High summer is a whimsical time for some who have to go back to school or to work after a long-appreciated summer spell has come to an end. All must return to the ordinary routine. In my youth, August was a whimsical month as we foresaw vacation's approaching end. For all intents, this is a time of subtle changes with more maturing gardens, deeper-toned flowers, changing tone of foliage, and even a difference in bird songs; the crickets’ sound is a little different as well. The world is in flux, and August tells us that lazy summer is not eternal. Let's prepare for autumn.
You give flavor to chewing gum and spice drinks, sauces and dressings; you're plentiful with deep green vine, and then blooming in late summer, a pale pink and dense whorl flower, rare beauty among the mint stock. We come to know what natives did, using you for stomach ailments.
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August is inspiring; however, even in the midst of a pandemic, we are expected to stay-at-home. Instead of traveling we have an opportunity to be introspective. This enhances our service and can encourage our neighbors who are stressed by current health conditions. For those who can't reach out and touch nature easily, please consider videos, books or periodicals for virtual viewing.
The full glory of August is celebrated on the 6th with the feast of the Transfiguration -- a feast focusing on Christ's exaltation, along with his consolation as he prepares to enter Jerusalem and his passion and death. As we pass through these stages of the pandemic, we too need the transfiguring consolation that is found in August's glory. Our setting may not be the incredible beauty of Mount Tabor, but we do our best, for foliage all around us is in its zenith. No matter how glorious, we realize that it’s passing, and green will soon turn to golden. Spiders build cobwebs; migratory birds are clustering together with their chatter, and mornings and evenings are less harsh than in July. Subtle change is in the air; and we need our consolations.
At this time of deeper introspection let's address our inner restlessness. We yearn for what only God can give. We return to mystery -- a mystery within, all around, and beyond, all coalescing to make us who we are. That Mystery beyond is a deep underlying experience of God's presence, which may approximate what Karl Rahner calls the "mystical moment," namely the awareness of God touching us, even though there is no explicit experience. Mystery opens our hearts to others, and especially to God who is the absolute Mystery, incomprehensible and impenetrable. We seek mystery to add to interior balance that contains an inherent restlessness. We are moved to ask, Are our reflections both inspired and inspiring; inspired by the Spirit, inspiring deeper involvement with Earth and people?
Fascinating Insects. Idler, go to the ant; ponder her ways and grow wise; no one gives her orders, no overseer, no master, yet all through the summer she makes sure of her food, and gathers her supplies at harvest time. (Proverbs 6:6‑8) They toil and work, whether ants, or tumblebugs, or "waspers," or yellow jackets. Life is short for these insects, and they seem to know it, and teach us to know our life's shortness. August's shortening days and cooler morns and evenings tell us that summer is not endless; autumn is emerging, plants coming to seed, cobwebs everywhere. Busy insects tell their story; they are part of communities -- anthills and hives -- all working together for the common good. Monarch butterflies flit about the milkweed stand in preparation for an upcoming two‑thousand-mile migratory trip to Mexico. Hummingbirds seem busy with wings fluttering faster than the eye can see; methodical bumblebees move from flower to flower.
Engaging in Nature's Conversations. In August, fields exult in soft misty morning haze, intense blaze of noonday glory, lengthening shadows of evening, and nights with creepy natural sounds detected by a well-tuned ear. At night we can hear corn growing, as blades unfurl with their creaking sounds -- a truly mid-summer sound. We attune our senses: fish splash in the creek; leaves rustle in the breeze; varmints rustle about; birds flutter when it's cooler. Listen to nature's symphony and enjoy it. My Aunt Toots, a green-thumbed gardener, once asked, "Is it wrong to talk to plants?" Answer: "Why not, for they are looking for a good conversation when happy." Some talk to their pets, others to wildlife, and so plants may hear as well. I once overheard a Jesuit on his morning prayer walk saying to a begging squirrel, "I'm sorry little fellow, I haven't got anything to give you." He was mistaken; he was giving his love in response to the animal's invitation -- a moment of joy. God speaks through all creatures and they, in turn, invite us to converse. We enhance creation by re-presenting Divine Presence.
Visiting the Summer Kitchen. YHWH smelt the appeasing fragrance... (Genesis 8:21a). August's bounty announces food-preserving time. In good seasons fruit abounds -- cherries, plums, blackberries, peaches, grapes, and summer apples -- ingredients for juicy cobblers. Mama was proud of her day's work and would show the jars lining the marble counter top, cooling before carried to cellar storage; her varied preserving efforts included sweet and dill pickles, relish, pickled pears and watermelon, mincemeat made from green tomatoes, as well as strawberry, grape, blackberry jam and jelly, apple sauce and Damson plum marmalade, which became the basic ingredient for her famous Christmas puddings. Pre-AC days turned kitchen preserving into an earthly purgatory. What love!
Tasting Wild Plums. Nature's exceedingly wide variety of wild foods invites us to sample unique tastes: fruits, nuts and seeds, berries, greens, herbs, saps, edible mushrooms and flowers. These wild things are the "manna and quail" of our age, naturally present and, if we accept the divine invitation, ready to be discovered and sampled. So often, just a single taste is enough for the year, lest we become gluttons. Wild provisions are to be taken as a sampling, a simple moment of delight; perhaps we can invite others to taste nature's bounty as well. By selecting wisely, we can ensure the wellbeing of all wild plants.
Appreciating the Foliage of Summer. August 2020 is a time to stay-at-home as required to halt the pandemic spread; it’s a retreat-like situation. Hopefully, this is of short duration, but we must endure with fortitude. Rather than reflecting on our isolation, let's see this as an opportunity to come closer to God, who is always present to us. The full intensity of plant foliage beckons us to show appreciation to the Creator for all we have to give us joy. Even our capacity to receive a gift is a God-given gift. Our natural response is to extend appreciation by serving others with an ever more sincere heart. Thank God for natural beauty during this glorious season!
August 1, 2020 Celebrating Green as the Color of August
Green is my favorite color, and so 32 previous reflections have green in their titles (more references than to all other colors combined). Green occurs always in a positive light, and mostly pertaining to environmental buildings (hospitals or churches), practices (organic gardening or conferences), materials (gifts or collectibles), areas (cemeteries or tourist sites), and food "greens" (spring or autumn). Interestingly, no titles refer in a pejorative manner to complexion (green with envy), inexperience, or condition of spoiled food. I recall that once on St. Patrick's Day in New York all the food in our dining place was dyed green -- but the food was unappetizing and went uneaten.
Greenery is characteristic of Kentucky's summers. Travelers returning from the vast West with its open skies and wonderful mountains, plains, canyons, and rock formations mentioned how great it is to get to our Commonwealth, because the landscape east of the Mississippi is quite green at this time of year. We who live here take this coverage of verdant foliage for granted, for we know that this is a satisfying mantle. The tree cover has many advantages (see May 21, "We Champion Trees for Many Reasons").
Green is the color that psychologists tell us is the most soothing for the human eye -- no telling how it strikes other creatures. Green gives us comfort in ways that are not rationally explained, but chalk it up to personal experience. I know there is a feeling of exuberance when in late April our entire landscape goes from the brown of winter to that fresh coating of green once all tree leaves appear. Actually, with climate change, the phenomenon occurs in recent years nearer to mid-April. Also, in mid-autumn, the tree foliage turns color, and then the naked trees appear in early November in our deciduous forested regions. We are blessed with a green expanding (seven-month) year.
"High green" is our Kentucky landscape in August -- and really even that designation will fade after mid-month. The fields of soybeans and corn are in the height of greenery, but these will turn to golden in a matter of weeks. The pastures and the hayfields contain their second cutting coming in this season as well as vegetables in the gardens (melons, tomatoes, and others). Shades of green are all about and, like blooming flowers, they last and turn so quickly -- and that is always what makes the landscape so treasured. In a little while the shades of autumn will appear, just as brilliant and colorful and even more transitory.
We can detect the "turning of the green" already in forests, for some of the shades have that mellow yellow appearance. The sycamores are starting to lose their leaves and the black locust leaves are drying up as well. The sour gum gives us that signal that changes are in order. We boldly prepare for what is to come.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see that colors confer meaning and the sign of life; direct our minds through color to eternal life.
Sharing Abundance Today - Homily on the Multiplication of Loaves. August 2, 2020.
Father Al Fritsch speaks about the need to share resources during this time of pandemic, where many people think only of themselves. This homily is a reflection on the multiplication of loaves and its application to universal sharing today. Filmed at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church, Ravenna, Kentucky.
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) at the gate.
August 2, 2020 Not Letting Bad News Hinder Our Work
When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. (Mt. 14:13)
My mother's family physician was a personal friend, and when my dad died right outside his office with my mother present, he came the next day to our home to see how she was doing. He asked where she was; we said "In the cellar washing the sauerkraut." That relieved him at once for even death did not stop those routines that had to be done in farm life -- and he knew it.
Jesus was closely attached to his cousin in his ministry and was deeply hurt by the violence of John's martyrdom. The horror impressed upon him the possibility that his own ministry could also be cut short. John had spoken plainly and honestly, and for this he aroused the vengeance of others. Filled with sorrow, Jesus did what many would do; he retreated to a solitary place. However, a large crowd awaited him at the shore; in his earthly ministry the ordinary duties of teaching and healing took precedence. Death, no matter how personal, does not always stop those who are active, though it would be excusable to say "I am too saddened to..."
Perhaps the lesson in today's Gospel has something to say to us as well. The compassion we have for others helps us to overcome our own shortcomings and troubles. The world goes on even when sad things happen. If tragic events leave us depressed or unable to perform our duties, we accept who we are; we do need to come closer to Jesus who worked unto the end, even on Good Friday when he consoled the sorrowing women, gave his mother to the apostle John, and forgave the penitent thief. Ministry ought to be close to us and even keep us active in hard times.
This brings us to the so-called "retirement years" when we know life is ebbing, but this telling news should not stop us from extending our ministry to more resource-conserving ventures both material and spiritual. Opportunity always comes when we are able to doing the routine well; we strive to meet challenges even when immobility or illness calls to severely limit previous commitments. The Lord wants us to continue as best we can even when detours and barriers seem daunting. Troubles will come, but the underlying happiness that we are doing our best overcomes all other feelings.
Note: Some people are paralyzed by grief, and we must recognize and accept their plight. Our ministry to them is very important, honoring where they are, respecting their depressed condition, and still, when time and opportunity arise, to encourage them to extend their vision to discover new horizons.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to continue even when the news is not good, and we have every reason to withdraw to a deserted place by ourselves. Help us see such times as golden opportunities, and encourage others to do the same.
A final ripe mulberry, picked from a productive
August 3, 2020 Reflecting on Physical and Spiritual Journeys
As the vacation season winds down and we end our annual extra physical travel, we need to take stock. A physical journey can change us and refresh us, and in asking pardon for mistakes, we ought to count benefits -- for new acquaintances, experiences, scenes, and acquired virtues. In these reflections we have mentioned over time a variety of spiritual journeys: St. Luke's Gospel, Emmaus episode, formal pilgrimages, Palm Sunday, and personal on tobacco and food. Furthermore journeying can include writing, planning, hiking, and engaging in a labyrinth.
Journeys are by the derivative of the word something that takes effort, and so a journey (especially as we age) is something that is not taken lightly. We plan ahead and we engage ourselves fully while we travel. A variety of relationships are established, new scenes come to us (thus some reason for photography), we gather souvenirs, and we take daily notes that will later bring back memories. After a trip we express gratitude to hosts and hostesses who went out of their way to make these truly joyful events. Journeys can often become the high points in ordinary life.
Physical journeys are now taken with greater foresight because fuel prices rise, travel conditions are congested, lodging is a challenge, and nerves can become short. When we opt for public transportation, there are airport parking, searches, late planes, and unexpected difficulties in carrying all items allowed by security. Of course, packing includes gifts to take and maybe those to bring back from and for others. The weather and travel conditions are factors to consider, along with contending with red alerts of terrorists, volcanoes, and national disturbances.
