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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.


A series of written meditations and reflections



Sustainable Living Through Appropriate Technology

by Al Fritsch & Paul Gallimore

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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections


January 1 Consider Fresh Beginnings
January 2 Compose a Litany of the Earth
January 3 Join the 109th Christmas Bird Count
January 4 Manifest the Divine
January 5 List Peacemaking Activities
January 6 Plan an Annual Retreat
January 7 Recall Reasons for Living Simply
January 8 Simplify Your Life in Many Ways
January 9 Become an Eco-Traveler
January 10 Resolve to Salt Less this Winter
January 11 Baptism: Reassuring Us to Act
January 12 Make a Winter 12-Veggie Soup
January 13 Begin Small through Community Regeneration
January 14 Launch the Gardening Year
January 15 Eradicate Racist Residue
January 16 Do and Encourage Daily Physical Exercise
January 17 Learn from Ben Franklin: Stay Busy
January 18 Listen for the Seasonal Calls
January 19 Promote Windpower for America
January 20 Pray for our President
January 21 Make a Forest Pledge on National Hug Day
January 22 Care for the Car
January 23 Reuse Materials
January 24 Speak up for Ecumenism
January 25 Celebrate St. Paul's Day
January 26 Save Our Hemlocks
January 27 Protect Wildlife
January 28 Treasure Rural Experience
January 29 Question Retirement
January 30 Search for Community
January 31 Declare All Time Extraordinary


On this first of January we resolve to make 2009 a year of peace, solidarity and justice.

New Year's Start

Adieu, whistles blew, noise grew, brew too;
Spent year subdue, Auld Lang Syne renew.
Wring out the time-worn bitter sting,
Jump start the orbits' spring.
For good reason some stayed apart,
No fresh season can ever start
by losing sleep. That's not very smart;
For a clear head makes for a steady heart.

It's strange the wags are gonna say
To launch a year with a holy day.
Rise good hearted and with no delay,
Dress warm, hurry now, come to pray.
Good News relay; strong tones convey;
A sacral season's sublime bouquet.

Copyright ę 2009 by Al Fritsch

January 1, 2009         Consider Fresh Beginnings

     On this New Year's Day our nation and world are facing some grave economic conditions that were not evident a year ago.  Changes must occur and a new national administration will soon be faced with major decisions.  In fact, each of us must search in our soul for the depths of hope that will help bring about a better world.  A new beginning becomes an opportunity.  Generally on the first days of other months we have the beginnings of the fiscal year, specific athletic year, collegiate year, church year, gardening year, commercial year, hurricane season, vacation season, etc.  Today we can also start an eco-spirituality year.

      What is proposed here is that an eco-spirituality depends not on what some recent or current guru says it is but on what we make it to be, for our own environment is a unique one-- something that others do not experience in the manner in which we do.  We collect and analyze the environmental experiences we have had and compile each month's sights, sounds, smells, tastes and general feelings.  With these we construct our own eco-spiritual background.  In turn our reflections ought to lead us to share these experiences through word and deed with our human brothers and sisters.  From our uniqueness in experience we find our position and direction and assist others to do the same.  In so doing we help heal the troubled Earth in which we find ourselves and are of service to the plants and animals of this planet. 

     In January we deepen the sense of mystery that is within, immediately around us and that stretches out in space and time.   We have to break loose from the desire for possessing and controlling material things that limit our aspirations and turn us away from the awesomeness of divine Mystery.  The emerging economic crisis has made us face the ruts we are in;  we are discovering the thoughtlessness and dangers related to the credit culture in which we are immersed.  We now ask who is going to pay for it all?  We suddenly see the need to take responsibility for our own lives.  Part of the mystery is that we are limited beings who must live within limits but, even so, our quality of life can improve.  We must now affirm expansion in quality, not quantity. 

     We see that the limits to material expansion go beyond the individual consumer level to include communities from the local to the global level.  We are getting a clearer understanding that we can and ought to be satisfied with less -- and even find that this is spiritually as well as physically a more sane and healthy condition.  We become sensitive to the limitation of resources extending to brothers and sisters everywhere and so we are moved to share with those who do not have enough to hold body and soul together.  Part of the deeper sense of "mystery" as shown in an eco-spiritual reflection is that there is enough for all if distributed properly.  Healing involves sharing and redistribution, and that is a spiritual insight.  A steep learning curve awaits us.

     Prayer:  Lord, give us the enthusiasm to start anew. 




January 2, 2009       Compose a Litany of the Earth  

      During the nakedness of winter when foliage is gone, we find that our Earth is far from being barren;  a new though somewhat hidden life is starting to stir.  We walk gently upon this seemingly lifeless Earth.  We notice that we can detect nature's sights, sounds, smells, and feelings more clearly in winter.  The shape of the terrain is more evident, the skeletal forms of trees in the woods are more emphatically revealed and, when snow is absent, the rock outcroppings are more pronounced.  The sounds of crystal clear streams give us background music, with the birds that remain through the season adding a special chorus.  The leaves and the evergreens give their faint scents to accentuate the winter scenes.  The feeling all about is that new life is stirring and will soon come to flower when the weak sun's rays become stronger in coming days.  Yes, winter lacks the distractions of more active seasons.  It is a time to return to the deep mystery of life itself and to make us closer to our mother and mothering Earth herself.

    Earth, mother of the human race,

    Repository of past civilizations and geologic ages,

    Dust from which we came,

    Cradle of our infancy,

    Room for our romping feet and ever stretching hands,

    Schoolyard of our intellect's quest,

    Garment of our loves and yearnings,

    Lap of our sorrows and joys,

    Bearer of our transgressions:

       Marked by our heavy footprints of time,

       Eroded and scarred by highwalls of human greed

                and negligence,

       Crowned with pointed mountains and occasional rainbows,

       Comforting, situating, directing us forward,

       Welcoming new life of every form,

       Giving all space to roam and find themselves,

       Glorifying in their presence,

       Recalling through quakes and shakes what is transitory,

    Provider of the birds,

    Nourisher of flowers and plants of every kind,

    Supporter of the trees,

    Preserver of wildlife

    Dwelling place of the human race,

    Economic commodity at desecrating hands,

    Battleground and memorial of the warring,

    Haven from sea storm and air flight,

    Autumn's last bloom, telling of our end,

    Urn of our bonds, grave of our people.

                                   Our home.   


     Prayer: God, Emmanuel, be with us in our fresh beginnings of the year.  Help us to enliven what appears to be a lifeless season.




January 3, 2009    Join the 109th Christmas Bird Count

     It is not too late!  There are still three days left to join this year's national bird count, which has been going on since December 14th.  Check <www.audubon.org/Bird/cbc>. Join the thousands of volunteers who include a mix of generations of family members who can participate in the oldest American citizen science project (since 1900), which improves wildlife conservation awareness and protective programs.  The specific count is led by experienced birders or designated "compilers."  The results of the count of sixty million birds help scientists who are engaged in this type of environmental work to determine degree and severity of decline or rise in bird populations.

     Clusters of swallows, flocks of crows, bands of wild turkeys or gaggles of geese make us think all is well on the bird/fowl front, but that is not really true when all species are considered.  A wide variety of species both residential and those that migrate are in trouble due to habitat degradation in wintering and nesting areas.  This decline has several causes: deforestation and forest fragmentation, human population growth, increased traffic congestion and commercial development, construction of powerlines and roadways, and global warming.

     The 2007 Watchlist composed by the Audubon Society and the America Bird Conservancy includes 59 continental and 38 Hawaiian "red" or highly imperiled species (declining rapidly) and 117 "yellow" species (declining or rare).  Since birds are heavily impacted by current environmental conditions, we may consider feeding birds -- not just hummingbirds that make immense treks to wintering places -- but also our permanently resident birds.  Furthermore, bird lovers promote bird sanctuaries for the nesting and rearing of the young birds.  Also they seek to control free-ranging domestic cats -- real bird killers.  Audubon suggests improved habitat protection, partnerships with private landowners, backyard programs for homeowners, and stronger pollution controls (e.g., pesticides impacted the bald eagle in the mid-20th century).   

     Birds are beneficial.  About one-quarter of all Americans consider themselves to be birdwatchers;  these contribute  to the local economy in terms of travel, food, lodging and equipment some $32 billion dollars, not including state and federal taxes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates).  But birds do more than furnish us recreational pleasure or insect pest control.  We are better because birds are in our midst, cheering and enlivening us by their song and color and assisting us in our praise of God.  Bird variety decline is a real loss caused by controllable human greed and thoughtlessness.  A century ago the Audubon Society started because the bird population was in severe decline due to the gathering of colorful bird feathers for hats, but that practice became unfashionable.  Now all bird threats need to be confronted.

     Prayer:  Lord, inspire us to protect the birds around us and to learn where the help is most needed.


