ON DATE BELOW TO READ
Copyright © 2006 by Al Fritsch
Iris verna, dwarf
Red River Gorge, Wolfe Co., Kentucky
Photos on this page by: Janet Powell
In my youth, June was always one of my favorite months because it
launched the summer vacation season. Not that "vacation" meant that
much for June was one of the busiest farming months of the year:
haying, planting and cultivating tobacco, gardening, tilling corn,
picking early fruit and berries, tending cows with calves, and a
host of other things. June brings on the fresh produce:
cucumbers, cabbage, new potatoes, beets, blackcap (raspberries), and
strawberries. It is the month of bounty with a sure sense that more
produce is to follow. Some of June's fascination rested in its being
the end of spring and the start of summer with the longest day of
the year near June 21st. This month brought the roar of the thunder
storm, the welcome rain, the steamy humidity of summer, and all the
pleasures and annoyances of that season. June launched the long
Pentecost season and the red of the vestments and deeper seasonal
colors retired the lighter shades of springtime. Even the red
poppies, roses, peonies, scarlet sage and other cultivated plants
blended with the black-eyed Susans to give a sense of summer being
here to stay -- which was always misleading, for it too would fade
in a few months like all seasons.
June 1, 2006 Celebrate Appalachia
This region is better known in the rest of the United States
for its impoverishment, surface mines, and drug overdosing than for
its friendly people, beautiful landscape, and fine practices of
caring and hospitality. In some ways, the negative aspects are
known all over the world. Prince Philip asked me at the dedication
of the National Cathedral environmental facade in 1990, "Do they
still have stills in Appalachia?" My answer was "a few but they
are quite rare." What I didn't say to him was that moonshining is
not nearly as lucrative for the folks here as is growing marijuana,
and so the economy has shifted in recent decades from one
illegality to another. Having said this, I should point out that
the positive aspects of our region are worth emphasizing and
celebrating. When people get dejected by some of the depressing
conditions of the region, one approach is to list all the positive
things that can be celebrated. Here is a partial listing:
* People in the mountains have indigenous music and dance that
have been present since the start of white settlement. This
tradition of celebration is quite rich in variety and style and
extends into homecomings and festivals throughout the region;
* Appalachian crafts and arts are quite varied and include
woodworking, corn shuck dolls, patchquilts, pottery, and other art
forms, many of them primitive art of an imaginative style and
depth. Often the crafter has much time in winter to develop skills
and finished-products to sell during the festival season.
* Storytelling is an accomplished art in areas where the oral
tradition has been strong. Appalachian stories can be most
imaginative and entertaining and are featured at important events.
* Love of land and extended families in given locations and
communities is quite strong. Many folks who leave for work
elsewhere will return faithfully year after year because of the
deep attachment for the place of origin and its people.
* Hospitality is one of the major assets of the region.
People show this to strangers with a willingness to assist those
who are in trouble. One of the most erroneous misconceptions about
mountain people is that they are hostile to outsiders. That is
simply not the case.
* Scenery is still one of the region's greatest assets. See
Eco-tourism in Appalachia. The region has incredible scenic
resources such as rivers and valleys, mountains, lakes, rock
formations, and wildlife areas.
* Native plants and animals are Appalachian treasures. They
include abundant wildlife, numerous wildflowers, a hundred types of
native trees and over two hundred resident or migratory birds. The
mixed mesophythic forest is regarded as the world's oldest and most
varied temperate hardwood forest -- and worth celebrating.
2, 2006 Nuclear Power in Peace and War
Is Iran now on the U.S. administration's preventive war list
of nations to be assaulted? Is the Middle Eastern conflict
inevitably going to spread to more and more areas? Will the
conflict be contained or is Iran the domino next to fall to
increased aggressive militarism? How much is this a pressure by
Israel, which the president of Iran would like to see disappear?
Is the final solution using nuclear weapons as bunker busters?
These questions raise a specter of continued conflict
involving nuclear weapons and repeated statements by Iran that
nuclear enrichment is only for peacetime uses. But is this not
the ambivalence connected to the nuclear genie all along? The
bigger question that our world must confront is the inherent
difficulty associated with controlling "peaceful" use of something
developed in a military program during the Second World War;
nuclear power is tempting from a geopolitics standpoint for weapons
of mass destruction. This is a problem dating back to the Garden
of Eden and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Merely
knowing about the tree's existence does not mean we are to use its
fruits. Knowing about nuclear power should not mean using it.
The unforeseen danger is that we soon idolize the power of
this nuclear fruit of the tree and forget about our own human
inability to control such power and its waste aftereffects even in
peace time uses (see Critical Hour on this
peacetime uses are where danger lurks. So called peaceful uses by
people who cannot control militant behavior are a red flag needing
serious reflection. That the power of the atom was misused in the
Second World War does not mean it will have clean and controlled
peacetime uses. We as human society have toyed with the dangers of
the nuclear power in peacetime; and Chernobyl victims in both the
Ukraine and Bellarus will testify to this fact.
Nuclear power is a genie that is dangerous in both war and
peace. We forget that nuclear power, whether military or
peacetime, has killed or crippled almost an entire civilian
population; virtually no soldiers were killed in Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, where mostly innocent civilians (200,000) died in August,
1945. Lest we forget -- and add to that those whose lives were
shortened by the injuries suffered from those two atomic bombs and
at Chernobyl. Our American guilt over the use of those bombs led
to the peacetime atom and so there was a direct connection.
The continued spread of nuclear weaponry is a continued curse
on the human race. Good intentions are not enough. Can we expect
that all countries will enrich uranium for peacetime uses only and
not succumb to the temptation of nuclear bombs. We Americans have
far too many nuclear weapons and should have them outlawed for the
healing of the Earth. What is this unilateral preventive war when
diplomacy should mean that we take our own disarmament quite
seriously? What starts a more consistent U.S. nuclear policy
towards Iran and elsewhere? Only you and I.
3, 2006 Protect the Rivers
We have celebrated the region's rivers each June and so again
on this first Saturday of June. But more than celebrating the
value and scenic beauty of these waterways, is the growing need to
consider protecting them against environmental damage of various
sorts. A few of the problem areas worth addressing are:
Water pollution. Our public flowing streams are subject to
pollution in so many ways -- straight pipes, accidental oil spills,
coal waste treatment pond leakage, runoff from cropland or animal
waste areas, erosion from development sites, and on and on. More
awareness in recent years is causing federal and state agencies to
address point and random source pollution.
Trash, junk, garbage, and litter. Floating "Kentucky Ducks"
or empty plastic milk jugs mar our scenic rivers as much as sewage
"straight pipes" dumping less visible pollution into streams. We
know that visible problems in an otherwise beautiful river turn off
tourists. With increasing amounts of water sports and boating on
our rivers and activity along the banks, one can expect this
throwaway culture to junk these waterways even more severely unless
a healthy counter culture of protection makes a difference. People
get tired of cleaning up others' mess and thus there is hope.
Dams and diversions. In recent years the past practices of
damming rivers and channelling water away from waterways have been
slowed and in some parts of America actually reversed by removal of
these dam barriers. Unfortunately, taming wild rivers has been a
long-time blight in our own national environmental history. While
pooling and channelling larger rivers for barge transportation has
been completed, the removal of dams from smaller rivers has begun,
especially in the early Northeastern manufacturing districts.
Recreational damage. Rivers are prized for their sounds of
trickling and running water. I will never forget the experience of
camping by the rushing Tongue River in Wyoming and the penetrating
sound of that mighty stream's snow melt in June. However, motor
boats can drown out those pleasant sounds; ORVs along the edge of
rivers at fords will harm mussels and waterlife as mentioned
elsewhere. Policing the thousands of miles of recreational
watersheds is quite difficult and requires citizen monitoring.
Development on riverbanks. Most people like to spend time in
or near water areas (oceans, bays, lakes, rivers, and streams).
When they do not live on waterways, affluent and middle class
people often acquire second homes in order to get away from their
own congested areas. However, these second home developments on
fragile lands, wetlands and otherwise undeveloped riverbanks,
become congested; and scenic potential is reduced. Added roadways
and other developments impact the rivers as well. This and other
problems listed above call for comprehensive river authorities and
plans. These are problems that conscientious people need to
address, especially during
4, 2006 Pentecost and Breathing
In the Jewish tradition, Pentecost or the harvest festival,
derives from the Greek word for "fifty" or fiftieth day after
Passover. In our Christian tradition, Pentecost is the 50th day
after Easter and is the day the Apostles and the entire praying
congregation are filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the birthday
of the Church, for, upon being filled, the assembled believers
leave the closed room where they are gathered and begin to spread
the word boldly to crowds nearby. The strong driving wind that is
mentioned at this first Pentecost reminds us of the spirit in the
creation narrative in Genesis; the fire comes on each person as an
individual gift bestowed as a unique inspiration; the crowds hear
the apostles speaking in their own tongues. The Good News is going
out to all the world starting at this moment of Pentecost.
