June ushers in the start of the early harvest season when we mow grass, harvest hay, pick cherries and berries, and plant the remainder of the seasonal garden. We look ahead to a productive summer and take part in increased outdoor activity -- and try not to forget the sunscreen. We rise early and stay outdoors with the extended sunlight until late, for June is a time of exertion and sweat, of perseverance and exuberance. During the month, the fresh beauty of springtime vegetation fades like a youthful blush giving way to middle-age. Even the tree leaves deepen in green and the summer flowers such as black-eyed Susans and various lilies have that rich early summer color.
Grandstanding is your way,
more than sunbursts of floral neighbors;
You show your sweeping attire suddenly
like a circus announcer's final act;
You make us know that life
is fully enjoyed for brief moments.
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June is the time we get outdoors more, travel about at greater length, explore our surroundings and find that God's creation presents opportunities to grow and mature. We observe very young wildlife frolicking in their new-found mobility and recall the times we scampered about at will. Yes, we must pace ourselves, protect our skin, drink more water, and retire to shade at midday.
As we exert ourselves more, we feel a surge of power from within; we are tempted to think this allows a certain conquering or exploiting spirit, and a feeling of superiority over other creatures around us whether they be wildlife, pets, trees, or weeds -- for some can easily get out of control. Subjection of others may be deep within our Western culture; however, it is a false interpretation of our Judeo-Christian religious heritage. A restless spirit needs self-control, but that is not easily attained when the surge of activity springs from within. Let's not fool ourselves; we can overdo just about anything that is good.
Some elements that occur within our June eco-spirituality are: exercise, hard work and the physical activity of summer; a wider call to go out to all the world; a measured sense of maturing and pacing ourselves through appropriate protective measures to avoid overwork; exaltation in our mission as part of a cooperative enterprise; and a seasonal temptation to think that longer days and unending life is part of a summer that will never end.
We experience the early beginnings of the long Pentecost season; it covers half of the calendar year through summer and autumn. Pentecost brings out the practicality within us; this is how we exert ourselves, always in appropriate ways and within the limits of our resources. Thus we consider a renewable energy economy, a new way of seeing a world that seems condemned to threatening climate change and loss of quality of life. We sense the exaltation of the lowly that comes after a life of sacrifice and openness to the God who calls. We realize that this exaltation is not the result of entitlement, privilege, or unearned position, but a gift from God enabling us to engage in a gentle revolution of healing the Earth and changing the structures of our society.
As bearers of unearned gifts, we know that these are from the Almighty. Nonetheless, we tend to exalt in the great blessing that God has given us through Baptism/Confirmation. A caution appears: we can miss the counterbalancing stricture to take on the serving role of Jesus, a noble but humble serving role. We can be forgetful and stress personal exaltation to the detriment of humble service. We wrestle with this exploitative spirit from early youth, through middle age greed, and on to old age's clinging to independence. Yes, we are lowly but yet called to greatness -- balancing humble service and spiritual empowerment is a challenge.
Prayer: Lord, teach us how to find balance in life and to take time to reflect on the need to experience through our senses your Divine Presence found in all creation.
Hopeful Components of the Pope's Encyclical on the Environment
The following are not actual content, but hopeful issues, in Pope Francis' upcoming Encyclical on the Environment:
* Respect for all creation is part of being human. All is a gift from God to whom we express our gratitude through words of praise and responsible care. We can glorify God's creation through good deeds that benefit all -- collaborative development.
* We can harm our fragile environment through thoughtless waste and greed; this is done by individuals and groups to such a degree that an environmental crisis emerges in this age.
* We observe air, water and land pollution and we must voice our objection; we cannot remain silent through denial, excuse or escape, nor remain passive; we must be active agents of change, for pollution harms our brothers and sisters, human and others.
* The modern consumer culture extends beyond basic essentials of life and includes excessive material use of resources by affluent people, and commercial pressure to extend a privileged affluent lifestyle within a rampant materialistic atmosphere. We simply must learn to resist the excessive consumer culture.
* The environmental crisis is a global issue and thus it is not sufficient that people focus their actions only at a domestic or local scene, for pollution goes beyond local and national boundaries and reaches to the ends of the planet.
* Of critical importance today are effects of growing emissions of greenhouse gases resulting from human activities. Harm comes especially to the poor, as manifested through a consensus of the scientific community. Prudence dictates that political denial of climate change is a morally culpable act.
* We must have an integral ecology, which includes treating the social dimension of economic inequality as fueling the fires of climate change. The wealthy seek to prolong the status quo and thus retard replacement of profitable fossil and nuclear fuels by a renewable energy and simpler lifestyle economy.
* Tweaking the current socio-economic System prolongs the agony; a collaborative approach includes radical reformation in order to ensure necessities of life for all and curtailment of waste by the privileged. Yes, Capitalism must be challenged.
* We resolve to work with all people of good will. Achieving desired results depends on more than a rational course of education and information sharing. Social addiction is a persistent problem demanding a humble recourse to a Higher Power in order to become free and work well together. Let's encourage each other in a prayerful manner, for wounded creation cries for help today.
Steep terrain near Mary E. Fritsch Nature Center, Rockcastle Co., KY.
June 2, 2015 Presenting Challenges from Cliffs
Come then, my love, my lovely one, come. My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.
(Song of Songs 2:13-14)
Rockcastle means sharp cliffs and rugged sandstone formations cresting above the river valley; thus the county and river were named for the unique southeastern Kentucky formations. Several of us were cutting our way in June through a very dense forest tangle in Rockcastle County when we happened suddenly on the edge of a precipice, almost causing us to topple down hundreds of feet. Such experiences suggest how much rock formations challenge us in our attempts either to scale them or to avoid the sudden pitfalls in our path in life.
Maneuvering the hidden recesses, sheer heights, and the rugged
character of rock formations takes close attention, especially when foliage is dense and the footholds ahead concealed. When we observe prominent cliffs and jagged rocks from a distance, they appear enchanting; up close, we experience cliffs and crags as barriers to conquer and challenges to explore. Are we afraid to journey near the jagged edges of life and foresee what lies ahead? Do we have an insight into the wilderness of our soul? Can we find ourselves in the rugged terrain and somehow conquer our uncertainties and fears in order to move on to what lies ahead? The rocky pathways of life have a way of eliciting new questions about our journey of faith and how we are to address them.
We answer this multitude of questions in the manner in which cross-country travelers pursue their course -- carefully, and ever more so if traveling alone. In fact, the gift of companionship holds true in difficult ordeals like such movement. Together with others we are able to reinforce our watchfulness and caution, and transmit this to others on the road. Life is difficult enough, but companions can reduce tension and improve our vigilance so that we can progress faster as a team.
A further aspect is to see that God, our rock and shelter, is also traveling with us as we move. We need a companionship that extends beyond the confines of our mortal co-workers. We need to see that the team is far better attuned to the realities of the trip if we see God guiding and directing us at all times. We thank God for bringing us so far and petition for protection on what lies before us. Rocks themselves are the works of the Almighty and instead of being fearsome, they are protective in their own way.
Prayer: Lord, help us as our sure and safe protection through the sharp edges of our journey in life.
Then came a mighty wind, so strong that it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before YHWH. But YHWH was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But YHWH was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But YHWH was not in the fire. And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. (I Kings 19:11-12)
I had to get the cow with the newborn calf to the barn because the distance was great and the sky threatening. I tried to carry the calf but it was too heavy for a youth of ten. I tried to drive the cow but she went in circles back to the walking calf. Finally she nudged me and I decided to go first, and she followed and the calf trotted behind her. We made it to the barn before the storm, and what I learned from that close shave with bad weather is that we must go ahead and allow others to follow -- not drive them. The cow taught me a youthful lesson, as though God speaks to us through all of creation. We need to listen at these unexpected moments, not only as youth, but at all stages of life.
The sounds of creation vary in volume, tone and pitch. Obviously, the most pronounced sound of June is the thunder, accompanying the storm clouds that roll through the Ohio Valley and other temperate zone regions. Other powerful sounds (earthquakes, mighty waterfalls or the crash of an ocean wave) are not always experienced, highly localized, or too far away for inland residents. However, the rumble of distant and the crash of local thunder gives us a sense of powerlessness before the impending might of the Almighty. Dogs and other animals are often terrified by a thunderstorm, for it hurts their ears and triggers strange and unexpected behavior on their part.
We have milder sounds of summer. Mockingbirds unveil their enticing repertoire, and whippoorwills salute dawn and dusk. Different sounds trigger different emotions. We are at the mercy of the God who sets this world in motion: we could be hit by lightning, washed away by flash floods, killed by earthquakes, or burned by flames. We realize we must take shelter; we unplug the computer; we bolt down the hatches of our lives; we take precautions to avoid the path of unleashed natural forces and thank God over and over for continued life. Looked at another way, all of life has its thunderstorms, and their sudden revealing power teaches us to respect the forces of nature wherever we are.
Amid the seemingly chaotic times in which we live comes a more gentle breeze to which we must open ourselves. Yes, amid the gentleness of after-storm breezes is the continued call to greatness. Go on and achieve the tasks at hand, for God is with us. We await an unknown outcome, but through trust and collaboration we fumble through and prepare ourselves to spread the Good News. Through patience and resignation we learn to endure storms and enjoy the gentle breezes that follow.