January 4, 2009      Manifest the Divine

     The glory of the Lord shines upon you.  (Isaiah 60:1-6)

     The Christmas story is told and retold a million times in various formats: sermon, fireside chat, homily, poetry, simple prayer, and yet the story is ever new and enlivening.  Audiences are different, conditions vary, but each who hears finds present a deep-down hunger to experience the basic message of peace and harmony.  Often our concerns are blinders that shut out the clear simple Christmas message of trust and giving.  As we experience the housing bubble burst, home foreclosures, employment roles cut, and life savings threatened, we are tempted to allow such distractions to overwhelm the basic message of peace.

     Epiphany means the manifestation or showing of God's glory and its discovery by good and trusting souls.  This is the peace that newborn infants bring to parents;  it is the satisfaction with work done honestly to make a living; it is the rewards for helping to heal our wounded Earth.  We are called to help bring this epiphany to a troubled world.

     The Magi travel from a distant land with only an extraordinary phenomenon, a guiding brilliant star, which some strive to prove was a conjunction of stars or planets.  The Magi represented all of us, the visitors to the Holy Land who seek peace and intend to take that peace to the outside world.  Is not the same trek ours to make as well?  God's manifestation and light is there but hidden because we must make the effort to journey to find it and cherish what is found.  The psychological situation now, as in Christ's time, is that we sometimes ask directions, even from worldly and evil powers, since we do not know the way.  But God is with us and through proper spiritual discernment we can arrive at the truth.

     Gold, frankincense and myrrh are brought to the king of kings, and these three wise men take back home the gift of Good News.  This is a true exchange in which valuable things are simply and lovingly given, and peace and harmony are received in exchange.  Thus begins the grand missionary enterprise that extends to the end of time.  The wise men faced limits due to modes of transport and distance.  We must face the reality of selecting precious gifts, which are really simple but full of love, for our travel mode is also limited; we leave this world with only our love as final gift.

The Magi story of simple giving is interwoven with Herod's jealousy and his cruelty in retaining worldly power.  The story involves changing plans, returning by another route, the killing of innocents, and the fleeing by the Holy Family to Egypt.  Evil plots stand in stark contrast to the simple gifts exchanged and yet both occur.  The risk of taking a journey of faith is that we, like the Magi, open ourselves to becoming vulnerable.  In trust we journey with the poor and bear risks along with gifts of love.

     Prayer:  Lord help us to manifest your presence through the simple gifts we give, knowing full well there are risks involved.



January 5, 2009        List Peacemaking Activities

     We have been at war in Iraq since March 2003 making this the second longest war (the Revolutionary War was the longest) in American history though some would quibble about the length of the Vietnam conflict.  The beginning of this new year presents each of us with a challenge:  how can we become true peacemakers?   Merely repeating the words "peace, peace" is not enough for words need to give way to deeds.  Now is the time to start afresh, to reconcile, to build bridges, to dispose ourselves through silence and meditation, to do peaceable acts at home and in community, and to make peacemaking a part of our individual and collective lives.

     Individual Practices:  Lessen stress levels by establishing a place of silence where you can go and recover from the struggles of life.  It may be a place to walk or retreat to that is away from the rush of everyday happenings.  Within our living space we can do things as well.  Consider lowering the volume of electronic devices and limit the time and place of running noisy appliances and equipment.  Settle internal quarrels, for things can fester if unattended.  Get sufficient sleep and rest;  some who say they can do without sleep enter the ranks of the sleep-deprived with all their stress and inattention to the details of life -- and driving.  Proper rest extends our peace of soul, gives us a fresh outlook, and is physically and mentally healthy.  Resting is an atmosphere wherein peacemaking may occur.  The same can be said of a balanced physical exercise program for all of us.

     Community and Social Activities:  We can expand peacemaking by joining others in our community or at broader levels.   Bad relationships and conflicts exist all around us and need to be addressed at various levels.   You may be drawn to local peacemaking through sharing resources and helping with civic activities that confront drug abuse.  You may wish to join peacemaking organizations such as Pax Christi  <www.paxchristiusa.org> or help promote specific national peacemaking programs.  A number of years back, people like Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, proposed a Peace Academy to research the causes of peace, train leaders in conflict resolution and mediation techniques, and serve as a clearinghouse to provide information to policymakers and others.

     Broader issues:  Peacemaking extends to the stability of our national and international political and economic systems.  We must not only pray for global peace, but we must also encourage our elected representatives to engage in active conflict resolution and to be mindful of the need for dialog among all parties.  We are in two wars and know that no peace can be reached in Iraq or Afghanistan (or in the Holy Land for that matter) unless all parties are at the table, and the legitimate concerns of all parties are voiced and addressed.

     Prayer:  Lord, make me an instrument of peace and help me to see that peacemaking is a priority for all of us in 2009.


January 6, 2009        Plan An Annual Retreat

      This may not be the specific time for retreat-making for many of us but it is a good planning time, a period when we lay out the year's plans that include a retreat period. 

     I like to make an annual retreat (generally at mid-year) and plan no special distractions to divert the attention needed during that week.  It is a personal retreat;  it is a sacrosanct time, for the planning and the retreat are part of living.  Some hints for planning include:

     * Take quality time to plan, for this exercise is a form of tithing of our fleeting and precious time;  planning is not a single event but should include some daily, weekly, monthly -- and yearly spans of time.  The annual retreat should be a component of an annual plan;

     * Choose a place that is removed from distractions.  If this takes some time to locate, consider the time well spent.  I make a portion or all of my annual retreats in wooded settings (though I have had to give up rustic camping as I age).  One can discover that the annual retreat is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with God's creation.  Others will not want gnats and flies and so prefer a more developed or controlled setting such as a retreat house.  You may want the quiet and minimal exterior activities and programs.  The place should be devoid of noise and activity.  Youth can make retreats that involve dialogue with others.  But this is often not the case with adults who interchange with others throughout the year and desire time to listen and talk with God.

     *  Plan for a possible change of plans or alternative time and place.  It is difficult for some people to plan ahead, whether for family, finances, future occupation, or major decisions in life.  Take a word from a compulsive planner: we can refocus more easily when detours are anticipated.  All find changes of plans disconcerting -- unless planned in.  An unexpected change of plans can create unnecessary stress in one's life -- something that the happy-go-lucky person will point out quite quickly.

     *  Isolation may be a distraction in a retreat and so some type of connection or proximity to others may be desirable.  Also a companion human or even a dog may be desired or at least a telephone to contact others if need be. 

     * Avoid planning for other activities during the retreat.  Part of the reason for the needed rest is that we open ourselves to the Spirit.  We cut away distractions; we admit that we can only do one thing well at a time, namely, here and now to listen to the Spirit.  However, we may be led by the Spirit to talk over what is happening at this time with a spiritual/retreat director.

     Prayer:  Lord, make me resolve to plan an annual retreat.


January 7, 2009       Recall Reasons for Living Simply

     Our current economic crisis and climate change problems call us to live more simply.  What are reasons why we should do so?

     * Countercultural:  Witness Value.  Simple living is a testimony to the right way of doing things.  People who live a complex and materialistic lifestyle take what rightfully belongs to others and hoard these materials.  It is America gone riot in the twentieth century by taking from future generations so as to satisfy this generation's greed and desire for comfort.

     * Solidarity with Poor.  Simple living helps us be more like the majority of believers in other places -- the vast numbers of people who will never rise above a bare existence level.  Failing to live with them makes us insensitive to their needs.

     * Practicality & Creativity.  To live simply is to remove extravagant excesses and unneeded consumer goods, which half of the rest of the world cannot possibly afford.  Through simplicity we become more creative and practical in all aspects of daily living.

     * Psychological:  Wonder and Enthusiasm.  The world of the wealthy is soon buried in material things, which require maintenance and care.  The wonder of simple joys, of butterflies and sunsets, of fresh air and simple foods, is lost in this move to gain more and better things and to replace quality by quantity.

     * Ecological: Communion with other Creatures.  We speak of sister moon, brother sun, sister bird and brother wolf.  These extended family members live simply, and our own simplicity helps us appreciate them as fellow creatures in God's scheme of creation.

     * Physical Health.  It is far better to eat right and to exercise, to live in a way that excess is not part of our lives.  Simple lifestyles include healthy food and balanced activities, moderation in drink, only necessary drugs, and other safeguards.

     * Environmental.  To walk gently on the Earth means using fewer materials, which require resources to extract, fashion, and dispose of.  Complex lifestyles overload waste systems, require more water, and demand more electricity from air-polluting non-renewable fuels.

     * Relational.  Living simply and doing so with a purpose allows us to become more neighborly and less self-centered.  Thus we are able to help others when in need, and with God's help to "save" ourselves from greed in the act of helping to save others.