We remember that the Word of God comes on the first Christmas
(see Dec. 25,
2004) and dwells among us. But now the risen Lord
goes ahead of us and is exalted in glory. The joys and victories
of Easter are past and we are now called to act like other christs
and take the word out to all the world. So here we become part of
a breathing Body of Christ, the Church, a community of love acting
in a public way. This Body starts life on this first Pentecost and
then continues to live and grow. Being human and divine, the
community of believers continues breathing. Inhaling or an inward
motion means gathering and assembling to worship together. We
become more alive through the inspiration of others who assist us
in our spiritual growth in the Lord. These believing companions
are inspired by the Spirit of truth, Who helps us overcome our
divisions and experience our togetherness. Our lungs are filled so
that we can take in the oxygen or graced moments of assembled
people, the needed vitality for our faith journey.
But we also must breath out or exhale. This constitutes our
taking the word that we receive in community out to others. The
process of inhaling (assembling) and exhaling (going out to others)
is a rhythmic pattern that constitutes our life in the Church. We
are not people who just hear the word and speak about it within a
community; we are called to be like the apostles and make the word
living by proclaiming it to others. The Good News is that in going
out we find more to bring back into the community from the
scattered people so that the outside world furnishes us with
something that is to be shared by all the believing community. It
is as though we scatter the word and find the added meaning of the
word when scattering and communicating with others of good will.
This that we learn through scattering is gathered and brought back
by inhaling in the divine atmosphere of God's presence in
community. The assembling event is our moment of inspiration, the
time when what has been heard elsewhere is offered back to God. We
are inhaling the spirit, the wind and the fire, so as to go out
still again and again. Thus the Church inspires others and brings
them into the assemblage through our personal invitation so they,
in turn, can carry Good News to still others. Then Pentecost truly
comes alive and grows as an ongoing event in our lives.
June 5, 2006 Outdoor Experiences for All
I have had a conflict over two possibilities for an annual
retreat this year: one is more formal and involves interaction --
though quite valuable -- among priestly colleagues; the other is
to continue my annual practice of a week in the solitude of the
woods for equally worthwhile reasons. In fact, this is only part
of an ongoing struggle over allocation of limited personal time in
a rather crowded year. Rather than see this as a single battle, I
think this involves a broader conflict of formal interaction among
people versus the need to get away and engage in personal
communication with God in the wilderness. There is a time for
everything under heaven.
Routine outdoor experiences. To say that the kids have to be
loosened from videogames, and that the elders have to be allowed,
pushed or wheeled outdoors on occasion is the same struggle in a
still broader sense. Even to the last few months of my mother's
life, she thoroughly enjoyed the wheelchair ride around the
neighborhood of the senior citizens center to see the flowers and
to name each variety; her love for the outdoors and flowers never
left her. We all need that experience of outdoor growth and an
awareness of the seasons of the year. That is a healing experience
for us and encouragement for all to participate in healing the
Earth itself through our two-way communication with it.
Annual outdoor experiences. Would that all would have the
opportunity to make a retreat in the wilderness -- and to do so as
an annual routine. With the environment under assault from many
sides, this need to get outside becomes all the more important.
Would that we could learn to listen to nature's calls, smell the
scents of the woods, taste the wild fruit of the land, feel the
texture of the tree leaves and flowers, and see the fog coming up
in the distant valley. The use of all our senses in a particular
place and time gives us an experience of the HERE and NOW,
absolutely necessary ingredients for a true and authentic eco-
One possible solution. We need to have lower cost retreat
facilities -- not houses for these cost money. We need to have a
woodland experience for those who would like to organize such a
quiet time in nature. These retreatants should furnish their own
tents and cook their own meals, thus omitting the cost of formal
accommodations and cooking facilities, and a complex infrastructure
required to keep the place maintained. Potable water, compost
toilet, and shower facilities (also using solar hot water systems)
need to be available. Gatherings could occur in the seasonable
months (May to October) using an inexpensive outdoor covered area.
In fact, all that occurs at normal retreat facilities would be on
the agenda except that the facilities would be more primitive and
largely outdoors. This could be a new movement, a back to nature
with a formal annual retreat thrust, much like what I attempt to do
in the woods each year on my annual retreat. I hope more and more
places that furnish such options will be available.
6, 2006 Child Health Day
The healing of the Earth must be done by those who have a
sense of what good health is all about. The future Earth healers
who are now young people must become more aware of good healthy
practices that make for good personal environments. We are all
aware that obesity is rampant in America and among the youth of
other affluent nations. Step into a fast food establishment and
see the youth chomp the burgers and fries. How do we change this
feature of American prosperity? How can we bring about the choice
of wholesome food for proper body development? Where will they
learn about fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains except
in home, school, church, and the media? The health of American
youth is at stake and involves refraining from junk food and
choosing of good eating and drinking alternatives. Banning sugar
soft drinks in schools is now a good start.
Food and exercise choices. Health must go beyond types of
food; it includes the ability of to expend excess refined sugars
and fats through proper exercise. Instead, a more sedentary life
among youth attracted to the videogame syndrome adds to the threat
to their health. All too often we hear that average youth are not
getting the amount of exercise we experienced in farm work or past
school activities. Certainly the possibility of good health is
better when a youth does not have to work from dawn to dusk in a
factory as often in the 19th century. But, on the other hand,
those sitting before a screen and pretending to be doing some sort
of exercise are living in a dream world. In our part of America we
find that the health of youth with free time on their hands is
being threatened by drug use to such a degree that coroners are
reporting a progressive decrease in the age of those suffering from
drug overdosing, now reaching down from middle age to youth.
Another health threat!
Malnutrition. On this day we must look not only at American
youth but beyond to the youth of a world where a billion people go
to bed hungry. Hunger for a growing child may mean malnutrition
and lack of development of the body at the period of greatest
normal growth. These young people may be permanently harmed in
body and mind by the lack of proper nutrition. In lands ravaged by
AIDS and where their parents have died and left their children
orphans, especially in sub-Saharan region of Africa, 12 million
orphans are in danger through lack of proper nutrition. In these
and drought-stricken countries at the Horn of Africa, the health
issue is different, but still more acute than here in America.
Lack of medicines. The worlds' poor cannot afford available
medical cures or receive inoculation from preventable common
diseases already eradicated in developed countries. Add to this
the need for protection against tropical diseases that cause
blindness and other crippling effects that could be easily
eliminated, if attention were given to their plight by the world
community. With so much going to military expenditures, we ought
to consider global youth health as a top security priority.
7, 2006 American Jock Culture
Earlier this spring the Duke University lacrosse team had a
wild party including women of questionable repute who accused team
members of improper action. All the events at that party were told
in widely differing versions, and the legal actions that have
followed are not yet settled. The team (a leading one in national
standings) was suspended for the rest of the season, and the
lacrosse coach resigned. This made national headlines and brought
considerable comment about the "jock culture," a reference to
athletes with a sense of excessive renown and power leading to
excessive and sometimes crude conduct among their own small cluster
of peers and fans.
The particular incident is being dealt at an embarrassed
center of higher learning. However, similar incidents crop up
elsewhere each year either in collegiate or in professional sports.
The happenings occur only too many times among small groups or, in
this case of a prestigious American school, among an entire team.
Jock culture appears peculiarly American and goes beyond regions to
the entire country, a nation steeped in athletic competition, quest
for becoming number one, and the association of rather immature
individuals in unsupervised settings. Maybe the Teutonic culture
of the Nazi era in Germany would have a similar set of traits but
with some differences.
This jock culture involves precisely the type of practices
that are opposed to caregiving and healing of the Earth. A jock
culture of excessive attention to self and expectations of
adulation from others is a form of elitism that is counter to a
necessary characteristic of Earth healing, namely inclusiveness.
The culture glorifies in the competitive spirit with no true
sporting interest in playing as such, only in the power and
prestige of winning and conquering others. The culture soon
degenerates into crudity and immaturity. The culture extends
beyond mere college and high school teams, down to grade schools
and little leaguers, and out to the professional sporting world.
Even the military services have instances of the jock culture in
the manner of handling prisoners in Iraq, of treating each other,
and of reinforcing companionship and team work. A further negative
aspect is the manner in which a peer jock class treats the non-
jocks, artistic and intellectual-minded people, persons of
different styles of life, and women all across the board.
No one disputes the existence of this jock culture. What to
do about it is a more disputed matter. First, we place too high a
value on the act of winning in sports rather than playing; this
cannot be countered in a day or week or single practice, but a
different attitude is needed. Deemphasizing this culture could be
done by suspending players and teams for unbecoming conduct, toning
down excessive spectator conduct at games, reducing privileges at
schools for sports and players, and regarding other activities as
just as manly as playing certain sports (football, hockey and
lacrosse). That's a tall order for little people!
