May is verdant, filled with sounds of buzzing bees and chirping birds, aroma of blooming black locusts, and first taste of clover honey. The beauty, sounds, and fragrances should not fool us into believing the month is gentle and delicate in every aspect. While nature has its softer side, it also has power: buds burst forth suddenly with unleased hidden brilliance; days lengthening and weather warming with the arching sun. Springtime power reveals itself: fledgling leaving the nest; meadows of short green grass at the month's start and knee-deep with seed by May's end; and April's showers transformed into May's mighty thunderstorms.
Lilies of the Valley
Beautiful white strings of bells,
pearls in foliage like mountain swells,
Bowing, humble looks, tender smells;
Crowning a verdant terrain
like a stallions flowing mane;
Don't dare taste! Let all remain.
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Fresh blossoms of wild geranium, Geranium maculatum.
May 1, 2015 Building Grace on Nature's Bounty
God's grace allows us to turn during this Easter season to both experience the fullness of Spring with hope and to balance these consoling experiences with the needs of troubled people and Earth. We may become depressed if we focus on the difficulties on every side. Time must be set aside to observe, to listen, to smell the aromas and taste the flavors of various seasonal gifts; likewise, we must entertain the variation of reflected light within our lives. Seeing both natural beauty and the interaction of human effort and experience, we grow in respect for God's fragile creation using all our senses in a seasonal new beginning.
Vision: We observe the sudden clothing of the landscape with the greenery of the growing years. We give special attention to the multitude of flowers in all their fleeting beauty; this primes us to be sensitive to the sight of others who suffer, even though the initial sight is difficult to experience face to face.
Hearing: We listen intensely and hear the happy sound of wildlife and breezes within the new foliage -- and even the sudden burst of power in among budding plant life. While in the listening mood, we detect the cries of those who suffer and find they awaken in us an urgency to depart from our comfort and assist others in need. Our spirits are colored by seasonal perceptions: the sudden burst of power within the budding plant kingdom.
Smelling: Our gift of smell tells us that this is a unique season when old life is transformed into new life. The air triggers within us a sense of urgency because things have got to be addressed right now -- and this extends to the needs of a troubled Earth worthy of our acute attention. Experience of smell is fleeting when paralyzed by a host of different scents and so we must act immediately when needs arise.
Tasting: We savor the good tastes of May in special ways. We prepare the fruits of the season so that we can enjoy the quality. It becomes more apparent that our goal is not just to indulge ourselves in essentials, but also to treat ourselves to what enhances springtime quality of life. This raises the hopes of all for better things to come beyond the horizon.
Feeling: The radiance of the dazzling sunlight gives us the warmth needed to be energized to carry out the work ahead; sunlight triggers the prolific photosynthetic process, which adds new life to a planet that appears at first encounter to be paralyzed by fear. We radiate many reflected colors of light that add splendor to a somewhat depressing world, if our rainbow of colors is omitted. See Appalachian Sensations: A Journey through the Seasons.
Prayer: Lord, help us experience the fullness of springtime so we can convey the graces given by you to all the human family.
Within the flood of colors, sounds, scents, tastes and feelings of springtime comes the movement to act for the good of all. These may appear unique experiences we have as individuals, but really all who are willing to open themselves will find a similar pattern at work, namely, a movement out from self to a wider and more collaborative world.
* Nature harkens to our excitement to do something more than be a passive observer; we are called to show that what we treasure has affected us by inciting us to act for the good of all.
* The planet and its inhabitants are wounded by the misdeeds we have done individually or as a society that is unaware or unconcerned about damage done. We see the contrast of beauty unmarred and beauty harmed, and this proves disturbing.
* The damage has a history of past events that are unable to be changed because they have expired, though their evil effects are still with us. The more difficult observation is that misdeeds are occurring right now in our lives and we as democratic citizens must do something to stop the culprits' exploitation.
* People are moving to rise above their squalor and to take what rightfully belongs to the commons (means to benefit all) -- not a selfish grab in a traditional competitive fashion. They do not allow the current cultural and economic divisions to stand in their way, but regard the voiced caution for patience to be a subtle plea to continue the privileged status quo.
* Accomplishing the transformation or revolution required takes active and collaborative efforts among like-minded people with a sense of responsibility; these refuse to be cowed by those seeking individualistic gain. We learn from observing colonies, flocks, schools, swarms, and other groupings of the animal kingdom.
* All are called to be agents of change, not leaving the task to others we think to be more gifted, but rather taking matters through personal responsibility into our own hands as citizens.
* We find our solidarity by discovering that we are poor among the poor and thus must share and work together for betterment of all. We are limited in resources and must work with others.
* In our poverty we find the Risen Lord who has emptied himself for us; in the power of renewed life we are empowered as part of Christ's Body. We can do it!
Prayer: Lord, teach us as keen observers to move beyond our resting stage and resolve to help change our world through the inspiration and power of the Resurrection.
Queen Ann melon, an Appalachian garden favorite.
May 3, 2015Bearing Much as a Fruitful Vine
Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.
Jesus tells us that he is the vine and we are to be connected so that we can bear much fruit. Many of us are not familiar with vine-growing as Jesus in his time. In his land, vines were everywhere; and grapes and vines were a symbol of Israel, just as the maple leaf is a symbol for Canada today.
The vine connects fruit with root. We realize how quickly things wilt when we detach the vine from the plant, for it needs constant addition of life-giving moisture. The amount of water taken up by plants is astounding, a water source lost when disconnected; when close to Christ we are connected to the vine that produces fruit. At times, we need to be pruned; thus, the two prunings of the grape-growing year: the first in winter to get rid of dead wood, allowing the vine to focus on new life; the second in summer, while the clusters are maturing so that all the energy will go into the fruit. We are pruned by the same divine instrument and yet through suffering and sacrifice we become more Christlike. We need to rid ourselves of dead wood and concentrate on bearing good fruit.
Analogy of plants to our relation to Christ includes:
* Plants need moisture, a connection of root and vine. We are in need of on-going grace and a connectedness to Christ.
* They also need minerals and nutrients. We need sacraments.
* They must be kept erect, away from the storms and wind. We need protection from the temptations of the world.
* They are found in community with other fruit bearers. We are also to bear fruit as part of the community of believers.
* They are able to produce seed for future sowing. We help create the future through the good deeds we do here and now.
* They are beautiful to behold. So is the community of believers in a world of massive disbelief.
We are part of the total community, the vineyard of the Lord. The long history of our Church is one of connectedness. The "marks" (descriptions) of one, holy, catholic and apostolic mean we are connected. We are only three or four persons away from our Pope; I know someone who knows someone, who knows the Pope, Christ's visible representative. At confirmation I'm touched by someone touched by another and another, back to Christ in an unbroken line. We are connected in space (all over the world) and in time (for 2,000 years). Our connectedness is both spatial and temporal. We are aware of the atmosphere of holiness carried forward by devotion to the Risen Lord. We are bonded and connected in love and are drawn to oneness in the Body of Christ.
Prayer: Lord, let us be one with you so that we can move forward and bear the Good News to others.
Brilliant white petals of the ox-eyed daisy.
May 4, 2015 Seeing Flowers Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
And why worry about clothing. Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. (Matthew 6:28-29)
May is grave decorating time in Kentucky. My older sister and I are the only ones of Grandma's 25 grandchildren (most were born after her death in 1939) who remember her; her request was that "if nothing more, put a few wild daisies on my grave." Each May, I or my older sister decorate the grave -- I pick wild ox-eyed daisies that carpet our Kentucky meadows. I've asked my younger cousin Rose, who tends an extensive floral garden as a hobby, to continue the practice after I am gone. There's something gently significant about the request and the desire to be remembered by loved ones.
The meadows clothed in passing glory call us to delve deeper into nature's lessons. Jesus mentions the glory of the fields, which are so often overlooked and always short-lived. Wildflowers are vivid examples of a glory that we are unable to create on our own, yet meadows shine in colorful array through the Creator's artistic hand. Look about: marvelous hills, hidden valleys, flowing streams, mighty waterfalls, and even dense forests decorated for a short time with flowers of the season.
Saints, like Francis of Assisi, behold this glory in all creatures by taking a grander view. For them, flowers announce God's presence in floral color, shape, and freshness. While a broader visual sweep reveals a grander creation beyond our narrow concerns, a more focused gaze will show the magnificence of each creature in detail. And wildflowers' beauty will soon fade, so we must make the best of the fleeting moment. I have inherited a love for floral color, texture, and arrangement in bouquets to beautify a room and lighten the spirits of the ill.