Prayer: Lord, attune our spiritual ear to hear your voice.
June 4, 2015 Enjoying a Priceless Drink of Cool Water
As a doe longs for running streams, so longs my soul for you, my God.
When I was young, my family drank mainly rainwater from a properly maintained cistern. We kept the inlets to the cistern turned off until the rainfall was sufficient, and then we turned into the cistern only the better quality water. Our relatives knew the water to be good tasting and loved to drink our "farm water" insteadof their chlorinated city water. No matter what we say, few pleasures of life go beyond that of slaking the thirst with good-tasting, potable water.
Water from different places has its own unique taste for those with well-honed senses. Some water is quite soft and pleasant with only a trace of minerals. Other water is heavily laced with bitter and smelly ingredients such as sulfur compounds, which may or may not be harmful in themselves depending on type and amount. In fact, some foul‑tasting mineral waters have been regarded for centuries as curative and healthy to the affluent ones who have the means to "take the waters." The unpleasant taste accompanied the anticipated curative process of soaking, sipping, and sitting around mineral-spring resorts. But clean, soft, and good-tasting water can be both healthy and inviting, and ought to be accessible and affordable to us all.
All people on this Earth have a right to potable water. Protecting this vast supply of clean water is within the power of concerned global citizens, for we are empowered to ensure potable water for all -- and here ecological concern and social justice merge. In parts of Appalachia, water wells are polluted, especially where water aquifers have been fractured by mining blasting operations and contaminated with waste due to mishandled mining and road construction. In such places, the simple and ancient concept of a cistern to collect and store rainwater is still a viable solution, using time-honored experience and locally-found labor, along with folks willing to do minimal maintenance.
Solutions need not be mega-governmental projects, such as shipping water from distant sources or operating regional consolidated water districts -- and one certainly needed for larger concentrations of population who can easily exhaust local water sources. In some dry but populated places it may be necessary to desalinate nearby bodies of water or saline ground water. Of course such practices take energy for the purification process; hopefully, renewable energy sources will be used. The poor of this Earth must take matters into their own hands and collaborate in bringing higher quality water to those with essential needs of drinking, bathing, and cooking. With water supplies limited in certain areas and water consumption by the privileged at high levels, supplying pure water becomes an increasing challenge.
Prayer: Lord, help us give water to those who are thirsty.
Yes, the smell of my son is like the smell of a fertile field blessed by YHWH. May God give you dew from heaven and the richness of the earth, abundance of grain and wine! (Genesis 27:27b-28)
Forgotten odors trigger past memories. The smell of thehayfield still causes me to wince. I recall the old stationary hay-baler, the heavy bales, the hay hooks with their cool slick feeling of steel. But not every association of the scent of hay is painful. In dead of winter, the hayloft became a comfort zone, from which livestock were fed and where youth could play. Outside, old hay stacks were places to hide, and shelters against the wind. The scent of timothy, alfalfa, or red clover brings back the sweeter memory of fertile fields. Even the sweaty hay gave good associations: breaks to drink Mama's iced freshly-made lemonade; cool breeze hitting us when bringing in the hay; the smell like the chemical coumarin in fields of new-mown hay; and a June feeling that coming winter would be well supplied.
Isaac, the patriarch, though blinded, still had the sense of smell and could distinguish his sons accordingly. Perfumes and scents identify individuals as all dogs with well-honed senses are most aware. Incense, a liturgical substance associated with the church assembly, has its place in raising our minds and hearts to God. We know particular aromas of Appalachia, even those of the pole cat or the wet dog. All such scents bear mixed blessings, and that is what life is all about -- those associations, some pleasant and some not so, sort of commingle to make for raw reality.
As down-to-Earth people, associated with all creatures, we need to work together to protect the land we love. This working together as a community of God's creation takes cooperation and much give and take among all parties. We cannot achieve success alone; we look about and accept the expertise and resources of all who are present, and we recognize them by their inviting presence. Discrimination and refusing a helping hand in times of need are downright defeating. We swallow our pride and self-sufficiency and cast about for those who have assisting hands and thus ease our burdens. As we age the search becomes more intense for we grow in the surrender of our personal independence.
We reach out and accept the offer in our expanding company of Earth healers. In fact, it is just as important that we utilize the ones who tend our planet as it is to recruit new caregivers. All are called to do little protective activities at the local level, provided they do not use the excuse that they need not think globally at the same time. Let's reach out to broader things.
Prayer: Lord, grant us the willingness to blend the good of past memories with the calling to new horizons; let us see this combination as part of our journey in life.
Wildflowers and rock, along the Rockcastle River.
June 6, 2015 Coming in Contact with Inviting Rocks
To the rock too high for me, lead me! For you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
My best rock memories are those of a particular spot on the sandstone cliffs of a ridge overlooking the Rockcastle River Valley. I most deeply appreciated 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 climbed up to the overhang more slowly with each passing year. When I reached the heights, I was out of breath. I sat down more solidly on the rocks, observed the rock surface and it became alive with a life of its own -- with its lichens and ants and other little critters. It was a gradual process of weathering rock -- something seemingly unchanging but really not so. Oh, earthquakes shake our sense of rock stability but these are rare. While sitting, life appeared unchanging. But then time meant moving on, ever so slowly, for it was getting late.
Some regard rocks as cold and lifeless, and they certainly can be at times. But how about thinking of rocks as warm, for they act as teachers in their own right? While these rock formations are a refuge and stronghold, still they too are subject to change; at best they only tell a partial story. Rocks are way signs on our journey of life indicating that God alone is our true refuge, our harbor of security. Only in God do we trust.
If we touch rocks with reverence, being mindful of their own long history, we learn something about ourselves, our hidden and ancient history. We are corrected in that summer dream that the season will last forever; yet we know full well that in two weeks those lengthened days will start getting shorter even as true summer season begins. Life for all of us is imperceptibly shortening, though only a few of us allude to it. Let's confront our natural world of rocks and rivers and rugged terrain as challenging teachers calling us to live fully our fleeting time.
We strive to stay in touch with the world around us. Affluence has a way of deadening our sense of touch and directing us only to material goods we cling to or crave. The real sense of touch is no longer present and we can soon become so numb that we are insensitive to the deeper needs of others. We can refine our touch to include the feelings of others and that of the entire world community of sensing beings; thus, we are more able to be realists knowing what is well cared for and what is still calling for our deeper concern. "Staying in touch" goes beyond being a sponge for new information ahead of others; it really refers to sensitivity to those who are hungry and thirsty in our midst. By touching all creation with reverence we gain a more balanced sense of matter.
Prayer: Lord, refine our sense of touch so that we are sensitive to the needs of our neighbors and willing to care for all who call for help.
June 7, 2015 Manifesting the Power of Corpus Christi
When they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them and said, Take it, this is my body. Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them and they all drank from it. (Mark 14:26)
Many people misunderstand spiritual power and think that it mimics worldly power. They conceive that the force of truth will overpower and convert people and hold them in a state of utter helplessness and control. This can even fool spiritual leaders who think they have the entire truth under their control and can dispense it like a king does his largesse. This has the flavor of a Roman Caesar who was a demigod with loyal subjects bound to show obeisance. It is not the right approach to divine matters.
The spiritual power of Corpus Christi rests in Jesus' promise to be with us until the end of time -- and is. It is the Spirit that gives reality to the change of bread into the Body of Christ, not a sort of power independently given to which we clutch as though it were military might. This power is bestowed on the priest as consecrating agent, and can be manifested by the reverence of the entire believing community; it is the power of God working within and for the community of faith. Salvation history includes those invited into the Divine Family. The consecrating then is a divine gift that points to a privileged people of God invited to partake in Christ's saving work. The Eucharist is the focal point and today we celebrate this with special emphasis.
Corpus Christi is God's presence in our world and we manifest this truth in our words and actions. The focus point is the consecrated host and in consecrating, both the process and the object become important. God entered Mary's womb and yet her "yes" in utter freedom was part of the incarnation process; so we believers in saying "yes" to the Eucharist collaborate to show the reality of Christ's presence to an unbelieving world. Would there be reality if there were no desire for service to others? In truth, the consecrating still occurs, but the manifestation of the Corpus Christi event would be reduced if priest or people were not totally participating.
God wants us to enhance the glory of presence through our participation in the devotion and worship of the Eucharist. Some who are intent on declaring this the reality of Christ's presence can miss a heavy portion of the mystery by forgetting their own role in spreading the Word. The consecrating priest is not on a pedestal but in the midst of a suffering people; he must be acutely aware that spiritual power is both divine in origin and human in manifestation. It has to be a servant exercising with a collaborative believing community. Corpus Christi shows the power of serving others with love, not people with personal powers.
Prayer: Lord, teach us the power of the Eucharist in this Corpus Christi event; help us be imitators of Christ in our lives.