8, 2006 Best Friends Day and Dogs
I have not examined the origins of this day but websites offer
a host of greeting cards for all classes of "best friends," human,
animal, and other. The advertisements mention reasons for having
best friends: easing worries; never getting tired of you; unloading
worries; sharing secrets and high points in life; and providing
support in times of troubles. Many practicing Christians would
select Jesus as their best friend and stop at that. But how about
considering the plural or Best Friends Day and thinking about more
than one friend -- human and animal? We have many friends.
Yes, dogs are often called "man's best friend" and "woman's"
and "kid's" as well. Animal lovers are filled with dog stories.
At home when I was growing up we had a dog named Tex -- though
different ones in our family had different names for him depending
on their degree of affection. I suspect I was the hardest on that
dog's nerves even though he remained a friend through his long life
with us. Tex did not like me for throwing him in the pond on a hot
summer day, and once shooting over his head when he insisted on
lying down below the target we were using for practice. But he was
a good friend and that leads us to understand that the loyal dog
can truly be man's best friend. Tex had great abilities of which
we (my siblings and I) were extremely proud; he could climb over a
wire fence in a wink and overcome other barriers as well. He
walked across the narrow (4 inch wide) wooden rails high up in a
tobacco barn to be near us; he kept up with a vehicle in which we
were riding for two miles without stopping at fair speeds; he was
always a very faithful friend in need when we were depressed or
saddened about something. Animals sense when it is time to comfort
their companions, and Tex had a sense of feeling for others. His
bark never degenerated into a bite.
Someone once wisely said that God created dogs to give human
beings companionship during hard times. There may be more truth to
that than at first appears. Often other human beings simply are
not sensitive enough to know when we need support. Animals have
this sixth sense and will come through and help out when others
overlook difficulties. A dog will defend the loved one with his
or her life; it will be watchful in the worst of weather; it will
accompany the person in times of need. I once had a dog that liked
to jog, but I penned it in for a little while after it had pups.
Suddenly the dog had bounded over the barriers and was at my side
just two days after giving birth -- at least willing to leave her
offspring for a little time.
See "Special Topics" on this web site about other
friends as told by Franciscan Carol Stiefvater, who was the co-
founder of Peace Place at Williamsburg, Kentucky, where a variety
of animals had a part to play in the therapy and companionship of
9, 2006 Sitting on the Porch
The history of the porch is most fascinating and certainly is
a component of our Appalachian culture. Today, Senior Citizen's
Day, is an ideal time to focus attention on the need for seniors to
get outdoors and breathe some fresh air every day -- and a porch is
a good half-way between the enclosed indoors and great outdoors. It
offers some protection from the elements and yet gives a scenic
vista and an opportunity to be a little freer. A front porch goes
beyond protection, proximity and externality and includes being
public so as to be within view and conversational reach of
neighbors. All of these characteristics make the home porch a
rather unique feature of our regional landscape.
Porches come in every size and shape. My grandparents' large
brick house built in the early part of the 20th century had front,
side and back porches on which my granddad would sit in his
retirement years and at free time, the choice of porch depending on
the weather and time of day. Some of my prized recollections
include sitting with him on the front porch, which was deep enough
and surrounded by ornamental bushes giving some shade, even though
in a westward direction for catching the late summer sun. The
relationship that we had with each other was similar to that of the
father and youngster in "To Kill a Mockingbird" with the movie's
porch swing as the pivotal point.
Perhaps porches were at their high point in pre-air
conditioning times; they were often the cooler part of the total
residence and thus encouraged spending time don them, especially in
the summer evening before it got dark. Just being willing to sit
there and reflect -- or just sit is a sacred moment. My current
residence built 75 years ago has front, side and back porches. I
have used the side porch only for stationary biking -- but must
confess it is the perfect place to see the sun rise and observing
the birds and squirrels. The folks immediately across the street
from me sit on their front porch almost every afternoon from April
to late October -- and I often envy them. I don't sit there so
much because I don't just sit anywhere; moving about is what
occupies more outdoor time. However, porches are meant for less
mobile seniors and those who accompany them. They are the second
best thing to a garden, hiking trail, or running track.
Porches have a number of utilitarian purposes: they are good
receptacles for gifts and receiving points for mail and express
packages; they become parking places for dirty boots and
implements; they are hospitality places for entertaining visitors
and places to play musical instruments and project the sound
throughout the countryside. Porches protect entrance areas; and
they are fine gathering places; they serve as bridges between the
greater outdoors and the interior of the home. And their roofs
can serve as locations for solar attachments to the building and
collector areas for rainwater. Porches can also add dignity to the
house and can be screened or boxed in to furnish miniature attached
greenhouses. Let's hope porches stay around awhile.
10, 2006 Wood Crafts for All
Tomorrow is the 15th Annual Woodcarvers Day at Old Washington,
Ky, my hometown (see
May 9, 2005). The sponsors expect carvers
from many states to exhibit, compete, and sell their hand-carved
items and to compete for a variety of prizes. The one-mile main
street and sidewalks of the historic town (the oldest named for
George Washington) are filled with tables and stalls where far-
flung carvers show off their works and are willing to converse
about their diverse skills and experience. I am proud of what the
people do in refurbishing the old town and in the festivals they
sponsor, for they have had no sugar daddies.
I find the event of special significance because in retirement
my Dad took up his youthful ambition to carve in wood and became a
woodcarver. He took it so seriously enough some of his pieces are
on display in two of Old Washington's historic sites. Like many
other Mason County people who passed on, my Dad would have loved to
have strolled the length of the town talking to each and every
carver and showing interest, enthusiasm and hospitality that was
his characteristic attitude to strangers. The craft became a
medium in which he could communicate his spirit with others and he
would welcome their doing the same.
Woodcarving is also dear to those of us who admire trees; we
dream of enhancing the color, texture and grain of the various
woods and show gratitude for the special way creative folks express
themselves through their works. How easily they do so to those who
are unskilled though nonetheless lovers of a particular art. For
many of us, wood is a much warmer medium of art than is stone or
metal; wood is the product of a living tree that offered itself
for others. The tree is still in the wood, and we in our mind's
eye see the stately cherry, the robust oak, the hearty poplar, and
the swaying pine. The tree is perfected in the work of human
hands, and this allows it to endure as long as the art piece lasts.
In a special way, these artists or craftspeople imitate the
Almighty Creator and assist in the ongoing divine act through their
own initiative and dedication. The woodcarvers display their
hidden power and beauty in their art objects -- a word to others.
Their working of hands (creating with delicate skill), head (an
idea and mental image), and heart (a willingness to share their own
inspiration with others out of love) on this Trinity Sunday is a
manifestation of the emerging Trinitarian image for all who strive
to see in faith.
A visit to the craft event is more than making the
re-acquaintance of old friends and relatives. It allows for
encouragement to artists who receive far too little support in our
society that values utility over art for its own sake. These
crafters are a remnant of a threatened culture. Truly, local
crafters are the descendants of pioneers who settled these
territories and used the products (trees) of our land quite well;
they are truly Earth healers and deserve our admiration.
Woodcarving by my Dad, Albert A. Fritsch.
FYI: Article, "How
to Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife"
11, 2006 Trinitarian Emergence
Each year we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity on the
Sunday after Pentecost. The Trinity is the deepest mystery of the
Christian faith: Father, Son and Spirit, three persons in one God.
Believers behold this mystery with a sense of utter reverence -- a
loving and sharing God. From revelation we find what we could
never come to from reason alone. Furthermore, we Christian
believers come through both revelation and understanding to realize
that our world and all its creatures and especially human beings
are created in the image of God. Some semblance of that divine
Trinitarian nature emerges in a natural theology. Even more so,
all Christian action emerges as Trinitarian. The Creator's mark is
on all creation; the Christian learns obedient sacrifice through
imitating Christ; all are better manifested in an atmosphere of
love. Creating, redeeming and sharing are acts of divine love in
which we may participate as members of the divine family.
Creation: The universe, and most especially our planet Earth,
is the prime expression of God's Trinitarian mystery. If our
Creator is Trinitarian in the action of creation, then the created
universe is imprinted with the mark of the Trinity. Through faith
we seek understanding of the mystery of creation, the act of the
Trinity at work. The Earth is a communitarian pulsating being that
reflects the Trinitarian nature of our origins, our existence, and
our destiny. With a sense of reverence we respect this Earth as
the very substrate of a New Heaven and a New Earth, redeemed and
paid for in the blood of Christ. Dr. John Cross created a chart
showing how the Truth of the Trinity reflected pervasively but
imperfectly in creation. (Reference: Christianity and the Human
Body, Proceedings of the ITEST Workshop, St. Louis, October 2000,
p. 204. The striving is of more merit than the insight achieved.