Like wildflowers, our moments of glory are God-given and pass quickly. Our activities are part of a landscape clothed in beauty, but it lasts a short time, making it all the more necessary that we act while our talents blossom. We have to make the best of what we've got, and so do it now. We ought to accept the passing glory in a light-hearted manner, with full attention, with widely open eyes, and with thankfulness for gifts given at this moment. Looking a little deeper we realize that we must act now in order to save our wounded Earth, for its vegetative and wildlife health are fragile like spring flowers. Time is short and our energy will fade, so May's flowers beckon us to pause and drink in the beauty and then be energized to leave quickly for the greater work at hand. This is the acceptable moment of salvation.
Prayer: Lord, Give us the chance to see your beautiful creation so as to inspire us to take the proper Earth-saving actions.
Listening for the soft sound of the bee at work.
May 5, 2015 Detecting the Sounds of May
Mountains and hills will break into joyful cries before you and all the trees of the countryside clap their hands.
When quite young, I had a favorite cove in the back field of our farm where I could retreat and listen to the sounds of spring. It was relatively isolated, for in looking in all directions I could see no buildings, only pasture or cultivated land. It belonged to our family and I declared in a youthful way that I would defend it if need be with my trusty gun. Even if we must fight, it is ours forever. Such were the foolish thoughts of that period of youth. The cove was peaceful and seemed enduring. I could hear crickets, crows, and elm leaves rustling in the gentle breeze, but I didn't hear distant earthmovers, which three decades later would transform the cove, for it was beautiful -- and I say "was." Today, the Alexander-Ashland (KY 9) Highway runs right over the cove's location with a deafening sound of traffic congestion.
Spring brings on the added sounds of nature. Nature's symphony is so pronounced in May with its swaying trees, chattering returning semi-tropical summer birds, and scurrying excited mammals feeding their young and growing families. The month of May has its daytime activities and nocturnal periods of quiet -- nature's sounds and silence, which punctuate our busy, cluttered life.
The resistance of the leafy branches coaxes the breeze to speak in gentle ways. We stop and listen, and we make our own joyful sounds in response: animated conversation, hand claps, songs, and whistling. We allow for pauses and create the rhythm of sounds and silence, of moves and rests, of action and reflection. Continuous sound does not convey the fullness of a symphonic movement; the symphony needs both its sounds and pauses.
Spiritual power is realized in pronounced seasonal sounds but even more so in harmony that includes quiet moments, which delineate and accentuate the sounds; sound variation is like white or blank space on a page that assists our attention in reading. By taking our rest in coves away from a noisy world, we hear faint sounds coming from distant places and future times. We detect strains of lamentation: a cry of anguish, from those who appear helpless, e.g. ISIS victims or those trapped by an Ebola ravished land; a cry of distress, from those who lose loved ones in human conflicts; a cry of despair, from those who in present economic circumstances are unemployable; and a battle cry of the poor, calling out to others to join in their revolt against an oppressive system. Cries of anguish and distress are easier to handle through charity, and despair through counseling, but our impulse is to avoid such sounds. Is this subject matter for future empowerment?
Prayer: Lord, open our ears to hear the sounds of this May.
Wild morning glories along Appalachian rock wall.
May 6, 2015 Chancing upon a Lively Vine
... and the blooming vines give off their fragrance.
(The Song of Songs 2:13)
May is the season of floral fragrances, which draws me back to the specific places where I detected the specific scents for the first time. I recall precisely where I stood the first time I enjoyed the scent of the black locust or the Japanese honeysuckle. The same holds for the lily-of-the-valley, peonies, irises, bridle wreath, roses, and black-eyed Susans. Even the later-summer grape-like smell of despised kudzu is attractive and reminiscent of a certain roadside. Aromas remain deep in our memory when other experiences fade. It is the gentle power of attraction that includes both place and time. Thank heavens nature's seasonal aromas secure us within our respective homelands.
In our Appalachian region we find many floral fragrances that trigger a variety of responses. Gentle aromas often exude from powerful, growing vines, which can reach over or above the forest canopy or choke the understory (multiflora rose, kudzu, Japanese honeysuckle, or fox grape); the tenacious canes of blackberry and raspberry on poor soil furnish some faint aromas as well. The seasonal colors and fragrances of later blooming vines such as the trumpet plant and wild potato extend "vine time" well beyond the month of May. Vines are strong and powerful and, in the case of kudzu, somewhat fearsome in overwhelming native vegetation.
What about more spiritual attractants? The Resurrection event secures us in our world redeemed by the blood of Christ. Our blood-stained homeland has been transformed in the power of the Risen Lord, and we can detect this in ways too faint for non-believers to comprehend. The women are drawn to the tomb on that first Easter to add spices and perfumes. And, instead of a body needing to be perfumed, they find a rolled back stone and the scent of new life -- all residing in a springtime garden. Somehow they want change but never dreamed of what was truly in store.
We too are drawn in the world to care for our wounded Earth, but we find barriers in the way. The stonewalls of corporate greed are too heavy for us to easily move, and only the grace of God can over-come such roadblocks to our caregiving. We have a glimpse of collaborative actions by those seeking to live in a more cooperative manner; we sense for one moment that newer, less competitive ways are promising and challenging, all wrapped into one. This we must do by going out to all the world and spreading Good News, namely that our wounded Earth can and must be healed. We can smell change in the air, and this reassures us that renewal is dawning and we can excite others to help make changes.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to sense what is still in store and to
have the power to proclaim Good News in exciting ways.
Kindly words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste, wholesome to the body. (Proverbs 16:24)
I never like picking large quantities of strawberries in late May, because the work is so hard on my back. To this day it pains me to see migrants in a field doing just that. Fortunately, our berries were picked in a few days and not in a whole season of a single type of work. But there are rewards to strawberry picking: the first is tasting a fresh hand-picked strawberry, for no commercial produce on the store shelves can match it; the second is watching the little "sweat bees" clamor about on late blossoms for nectar. It's an opportunity to observe nature's workers closely.
In this month of wonderful smells and tastes we can't forget the role of the bees and other pollinators, busier than ever after a winter's rest. These humble creatures operate as a community, gathering the nectar, and telling other worker bees through dances and motions where the floral source is located. Amazingly, they work as one unit, and their product is the filled combs that sweeten our world. We have much to learn from these quality providers of our goodies. They may sting us if we get in the way, but a closer reflection on their community doings tells us that over the long-haul natural processes are generally gentle, and their cooperative practices worthy of imitation.
Solidarity, collaboration, and cooperation become the hallmarks of Earth caregivers. The Risen Lord teaches us this cooperative spirit by cooking breakfast at the seashore for the overworked and disheartened fisher/disciples (John 21), encouraging the depressed on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), and bringing peace to fearful, locked in and isolated people (John 20). We too are called to busy ourselves in healing a wounded world and to encourage others to teamwork. Through Christ's empowerment we can solidify a cooperative spirit among healers of our wounded Earth.
We often think highly of sweets because they delight our taste
buds and add quality to our lives. The humble diligent bee makes
the honey that fills the comb and eventually reaches our table. We owe these busy creatures much for pollinating and delivering Earth's fruit; they richly deserve our gratitude. Let's spread this spirit to all who sweeten our lives, non-human and human: parents, relatives, children, educators, garbage collectors, law enforcers, and government officials. Let's not forget the one who waits on us at the restaurant and dares to call us "honey," as she does everyone. Familiarity and daily concerns often allow us to overlook those who make life more bearable -- by hugs and smiles and kind words, and tips. These gestures add quality to life. Encouraging others is a healthy springtime activity.
Prayer: Lord, give us a taste to sweeten the lives of all.
May 8, 2015 Radiating Warmth and Reflecting Rainbows
See, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you...(Genesis 9: 8-15)
I look down at a dewdrop on a sunny spring morning and, depending at what angle I look, see a sapphire, emerald, ruby, diamond, or topaz. If we but praise God at that moment, our prayer gives added value to the other trillions of unnoticed dewdrops that form this day. This viewing makes us appreciate the dispersal of light into its various colors. Look at a reflecting oil patch and you see variation of colors as well. Now on a rare spring day just after a shower, we see a short-lived rainbow. It's a promise of God that we will be well cared for on this Earth. It soon fades.
God's covenant with Noah touches the community of all living creatures including all on our living Earth -- the heavenly rainbow seal. In the month of May in normal years this sign of a covenant is most pronounced. At this time the glowing beauty of the rainbow shines before us all -- and what we find at its end is a pot of gold. But isn't it better to think that the pot of gold is the rainbow itself? This rainbow involves all precious life, whether it be a fetus in the womb, a coyote pup, or a struggling flower in the crannied wall. Rainbow colors symbolize the web of life, with each hue given a chance to shine forth for awhile.
We find life. Yes, our planet Earth may live (the Gaia Hypothesis), and God's covenant with us is also with the living Mother Earth. "I will never again destroy you." If we show respect or disrespect for any individual creature, then that act or lack of respect carries over to Earth herself though positive energy or destructive negativity. We need to make our godly acts as radiant as the blazing sun and these can reflect at other times in our lives when we call on God's grace to uplift our spirits. Reflections last after the enlightenment if we stay in the Lord's company. As members of the body of Christ we are to radiate the light that comes in the Sacraments to others in such a way that all detect Christ's light and are warmed by his presence.