June 8, 2015 Self-sacrificing as a True Messianic Role
Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel? (Acts 1:6)
The outlook for a messianic leader to deliver Israel from the Roman occupying oppressors was extremely keen in Jesus' time, before the reconquest and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Many groups were springing up and even one of the chosen apostles had the name "zealot" attached. The cause of a militaristic messiah was foremost in the minds of some Jewish radicals at that moment. A popular political position of restoration of the Kingdom of Israel was a possible messianic role. This remained true for some of the disciples after the Resurrection and before Pentecost. They had witnessed Jesus cleansing the Temple of occupied business interests. Jesus manifested zeal and thus they attached popular aspirations on him -- but Jesus was never one to do what the popular sentiments suggested.
The idea of a suffering and sacrificing Messiah was found in Scripture but few in Jesus' day saw the implications. Even to this day many think they can be faithful believers without being self- sacrificing. Such a position conceives of power in a different, more worldly sense. For some, physical conquest is a rather secular and narrow approach to fullness of salvation, but Jesus teaches a different concept of kingdom and conquest. To love another to the point of self-sacrificing for them is foreign to the physical power approach; it involves opening oneself to being physically overcome, in many cases for the good of others. A restoration of a system based on love and sharing by all was beyond the common mentality of that day and even ours today. For many, Christianity means prosperity in a material sense.
The coming of our God to us is that of mercy and forgiveness, not one of force. It is amazing how so often in the years since Jesus' coming the call of the true messiah had to be remade in counterweight to those who chose military might for crusades and insurrections, for battling heretics and non-believers. The peaceful way for messianic action through non-violent means was always ripe for being overlooked and forgotten. That is because self-sacrifice is so very difficult for followers to do.
The method of restoration is different and has taken centuries to teach and reteach through the words and deeds of those who truly understand Jesus' message. Jesus' simple response is that it is not for you (disciples) to know times or dates to be established by the Father. No rationalizing, no explaining, no enlightenment for a event to come later. What is before us is to help hasten that coming of the Lord in glory by the partial restoration through love and mercy at this time -- a process that undoubtedly has taken much time and is still not yet accomplished. We await with expectancy but not by idleness. Ours is like Jesus' self-sacrificing life.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to see your coming in glory as worthy of our imitation and responsible action.
"All authority on heaven and earth have been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations..." (Matthew 28:18-19)
Evangelization consists of spreading Good News to others. Some take this message more literally than others and feel attracted to one or other corner of the civilized or more primitive world to carry the message. Over the centuries virtually every corner or patch of land on which people dwell has heard the footsteps of missionaries. Christianity from its earliest days was truly evangelistic; this meant entering new and foreign cultures of countless tribes and nations. For missionaries, just as Jesus leaves friends and ascends before us, so the missionary leaves a comfortable surrounding to extend the Good News and the message of the Risen Lord to others.
However, this going out does not necessarily mean we have to put on hiking boots and go to distant lands. We may be called to go to the forgotten and overlooked within one's residential community, or those of different thought patterns and who live "in their own worlds." Mere awaiting for the Lord's return wore thin as the time of his return grew later than early disciples expected -- though those knowing his word in the Gospels find the constant instructions to remain watchful and be patient in our work.
The Pentecost event is the great indication that we must be active and be willing to undertake the mission in life meant for us. However, we cannot afford to stand idly by and ignore our brothers and sisters on Earth who lack basics of life. One message stands clear in the early days of the New Testament: standing about, expecting a rapid return of the Lord shows a lack of awareness in our urgent ministry -- going out to the broader world. St. Paul in the letters to the Thessalonians speaks out clearly against such idleness and says that if people don't work they shouldn't eat. We have work to do during these two thousand years, urgent work empowered by the Risen Lord and inspired by the Spirit.
We are entrusted with Great Work, the extending of salvation's graces to those we meet in concrete ways. Jesus' going ahead of us does not mean he leaves us alone. From his seat in power Jesus still remains with us, present in the Eucharist and where we are praying together. From his seat of power Jesus exudes a direction for us all to follow, a "North Star" of our compass in bringing Good News. We are called to be other christs telling that creation, wounded by human misdeed, can be healed -- and we are commissioned to be the healers. We enter into the process that Jesus Christ as Lord launches through his suffering, death, and resurrection; he ascends leaving us as maturing followers with the awesome task of moving out in all directions, but still with eyes turned to see his magnetic center of power. We participate in an ongoing Great Work and should be excited about the privilege.
Prayer: Lord, keep us from being discouraged by the slow growth of your kingdom and help us remain faithful to the calling.
Discovering a treefrog on a spring hike. Vernon Douglas State Nature Preserve, KY.
June 10, 2015 Bearing Good News to all Creatures
Go out to the whole world: proclaim the Good News to all creation. (Mark 16:16)
Interestingly enough, in Mark's Gospel Jesus tells the disciples to go not just to other people but to the "whole world" and "all creation." Our going out is first to neighbors, but then who are our neighbors? Certainly all who do God's will. Don't the plants and animals comprise part of the neighborhood? So often we tend to share the Good News with those most receptive and willing to welcome and communicate -- the kindred spirits. Truly for these who show understanding communicating Good News comes more easily. What about those who resist? Jesus at times tells us to do our best and if negativity prevails to shake the dust from our feet and move on to new horizons. Don't let negativity consume us.
If Christ's redemptive graces go out to the entire world, how can we limit the Good News? We are never the ones to set limits on the News but being human we are limited in delivery and receptivity. We become restless souls in search of an audience for we are impelled to communicate through the graces of Pentecost, and yet in delivering we can only do so much. It is true that loving souls such as Francis of Assisi could preach to the birds and wildlife, but that is a rare grace and we would consider many soapbox speakers talking to birds a little touched in the head. Certainly we can speak to plants and animals, but not to preach to them as in need of their hearing and changing their practices.
Communication comes best through compassion; thus, going out to others is first achieved by entering into a spirit with all who suffer. Due to the misdeeds of humans, many of Earth creatures are suffering even to the point of being threatened with extinction. Exaltation comes to all who suffer and enter into the paschal mystery. In some way all creation awaits liberation and moans in the suffering that comes in being brought into a New Heaven and New Earth. From the beginning to now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth (Rom. 8:22).
In compassion we enter into the mission of all creation in a most intense manner. We see the cosmic task ahead and take part, and this requires the self-sacrifice of learning about other creatures. Those who devote their life to the study of one or other species must be given credit for being missionaries in their field of research, for they seek to protect what they come to know. As committed to universal salvation we, as agents of change, give a new meaning to the truths contained in all of creation; knowing is communicating and in learning of the depths of knowledge's treasures we are bearers of Good News. When we see the web of all creation we communicate a portion of Good News to them. When we utilize things we learn for the good of others, we bring blessings back to the entire believing community of people of good will.
Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to see your mission to us and that Earthhealers are an integral part of this mission.
June 11, 2015 Proclaiming Is Communication, a Two-Way Street
Go out to all the world and spread the Good News.
Spreading the Word is a form of communication, and this is something more than just telling. This is because God has created all things and in the process the delicate and unique character of the receivers of Good News is such that they hear and take in according to their own abilities and ways of doing things. The triggering of activity on the part of receivers of Good News means that they reveal themselves -- and this make the communication a two-way street.
Receivers of the Word show in their movement that the bringer of the News has been changed in the process of delivery. We can say that the bearer in a broader sense is also the receiver, for the hand of God is so generous that in the proclamation of salvation the power of the Risen Lord extends to all. All of us contribute to the course of salvation history and what Christ has done for us needs to be activated in the entire world. Here researchers take part in the communication process in detecting the resonance of redemption or the second Big Bang and in doing so they bring out the two-way communication that we hint to in proclaiming Good News. We speak and others speak back in their own way.
We become heralds, but that means what we tell has a message that resounds beyond the telling. It seems to grow in the telling. All creation constitutes part of the Good News and believers are the heralds; in heralding, we surpass John the Baptist because we know that we are announcing the presence of the Risen Lord among us; John was not so privileged at the time of his awakening people to the Messiah. We herald the kernel of Good News (Christ comes, suffers, dies and rises) but not the total implications. We state the basics but the rising has an infinite power which opens a treasure of meaningful applications to building the Kingdom.
Through modern means of communication and an atmosphere of openness we can go out more easily to all, give, share, receive, and show their worth by listening and taking the extension of Good News back to the gathering community of believers. The missionary or herald thus works in two ways: by opening ourselves to all creatures and by learning what they have to offer as creature teachers. In so doing we expand their worth and God's glory. In seeing their extended value we carry this back to all the grand believing community and thus we evangelize a portion and all at the same time. We become the servant street on which Good News travels -- and feel privileged to have been so called.
Furthermore, we begin to understand what being spiritually privileged is all about. We are people called to service and the better we perform the more privileged we are to be like Christ. In finding value we respect all creation and become Earthhealers.
Prayer: Lord, help us see our privilege in bringing Good News and that we have a multiphase task ahead of us.
June 12, 2015 Spreading Good News and a Paradigm Shift
At various times popular ways of seeing things take a major turn, or "paradigm shift." Jeremy Rifkin speaks of the current moment from a market capitalistic way of thinking to what he terms a Collaborative Commons (Ref. The Zero Marginal Cost Economy). Missionary workers awoke to a paradigm shift after the Vatican II Council in the 1960s, when it became evident that the ones who took the Good News with all to offer were to be receptive of some truth from the receivers of the Word. In other words, proclamation went from preaching to communicating between noble partners.