     * Liberation.  To live simply requires much less time -- not more.  We can discover resources to be of assistance to our neighbor, and to pursue our own intellectual and cultural growth.

     Prayer: Lord help us to live simply so others may simply live.


January 8, 2009      Simplify Your Life in Many Ways

     During these critically challenging economic times we need to rethink our lives.  Two of us are considering reissuing the book, 99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle, the publication of which I directed in the 1970s.  Some examples of simpler living techniques that surprisingly are still in fashion include:

     Simplify by down-sizing.  Do you really need all that space for work or living?  Isn't it harder with too much than with a smaller amount?  Many people are or know people who desire a change in life.  The amount of domestic space requiring cooling, heating and management is often far more than either necessary or desirable for comfortable living.  One should consider reducing space through purchase or rental of smaller property.

     Simplify by "reuse."  Become counter-cultural.  Don't buy unless necessary; use what you have; recycle what you can't use; give to someone who can make a better use of the material; discard only when no longer needed -- and recycle the discarded items.

     Simplify by insulating walls and windows.  Elders with good sewing skills can make an immense difference in an area of sizeable heat loss in winter;  they can make beautiful quilted, insulated window shades and wall hangings.  Instructions and materials for making are easily accessible through the Internet.  Also consider adding window glazes that curb energy loss.

     Simplify through creating comfort zones.  Many Americans do not realize that they demand lower indoor temperatures in summer than they feel comfortable with in winter.  A single established comfort zone whether relatively high or low would save energy needed to heat and cool;  the resident should allow for five degrees higher in summer and five degrees cooler in winter.  We can withstand the "cold" at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, if we use enough blankets and clothing.  In summer 70 or 80 degrees F is tolerable. 

    Simplify car use and care.  Bike, walk, carpool where possible;  combine trips; keep a car in tune and with properly inflated tires; plan for a more energy-efficient vehicle.  

     Simplify lawn and grounds use.  Too much ornamental lawn is of no good purpose and will only prove a worry.  Convert this into cultivated space or "edible landscaping." 

     Simplify diets.  Change eating habits and choose foods that are lower on the resource scale:  consume less meat and more imitation meat products; buy and use less prepared sugar- and fat-filled commercial foods; look for and purchase more bulk items to save on packaging;  consume fewer soft drinks; and grow your own garden produce that can be guaranteed to be organically grown.  Apportion part of your food budget for orphans in developing lands.

     Prayer:  Lord, inspire me to champion the simple life.


January 9, 2009         Become an Eco-Traveler

     We can fool ourselves and justify travel more often than we like to admit.  With fluctuating gasoline prices that may be $2, $3, or $4 per gallon we ought to reconsider our 2009 domestic and foreign travel plans. The following eight guidelines from Co-op America's Travel Links are worth remembering:

    1. Travel in a spirit of humility and with genuine desire to meet and talk with local people;  travel to meet, not conquer.

    2. Reflect daily on your experiences;  seek to deepen your understanding. "What enriches you may rob or violate others."

    3. Be environmentally friendly;  use energy, water and other resources efficiently and in keeping with local practices.  Only bring necessary technological gadgetry.  Participate in local recycling programs where available.  Try not to bring into the country any containers that you don't plan to take out.

    4. Don't create barriers;  take advantage of opportunities to walk, bicycle and use other forms of non-motorized transport.

    5. Acquaint yourself with the local customs.  Be culturally sensitive, especially with photography;  folks are happy to help.

    6. Realize that the people in the area you visit often have time concepts and thought patterns different from your own -- not inferior, just different.

    7. Be economically beneficial.  Spend money so that it stays in the community.  When buying, remember that a bargain may be obtained because of low wages paid to the producer.  Don't purchase products made from endangered species.

    8. Cultivate the habit of listening and observing, rather than merely hearing and looking.  Discover the enrichment that comes from seeing another way of life.

    Travel alternatives.  Maybe this is the year for each of us to consider an alternative vacation that may not involve much additional travel.  It is the time to travel less and handle more business by phone, conference calls, or e-mail.  And this may be the year we need to stay closer to home with shorter and more regional alternatives.  Extra guidelines apply, if the travel is considered "eco-tourism" -- and this is extensively treated in our book Ecotourism in Appalachia: Marketing the Mountains.

    Pack Carefully.  Think ahead on what is needed.  Set these items aside and consider what items are really not needed.  So often we will be thankful for fewer items.  Always pack early.

     Prayer:   Lord, we are a people who are on our pilgrim's way.  Help us to appreciate our situation and to become ideal travelers.



January 10, 2009     Resolve to Salt Less This Winter

     Salt is necessary for our lives;  we prize it, cook with it, preserve with it, eat it and sprinkle it about to melt the ice;  we can overuse salt; that overuse may occur on one of these cold icy days when we look for the salt sack, and spread crystals generously over the driveway and walks.  It is so easy to do and allows us to quickly return to our warm living room.  We may even hope that the salt trucks scatter still more salt on the public roadways on which we must soon travel.  All is well -- if we pretend that the salt disappears immediately after the ice or snow melts.  Not so.  The crystals are gone but the brine solution seeps into the soil and sidewalk cracks and stays around unless flushed away in the rain.  Vegetables, flowers, trees and other plants may find the salt worrisome if not destructive.  Some of our favorite shade trees -- the beech, birch, crabapple, ginkgo, hemlock, mulberry, sugar maple and white pine -- suffer from oversalting of the landscape.  The brown leaf tips on susceptible trees are sure signs of "leaf scorch" due to salting.

     "Don't salt!" is often easier said than done.  Common rock salt, sodium chloride, is cheap in its mined and mostly unrefined state.  Other types of materials, which also can produce a melted solution (provided the temperature does not get too cold) are commercially available.  The local hardware or general merchandise stores have sodium chloride substitutes, which are far better for the environment, but they often cost two, three, even ten times as much as sodium chloride.  Some are inorganic non-sodium salts.  Others are by-products of the pulp industry, such as Bare Ground (one gallon at about $20 protects a thousand square feet).  Some products are advertised as needing a single application per winter season to be effective.  Try these on a small-scale first before widespread use.  A cheap material to consider, which is less environmentally harmful, but less effective at times, is sand.  Another, though bothersome due to residue is cinders.

     Winters are less severe today and yet do occur.  Trying to melt or reduce the adherence of partly melted snow-turned-ice to pavement is tough; going out immediately after the snow period and cleaning off before others walk and compact the snow is far easier.  However, don't be fooled by the apparent ease and over-exert, for snow-cleaning can be more strenuous than anticipated.  It is better to clean the pavement repeatedly during the snow storm, and shoveling is a good opportunity for fresh air and exercise.

    Moderation in all things is an axiom that holds well for winter salting operations.  This world has too much salted once fertile land (mainly through bad irrigation practices).  The salt, once scattered, may both harm the immediate surroundings and add to the run-off burden of the waterways, and thus pollute downstream areas.  Let us learn to work well with salt.

     Prayer:  Lord, You want us to be the salt of the earth.  Help us to scatter our good deeds and less of the salt itself.


January 11, 2009      Baptism: Reassuring Us to Act  

       You are my beloved son.  On you my favor rests.  (Mark 1:11)

     God solemnly pronounces the beginning of the Messianic journey through a public ministry by Jesus;  it is launched in a rather simple setting on the banks of the rushing Jordan River.  John the Baptist objects to performing such an awesome task and yet he is reassured by Jesus;  John professes his unfitness for the mighty task ahead.  In some way, this dramatic second manifestation of Jesus that follows that of the Epiphany (last Sunday) is an invitation to participate in the mystery of the salvation process.  Like all participants we feel our unworthiness.   

     The divine favor rests on the Chosen One, but that resting is a focusing, a special gift that is not meant to be clutched as a sole possession.  Water is poured just as the Jordan is a fast flowing stream at this point where Jesus was baptized.  The rushing water manifests a coming of the Spirit, an enlivening for the mission ahead.  The rushing water foreshadows the movement of Jesus out from his native Galilee to Jerusalem; it foreshadows the pouring forth of Pentecost, and the passing of the mission on to his disciples.  Through the course of Salvation History we observe God's favor resting on One, but the descent of the Holy Spirit would also occur on each of the disciples and ultimately on each of Christ's followers, a resting on us.  Jesus is called in vivid language through the drama of the voice from out of the clouds.

     Peter speaks to Cornelius, "I begin to see how true it is that God shows no partiality.  Rather the one of any nation who fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to the Almighty" (Acts 10:34-35).  Peter as leader of the apostles begins to sense the utter majesty of the grand work of salvation and he finds himself at a loss, being a mere human instrument in the work ahead.   All God-fearing persons are within the arena of God's favor -- but each of us must see the need to do what is right in order to be fit instruments in the divine plan.  God's favor rests as a gift that we certainly did not merit or have owed to us in any way;  but it is freely extended if we follow Jesus down into the rushing river. The role of Peter is to accept the universal mission and to bring Good News to others who will follow the pattern that Jesus has undertaken.