We can be rainbows to others. If we use our many talents and gifts well, we present a rainbow effect on other people. This multitude of colors can have the effect of a momentary rainbow; yet it can last through our use of talents over a longer period of time. Giving length to rainbows is part of the empowerment of the Risen Lord in our lives. Where possible we become a focal point from where the radiation begins and sun can arch and embrace a suffering world and vanish its many shadows. We are meant to bring joy to others, and that is quite proper in springtime.
Prayer: Lord, make us a polished crystal so as to radiate your warmth and light to others who are now in partial darkness.
May 9, 2015 Reaffirming Resurrection-Centered Spirituality
We must choose a spirituality that restores and renews earth. This means we reject spiritualities of exploitation and domination as from the Evil One, for we ought to love, respect and care for Earth and creatures. A naturalistic or animistic spirituality finding gods in the natural world has had a primitive following, but it does not have an impulse to restore but only to live in tranquility with nature. A homesteading spirituality championed in recent times involves those who find God in nature and among their own small isolated cluster; while attractive, much attention is given to simple lifestyles lacking worshippers' social aspects.
These last two could be cousins of a creation-centered spirituality as promoted by Matthew Fox and others who address a reaction to more traditional conservative Christian redemption-centered spirituality. The latter proponents acknowledge sin and the need for repentance through the saving power of Christ's death on Calvary. For them Earth is a passageway to our eternal heavenly home, with less attention to its current condition, and in rare cases even showing indifference to resource destruction since all will end in fire; recently they are adopting an ecological stance.
A creation-centered approach would essentially focus at the natural beauty of creation and the relationship of beings and communities found in the web of life. Advocates would downplay a hierarchy of being, be more feminist in orientation, and reject anthropogenic tendencies of redemption-centered people. Creation-centered people sometimes speak more generally in cosmological and so-called non-theological terms regarding creation as the primary revelation in distinction from Scripture; the Good Book has a wrong myth associated with it; some folks prefer to leave the Bible on a book shelf. Both these Creation and Redemption spiritualities have good aspects; the former has an academic respect for all creatures and the latter emphasizes saving sinners: "I am saved, are you?"
I agree with Bob Sears in promoting a resurrection-centered spirituality. This accepts and affirms good aspects of both creation- AND redemption-centered spiritualities. Moreover, it changes emphasis to the empowerment in the Risen Lord, author of a New Heaven and Earth with our collaborative and compassionate efforts included. This approach affirms the glory of God's love and mercy as Creator. Jesus Christ redeems through his blood touching our wounded Earth. All creation is redeemed in Christ and that pattern of Christ's redemption is repeated in our own lives as other christs; by uniting our sufferings with Christ's we become his partners in filling up what is wanting in his suffering. Paraphrasing the Emmaus account in Luke 24:26: "Did you not know that the very Earth must suffer and so enter into its glory?" Earth is a liberated partner in the renewal process.
Prayer: Lord, may Resurrection-Centered Spirituality thrive!
Yellow trout lily, Erythronium americanum. Madison Co., KY.
May 10, 2015Collaborating within Christ's Loving Service
You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last. (John 15:16)
Jesus calls us friends and invites us to follow in his footsteps -- and even go on to become creative in doing great deeds. He calls us friends and that means he gives us a status that reaches beyond discipleship to that of co-laborers, destined to bear fruit and to glorify the Kingdom. It will not be an easy task for it demands breaking away from the bonds that tie us down to material allurements and the influence of the Evil One. But if we have faith we can overcome such powers and accept the divine hand in giving us nourishment to carry on faithfully.
Jesus chooses us through entry into the community and through Baptism into the intimacy of the Divine Family. Here is the dawn of spiritual empowerment that Easter announces. Upon reflection we discover our own powerlessness and are not crushed but humbled; in doing so we are being honed to a spiritual empowerment coming for the Risen Lord. This "Jesus Way" is a new perception of who we are when lordship is not a controlling mastery over others for material profit; rather this is a spiritual lordship empowering us to do greater and humbler deeds. Acceptance of the cross demands an obedience and dependence on God, for achievement in spiritual matters cannot be accomplished without divine and human collaboration. We may be tempted to work as though all depends on us, but prayerful reflection teaches us a qualified dependence.
Collaboration is at the heart of the Paschal Mystery. God rolls back the stone of lethargy so that we can act. We become empowered by serving the Divine Will in a humble manner that involves knowing our own weakness and sensing divine strength acting within us. In place of the power of the almighty dollar we affirm the power of the Almighty. A new power within recognized powerlessness emerges and is a paradox: we become empowered and creative while humbly recognizing our limitations and our dependence on God's power. Through obedience and sacrifice, we go down with Jesus in suffering and death and arise in new life.
Arthur Simon in How Much is Enough (Baker Books, 2003, pp. 157-158) tells of hearing a noted evangelist from India, D.T. Niles, preach on John 3:16 and say that Christians are twice-converted people. They are converted from the world to Jesus Christ. Then they are converted again to the world, but now it is to love the world through the heart and mind of Christ. This is also the thrust of resurrection-centered spirituality once we see that Jesus dies for all, rises for all, and calls all to renew our wounded creation. We plunge into the task of renewing our Earth.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to find out how to bear lasting fruit, for you have done great things for us if we remain in your love.
May 11, 2015 Reflecting on the Phenomenology of Power
Christ's Resurrection takes us to a new level of Earthhealing. Early in the year we hear the divine call swelling up from within the deep mystery of ongoing Creation. During Lent we became involved in the passivities of suffering both by recognizing and entering in to the wounded nature of our world, and in joining the Suffering Servant in addressing the first fruits of healing. Now with the sense of urgency growing upon us, especially from threatened climate change, we approach our involvement by knowing power structures, accepting powerlessness, and stirring to new-found power within the Easter Mystery. This involves catalyzing the lowly to arise from their poverty and take charge of what belongs to the commons. Privileged positions must be abandoned voluntarily or through a fair taxation of wealth and income.
The power of the Risen Lord liberates us. A message of freedom was announced in Mary's Magnificat and Simeon's prophesy, confirmed in the teachings and healing of Jesus, and then made visible to believers as suffering servant in the Paschal Mystery. Now Easter has dawned and the story has changed. We are empowered to become catalysts of change. Quite often those entangled in their poverty think that power is totally beyond them, and find little hope in overwhelming the commercial, political and social System. As believers we say the game has been changed: we accept Christ; we suffer and die to self-will in union with his suffering and dying; and we are invited to rise again in the power of the Risen Lord. Power lies behind and another ahead; new power is for the taking only if we die and rise with Christ. Let's reflect on the empowerment process divided into five springtime moments:
Moment One -- Recognition of God's overwhelming power manifested in the ongoing creation process and in the sacred events in Salvation History and the Redemptive process (natural power); Moment Two -- Confronting our idolatry and illusion of mastery and control over events and persons, which are impoverishing to the many who are overpowered by material success (exploitative power); Moment Three -- Arousing a keen but often hidden awareness of ultimate powerlessness in the face of competing struggles and the social addiction of a Godless consumer culture (elusive power); Moment Four -- Discovering and identifying through God's grace the mysterious power found in solidarity and collaboration with others and expanding this to a faith dimension (collaborative power); and Moment Five -- Understanding that inherent weakness in fulfilling these collaborative ventures calls for deeper graces. God provides with the spiritual empowerment of the Risen Savior that can only be achieved by the grace of the Almighty, but is urgently need to usher in the New Heaven and New Earth.
Prayer: Lord, empower us with your grace to heal our wounded Earth, which we see in desperate need of renewal.
May 12, 2015 Revealing Divine Power at Work in Creation
...and God's spirit hovered over the water. Genesis 1:2)
A sense of Almighty power came in an instant and yet included all the scientific training that preceded it. In a micro-second, I too became part of the creative hand of God where process and event are both operative. It was humbling sitting before a device I regard as somewhat undignified, a television. This TV show of the origins of the cosmos discussed the burst of activity in the first pico-second of creation. The structure of the physical world that we know was formed; in the intensity of that fraction of a second all of the succeeding billions of years of the universe unfolded. One could not help but be caught up in the drama and the power of that "Big Bang," a sound still ringing in our ears.
This first stage in the phenomenology of power is God's manifested creative power at work in the world. We see that creative power most dramatically in the roar of waterfalls, storms, or waves, but also in the multitude of distant stars, the intensity of the sun's warmth, the beauty and wonders of wildlife of every description, and even the tender fabric of community relations. God's power at work is all about us -- a sight to behold! Sometimes human observers interpret this elementary power level as distant and almost authoritarian, and respond through an infant-type perception of parental authority; they may even misinterpret the Creator as a vengeful Gaia figure (a goddess willing to punish those who mistreat Earth).