The missionary carried the Good News to be sure, but the ones to whom the message was delivered had a treasure of God's gifts along with some practices that needed change. The noble primitives certainly needed much including connections to the rest of the human race, for isolation is never better than mutual sharing. Unfortunately, in the age of colonialism the receiver of the Word was also the one being exploited for precious metal, furs, wood, or some other raw material for the aggressor's native country. Missionaries were often allowed to come also, and they were used for ultimate economic and political purposes; they softened and lowered cultural barriers so that the exploitation could occur with less friction. Here missionary as peacemaker took on sinister and mercenary dimensions without their being hardly aware of it.
In the expanding concept of the People of God by mid-twentieth century we were discovering that receptive folks had much to offer the wider world community in simple living techniques, relations in community, political decision-making, manner of treating criminal reacceptance in society, patterns of hospitality, natural medicines, and on and on. An entire world of treasures exists around us whether from human society or within the plant and animal world as well. Furthermore, the act of deep and authentic communication involves give and take, speaking and listening to the other party. Good News is precisely that in an expanded form, namely our sharing with each other becoming a win/win situation. Togetherness is part of the Divine Plan; the missionary is a go-between, a person who offers the opportunity to bring this about.
On the other hand, a more self-righteous view that the one coming was the "good guy" and the soul to receive the Word was the "lost soul" or savage was disparaging. Receivers of the missionary message have things to offer as well as receive and share. The initial proclamation is that Christ has risen, and this gives rise to sharing gifts that the primary giver has, with the added willingness to receive gifts and convey them back to a broader world community. Missionaries are successful if good listeners -- giving and receiving simultaneously; they must overcome worldly allurements, become transparent to grace, share with the poor, and be humble to realize that God alone is the Giver of all good gifts, and we are the bearers of all forms of good things to others.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be able to share the Good News in giving and receiving the treasures that you have bestowed.
These are the signs that will be associated with believers; in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their own hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover. (Mark 16: 17-18)
Recently in Kentucky and not too far from my residence a preacher who handled snakes was bitten and died, and he was by no means the first. The practice is forbidden in the Commonwealth, but that has not stopped the practice. Its origin are the quoted words in Mark, but in another way it is a tempting of God by those who regard themselves as people of faith. If one accepts the dare he is of faith; if he does not, he is not yet a full believer; if he is bitten and dies his depth of faith is called into question.
It is one thing to place yourself deliberately in danger and dare God to work a miracle in your regard. It is quite another to find yourself in actual danger while working for the Lord and pray that protection will be given. If for some reason a believer is harmed, even the testimony of accepting danger and what comes from the aftereffects are salutary events, for the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church's growth. We are always in the hands of divine providence and thank God for it. God protects us from all spiritual and other harm. Those hurt in service suffer, but that suffering is never lost (see April 30th reflection), for what appears harm is a benefit in the economy of salvation.
God will protect us through signs and ways but one must not interpret these as wonders to make the believer into a wonderworker. The wonders show God's constant protection and our constant dependence: casting out devils indicates direct confrontation with materialism in all its forms and having the grace not to be overcome by it; tongues may not mean gibberish or meaningless babble as though we are brilliant and others ignorant, but rather the ability to communicate in a meaningful way with people who belong to a different culture or world; handling snakes may refer to those (snakes) who are deceptive within a materialistic culture and for the one ministering to come out unscathed; drinking poisons is further confrontation in the face of allurements to be like the culture being confronted and the believer still continuing in God's work.
Our mission to bring about a gentle revolution involves dangers of many sorts, some foreseen and some not. The Lord will protect us at all times, even in the moments of our own seeming success, provided we believe that it is not due to some type of hereditary entitlement, privilege, or unearned position, but God's gift and we are instruments. However, to some chosen ones the calling is to suffer and the shortened ministry seems a sign of lack of success, but in spiritual eyes this is not the case.
Prayer: Lord, protect us in our daily sacrifices and yet always may your will be done, even amid the dangers of the world.
June 14, 2015 Observing the Mustard Seed's Powerful Growth
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds; yet once it is sown grows into the biggest shrub of them all...
We must recall that this is a parable about the growth of the mighty kingdom of God starting from a tiny beginning; it is more than a gardening lesson interwoven into a parable by Jesus. Once I observed a humble mustard plant in my greenhouse (which normally reaches a height of one or more feet when flowering) continue to grow to be the tallest herb I ever experienced; it touched the ceiling of the greenhouse. The mustard seed parable came to mind.
The parable of the mustard seed is something we must reflect upon for it tells us of a hidden power that God has at work in the world -- the power of the poor and simple to influence a world that is overwhelmed by material power and wealth. The small mustard seed grows into a great plant far beyond the size of the seed, so great that it becomes a tree in which the birds will come and rest in the branches. This is subject to many interpretations (see Short Stories by Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine). The small seed, the start of a community of believers, can become a mighty plant but not in some sense of military might or compulsive dominance.
The use of biological terms of gradual growth but ultimately beneficial results is part of understanding the Kingdom of God. Great things from humble beginnings, but not the same as rags or destitution to riches or immense monetary wealth. The spiritual power that is indicated here is one of collaborative service to all people for the common good. The simple beginnings or tiny seed of God's goodness in Christ, who comes and suffers and dies and is risen to new life, is what we perceive as the growth of the Kingdom of God. Jesus instructs us in this parable that we sow small seed in our gardens and yet the ultimate fruition for believers is immense. In due time, a miracle of maturation will occur, and that must be part of the sowers' anticipation.
Jesus' activities in due time have a global impact that could take centuries. The spiritual power of the Resurrection is a slow perceptible growth to a grand future, but it takes our faith to believe it will happen and that we can hasten it. In Christic terms this new order will involve political, social, and economic elements that means human involvement. Elements of this emerging order include: service for all and not self-centered motivation HERE in our world; demand that excessive inequalities be eliminated by actions on our part NOW so that the poor are able to rise; a general collaborative effort on the part of all people of good will who recognize that WE the poor have a power coming from a higher source; and finally a realization that efforts are inadequate without trust in God to overcome the Evil One. (Christic means divine AND human, not human autonomous ingenuity).
Prayer: Lord, give us a fuller understanding of the growth of the mustard seed in relation to the Kingdom of God.
Snail silently, patiently traverses a poplar leaf.
June 15, 2015Recognizing the Lowly as Starting to Rise
If YHWH does not build the house, in vain the masons toil; if YHWH does not guard the city, in vain the sentries watch. (Psalm 127:1)
In trying to get enough funds to keep our environmental center alive we came upon the idea of sharing with others the insights that we were learning: the entire property must exhibit simple living (appropriate technology) practices. Using the disparaged name "Appalachia" in our ASPI sponsoring organization's title instead of something less associated with poverty was a tempting suggestion. However, our insight was that if we prove successful in achieving this service as originating from among the lowly, hope exists that more contributions could come from here.
In France in 1789 a rather unexpected thing happened on the way to revolution. Religion was deliberately forsaken, human knowledge was exalted, and the possible powers of the lowly in a rather charged political sense were deified. Many things went eschew and the poor's glorious hopes of an overthrown kingdom led to the guillotine for royalty and anyone associated with it -- and that included many professed religious as well. A valid revolutionary insight was infested with purely materialistic and self-gratifying aims, and the scent of blood triggered the French Reign of Terror. Forgotten was the power of God at work in that early quest for liberty, equality and fraternity. Perhaps the great mistake by the faith community was it was too associated with the privileged royal class and even identified with it.
Communists carried on that tradition of forsaking the faith community for the next two centuries. The Russian Communist revolution of 1917 had all the trappings of a genuine rising of lowly people -- the working class -- and then turned violent in the closing of that bloody First World War. What should have been a liberation and the willingness of all to work together became the ruthless killing of those Russian princes, much in the misdirected pattern of that first (French) revolution. Pulling down the nobility resulted in execution of the Czar's family, and millions of others whose only sin was wanting to be independent farmers, tradespeople, or religious monks.
"The lowly must take what is rightly theirs" becomes a revolutionary insight that is fraught with misdirected twists and turns. So often the righteous anger, directed at the exploiter holding what belongs to the commons, evolves into the loss of control of a situation. At this moment, the lowly need spiritual direction. Quo vadis? Violence or non-violence. What our faith teaches is that violence simply breeds further violence and a downward spiral leads to death in wars, labor and concentration camps, and ever greater desecration of the human person.
Prayer: Lord, keep us from forgetting our history of the lifting of the poor lest the violence be repeated.
The hungry God has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away. (Luke 1:53)
"These words (of the Magnificat) say that the world desired by God is a world of justice. This order should be continually given reality in the world, and done so again and again as each unique critical situation arises. New social, political and economic conditions and opportunities appear, as new technical and productive possibilities are developed, along with new opportunities and requirements for the distribution of goods." Pope John Paul II, 1980 as quoted by Rene Coste, The Magnificat: The Revolution of God, Quezon City, Philippines: Claretian Publications, 1988 (p. 115). Coste adds that the Virgin of the Magnificat also taught us that true liberation should be achieved by the poor themselves and in solidarity with them in the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (p. 116).