Human person: The acting human being reveals this hidden
Trinitarian nature through the reasoning process involving creative
experience, verbal understanding, and inspiring judgment, a
trichotomous process more thoroughly treated in a Christian
epistemology. The human person delves more deeply into the
Trinitarian mystery by creating an artifact that shows the
humanness of the creator and by sharing the spirit with others who
are in contact. Furthermore, human beings have the power to take
appropriate tools and help restore our wounded Earth, inspired
through divine love. Through the inspiring Spirit we are able to
assist in the more wonderful re-creation, a process showing the
Trinitarian nature of our world and our actions.
The human community manifests the ever deepening imprint of the
Trinity through proper actions undertaken together for the common
good. Here, in a rudimentary manner, in the Anselmian sense,
"Faith seeks understanding" in the social sciences that have
flourished in recent centuries. If science says meaningful things
about God's creation, then it must also, upon a deeper reflection
of itself, say things about the Creator, and the nature of the
divine community from which all creation springs.
12, 2006 Write Haiku
Haiku is a Japanese verse form, rendered in English as three
unrhymed lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables and usually about nature.
Try your hand at some of these. Below I share from my own
collection over the years. Try your hand (drop us a line at
ecospirit (at) earthhealing (dot) info if you'd
like to share your haiku). I'm sure you can do
better and find this a good Earth healing experience.
Butterflies come back
all the way from Mexico
to make us happy.
Oaks stand straight and tall
giving us feelings of strength
to confront our world.
while Americans are lost
in their own dream world.
It's a brave new world
global warming, pollution;
We must be brave.
Is climate changing?
It surely is my good friend;
Build yourself an ark.
Whatever we say
comes back to really haunt us,
whether good or bad.
peace or war, good or evil,
just leave it alone
Springtime comes again
Yes, the mountains skip for joy
all vested in green.
We'll take the pathway
through the forests tomorrow
to see, smell, touch woods.
Great is the river
flowing gently past our door
fleeting like our lives.
It takes far less time
to create this haiku page,
than to make it work.
13, 2006 Be Focused: National Juggling Day Revisited
Sometimes we have a completely different take on what we have
done before. That is the case with "National Juggling Day." Last
year I wrote about juggling one's work or daily schedules in order
to stay balanced, and spoke of soccer moms and two-job dads and all
the rest of us. However there is a totally different way of seeing
the same day and that is to imitate the juggler, even if not
skilled, in performing this practice. Namely, keep intensely
focused on what is being done at a given moment.
I am not good at juggling and that makes a great number of us.
But I do have a skill somewhat akin to juggling and one that others
hesitate to try. Many years of hoeing tobacco gave me the chance
to carry the hoe to and from the field balanced vertically in the
air on my little finger. There is an art to it and a danger also
should the hoe become imbalanced and hit someone on the head. And
I didn't think the feat noteworthy until years later when the first
person who saw this saw this as something to admire like juggling.
Well the key to a good performance of carrying a hoe on the tip of
the little finger is concentration, a FOCUS on what is being done.
Would that we all had the art of focusing on all exercises.
We often hear that a person looks another in the face and
actually listens attentively, fully concentrating on what the other
has to say. That is also an art as rare as juggling and so much
needed in our hurry, hurry world. We need to listen and to give
our total attention to the needs of others. What if we focus on
the flood victims and continue the focus long after the media moved
on to its next quick second project? Attention spans move with the
crowd and we forget about African relief or the overdose problems
in our region. The next issue buries the last in the back pages
and we miss the juggler's art by bounding on to a new delight.
Besides having a practice akin to juggling, what can we do to
regain a sense of the focus we had as infants, only giving
attention of the demands of hunger or having our diapers changed --
and actually have moments of intense focus. One way to practice
focusing is through meditation and that always gives us time with
the Lord in that reserved periods of the day when crowded
interruptions are not yet pressing down upon us. Likewise, we
could resolve and give time fully to others; when we visit them, we
plan that extra time that will make the visited person aware that
we have time to spare. Another way is to say to myself that this
moment is to be taken up with this action and not to let any other
interfere. That would be a good resolution to help us achieve some
difficult task that we avoid due to lack of focus and practice.
Juggling means more than doing several things in the course of
a short time; juggling means concentrating and centering one's
attention on a particular practice and doing it well, with each
practice being given its due. We need to start focusing more often
and make this our best effort. What we learn from jugglers is not
necessarily their activity but their mental state.
14, 2006 Patriotism and the Flag
Some native born Americans take their citizenship for granted;
they regard patriotism as an old-fashioned virtue that has been
surpassed by the more sophisticated and intellectual features of
life. That temptation is hardly the case with many naturalized
citizens and undocumented workers who take their American way as
worthy of sacrifice and demonstrations of special loyalty. For
them, this Flag Day has a deep meaning for it is wrapped up in
their future and the American dream. Earlier this spring it was
heart-warming to witness on Internet or television the tens and
hundreds of thousands of marchers who were parading in very
peaceful ways through major cities seeking fair and just
immigration legislation. They carried and waved the American flag
proudly and manifested their patriotism in doing so. They wanted
the rest of the country to know that their work makes them a part
of this country and that they deserve recognition for what they do.
Patriotism and respect must go hand-in-hand. It is wrong to
think that a global consciousness needed for true healing of the
Earth is a rejection of local concerns and national aspirations.
In fact, when respect is given to a particular local or national
region, it may show when properly placed a deeper more global
respect for the planet on which we live. Patriotism can be and is
compatible with good Earth healing. If we love this particular bit
of the planet, we realize that the part does not stand disjointed
from the entire sphere called Earth.
In these reflections on this Flag Day two years ago we gave a
poem (my only repetition) when coupling flying the flag day and
night, with renewable energy production. It is improper in this
country to fly the flag at night without a light shining on it.
This poem was made when installing a renewable energy or solar-
powered spotlight on the flag at Mount Vernon, Kentucky, at night.
Too much blood has been shed by patriots who gave all,
with their lives, their limbs, their peace of mind.
Then many returned to home soil, flag draped,
taps in the background, a sob, a word, and then to dust.
For their sakes we fly this flag with pride.
We may not need a constitutional amendment to act,
but free citizens treat this emblem with respect,
not burning, not desecrating it through commercial greed.
Respect calls for not flying the flay overnight
in the dark. Thus we suggest and install a solar
with daylight -- renewable energy -- stored and transformed,
so that the sun never sets on Ole Glory.
15, 2006 Spiritual Nourishment
We all need to be spiritually nourished during the course of
our lives. The primary nourishment is the spiritual food offered
by Christ himself in the form of his Body and Blood -- a deep
mystery for some and a stumbling block for others. This subject
will be treated in greater length during July and August when
discussing Chapter 6 in John's Gospel. Besides the sacramental
nourishment featured in the feast of Corpus Christi (Body of
Christ), we have several other sources of spiritual nourishment:
Literature -- We all need some spiritual reading in the course
of the year. We get inundated with secular materials and
advertisements on every side, and this must be countered by some
serious spiritual reading from the classic Fathers of the Church,
lives of the saints or popular religious spiritual reading.
Excellent materials are available and can be purchased on line.
Speakers -- At various times in the year good speakers are
available in the neighboring universities, parishes or through
organizations, especially at special times of the year. Keep aware
of the schedules and make an effort to go to one or other event in
the year. A good speaker has a way of encouraging us to continue
pursuing a special course of reflection.
Events -- Missions, revivals, conferences and workshops are
other means that people use to revive their own spiritual lives.
Unlike the ongoing nature of reading literature, these are rare
occasions and yet have ways of changing a person's life in a
Conversation -- Saints such as Benedict and Francis were known
to have sincere spiritual conversations with friends that deepened
their commitment to forming religious communities. Many others
admit to the benefits of being able to talk to others informally or
in a more formal setting with a spiritual director. One-to-one
interaction appears far more influential for many people than
merely going off on one's own for reflection.
Retreats -- Another form of personal interaction (here with
the Lord) are the annual or regular opportunities to reflect in
some special time, place, and manner in what are called "retreats."
See "Planning a Retreat,"
Jan. 3, 2005.
The reflection period that
one sets aside opens us to special graces from the Lord.
Daily prayer/reflection -- Daily prayer is our regular manner
of spiritual nourishment and is done through conversation with the
Lord through our own words and periods of listening -- and it may
differ considerably with time and age (discursive prayer,
meditative reading of Scripture, prayerful writing, and other
suggested forms of meditation or even oral prayer with others). A
more thoughtful reciting of the Prayer of the Church and the
singing in choir are forms of daily prayer that have given
spiritual nourishment to so many throughout the ages.