Spiritual journeys could be put in the singular, for we each have a special calling. My journey of faith is similar to and yet profoundly different from others -- and that makes each of us unique persons. Differences are obvious when we listen to others' stories, for each has a special flavor along with their own personal relationship with the Almighty. Similarity includes all having a beginning at birth, a period of maturation and the ultimate endings at death. Our spiritual journeys need the road maps of life through commandments and Scriptures, along with energy through sacraments to ease pain, avoid spills, and correct detours.
Characteristics of pilgrims on a formal, once-in-a-life journey (persistence, trust in God, attention to road conditions, quest for good companionship, prayerful attitude, and sense of shortness of life) are integral to our entire journey of faith. However, attention needed at the temporary destination, which is often so tricky during physical journeys, is left to God, who gives us a fresh start when faith is transformed into eternal love.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to discover you in our travels and, in reflection upon each of them, permit us to have a clearer anticipation of what lies ahead.
August turning leaves of poison-ivy, Toxicodendron radicans. (*photo
August 4, 2020 Nationalizing with Caution and Care
Some people do not like the sound of "nationalization" whether in respect to utilities, railroads, manufacturing, or financial operations. The banking crisis due to sub-prime mortgage rates in 2007 and the banking and housing mess unraveling in 2008-09 first raised questions about nationalization of lending institutions and banks -- a plague for many fiscal conservatives. However, an immense privatized and unregulated system was able to create a massive global disturbance, and governments seemed powerless to stop it. More have more recently followed. Many governments admittedly lack procedures and regulations to handle multinational banking organizations with operations beyond national boundaries.
The blame for such financial misdeeds goes far beyond lack of governmental regulations: banks and lenders with high-salaried executives; rating agencies failing at their designated tasks; Ponzi schemes running into billions of dollars; and overextended credit on the part of borrowers who lacked ability to repay or fail to read adjustable mortgage rates that soon get out of hand. Along with changing housing values, the bubble bursts, equity evaporates, unpaid mortgages go "under water," and some walk away from debts or are evicted from homes during foreclosures. The banks and auto manufacturers come with outstretched hands (some via private jets) to the federal government for bail-outs. Panicky treasury officials throw billions of dollars to save these organizations through temporary "nationalization" though seldom using the term. Is this where history repeats itself?
Nationalization advocates point as a success to Costa Rica that nationalized utilities, railroads, insurance, and banks. This is one of the smallest of the Western Hemisphere's republics with no military and a higher standard of living than its immediate neighbors. However, many countries have moved away from centralized planning and nationalizing ventures for a variety of reasons, and prefer to opt for the free (unregulated) market system that is not really free.
The principle of subsidiarity holds that operations should be conducted at the lowest level possible, and often that is lower than the national level. Domestic practices ought to trump localized or regionalized ones. Local ownership ought to be better when it comes to things from newspapers to local food-producing farms and gardens; local, regional and national highways should exist along with seaways open to international trade. Large-scale governments can become bureaucratically stagnant and large-scale private operations greedy. Largeness, public or private, has limitations and thus must be transparent and capable of being controlled. Nationalizations still has a vital role to play.
Prayer: Lord, make us political and yet not partisan, righteously angry and yet merciful, involved and yet with eyes focused on a just and fruitful horizon that moves to a New Heaven and New Earth.
A community garden in Lexington, KY.
(*photo by Sunny Montgomery)
August 5, 2020 Preparing for an Autumn Garden
Today is high summer; autumn is as much in time ahead as spring is behind us. It's a perfect day to plan for an autumn garden. If protected, many fall vegetables can carry one well into next spring with crops that survive the winter -- garlic, onions, carrots, turnips, parsley, spinach, kale, arugula, and mustard -- all this spring's survivors in my past winter gardens. Note a number of other vegetables were omitted mainly for lack of seed. There was even an unknown lettuce -- it made an excellent salad on a May 1st potluck. Don't let fair-weather-summer gardeners discourage you. Autumn, at least in our milder temperate climate; it is an excellent time for gardening that can extend well into the next calendar year.
* Choice. Many plants grow in the fall. Choose one that is your favorite (e.g., endive), and give it extra loving care in a choice location where protection from the wind is maximized.
* Preparation. Soak seeds before sowing and water well in late summer. Sow early enough to have full growth started before frost, and yet late enough not to burn out in the hot dry weather (usually from August 10 to September 10th). It takes as much luck as proper choice. While in springtime we may sow in rows to minimize cultivation and protection against weeds, the autumn seeds can be "broadcast" or sowed over the entire surface areas.
* Variety. Try some new autumn entries. Do not neglect to sow variety, some for fall harvest and some that can last through the winter. Make this a season of simple "messes" of many salad greens, for autumn is truly salad time (we find springs are too short-lived for some salad greens, and they often go to seed in the heat of late May or early June). Choose some Brassica members (kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc,). Omit summer hot-weather cucumbers, beans, peppers, and tomatoes.
* Protection. Better yields can occur through use of Remay or other protective covering. On sunny days remove plastic coverings to allow the autumn crops to air out, but cover at night.
* Mulching. This is not as needed as with spring crops beset by weeds. However, a light covering of dried grass, crushed leaves, or other light materials could prove protective.
* Watering. Most cooler weather growing spans do not need watering once beyond the critical growing period of germination and early growth. For small gardens, a rain barrel is sufficient to cover moisture needs.
* Omit flowers as planted in spring and summer though mums do well, as do marigold, zinnia, goldenrod, cosmos and aster. The greenery of the growing veggies is color enough for me.
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to prepare always for what is ahead.
Red admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 6, 2020 Replicating Fukushima in New Mexico?
In the decade since the disastrous earthquake in Japan and the serious damage to nearby nuclear powerplants, the rest of the world has wondered how to prepare for such possible occurrences in their own countries. Germany, Switzerland, and Italy have started to step back from nuclear power generation all together. Other countries are having second thoughts and the U.S. is soul-searching as well, even beyond powerplants as such. Pax Christi focused on the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico to replace an aging facility.
The original CMRR to be completed in a decade was projected to cost $400-550 million. The current estimate according to the project ongoing construction and expected completion in 2023 is $5.8 billion, ten times original estimates.
Costs are one thing. The worse part of the project, as taken from the Pax Christi report, is that the new CMRR plant is being built 2/3s of a mile (1 kilometer) from a geologic fault line.The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is located in a seismic fault zone between a rift valley and a dormant volcano. An updated seismic hazards analysis from May 2007 showed a potential huge increase in seismic ground motion and activity. In all likelihood, most of the more than $3 billion added to cost estimates since 2008 result from efforts to address the heightened seismic hazards. The costs of adding this enormous new facility to LANL's weapons manufacturing complex in a geologically unstable area are just too great.
Under this current Administration we are not taking the same precautions on nuclear safety issues as some of our allies. Do we just continue as though it is worth the risk for a repeat of Chernobyl or Fukushima? Of course the risk question could be extended to other global nuclear powerplants. An added Pax Christ note: Is the nuclear weapons work presently done at LANL and our other nuclear weapons facilities violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? Thus, recklessness could be compounded by actions going against international treaty considerations.
Our American concern must include a number of other factors that are also coming to light. Many of America's one hundred nuclear powerplants lack full security measures; they have holding tanks that could be vulnerable to attack -- a point we are reluctant to mention due to planting ideas in the minds of terrorists. Furthermore, several of the powerplants are located within earthquake-prone areas and may be subject to such unfortunate events. Is New Mexico or other states or nations due such a Japanese-type disaster? Until we close these facilities down the risk will always be present.
Prayer: Lord, teach us when we make mistakes not to compound them, but to own up to them and take proper corrective measures rather than to act recklessly.
Reflecting on the Source of Inspiration
August inspires us in ways worth exploring. During this 2020 massive pandemic we are confined to our residence and have a golden opportunity to be introspective and delve into "inspiration" and its source - the Holy Spirit, giver of life, our guide and consoler. We ponder what Karl Rahner calls God's "self-communication," or a fundamental element of human existence. As a Jesuit I seek to find God in all things; each of us can look interiorly to the service we perform and how it is part of the unfolding of the Mystery of the Triune God -- the Father, Son and Spirit. This Mystery is "hidden by the veil of faith and enveloped, so to speak by a kind of darkness" (Vatican I terms); yet we reach for light (Vatican II's Lumen Gentium). By delving into the source of inspiration we can be of greater service in a troubled world.
Inspiration expresses herself in our interior enthusiasm, a response fraught with human limitations, but undertaken with courage and trust in the Spirit. Yes, this enthusiasm is a gift, and every great gift leads to the ultimate Giver who beckons us to show our love and gratitude by being of service to others. We see inspired people all about; in love of their work they manifest an interior harmony; by learning from them we are more able to fashion collaborative efforts needed to save our wounded Earth. The happy worker professes a basic creativity, an actualizing through the harmony of hands, head and heart. This is expressed in daily work product, through arts, crafts and science, both theoretical and practical. Much can be learned to improve our Earthhealing work.
Holy Spirit as source of inspiration. The mighty Spirit, ruah (translated breath, air, wind and soul) moves about the world from the first moment of creation, when God's spirit hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2). As Yves Congar says, this word "ruah" appears 378 times in the Old Testament and means in various places: the wind or breath of air; the principle of life and the seat of knowledge and feeling; and the force by which God acts and causes action at the physical and at the spiritual level. In the New Testament, the Spirit enters as a messianic gift in the conception, baptism, and activity of Jesus. The Holy Spirit completes in Mary all the preparations for Christ's coming. The inspired Jesus grows in wisdom and favor with God and experiences his human maturation; the Spirit leads him into the desert to be tested. Jesus works marvelous deeds and successfully battles the powers of the evil spirit throughout his ministry and to his suffering and death.
This Holy Spirit comes to those gathered in the room at the first Pentecost, as Jesus had promised at the Last Supper. The Spirit remains in the Church through the ages as guide and giver or life. At the proper time, the Holy Spirit comes to us individual Church members at our Baptism/Confirmation to guide us in our good deeds. Throughout our journey of faith, the Holy Spirit enters our lives in many ways: in the Scriptures, in Tradition, in the Church's Magisterium, in the sacramental liturgy, in prayer, and in charisms and ministries we choose to undertake.
Titles of the Holy Spirit include: Paraclete (consoler), (John 14:17, 26, 16:13), Spirit of promise (Galatians 3:14, Ephesians 1:13), Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6), the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), Spirit of the Lord (II Corinthians 3:17), Spirit of God (Romans 8:9, 14; 15:19; I Corinthians 6:11; 7:40) and Spirit of glory (I Peter 4:14), (Catechism#692). The Holy Spirit is described through the use of symbols: water (of baptism), anointing with oil, fire, cloud and light, seal, hand, finger, and the dove.
In our maturing spiritual life, we discover that we cannot chain the Spirit, whose freedom and unanticipated movement is like the moving air. The Spirit penetrates our self-made shells, softens our dispositions, and gives new life through inspiration. Characteristics of the Spirit's inspiration include: unlocking closed portions and insecurities of our hearts; coming as a powerful and sudden restless wind to speak boldly; descending on us as unique tongues of fire; impelling us to speak so others can understand (gift of tongues); healing and consoling us to show compassion; and empowering us to perform good deeds.
We speak often of natural inspiration. Honest hard-working people are inspired in their writings, art, science, exploration, homemaking, and simple everyday labor. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-88) was so inspired when he played music that he would go until 11:00 at night without taking an intermission. Natural inspiration is known to us all, but is not limited to those who receive the Spirit in Baptism/Confirmation. Inspired creativity is part of human history and of virtually every human being as well.
Inspiration for good is through the Holy Spirit, whether we avert to this or not, and even when the gift is hardly appreciated or recognized as being of divine origin. This type of inspiration is a grace-filled attempt to reach out and share with others through loving service. Such inspiration to help others is risky when freely undertaken, for the inspired artifact created or service rendered may elicit rejection and dislike, for there is no guaranteed acceptance by everyone. The Holy Spirit hovers over this broken world, touching it with Love and fashioning us as believers -- fresh air needed for our life and uniqueness. We need the Holy Spirit as a counter to the struggle over evil in our midst. Through spiritual growth we realize that our rebirth in Baptism/Confirmation is true empowerment by the Holy Spirit.