How will today's privileged economic princes be brought low? Several ways have occurred in history of those riding high, from the genius Alexander the Great or the pennyless Mozart to the spent dictators Mussolini and Hitler, dying without fanfare and even in some cases receiving unmarked graves. All worldly honors are temporary, even with the most popular names. God bestows and withdraws power and still remains the Almighty.
Prominent high places change with the weather; human memory fades just as quickly, and the lowly who do the pulling down are just as quickly forgotten. We hesitate to gloat over the downfalls of the privileged for that would be heartless. The highly placed affluent are confused, addicted, and insensitive, but not always the direct cause of their own toppling. Yes, they are perhaps culpable to some degree, but we can't be the divine Judge. Should we persuade those still holding high places to renounce their affluence, live simply, and honestly join the poor? Realistic?
Exaltation of the lowly must not be an act of arrogance, a conquering of others so that individuals can take their place. The act of being pulled down involves a simultaneity of the lowly being exalted. A way suggested in the Magnificat is a gentle revolution, somewhat like those witnessed in Eastern Europe as they shed the Soviet yoke at the end of the 20th century. Were these brought about through divine power and prayer (note the Fatima Portugal apparitions and crusades that followed)? A Soviet Empire was brought low and the lowly ones in captive countries demonstrated with courage and were exalted. What had begun in the streets of St. Petersburg in 1917 was completed, not with guns blazing but with peaceful public demonstrations and flags flying. However, recent events in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Hong Kong may suggest that the course of violent struggle has not ended.
Prayer: Lord, keep us on the steady course of needed economic and political change in times of climate threats, but give us the courage to ensure that they are non-violent.
June 17, 2015 Ascending & Descending: Rise & Fall of Systems
Like the sun in the morning sky, the Savior of the world will dawn; like rain on the meadows he will descend to rest in the womb of the Virgin, alleluia. (Antiphon December 19th morning)
The coming of Christ in the incarnation is part of the grand descending that is a component of the key event in Salvation History. The budding forth of humanity and its exaltation occurs through the leaping down of the Eternal Word. The dying on the Cross is a descending (into "hell" to liberate those awaiting redemption). From this dying comes forth the exaltation of Jesus as Lord, occurring with his rising from the grave; the fullness of this rising in the Ascension is followed by the descending Holy Spirit.
The ascending of the poor is parallel to the Ascension of the Lord, but the process involves its own descending, which has several parallels in the Christian's life: descending into the waters of Baptism and ascending from the waters as a new person. We further have a descending with Christ at Calvary and into the tomb and then ascending on Easter morn; a personal believer's descent with Christ in his suffering to rise with him at Easter. We are now in a parallel stage of a descending of those in high places so that the lowly held in poverty can rise to a more liberated life. Even the princes once humbled can be saved and rise. Liberation takes on both divine and human aspects: incarnation, redemption, personal following of Christ, and liberation of a world of poverty, a forthcoming event.
Exaltation of humanity is an emerging event with each ascending following a descending. If the economic system falls can a more perfect one take its place? This could be a gentle revolution provided the agents of change see that they who descend in the condition of the poor can ascend together in a collaborative fashion. When individuals in violent revolution consider they are better equipped to ascend and be privileged, then one bad condition is followed by the same kind under different names. Dictators of one stripe take on the worn boots of autocrats from a previous era. But exaltation must be done in the manner of the Incarnation, when the lowly (Mary) truly understands that great things are done for her but through the power of God, who is exalted by the humble.
Mary becomes the exalted one, only as a reflection of God's greatness. Thus her very conception is a preparation for her "yes" to God's call. Though Mary is unique in the manner of preparation and response, still believers share in that uniqueness; we as believers are immaculately conceived through baptism; we are now to arise and say "yes" to our call of bringing Christ to the world. Mary's assent is a precursor to our assent; her gentle revolution as expressed and the Magnificat prayer becomes the blueprint of our cooperative mission. We are called as a believing community to say "yes" to the exalted mission of saving our very planet.
Prayer: Lord, your empowerment opens to us the power to rise up and conquer a world in the throes of materialism.
June 18, 2015 Reflecting on How to Act as Change Agents
The exaltation of those spiritually empowered will hopefully occur in a gentle fashion, with a clear vision of the Risen Lord as present. It must not occur in an atmosphere of individualized self-centeredness, of competing intellectual elites, in the swagger of military power, or in the pomp of inherited royalty. Rather, it involves a mass of people in collaboration and caught up in a mission to bring Good News to others, and a realization that the empowering gives greater glory to God, the ultimate object of exaltation. To achieve this feat successfully we embrace a mission as one of sacrifice for and with others who know themselves to be poor and lowly and, paradoxically, their humble but exalted status.
The hope in a emerging society is that all members of society rise together. However, this may be a disappointment, for some freely choose not to participate or, in a meanness sparked by the Evil One, attempt to frustrate the rising of the poor. Ideally, all rise together but in reality some will and others will not. And those who do so are the catalyst or leaven from within the dough of the masses. They trigger the change to occur more rapidly. The critical point of action is choice people at choice places among the poor, not by an elite above the poor or outside the dough, for that is an outmoded model of leadership. Agents of change are not above, but among and in front of the poor ranks. The trouble with many in the intellectual community is that they take fees and tuition to show they are above their charges; this is confusing, for theirs is not a life of a revolutionary.
Seeing the need for the poor to lead the revolution means that we are not beyond it but within it. Catalysts of change must become and be poor folks. If we don't, we will postpone the time of deliverance until other agents of change are found. Only "we the poor" can be true revolutionaries. But our singular tasks will only be performed within the corrective pattern of a believing community -- the collaborative agents of change. To stay individual within the change is to repeat what went wrong from 1789 to 1989 (from French Revolution to fall of the Soviet Empire). Two hundred years are replete with the wrong approaches, and this set of errors continues through Gulf Wars and support of many petty dictators today. Will we ever learn in time to save our planet?
Gentle revolution: Taking what is rightly ours. The lowly hold the key and start the operation as a group that lives simply, and that is still called to take what is rightly theirs, namely, the initiative and not so much materials others claim as their own. The affluent are frightened by their ultimate loss of control of their possessions. This fright leads to a severe backlash against the lowly that could turn violent. Clarity in purpose and non-violence in commitment could defuse the situation to some degree. However, in all candor, lack of essentials while others have over- abundance are grounds for conflagration and the wise know it.
Prayer: Lord, give us insight to know what is happening in our world and to act in a gentle and non-violent manner.
Indian Pipe, Monotropa Uniflora. Wolfe Co., KY.
June 19, 2015 Choosing between Earthhealing Leadership Models
God has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. (Luke 1:52)
Can non-violent, locally-based poor folks lead a revolution? Are not knowledgeable experts with global connections the proper catalysts? Is it not better to expect a simultaneity in action from top down and bottom up? These questions could limit the result, for it appears that all like maximum comfort levels in any radical change -- but that can be deceiving. Freely forsaking privilege by most confirmed materialists is unrealistic. One can only break the power of the wealthy by changing what constitutes the boundaries of propertyholding. Both lower and upper limits to income and wealth are needed in our society -- and needed now.
Collaboration is key to healing our wounded Earth, but is it a cooperative effort of rich and poor or among those who in full understanding of their condition see themselves as poor? This is the critical choice and issue. A neo-liberal position would hold a possibility for change when rich and poor work together; a radical stance is that the vast multitude of the poor are challenged to work together and this takes great effort and attention. For the poor, wealth unjustly held by a few will poison the catalyst; the dough (the poor) will not rise. Excessive wealth must be brought low; that is the message of the Magnificat. It is both that the lowly will rise and that the ones in high places come down -- but not necessarily at their own initiation.
Simpler living grassroots folks have a clearer vision of what constitutes essential needs in the healing process. The lowly cast in the role of workers are the radical change agents or enzymes, leaven, yeast, chemical catalysts, all dynamic pinpoints to hasten the movement forward. The communications networks that acknowledge this work are often in the hands of global religious, political, and cultural organizations, which contain democratic bases that includes the lowly. The Internet is a powerful tool of global outreach and ramifications. The better we perform locally through simple living and appropriate technological methods, the better we are able to spread the healing message to other people of good will; these in turn must act simply and in collaborative groups. To heal Earth requires concerted local efforts globally coordinated. Global facilitators are servants from the ranks who are able to work well with broader groups.
Spiritual Power arising from the lowly is like dough rising organically from within, not taking all its cues from a top-down approach. Deep power includes an enzyme from within that is still triggered by a vital spirit -- the Spirit "brooding over this world" in the words of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is the vitality in new blackberry canes needed for the next year's harvest; it is new wine skins for new wine; it is empowering the locals to use natural but proven techniques for healing; it is the power of the Resurrected Lord, the new leaven, for old leaven is well spent and has little power to bring about change.