     Our Baptism washes away the stain of sin and bestows new life on us.  This is our regeneration preparing us to be the bearers of Good News.  Our baptism is a launching pad, the most important moment between our birth and our passing from this life.   We cannot rest by saying that we have been saved and that that is sufficient. We now must respond in an individual manner through the righteous living of our lives and the performing of good deeds that are needed in the saving of our troubled planet.

     Prayer: Lord, make us aware of the power of our baptism and the awesome tasks that lie ahead for us.


January 12, 2009      Make a Winter 12 Veggie Soup

     All of us can be cooks and grow in the experience!  I like to cook a twelve-ingredient vegetable/herb soup.  This wider variety allows for new and creative tastes with each new undertaking at low cost and using ingredients at hand.  The number "twelve" in reference to vegetables or herbs sounds just right.  Cookbooks are nice, but leave them aside and launch into "innovative cooking."  Add your own dash of seasonings and spices to be creative.  At the time of this writing (November 5, 2008) I made a twelve-ingredient variety even though my autumn garden has been decimated by drought.  Once I made a January twelve-variety soup totally from home grown ingredients: canned  tomato juice; greenhouse-grown vegetables ("tommy toes" tomatoes, dill, mint, Swiss chard and Chinese cabbage); and late garden, protected winter crops (parsley, Jerusalem artichokes, salsify, carrots, garlic, mustard and kale). 

     January combinations may include these items:

     Tomato juice -- thick and red made from Romas, which can withstand a variety of conditions, for base ingredient

     Squash or zucchini -- kept in the root cellar for just such culinary creations and body.

     Garlic -- also found under the mulch.  Garlic adds that distinctive and best liked of all cooking aromas.

     Carrots -- just dug from the garden when not frozen for these are filled with vitamins needed in winter.

     Salsify -- a truly winter root vegetable (also known as oyster plant) that has all the taste of seafood itself               along with its own distinctive texture.

     Jerusalem artichokes -- also fresh from the garden for added gourmet touch at the end of the cooking process.         

     Parsley -- from the snow banks where it is fortified with its natural sugars to withstand the cold for flavor.

     Swiss Chard or Collards -- from the greenhouse or protected areas for color.

     Kale  -- from the temporary cold frames in the garden for green bulk.

     Mustard -- under a cloth cover, able to endure the early winter until well into January in Kentucky.

     Dandelions -- hidden under the mulch cover and able to add a special batch of nutrients to the mix.

     Dill -- a final greenhouse remembrance of seasons past.

    Cooking:  The pepper/tomato juice base (one quart of thick, canned juice with one to two quarts of water added) is brought to a boil, and ingredients added after cleaning and dicing.  Add black pepper and soya sauce but no salt because the juice has canning salt present.  Some cooks prefer sauteing, but I add the onions, garlic and aromatic herbs last.  The four-liter soup mix is boiled for about one hour and then left on a simmering low heat until time to serve.  Add creative final seasoning.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to enjoy cooking and sharing our soups.


 January 13, 2009  Begin Small through Community Regeneration

    Profound changes occur at the grassroots when people both see their needs and realize that they are instrumental in making the  effective changes required to revitalize our often neglected local communities.  Often today resources have been drained from the communities with little replacement or encouragement from regional, state or national governmental agencies.  While all work cannot be expected to be completed at this local level, still the Principle of Subsidiarity directs us to see the importance of grassroots organizations and activities.  One such grassroots project was developed by Rodale during the 1980s (though the project is now defunct); "Community Regeneration"(CR) had twelve guidelines:

   * CR has a hopeful outlook and goes beyond identifying problems and points to positive and constructive solutions;

   *  Communities are not merely economic entities.  They are social, cultural and spiritual places as well;

   * Change begins with small steps that provide a sense of accomplishment, hope, possibility and local control;

   * The economy, environment and overall quality of life are linked and must be considered simultaneously;

   * People, not policy, are the primary focus.  Don't assume that all the answers will come from legislation;

   * CR emphasizes imagination and creativity and recognizes the possibility of many different answers to one question;

   * CR appreciates diversity and moves beyond the adversarial, identifying common ground and building cooperation;

   * An environment of CR reinterprets and redefines the concepts of progress, development, growth, security, health, and wealth in a more positive light;

   * People in community are the only ones who can decide what is best for them and must be so respected by outside experts; 

   * Residents must articulate their own goals for the future and their own conception of "progress."  All development plans must proceed from that vision;

   * The community must respect its heritage; 

   * Identify and build on capacities rather than just focusing on trying to meet immediate needs.

     Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to revitalize our local communities through basic guidelines that give support to the local participants.


January 14, 2009        Launch the Gardening Year

    This frigid winter day in January is a good time to launch the gardening year for there are always some preliminary things to do.  Certainly it may not be the time to turn the soil, but the following twelve suggestions are worth considering now:

     1.  Determine to garden well during the coming year and work out how you will secure the space to garden.  The available space may be so small that the best plan is grow in pots or vertically on trellises;

     2.  Decide and lay out where you are going to garden and determine which varieties are worth the effort.  Select varieties that are compatible with the limited space;

     3.  Consider a fresh water source for small-scale irrigation.  Refrain from using chlorinated municipal water if at all possible;.

     4.  List perennials present on the land and any additional berries or fruit trees that you may find interesting;

     5.  Put your garden tools and garden supplies in order;

     6.  Collect seed catalogs and prepare a listing of needs;

     7.  Inventory your own home seed supply especially for those that are heirloom varieties that you have saved or exchanged;

     8.  Go ahead and exchange/order your seeds today;

     9.  Sow brassicas and celery in greenhouses for early plants;

     10.  Prepare hotbeds;

     11.  Harvest the remainder of last year's root crops when weather permits; and

     12.  Plan specific floral interplanting with vegetables.

     Gardening is for all who challenge the iron-clad distinctions between experts and inexperienced and between producers and consumers.  We can fulfill our food needs with what we produce, and we will do this in environmentally friendly ways.  We can become  gentle revolutionaries who believe in the power of starting small at the grassroots, and gradually influencing others to make their own changes.  Gardening involves to some degree all the different seasons, and January is no exception.  We anticipate the exquisite pleasure of picking tomatoes, digging carrots, gathering crisp greens and just enjoying gardening during the growing season.

     Prayer:  Lord, energize us to get started with the small preliminary exercises needed for a successful gardening year and to have the energy to carry on throughout 2009.


January 15, 2009       Eradicating Racist Residue

     Today on the birthday of Martin Luther King we recognize that within a week we will witness the inauguration of the forty-fourth president of the United States -- and Barack Obama is to be the first African-American commander-in-chief.

     At the start of Obama's administration we ought to re-examine our racial attitudes, which can be improved over time through effort.  So often we say we have no biases, and yet if we are perfectly honest, we discover them lurking inside.  We are all products of our longtime racist culture and it simply takes time and determination to root out those hidden elements that express themselves against black folks or Hispanic migrants or native American tribes, or former national enemies.  The story of slavery in our American past or the interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II is a vivid example of our shared cultural history.  We always need to ask ourselves some basic questions:

    * Am I a racist in explicit ways or through preferences for hiring, interacting, conversing and associating?

    * Do I show racial preferences in speech?  I once knew someone who I could predict what race he was speaking with by the way that he answered the phone.  

    * Do I harbor stereotypes of people of a different color or race?

    * Do I tell or tolerate racially or religiously-based jokes which disparage others?

    * Do I give preference to people of a certain race over others who are not of that color?

    *  Have I tried to overcome the barriers that separate us, and tried to help bring about full equality among the races?

    *  Do I champion a program of restitution for descendants of slaves who helped build this nation for virtually no compensation?

    * Do I believe in affirmative action or has that day passed?  Do I have an alternative plan that would improve race relations?  Do I support civil rights issues?  the goals of the NAACP?

    * Do I pray for and conduct my life so that full integration of the races will occur in this country?  Do I welcome the coming administration with no racial bias?

    * Do I show equal concern about American and the developing world's health and hunger problems?

    Prayer:  Lord, help me to break down the barriers that separate us as citizens of one nation and our world.


January 16, 2009    Do and Encourage Daily Physical Exercise

    January is a time when we make new resolutions, and yet in this winter period we can easily backslide on our personal physical exercises (PE).  The temperature and outdoor weather conditions in the northern areas of America make us seek excuses for not being more physically active.  Maybe PE tomorrow!  True, there are outdoor winter sports people -- ice skaters, snowball throwers,  trappers and snowmobile operators, and the skiers who flock to winter resorts in the Rockies and elsewhere.  But for the great majority of us, winter is difficult, and we think more often of how to find excuses while we await the day when spring will arrive.