We are constantly being inspired to share with others; such renders a feedback mechanism, for the more we appreciate, the more we share, and the more we share, the more we appreciate the Spirit within us. Without ongoing divine inspiration, we are not able to continue and to assist others in finding an inner gratitude for the gifts they have received. To think our actions are our own efforts alone is "presumption," or a sin against the Holy Spirit. By coming to know this enduring divine gift we start to understand the first glimmer of the inner dynamics of our Triune God, the model for establishing global harmony; this is a "global mystical moment," and we are impelled to proclaim the Good News. See Appendix below.
Appendix: The Trinity as God's Self-Communication
How rich are the depths of God -- how deep his wisdom and knowledge-- and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who will ever know the mind of the Lord? Who could ever be his counsellor? Who could ever give him anything or lend him anything? All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory forever! Amen.
(Romans 11: 33-36) Quoted from the Liturgy for Trinity Sunday.
Some mysteries are natural in origin and can be unraveled; others are never even known, except by the revelation of the Almighty. Perhaps divine mysteries may become clearer through an eternity of reflection. Such is the Trinity, the grand Mystery. Yes, our concepts and words fail us. Karl Rahner says that God is a mysterious Being who is incomprehensible apart from God's self-communication to the world. But from an activist standpoint, could we manifest our appreciation of this self-communication through deed rather than word? Isn't this difficult subject fraught with perils of inadvertent (or deliberate) heresy? However, our world and our patterns of service must hold hints to the nature of the Creator of all things and motivator of all good.
A divine and eternally Triune harmony is at work, and we crave harmony in order to work together in collaboration to save our wounded Earth. All God's people are created in God's image and called to be part of God's family; Christians have a vowed partnership with the Lord through baptism and in this grand rebirth we enter into the Divine Family; we are now in harmony with the Lord and so need to harmonize with our neighbor.
In the Ignatian tradition we read from Ignatius of Loyola's autobiographical memoirs:
He had great devotion to the Most Holy Trinity, and so each day he prayed to the three Persons separately. But as he also prayed to the Most Holy Trinity, the thought came to him: why did he have to say four prayers to the Trinity? But this thought gave him little or no difficulty, being hardly important. One day while saying the Office of Our Lady on the steps of the same monastery, his understanding began to be elevated as though he saw the Holy Trinity in the form of three musical keys. This brought out so many tears and so much sobbing that he could not control himself.... As a result, the effect has remained with him throughout his life of feeling great devotion while praying to the Most Holy Trinity. (Reference: Luis Goncalves da Camara. A Pilgrim's Testament:The Memoirs of St. Ignatius of Loyola, trans. Parmananda R. Divarkar. St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1995 p. 28).
Ignatius' spirituality is thoroughly trinitarian, and that is why the impulse to harmonize renders him a master planner and organizer. A single insight into the Mystery of the Trinity becomes the deepest spiritual illumination in his life (at the River Cardoner near Manresa in Spain), and this has been the subject of many reflections (Reference: Saint Louis, Mo., Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, Vol 1-38). Ignatius experienced the divine "circumincession," the total self-giving and indwelling of the Divine Persons in one another, and this gave him intense joy. (Reference: Robert Sears and Joseph Bracken. Self-Emptying Love in a Global Context: The Spiritual Exercises and the Environment. Eugene, Oreg.: Cascade Books, 2006, p. 42).
Activists start in the possibility of acting better and more effectively. At the Last Supper Jesus says our actions could be even greater than the works he performed (John 14:12), for now the Body of Christ can act in collaborative harmony. If Jesus' earthly ministries were in harmony with the will of God, then our necessary work of harmony will bear the Trinitarian imprint. We must transform a speculative theology of the Trinity into a moral theology of godly action. In the Book of Genesis God says, Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves... (Genesis 1:26a); in contrast to other living creatures, we have intellect, will, and authority. In the atmosphere of love for us and in a desire to have us close, the almighty God creates us. If we do not believe that God's love is almighty, how can we believe that the Father could create us, the Son redeem us, and the Holy Spirit sanctify us? (Catechism#278).
"He gave the power to become children of God" (John 1:12). In the atmosphere of creative love, we can raise our voice freely and praise God for such a privilege, but is that enough? As adopted sons and daughters of God we are invited into the divine action in this world, especially to saving and healing this wounded planet and assisting in the creation of a New Earth. Authentic Earthhealing strives to be godly and thus must be creative in its methods, redemptive in addressing ecological misdeeds, and holy in its preparing for the New Heaven and New Earth. The love Jesus expresses in his farewell address (John 13:33 to 17:26), gives us an insight into the love of Father and Son, and invites us into the Divine Family -- not overlording but serving others.
Restraining our restlessness. Jesus tells us how we are to work in harmony (pray always, work in teams, don't encumber yourselves with excess baggage, and shake off the dust when rejected). In serving we discover our own restlessness, which has benefits and liabilities: a restless enthusiasm is good; expending energy where less useful is not. How do we convert restlessness to effective work? St. Augustine says that our hearts will not rest until they rest in God, and Earthhealing can be godly work leading ultimately to final rest. We are called to move beyond a consoling knowledge to meaningful action, a Trinitarian Spirituality that encourages harmony and balance in our work and service.
One God, Three Persons. Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28). Jesus declares an equality with the Father in a solemn manner before a hostile audience, I tell you most solemnly, before Abraham ever was, I Am (John 8:58). His audience knows full well what he says and they turn away in horror. Yves Congar says that the trinitarian affirmation was generally accepted by the time of St. Paul. Origen, the great second-century thinker, reflected on the oneness and threeness in God. Irenaeus during the same period expanded this affirmation into a confession of faith: That is why, when we are born again, baptism takes place through these three articles and gives us the grace of new birth in God the Father by means of his Son in the Holy Spirit (Reference: Dem. 7, SC 62. p. 42). "In the name of" .... Pope Vigilius (537-555) said not in their names (DS 415), for there is only one God, the almighty Father, his only Son, and the Holy Spirit: The Most Holy Trinity (Catechism#233).
The early Church struggled with a formulation for this deep mystery, for the word "Trinity" is not found in Scripture. For some in different ages, Sacred Tradition could go no further than what is scriptural but, on second thought, Scripture, being inspired by God, is a product of the early Church's Tradition (Christ's promise to always be with the Church until the end of time). Incidentally, Scripture takes its final canonical form in the fourth century A.D. "Trinity" as a doctrine emerged from the ongoing reflection of the Church coming to know herself. The credal formulation is the monument and fruit of that struggle to understand and to translate understanding into action.
A major controversy arose over the Arian position prevalent in the fourth century (Jesus is an exalted being but not of the same substance as God). Athanasius argued that Christ has to be divine in order to cause our divinization. (Reference: Thomas Bokenkotter. A Concise History of the Catholic Church. Image Books, 1990, p. 48). In his De Incarnatione, Athanasius states that "The Son of God became man so that man might become God." After much reflection he, Athanasius, settles on the term homoousios, which means "identical in substance," rather than "of like substance." God is unique and indivisible and yet the Persons are distinct. Augustine in great detail discusses how these three Divine Persons are of the same substance. (Reference: Saint Augustine. The Trinity. Brooklyn, N.Y.: New City Press, 1991, Book V, Chap. 2, pp. 195-96).
The manner of expression differs in the East and West. The Greeks think in terms of the one God and Father, the Father is "the God," the one and only principle of the Godhead, which he also gives to the Son (God from God and light from light) and finally also the Holy Spirit. They are like three stars one after the other; each gives the light to the next, but we only see one (Reference: Hans Kung. Great Christian Thinkers. New York: Continuum, 2000, p. 91).
The early ecumenical councils of the Church (both East and West) -- (Nicaea (325), Constantinople I, Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451) and Constantinople II (553)) -- strived for trinitarian clarity and precision. From these massive undertakings emerged a basic formula or creed, along with an articulated system of trinitarian doctrine that became the core of our trinitarian theology. In the West, further refinement occurs over time. Kung writes of the "higher mathematics of the Trinity." The Church speaks of how the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct from one another and in the Lateran IV Council (1215) (after the Greek cleavage) states, It is the Father who generates the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds. The divine unity is triune (Catechism#254).
These Divine Persons are relative to one another, but everything in them is one where there is no opposition of relationship. There are four relations: paternity (Father generates the Son), filiation (Son is generated by the Father), spiration (Father and Son breath forth the Holy Spirit) and procession (of Spirit from Father and Son). These relations are what constitute the distinction between the Divine Persons. They cannot be distinguished by any absolute attribute, for every absolute attribute must belong to the infinite Divine Nature, and this is common to the Three Persons. Whatever distinction there is must be in the relations alone. Do we agree with Kung, who says the real issue rests with "belief that God the Father works in a revealing, redeeming and liberating way in us through his Son Jesus Christ in his Spirit"? (Kung, p. 92).
The temporal component. Does our merciful God reveal this divine Mystery in the fullness of time, or perhaps through time? Events (the Incarnation and Pentecost) and process (ongoing salvation history) will occupy us in our reflections, for much depends on our notions of history, evolution and human anthropology. Certainly we know that the Trinity is revealed in time and thus is connected in some way with history. Gregory Nazianzen, the fourth-century Patriarch of Constantinople, talked about this gradual revelation of God to us over time: The Old Testament preached the Father openly and the Son more obscurely, while the New revealed the Son and hinted at the deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit dwells in us ... (It was much more suitable that) by gradual advances and, as David said, by partial ascents, moving forward and increasing in clarity, the light of the Trinity should shine on those who have already been given lights (Reference: Orat. XXXI Theol. V. 26).
Processions. Revelation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is definitely a historical "procession," for the Son comes among us in time and then sends the Spirit for our enlivening work. Thus, time enters into our understanding of the eternal Mystery. St. Augustine deals with the process of human knowledge as trinitarian in its very nature and writes on this subject especially in his major opus, The Trinity. The very movement of the mind -- memory, intellect and will -- could be described as through a temporal sequence. As Kung comments, Augustine begins his Trinity reflection with the one divine nature or substance, the one divine essence, glory, majesty common to all three persons. "This one divine nature [is] for him [Augustine] the principle of the unity of Father, Son and Spirit, within which these three differ only as eternal relationships (these are the foundation of life within God): the Father knows himself in the Son and the Son in the Father, and proceeds from this as the personified love of the Spirit" (Kung p. 91). Saint Augustine highlights the extent of this procession that has divided the East from the Filioque now found in the Western Creed that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son" [bold added]. Through a sincere theological discussion in an ecumenical atmosphere, differences could most likely be resolved.
Thomas Aquinas and other medieval scholars adapted and yet expanded beyond Augustinian insights or theo-psychology of the soul. Aquinas utilized insights from Greek, Pagan and Arab sources and developed a theology of the analogy between eternal Begetting of the Word and Breathing forth of the Spirit and human knowing and loving. Thomas' mystical experience of God towards the end of his life was so profound that he was tempted to abandon his major works. He writes that "the ultimate human knowledge of God is to know that we do not know God." (Reference: Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1947, available at <http://www.ecel.org/a/aquinas/summa/home.html>).
Divine works. Yahweh is the Creator. Jesus comes among us as our Redeemer. The Spirit sanctifies us. Yes, all these statements are true, but we still must exercise caution. Father, Son and Spirit; creation, redemption, spiration; uncreated Love, begotten Word, overflowing Spirit. And we say, following the Second Council of Constantinople, "One God and Father from whom all things are made, and our Lord Jesus Christ through whom all things are, and one Holy Spirit in whom all things are." The Father, Son and Spirit create, redeem and inspire together truly a "community" action. Thus, the whole divine economy is the common work of the three Divine Persons. The Trinity has only one and the same nature and thus only one and the same operation -- the Council of Florence (1431-45). "Each Divine Person performs the common work according to his unique personal property... ...It is above all the divine missions of the Son's incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit that shows forth the properties of the divine person." (Catechism #258).