Nature's din is frightening: the power of a mighty waterfall;
the suddenness of an awful and unexpected flood event; the flash of lightning and clash of thunder; the sound of an impending avalanche in the mountains; the roaring of the waves as they crash on the shores or against a flimsy boat on which we travel. To those caught in superstition, the powers of nature are often personified by titled gods of various powers and bestowal of blessings and curses; for primitive peoples these gods need to be offered subservience and a payoff to be appeased.
Nature has enough dark moments that it appears unconquered and thus the struggle is bittersweet -- how to survive and live in the combat of life and how to taste and enjoy its many fruits. In the face of these forces of nature one feels a primitive sense of powerlessness and thus the need to unite with others for safety and minimal comfort. Fire is at last conquered and we are afforded the light and heat that made for security and elementary togetherness. Thus, through interaction the forces of nature appear to work in favor of human beings -- but they remain elusive even amid our first limited efforts to control them.
Prayer: Lord, help us respect the powers of nature and see these as coming from your almighty hand.'
May 13, 2015 Reminding Ourselves of Power Over Others
There isa time to be silent and a time to speak. (Ecclesiastes 3:8)
I learned much from Bobby and the late Becky Simpson in Harlan County, Kentucky, for they are folks on disability (Bobby is blind through a work accident); yet with help from relatives, neighbors, and hundreds of volunteers each year, they have assisted the poor in Harlan County and neighboring Appalachian Virginia. They show selfless concern for the needs of neighbors. And when time and resources permit, they moved their assistance into the arena of socialjustice. They have voiced opposition to strip mining excesses, lack of flood protection measures, and bad logging practices: they have done much with limited resources.
The second of the major expressions of power deals with a sense of human mastery over others or an illusion of grandeur. It includes the exploiters and greedy extractors of the world who run herd over neighbors. Exercising this power may even include a "charity" that is part of mastery and the demand for thanks with all the attached strings. Too often even rich nations regard aid or the International Monetary Fund loan or grant with a possessor's largesse in mind. St. Ambrose says, The Earth belongs to all, not to the rich, and quoted by Blessed Paul VI in the encyclical "On the Development of the Peoples," in 1967 and again in this Century in a slightly different context by Pope Benedict XVI.
Through the Paschal Mysteries we discover that Christ opens sharing to the entire world; we are moved to extend sharing what has been enclosed by a privileged few (powers to be in a secular sense). Economic classes must be addressed and the rise of inequality exposed and confronted. Needed changes run a gauntlet of options: financial downturn, authoritarian control, revolution, terrorism, voluntary simplicity and peaceful revolution. Coercive options degrade human freedom and produce inordinate suffering on the part of unfortunate victims. Voluntary simplicity by those addicted to consumer products is virtually impossible, for will power has been deeply wounded.
Power over another can be exercised as a parent over a child or healer over the ill to some degree. It is the power of debtor over indebted and master over slave. To some degree it is the power of a coach, top executive, teacher, consultant, and in more subtle ways the social media designer. Sometimes this accepted power is neutral, sometimes good for the sluggish, and sometimes merciless and ruthless. Modern culture glorifies in power, relishes it, and attempts to sanctify and declare it permanent; it sweeps up decision-making and overwhelms prosperous nations in an illusion of ownership deserved by hard work and wise stewardship.
Prayer: Lord give us the courage to see that hidden powers are at work and we must confront them forthrightly.
Rue Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides. Franklin Co., KY.
May 14, 2015 Discovering Current Levels of Impoverishment
Authoritarian power brokers terrorize the world and intimidate the gullible and ignorant. Within our democratic process a good and eager participative citizenry can check such tendencies, but if allowed to be non-participatory the process erodes. Our American voting records in off-year elections show a tendency to laziness and non-involvement; we are wide-open to plutocratic manipulation through lobby and direct payment for candidacy promotion in the expensive mass media. Such is a subtle form of impoverishment without the couch potato ever knowing he or she is sitting through a diminishment of democratic process. Yes, not knowing who are the poor is the fault of the insensitive affluent; while true, however, we learn the range of impoverishment is broader than first thought.
Lacking certain goods is not necessarily "impoverishment," especially if one can live with less or be creative. Failing to see destitution is a blindness of the affluent and "shopoholics" and a participation in a social addiction that afflicts our entire society. We all are in need of discerning how to break away from a suffocating culture. All things said, we can discern at least four types of ecologically-related impoverishment:
1. Acts of desecration -- The list of atrocities to Earth is quite large: urban and indoor air pollution, depletion of ozone, destruction of plant and animal habitats, ocean dumping and pollution, continued overuse of fossil fuels (leading to climate change), nuclear and hazardous waste disposal, acid rain, depletion of the rain forest, soil erosion, pesticide poisoning, and more.
2. Resulting social and ecological dimensions -- Those who live near and endure environmental pollution are harmed and threatened in health, safety, and quality of life. This is especially true of those who will suffer most from climate change; this includes plants and animals. Carbon dioxide levels continue to rise and at a global level approach 400 parts per million (ppm), a benchmark of severe global warming effects.
3. Under-utilized potentials -- Substance abuse and various social maladies lead to personal addictive behavior that causes un- employment and family strife. "AA" recovery individuals can help actualize human resource potential if welcomed as agents of change.
4. Culturally induced digressions -- Precious time is wasted by people escaping to false spiritualities (e.g. New Age) and minimum effective practices. This becomes a major distraction from practical and down-to-Earth work that needs to be done here and now. To disrespect past traditional beliefs and ways by turning to violent action as performed by ISIS is a form of impoverishment.
Prayer: Lord, show us that certain forms of impoverishment retard our work of healing our wounded Earth.
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
When I returned from Washington, D.C., after seven years of work there, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the slow pace of Appalachian change, even at the most elementary levels. The temptation was certainly great to take matters into my own hands, lead an Appalachian resistance movement and to ally with the remnants of the 1960 radicals who tried unsuccessfully to halt surface mining of coal.
A third Stage of power emerges. This is the clear realization that some form of equalization is necessary; yet efforts by the lowly to rise are interpreted by the status quo as a threat to their privileges; these say that the lowly should hold their place patiently until they are wealthy -- which may mean "never." The lowly seek a better future that they often regard as held by those in high places -- grass is greener on the other side. Desperation results, but we hear that the lowly will rise -- a true manifestation of profound change through the Christian manifesto? (Reference: Rene Coste, The Magnificat: The Revolution of God, Quezon City, Philippines: Claretian Publications, 1988). In protecting the rights of private individuals, special consideration must be given to the weak and the poor. (Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum) The rising (exaltation) of the lowly. The powerful dynamics of profound and radical change may have a dual motivation: rising to escape destitution and being attracted to a better life as drawn by Christian hope. Revolt is in the air, for the germ of liberation rests in the human "grassroots" and springs eternally. Some revolts are cruelly and efficiently crushed, especially in non-democratic societies. However, Christians are yeast, catalyst in rising of the dough. Easter people bring hope both for essential freedom and a higher quality of life. Those who preach to "stay put" are chaplains of the wealthy. Change is in the emotionally-laden air and violence is just below the surface. What side are we on? Jesus is with those forgiven, healed, taught, and oppressed. It's a bold and inviting step to follow him.
History shows countless military exploits taken for fame or fortune: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, recent colonists, or Hitler. Most were costly in lives. Recall the millions who died in internal unrest in the Soviet era after 1917 and the Chinese Communist revolutions in the mid-twentieth century. Raw physical power can be at work accompanied by mixed spiritual motives: the Crusades, the Moslem conquests, even ISIS. Should we go down fighting like the Byzantine Emperor on the walls of Constantinople in 1453, defending his vanishing Empire? Too many conflicts have a spiritual veneer in a downward spiral to violence.
Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to choose wisely how to act.
May 16, 2015 Breaking Loose through Power Manifestations
It is about Jesus Christ our Lord who, in the order of the spirit, the spirit of holiness that was in him, was proclaimed Son of God in all his power through his resurrection from the dead.
I recall a church-sponsored consciousness-raising program where the majority of us were fed rice and beans for supper and only a few had steak. Being good Christians, a few of us organized and demanded that the rich share their meals. We broke the rhythm of the game -- or did we? Shouldn't Christians challenge a System?
Challenges as an exertion of physical power come in many varieties. Slave revolts in the U.S., such as the Nat Turner Rebellion in Virginia in 1831, resulted in a glimmer of hope for the oppressed. A cause of freedom bore some hope for safer domestic environments and freedom to choose one's life. For such hopes to be realized, slaves resorted to conflict through desperation and anticipation that others would follow. Striking out seemed so simple when possessing so little. Other slaves preferred passive resistance, work slowdowns, and individual acts of sabotage. Modern terrorists show a shocking willingness to expend their lives in crowded marketplaces or NYC Twin Towers through highjackings or strapped bombs on subways.