     Initiate indoor exercise programs.  For better or worse the PE is more important than where it is performed.  Some people like indoor pool swimming or working out with stationary bikes, moderate weight lifting, calisthenics and yoga exercises.  The cost of indoor exercise programs hardly matches the health bills that could come from deteriorating health due to lack of exercise and overweight.  Better health club than hospital bills -- that is in places where such PE programs are accessible.

    Consider year-round gardening.  Year-round opportunities may exist for gardening, depending on the presence and size of a greenhouse or cold frames or the mildness of a particular winter.  Such gardening could prove to be a good reducer of stress;  such exercise allows us to establish our own pace, avoid strenuous exercise, set our own schedules, and use virtually all body parts -- legs, arms, back, and hips.  We should assist shut-ins who have a more difficult time getting outdoors, and this assistance or service for others becomes physical exercise. 

    Do not forget moderate outdoor exercise.  Winter time in this age of global warming is not totally sleet and drifting snow.  Even in severe winter areas, mild days afford opportunities to get outside for fresh air and full-spectrum sunlight.  Some prefer sheltered parts of the grounds or woodlands where one can cut firewood or clean brush.  Others find cleared roadways less dangerous at certain periods, and thus take brisk walks using shoes that offer good traction.  Winter jogging is sometimes possible though this can be hazardous at times.

   Other Steps for Anti-Aging:  Besides exercise, the following ten points are suggested for senior citizens:  don't smoke; follow a healthy diet;  use supplements wisely; drink enough water (six to eight glasses a day); avoid excessive exposure to the sun; reduce stress; challenge your mind; limit alcohol consumption; cultivate satisfying relationships; and consider preventive medicine. 

     Reference: John Hopkins Medical Letter.

     Prayer:  Lord, remind us that we are people on the way and that we are to physically exercise to the degree our health allows.


January 17, 2009    Learn from Ben Franklin:  Stay Busy

     Today is Ben Franklin's 303rd birthday, and we ought to consider some of the accomplishments of this extraordinary co-founder of our nation.  Maybe his many noteworthy achievements can overwhelm the reader (Continental Congresses, mission to France, electricity experiments, newspaper, public library, Pennsylvania Constitution, etc.).  This list would take up the entire essay so let's focus on one characteristic of his life that is worth imitating: staying busy.  What about it couch potatoes?  Some suggestions for being Franklin-like (though he did not necessarily use these suggestions himself) include:

     Help others who are in need.  Some people chalk up sizeable amounts of service time by giving their free time to help others with homework and tutorials, language and literacy training, cleaning and housekeeping, voter assistance, community service, forest maintenance, prison visits, and a host of other activities.

     Read widely.  Do this in a variety of fields.  Franklin lived in the age of the Encyclopedists who were seeking a wide range of knowledge in science, the arts and philosophy.  Wider reading keeps us open to new ideas.

     Exchange ideas.  Participate in lectures, discussions, workshops (and blogs if meaningful).  Talk over new ideas with friends by person-to-person conversation or through phone calls, letters or the Internet.  Communication is easier today than it was in Franklin's time, so make the best of it.

     Become a hobbyist.  Choose a hobby or craft and stick with it.  Consider real puzzles such as ones related to food purchases and cooking, home economics or energy expenditure.  If caught with time and no materials, discover the longest English word that does not repeat the same letter.  Can you get 26 letters or even 11?   

     Read while waiting.  Often we can expect a waiting period at appointments and before boarding a plane or train.  Carry interesting literature that will keep you occupied.

    Pray and exercise.  Each person should find the time and that means adjusting busy schedules for formal prayer, reflection, meditation and physical exercise (see yesterday's reflection). 

     Double occupations.  When exercising in a manner that does not require much concentration, meditate;  when hiking in non-traffic areas, listen to music; when preparing a meal or some daily chore, listen to the news;  when driving, listen to language tapes if not too distracting;  when toileting, read interesting articles. 

      Prayer:   Lord, you are the master of our time.  Help us to make the most of it -- and see that reflection is also part of staying busy.


January 18, 2009       Listen for the Seasonal Calls

Here I am.  You called me.  (Samuel 3:3-10, 19)

     We are all called in some way, and this is not a once-only event.  Samuel is repeatedly called.  Jesus leaves his home and goes on his mission journey -- and with time and subsequent events his calling becomes clearer.  Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  It is a seasonal call for them and something that includes re-calls at various important seasons after they have lapsed.  In the summer or autumn of life we hear Melville saying in Moby Dick, I am a man running out of time.  We have a time-sensitive gift of life to be used well.  All of us need to be sensitive to our seasonal calls that occur right here and now:


      Icy stillness in that timeless span,

            A cipher in the majestic divine plan,

          Spoken against first winter's spell, "God‑man."

            Within that majestic spoken Word

          Our names are called, though the sound be blurred,

            But, by another, first heard.


     Spin the rushing wind, the earthquaked rocks rend,

           ‑‑Or is it maybe a kid's boom‑boxed din?

            And then a blissful moment's silence when

         God speaks to me in gentle whispers hence,   

            Mockingbird, dogwood, redbud dispense

         Early springtime's luminescence.


     Summer's bright red comes rightly soon,

           Blazing sun, heat waves at life's high noon,

         Drifting upward as though an endless tune.

           Vows and promises of youth seared by heat, a retreat     

         And within God's sweet sounding drumbeat ‑‑

            Repeat, repeat the words, repeat.


   Gold and crimson autumn's scene arrived,

           Fast lane's withered leaves survived;

         But mercifully my soul is not deprived

           Of the chance to soar.  Wiser, I can't ignore

         Any whisper, any roar; still God does implore ‑‑

           There's more in store, explore the more. 


    Then finally winter's frost‑covered finality

           or is it unworthy dignity

         In reaching to the light of eternity?

           An Ave's mercy at the hour of death;

         Only a curtain call is left, encore bereft;

           Beseeching new birth in dying breath.


     Prayer:   Lord teach us to stop awhile and see that this is the ideal season for listening to your seasonal call.


January 19, 2009      Promote Windpower for America

     Thank God this new Administration is more committed to renewable energy sources than is the outgoing one.  Of all forms of renewable energy, wind is not only the fastest growing energy source, (fivefold global increase between 2000 and 2007), but also the one that could be actualized more quickly in higher volume than any other.  It is needed because the  favored ethanol-based renewable energy includes non-renewable processing and elevates corn prices for the poor.

     Wind potential is present.  The Great Plains from Minnesota to Texas have already been the focal areas for new wind farms, but the potential also exists elsewhere in many parts of our country. Furthermore advanced wind generators work well with lower wind speeds and expand wind energy's potential territory.  An American map shows wind potential in the Northwest, the eastern Midwest, parts of Appalachia and the Great Lakes regions, and along the East and West coasts where a high concentration of our population lives.  America added 4,204 megawatts of capacity in 2008 alone.

     Wind energy is pollution-free.  Except for the swishing sound (300 yards away it is as quiet as a library reading room) and stray birds (directed elsewhere through certain attached devices), there is virtually no environmental impact from wind generation.  The argument that the viewscape will be marred by such wind generators is not sufficient in an age when the atmosphere is already damaged for so many by non-renewable energy-generation pollutants.  Consider the improvement in environmental quality in replacing a coal-fired plant by wind turbines with cattle grazing about and the air pure.  Besides, farmers who permit wind turbines get sizeable leasing fees and still continue farming virtually all their land.

     Jobs are available and costs can be reduced.  Wind as a source currently furnishes less than one percent of America's and the globe's total energy (though Denmark gets 16% of its energy from the wind).  An immense potential for expansion and jobs exists.  In fact, advocates for renewable energy over non-renewable fossil fuels and nuclear power, say that unit-for-unit jobs will be approximately the same -- not decreased by going to a wind and solar economy and that we can speak of an additional 100,000 jobs to meet increasing energy demand with economic recovery.  The great hesitancy with renewable energy is initial equipment costs -- but these are low in comparison with new nuclear power plants.  Price declines will result from more efficient and longer lasting equipment.  Wind is a win-win situation.  One gets the energy and yet the economic and hidden environmental costs are reduced.  Much depends on our willingness to support this form of energy at the state and national level through tax breaks, incentives, research grants and removal of large tax breaks for non-renewable sources.

Reference: American Wind Energy Association <www.awea.org>

     Prayer:  Lord inspire us through the Spirit's rushing wind to champion the effectiveness of the physical wind all about us.