Differences: Assigning exclusive operations to the Divine Persons could smack of tritheism and omit the oneness of God. But Karl Rahner makes an additional point when he says that, despite their orthodox confession, Christians are, in their practical life, "almost mere 'monotheists.'" (Reference: Karl Rahner. The Trinity, trans. Joseph Donceel. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co., 1970, p. 10 -- hereafter Trin.). However, some in academic circles argue with this critique and focus on the question of whether the Son was the Person who had to become incarnate (Rahner affirms he was). Further, there is controversy with Rahner's treatment of the economic/immanent Trinity; Rahner holds an identity between the economic Trinity (the divine persons as they are revealed and act in salvation history) and the immanent Trinity (the divine persons with respect to one another) (Trin., p. 22).
Furthermore, Rahner says many spiritual writers dismiss the classical "vestiges" and the "image of the Trinity," as possibly a collection of pious speculations, unobjectionable once the doctrine has been established, but telling us nothing, either about the Trinity itself or about created reality, which is not already known from other sources (Trin., p. 14). However, our eco-spirituality seeks to reemphasize the trinitarian nature of our own actions and that our motivation is normative and pious: in reflecting on the presence of the Trinity in our midst, we discover that our work has a profound trinitarian character that colors how we are to act.
New advances. Today, some regard the classical trinitarian formulations as similar to structures and boiler plates -- but both skeletons and steel sheeting are lifeless. Karl Rahner calls for distancing ourselves from a more isolated scholastic trinitarian treatment and finding a "liberation" using more modern approaches and concepts (Reference: Karl Rahner, "The Mystery of the Trinity," in Theological Investigations," Vol. XVI, trans. David Morland. New York: The Seabury Press, 1978, p. 256).
For Rahner, human history is the event of transcendence (a characteristic of all human beings). For him, only within this condition of human transcendence are we able to experience and receive God's self-communication through historical mediation, that is "salvation history." Christ is the prime expression of our Triune God, the divine self-communication. Rahner says that God's self communication is necessarily triune and constitutes salvation history to be what it is. This is the domain of God's self-communication, specifically God's self-revelation and activity through Christ and the Spirit (Trin., p. 5). This is the total offer of God's self through Christ to the human being who is created as the recipient of the self-communication of God, and who is made capable by the Spirit of receiving God's free gift. (Reference: Trin. p. x. Intro. by Catherine Mowry LaCugna). Gutierrez holds that a profane and a sacred history are not juxtaposed but are one single history assumed by Christ, the Lord of History; the history of salvation is at the heart of human history and the salvific action of God underlies human existence (Reference: Gustavo Gutierrez. Essential Writings. New York: Orbis Books, 1996, p. 79). Rahner, however, holds that the history of salvation and the whole world history are co-existent but not equated, because there is a corresponding history of guilt in world history. (Reference: Joas Adiprsetya. Karl Rahner "Jesus as God's Self Communication in History," available at <http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/ WeirdWildWeb/courses/mwt/dictionary/mwt themes 800>, p.10).
Hesitancies. God the Father is "Source" and the Son is "Offspring," or one may select more neutral titles such as "Lamb," "Light," "Logos," "Lamp of Wisdom," and others. Some Christians hesitate to talk about the Trinity in order not to offend Jewish, Moslem, or Unitarian friends. Through divine inspiration we receive the courage to speak and act. Rather than hesitate, let us make the Trinity the foundation of our collaborative actions.
Farming has its happy memories that are precious many years after events of the past. Non-agrarian people do not understand the underlying good feeling involved in preparing provisions for people and livestock for the winter months ahead. To harvest can be hard work and sometimes quite sweaty, but there can be happy memories; "making silage" was one of them.
Early in the morning of harvest day, we would go into the mixed corn/cane field and cut a path so that the binder/cutter could follow and make corn bundles of green potential silage. Wagons would carry these bundles to our silo, and then the chopping began. (Most harvesting today has the chopping operation in the field itself). The chopped corn/sorghum cane mix was blown into a silo, and we young kids were commissioned to keep the incoming chopped materials somewhat tramped and level, removing extension pipes each in turn as the inside filled over time. We would shout and yell to our hearts' content in the middle of the noise, for the sound of the chopper/blower drowned out our glee. We would climb up higher in the silo and make flying leaps into the soft silage.
At the end of the operation when the silo was full, we would actually haul up a load of dirt and seal the top so no spoilage would occur. Thereupon the sugar-loaded silage would partly perk, and fermented cane juice would seep out at the base of the silo. When hogs were in the area near the silo, they soon would discover the seeping liquid, drink it and stagger away -- for it took little to inebriate them -- and I wonder later if our laughter at the sight was proper respect for dumb animals.
The silage would remain partly fermented and in preparation for good winter feed for hungry dairy cows. As late summer turned into the chill of autumn, and then the cold of winter, the silo would be made ready by removing the protective dirt layer, and the silage would be rationed out over the winter months. The hungry animals would crowd to get ahead of the others to be first at the trough for the tasteful energy- and nutrition-rich silage -- and when feeding them near our supper time made us hungry as well.
Turning materials into livestock feed is always a challenge for a hungry world. The fact emerges that the leftovers from food or biofuel-processing could and is used to feed milk- and meat-producing livestock. This changes the calculations as to whether grain is consumed for fuel when turned into alcohol to run the vast American vehicle fleet. Surely spent grain is a healthy redirection of fuel to feed grain for livestock. Was not silage-making a process of turning grain- and sugar-bearing crops into animal feed as well, though end results were dairy products? "Why livestock feed when hunger is satisfied with direct plant food?"
Prayer: Lord, enlighten us to use all resources properly in this hungry world. Help us make proper decisions as to use of limited grain-producing lands, with global food security in mind.
Pink-tinged color of dry-site Queen Anne's lace, Daucus carota.
August 8, 2020 Rowing as Ideal Physical Exercise
We like to promote the physical exercises that we find beneficial to our own wellbeing -- and that is to be expected whether we be young, middle-aged or elderly. Everyone needs to keep the body functioning in balance, and some exercise does this better than other. There's stretching for those who must sit a long time, and are unable to stand and move about. The point is to choose a particular physical exercise that fits your time, age, sociability demands, budget, and immediate environment.
For over four decades I jogged, and so spoke up on occasion for that noble exercise -- but older age and dangers from traffic and too fragile body parts dictated a change to walking -- a practice of far less public adulation and pride. In part, that is because hiking, strolling, or stepping miles or feet can be an achievement for various people. Walking covers a variety of degrees from brisk striding to limping along, but each has value.
Rowing a boat was always my favorite exercise, but I rarely had access to boats, ideal bodies of water, and proper weather to achieve this. Jogging opportunities were more available; roadways and jogging shoes were easier to procure than boats, oars, and nearby waterways. Now for a daily workout, I undertake one half- hour of stationary "rowing" along with occasional half-hours of walking or gardening as my forms of daily physical exercise. I use a sturdy rowing machine (Concept 2) that, when oiled occasionally, does not wear out easily; cheaper varieties do. This is not meant to be an advertisement except that stationary rowing is hard on machines, and many devices cannot take that much wear-and-tear without overheating and burning out. This machine can be tightened or loosened to the degree that one wants to pull on the handle bars and use both arm and leg muscles with greater or lesser degrees of energy expenditure. The beauty of rowing is that both arm and leg muscles are operative, not just arms as in pushups or legs as in jogging.
This type of exercise does not require electricity, as do some exercise machines; it takes up some space because it is elongated, but also folds up easily and can be moved about the house when rooms are needed for other uses. Another feature is that it does not make annoying sounds like some noisy machines, but only a gentle swishing sound that is not heard at a distance. Nor does this instrument require excessive maintenance, though a little occasional oiling is required. The instrument is relatively light weight and can be torn apart easily to be trucked to a new location. Non-boat rowing has many advantages but lacks change of scenery and fresh air, which could be remedied by where located and possibly use of radio, TV or prayer to pass the time.
Prayer: Lord, bestow on us the courage to keep up our health and to do so through a proper choice of physical exercise. May we be faithful to the types chosen and see how they improve our daily duties.
August 9, 2020Living with the Storms of Insecurity
O you of little faith, why did you doubt? (Matthew 14:31)
I remember a mid-summer storm during my youth. We had the blessed candle flickering as our only light because electricity went out. Darkness enveloped us and we listened to the howling wind and blinked at the blinding flashes of lightning. Then the hail started falling, and it hit the galvanized roof of the house with a roar -- and inside all was silent, for we knew the crops were being destroyed. It was a "great silence" in the middle of a storm, for crop yields and our livelihood were threatened.
Peter sees Jesus walking on the water and seeks security himself, because a storm at sea can make seafarers helpless as well. At the sight of Jesus, Peter jumps out of the boat and soon finds himself sinking after seeking to imitate the one walking on the waters. Fear of the storm and fear of drowning combine in one act. Where will it all end? Peter's life passed before him in a flash as can occur in such circumstances.
How will each of our storms of life end? We need protection, for our future is as uncertain as the battering hail episode or the storm at sea for Peter. We are people adrift and many things can happen before the storms of our lives end. What about the global climate change problem and whether we can check its severity in the coming decade? What about the litany of health problems that may await each of us? What about our families and how they will fare in relationships with others, some of which seem far more uncertain than others?
Many things can frighten us in the storms we have at this time, and fears differ with individuals and each person's imagination. As for the Church, we need only look back in history and find other storms, which were massive and yet, with the grace of God, were endured, and the Christian community continued to grow. The journey of faith is always perilous and contains frightful moments in every age.
Jesus tells us to focus upon him as savior, and put our trust in him. If our faith is deep enough, storms that confront us can be endured, and the new day will bring the bright sunlight of peace. When the Lord is with us we will not sink, but be buoyed up by his presence. Jesus asks each of us to look into our own faith. Oh, we of little faith! With more faith, we can achieve more. The saints of old had deep faith that God would protect them from their enemies. These models of faith took hold of the Lord's hand and walked the distance of what seemed an eternity between when they first saw, and when they accompanied him. We need to rest assured that Jesus is always near with outstretched hands.
Prayer: Lord, move us to engage in looking out for the needs of all. Never let them feel forsaken in the stormy darkness of this period. Give us strength to heal our threatened Earth.
Fowler toad (Bufo fowleri) on slab of fossil-laden Lexington
August 10, 2020Connectedness: Creating a Balanced Practice
This is an age of instant connections, of phones and emails of Twitter and Facebook, of quick travel and fast food stops. In some ways, to be connected overcomes the scourge of isolation; in other ways, connections invade the privacy of our lives and limit our quality time. The challenge for us is to minimize negative aspects that weaken social bonds and to improve the positive ones.
Negatively, we certainly can be overly connected: when we need time to rest and are chattering; when we need time to reflect and are bantering; when we tend to personal needs and are not; when commercials disturb our meals or conversations; when we need to study, worship, or plan and instead must entertain those young or old who cling to us. "Leave me alone" is a common plea of the rest-deprived, and it ought to be honored by all of us.
Positively, we could be underconnected: we have something important to tell; we have forgotten the isolated ones in our lives; we need to reply to the open invitation to participate in an event; we must acquire information on a given subject; we are inspired to add our comments to the conversation; and when we need to commiserate in compassion at a special tragic event.
Six rules for a balanced social or connected life:
1) Insist on private time (daily, weekly, monthly and yearly) when others cannot disturb you in rest, sleep, and reflection -- and allow only the rarest exceptions. Turn off electronic devices;
2) Encourage close-connected parties to have an overlapping "sacred silence" period so disturbances do not accidentally occur;
3) Set priorities for those who need one-on-one connectedness and those who can be included in the conversation through some sort of forwarding technique;
4) Know how to connect on serious matters; an emotional outburst will most likely get to the wrong person sometime or other, so control what is put on the electronic network. Never be overly emotional; cool off before electronically connecting;
5) Outline what will be talked about at a conversation and stick to the points when everyone has limited time to speak; honor the needs of the other parties;
6) Stay connected to the Lord and integrate connectedness with people with a daily prayer life. This is the time we speak at least for some periods with the Lord in a familial way -- and still stay with the Lord spiritually within an atmosphere of gratitude.