Christians are divided by ways to reclaim the commons. Must we achieve justice through use of non-violent and/or violent means on an escalating scale? The Internet and modern transport and communications systems open windows of opportunity for forms of change. They ask why tolerate the game of playing model citizen through patience in an oppressive system? Life is short. Should Christians, without being terrorists, at least learn from their dedication and motivating energy?
Catalyzing the lowly to rise has its dark side, especially when direct attacks on persons lead to suffering and prove ineffective. Excuses to not act come by the multitude: approaching mortality, desolation, physical weakness, temptation, apparent burnout, utter confrontation, deep embarrassment, prospects of ultimate defeat, divorce, final separation, or a terminal medical report. Like a bad dream, one is surrounded by a bone-chilling fog, "My God, why have you forsaken us?" However, being what appears far from the Divine still has the proximity of the crucified Jesus, that moment when Divine Power touches the soul.
The outpouring of 400,000 calling for awareness to climate change at the September, 2014 citizens' march in New York City, plus gatherings elsewhere shows the tide is turning; things must change. Some call for civil disobedience if misdeeds continue.
Prayer: Lord, show us that we are to follow the suffering Jesus so as to ascend with him.
Beloved mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia. Red River Gorge, KY.
May 17, 2015 Ascending with Christ through Our Humble Work
As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky when suddenly two men in white were standing near them and they said, "why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there." Acts (1: 9-11)
We were performing an environmental resource assessment for the Franciscans at Mission San Luis Rey at Oceanside, California.An old man had learned the secret of making adobe brick like those of the early missions and built walls of adobe so visitors could inspect them close at hand. I asked him about his methods and tears came: he said "you are the first to ask me." How sad!
Ascension is the fullness of the Paschal Mystery. As we grasp that Jesus rises and ascends, we anticipate the Spirit coming to empower us at Pentecost. We become empowered to help save our wounded Earth, live simple lifestyles, and find solidarity and identity with the poor. The first degree of humility is to see the Risen Christ as cornerstone to our Christian faith; we are spectators at the Easter event moved to use our reasoning and given to charity and volunteer service. The second degree is to associate more closely with others in Christ. Resurrection becomes a hope of ultimate victory, a dream that is becoming a New Creation with Jesus's glorification. The third degree of humility is to identify with Christ in the poor. In our powerlessness we are empowered in Christ to be healers through God's grace. We become agents of change who level a global dough.
Jesus tells us at the Last Supper (John 14) that he is going to prepare a place for us, but must we look for him in the clouds or find within our hastening to prepare for the final coming? Even on leaving, Jesus is still with us in many ways: in the community of believers; sacramentally in the Eucharist; in the joining of two or more in prayer; and in our actions among the poor. But Jesus is also absent, because he is ahead of us, and beckoning into the forming of an eternal Kingdom. Jesus departs but we continue his teaching, healing, and active humble ministry.
Jesus' departure raises a great question that haunted us in youth: if Jesus had remained, wouldn't skeptics be forced to come to faith? We would have a resurrected person who could go to every fair and circus. Unbelievers would tremble and find such a long-living man as distant from them, but compelling them to believe. Faith would be something forced upon them out of fear and without use of free will. I did not understand that freedom is a key to faith, for we open ourselves to God's grace and are not forced.
Prayer: Lord, may all believers imitate your love and mercy.
Yellow lady's slipper, Cypripedium pubescens Red River Gorge, KY.
May 18, 2015 Finding Power Within Powerlessness
We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. Always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too may always be seen in our body. (II Corinthians 4:7, 10)
I got my auto license, a ticket to power in the springtime of life. A modern auto driver has ten times the power, at his foot peddle, of a first-century Roman general with an immense team of horses. With age, I find that physical power is very misleading and can even get individuals and groups into trouble. We understand the ramifications of power, when privileged to drive the highways -- but we can feel powerless when the engine suddenly dies.
Christ's Resurrection gives us the spatial freedom to start over again. Indeed, we are forgiven for past mistakes and look to new life through an eternal springtime of human possibilities. Just as the rising sun gives us a fresh morning and winter gives way to Easter, so forgiveness ushers in a new beginning. The father of the prodigal son says to his unforgiving brother, "He who was as good as dead has come back to life." Yes, misdeeds causing climate change can leave indelible marks. Moving ahead is not easy for we are people addicted to the consumer culture -- and we need God's help. The nineteenth-century do-it-yourself world of kerosene lamps and horses gives way to current interdependence.
Being at another's mercy manifests individual powerlessness. We observe powerlessness in a free democratic society when we try to persuade individuals or institutions to change their ways and find it difficult to draw attention without resorting to physical force. Our own persuasive powers are limited individually and even collectively. We may lack the popular communication outlets, money, proper persuasive language, or an attention-gathering issue. Rational argumentation falls on deaf ears for we battle powerful allurements that fasten a culture to modern ways; rational persuasion of addicts is a weak response.
At this moment of negative insight we are drawn to turn to prayer; with Jesus we passively accept our limitations in obedience to God's will. Jesus speaks publicly and yet at times remains silent before worldly powers. In dying to self we are reborn -- the first hint of the dawn of spiritual empowerment. If we die with him, we can surely rise with him. We come hesitantly to accept limitations and self-knowledge. As limited people we still thank God for hidden gifts given. We begin to think like poor folks because we ARE poor folks; we are one with Christ.
Prayer: Lord, forgive our faults and bring us closer to you.
May 19, 2015Showing Urgency through Imitating Christ
We need redemption; we are limited; we have a dependence that we do not like to admit, not on material things but on closeness to a Higher Power. Thus, we strive to transpose material to spiritual dependence, while abandoning forms of individual independence. Material security, self-importance, over-competitiveness, and allurements fade. Poor folks interpret the Gospel concretely as Good News, joy over the promise of future salvation, more realistic fears, and, when really poor, response to the call of the Gospel with a certain abandonment. (Reference: Monika Hellwig, "Good News to the Poor: Do They Understand It Better," Monika Hellwig, Tracing the Spirit, Paulist, 1983, p.145). Thus, the poor are better prepared to meet the Risen Christ; they see addiction first hand.
In becoming one with the poor we discover the root of creativity, saving power, and enlightenment to spread the Good News -- activities of the Divine Family. The Spirit inspires, the Light enlightens, the Holy One grants creativity. Somehow a whisper, an idea, a spark comes alive within the naked soul: the unjustly treated can be liberated, a democratic people can arise, well-motivated political action can occur. Jesus says frequently, "Fear not," for fear infests materialists but not the believing poor. For believers, companionship with Christ and solidarity among the poor enhances courage for meaningful action.
God's power transforms human isolation and powerlessness, empowers us through suffering sacrifice, and forgives past weaknesses; we need companions and collaboration and see the dawn of power in organizing and sticking together. Distance from the Power Source narrows; Divine Love draws the soul to deeper involvement by becoming sensitive to the needs of the poor. We hesitate to say we are poor, a countercultural aspiration. Mutual experience is not debilitating but the opposite when companions share dependencies.
Sharing includes our limitations. New-found empowerment can now be recognized and shared through liturgical celebration. A worldly conceived powerlessness is now seen as juxtaposed to a transcendent Power stimulating, inviting and catalyzing former material addicts to action (a Twelve-Step Program for the Earth healer). This realized powerlessness before true Power surpasses acts of charity without halting our giving. St. John XXIII says unequal partners are not capable of coming to lasting agreements, and thus the need for the rise of the poor globally with a sense of power in numbers and in the limits of individuals acting alone.
Prayer: Lord, deliver us from Easter's beginning confusion: people hastening back and forth, breathless words, fright. Mary Magdalene clings to him, Peter and John find an empty tomb, locked assembly room, a doubting Thomas, a road to Emmaus, desolation after fruitless fishing. Help us be people who fear not.