January 20, 2009       Pray for our President

     Today is Inauguration Day in the United States.  Barack Obama is becoming the 44th president of this country and he has his work cut out for him.  Beyond the pageantry, marches, bands, speeches and balls are critical problems -- and we all seem to know it.  The first day of celebration will soon end and the real work will begin -- and that is all the more reason to give some time to prayer today.

     Because of the seriousness of these times, I have changed this daily reflection from what I first wrote back in November.  Rather than comparing the new president with Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt who were both first inaugurated in times of national crises, let us see this occasion as unique with its own problems.  Let us consider that Obama has to be himself and no one else. The comparisons can come years later after most of us are gone.  Obama is certainly no superman nor should we expect him to be;  he has important decisions to make in a variety of arenas (defense, economics, health care, energy and others);  and he has to tackle these problems immediately.  His decisions will have some long-term effects -- and that is all the more reason for our prayers.

     First, we pray that Obama and his cabinet and advisors stay cool, collected, steady, listening, and safe.  They have to be ready to work as a team from the start;  they have to filter out the noisy world of partisan interests and still allow the words of wise people to penetrate the recesses of the Oval Office.   

     Second, we are a democratic people;  we take part in the governing in so far as we support what our leaders are doing or attempting to do -- on in criticizing them when we regard them to be in error.  So we pray that the American citizens will support the Obama Administration in a positive and constructive way, especially in its initial phases, and to call this administration to task when it caves in to the immense pressure of special interests.  

     Prayer:  Lord, look kindly on our new president and give him the strength of character, the right judgment and the physical and mental health that it takes to perform the difficult tasks ahead.  Also help our nation to realize that the times call for cooperative efforts on the part of all our citizens.  Soften the hearts of those who want to be negative.  Give those who are moved to speak to do so with honesty and integrity.  Allow us all the patience to expect that changes will take time if placed in a proper order. Give Barack Obama the courage and strength to govern wisely and well.



January 21, 2009   Make a Forest Pledge on National Hug Day

     On National Hug Day give this sign of endearment to a special friend -- and don't forget trees.    I "hug" trees to measure their girth accurately (my extended reach to outstretched arms and to the ends of my middle fingers is exactly six feet and each hand width is six inches).  If you don't want to hug trees for either emotional or practical purposes, at least make a pledge to support our forests and their trees:

    Knowledge --I will be a champion of a healthy diverse forest and resolve to know the multitude of plants that compose the forestland understory;

    Commons --  I affirm the commons of all forestlands and the materials that grow therein.  We are stewards of the lands under our control and not absolute arbiters of forest practice.  Thus we are accountable to those laws and regulations that will preserve forests for future generations;

    Value -- I believe that forest plants have an intrinsic value apart from current or future economic uses.  Their presence and biodiversity are a rich treasure worth espousing, preserving and describing to others;

    Respect -- I respect the private ownership and boundaries of other forestland property holders and will not trespass or remove plants from these lands without their owners' permission;

    Prudent Revelation -- I refrain from telling others about any species that could be of economic value, unless I am certain the person will not over-harvest or encourage others to mistreat the plant in an unsustainable manner; 

    Protection --  I will not introduce exotic and invasive species into the forest and thus threaten the native ecosystem, nor will I engage in or allow unsustainable logging of the forestlands under my control;

    Preservation -- I will not remove or encourage others to remove forest plants that are rare, endangered or threatened species, or that need special protective measures;

    Enhancement -- If physically able, I pledge to improve the quality of my private or neighboring public woodlands by careful forest management that includes removing exotic species that threaten the biodiversity of the forest understory;

    Green Economics -- I pledge to champion economically viable non-timber forest products that will, in turn, demand a healthy forest as a canopy.

    Sustainable Harvest -- I will only take from the forest for economic or other reasons only modest amounts of a plant and in a manner that will allow the plant to reproduce and thrive.

     Promotion --  I pledge to promote the benefits of the forests of my region, nation and world. 

     Prayer:  Lord, help me to keep my forest pledge.


January 22, 2009            Care for the Car

    Automobile care is a serious consideration in the roughest weather, and so it is natural that we should give some extra tender loving care to our vehicle(s) in January.  This reminder is as much for me as for you.  Let's be more aware of tires, brakes, battery, windshield wipers and lights just in case we have special needs this month.  Place flashlights, extra clothes and even a sleeping bag in your vehicle.  I live in an emergency evacuation zone being downwind from an army depot that stores nerve gas.  Other readers may be downwind from at least a winter storm.

    Good regular maintenance.  Autos give better service when cared for properly, such as with routine oil and oil filter changes.  One mechanic tells of a new car that never had an oil change in twenty five thousand miles -- it was essentially ruined when it should have had ten more years of life.  Such things happen.  All drivers can check the fluid levels in a radiator, batteries, window wash container, transmission and motor oil.  We ought to have regular checkups so that the auto specialist looks over everything with even more thoroughness than we do.  Some would add that winter is a good time to have the car washed to remove road salt.

    Intermediate and extraordinary maintenance.  At a more intermediate level, remember to have gas filters checked.  Then there's the timer belt, which will need changing after a period of time depending on the car model (usually about 60,000 miles). This is the time to consider spark plug replacement, brake performance,

a thorough look at engine performance, and to have the exhaust system inspected for rusting and punctures.  A tune-up is often worth about 10% in gas mileage.  A regular car "doctor" takes pride in alerting us to unsuspected needs.  Even if the extraordinary inspections are done by the state or city, it is good to know a thorough diagnosis of the vehicle has been made.  We should all stay alert for any strange sounds and watch mileage per gallon to determine whether there has been a sudden loss in efficiency of the vehicle.

    Tire care.  New tires (especially radial ones) are some of the soundest investments for highway safety and fuel efficiency, giving up to ten percent better mileage.  Most drivers know that proper inflation adds to better wearing tires, and brings the very welcome benefit of fuel economy.  Check tires for excessive wear especially after hitting a curb or object in the road.

    Start-Up and driving time.  We like to jump in and drive away.  The conscientious person will start and idle the car for a short while and then start out at moderate speeds.   We need constant reminders to drive within the speed limits;  this adds to the life of the car and saves fuel as well (a twenty percent savings, if within limits as opposed to driving fifteen miles over).

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to care for our vehicle(s);  it is good economics;  it is a protection for riders and others as well.


January 23, 2009          Reuse Materials

     Economic conditions remind us that during the Great Depression people were far more economical in the way they handled their possessions.  Maybe 2009 is the time to consider reusing more of the resources all around us.  We know that it takes more energy and resources to extract, grow, transport, fabricate, advertise and sell the items we use -- and often such items are underused.  It is a waste of resources to acquire, store, and fret about things that have little use.  Here are some hints to avoid doing so:

    * Take items to a flea market or generate a yard sale, which is  a popular market during economically difficult times.  One person's junk is another's treasure, a saying that becomes a reality now.  Strive not to be a collector of what others discard, but always be on the lookout for a needed item.  Going to a yard sale requires a certain discipline so we do not perpetuate the acquiring of unneeded items.  One solution is to list needed items prior to going.  Impulsive buyer, beware!

     * Strive to get the very old items to a museum or into other public uses.  Remember, if you have kept items around long enough, they may become antiques and repay their storage costs.  Half of the types of tools I used as a kid are museum pieces today.

     * Refurbish old furniture or doors for needed furnishing such as tables and book shelves.  Some people have a particularly creative eye to reusing such items.

     * Reuse containers for storage and make them attractive enough so that they can be prominently displayed on open shelving in the living and office space.

     * Turn the store room into a pleasant guest room where people can spend a fascinating evening looking through your own treasured items.  They may even want one or another item.

     * Learn to recycle Christmas gifts or add a little trim to make a very creative present for special occasions.

     * Make unneeded furniture available to others.  People moving into your town may have to refurnish their homes and your discards will help if you furnish them a listing.

     * Look for artists who like to work with materials such as unique older appliances or tools.  They may be happy to reuse what you have allowed to collect dust for only too long.

     * Reuse building materials.  A major area of waste with immense creative possibilities is the ever-growing amount of used and salvaged building materials.  Think reuse.

     Prayer:  Lord we can't take it with us, so let us learn to share it before we depart.  It is of more value to others.


January 24, 2009        Speak up for Ecumenism

     In the week before the feast of St. Paul many Christians pray for unity among the worshipping bodies -- and the motivational movement towards this unity is called "ecumenism."  Ecumenical is derived from Greek and means "the whole world." This program to bring about unity is not limited to divided Christian bodies but can be extended everywhere, from the unity of family, to that of citizens working together, to our country and to the people of various faiths throughout the world.  Differences exist but they should not be sources of friction or isolation.  We must work together to save our people, our quality of life and our planet itself.  There are too many things that must unite and not divide us from the coming together of Christians to those who are believers in the Book, to trusting people of various world religions, and to people who do or do not follow a specific religious practice.  That all may be one.