Prayer: Lord, we thank you for the opportunities to break the silence of isolation; give us inspiration to connect with others when necessary and in order to be sociable.
A lovely task for the buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia).
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 11, 2020 Finding Plums, A Favorite Wild and Domestic Fruit
Apples, peaches, pears, tomatoes, and a host of berries and no PLUMS on this website! The wild plum is my favorite fruit for this time of year, and yet it has been overlooked. No longer! God gave us all senses for enjoyment and invites us to delight in fine foods, but none excel (in my humble opinion) than that of the small and powerfully-flavored wild plum that grows so prolifically in the northern regions of our fair land. These plums reach as far south as Kentucky, but are far rarer than in the states to the immediate north. When discovered however, wild plums are a fortunate find, precious jewels on a late summer day.
We valued cultivated plums at our home, and these produced fruit according to the variety from late June to well into August. We had the old-time, deep purple Damsons that were so sour that, when eaten raw, would cause one's checks to pucker in. Yes, and this variety made the best plum preserves in the world. At home, we also had Improved Damsons in mid-July, so tart and juicy and very heavy-bearing most years; this variety also makes prized jams and jellies. From that variety my mother made preserves that became filling for her plum puddings.
We had a red variety of blood plum, perhaps the type developed by the famed Luther Burbank. This red plum bore in early summer, was excellent eaten raw, and the trees had a propensity to sprout and those became trees that were excellent bearing as well. In addition there were plums we called "green gage" that grew at the border of property owned by relatives, and these were heavy bearing and had a great flavor as well. What we did not have in youth were the prune varieties that I discovered on trips to the Far West and are the precursors of our standard prunes -- but are excellent when eaten raw. We do have plum trees on our church property, but their fruit has a propensity to rot quickly on the tree. Plums are a joy to pick and eat, provided one did not overindulge.
As noted, the plums of the world do not stop at picking and eating; they are treasured for preserving in a host of ways, because of strong and persistent flavors, textures, and colors as jams, jellies, custards, and then used in puddings, cobblers, pancakes, and even in cakes and breads of all sorts. We never distilled the fermented fruit as occurs and prized in other lands. Plums fresh, dried as prunes or as preserves are for the entire year. The plum tree blooms in spring and offers itself for decoration at seasonal festivals. The plum tree is relatively hearty, withstands wind, and many varieties are not prone to disease. Plum trees are good friends to have around. Again, never neglect this favorite. Plums are like the proverbial "ole shoe;” they are so attached that we fail to mention them to others.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the presence of good fruit of the field and forest; these are the sign of your loving providence in all spiritual matter. Help us to appreciate these good things.
Magnificent patterns of the blackberry lilies.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 12, 2020Debunking Twelve Popular American Myths
1. We can thrive with credit. Hardly! Credit lovers become quite unrealistic over time, and can be drawn into deeper debts with high interest rates, and be bad examples for others.
2. We all ought to own our home. Not so. Many do not: elders in constant care, mentally disturbed, infants and youth, those who move often or travel much, full-time students, people without a steady job, and lousy homemakers -- in fact, 90% of Americans.
3. We can live happily ever after -- in debt. Not so, my friend. Most people find debt is like noise; it disturbs their mental balance when they don't want to admit. To wake up day after day in deep and often deepening debt has a debilitating effect on the quality of life of most people.
4. We can text, eat, drink, phone, and dial up music while driving. Yes, you can if that means "successfully all the time."
Too many accidents disprove that myth through distracted driving.
5. We are a people who believe in God. Not true. We are a nation whose majority affirms they are believers; however, when we look closely, we find that belief is in the god called "money," in whom we trust. The majority only give lip service to GOD.
6.We Americans are number one. Perhaps we are number one in believing we are number one -- but in little else and, for that matter, it is better to be number something else, for it avoids envious glances and is far closer to the truth.
7.We are always good neighbors. Maybe Canada would agree more than the Latin lands to our south, but our neighborliness would be hotly contested by Cuba and those south of the walls.
8. We look out for the common good of all. Hardly ever the case that we think of others before little old "me." Profits for the individual are regarded as a sacred right by many, even for big oil making countless billions of dollars profit each year.
9. We love football. Of course, we mean by football something different from what rest of the world does -- soccer. In fact, our women excel in that emerging sport favorite in this country.
10.We regard corporations as persons. Probably the myth in greatest need of immediate debunking, for corporations are the product of the state, not ones with inalienable rights and duties.
11. We are a peace-loving people. With two or perhaps three wars and half the global military budget, how conceive such a myth?
12. We find nuclear to be clean energy -- Debunked May 23rd.
Prayer: Lord, help us forsake such outlandish myths.
August 13, 2020Challenging the System through Confrontation
The key word in today's reflection title is "challenging," for anyone who struggles with threats to our world knows: when there are no challenges, there is no mortal life. We have deep concerns about the imperfect and unsustainable systems all around us, especially when facing the climate change issues that confront us today. Can we do more than express ourselves in words? Knowing the system's shortcomings is not a reason to excuse ourselves or slip off to our escapes. We are able to offer a blueprint for action (Reclaiming the Commons). As a people we find the urgent need to take back what is rightfully ours. We must challenge those who call themselves "owners of wealth/power" and give hope to those who live in the terror of hunger or homelessness.
Our current challenges include:
* Acting responsibly in our personal lives;
* Questioning our degree of enthusiasm and firmness in faith;
* Refusing to deny the problems we face, and offering no excuse, nor attempting to escape from the scene;
* Accepting that we cannot do this alone and need cooperation of others;
* Developing a climate of intolerance for inequality;
* Being willing to do all in our power -- conversing, praying, writing, preaching, teaching, organizing, encouraging, and confronting others to act accordingly;
* Believing that we can confront climate change and that this is the patriotic thing to do in the spirit of the first American Revolution;
* Resolving to upset the status quo through acceptance of renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuel;
* Confronting a piety of thinking there is nobility in patiently suffering indignities of indebtedness, unemployment, food insecurity, and extreme climate change issues;
* Refusing to remain silent and immobile, and thus play into the hands of the privileged;
* Extending personal care to include others with whom we associate. Individual concern gives way to a broader social concern because I affect others and others affect me by their actions;
* Participating and encouraging others to join in the democratic process by voting, communicating with elected officials, and serving our country;
* Knowing global problems especially climate change require participative input; and finally --
* resolving to create a climate of revolution, a call for profound change, a building of the barricades that stop those few who take what belongs to all, and a demand for fair taxes directed to those who have so much surplus wealth.
Prayer: Lord, lead us to be observant of the signs of our times and to see the need to accept the personal and social challenges facing all of us.
Enthusiasm: The God Within
I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
We are uniquely called, in this age of climate change and pandemic, to heal our wounded Earth, a global undertaking needing collaboration. Promoting this program requires inspiration; continuing it towards completion taps our enthusiasm. For such a grand undertaking we turn to God for assistance to gauge this enthusiasm -- the God within -- so that we can successfully meet our mission. We advance from faith seeking understanding, to faith seeking to serve effectively. We must strengthen our sense of mystery with an energetic and spontaneous enthusiasm. This is expressed through facial features, body language and spoken words. Enthusiasm seems so natural, but is it so? There are non-believing enthusiastic persons who are also beckoned of God to "create" something new. However, believers are keenly aware of being HERE, at this given place and period, the privilege not afforded our ancestors with a sense of urgency, the NOW, and a limit to individual actions leading to join with others, the WE.
The HERE. We each perceive of our place in the world, how well we are conscious of our immediate environment, and the manner in which we conduct ourselves in our locale. Those aware of the HERE do not distance themselves from nature or live in a dream world of idyllic settings. HERE is where we grow in consciousness of unique place, while still aware of a wounded Earth. Hereness contains mystery: mystery around or influences that defeat our notion of self-sufficiency; mystery beyond is up ahead, the "hereafter," which draws us as by a teleological force to our destiny, (something imprecise due to interference in the limited measuring procedure -- an ecological Heisenberg Principle); and Mystery within, acknowledged in faith as God's presence within us.
Through history many believers look up heavenward while St. Francis and others see God's glory shining in all of Earth's creatures. By looking up we sense the Hereafter; by looking down we see Earth and our neighbors; by looking both ways we refuse to define an exact HERE and admit to the consoling restlessness of our soul. The HERE at the mid-point may resemble Rahner's schwebende Mitte, or the person who is suspended between the world and God, "this boundary line is the point of his [human being] definition and his destiny." An authentic HERE demands growth, lest our enthusiasm wanes. Destiny is a divine invitation, a gift of being aware that Earth is gift in flux. Life's pilgrimage is grace-laden, a passage rather than a point in space. We are restless, for nothing finite can fully satisfy us.
The NOW. Time has reality, direction, a past and a future. While we live the present moment, we are moved both by past experience and future hopes. Thus, the NOW is more than an environmental awareness of rising sun, time of day, or seasonal changes; NOW is composed of past aspirations that help fashion a future destiny. Our past involves forgiven or unforgiven experiences and memories, a partial mystery that brings us to this day. Some past knowledge is good for direction; too much makes us walk backward in history, and we can stumble and fall. The future looms as foreboding, for future is indefinite as to specificity. Here the Mystery beyond emerges again as to time and not just space. The way we treat our future gives quality to our present moment Accepting an indefinite future is trust in God's mercy.
The present is the coalescing of past experience with future destiny and is an ever-deepening mystery. Present time does not stand still, but changes at each moment, as St. Augustine reflects upon in Chapter 10 of The Confessions. The immediacy of knowing climate, weather and sunrise and sunset is part of the ecologically conscious NOW. The present is given direction and magnitude by the past; it is further qualified by an indefinite future destiny and yet coalescing to constitute the NOW of our life's journey.
Past -------------- NOW ---------------------Future
God-given time is brief (Psalm 90:10), and can end in an instant. We must steward our time well through gratitude and responsibility. Our restlessness involves our imperfect but forgiven past and our indefinite future trust in God's mercy, thus our Mystical Moment.
The WE. Our work is not isolated but needs "others" (human and also plants and animals), for we are social beings existing on a two-dimensional plane with multiple linear relationships. This relationship grows in time in a three-dimensional volumetric relationship. Furthermore, the WE also has a trinitarian character that touches once more on the mystery within, the mystery without and the mystery beyond. As individual persons, we confront our self-awareness of limited time and place that can never be fully determined nor secured by our individual resources. As social and historical beings, we look about for companionship and support with others in the vicinity, and we are drawn as social beings to a collective future.
The "others" are those distinct but bonded to us through an emerging relationship and helping to constitute the WE, the ecological Commons. Bonds help enhance our individuality and enthusiasm, where HERE becomes a home and when NOW is a mystical moment. The WE is destined to expand and deepen as emerging communities of faith awaiting and hastening the coming New Heaven and New Earth. In freedom some say "yes" and some say "no," making the WE a multidimensional problem area. The recurring question is how does the Christian draw another's attention to the fuller WE, an evangelization, -- by word, or deed, or both?
The Three as One: HERE, NOW and WE. The trinitarian imprints are found in an expanded environmental consciousness: HERE, focuses on God, who creates all creatures worthy of protection, NOW involves Christ's past event and future coming as a present mystical moment, and WE are all inspired to work together for the Common Good. Our three components work in harmony and allow us to be unique persons, but working in collaboration to save our Earth.
Prairie that is ready to be cleared by scything.
August 14, 2020 Exposing Misuse of the Air Commons
Everything is connected to everything else.
Barry Commoner's First Law of Ecology
This reflection begins in the most common of the commons: the air we breathe. We ought to know some of this air has been polluted by others, and our right to clean air has been violated. We accept partial blame for damage to the air commons either by what we have done or what we have failed to do.