16, 2006 The Gospel of Judas
In the past few months some fragments of parchment found in
the 1970s in a cave in the Egyptian desert have been translated.
These are Gnostic writings of The Gospel to Judas -- giving the
disloyal disciple a rather good and supportive role in the betrayal
and death of Jesus. These writings must be taken for what they are
worth -- ancient copies of a writing mentioned by the early Fathers
of the Church as they prepared and defended their selection of the
books of the New Testament -- a divine product made by human beings
(the Church) assembling the scriptural canon. The Church preceded
the New Testament not the other way around.
Gnosticism flourished at the time of early Christianity and
was an occult syncretistic system holding a view of matter as evil
and a variety of ideas from various philosophies and religions and
eventually from Christianity. The lack of clear definition is
because the sect was vague in its fundamentals and generally
presented a strict enmity between flesh and spirit, with the
spiritual realms filled with levels and gods of all sorts. It held
that revelation or saving knowledge (Greek gnosis) was available
only to an elite few and hidden from the masses. The early Church
had to contend with the followers of this assortment of beliefs
just as we have to contend today with a plethora of spiritualities.
In our information-filled age, with its superficial treatments, an
ancient find of Gnostic writing is hardly more than a teaser for
those who care to go no farther. The actual translation with its
many missing parts is said to be good material for scholars of
ancient literature -- but not the average bedtime reading.
What we contend with in these writings and in the culture that
creates sensations about them is exactly the same thing that the
early Fathers of the Church had to deal with. Irenaeus of Lyons
(130-200 A.D.) was one of the major opponents of these Gnostic
writings (mentioning The Gospel of Judas by name). He defended the
Christian belief that revelation is available to all and that its
authenticity is guaranteed through the teaching of the Church, the
Apostles and their successors. He further argued against the
Agnostics saying that the mysteries of the Incarnation and
Redemption give ultimate value to human flesh because Christ
"recapitulated" God's loving intentions in creating the world in
which we live. We are participants in the glory that is springing
forth and partakers in the destiny that will be ours in faith with
Jesus Christ as the personification of the entire process.
The importance of The Gospel of Judas like the Dead Sea
scrolls and other ancient literature that touches on early church
battles is in its being an opportunity to realize our historic
past. Our Church has a history that has its ups and downs, but the
glory of the defenders of our sacred canons rests on their
scholarship and learning, their clear explanations and prayerful
attitudes. As for Judas, we cannot condemn him any more than we
can condemn anyone. All rests ultimately in the judgment of God
who is all merciful, even to the most wayward of us all.
Hosta blooms is the garden.
Learn more about hostas from the
American Hosta Society.
17, 2006 Pickling
June is the month when we harvest cabbage and the first
cucumbers, and our family always prepared for these vegetables in
a big way. We had large five-gallon crocks that would hold cabbage
cut into shredded sauerkraut and cucumbers left whole to be pickled
with spices. Each required a strong salt brine that required
changing of the liquid every few days during the pickling process.
The sauerkraut was tramped by the youngest barefooted member of the
family who could stand up in the crock and dance a one two step --
a very notable calling for that individual provided he or she had
no cuts on their feet. All the processing added to the flavoring
of the final product, which was a main ingredient in many of the
Alsatian dishes that were appreciated by our extended family. Many
of my ancestors came from the watershed of the Sauer (word derived
from salt) River and thus were from salted or pickling country.
The pickling preservation practice does not stop with these
two vegetables. Everything from fruit and eggs to pigs feet and
corned beef can be pickled, if one makes the effort and has the
extra produce. We can pickle carrots, beets, turnips as kraut (one
of my favorite dishes), artichokes, okra, cauliflower, dilled
beans, whole mushrooms, asparagus, horseradish, kohlrabi, pearl
onions, green spiced tomatoes, and hot and sweet peppers of all
varieties. As to fruits, besides pickled watermelon rinds (another
one of my mother's favorite preparations), one can pickle
cantaloupe, figs, crabapples and regular sliced and spiced apples,
pears and spiced plums -- and more.
With all our modern conveniences we tend to overlook the
importance of salting in food preservation in ancient Europe and
other parts of the world. This was a pre-canning way to store
excess fresh foods; that was part of culinary history even before
the Roman conquerors prized the salted and cured hams imported from
northern Europe. Pickling could be regarded as a variation on this
meat preserving process; both pickling and curing are based on
large amounts of salt (see
Salt on April 27,
2005). One of the only
drawbacks to this perfectly good form of food preservation is the
excess of salt eaten by the food consumer. Where people perform
large amounts of heavy work, the consumption of salt is not a major
problem; for those engaged in lighter occupations and with special
diets, pickling may be a no, no.
Actually salt brine is not the only pickling medium. Vinegar,
ethanol and vegetable oil are also used to preserve food from
harmful bacteria. Even sodium hydroxide (lye) has been used. The
mountain people of Appalachia leached the lye from wood ash, and
this in the form of a highly basic solution was used to treat corn
to make hominy. There are other known olive recipes that use non-
brine liquid preservatives.
See the National Center for Home Food
for ideas and precise details on the pickling process.
June 18, 2006 Abba,
This is the blood of the Covenant that Yahweh has made with
you, containing all these rules. (Exodus 24:8)
So many youths are raised in one-parent families and
generally, though not always, without a father. While the one
parent may certainly deserve superior grades for management and
extending love to the little ones, still the lack of a father
present can be a severe handicap for many. Since Father's Day
comes on Sundays, we generally remember the liturgy of the day and
that is often a major feast such as Pentecost or Trinity Sunday.
Today is different, for we have the transferral of the feast of
Corpus Christi from the 15th. And in a real sense the place of
father in our covenant relationship with God is utterly important.
Both the Old and New Covenant were sealed in blood (of offered
animals and of Christ); the father is an integral part of the
familial covenant and his blood is important.
A father holds an essential role that includes bringing order
out of a normally chaotic household; the father must help balance
uneven situations and judge what needs to be done in given
circumstances; the father must listen to the complaints of the
young members, hearing them through; the father must discipline in
a loving and kind manner, never exceeding the bounds of charity and
proper conduct; the father shows the way to sanctity especially
when members have a difficulty relating with others within the
household or beyond; the father brings in the necessary essentials
for life through his daily labor; the father assists the mother in
so many ways easing her own burdens and giving her encouragement
and comfort through a loving relationship...and on and on.
A friend who was visiting the Holy Land heard a young boy
calling his father "Abba" and that is the name Jesus calls God the
Father and asks us to use in our prayer to God. Jesus shows us
that we are now members of the Body of Christ and the divine
family; we are entitled to say Abba to our God. We can now call
Christ our brother and call the heavenly Father, our Father with
all the familiar meaning and closeness of a child to a parent. We
have a new relationship not to a noble overseeker or a distant
caretaker or friend, but to an intimate member of a family, for we
are now part of the divine family through baptism.
On Father's Day we should recommit ourselves within our family
contexts with fathers in mind; let's remember our fatherly kin who
are still living and pray for those who have passed on. Let's
assist youth who are orphans (12 million in sub-Saharan Africa due
to AIDS deaths), and let's encourage new fathers to bear full
responsibility for their charges. Let's encourage maternal single-
parent families to strive to give their off-spring some experience
with the paternal side of life -- through relatives or friends.
That may take some creative ways since the single parent has so
many things to do in the best of circumstances. And let's pray the
"Our Father" for all members of the Body of Christ.
19, 2006 Juneteenth
On June 19th, 141 years ago Union General Gordon Granger led
his troops into Galveston, Texas and declared that the Civil War
had ended and that the slaves in rebellious areas were free (the
Border States' slaves had to await the 13th Amendment to the
Constitution). What made the date so significant was that the Texas
slaves had little access to information and did not know about the
Emancipation Proclamation issued in September, 1862, saying that
all rebellious states not returning to the Union by January first
of the following year, 1863, would have their slaves automatically
freed. Now on this June 19th the word reached the farthest extent
of the Confederate territories and the ex-slaves celebrated this as
though it were July Fourth for them -- freedom day.
Promoters of the day tell why they celebrate:
J -- Juneteenth represents the joy of freedom -- the chance of
a new beginning.
U -- Unless we expose the truth about the African-American
slave experience, Americans won't be truly free.
N -- Never must we forget our ancestors' endurance of one of
the worst slave experiences in human history.
E -- Every American has benefited from the wealth blacks
created through over 200 years of free labor, and Juneteenth allows
us to acknowledge that debt.
T -- To encourage every former slave-holding state to follow
Texas' and Oklahoma's example and make Juneteenth a state holiday.