One would naturally expect that if a global change is forthcoming and we must muster the entire resources of the globe, we would naturally and immediately call on top international experts and expect them to take over the task of healing our wounded Earth. Wealthier governments would contribute; great minds would be mustered to work on this super organization; and delegated commands would flow down to all concerned. Obviously the organizers should be a highly recognized and well-paid set of individuals and would require considerable power through United Nations and other international auspices. This plan would be based on how other crash programs have been attempted in the past. While this scenario seems most tempting, perhaps it lacks vitality:
* First: The confusion in initiating roles. The initial reason for focusing on the poor is that they suffer most from ecological imbalances and know the conditions they are forced to live under. It is a damaged economic order that is based on essential needs, not the wants of affluent consumers. The first moment involves defining the environmental and economic sickness; the hungry know what is essential far better than someone who wants a faster speed boat or an expensive off-road recreational vehicle. The affluent and powerful are simply too confused to initiate a profound revolution, though they may be vaguely aware of the poor.
* Second: The poor shy away from power elites. Unless this process is highly refined, the affluent naturally start at the top along with those who have worldly power. However, this turns off the multitude at the bottom and deflates their efforts, overlooks their grassroots vitality, neglects their local talents, local materials, and appropriate technological tools, and ignores the fact that they (the poor) are most knowledgeable about use of limited resources. In fact, having never been poor or having forgotten if they were, the princes of this world are blind to authentic needs. Power elites believe in theory that all can help, but only after they take initial steps to preserve their privilege.
* Third: God works through the poor. Here is where the power of the Risen Christ resides. Our just and merciful God, revealed throughout the Scriptures, is not one to allow worldly powers to undertake the salvation of the Earth. Salvation History points out this fact of a weak nation of oppressed people becoming the promised land, and of imperfect people called on to leave the immense change that is to occur. Worldly ways are not divine ways, for the secular world idolizes the power of wealth, material possessions, and influence. God is the focus of all power and from God alone comes that power. The lowly realize that change must be initiated, and it must be effected through their abilities to get things done in an efficient manner relying on trust in God. Collaboration is the working together of God and human beings, the Christic way to revolution.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to arouse the poor to take charge of the radical change that is coming; help us to avoid looking to those in high places, but encourage a grassroots movement to initiate a new economic, social, and political order.
Royal paulownia, Paulownia tomentosa. University of Kentucky pharmaceutical garden.
June 20, 2015 Tempting the Newly Exalted
I (Satan) will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me and I will give it to anyone I choose. (Luke 4:6)
We youngsters accompanied Daddy and Uncle Pete as they shook their heads and lapsed into Alsatian while surveying their old home place, a ruined homestead, broken fences, eroded fields. So much toil and sweat a few decades before, and new owners had brought ruin in a short order. However, when I first wrote about our visit to that hilly land at the escarpment above the Ohio River several decades ago, the land was expected to be a model wildlife reserve. But in the past few years that same land was turned into an off-road vehicle riding park -- and environmental damage still occurs.
The exalted who are empowered by spiritual power of the risen Lord are tempted like Jesus to various forms of misdeeds. We cannot expect God to work miracles in saving our world. We must help by overcoming the various temptations that can afflict us:
* Idolizing power. At the first level is a temptation to idolatry, i.e., of power perceived as resting in someone or thing other than God. Yes, spiritual power of exaltation can tempt one to idolize all forms of control over others. In tempting Jesus to worldly power and glory, Satan says that he has power over nations. * Seeking false security. In the second level Jesus is tempted to overcome his physical hunger through a miraculous changing of stone into bread. When we hunger for success and hope to break the spell of lethargy, limited resources or challenging human relationships, we could start believing that our methods and tools contain all answers; we are lulled into a sense of false security. Tell this stone to turn into a loaf. (Luke 4:3)
* Allowing self-centeredness. Those seeking to follow Christ may be tempted to think that God's power is something to use for ones's dramatic enhancement and self-importance. For some, dramatic acts are necessary consequences of empowerment, forgetting that other-centeredness in service is called for. We are with the Lord and are not alone; we are cared for by good spirits, and even the wildlife will give us comfort like they do Jesus.
* Moving towards violence. When Jesus is being arrested in the early hours of Good Friday he tells Peter to put away the sword for that is not God's way. Jesus is betrayed and led away with no resistance -- though Jesus could have had legions of angels if he so desired. A possible raw impulse may be to violence, but the true answer in healing our wounded Earth is through love and mercy.
* Omitting necessary confrontation. On the road to exaltation Jesus is impelled by the Spirit to confront opposition and accept suffering as the price of confrontation. Peter sees opposition ahead and begs Jesus to avoid going to Jerusalem. Jesus responds, "Get behind me Satan, don't stand in the way." What lies ahead is struggle with Pharisees, their subsequent wrath, betrayal by Judas, and suffering and death. Jesus must fulfill his mission.
Prayer: Lord, lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the Evil One's misdeeds; help us be steadfast in our mission.
Choppy sea, Malvan, India.
(*Photo by P Ankur, Creative Commons)
June 21, 2015 Pope Francis' Encyclical and Storms at Sea
Who is this whom even wind and sea obey. (Mark 4:35-41)
This past Thursday the Pope Francis issued his long anticipated encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si. The message is clear and challenging: we have a pending moral crisis resulting from misuse of our God-given resources; this is manifested in severe climate change with serious consequences, especially for the poor. The Pope calls each of us to consider prayerfully the way we conduct ourselves both individually and collectively. All will suffer from Climate change effects and from the growing inequality among those using world resources -- some with excess and some without the essentials of life.
Several themes make this encyclical touch many Americans in rather uncomfortable ways. Really, these are our storms at sea. First there is a sizeable minority who deny climate change from human causation and wrap this in political policy and legislation. This is driven by efforts to retain the status quo with its profitable fossil fuel energy applications on the part of influential individuals. Second, inequalities are growing in this country affecting both struggling middle class as well as the poor. Powerful forces wish to continue this unsustainable status quo.
The Holy Father reminds us that we have responsibilities to make the world better by respecting our fragile Earth and changing our wasteful consumer practices. We must be willing to be converted to new ways of using and sharing resources with those in greatest need. Storms at sea result from damage to our Earth and allowing the current conditions to continue uncontested. We are experiencing hotter summers, melting glaciers, more frequent extreme weather events and rising oceans. At this point, our past "seamanship" is subject to questioning; in confusion we turn to the Lord. In the midst of the storm (Mark 4: 35-41), the disciples awaken Jesus and he says to the storm "Quiet! Be still!" And he asks the disciples, "Why are you lacking in faith?"
While confident that the Almighty is in charge, we cannot sit back and expect miracles to save our threatened planet. It would be tempting God. We must do our part, for we are the hands and feet of the Lord even during such violent storms. Let us remain confident in our faith even when we see people belittle the Pope's efforts on this important matter. We are called to be prudent and to watch the signs of our times. In this moment in history we look to moral leaders; the Pope has spoken with many profound thoughts -- and we are called to read, reflect and respond. Prudence demands that we face the storms with Jesus at our side. We must challenge those who make uncharitable or belittling remarks about our Holy Father. We cannot concede to merchants of doubt who prefer to prolong a crisis that could become catastrophic in the future.
Prayer: Lord, help us to trust in you at all times, especially during the stormy conditions of this environmental crisis.
June 22, 2015 Being Agents for Environmental Resource Assessments
Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interest first, but everyone thinks of other people's interest instead. (Philippians 2:3b-4)
Only rarely did we fail to complete an environmental resource assessment -- and failed attempts were never talked about with identifying details since the matter was confidential. On one of the failed attempts, we went with a full staff and looked over the ambitious project and in the middle of the discussion the major staff person broke down, cried, and resigned. A host of difficulties involving various personalities surfaced, and we simply had to insist that the assessment could not proceed. What was really needed was a specific spiritual healing process.
A believing community includes people of various talents and skills who are called to be Earth healers by using appropriate technology. The call is to ordinary laborers, farmers, housewives, artisans, shut-ins, the ill, recovering alcoholics, and ex-convicts -- that means all people of good will.
Appropriate technologies need to be adapted to time, place or community. Outside objective assessors can successfully evaluate the specific location for procedures that are environmentally benign, low-cost, user-friendly, and community-enhancing instruments and services. Some conditions can be unsatisfactory as for instance "straw-bale houses," good on the low humidity Great Plains but problematic in high humid areas. Solar applications need access to plentiful sunlight and not shaded by nearby buildings or dense foliage. Assessors are change agents who help define basic conditions and assist groups in laying out viable long-term plans. They must practice a simple lifestyle, consider their own limitations, be motivated by the public interest, and not beholding to power elites for income and subsistence.
Simple living techniques are accepted and mastered by competent persons with a will to work and enough mental power and humility to be open to try new things; such a person is realistic about time required to be successful and willing to sacrifice professional commitment to see that a life is well spent in the work at hand and the community being established. There is no place for negativity even though materialism appears to drag down the culture all around. A further characteristic is awareness of limitation and the social addiction of which all are infected to some degree; this makes all, even the voluntary poor, say with assurance "We" and not "they" the poor. Furthermore, a public interest spirit means doing things collaboratively for the broader based commons and not personal gain. Lastly, though perhaps technically elite, the agent of change must not be subsidized and beholding to profit-making corporations. This challenges any non-profits who take funds from any source who appear friendly. Too often the agent modifies practices to suit the particular funder.
