionaire plutocrats, but these are totally unacceptable for what needs to be done for this planet. A fossil fuel economy is outdated, and striving for new sources utterly distracts from the needed renewable energy transition.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to be countercultural for the good of the planet and its people.
January 27, 2016 Ten Concrete Applications of Laudato Si
1. Read the Encyclical carefully and save for reference. This 100-page essay can be downloaded from Vatican Publications or a number of other media sites free of change.
2. Check on need for personal and domestic conversion in some fashion. Ask questions about energy conservation, use of electronic devices and air conditioning, auto and travel practices, water conservation, and use of land for growing produce. Ask also about our attitudes with respect to the current economic System.
3. Organize and attend Church gatherings or small community meetings that use the contents of Laudato Si as subject matter for discussion.
4. Engage in conversation those who are climate change deniers or neglectors. Remind them that "97%" consensus by climate scientists is closer to 99.9%, since only 5 of 24,000 peer-reviewed 2013-14 papers on the subject rejected the reality of rising global temperatures, or that human emissions are the cause.
5. Demand that affiliated institutions remove any investments from fossil fuel industries. This could set a divestment stampede.
6. Sign petitions that each politician (e.g., 2016 U.S. presidential candidate) refuse to accept donations from fossil fuel producers. This should not be regarded merely as a national or partisan issue. If the opportunity arrives, directly address the climate change issue with candidates for office.
7. Pressure legislators at the national level to transfer benefits from fossil fuel producers to those affiliated with renewable energy promotion and production. Reaffirm the need for strong environmental regulatory agencies.
8. Obtain support from leaders in the community or those at high levels; they need to publicly support climate change awareness activities and work for a better local environment.
9. Write Letters-to-the Editor for local newspapers and periodicals to the degree capable; enlist the talents of those who have good turn-of-phrase and encourage them to do the same. Public discussion is necessary today, especially after last month's Paris Climate Change Conference.
10. Defend the Pope against disparaging comments by those opposed to change. This is a moral issue and prudence calls us to speak and act. Pray that Francis is successful in getting people to change to become more environmentally conscious individuals and communities.
Prayer: Lord, help us extend our environmental consciousness
to our neighbors in community through persuasive means.
January 28, 2016 Pluses and Minuses to Lower Price of Gasoline
I cannot forget the pleasant surprise when traveling in New Jersey sixteen months ago and found gasoline at the low $3.10 per gallon rate -- the first such in several years. Well that is ancient history now as fuel plunged below that amount and continued through 2015 -- for gasoline purchasers a welcome godsend. What we have to pay for a fill-up now only cost about three quarters that amount. And for better or worse the fuel prices continue to stay lower than a few years ago (oil at $40 a barrel as of this writing). For those demanding auto travel for work or study this amounts to a major tax rebate, but is it a total good?
Higher prices generally reduce the amount of driving and thus the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For the luxury and careless auto user this only extends the fossil fuel economy. Lower fuel prices makes it easier to pay some of our bills, but it may delay the movement to a renewable energy economy when electric cars can be recharged at solar stations, all while customers, workers or students perform their daily duties. A renewable energy transportation economy is harder to visualize but not impossible: wide-scale solar recharging of efficient electric vehicles and ever more efficient batteries. An efficient and less polluting hydrogen economy emitting water vapor seems just beyond the fence.
Lower prices cost some. Nations such as Nigeria, Russia, and Iraq do not like ever lower per barrel petroleum prices, but another and larger part of the world find them highly beneficial. Only a few years back before the advent of hydraulic fracking and new discoveries, the pundits said we would be doubling gasoline prices and thus need a different economy. That brings us to the pessimists who expected increasing fuel costs to drive a transfer to a renewable economy. Certainly that economy is coming, but not at a potentially far faster pace. The biggest problem with low-cost auto fuel is that the need to change ASAP is not as relevant to the average citizen today. Let's keep the gas guzzlers from reappearing in the auto showrooms.
Fuel savings have another use. I must be honest; I like the low cost of gasoline, for fuel is a major component of my budget. However, I am willing to see advances in fuel taxes to help improve the infrastructure of a frayed public transport system. New bridges are needed, and these cost hundreds of millions of dollars. "No new taxes" when such added savings benefit all travelers is nonsense. We are talking about additional ten or so billions of dollars per year to make roads, airports, shipping channels and ports and railroads safer and more efficient. Some savings could be returned to drivers, but these higher taxes (that have not changed at the Federal level for two decades) could be a virtually effortless manner of funding our public travel facilities.
Prayer: Lord, make us mindful of the resources we have; bring us as a people to a sense of justice in how economic savings can be better spent for the good of all.
January 29, 2016 Wheelchair and Assisted Gardening
Older folks may find active conventional gardening beyond their capacity and thus need physical assistance from more able-bodied individuals in the harder portions of gardening work (preparing ground, spading, tilling or harvesting). Likewise, certain tools and methods have been developed to ease the burden for those who find it hard to move about or bend down in gardening.
Intergenerational gardening is one possibility. It is a better way than simply ceasing and saying that gardening is too hard for me at this time in life. Actually, assistance from a younger generation can be a gold mine for cooperative endeavors of spreading experience in a practical way; the elder can assist with supervising and teaching an inexperienced younger person. We are in need of transferring experience to a new generation, and so this is an ideal opportunity for intergenerational gardening -- supervised youth can acquire needed skills from experienced elders.