E -- Everyday in America, blacks are reminded of the legacy of
slavery. Juneteenth counters that by reminding us of the promise
E -- Even on the journey to discover who we are, Juneteenth
allows us to reflect on where we've been, where we're at and where
we're going as a people.
N -- Never give up hope is the legacy our enslaved ancestors
left. It was this legacy that produced black heroism in the Civil
War and helped launch the modern Civil Rights era. It is the
legacy we celebrate.
T -- To proclaim for all the world to hear, that human rights
must never again become subservient to property rights.
H -- History books have only told a small part of the story;
Juneteenth gives us a chance to set the record straight.
20, 2006 Compost Bin
Click here for
plans to build your own bin!
I recently put a compost bin in the shady part of the backyard
of where I live. I have been burying kitchen wastes in the area
used for gardening, but that becomes less practical when one wants
to garden the spot in a short while, for it takes the compost some
time to convert through plentiful earthworm assistance into humus.
A place apart from the garden area is best for serious gardening on
small amounts of land.
So I built a three-sided compost bin (front open) out of three
pallets that were being discarded at the local building supply
place. They are held upright and fastened together with nails in
the form of the letter "c," with the back side of the bin away and
the open end nearest to the house. I put into this bin some
heavier dried tomato vines and stalks to form a loose underlayer
for some amount of aeration; the slats in the pallets allow for
air as well. The compost pile is mainly decomposing leaves from
last year intermixed with soil (containing earthworms) from some
ditches around the garden beds. As need arises, I add my kitchen
wastes: coffee grinds, egg shells and fruit and vegetables peels
every so many days. No meat scraps or greasy materials, please!
The wrong garbage additions can attract local varmints such as
raccoons and polecats or even rats.
The optimum health of the compost bin requires the right
amount of moisture, air and materials. Some turning of the
material is best performed by the use of a turning fork. Some more
serious and higher volume composters require two or even three bins
side by side. Make sure the earthworms stay healthy (moisture in
the beds) for their presence is important composting. In sunny
places the soil can get too hot and dry for the worms to work well.
People more seriously concerned with composting will delight
in getting just the right variety of earthworms, for there are
many. However, our native worms really are acclimated and serve
quite well. Where the soil is lacking, native earthworms may be
purchased for addition. Some protect compost bins with rat screen
on the bottom and sides and even add a gate; much depends on the
composition of the contents and proximity to varmints. Composters
may not like to replace the pallets ever four or five years as the
sides rot away along with the compost. Preferably use new pallets
in place of pressure-treated or painted bin materials.
Most people are aware that compost boxes can be built for
indoor use by those in urban areas, where the outdoor bins are not
available. I keep kitchen wastes in a plastic container with lid
until removed outdoors, but an indoor composter can do good
performance, and the resulting humus applied to garden plots and
pots for growing things. Composting is simple for it is nature's
way. This irritates some commercial establishments because they
seek to make money on natural composting, and have now introduced
turning and tumbling machines of all sizes. If you are not doing
this on a massive scale, the turning fork is really good exercise.
21, 2006 Twelve Possible Summer Suggestions
None of us do more than necessary while enduring summer's
heat; though we limit our activities during this season, still it
may be good to see which hints fit our hot weather agenda:
* Protect the skin from too much sun using sure and tried sun
blocking formulas. The cheapest practice for those who have tender
skin is the broad straw hat -- though I haven't worn one in years.
The better protection is to keep out of the direct sunlight in
midday and do outdoor exercise and gardening in morning or evening;
* Watch out for overheating as we noted last summer. That
becomes a problem when doing strenuous work or recreational
exercise in the middle of a hot summer day;
* Keep the liquids handy when on hikes or working outdoors;
* Get plenty of sleep, for these are the long days of the
year and many of us do not like to sleep during daylight hours
either in the morning or evening;
* Don't let increased activities reduce your book reading
habits of cooler times. There's always time to learn more and
enjoy good books, especially reading outdoors under a shade tree;
* Don't forget about the unpleasant but valuable tick search
after coming in from the outdoors, especially after moving through
weeds and wooded areas;
* Do that extra camping and hiking when you can find the day
or week to do so. Sometimes you can combine pleasure with business
and that saves fuel and travel costs as well;
* Pick some wild berries and fruit this summer. I do not
enjoy the task as much as when younger and so just gather enough
for a good taste of the season. You don't have to be extravagant
for a small cup full can be satisfying;
* Visit a local site that you have put off seeing because the
weather has never been right. You may wish to bike to the location
or to spend an afternoon at the event;
* Take in a music or other festival, for summer is the best
time, and take someone who does not go often; and
* Think about an autumn garden. We need to take this part of
gardening seriously even before mid-summer; by that time we should
be getting the seeds and preparing soil following the harvesting of
the spring-planted vegetables.
* Give a little extra time to reflection and prayer during
the summertime. It is always a little harder than during the
Relaxing with her catnip
on a hot mid-June day...
22, 2006 Reflecting in the Forest
Earth healing means finding an ideal place and coming close to
the wounded and suffering Earth. Some find it difficult to go to
eroded or overharvested areas and settle in to meditate. Pristine
areas are now rare and only the most affluent can still find some
remote areas such as Antarctica or mountainous areas of surviving
rain forest to go for retreat, not a "perfect retreat," only an
imagined perfect escape. In fact, our planet is hurting in all its
parts and being near to this in some way is an opportunity to
reflect deeply on the meaning of our life and the health of our
planet. Reflection in our current wounded world involves a silent
presence with all who suffer; this compassion involves an
awareness of misused power and the potential for spiritual
empowerment through prayerful reflection and meditation.
Forests are perfect places where silence is possible and where
the disturbance of the surroundings can be experienced; this is so
through an elementary knowledge of environmental problems dealing
with various tree species present in the forest. Unfortunately,
today we experience tree problems with hemlock, Fraser fir, elm,
black oak, possibly white oak, dogwood, white walnut, and on and
on. The fact is that opportunistic assaults will occur with the
immune systems of a wide variety of trees; these are weakened by
air pollution and the inability of the tree to withstand these
assaults leads to weakening and possible death. When we go into a
forest and recognize some of these stressed species, we feel a
sense of dysfunctionality in our world. But that is not enough to
keep us from reflecting and meditating. In fact, it is a far more
realistic situation than to seek an ideal distant "perfect"
location and systematically close the mind to the world around us.
Forests, even when hurting, are loveable to many of us. We
glory in the woodlands; the sights, smells and sounds among all
the majestic and the beautiful trees and the fully varied
understory under our feet are always breathtaking. The silence of
the woods allows the sounds of crickets, birds and the rustling
leaves to be heard; God speaks to us in such silence as scripture
indicates. The smells of the forest are unique and allow our
olfactory nerve to recall many past good and pleasurable
experiences in the wood -- our sacred memories. The taste of
summer treats in the forest such as the blackcaps or the dewberry
is always able to make us truly present to the immediate land
around us. I like to do my retreat when the wine or fireberry is
ripe in mid-July; but woods are good during other times as well.
Our willingness to take off time and to go to the woods for
refreshment and recommitment says something about us as pilgrims
and about the forest as God's holy place that needs to be
cherished, protected and affirmed. Sometimes we as individuals
need the community of believers to reinforce our commitment, but
just like breathing (see Pentecost on June 3rd), we need to
to the world around us and spread -- and receive -- the Good News.
Our forest is one of those unique places for us to start.
23, 2006 Sacred Heart Devotion
This is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which occurs
on the Friday after the Octave (eight days) of Corpus Christi. It
is not a recent devotion but goes back only a little over three
hundred years and was initiated through visions of Christ appearing
to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90), a French Visitation nun.
It was first honored in her community's devotions and later
extended to the Church in Poland and finally in 1856 to the
universal Church. The connection between this devotion and the
Jesuits is that Claude de la Colombiere became Margaret Mary's
confessor and spread the devotion later when chaplain to the
Duchess of York in England. Through that royal party the devotion
made it to Rome and the attention of the official Church.
Pope Pius XII wrote the encyclical Haurietis aquas ("You draw
water") in order to explain the theological reasoning behind this
devotion. The devotion emphasized the love and mercy of God shown
in Jesus Christ and used the symbol of his heart on fire with love.
The devotion arose at a time when an internal church spirituality
called "Jansenism" exaggerated the sinfulness and unworthiness of
the individual. The counter-emphasis of the love of Christ is
symbolized by his heart, which was lanced at his death and from
which poured out blood and water -- the outpouring of his entire
being for love of all people.
The Sacred Heart devotion takes on various forms. One of the
first in time involved an hour every Thursday night in remembering
the suffering of Jesus in his Agony in the Garden. Later came the
"First Fridays" or the attending of Mass and receiving of communion
on the First Fridays for nine consecutive months in reparation for
all sins and for our own salvation. This devotion was popular
prior to Vatican II but has not been practiced with frequency in
recent years mainly because of the current practice of frequent
communion by entire congregations.