May 20, 2015 Perceiving Easter as a Radicalizing Event
For believers, Easter grows in meaning as we travel along our journey of faith: a credal formula of an enormous event, an apologetic tool to take to the suffering world, a demonstration of the Risen Lord in our lives for others, an opportunity to establish community especially through forgiveness, and identification with the poor Risen Lord who is present among us. In deepening our commitment to be healers we edge ever closer, going from distant, rigid, and formal believers to members of an ever-expanding family of loving close associates. We find class differences disappear as we come ever closer to the Risen Christ.
a) Easter is a personal and historic reality -- You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he has risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him (Mark 16: 6b). Easter transforms our lives and fills us with hope and victory. Consider galley slaves or prisoners with little chance for physical freedom; suddenly the hope of eternal life dawns. For them and others, Easter is liberation, personally, and collectively over a period of time. Sufferers perceive in faith a jewel if offering deeds with infinite value. Believers hear in the Letter of James a challenge, "Don't say goodbye and good luck." We honor the poor by attending to them.
b) Easter is sharing with others --Peace be with you (John 20:19b; Luke 24:36b). Believers must always pause and listen: it is the cry of the poor. It may be a whimper on a radio recitation, or the one noise next door. Disturbed believers question whether faith is an experience of comfort and satisfaction or a listening to whatever will come. The Risen Lord has redeemed all living creatures -- not just a faithful few. Our charitable purse is limited; volunteer efforts, though altruistic, go only so far. The chorus springing from the planet is great: no one is excluded for the Risen One is Lord of all creation. How can there be a co-existence today of one thousand billionaires and one billion people making about one dollar a day? Inequality cannot continue, even if all rich are generous. A peaceful world of haves and have-nots cannot persist in a transparent modern age.
c) Easter is compassionate presence. Then they said to each other, "did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:22); Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognized him at the breaking of bread (Luke 24:35). Jesus is present with disciples on the road to Emmaus: they do not recognize him; their hearts burn as he explains the Scripture; through the ingrained hospitality of the Middle East they invite this traveler not to go forth hungry; he accepts and breaks bread with them -- and they recognize him in the Breaking of the Bread; Jesus disappears. They up and rush back to Jerusalem's gathering to share their experience with the other disciples.
d) Easter is forgiving others. "For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained" (John 20:23). The power of healing extends on Easter evening when in the utter powerlessness felt by isolated, frightened human beings the message comes loud and clear, "You have the power to heal." Even in our weakness we can find strength and power, namely that of healing moral wounds. An Earthhealing process: will become a cooperative endeavor by both poor and the formerly affluent; involve the more equitable distribution of resources and halt luxurious waste; be done in a gentle manner with minimized hardship on all; and involve the world community of believers. Resurrection is the ultimate revolution, for the old natural processes of life and death are now replaced by life, death, and new life. Earth can be healed.
e) Easter is Christ's presence with the poor --If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5). Why do healers seek a closeness to victims? Ultimately, it may be because we are all in need of healing and thus feel the pain of one in what appears to be greater need. We discover that Christ as Lord and liberator is present among the poor. He does not appear to the power elite to force belief; rather, he becomes present to those who are shut away, despised, and persecuted. We are drawn into the concerns of the Divine Family. We vow to die to sin so that we can rise with him. Intuitively, we expect the healing process to be a true empowerment in the Risen Lord. As poor we strive to involve all.
Hypothesis:The Poor are the Primary Earth Healers. The whimsical Creator/Lord manifests power through the powerless. We find this in the humble coming of the Messiah, his manner of teaching, healing and acting as suffering servant. Scripture leads us to find a God with a preferential option for the poor -- Abraham, Israelite slaves in Egypt, captives in Babylon, Mary, Christ. If our own calling is to follow Christ, we resist the temptation to focus on perceived power elites who falsely promise trickle-down resources for the impoverished. The time is now! We know that healing our Earth requires collaborative expertise of all people of good will, including those with professional skills and experience. The poor urgently try to unlock the renewable process. -----------
A new Big Bang has occurred. Spiritual empowerment is utterly gratuitous, for God works through humble souls who are connected with Jesus. This is the pico-second of regeneration, the instant when the dynamics of empowered human activity remodel the first instant of the world's creation. God fashions healers into a New Creation, a participant within the Easter mystery. God wants these co-workers to overcome addiction and avoid allurements. We sense our limitations and approaching key role through Divine Power.
Prayer: Lord, help us to humble ourselves to join Jesus as agents of spiritual change.
May 21, 2015 Taking on Spiritual Power as Other Christs
During the darkest periods of history, quite often a small number of men and women scattered throughout the world have been able to reverse the course of historical evolution. This was only possible because they hoped beyond all hope.
(Brother Roger of Taize)
In the fall of 1988 I gazed out of a train window on the way to Delhi and saw a youthful goat herder out in the distance. Was this the ultimate destiny of his life or could change occur to give him more meaning? Would he ever unite with others who could seek a better life? Should he remain so content? To bring that goat herder to a fuller life it seemed to me that two forces must be simultaneously at work: the rise of the destitute to a better quality of life and the bringing down of the status of the super-affluent and powerful. A question arose, Can the poor as primary agents of change be effective without violence?
The above quote from Brother Roger does not imply that a small elite will transform and restore Earth, only that the catalyst will come from a small cadre of believers in a hope beyond hope that a pandemic of righteousness will embrace all the world, and the great multitude will follow. All natural catalysts start from a minute and critical point; they spread their effects far and wide and eventually lead to an immense change. Such effects are what are anticipated in the rising of the poor; it takes a spiritually-empowered cadre to ignite the world. I have come to bring fire to the Earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! (Luke 12:49)
In this final stage of power, one is drawn ever closer to Divine Mystery and spiritual power emerges, a power founded in our dependence on God our Creator and Redeemer. From the previous four moments we conclude: 1) that something must be done to save our Earth, for these are critical times for all living creatures; 2) that, if healing is to occur, the present world order of haves and have-nots cannot continue; 3) that the goal is to reach a general global condition of equalization so that the basic rights to all life are respected by sharing essential needs from the vast surpluses; and 4) that this must be done through the general participation of all, especially the poor.
We return to our sense of wonder experienced on hearing the Big Bang -- at least its faint echo. We experience our humble place, our unworthiness, our limitations, and our dependence on God. The New Creation is radically different, not a public physical blast, but quite often a mysterious whisper confided to believers. We know this event is greater than the Big Bang for it includes the suffering and death of the Almighty One, and in a chosen way we suffer and die with him. Power is now manifested!
Prayer: Lord, let us glory in an emerging spiritual empowerment and find our place in its manifestation.
Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
Having power with Christ comes as a sacrifice. The initial impulse is to make the messianic power a military force, but that is far from the power of the Risen Lord -- though this was part of Jesus' temptations in the desert. Many times religious leaders misinterpreted their empowerment as a worldly enforcement of righteous decrees -- not a free act by individuals. In imitating Jesus we must, reluctantly perhaps, come to avoiding military force. God works within us in a non-violent and gentle manner.
This does not mean that Earth healers retreat from political involvement (as some Christian peace groups have done in the past). However, on closer look, explicit peacemakers have taught us much about how to practice non-violence as a method of resistance to bring positive changes in the world, starting with Jesus and continuing through Francis of Assisi and down to our days: the revolts against Britain's salt taxes by Mohandas K. Gandhi and his followers after the First World War; the 1950s bus and subsequent strikes led by Martin Luther King in Alabama; and the challenges to South African Apartheid by Nelson Mandela. We can be politically involved by organizing, educating, and communicating with legislators and leaders.
All the while we can recognize our limitations, constraints and dependence on the Spirit directing us. We discern proper sources of support by avoiding funds from contaminated sources and power elites; we refrain from any activity that might cause physical or mental harm to those identified as the oppressive class; we extend the area of non-violence to include animals and plants as well. Some activists say the corporation is a false person and thus is not subject to violence, but exists at the will of the people. More on this later.
The Magnificat: the lowly will be exalted. Mary's prayer (Luke 1:46-55) is our prayer too: the lowly will be exalted; those in high places will be brought low. Expecting a simultaneous free act on the part of the low and high is wishful thinking. The lowly must take what rightfully belongs to all of us and not to a few privileged who seek material profits. The gentleness that characterized the Violet Revolution in the Czech Republic at the time of the Soviet Union's collapse is a model of what could be done ecologically, but in some way authentic revolution must occur. Concentrated wealth is seldom surrendered without a struggle, and yet the clock is running. Responsibility rests with the lowly, the poor; we as primary agents of change must establish the agenda.
Prayer: Lord, show us the Power of Christ within us and help us actualize it through Earthhealing programs.
Isn't efficiency an important issue, not merely exciting the poor, but a prime focus for the status quo? Actually, when viewing history as gradual process, we realize that changes that show that the poor and lowly can and do rise to levels of democratic participation have been occurring at a steady pace. Democratic process takes time and has had its ups and downs. Calls for conversion and deepening levels of change ring out throughout the world, and thus the focus turns more to how than to exactly when, though we are always aware of the urgency of addressing pollution effects, food insecurity, and climate change.
The Christian challenge is to guide the movement from below upward as a grassroots movement. We must insist that the poor take what is theirs, not beg for it, nor come to a compromise for others to relinquish what really does not belong to them. A surrender of ill-gotten goods is always needed for forgiveness, but it is a surrender all the same. The ideal is to take non-violently and to give up freely and without regret. Can this redistribution be done to the mutual benefit of all parties? Mere declaration is not accomplished deed; the Declaration of Independence began, but was not the entire American Revolution. The Magnificat verses are a prayer, a hope that God's power will be manifested through properly acting human agents. Curbing superabundant consumption is one component; the rising of the poor from destitution is another. We cannot wait on over-consuming addicts to freely change their ways. Lead agents are small in number, even from within lowly ranks.