Raised-bed gardens, once constructed, reduces exertion by the gardener. This can be more easily done by digging around the plot and lowering the pathways while adding soil to the plot itself, to which can be also added manure and soil supplements. A raised platform is still higher and can be made from wood and elevated to where it is within reach of those not wanting to bend over. In areas of limited space, vine crops can be trained to spill over the side, even doubling extended growing space. Trellises and poles can give vertical growth dimension and assist those who harvest better while standing.
Mobility can be enhanced. Pat Brunner at Berea, Kentucky amazes friends and neighbors by an extensive highly successful garden in her backyard and other part of grounds and house. She is wheelchair-bound but that does not stop her gardening. Her platforms are of adequate size and distance to allow the wheelchair proper access for her tomatoes, beans, squash and a host of other vegetables. Her hand-held devices can pick up pots and help with the watering hose as well. Long- or short-handled hoes, pruning instruments and containers are available to gardeners.
Specific vegetables and herbs are better suited for the physically challenged. For instance, a wide variety of greens, strawberries, certain vines and root crops can be grown in such ways that the physically challenged can tend them. On the other hand, extensive crops needing much space such as corn, watermelons, cantaloupes, pumpkins or sunflowers could be left for those with broader space. Potted plants are most helpful as discussed before. However, samples of specialty crops such as okra or peppers can be grown on the platforms mentioned. Pole beans may prove problematic for those who are not versatile in harvesting; bush beans can be a good substitute.
Prayer: Lord, help us overcome obstacles and always to serve you and others through innovative means.
Snow pellets on the last of autumn's leaves.
January 30, 2016The Gardener's Gentle Wish
As our first month of 2016 closes let's recall that both the two works Jesus Christ Activist and TheSpirituality of Gardening are double features this year. Jesus calls us to great deeds, not to simple and small ones, but by following him closely we can save our wounded Earth. Our manner of doing this is twofold. We can participate in petitioning and organizing in ways that include others in a social milieu with collaborative efforts; at the same time we can be domestically and locally focused on our own potted plants and yard space. To act in determined ways to beautify and fructify our wounded Earth gives us the vitality to move on to greater deeds in healing our wounded planet.
This is a commitment to collaborative effort; it is a spiritual movement with a deepening theological content, namely, how are we involved in saving the Earth? The simplicity of gardening fools some of the intellectual elite, for they believe in the primacy of thought and extended reflection. Here we restate what we said at the beginning of the month: we must be actively involved in the earthhealing process -- and gardening is a simple and readily available method; through the limitations of our activities we are moved to pondering and even looking for motivation through deeper theological understanding.
Gardening can become a prayer. Through this activity we become closer to our companion Jesus, lest we stumble and fall. We deeper hearts of love and go out in social ways to our brothers and sisters who need our assistance. Furthermore, our physical and spiritual health is a gift that we appreciate all the more when we see those who suffer from illness. The enhanced physical and psychological health coming from gardening gives us the added energy it takes to serve others. By improving our little part of the total world environment we are more willing to think about and support the improvement of a troubled world.
Prayer: Oh, Provident One, You see our limitations with kindly eyes of mercy. You know our need for daily exercise so that we can acquire and retain positive attitudes about life. You prompt us to pace ourselves, to keep active and well-balanced, especially as we advance in years and are challenged by health problems. You want us to be uplifted by daily progress and prod us to discover new ways of personal refreshment through daily physical exercise. You are the Energy and Health Giver of our souls and we need to acknowledge this as best we can.
They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town. (Luke 4:30)
Jesus comes into the public arena, proclaims Good News, and demands an affirmative response, a "yes, not a "perhaps." But fence sitters can become uncomfortable and even hostile. The Good News is a lightning strike starting a conflagration. For the local hearers of Nazareth, Jesus is expected to say pleasant things and allow his fame to profit them. They hear, but do not listen. Jesus' message goes beyond them -- and Israel for that matter. He mentions Elijah being sent to a foreigner, the widow of Zarephath; in the time of Elisha a foreign Syrian (Naaman) was the one healed. The message means prophets have a broader message than that just for local folks. Some get angry to the point of killing Jesus.
The message is difficult for those closest to prophets and for others a small distance away. Jesus evokes hostility that grows in intensity as he approaches the seat of political and religious power -- Jerusalem. His herald, John the Baptist, is first imprisoned and then killed; the scribes and pharisees shadow him, ask questions, show discontent with his healing on the Sabbath, question those with whom he associates, point out the failures of conduct of his disciples, and do not like his close association with his heavenly Father. They try to trip him up about allegiance to Caesar; they attempt to place him into one or other factional camp; they conspire to weaken his ministry, and yet Jesus responds forthrightly and without mincing words.
Jesus tells his disciples that if some hearers reject the Good News, to shake dust from their feet and move on elsewhere. Don't waste time, for others are willing; don't argue and demand a hearing, for one must freely be willing to communicate. False prophets will attempt to force conversion, but that is not our Christian approach. Rather, we offer the Good News in an atmosphere of freedom, for God freely comes and gives us grace. We are called to freely respond. As other christs we deliver a message of freedom to those who receive it openly in a spiritually hungry world. Like Jesus, we desire to start from a home base -- and yet many fail to receive the message. Are we surprised?
Moving on may not mean fixating our delivery style; we learn lessons through outright rejection. We may be partly or totally at fault in the way we present the Good News. We can improve and here, ongoing prayer and discernment are most useful. Our time is short and our talents limited, but the Spirit helps us in what to say and how to act. Perhaps this becomes more than an individualized message in an age of social media. We can learn to work with others in refining our message and delivery methods. There's competition out there for attention and others help us address these circumstances. Let's listen to them.
Prayer: Lord, help us expect rejection and still have the enthusiasm needed to carry on our mission of bringing Good News.