Other Sacred Heart devotions include the enshrining (hanging
or placing) of the Sacred Heart picture in some prominent place in
the home with prayers and blessings attached; Jesus promises
Margaret Mary that peace comes to homes that are so enshrined with
the Sacred Heart picture. Another related form of the devotion to
the Heart of Christ deals with offering prayers at the beginning of
each day ("The Morning Offering") in union with those of the entire
Church for special monthly "intentions" given by the Pope or for
individual intentions and for people living or dead. Again, the
thrust of each form of this devotion is to come ever closer to the
loving Jesus. Statues, medals, and badges of the Sacred Heart are
known and the broader devotion has become quite widespread. Today
this has ceased being a Catholic-only devotion. Many Protestant
homes have Sacred Heart pictures and, from what I can gather, these
Christians also understand that the love of Christ is symbolized in
the flaming heart that appears at the breast of the representation
of Christ. One can say the devotion has lost popularity in some
forms but has been universalized in others.
24, 2006 Eating in the Wild
Today is the feast of John the Baptist who lived on wild honey
and grasshoppers. Actually that could be a complete diet for the
wild foods gurus. Having once seen the desert area that John
inhabited, I have all the more admiration. How could he have lived
in such a wild and rocky place? By going wild.
One of my great joys is eating something off the visited
landscape. I will never forget visiting a major religious center
and walking on its extensive grounds and finding virtually nothing
to eat -- it was all affluent, ornamental and barren of the
richness of wild plants worth tasting. How can we become
acquainted other than through assimilation of the fruit of the land
itself? So much for lack of hospitality. The contrast between
John's wilderness and ornamental "wilderness" is immense. But
taken a step further, most modern folks would be more at home in
the ornamental garden than in a wilderness with edible delights.
Caution! Not everything wild is edible and overdoing the wild
routine could be dangerous to your health. I was warned by a guide
in the desert of southern Israel after he saw me munching on the
wild plants of Judea. He advised me that "Here in the desert
everything green is extremely poisonous and that is why it is still
present. Animals know what to avoid." I did not do my grazing
there. A few years ago a noted writer named Ewell Gibbons
(Stalking the Wild Asparagus) was a hearty fellow and considered
the natural foods guru; his natural foods remarks were sponsored
by "Grapenuts" cereal. However, his untimely death before sixty
years of age was a blow to the wild natural foods movement. Two
decades ago we at ASPI had a volunteer who harvested all sorts of
wild foods; one day he returned from his foraging and suddenly
broke out with a rash over his whole body, but he could not decide,
which of a number of plants he ate, caused the difficulties.
The answer is to know your plants in the region in which you
live. You have most likely enjoyed the greens of spring
(dandelion, poke shoots, violet leaves, plantain, lambs quarters,
etc.) and now are moving into summer after selecting mushrooms, the
differences among which I never mastered. Enjoy the blackcaps
(wild black raspberries) this time of year along with the wild
strawberries. Prepare for the upcoming full berry season
(blackberries, dewberries, blueberries, huckleberries, and later
the elderberries) and for the mayapples and fruits of the season
(crabapples, wild plums, wild cherries -- go lightly --, papaws,
and persimmons. I harvested persimmons last season from middle
September until after mid January of this year. Only late winter
is poor harvesting season, but that is when you should have
gathered and stored hickory nut, walnuts, acorns and hazelnuts.
The art of learning is to have handbooks of the wild plants
along with some acquired skills resulting from trips with a natural
foods person. A second part of the art is never to take too much
unless you are sure. Moderation is best in the wild.
25, 2006 The Lord of the Storms
Yahweh spoke and raised a gale,
lashing up towering waves.
Flung to the sky, then plunged to the depths,
they lost nerve in the ordeal,
staggering and reeling like drunkards
with all their seamanship adrift.
(Psalm 107: 325-26)
We can treat stormy weather in many ways, telling experiences
that we had in times of immense storms and, in fact, filling an
entire essay with how we endured storms and the fear when the boat
heaved and sank in the choppy sea. So much for experiences, and as
we get older we have more to narrate -- or in one perfect storm we
might make our "May Day" call and never narrate again. The
continued happening of storms is rather certain; that we will be
afraid is also highly certain for that is part of the human
condition. At this point all our experience like seamanship goes
adrift and we turn to the Lord. The above psalm verse stops short
of the real point (verse 28), and that is that the ones caught in
the storm called to Yahweh and were rescued. In Mark 4: 35-41,
the disciples awaken Jesus and he says to the storm "Quiet! Be
still!" And he adds a question to his disciples after this
powerful rebuke to the storm, "Why are you lacking in faith?"
How often we experience storms, try to avoid them, and tell of
our emotional roller coaster rides through them? Do we also see
that the Lord is in charge and expects us to turn to him in times
of troubles? It takes faith to believe we can live through these
storms of life and more faith to live through them with complete
confidence that God is in charge and is our rock of refuge. The
truth is that weather is only one of the stormy scenes that we must
endure through our life's journeys. Some of the more severe storms
may include personal relations and threats to family, home, our own
person, how we live and what appears in store for us. Storms
happen and are even sometimes due to our own past misdeeds. And
they are quite real and rough for each of us.
How should we as believers react? Others look to us to find
out about our excessive fear and stress and to learn whether we
will sustain an even keel through the stormy weather of life. They
looking at us and demand that we be courageous in such stormy
times. Will our faith bear us through? I know a person in the
last phases of cancer who awaits the judgment seat of God with open
arms and eager anticipation. Why? Because he has no fear of dying
and what that entails. I cannot but marvel at the fearlessness and
confidence in him and in many others who have terminal illnesses.
For them the storm is real; the various reactions of the sick
people are real as well. They make us aware that we can all be
true witnesses (or martyrs) in the manner in which we accept and
endure the storms of life. For God alone is our refuge and will
calm the stormy seas, but we have to have the trust that the divine
work is perceived in its fullness.
26, 2006 A Dream for the Holy Land
Our dreams take many shapes, some as nightmares and some as
sweet dreams that we only hope will happen. The dream of peace in
the Holy Land fits the latter category. It is not wrong to day
dream provided the dream is realistic and worthy of implementation.
Such is this dream: that the land of the Israeli and Palestinians
will be one of peace, and people of the entire world will be
invited to come and share some of the rich cultural flavor of the
place. The three great religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam,
celebrate on the same landscape and there maintain some of their
holiest shrines even on the same sites such as the Holy Mount.
The proximity of these holy places is reason enough that the
good God worshiped by all wants something more: a profound sharing
of mysteries given to a few to pass on to the many. That's a good
challenge, not a bad problem. It demands mutual support and
encouragement that can be capitalized upon by building hostels and
meeting places, restaurants and accommodations for the pilgrims who
desire to come and spend time to see, pray and just visit and feel
at home. In this extended spiritual sense, the Holy Land is home
to over half of the world's people.
My dream is that every person of these three great religions
should be able to visit the Holy Land once in a lifetime. That is
over three billion who would need to come at a rate of one million
a week; and that is quite a crowd needing travel, accommodations
and services. Maybe a few would even want to come back more than
once. Think of the demand for restaurant managers, cooks and
servers; think of the number of managers and cleaning personnel
at hotels, motels and camp sites; think of security and policing
personnel, utility workers, growers and processors of fresh foods,
and transportation people to handle the crowds. But why not?
Transport resource use would certainly not equal current Middle
Eastern military expenditures. Even at modest accommodations, the
business would keep the economy booming. All could be satisfied
and a massive service performed for tens of millions of people.
And why could not these pilgrimages be taken in peace and love?
Could this be achieved? Well, in a wild stretch of the
imagination, it is possible, for millions go to Rome and Mecca and
millions have come in more peaceful times to the Holy Land -- but
not for continuous periods of time. Is it worthwhile? Well, no
one could doubt that, if all went well, it would be a spiritual
experience for all parties. How could such a dream ever be
initiated? Only if the entire world wants to visit "home" just
once. Our problem has been that some Israeli and Palestinians
claim that "home" exclusive of all of our claims. Yes, the Holy
Land is home to all Jews, but also to all Christians and Moslems as
well. We deserve to visit and pray in this holy of all holy
places. We have got to assert our right to return. The return is
not for residence but for a visit -- and the millions of current
residents can help bring this about. All things are possible with
God's assistance. Let's continue to dream realistically.
27, 2006 Brain Drain
"Brain drain" refers to the movement of professional or highly
skilled or trained individuals and groups of people from one area
of a country or one country to a more highly regarded portion of
the nation, or to another more affluent part of the world.