Prayer: Lord, provide us with down-to-earth agents of change.
The working elite are those who take pride in and enjoy an expertise being used for the benefit of all. These are people privileged to serve even when others regard the work as onerous, boring, or beneath their dignity. They are willing to utilize and even critique certain appropriate technology practices or services. The experienced can explain the technique and why the device or service is best utilized in a given circumstance. They realize that Earthhealing is a collaborative enterprise and a sophisticated interworking of individuals organized as teams and in communities; they are leaven for rising dough, both essential for a final loaf.
To be successful, workers share common goals and come to know limited resources that are available over a given time period. A proper diagnoses of limitations is needed as well and that means accepting that real existing systems can become dysfunctional. All in all, any assessment works with limitations and the challenge is to address them forthrightly. Ideally, the team should have periodic outside assessments and insider applications. Actually, we have consciences, and these are our internal lights, well-equipped to do some monitoring of our practices. A group has the ability to know resources (e.g., actual amounts of energy, waste, water) versus assessing or reviewing overall practice or policy.
Surrendering one's internal monitoring process to others and refusing to accept personal accountability for one's behavior is a popular but mistaken practice. A conscientious community should realize that monitoring is a personal (or community) enterprise, and requires ongoing process without excuses. It is a healthy examination of conscience that is part of personal spiritual growth. A periodic assessment beyond an initial one unveils how well plans are made and kept. Groups tend to under- or over-value their own resources. The objective outside observer skilled in resource management can speak of success, provided limited resources are used wisely by good and steady agents of change.
Environmental resource assessments (ERAs) cover all aspects of the property, namely land, buildings, transportation facilities, water, wildlife, energy, waste utilization, food, and community. These issue areas should be arranged in an order or set of priorities so that they can be systemically addressed according to a reasonable time schedule. Auditing of resources can become an ongoing practice of those with good management skills. For instance, extra parking may be needed on rare occasions but does it demand removal of green space for such occasions? Such problems can be handled internally. If more frequent parking problems occur, alternative scheduling may be a satisfactory remedy. Note: Community spiritual assessments may be in the form of revivals or community retreats. Community psychological or social relations assessments are actually operative in many formats today through a variety of consulting firms. We accept that there are other than environmental resource assessments needed at particular times.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to learn to work as a team.
June 24, 2015 Bringing Down those in High Places Non-Violently
A volunteer once said in a moment of fervor, "If only I had a million dollars, I could save the world." It did sound tempting. But then on second thought I asked, what if you could save the world with absolutely no money at all? He had no answer.
Bringing down the wealthy does not need comparable wealth, for the methods are different lest we are brought to a state of paralysis. What is needed is to conceive of and effect practices that do not take enormous amounts of resources.
Socially, the first practice to bringing down those in high places is to deliberately create a distrust for what they are doing, for the current financial system is built on trust, a false trust -- and we need not subscribe to an unjust economic system. Words are the first way and the making of this distrust public is through the social media.
Economically, the second way is to begin the process of establishing a renewable energy economy to substitute for the current System. This becomes a consuming operation and yet examples are needed to show the world that a new economy is possible and practical. Through the Resurrection/Ascension we answer the invitation to bear Good News to others. The rising poor work with limited resources, long for good things to happen, use appropriate technologies (environmentally benign, low-cost, user-friendly, and community-oriented), and encourage others to enter the healing process.
Politically, the third approach is to collaborate with others of good will and work on several political fronts:
* Improve taxation so that the wealth and income of all, including the powerful, will be treated in a fair manner and excesses will be appropriated for the common good;
* Denounce in public the inequality of wealth in this country and throughout the world. Do not tolerate the excuse that this is envy by those wishing that wealth for themselves, for that is a form of blackmailing proponents of the commons who seek benefits for all people;
* Pressure so that there are both minimum and maximum income limits and that surplus goes for infrastructure improvement of the commons, both within more affluent countries and in those that lack the funding for roads, bridges, seaports, airports, and all forms of health and educational facilities;
* Work for a constitutional amendment to limit spending on candidates for public office so as to equal the playing field; and
* Be watchful that all have a fair opportunity to vote.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to be both effective and non-violent in what we do and how we act.
June 25, 2015 Acting & Thinking Locally to Act & Think Globally
Rene Dubos served as our advisor and my mentor at the Center for Science in the Public Interest at its beginning in 1971. We were blessed by having his wisdom and I will treasure those words of his. I can say that God blessed me to have him set me on the road to an authentic eco-spirituality through those few but highly enlightened conversations and talks.
Rene Dubos is credited with the dictum "Act locally and think globally." Our modification is certainly less catchy and in one sense the constructed title is really quite different. We never act without thinking and this modification places the primary emphasis on a local scene, but we ought to be prepared to extend it further in time. By working at the local level we till local soil and learn first hand to make meaningful changes. To support global causes and forget local concerns could be misplaced efforts. On the other hand, to become too consumed with local issues and neglect the broader environment restricts our vision and limits our accountability. Being comfortable in the local scene grounds us in the need to extend environmental concerns globally.
We think and are concerned with our more proximate neighbors even when our thoughts go beyond. Lazarus was at the rich man's doorstep -- and he was known but overlooked. When assisting those who need help here we give some thought to those in need beyond -- for that is the spirit of being "catholic," or more universal in outlook. Our environment is contiguous through connecting with other neighborhoods and ultimately with all. If we stretch out our arms far enough, we ultimately embrace all human beings and all creatures on this living Earth. We can start a ripple effect.
It takes ecological balance to give both local and global attention. The thrust is to reach to the global WE. For Jesus who suffered, died and rose, the HERE and NOW is our entire Earth. We seek to imitate Jesus' salvific embrace that is broader than the local scene. It is in part the prayer and daily offerings in St. Therese of Lisieux's "Little Way." Thinking globally is not as difficult as acting globally. The key is communications. We act when we connect with others about whom we are thinking. To communicate is to do something, sharing with them ideas and concerns that motivate both parties to act in some way. Petitions for global changes are possible through the Internet that is a good instrument for spreading the Good News.
This Earthhealing website reaches folks in many lands and so locally conceived ideas spread to other parts of the planet. Through personal contacts we may encourage, inspire, teach, and influence others through offering sacrifices for them. A global community of sharing is developing and we are party. Putting on Christ means we think and act in a meaningful manner without fanfare, being thankful for limited resources, and willing to ask for help. We can take unitive steps with folks in other lands.
Prayer: Lord, help us to think and act with limited resources.
Rosa setigera, climbing native rose of wild Kentucky places.
June 26, 2015 Defending Instant Communications as Appropriate
For five years during the Nixon Administration, I lived two blocks from the Library of Congress and I regarded this international library treasure as a gold mine at my finger tips. However, remote Indian villagers with access to the Internet today can obtain much information faster than I could have in 1975 in D.C., even within the world's largest storehouse of information.
Do modern communications techniques, especially electronic technology, fall under the classification of appropriate technology? These techniques often replace expensive postal traffic that more often uses non-renewable fuel resources; they replace newsprint that takes a heavy toll on forestlands. But are these methods low-cost, community-enhancing and user friendly?
Certainly, modern communications are affordable to a global majority. The organizational management and materials required to put these modern forms of communication in place (computer chips and software, launching pads for satellites, etc.) are far more sophisticated than an efficient cultivating tool or cooking stove, which are classic examples of local appropriate technologies. But sheer volume makes new articles appropriate and are environmentally benign, user friendly, and community-forming. Appropriateness in technology refers to food, water, fuel, building materials, and waste disposal. Hauling these from a distance takes resources and effort. On the other hand communications is not a material resource-intensive enterprise, even though it takes effort to create and distribute. Ideas travel lightly; sharing binds us together.
Communications methods can be promises and perils:
* Television can be a major affordable, educational and entertaining device for all levels of society. I do not have one but I do miss good programs that others tell about -- though some important programming is viewed on the Internet. TV can dumb down viewers when watched excessively.
* Cell-phones allow communication that is somewhat affordable and at lower rates than for land-based traditional systems with lines and exchange stations; remote areas now have access. The phones allow easy access to remote areas and to individuals. However, systems can be overused, listening devices may prove dangerous to health, and often individual phone chatter disturbs a neighbor's silent space.
* Computers have become "technology," an essential tool in business, government, medicine, and education especially in areas of data processing; filing and storage costs are reduced. Electronic mail allows people to correspond faster and cheaply. Word processing has so facilitated writing and the expensive steps of correction that it has improved the ability of people to put their thoughts on paper succinctly and with ease. The Internet allows accessibility at very low cost even though the service is open to hackers, surveillance, spam, and viruses, and those who sabotage another's work or reputation. However, benefits are many.
Prayer: Lord, help us to communicate the Good News with ease.
Common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina. Rockcastle Co., KY.