     Our journey to God involves being who we are and still willing to share in such a way that we allow others to be who they are at the same time.  Openness and acceptance are the atmosphere in which a meaningful dialog may occur.  If our collective purpose is peace and justice among all people, we already share something very important -- a lofty goal of talking with others at this critical moment in history.  We do not set pre-conditions or doctrines of belief for such a dialog;  we accept where we are on the journey and feel comfortable talking with others who may be quite different, but who also share our desire for peace and justice. 

     For many of us who believe in an eternal future, the urgency does not primarily rest in sharing our beliefs so much as in sharing where we are.  If we firmly believe, we are comfortable in our trust that God will make all paths straight.  Our own immediate testimony to these others is not in the details of our doctrine but in the atmosphere of comfort we find in our belief.  If we believe in a personal God -- as Christians do -- then our personal integrity becomes all the more important in the conversation with others.  Our God makes us more personable in dialog with others. 

     If we know Jesus, we know the Father.  They are one in a holy unity, which we are invited to learn about, to discover, to become one with and to enter into as a final destiny -- and this unity motivates us to seek further unity among all people of good will Some of the war-like and greedy do not seek peace and justice and thus their dialog becomes limited.  More important than our ability to speak to each and everyone is our desire to do so.  The precondition to unitive discourse is a readiness to work together in peaceful and just ways, not a capitulation as to doctrine.  The dialog is one that is bathed in love -- and that makes such action godly.  The dialog must beget because the critical times demand it.  We are called to speak in an atmosphere of mutual love.

     Prayer:  Lord give us insight to see that in unity comes strength and a clearer message of peace and hope to all people. 


January 25, 2009    Celebrate St. Paul's Day

     Celebrating St. Paul's Day is part of the Pauline Year, when we highlight his 2,000th birthday (estimated as to the original date).  One way we could celebrate without knowing exact dates is by helping establish the unity Paul so desired in his writings.  We should reflect on our attitudes and actions with regard to ecumenism -- the principles or practice of promoting cooperation or better understanding among differing religious faiths.  As said in yesterday's reflection, the time is right in our troubled world to unite with other people of good will.  We ought to begin from within the arena of Christian bodies and move out to others.  We are aware that some folks prefer isolation, segregation and divisiveness.  Limiting our intercourse to people of good will is not contrary to ecumenism;  we are limited people, and time is short.  We must work with all whom we find cooperative.

     Some would like to begin unity measures with the roots of division and stress differences through a rather historic approach.  Others prefer to discuss theological differences from an academic standpoint.  A third body of believers perceives need for unity on a host of everyday matters from political and economic stability to caring for the Earth;  these are convinced that working together to lower the barriers that separate us is the best way to generate a cooperative spirit that manifests the openness and acceptance of others.  Believers are convinced that success in cooperative efforts is possible with God's help.  Sometimes people bite off too much, as a number of us once did with the North American Conference on Christianity and Ecology in 1987.  The actual conference was successful, but the aftermath of planning for other activities resulted in infighting.  Set a limited goal and stick with it.

     Religious and cultural practices differ.  A prayerful sensitivity is required, for we realize we are all limited and that misunderstandings may occur but must we avoided by all parties.  Dialog takes time and effort.  Many of us are reminded through general talks, homilies, sermons and interactive blogs that our efforts must be directed toward ultimate unity among all people. In his letters Saint Paul shows us that the way to unity is through deeds of charity.  If we are to share an eternity with others, we should begin now with charity to all.  Only God knows that such irreconcilable differences will vanish.  Disunity is nothing to be elated over.  History shows that our divisions are manifested by fights, terrorism, backbiting and discrimination.  Unity is a goal and need not mean sacrificing what we hold most dear.  In fact, our quest for unity leads us to a growing sense of compassion for others, even those we may hesitate to call brothers and sisters.  The letters of Saint Paul contain a treasure of things to remember.

     Prayer:  Lord, direct us to read the letters of St. Paul and to see how they apply within our own lives to our efforts to bring about unity, first in Christian communities and then among all people on this planet.



January 26, 2009      Save Our Hemlocks

     One of the saddest tales that we have heard recently is that the insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), can kill the stately hemlocks of our eastern mountains in a matter of a few years, once these beautiful trees are infected.  The disaster that is happening is similar to the blight that befell the American chestnut almost a century ago;  various diseases threaten other tree species today that are under stress from environmental assaults.  This hemlock threat could change the Appalachian landscape and put stress on wildlife species, which find a haven in these cool dense trees. 

     The HWA came from Asia and was first detected in the western United States in 1924.  Unfortunately, it moved east and came to Richmond, Virginia in the 1950s.  From there it spread northward along the Atlantic coast.  In Virginia's Shenandoah National Park 80% of the hemlocks were dead by 2005.  The HWAs are continuing to do their deadly work on the thousands of acres of hemlock-dominated forests some of which are regarded as old-growth.  Recall that some hemlocks can live to be 800 years old.

     U.S. Forest Service managers recommend three methods to control the spread of HWA: systematic injections of pesticides, insecticidal oils and soaps, and biological control.  For small stands and individual trees the pesticide-based methods work best.  Biological controls are needed in larger hemlock stands. These involve releasing either of two nonnative beetles: Laricobuius nigrinus (Lari beetle) or Pseudoscymnus tsugae (Pt beetle).  Both types actively hunt the HWA as prey, feed voraciously, and eat only HWA.  When no HWA are present the beetles quit reproducing.  Needless to say, it is difficult to rear these protective beetles, which have exacting requirements for survival and effectiveness.

     Residents with hemlock trees should consider locating bird feeders away from these tree.  HWA can be managed in home and nursery settings if detected early (white wooly tufts are easily observed clustered on hemlock branches).  The soap solutions must be sprayed on the entire infected tree; for taller ones (over 30 feet) the spraying can best be done by a professional arborist.  Only spray the infected trees, for the oil sprays and soaps are not deterrents.  Don't fertilize infected trees, nor use Pt beetles in a home or nursery; that would be costly and ineffective.  Be sure not to brush against an infected tree and thereby carry HWA to uninfected hemlocks.  Report infestations to your extension agent as soon as detected and obtain information on the best available treatments for your locality.

     Will entire stands of the American hemlock be lost?  Our ancestors spoke about the tragedy of the loss of the American chestnut and we do not want this repeated.  Let's take measures to protect this precious heritage. <www.saveourhemlocks.org>.

     Prayer:  Lord, make us mindful of the need to save all that is precious -- and to see that hemlocks fit this category.


January 27, 2009        Protect Our Wildlife

     Wildlife has thrived for millennia though now it is often threatened by a variety of environmental stresses such as loss of habitat, and air and water pollution.  We must consider all the ways possible to protect this valuable component of God's creation.

     The larger carnivorous mammals are threatened by farmers fearing for their livestock and parents for their children.  Wolves have been exterminated in large parts of our nation.  So have the red and grey foxes and the cougars or mountain lions.  These species have only recently made a comeback, and some wildlife lovers are striving to protect them and other specific wildlife species.  The destruction of predators and their habitat has led to an explosion of their prey -- rabbits, squirrel, deer, and turkeys;  and regulated hunting seasons are often not sufficient to bring about control in the manner that nature handles best.  It is heartening to see the expansion of the coyote's territory to the eastern part of the United States, for these coyotes are filling an empty niche and are keeping small game under control.

     We are mere observers -- not protectors --of migratory birds, which when winging north or south need resting, feeding or nesting places.  Granted, the geese and ducks are far more opportunistic than other migratory fowl and birds; they flourish in our warmer winters by feasting on uncollected corn in the Mid-American fields. However, many small birds, which must head further south for food and more comfortable winter conditions, are disappearing or migrating in greatly reduced numbers (see January 3).  Their flight is all the more reason to initiate bird protection programs in the form of bird feeding and sanctuary projects.

      Even our native fish may be threatened and require protection, especially since some of the world's most abundant fisheries are reaching the limits of their production and suffering from overharvesting using factory ships and other modern techniques.  We are uncertain whether genetically engineered fish targeted for fish farming will escape to the wild and affect the free swimming populations as well.   The amphibian populations (frog, toads, newts, salamanders, etc.) have had dramatic declines in a number of American states, and biologists are baffled as to the cause.  Some blame pesticides and other pollutants; others blame natural causes exacerbated by human-made stresses and reduction of wild space.  The winter quarters of the monarch butterfly cover a very limited area, and these parts of Mexico are now being affected by development.  Add to this, reports that genetically engineered plants affect these majestic butterflies in the feeding areas in this country during the milkweed growing cycle.  Are we going to experience the demise of butterflies along with other species?  The threat is all the more reason to grow the various butterfly attracting plants in special gardens devoted to these colorful insects.  Certainly all wildlife needs protection.