Actually, brain drains occur throughout the world where rural areas
are affected by out-migration and experience loss of talented and
educated young people to more affluent regions. This depresses
communities that suffer from the outflow. Recent reports indicate
that other developed nations besides our own have experienced this
phenomenon. Even Germany is experiencing a regional brain drain as
people move from Saxony and eastern parts to Bavaria and other
southern and western parts of the nation.
Poor nations provide skilled workers for affluent lands that
have relative shortages and higher pay scales and well equipped
facilities. Some 25% of the health care workers of Africa are now
working in Europe or America. Even more of the Haitian medicinal
personnel are in North America. This occurs although the
impoverished African continent and the most impoverished parts of
the Caribbean have immense difficulty maintaining essential health
services and experience countless cases of AIDS, malaria and
tropical diseases that ravish entire populations. Appalachia also
suffers from out-migration of our skilled and professional native
people to nearby or distant urban centers and is recipient of
medical doctors and health care workers from the Philippines, India
and other parts of the world. Thus in poorer areas of affluent
United States and Canada, such as inner city hospitals and rural
areas, one finds people from lands that can hardly afford the drain
of their own personnel replacing the drained fields of our country.
What makes this doubly onerous for the impoverished areas is
that the primary education and sometimes even up to and including
professional training is paid for by the poorer region with no
return compensation for education of the individuals. Nor do we
find any movement in the world for a just compensation by the
wealthier nations and regions for this terrible educational burden
on the poorer parts. When money is given in the form of public or
private assistance, it is regarded as "charity," although it is
actually just compensation for the education of the trained
individuals who emigrate.
A good solution is to persuade people to stay put but that is
nearly impossible. A second suggestion is that professional people
would not migrate unless they are sure replacements have been found
in the needy area from which they come. Unfortunately that would
at best lead to a chain reaction whereby one comes from a region
and gets a replacement from a needy region, and the least well off
is ultimately the area paying the greatest price. The best
solution is to train people in the more affluent areas to handle
their own needs and to encourage some of the more caring to go and
assist in impoverished regions -- a mentality that has motivated
countless Peace Corps and similar volunteers.
Education Center, Frankfort, KY
28, 2006 Jewelweed
One of the wild plants that I love most is the jewelweed, not
because it is edible (see June 24), but because it is such
soothing medicinal plant when having the skin irritations of all
sorts that can occur in this summer season. The jewelweed
(Impatiens capensis) is a member of the balsam family and related
to the impatiens that are grown in flower gardens. It gets its
name in either of two ways: dew or raindrops will bead on the leaf
and look like a jewel in sunlight; the flowers hang as jewels in a
necklace from the plant. The plant is best known for its flowers,
which can be pale yellow or, in the case of the spotted jewelweed,
orange with red spots; the seed pod will split and spit out seed at
a mere touch (thus the nickname "Touch-me-not"). Certain insects
and hummingbirds are drawn to the nectar, and mice and birds are
attracted to the seeds.
Many regard this annual plant as an invasive species and
caution against introducing it. It grows best in shaded, wooded
areas and could crowd out less aggressive species. Actually it is
easily removed where unwanted by pulling it out (root and all come
easily) early in the summer before it gets too tall. However, I
recommend its property of transpiring excess moisture; thus the
jewelweed is ideal for planting as surface for artificial wetlands
where one must remove excess moisture through sponge-like
vegetation. Here the jewelweed may hold top place of honor.
Jewelweed is truly a healing plant with 95% of users
testifying to its beneficial results, The sap can be extracted and
made into a tincture form by medicinal herbalists -- and sold
commercially over the Internet. A better approach through the
summer when poison ivy and oak are immense bothers to many hikers
is to use it immediately upon contact with the poison ivy plant.
Wad up the entire stalk and leaves and apply this bruised sappy
plant by rubbing it on the skin areas that have possibly been
contacted. After the rash appears, you may still use the jewelweed
for soothing effects. Tales are told of people going into shock by
being near poison ivy and being brought out of their condition
almost immediately by the rapid application of jewelweed to the
skin. In fact, jewelweed is known and used for a host of insect
bites and cuts, bruises, warts, sprains, athlete's foot, and most
fungal skin infections -- and just about any skin irritation.
People who swear by jewelweed are hesitant to act as medical doctor
and recommend it for all aches and pains; like all things
jewelweed has limited use. Fortunately, it is a good home remedy
used widely by the Native Americans and early pioneers.
A number of plants trigger a warm feeling when I find them
present in wooded areas. Jewelweeds do this; I always feel safe
around them. They can grow tall to about five or six feet and
cover the area with a shade. They attract hummingbirds and other
likeable creatures. If you have a shaded area and realize that
other things don't grow easily, try jewelweed so that you can have
some of it handy when in need.
29, 2006 Unchanging Rock
Many places in the Scriptures talk about the solidness and
firmness of rock and say that the rock, Peter, is that on which
Christ will build his Church. The rock is the symbol of what is
unchanging and not easily moved. I remember that at Little Round
Top at Gettysburg Battlefield, Pennsylvania, a photograph of a dead
soldier on a particular boulder sits next to that rock. Comparing
the photographed features of 143 years ago and with the rock today
shows the same cracks and rough surface and extremely little
change. Not that there is not some weathering occurring; it is
just not easily detectible.
My best rock memories are those of a particular spot on the
sandstone cliffs (softer than the granite-like rock just described)
on a bluff overlooking the Rockcastle River Valley. I most deeply
appreciate this personal sacred space during the warmer seasons,
surrounded by huckleberries and scented flowers and
sufficiently high to see the meandering river and hear bird calls.
I climb to that favorite spot and examine the rock surface -- and
find it very much alive with lichens, ants and other little
critters. Here I am more aware of the gradual process of
weathering rock -- the change of rock to soil.
We all know that earthquakes can make dramatic changes occur
in a rock formation, causing fracturing and making some loose
boulders tumble down hills and scatter. But the dramatic rock
change from an earthquake is quite rare, and most rocks change
through a gradual weathering process. Rocks are regarded as
unchanging -- even though we are aware that they alter. We say the
sun rises and sets, and yet we know it is the movement of the Earth
that creates this phenomenon. It is the gradual and rather
unnoticeable changes of the stone that make us talk about the
unchanging hills and rocks -- knowing that movement of materials in
uplifting and depressing and in weathering; these are all part of
the this Earth's geological process.
Like all creatures, organic and inorganic, rocks can teach us
many things. They are firm and yet subject to movement by greater
forces; they are apparently unchanging but weathering all the
while; they are warm in summer's sun but cold in winter's frigid
climate; they seem lifeless yet on closer examination support
life. Rocks are more than what is quickly apparent. They teach us
to look further for the characteristics that we yearn to possess:
firmness of purpose, eternity in life, ever-present warmth. Rocks
serve as pointers to deeper mysteries for, even in their silence,
they speak, if only we spend some time in observation and
reflection. Rocks reflect the story of the creation from the
limestone shell rocks we found scattered on the farm in youth to
the rock overhangs we see so prominent in southeastern Kentucky.
In their quiet way, rocks can also point us to the Creator of all.
We continue to build our solid homes and rest in utter assurance in
rock formations. We are confident that God is the rock of our
salvation, refuge, comfort, and the rock our delight.
30, 2006 Long Branch Environmental Education Center
Our close connection with Long Branch near Leicester, North
Carolina, does not mean we should omit featuring this as one of the
non-profit organizations worthy of special mention. Each month we
attempt to highlight an influential environmental groups that is
acting in an Earth healing capacity worth noting and supporting.
Paul and Pat Gallimore have been the main driving forces
behind Long Branch during its more than three decades of existence.
The organization has 1,600 acres of incredibly beautiful forested
land located in the Newfound Mountains in western North Carolina
about 30 miles northeast of Asheville. The grounds include a wide
variety of appropriate technology applications: innovative passive
solar housing and uniquely located retreat cabins, solar and other
composting toilets, solar greenhouses, microhydro power station,
aquacultural pond filled with trout, a unique American chestnut
nursery, edible landscape with blueberry patches, raspberries,
asparagus, and other perennial vegetables, an incredibly beautiful
walnut grove and nearby resting area, apple orchard with numerous
Appalachian heirloom varieties, solar water heater, wildscape
grounds, organic garden area, a library of ecological and other
books, and other features. Various types of research are occurring
on the grounds related to saving the endangered hemlocks and ways
of protecting the forests from destructive influences, human and
Visitors are most welcome to come and see, to help work and to
volunteer for periods of time to help keep this appropriate
technology center thriving. Also Long Branch seeks ecology and
other scientific and Appalachian books to help replace those that
were destroyed by a tragic fire a little while back. More
importantly, Long Branch is willing to offer opportunities for
groups to come and enjoy an outdoor retreat experience (See
For further information contact:
Long Branch Environmental Education Center
P.O. Box 369
Leicester, NC 28748