June 27, 2015 Orchestrating Environmental Fatigue
A few months past I signed a petition along with thousands of others asking National Public Radio NOT to reduce its staff on environmental and climate change matters (down from current levels of four to one-half a staff member). Certainly this should never be done when monumental decisions are in the offing. Is the proposal due to a sense of audience "fatigue" on environmental issues as some would suggest? Or deliberately created "fatigue"?
When debates occur one approach is to fully engage and thus bring more and more into the discussion when sides are drawing up and various people want to participate. Another approach is to say as a proponent of a particular side that this is a non-issue or that people are not interested and remain silent; enough has been said or there is nothing further to discuss. In many ways the proponents of the XL Pipeline prefer the debate to end; they prefer to achieve their goal of stringing this pipeline for filthy tar- sand-derived oil to flow uncontested through our country to distant markets. What is often neglected is that the process may doom our Earth to a radical climate change that will severely affect folks two generations from now. To the unconcerned public, the persons wanting to dismiss the issue say, "You will not be alive to see the effects, so who cares?" selfishness triggers a groggy nod.
Rightful fatigue comes when a matter has been thoroughly discussed and all parties know all the issues as such. A false fatigue occurs when one side keeps saying there is no issue. This is at the heart of the current environmental concerns of 2015. The very condition of our planet at the end of this century is at stake and one side simply does not want to discuss matters. They have bought off the legislators through vast sums of money as an investment to win windfall profits (a potential trillion dollars); that is if the project is completed and the tar sand oil starts flowing soon. This will doom us to remain in the fossil fuel economy versus a new approach with renewable energy as cornerstone.
Why fatigue except that audiences are primed as to what to hear and watch by the public media itself? Interest in a high-lighted issue depends on how information is presented, and this takes effort and enough resources. Opponents to human-generated climate change say there is no issue and environmental damage is a pure fabrication. This is hardly the case. Climate change has never been fully debated and the media that is to be neutral does not want to bite the hand that feeds them. Flimsy arguments by pipeline proponents are so weak that their best method is to omit the debate all together. If so, why are they foisting the argument of jobs, when 50 permanent employees are what is at stake after construction finishes in two years. That's five minutes of national American job gain. Is this "fatigue" a deliberate effort by moneyed-interests to silence citizen input? How except by dramatic action can the debate be continued?
Prayer: Lord, help us to see serious matters facing our environment and to break the media imposed silence on this matter.
Sharing of the lily pad, small and large frog.
June 28, 2015 Proclaiming Life for All
Little girl, I tell you to get up. (Mark 5:41)
God gives life. Being pro-life is a current politicized expression (in contrast to being pro-choice), but should it be? To be "for life" means that we come to understand a little more what the Book of Wisdom means when it says that God does not make death nor rejoices in the destruction of the living (Wisdom 1:13-15). The sacred writer has in mind the spiritual death due to sin, but we need to see life and death in their entirety -- physical and spiritual. God formed us to be imperishable and that means having an eternal fullness of life; Jesus now invites us through Baptism into the divine family. We are committed to extend pro-life from questions of human health and welfare to saving our planet and establishing justice and peace on this Earth. Vitality is broad.
Jesus restores life. The story of raising the little girl to life (Mark 5) starts with a desperate father (Jairus) who believes in Jesus' healing powers; he begs Jesus to come because his little daughter is critically ill. On their way another healing occurs, which delays Jesus. Then a messenger arrives to tell Jairus that the little girl is dead. Jesus tells Jairus that fear is useless, a message he gives often in the Gospels. "What is needed is trust" and that is what is needed for gaining a higher quality of life. Upon entering the house, the arriving party find professional wailers hard at performing, and they ridicule Jesus when he says the little girl is only sleeping. He enters and tells her to get up and she does so immediately. Fullness of life returns.
We profess a fullness of life through sharing. This comes by doing what St. Paul begs the Corinthians to do, namely, give attention to the needy. We must always share our livelihood through charity with those who are lacking in physical necessities. Yes, and many suffer from spiritual hunger and we often overlook their need. Perhaps spiritual hunger is often harder to detect, and we are unable to perceive the very affliction that we also suffer.
We do not have the power to raise people from the dead, but we can help offer a fuller life for survivors or those currently suffering. All of us are to endure physical death; this must be anticipated and prepared for, as well as accepting the challenge to deal with major and even terminal illness in preparing for departure from this mortal world. "Life is the childhood of our immortality," Goethe says. We affirm life to the dying, to those on death row, to the mother who considers terminating a pregnancy, to the desperately poor, and to all who despair of life.
At the conclusion of the Jairus miracle (Mark 5:43), Jesus tells the parents to give the little girl something to eat -- for Jesus is sensitive to her being hungry. We all hunger for the Bread of Life, for this confirms our pro-life commitment.
Prayer: Lord, you are life's fullness; so help us open to the many ways we can increase a sense of vitality in our world.
June 29, 2015 Earthhealing and Personal Health Concerns
Some people make a sharp distinction between environmental and medical issues. Here are examples of convergence of concerns:
* Environmental degradation not only affects the health of plant and animal eco-systems and leads to their damage and demise, but it also affects human communities and individuals. Destruction of land through erosion and strip mining breaks the spirit of neighboring rural communities; air emissions and water contamination lead to harmful and deadly illnesses and diseases that shorten the lives of countless people throughout the world.
* Earthhealing is a type of caregiving. Doctors, nurses and other caregivers develop a refined sense of kindness, compassion, and enthusiasm -- the very characteristics that have been spelled out as necessary for Earthhealers who have models to imitate.
* Hospitals give improved services if green (environmental awareness). There is a growing understanding that a variety of environmental improvements can assist in the healing of sick people in medical institutions, e.g., noise reduction in corridors and rooms, green roofing, decorative plants in lobbies and waiting rooms, and certain recycling procedures.
* Caregiving of all types improves the quality of life of individual people, thus allowing sick people to become more appreciative of the quality of their environment. They become more conscious that healing is a holistic physical, moral and psychological interactive result. In the same way, participation in Earthhealing leads to a deeper appreciation of genuine wellness programs such as healthy nutrition, organic foods, pure water, and need for physical exercise. Wellness programs and environmental awareness go hand-in-hand.
* Saving the Earth is a necessity for life and health. Checking the rise in carbon dioxide levels and other greenhouse gases is needed in order to hold and improve the vitality of our planet and its creatures. Long-term health for future generations depends on environmental practices that must be implemented today. The health of our oceans and forests is a long-term investment and is directly related to the future health of our human descendants -- and their physical health allows better protection of our threatened Earth.
* Certain practices within some so-called "environmental" programs, such as replacing coal by natural gas and diversion of food crops to bio-fuels involves hidden costs that demand educational programs to check false propaganda. The fossil fuel cycle must be abandoned, not tweaked. These questionable environmental areas require additional research and discussion and thus the cooperation of the health and environmental communities.
Prayer: Lord, broaden our concerns to include those who suffer in any way from the harmful conditions of life.
June 30, 2015 Planning at Mid-year and Daily Examinations
Some of us are compulsive planners, working on each year, half year, month, week, and each day planning in ever greater detail. I simply could not function in the haphazard way of not knowing in general what the next day ought to bring -- though knowing full well that plans may have to be scrapped because of unforeseen problems. But planning before and reviewing afterwards are part of life -- and it allows for more productive work.
Daily examinations are regarded as good practice for spiritual growth. We discover that our eco-spirituality includes an all encompassing view of our world, in which we are agents of change and move forward. A regular system to spiritual development includes formal prayer periods and spiritual direction, for any healing is not a casual operation and demands professional attention. Some may want less of a systems approach but still realize that all caregivers need routine discipline and planning. This is not a fixed formula but a call for a basic structure in life needed for all serious operations. If we constantly gaze out at the horizon on our spiritual journey, we may stumble on the rock in front of us. Be attentive to both local and distant horizons!
Some of us are compulsive planners. I find it difficult to speak to people who live from day to day with no planning. The intensity and immediacy of the planning depends on how far away the event is -- yearly plans are less definite than monthly, weekly, or even daily. Those with little time focus squarely on what is immediately before them. Emergencies arise, and so compulsive planners must have a freedom to plan in changes for the rare occasions. Consider reviews that are yearly, monthly, weekly and at the end of each day. Keep tabs in a standard day book.
Some follow a five step-procedure: 1. Pray for light; 2. review the day in thanksgiving; 3. review the feelings that surface in the replay of the day; 4. choose one of those feelings (positive or negative) and pray from it; and 5. look toward tomorrow. Others may see that this structure is too rigid and freezes the daily "examen" into something that becomes oppressive -- and maybe becomes neglected through sheer exhaustion at the end of the day. It is burdensome for some morning people who wax at sun-up and wane at sunset. The "examen" is the last thing we do at night, has a structure, is prayerful, and is mercifully short.
Some final questions may be: What was the major point of attention for this day and did it get accomplished? What were the secondary points and were they achieved? Was I able to keep focused on the day's activities? Goals? Successes? Consolations and desolations of the day? Did things go wrong? Did I beg forgiveness? Was I thankful for still being alive? Was there a moment of grace? Am I prepared for tomorrow?
Prayer: Lord, give me grace to continue on the journey and to make plans that I can keep if it is your will that I be the keeper.