     Prayer:  Help us Lord to be protectors of our wildlife.


January 28, 2009       Treasure Rural Experience

     You can take the boy out of the country, but not the country out of the boy.   This adage is repeated by the many Americans who have left farm life and now live in towns, suburbs or cities.  We farm escapees or exiles may desire to continue and intensify our country identity, and to do so as a yearly or year-round experience, for example, through returning to farming after retirement, helping out during the summer on a farm, or (in my case) through gardening on a regular basis. 

     January always brings back remembrances of farm life.  Maybe it was the month with the harshest weather to endure and the month with the least outdoor farm work.  It was difficult leaving the stove and going out to do farm chores.  But it is also a time to reminisce about the things that make you a country "boy" all your life.  Here are several rural patterns worth mentioning:

    * Weather -- You can step outside and know what it is going to do today -- it didn't take a weatherman to tell you.  You know.

    * Outside -- You feel uneasy being indoors when the weather is pleasant and it is daylight, for there could be outside things to do.  It is part of being ruralolic.

    * Animal Ways -- You can size up the way a cow is going to turn by just looking at it from a distance.  You know how to take care of animals when they are sick and how to give them some distance when they are mean.  No one tells you.  You know.

    * Outdoor Work --  You know when something has to be planted and that waiting for a week could be the wrong strategy. You know how to pace yourself in working in the hot sun.  If you overexert, no one else is to blame. 

    * Orderliness -- You enjoy seeing a well-kept place with fences and gates in working order and good farm buildings.  You know how much effort it takes to make straight and evenly spaced rows of corn and other field crops. 

    *  Seasons --  You know the year begins with winter, for that is the first of the growing season, when daytime lengthens and when the sap starts to rise and the roots start to extend themselves.  You don't start the year in spring, for life begins in winter.

    * Directions -- You know how to get your bearing quickly and how to regain direction; you can size up the lay of the land, how water flows,  and what are sunny and shady places.

    * Farming Gifts -- You know the people who are not energetic enough or smart enough to farm successfully.  And you know how dead wrong urbanites are when they look down on rural people.

     Prayer:  Lord, we thank you for our past experiences.


January 29, 2009         Question Retirement

     Make hay while the sun shines.  People sometimes think I am in retirement.  For the record, I did retire from management of a public interest center in 2002 after exactly twenty-five years at that job.  But I did not retire from pastoral ministry or public interest work.  No the "R" word is something I do not believe in and, for Jesuits, when we can no longer do active work, we must pray for others on a more formal basis (since we are to pray always).  Good health is such a blessing that when we have it at whatever age, we must use it in the service of others.  If one means by "retirement" halting the particular work in which one is engaged, then it becomes a confusing designation, since so many people change jobs. 

     Some speak with pity that retirees must return to work.  Regard the return as a blessing!  Work gives meaning to life and is a healthy thing to do.  Often the so-called early retirees such as military and other governmental workers who enjoy good health and accumulated experience are ideal candidates to be volunteers at the service of the less fortunate both in this country and overseas.  God's call comes to more than the youthful in life's springtime.  Today, retirees can fulfill the prompting of the Spirit to be of service as elder volunteers.

     Such opportunities are indeed plentiful as volunteer services:  civic and church outreach work for the poor, school auxiliary and literacy training programs, prison visits, work at drug rehabilitation centers, health and paralegal services in centers for poor folks, and work as auditors, writers, or fund raisers for social, civic, or charitable organizations.  Older volunteers bring more than just good will;  they offer wisdom and experience that will enhance the effectiveness of the organization.  With more time to spare the elder can show genuine hospitality and the ability to listen to those in need.  The networking aspect of elders who know the community is really an important social asset.  The day of the wise elder is returning, and community leaders are seeing the benefits of local people donating their services.

     Senior citizens may have time now to further their own neglected education, an ideal time to shift from being a worker to a student.  Some colleges offer discounts to senior citizens in a number of fields.  Mobile seniors prefer the popular Elderhostel non-credit programs.  These are conducted in a variety of subjects using facilities that are otherwise not occupied, such as colleges in summer, or summer camps not in traditional use.  These senior-related programs were started in 1975 by Marty Knowlton and became immediately popular;  today many people so favor certain favored programs that they have to sign up early in order to be included.  

     Prayer:  Teach us Lord to see that retirement can be quite selfish if the person still has the health and energy to be of service to others.  Help others to retire as a last resort.


January 30, 2009       Search for Community   

     People today seek community: all migrants, the homeless, college students away from home for the first time, the immobile and elderly, youngsters lost in a large school, unorganized workers, those who move to a distant city.  Some community seekers are lured by purveyors  of drugs, sex or alcohol;  others by the millions seek company on the Internet.  Others wander about finding that existing communities do not satisfy them.  In some ways we are all seekers and our hearts will not rest, as St. Augustine says, until they rest with God.  Thus it is not wrong to search for a future eternal community, for no earthly one fully satisfies.

     Being social beings, we move out and seek groups with whom to associate for our welfare individually and collectively.  We become aware that some communities on Earth will direct us to God, can be the foretaste of the celestial Jerusalem, and can be a consolation to other fellow seekers.  The searching takes many forms, and so we see the evolution of a great variety of associations.  Some of the tasks that we sense are needed require more than what constricted and locally-based communities can do -- no matter how effective they prove to be at the local level.  Saving our planet from the masters of the globalized economy requires globalized regulatory powers and that means a supporting global community that transcends the local one.

     The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field.  It is the smallest seed of all the seeds, yet when full grown it is the largest of plants.  It becomes a large bush and then birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. (Matthew 13:31-32)

     This passage tells us who seek community several points:

     * Communities must be sowed by people and be allowed to grow in the field.

     * Communities need to start small and grow with time.  The Lord said they were the smallest, and I remember one mustard plant in our solar greenhouse, which grew to the ceiling twelve feet high -- and no other plant ever beat it in height;

     * Communities allow for the full potential development of members.  There needs to be some recognition of the various talents of the individuals in community and thus the branches are all attached and yet are different; 

     * Communities are willing to share with others especially those less fortunate.  When it is full-grown the community is able to serve the needs of others and not remain isolated.  Such communities are good for the total environment and a place for birds to come and gather. 

     Prayer: Lord, allow us to be both builders of earthly communities and seekers of a heavenly community.


January 31, 2009     Declare all Time Extraordinary

     Tomorrow we speak of the "Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time" and we may question what "ordinary" means.  Is all life just ordinary?  We hear of someone's passing and think for a moment that he or she lived an "extraordinary" life.  Then in the next moment we see how great are the special troubles and crises of our own age and regard them as out of the ordinary.  Maybe "ordinary" means something like the liturgical Sundays or an ordinal number used to indicate order and nothing more.  Life contains something of the extraordinary.  History is more than narratives of generals and royal figures and includes the extraordinary found in ordinary folks through the ages.  Was it not the nameless people who made victories and successes memorable and who are candidates for the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier"?

     Time is always Extraordinary and so are people.  For years I have received a Valentine's Day greeting from Elizabeth and David Dodson Gray, and since it is the only one I have consistently received, it is very special to me.  One was a single eight-and-a-half by eleven red and white sheet with the quotation "We have so little time to be born to this moment" by Saint-John Perse (pen name of Alexis Leger, the 1960 Nobel Prize winner in literature). The present moment is neither past nor future, not the awesome length of history from whence we came, nor the infinite future toward which we are destined.  It is the NOW in our lives.  To make it the center of our existence is to truly live this moment in a very extraordinary way, for no other time is colored in the uniqueness of this moment.  It is here in an instant and then recedes into a memory which fades as we age and fail to record it. 

     The average life of 75 years has 900 months, 27,384 days, about 657,216 hours and almost 39,433,000 seconds.  Think of it, not a single two of those hours or even seconds are the same.  They are unique but not recognized as such, and we forget to value their uniqueness even when they are so numerous.

    We are the ones who help create the extraordinary.  We do this by our enthusiasm, "the God within."  God works in and through us at each moment of our lives, and that is wonderful creative work, a marvel to behold.  Are we mindful of this presence all around and within us?  Some of us are more drawn than others to thank God for being alive;  this is especially true of cancer survivors and the recipients of transplanted organs.  Others are grateful for a long and productive life and regard their offspring as a source of joy and pride.  We do not create much if anything, but we are invited to help co-create the present moment to be unique, to be a time linking the whole miracle of our past and the miracle of what lies ahead in our future.  The more intensely we create this moment, the greater will be the enthusiasm for seeing how extraordinary it is.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us see the extraordinary in our lives and to see that your special favors make it so.  Fill us with gratitude. 


Copyright © 2008 Earth Healing, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Janet Powell, Developer
Mary Davis, Editor

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