The fragile air commons (a res nullius) cannot be bounded, subdivided, or measured out to users, but it can be damaged by specific polluters through exploitative infringement on the air commons. As social beings, we realize that fresh air belongs to all of us, for air and water on this planet are essential and absolutely necessary for vitality. Likewise we know that fragile nascent human life or "being born" requires human protective measures and responsibility. The life of this planet is fragile as well, and we are able to threaten that life by misuse of our air. Seeing our world as "one great act of giving birth" (Rom.8:22) requires us to become pro-life, and to champion the entire web of life; we must accept responsibility for this fragile living-but-threatened planet. Environmental protection is being pro-life.
Our ancestors did not know human beings have the power to threaten all planetary life. With time, we have become more aware of what we can do for good or evil. Those with social concerns are becoming more aware of the unsettling current situation where combusting fossil fuel is leading to a catastrophe, a situation of profound climate change. Are we responding? Some Americans who pollute the air (along with legislative partisans), still deny that human beings contribute to this emerging condition. Our citizen responsibility calls us to say "no" to fossil fuels and "yes" to renewable energy substitutes. Are we willing to accept blame for what goes wrong in our world, or do we like to assign blame outside of ourselves to an imperfect world of others? Even if I do not willfully dirty the air, do I accept the blame of allowing this condition to exist and endure at this time? This responsibility on the part of the human family, of which I am a member, bears heavily upon us all at this time.
Two aspects of misuse of all the commons are uncovered -- the relinquishment of proper treatment of the commons by all of us, and the failure to take corrective actions on the part of all through the democratic process. As responsible citizens we must undertake political actions to the degree in which each of us can protest and confront the system. Both our mistreatment of resources and our failure to confront maltreatment are harmful. We can speak to, write to, lobby, and petition legislators to take corrective measures. This year we vote and encourage others to do the same.
Prayer: Lord, guide us to reflect on what constitutes a vital environment, and how we can become environmentally active.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Good Shepherd Church, Frankfort, KY.
August 15, 2020 Seeing Mary in Place, Time, and Among Us
Mary is assumed into heaven; this means she goes ahead of us in time. She is not so distant that she is removed from our purview; in fact Mary is very near to us at all times.
Mary's place is HERE; here within our local communities, where Earth's resources are being threatened through human misuse. We see the troubles and we know that they affect some of us more than others. Mary is present to those who are suffering in any way, and especially those among the poor. She comes to believers from every land who are willing to enter this global struggle and set their vision on a truly global commons. She touches "common" folks, who are not beholden to particular financial interests, and who know their humble place in the economy of salvation. She is present to those who strive to make ends meet in a world of food insecurity and limited housing. She encourages those who down-size their expectations and change to realistic awareness of their limited needs. She accompanies Christ to those who share the commons with their neighbor.
The time is NOW. Mary knows the urgency of our times, for we must act; life ebbs away both for us who are concerned and for this special moment to confront the climate that we are causing to change. Time is running out and the issue will not be resolved completely in our lifetimes, but we must prepare for what is to come. Power resides in a community of commoners who can rise and become reclaimers, those seeing an urgency and a willingness to become involved. Yes, we have dreams that are not yet realized but require our limited time. This twenty-first century is not totally ours, but we must cherish the moment we are given as gift. Mary accompanies Christ in encouraging us to act now.
WE are the participants. Mary beckons us to come to Jesus, her son, not just on an individual pathway, but in the well-trodden path of communal service. The Body of Christ is our manner of acting in a cooperative manner. Mary is involved in that community of the communion of saints in eternal space and time -- and she is queen of a heavenly court that consists of a vast multitude of all people, not just the privileged few. We seek to bring dreams to reality in a compassionate way, and so WE means power residing in all who suffer for and with others to some extent. We imitate Mary in knowing our place in the world, a stance that can make a difference if we act with others in a collaborative fashion. We must do what the Magnificat says and bring down those in high places and raise the lowly to take what is rightfully theirs (and ours). We cannot do it alone, but need the community effort, that of the Church Triumphant with Mary in a leading role, and the participation of all people of good will acting together.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to see the place of Mary as model who is ahead of us in space and time, and who yearns to accompany us on our mission within a community of believers.
A collected old coffee container becomes home for new family.
August 16, 2020 Universalism: Extending Care to All
The Gospel reading (Matthew 15: 21-28) speaks of someone who is a non-Israelite creating a scene when she comes pestering Jesus to cure her daughter -- and the disciples want to dismiss her. Doesn't she know that Jesus has a mission to his own people? If she waits her turn, the disciples will carry their commission to her people in a few years. However, some cannot wait. This Syro-Phoenician woman goes to great lengths to beg Jesus to heal her child. She knows she is an outsider and is willing to imitate the dogs who receive scraps from the master's table -- for that is sufficient for those who are hungry. Her words touch Jesus very deeply, and he cures her daughter and commends her faith -- as he would also do for the Roman centurion. Jesus testifies that foreigners as well as Jewish people can have great faith, and this message takes a more universalist tone during his ministry.
The concept of universalism was not popular either in Jesus' day or our own. To say that others will share some of the privileges that we possess challenges our sense of privilege. "I am better than you" is far more popular and conveys itself in so many of our attitudes at the global, national, regional and local levels, among families and clans, in schools and in church situations. We desire to be exclusively privileged with identity, patriotic spirit, and societal acceptance by peers. Being exclusive can give a sense of being removed from those who are of less worth or being at a distance from bad qualities or events. But no matter how enticing exclusivism is, there lurks in the back of our mind that heaven is not exclusive. It includes a vast number -- the poor, the ugly, the defaced, the sinners now forgiven, and the other races, creeds and colors. The saints call out for universalism or catholicity with a small "c." God's mercy is far richer and all embracing than our own -- and is inclusive.
This raises a further question, are we ever permitted to be exclusive? St. Paul, that great champion of universalism, gives us hints to this answer as well. At times, our concept of universalism could be threatened; to exclude others is to retain the vitality of our community and thus at times "excommunication" could be a valid practice. We do not want those malcontents who disrupt what we are doing, though with their change of behavior, we must always be ready to welcome them back.
Exclusive behavior is only a prelude to a greater sense of inclusiveness in the mission we need to do. We desire to work with all people in the great enterprise of salvation. Those suffering remind us of the fertile field of mercy that must be extended to them. They invite us to share with them the Good News -- and their patience through suffering gives us hope as well. We cannot delay when others suffer from the terrorism of food insecurity. Our brothers and sisters need help as part of our universal embrace.
Prayer: Lord, strengthen us for the day before us. Help us respond to the invitation to share with others who are in need.
August 17, 2020 Struggling to Keep Water Supplies Accessible
Arrogance and gratitude mix like fire and water. The current efforts to steal our water resources by all sorts of privateers invite actions by commoners, who regard water as a free God-given gift -- the commons. Water is essential for life on this blue-green planet covered with much water, most of which is not potable. In areas where higher quality drinking water is scarce, the temptation is to privatize this resource. For instance, near Sitka in sparsely settled Alaska, Blue Lake holds billions of gallons of water so pure it needs no treatment. The temptation to privatize and ship this water to Mumbai, India is immense; in fact, one Alaskan company has acquired rights to ship 3 billion gallons of this water annually from Alaska to India.
Transferring supplies are not as bothersome as transferring water rights to privateers. By 2040, the UN predicts that fresh water demands will outstrip supplies by 30%. Free marketers talk about rising prices and thus bringing supply and demand into balance -- but water prices will go to the highest bidder, not the poor who are thirsty. Callous privateers see water to be as valuable as oil, and the plan to go with what the market will bear -- and that means primarily to private water and soft drink bottlers. Profits do not favor environmental protection or human rights, only big suppliers and big distributors. According to the World Bank, investment is going strong right now with water supply markets rising rapidly. Some water-rich lands like Russia and Canada will benefit, and some water-poor desert nations may perhaps fight over distribution of potentially-shared water supplies.
China and India are having potable water shortages and, as water systems are privatized, fewer who thirst at the poorer end have access to essential water. In America, a number of cities with infrastructure water treatment and supply problems are thinking about going private, and yet others have had their fill of private operators. Some point out that competition is limited to bidding and then the privateer with the contract virtually can monopolize the supply and market. These privateers can skimp on quality assurance, neglect water conservation, and shift environmental costs back to the public sector.
Water should be free; delivery from its supply source may not be; nor is monitoring endpoint water use. As supplies dwindle and demand holds steady or rises, water will get more costly. Profits ought not to be part of the picture, and privateers who care little about future infrastructure ought not be involved. Nor ought rising prices be the prime incentive for water conservation, for here the poor suffer most. Monitoring water delivery systems is difficult because piping is mainly underground and not easily checked; the private water people are enticed to cut corners. Water as commons ought to always remain publicly accessible.
Prayer: Lord, show us the needs of those who are thirsty in this world, and help us ensure that they have water to drink.
Wild hyacinth, Camassia scilloides, by the water's edge.
August 18, 2020 Managing Private Property as Good Stewards
Proper land use baffles all of us, since some land is unused, some underused, some overused, some misused, and some ought to be made off limited for human use altogether. Ideally, the public ought to monitor, allot, and requisition lands for the common good, for private individuals are caretakers for a limited period, but can so often regard the land as theirs to use or misuse in an autocratic manner. So ingrained is this way of using land, that its commons characteristics are so often overlooked or neglected.
Land is tangible, definable and able to be delineated. Sedentary people were quick to enclose what nomads often regarded as open common space. Private holdings are possible, can be delineated and often needed for food production and residential lodging. Land misuse includes an atmosphere of absolute control over acquiring, retaining, and using land -- an attitude fraught with absolutist cultural traditions, which must be totally revised in a land-limited world. Damaged and underused land in this world must be reclaimed by acts of good communal stewardship. Thus proper land use is a shared responsibility of all people, not just individualized stewardship of title-holders. Misuse of land is evident: erosion through overgrazing and improper agricultural and mining practices; enclosure of large amounts of land for exclusive private interests; unplanned development and urbanization; and failure to reclaim damaged land.
Right to common land clashes with right to private property. An enhanced sense of global land needs limits amounts of privately- controlled land. Forests, wilderness, watersheds, and scarce food-producing areas are essential as commons, not as self-proclaimed private landholding privilege. Historically, land titles were liberally dispensed to colonists, homesteaders, and railroad companies while neglecting native commons claims. However, an evolving concept of commons makes localities a global neighborhood -- and redistribution becomes a communal stewardship issue. Since individuals often lack experience and resources to reclaim land, governmental controls are necessary. A "commons sense" leads to communally-defined landholding limits and proper land use.
Affirming that we ought to work towards less privatization and more public land seems to fly in the face of patriotic American concepts. First, leases to public lands ought to be time-sensitive, and such lands revert to the public domain. Secondly, the areas in extensive private control when well managed ought to become the public domain, with current holders allowed to continue with limited land use periods. Jubilee Years ought to be declared on all wealth including land. This Jubilee could be regulated fairly through special taxation on surplus properties and wealth -- so that redistribution can take place for the Common Good.
Prayer: Lord, open our eyes to see all land as Holy Land, redeemed in the price of the blood of Christ.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 19, 2020 Contrasting the Material and Spiritual Culture
We live in a world in which we need to show that the material motivation of profit-making for wealth on an individual basis is a weakness; taken in excess this could destroy our world. On the other hand the profits or benefits of a spiritual nature must be promoted; these benefits should go to all people, especially to the poor and destitute. The secular society in which we are immersed makes attaining and retaining money the only reality; this must be confronted and changed to spiritual profit-making.