Redistribution is a precondition for authentic healing, but precisely how this occurs is somewhat hidden: voluntarily by somewhat addicted people? Through coercive measures such as taxes and regulation? Through natural disasters? Through violent struggle? Through a profound and fundamental spiritual change by both the wealthy and the poor (truly revolutionary in the deepest sense)? By an escalated system of environmental actions initiated by the lowly as agents of change and without the necessary consent of those in high places?
In an earlier work, The Contrasumers: A Citizens Guide to Resource Conservation, Praeger Publishers, 1974, I argued for a rising gradation of environmental actions running from education, demonstration, research, citizen organizing, and political action to nonviolent passive resistance, guerrilla theater, and eco-activity of a more active sort. When actions at a lower level do not work, it may be necessary to accelerate the process by more involved action. This basic action process has historic grounding in traditional Christian ethics.
Prayer: Lord, teach us when and how to act; give us the courage to know when to act and the prudence to do so without hurting anyone.
...when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven... (Acts 2:2)
We were in the Seminary at North Aurora, Illinois and had some local visitors on a Sunday afternoon. We were outside leisurely chatting and suddenly the sky darkened in the North and a funnel dipped down and back up again in a half minute. I heard our visitors give an uncharacteristic exclamation and without goodbye depart. I chuckled, but then we saw materials swirling in the air at nearby St. Charles, Illinois: What power! What suddenness! The damage was over $20 million in less than a minute.
Today, we start the six-month-period to Advent when we attempt to put into practice the many aspects of Christ's life that we have covered in the first half of the Liturgical year. Today is the birthday of the Church; it is almost 2000 years old and a divinely guided institution, the Body of Christ of which we are the members. Through the Spirit we are empowered:
The Spirit unlocks the closed doors of our hearts and penetrates within our fearful beings in a powerful manner;
The great wind of Pentecost speaks in power and suddenness of profound change wrought by the Spirit in our lives. It is a restless wind, which leads where the Spirit wills.
The tongues of fire descend on each person present, showing the uniqueness of the gifts bestowed on each individual by the Spirit. Each of us is touched and expected to be ourselves but also united in helping to form one community.
The public noise is heard by confused onlookers. Those who received the Spirit are impelled to go out and communicate with the crowd, with each listener hearing in his or her native language.
The gift of communication to the larger public, rather than gifts to the individual witness or speaker, is a powerful instrument to spread the Good News. Pentecost reverses the Tower of Babel where human beings through self-interest divided and then spoke different tongues.
The mighty acts of God are shown as a Church coming into being through the power of God. Pentecost is like the slap on the back, which begins the breathing process for each new-born who emerges from the womb. We begin to inhale -- take in the Spirit as in Church; we then exhale by going out to others and bearing witness to the Spirit. But this is not a one-time affair. Periodically, we need to come together as a small inner community and inhale; we need to find new ways of expressing ourselves and exhale; this involves giving witness to the Spirit in everyday circumstances.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, inspire us in many ways: shake us to the bone, focus us out of selfishness of locked rooms, and impel us to go forth and spread the Good News.
In the spring of 1988 I returned from a trip and found our prize ASPI demonstration garden to be in ruins by a mean hand. This choice love of mine had produce far ahead of traditional gardens because of early planting and careful protection against late frosts; it was meant for special display on "River Day," the first Saturday of June. Someone had deliberately come in and destroyed all the growing plants. It struck me that my sadness is what God feels about how we have deliberately harmed our Earth. I resolved that even though we could not proudly demonstrate our garden, we could show fidelity amid suffering by starting the restoration process and simply telling visitors what happened -- and that we did. I think this approach yields a better response from those who know suffering in their own way. Though late, the garden did very well that year -- and we gained valuable insights.
Gardening is restoration. The conversion of ornamental yard space into a productive garden is a form of restoration needed today. A non-zoned plentiful supply of productive farmland has succumbed to urban and suburban development in the last century. Land formerly woodland or prairie is now "developed," and the space surrounding buildings is in monocultural lawn. Restoration means returning developed lands to production. Astoundingly, 86% of vegetable and fruit-producing lands, 64% of dairy, 39% of meat and 35% of grain-producing American lands are now in the path of urban development (Census of Agriculture, USDA's ERS, 1997).
Gardening is wholesome. Not only are we taught perseverance when each item does not do as anticipated, but we are willing to share successes and failures with others -- and this gives them an incentive to try to garden also. The fresh produce accrues savings in regions where food is more expensive. The vegetables and herbs we harvest are fresh and nutritious and this enhances our own physical health. The time spent is a form of physical exercise that we all need in some form. Furthermore, we tend to savor what takes so much effort to produce; and we learn conservative practices and commercial energy saving in growing our produce.
Gardening is social and prayerful. Growing vegetables provides an opportunity to do something where results can be seen and we make critical judgments and keep ears open for how things can be better. A gardener, no matter how much an expert, is open to suggestions from a neighbor. This can become an experimental field as for instance to learn "organic" growing at low price and chemical pesticide-free methods. We become willing to exchange ideas with other local and distant growers; we become familiar with the local environment. Organic wastes can be recycled in a nearby garden, and we can pray by touching the soil in reverence.
Prayer: Lord, give us the nerve and energy to launch into the conversion of lawn into productive garden space.
Fr. Al in the garden with kohlrabi. Ravenna, KY.
May 26, 2015 Suggesting Things for a Beginning Gardener
Gardening can be a humbling experience, especially if early failures are seen by neighbors. Knowing this causes many to excuse themselves from beginning in the first place. Some hints are:
1. Start small -- Taking on too much garden space in the beginning is a burden. Most individuals who are limited in personal energy and mobility can handle a plot of about one hundred square feet easily. Most of the work comes early on, especially in the preparation of the bed itself. If someone is unable to do the heavier work of preparation, ask able-bodied friends and neighbors to assist. Generally, seeding, planting, weeding, thinning, cultivating, and harvesting of such a small area can be handled by one person, even if impaired physically.
2. Welcome variety -- Nothing is more detrimental to gardening popularity than to have too much of a good thing at one time and a lack of resources to preserve the excess produce. Variety can change all that for, when one gets just a taste and not too much, it stimulates the gardener to grow a more varied garden next year.
Besides, variety insures against singular failure of species.
3. Design placement -- How one places the vegetables in the beds, both as companions (some plants do not like to be near others) and for growing space is important. Don't be overly rigid, but still allow expansive vines and bushes to have their growing space -- a pumpkin can produce its product on a grassy space beyond its cultivated starting place. Put taller plants or vine trellises to the north end and smaller plants southward in a tiered effect.
4. Go organic -- The absence of commercial pesticides is better for the soil microbes, wildlife, and general environment, as well as for the individual health of those who eat the produce. Most pests can be removed by hand and through mechanical means in small areas as soon as they are detected. Certain border plants (e.g., mustard) dissuade pests (e.g., rabbits) from coming near.
5. Extend growing season -- Spring and autumn vegetables should be planted keeping in mind their tolerance to seasonal weather changes. While certain vegetables can withstand early and late frosts, they may not like hot weather and so the initial planting is important. Using permanent or temporary seasonal extenders and cold frames (plastic, paper, glass, or cloth covers) will increase productivity by extending the growing seasons.
6. Beautify garden beds -- The inclusion of flowers, both to curb pests and to add color and variety is recommended. A pleasing garden is always one that beckons the caretaker to come and spend more time both reflecting and working in it.
7. Keep records -- Gardening invites growth in experience and skill; keeping records of successes and failures is good for the long-term growth in the experience and the ability to pass on suggestions to neighbors. Think about garden journaling.
Prayer: Lord, help us to teach humbly what we know and be open to be taught the many things we know little about.
May 27, 2015 Praying over and Repairing Damaged Land
My fellow Jesuit and once co-author, Bob Sears, has an insight that is worth noting: land suffers and remembers its harsher moments, and thus is in need of healing and reconciliation through prayer to God. A team of us went with Bob to the ghastly, unreclaimed Black & White Coal Company's strip mine site in Laurel County, Kentucky, and prayed over the land. The site had been seriously damaged by an attempted coal-mining operation just prior to federal reclamation regulations and thus was abandoned and left unrestored -- even after our own attempts through the expanded legal system to require its reclamation. Interestingly, that prayed-over land did reclothe itself with sapplings.
I do not advocate prayer in place of action, but at times actions are impeded and we call on divine healing. Often the healing process is costly and resources are not immediately available for use. Bureaucrats first hear and then desperately see whether they really are required to take action. That act excuses many governmental agencies from involvement in areas where needed restoration is in order.
Recourse to prayer is always salutary, but is it a needed alternative to human legal or other secular ways that are hindered for some reason? Quite often those sensitive to land-related harm do not have influence or resource to take proper corrective measures. I would rather recommend to pray always and seek the means that can be put to play as rapidly as possible, because wounded land or creatures perpetrate pain, lower the spirit of a community that must respond, and lead others to periods of desolation and paralysis. And it harms the land itself. Every misdeed has its own social effects, many long-lasting.