Material Culture Spiritual Culture
Obtaining for self Sharing with others
is goal for the Common Good
Greed is a virtue Doing justice for all
worth promoting must be promoted
Power over others Power with others
Corporations are persons Corporations are creatures
with "rights" of the state
Affluent consumers Sharing essentials with
drive the economy needy drives the economy
to fulfill wants to fulfill needs
Wealth will trickle down Wealth must be shared
Material profit motivates Establishing justice motivates
Free market is self- Market is only fair if
Superrich are to be Superrich ought to be liberated
models of virtue from their own excesses
No more taxes More fair taxes
More private property Limited property for all,
with few restrictions no large estates
Privatize utilities Retain public utilities
Unlimited salaries Limited salaries retained
Less Government More monitored government at
at higher levels all levels
Prayer: Lord, awaken in us an awareness of the cultural differences in our world; do not allow a dysfunctional materialistic culture to distract us from seeking justice.
Delicate seeds of the white sweet clover, Melilotus albus.
August 20, 2020 Recognizing World Health As Global Security
A healthy world is our dream, and this can be a possibility -- though we know the great toll of human illness that presently exists. Sick and famished children and those of all ages with easily preventable and curable illnesses call out to our compassion. The best medicine and treatments in the West and North should be available in the South and East, or otherwise a grave disparity exists in our world. Untreated and easily preventable sicknesses cry to heaven, but for a developed world to allow such conditions actually destabilizes communities at all levels. We affirm that access to health facilities is a human right, and not just that of a privileged few. Translating right action involves practical application; this means expanded access to the poor and all classes of people alike. Yes, that is expensive.
Rationing as minimum involves being inclusive as best we can with available health resources, especially services found in clinics that come at low-cost. Our attention turns to primary health care: pre-natal care, universal vaccination for common diseases, hydration for those suffering from dysentery, protection from malaria (mosquito netting), basic medicines for preventable diseases, and supplements for the malnourished. The World Health Organization (WHO) is already running many programs costing as low as a few dollars per person per year. Expanding these programs globally would only take a fraction of the global military budget -- and diversion to universal health is a global security issue.
Rationing as maximum involves choices of all forms of elective treatments and new medicines for patients with a range of degrees of sickness, age, and condition. Are these services available for the very poor in Haiti and parts of Africa? The irony is that some of these developing lands have more native-born health personnel working in North American and European health facilities than in their own impoverished countries. Paying expatriates to return to their homelands and serve their own is one possibility. Inviting others from developed lands to serve for time periods is another.
Insecurity of all forms threatens the social order, especially when victims know others have better access, whether fortunate people in the local community or beyond. Health-care rationing occurs on battlefields as "triage," or dividing victims into degrees of effective care, namely, those critically in need of treatment and possible surviving with immediate attention, those in between and requiring longer-term attention at moderate cost, and those too far gone to benefit from receiving immediate attention. Battlefield situations exist in health; global health triage could be based on success possibilities, patient's age, and costs. The world's military is often directed to costly natural or human-caused disasters where it does a credible job. Military-to-health-care funds are a security and peace dividend.
Prayer: Lord, grant us the willingness to convert swords into medical facilities and to expand universal health care to all.
The Triune God at Work in Us
The glory of the Creator is present in all creation, from all aspects of the universe, from artifacts we produce and services we render; artifacts require a maker and services a renderer. Interior enthusiasm becomes our profession of faith in action, for our godly acts express the God within. If a Triune God has perfect interior harmony, then the divine harmony must be seen as well in the godly works we perform, for we are made to God's image. Doesn't the Big Bang still harmonize and resound in the universe after billions of years? Does God's grace flood the universe with a harmony perceived through prayer and compassion? Don't we experience harmony coursing through our body when listening to or making music? Let's recall that musical notes were how Ignatius of Loyola perceived the glimmer of the Trinitarian Mystery.
Body organs work together. As created in God's image and especially as adopted children of God, believers radiate godliness by manifesting harmony in their individual lives. Our bodily parts radiate harmony and well-being; hands fashion clay, head plans use of our creative powers, and an inspired heart moves to serve others. Head directs use of hands; heart, that traditional seat of emotions, gives inspiration to head and hands. Human works and services are meant to be shared. A harmonized movement of hands giving, head reflecting and heart expressing loving service yields a quality product. The harmony is all the more manifest when HERE and NOW of one's individual life are in balance with a social WE.
Harmony. Anticipated order or harmony is derived from the Greek harmos or fitting. Human beings seek that which is fitting and pleasing in art or other works and services rendered to fellow human beings. Harmonious action is pleasing and can convey a feeling of well-being to a community. Concordant notes, measured rests and beats, and a sense of modulation of chords all create an atmosphere that is most pleasing to music lovers. This sense of pleasure goes beyond music and includes dance, visual or dramatic art, architecture, culinary delights, scientific discoveries, well-tended farms and gardens, health care, hairstyling, home decoration, administration, and liturgical practice. Harmony leads to and results from creative effort and is praiseworthy. Harmony helps produce works and services that are appreciated by all and enhances social harmonizing; artists create artifacts and organizers enhance communities; gardeners grow produce and homemakers establish homes; Earthhealers renew a threatened world and hospice workers support the dying. Loving deeds encourage a ripple effect, though we must admit that disharmonies abound.
Work of our hands. St. Irenaeus says in a figurative manner that God created the world by the Son and the Spirit, or "His two hands." Jesus was a carpenter's son and regarded handiwork with dignity. Elite classical disregard for practical work gave way to seeing tools as needed for saving labor and giving time and dignity to working people. Hands, head and heart are needed for plows, hoes, windmills, and vehicles of all types. In time we realize value, importance and even nobility of working with one's hands -- a divine calling in a deeply Christian world. In healing Earth, we engage in sweaty, hard labor -- and that involves the creative power of our accumulated experience through scientific, engineering, medical, legal, economic and political efforts. And essentially, hands are needed to help spread the Good News.
Work of the head. Medieval theologians following in the footsteps of Augustine saw a trinitarian pattern in the human thought process, with memory giving way to understanding and intelligible word and this giving way to willing acts. The brain is meant to think, to engage in keen observation, to utilize rational principles, to help test and design properly, and to form words, which are uttered. We sing songs of praise; we say healing words, and perform good deeds; we proclaim the Good News throughout the world. We use our rational powers to extend the good gifts and affirm the essential nature of our head in doing things.
Work of the heart.My heart is ready, God -- I mean to sing and play (Psalm 108:1). The hearts of the concerned respond to the urgent calls for help; they are moved by destruction of our landscape, polluted rivers, and endangered wildlife. If we as a community of beings have been remiss in allowing injury to occur, then we, as a people working together, must rebuild and renew a damaged social order. And the will to do so is taken to heart. The work that extends the love we have for God's creation to those hurt by misdeed is heartening. In accepting our responsibility to glorify Earth, we are impelled in a heartfelt manner to join others.
Are works of the head more masculine and of the heart more feminine? Perhaps, for such could be complementary. Is the heart that the Holy Spirit permeated with love so feminine that one could dare to call Spirit a "she"? (The Hebrew Ruah is feminine and the Greek Pneuma is neuter). Furthermore, Mary is the heart of our Earth, saying "yes" to its redemption, the recreation of its "glory" as God's dwelling, the "eternal feminine" (in Teilhard's words) who delights in God and God in her. Social harmony of every kind -- masculine and feminine -- leads to collaboration.
The Spirit impels us to act, but we crave deeper harmony in renewing our Earth. Physician, heal yourself first! We seek to act in a godly manner with ready hands, probing heads, and sincere hearts; we renew, pronounce a knowing word, and show gratitude for being able to be of ever greater service. Through harmony we can heal a wounded Earth, and enlighten discouraged victims. We rise as individuals and communities, knowing the urgency of times and limitations in resources. Challenges become opportunities to express needs in word and solutions in joyful deed. The interplay of interior enthusiasm and external expression is vital. This integral act of harmonizing reflects the Trinity at work in us, for we express love of God through service to others. As Jesus gives us the more perfect commandment to love as he loves, we ask how this is possible. We grow in this love by being open so God can work through us, for God's love empowers us to greater harmony.
Listen to the wind in the brush. A maze of dried flower clusters at sunset.
August 21, 2020 Balancing Sounds and Silence
We are all aware of the need for silence in life; we also know that sounds that can comfort or disturb us. The challenge is one of balancing the times of silence and those of sounds that are in harmony with a quality of life. Furthermore, how to we extend that balance beyond our personal arena to the household and local community with varied expectations? We can live with the stress of noise or with oppressive isolation of silence, but life is difficult for us. Are we people of compromise in order that all might live in relative peace? The questions are simple enough; the solutions are not.
The right to silent space/time often conflicts with those seeking to enjoy themselves with laughter, song and animated conversation. A higher quality of life needs to have a harmony of sounds and silence, not one to the detriment of some and the perfect satisfaction of others. Creating a communal balance requires compromises. Merely objecting to excessive sound does not create a more enduring condition where some can talk and sing and celebrate and others can sleep and rest.
Success consists of compromise with making, avoiding, and suppressing sound so that all are willing to accept results. We soon recognize that barriers can be constructed to contain or exclude sounds. The community-balancing process includes starting local educational programs, fact-finding using noise meters, listening to the demands of those with delicate auditory senses, encouraging proper rest time, and allowing a certain amount of celebratory activity in given places at specific times. If we seek to compromise and balance sounds and silence at the local level, we grow in the confidence that we can reclaim a broader commons on the global level. The best defense is a good offense: confronting conflicts of self-interest (insensitive noise-making or extraordinary demands for silence) requires open and listening change agents who work with all parties for the Common Good.
Compromises require public participation, not through a fiat on the part of one or other authority. All parties ought to see the need for the other. We ought to sound off about our sounds/ silence balances, and to ensure that all find wisdom in allowing others to make sounds or to rest in peace. Certainly there ought to be a time and place for both -- and a willingness to contain sounds at certain places and times. We need to adhere to steps taken and recognize the needs of all. Noise can so easily occur that breaking rules of this sort is quite easy. Third, we ought to apologize when rules are broken, in order to keep all parties somewhat happy. Yes, even in this congested and noisy world we can learn to live together quite well, and to do so in a harmonious manner of respectful sound and silence.
Prayer: Lord, render to us the gift to make sound and the patience to keep silence, and help some to celebrate and others get their needed rest all in their proper places and times.
The red fox, Vulpes vulpes. Washington Co., KY.
August 22, 2020 Encouraging people to be Change Agents
Major structural changes are needed for improving our economic and political system. Some have talents to become leaders and require the encouragement of all to bring this about and help save our wounded Earth. To encourage others means assisting them to experience the sources and realize the causes of today's woes. Some do not want to; some are cynical; some are afraid that it may upset peers; and some are lacking in faith in the future.
We each need hope while we engage in becoming more radical agents of change -- that is getting to the root of the problem. In order to avoid violent confrontation the special talents of the peace-loving agent are needed. Thus peaceful radicals may be drawn to abrupt turns and actions on their paths to justice, but it demands reflection prior to action and an ability to work in a collaborative manner.
Becoming known as radical who could be violent could result in being marginalized and the message is lost amid emotional words. Peace in a sea of armed citizens is always a challenge. We have a gradual educational process in which people hear about something and begin to accept it in stages, thus unknowingly becoming radicalized as an educational process -- and that is what these essays are all about. A teacher cannot beat education into a person but must have a patience that others find irritating. Radicalization is an educational process, and change agents need to first be good learners and second good teachers, not violent in any practice including their teaching methods.
The topic of restructuring our economic and political system is not on everyone's lips, and in fact it appears to be on few agendas because of the name calling, lack of understanding, current popularity of material profit-making, and an atmosphere of trivia that crowds out any type of serious reflection. The absence of needed community learning is not meant to remain hidden. The place and time is right. What emerges in our reclaiming of the commons is to counter air, water, and land infringement as well as to preserve our past treasures, to proclaim our future wellbeing, and to enliven the present moment.
How do we persuade others to enter into the fray? How do we get them to see the situation, to want their own offspring to be better off, and to see that their efforts are part of a total global effort? The chatter of Twitter and Facebook and cell phone interchanges can be contributive if properly placed and well received. However, we must remind ourselves that our generation suffers from information overload -- and much of the information is trivia. The task of persuading others is daunting but this calls all to believe that we bring about changes with persistence.