Prayer is first of all a reparation, an initial act of spiritual restoration that must be immediately initiated by the one who is sensitive to sufferings of people and other creatures. The culprits may be identified in a legal manner, but the primary prayer seeks God's pardon and shows a responsibility as part of the compassionate human family united to the suffering Jesus on a Calvary extended in space and time. We show our love along with Jesus in passion and death by acting in the Risen Lord's power.
By prayers we show ourselves to be a living community that includes our wounded Earth, something that is included in the suffering and death of the Lord. As companions of Jesus and in fellowship with him, we can extend the Sacred Heart Devotion to include reparation for damages done to Mother Earth herself; this is repairing the social effects of misdeeds, and for the omission on our part for allowing such deeds to continue.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to pray for the damaged land as part of the process of bringing about ongoing restoration.
Phlox divaricata, blue phlox. Rockcastle Co., KY.
May 28, 2015 Revitalizing a Resilient but Wounded Earth
Easter hope includes restoring a wounded land and so we fashion prayers accordingly:
O God, merciful and loving Creator of all things, Look kindly on this landscape before us; In past times it gave praise and glory to You through its abundant vegetation and unique beauty.
See it today in the starkness of the devastation that human greed and thoughtlessness has rendered; Do not do what we humans so often do, namely, turn away and deny what has occurred.
In the bleakness of the empty standing cross, let us have the power to look and see what devastation human beings have wrought, that we now witness with profoundly heavy hearts.
We first ask pardon for human faults to You and to the land itself in all its gentleness; We beg forgiveness for it was a human family affair, and perpetrators went their merry way.
Let this prayer of contrition be something more, for mere words do not suffice for what has occurred; Let us pledge to match word with deed in the spirit of the Calvary event before us.
Now we stand as witnesses before the tomb knowing full well what we have done, If not in deed at least in omission of our duty to care for all creation.
Here we make our pledge to repair as best we can the wounded Earth around us and to work for needed regulations to keep this from happening again.
Make all aware of what can happen if we lose the sense of respect and allow some to view themselves as masters of this fragile Mother Earth.
O God, renewer of all life, Bring the graces of Resurrection on this harmed piece of Earth; And allow us to be bearers of Good News.
May 29, 2015 Blessings Extend Positive Energy to Others
As youth, we would go to church and get a glass jar of Easter Water, blessed on Holy Saturday by the Pastor. We would take this Easter water from field to field on our farm and blessed each in turn along with livestock, all the while asking God's gifts of rain and favorable weather during the year. And while we did this in daylight, we made no public display out of the blessing, for the less Catholic portions of the neighborhood would not understand. This was the most meaningful liturgical practice of the Easter season. We entered into the new life to the fullest; the Resurrected One came among us and we had a companion throughout the growing year. We also extended sprinkling at least in the direction of roads and farms all about us. We were empowered.
Blessings are a form of empowerment. We have the blessings of the Lord along with the invitation to enter the Divine Family. With this invitation comes a sense of grand community of which we are members. We are blessed and thus we also bless. It is a form of spiritual contagion that spreads the good gifts beyond ourselves, and good will goes out from us to all about us. We become a focus of power that radiates blessing to others that include our entire environment, a parched land seeking good will.
The contrast of blessing and cursing is worth mentioning. If we are able to advance the Kingdom through blessings, not only by the Church's official leadership but by everyone of Good Will, then those who dislike what we do and fault it will help produce a negative force that retards our ministry. In one sense we wonder why a curse is so looked down upon; it has a negative power to retard our work and that of those around us. It deadens the life-giving principle that we strive mightily to promote. Thus, we are to use it sparingly as a means to deaden the death-dealing aspects of the Evil One.
The Easter Season is one where the profusion of blessings that we give flows out from our whole being with hopes of giving life renewal to all those around. Our eternal gratitude for gifts of life is shown when we call down God's blessing and when we in turn bless everything, even our God. We are empowered to give a blessing by being alive, and this communion of life adds to the vitality of Earth that has been so plagued by death-dealing exploitation. Our blessings are more than a counter sign; they become a reality organizing the dissipation of the world around us -- an anti-entropy effect . Our blessings become the life-giving force that God entrusts to each of us through Baptism. The real power of Love is taking hold and we are party to bringing this about.
Prayer: Bless us, O Lord, in these your gifts that we are about to receive from your bounty through Christ our Lord; make them gifts that we can pass on to those in need.
May 30, 2015 Broadening Social Justice to be Christocentric
The creation of the United Nations at the end of the Second World War was a global movement away from nationalism and towards universal justice. However, an explicit ecological consciousness had not yet emerged. Though today we take the UN for granted, criticize it, or regard it either over- or underfunded, we recognize that it has lasted longer than the short-lived League of Nations. The UN is a global voice for the poor. But as our ecological concerns mounted in the twentieth century, some wondered whether this body could handle such global matters as the Law of the Seas, ozone depletion, water distribution, or the more worrisome greenhouse effect/global warming. Political, economic, social, and ecological issues are intertwined and so it or a revised successor must take on more of the global environmental problems facing us through extending its powers to act.
Are our global problems better addressed from the "top down" (UN or global agencies) or from the "bottom up" (local community agencies)? Obviously, since local communities are limited should we address problems from above and below in some sequence or simultaneously? Just raising these questions makes us painfully aware that local and global problems are part of a complex Earthhealing issue. Now we see how social and eco-justice intertwine and merge. Social justice deals with many human concerns (human rights, welfare, worker rights, etc.); eco-justice embraces issues involving all living creatures including humans. We must become concerned about these overlapping issues.
If eco-justice is both local and global, we caregivers of Earth must either follow Rene Dubos' dictum -- "Think globally and act locally," or maybe a more nuanced modification: "think and act locally so we can think and act globally." Doesn't an overemphasis on the local level and starting at the grassroots fly in the face of environmental urgency as we have presented it, which is only possible at the global level? Modern Internet allows us through petitions and comments to become involved globally, at least with agencies committed to global problems.
Earth-saving or healing operates by successive stages: seeing the urgent need for saving our wounded Earth; recognizing that justice is due to all living creatures; realizing that the lowly must rise to take charge (human beings taking a serving role for all the lowly threatened and endangered species); finding the Risen Lord among the poor who are proper change agents; and identifying Christ-like actions that respect all life in a non-violent manner. In following this we become Christocentric (not anthropocentric), for Earth and all in it are redeemed in the blood of Christ.
Prayer: Lord, give us courage to challenge injustice and see that being Christocentric means the union of divine and human resources in coming to a New Heaven and New Earth.
May 31, 2015 Reinterpreting Deep Power in Trinitarian Terms
Throughout much of the month of May we have looked at the use of power in secular terms and as Christian believers. In this summary treatment on the Feast of the Holy Trinity let's look at our relation to power within the concept of the divine Family to which all the baptized belong. We are energized to look beyond the regular use of secular power to glory in an empowerment coming through the Resurrected Christ and embracing all of us in the actions needed to save our wounded Earth.
Do not confuse deep power with deep ecology, a term coined in 1972 by Arne Naess, who rejected the idea that beings can be ranked according to their relative value. He regarded the right of all forms of life to live as a universal right, which cannot be quantified; no single species of living being has more of this particular right to live and unfold than any other. (Reference: Arne Naess, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy, (1989); also Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered, Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1985). This position has been widely discussed and criticized as through the work of Murray Bookchin, "Will Ecology Become 'The Dismal Science'?" from Which Way for the Ecology Movement?, (San Francisco, AK Press, 1994).
Amazingly, the term "deep power" is not hopelessly anthropocentric (which is where worldly power has so often been). Our efforts are to show that we are empowered through our entry into the Divine Family; we become one with Christ and redirect our discussion from purely human terms to our embracing the Christ- centered mystery. This basic power source is Divine and we are sharers through our role of sacrificing servants for the creatures of the world. We must go beyond seeing, helping, and being a part-time companion of the poor, as discussed in the first two levels of humility; we become poor with Christ. As servants we do rank, yes, rank as servants of the creatures of our planet. Yes, we challenge the great disparities between rich and poor that hinder our servant role and break our sense of practicing in power with the Lord.
Deep power is actualized through empowerment of the lowly who urgently seek basic human needs to live a good quality of life. This recognizes the need to eliminate the classes of haves and have-nots and to challenge political systems, which permit such classes and harm our Earth commons; it encourages the lowly to take what is rightly the commons to be shared by all in need; it initiates the act of reclaiming without waiting for others to relinquish their ill-retained goods; it recognizes the importance of the human dimension as part of the divine re-creative act of healing our wounded Earth. Deep power rests with the Risen Lord.
Prayer: Holy Trinity, show us the power we share in what we do as suffering servants with Christ.