Prayer: Lord, mold our patience to see that changes may come about in imperceptible ways while we live; help us see that we can save our threatened world with your guidance and grace.
Lemon balm with visitor.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 23, 2020 Rattling the Keys of the Kingdom
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be considered bound in heaven. (Matt. 16:19)
The words of Jesus are still as astounding today as though he spoke them two thousand years ago. Do real powers come down from heaven and reside with mere imperfect human beings? Are human beings worthy of that power? As a believer I give the first answer as "yes" and the second as "no."
The power to do something of a divine character is hard for us to fathom at first. But Christ came among us and invited us through Baptism into the Divine Family. We join with the resurrected Lord who commissions us to do things far beyond our own imagining. The powers he mentions are truly immense -- driving out devils, speaking in tongues, giving up one's life for the Gospel, curing the ill, and on and on. We enter in various ways into this movement to save others and even Earth herself. These powers are not symbolic or allegorical, but are real and actual. In God's name we can act -- but we must be people of faith, for empowerment, spiritual trust, and faith go together.
Yes, the power that we believe has been transferred through the Apostles involves forgiveness of sin. The keys rest in God's mercy. We want to hear from another that we are forgiven in a personal manner. We want to be told that what we are craving in our hearts is right, that we are on the right road, and that we are encouraged to continue. The key is in the hand of the Almighty and it passes on to human beings through the power of the risen Lord. As ordained ministers, we believe that we hold the awesome key in a special way, and that we help make this key operative along with the unordained. Belief in these powers is needed for the key to operate and have its effect within the world community.
No, those of us who receive these powers are never worthy. We can approach worthiness over time but never completely, for the power given is bestowed even though we are called when unworthy. We do not first become worthy and then get power. To the unworthy, God gives power -- and this includes the power to save our wounded Earth. We can see this power, believe that we must use it responsibly, and act accordingly. A study of Church history may trigger critics to name bad popes or irresponsible actions on the part of church ministers or followers. We acknowledge a human church has existed accordingly. But we can't forget that no other small group of 265 persons (the number of popes from Peter to now) has had so many recognized saints (over 100) who responded generously to the invitation to exercise certain powers. All believers share in power to some degree, not because they are deserving, but because they are called in this time and place.
Prayer: Lord, move us to see that keys to the Kingdom include our calling to heal and help re-create our wounded Earth, and to see this as a sacred calling given to us in Christ's own words.
August 24, 2020 Taxing the Rich For God's and Our Sake
The privileges allowed to the rich to retain their wealth (a commons for the good of all) must be challenged in this age of growing inequality. Such wealth is a threat to our democracy. Benefits accruing from taxing wealth include:
* Personal benefits arise through a better understanding of democratic process by participating people; these are encouraged to distribute wealth to those in need. Blindness by the affluent results in misunderstanding of the essential needs of the poor. Solidarity could accrue with the hungry, thirsty, and homeless who are satisfied through redistribution of resources, thus relieving the dehumanizing conditions of poverty.
* Local economies could provide affordable housing and small farms could use local labor and resources, enhancing the economy. The reduced wealth of individuals would allow for a reevaluation of what it means to make a profit. Motivation would be purified to where "profits" could be transformed from a materialistic to a spiritual set of goals for the benefit of all.
* Regional area development will come when funds are available through fair taxation. Enhanced democratic selection of candidates and elected representatives will result in limits on campaign spending. With proper funding, health and educational facilities and programs would be expanded to cover basic needs of all people and not just those of the privileged few.
* National targets of higher taxes include reducing national debt, along with resource conservation and efficiency programs and enhancement of renewable energy alternatives. National goals of employment opportunities will be met through infusion of funds for rebuilding infrastructures (roadways, irrigation projects, fast speed railways, park areas, and food and water storage systems).
* International cooperation is needed at every level of protection of the commons (air and space, water protection and distribution, maritime travel and safety, wilderness and fragile areas, access to health and educational facilities, compromises on areas and times of sounds and silence, and movement of goods and people). Through fair taxes, existing programs of assistance to developing countries will be expanded.
* Global security could be enhanced with more funding coming to people who are unemployed and those who are hungry and homeless. Tensions are allayed through reduction in disparity in global wealth. Reduced military expenditures should shift more problem resolution to diplomatic and financial arenas, and curb the powerful influence of the industrial/military complex.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to look out and see all who are in need, and to resolve to do something about it through redistribution of world resources in a non-violent manner.
Soft morning light falls upon a family farm. Mercer Co., KY.
August 25, 2020 Becoming Prophetic Builders of a Just System
Paralysis, not free movement, dominates the public scene. Tranquility ensues when the public becomes so enamored by materialistic excess that commercials block out objections. Where are the believers called to be prophetic? Remaining silent in the face of materialism is a partisan act, an act of idolatry, a failure that reduces us to economic slavery. To act or not to act is the question, and religious institutions are called to act. Why ignore those lacking essentials of life? Why should 2,000 billionaires control wealth when two billion people are needy?
Silence permeates business, educational, health, and even church circles. Are civic and church leaders expected to be court chaplains to the rich? Established systems, whether secular or religious are often dependent on the traditional economic and political systems to survive. Public critique of the existing political system brings disapproval, and a certain covert "red lining" of criticizing institutions or individuals. Who dares to lock horns with loyal supporters and donors who are dutiful promoters of the state religion of money? Excessive wealth remains overlooked in some religious communities, for that is the hand that feeds those institutions into a respectful silent state.
Today, within our culture, it is unpatriotic to frustrate the wheels of consumption. Do we forget that self-denial is a virtue that is practiced according to religious tradition (Advent, Lent, Ember Days, Ramadan, Yom Kippur, etc.)? We may agree to self-denial in principle, e.g., saying "no" to drugs and alcohol. Religious-sponsored educational and charitable institutions have generally started quite small and with degrees of freedom to act. As they age, they prosper, take on larger commitments, maintain more involved physical facilities -- and gradually lose their freedom to speak or act prophetically. Thus occurs over time a gradual almost unnoticed toning down of justice-related issues. We must strive to be dutiful stewards of the gifts that make the institutions public and visible, e.g., the Roman Emperor Constantine's legalization of church structures had mixed benefits.
Silence mutes prophetic voices and reduces private institutions to healing, relief, and teaching -- but never being critical of the system in all its unsustainability and unfairness. Even though numerically weak (one-tenth of the population) in the 1770s, churches played an important role in the first American Revolution. Today the majority identifies as religious believers of some sort, and yet prophetic voices are muted in business, political, and even religious programs. Where are prophetic voices? Critical evaluation of materialistic policies such as climate change denying and continued support of the fossil fuel industry must be countered forthrightly and openly.
Prayer: Lord, call us to be prophetic and to never lose heart when others seek to tone us down and seek to maintain the status quo in our economic and political system.
A flower as a canvas of vivid colors of nature.
August 26, 2020Revealing Elements for Restructuring the System
We need to designate and coordinate several elements related to the various parts of a system that is dysfunctional and unsustainable.
Air: Accepting that Climate Change is of human causation. This involves seeing ourselves as partly to blame for the damage done to our wounded planet.
Water: Taking essential water supplies as needed. Water is part of the commons and privatization of water resources is a heinous crime against humanity.
Land:Making public large private estates. The world is in need of land to grow crops and to furnish housing for people; fragile lands can be damaged by privatization; common wilderness must be preserved for wildlife habitat and flyways.
Culture:Challenging a materialistic profit motivation. A spiritual understanding of culture honors the richness of past peoples and even primitive cultures. These treasures including endangered languages must be preserved for the benefit of all even if it takes public resources to preserve them.
Health facilities:Demanding basic health access for all people. To counter the argument that universal health is too expensive, we ought to regard this is proper investment in the future. The West fails to see health care as part of global security, and thus the massive military budgets should be diverted to universal health access.
Intellectual: Promoting the concept of reclaiming the commons. Intellectual understanding of the concept and publicizing this to the world is a major challenge that takes creative use of available Internet and other global communication resources.
Silent space: Balancing the need for rest and public expression. Silence has a place and so does making proper sound. We need to give each its proper respect and to do so through community participation and compromise.
Movement of goods: Redistributing wealth to a world in need. The process of imposing fair taxes on all, and not just on portions of society with less power to resist, is at the heart of a movement that questions "No new taxes." Rather acclaim, "Only fair taxes."
Movement of people: Defending the right of people to move. We must defend the free movement of workers, refugees, the oppressed, and those wishing to travel from place to place.
Prayer: Lord, enlighten us to see that many elements must work together for the betterment of the social order; give us the courage to openly promote these elements.
August 27, 2020 Promoting World Federalism to Save Our Earth
We need authors of a new set of Federalist Papers, except the motivation must not be trade, commerce and material profits, but rather sharing the commons. A set of Global Federalist Papers needs to be based on sharing essential goods and the promotion of spiritual profits. Unless we do this and do it rapidly, the world will divide into warring factions of gated communities and roving and starving masses of people unable to live in inundated coastlands. The scenario of an unequal world is so frightening that we do not wish this on our future generations -- and yet this is a possible catastrophe unless we change our ways.
A world federalist community of nations is the only answer. However, just as the Articles of Confederation were not suitable to sustain our collection of colonies-turned-states in the immediate post-Revolutionary War period, so today the United Nations in its current format is unable to meet the needs of the poor and lower-income people of our Earth, nor the threatened and endangered species of plants and animals that are among us.
Lack of willingness can hold us back. Needs are imperative and these needs drive people who are committed to be merciful in their dealings with others to ACTION. The lack of will has much to do with affluence, addiction, and insensitivity to being able to change our ways. Each time we speak in this regard we raise the specter of change as a proximate possibility.
Lack of funds can hold us back. Affluent people in increasing numbers are addicted to consumer products and are unwilling to act on social issues. A lack of public funds is becoming evident when it comes to promoting a renewable energy economy and rebuilding the infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) of our land. A minority of people have plentiful private funding; a majority lacks collective public funding needed to rebuild our damaged infrastrucuture. Establishing a ready source of global funding is at the heart of the problem facing world federalization.
Lack of a sense of urgency can hold us back. A political lack of cooperative endeavors has held us back far too long. The devil is at work. However, with the Internet we could achieve this rapidly in some collaborative fashion for the good of all. We must understand the impact of food insecurity on millions on this Earth; the hungry cannot wait; neither can a threatened Earth.
Lack of inspiration holds us back. Through prayer we can inspire a world and draw attention. Our petitions must be persistent and focused on what is harming our world. Our tone must be convincing and our message must penetrate the walls of distraction and trivia. We need to have a sense of the right place, right time, and a charism to touch the hearts of others.
Prayer: Lord, direct us to find a proper approach; inspire us to make corrections, to avoid ruts, and to keep to the right path.
Triune Character of Environmental Actions
The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit. (II Corinthians 13:13)
All creation has a triune character and this is reflected in Earthhealing activities. As free agents of change we manifest what we believe in professed word and saving deed. Workers are inspired to do a good job as caregivers of a wounded Earth. Artists and craftpersons ponder, plan, prepare, promote, mull over and show their works with care and enthusiasm. For artists and others, work takes on its own life, an expression of internal inspiration, a self-communication to the world. The process reminds believers that God creates all things and shares divine and creative life with us. Our particular artifacts express harmony by creating, verbalizing and sharing, the harmonizing of hands, head and heart. However simple and primitive, the godly work manifests itself as such. Michelangelo tapped the statue and says "speak."
Supporting solid science research. If all created things are good, then all subjects are worth learning about through discovery, research and further investigation. Thus, scientific discovery is Good News, and experimentation leads to the broadening of that news through the world. The ones who advance science in all its fields -- physical, chemical, biological, geological, social, medical, political and technical science -- are inspired. Authentic scientific research is directed to revealing the wonders of creation and proclaiming truth -- though some findings can be diverted by greed or for military power. By supporting proper scientific research through taxes and legislative action, citizens participate in a godly work involving creativity, articulation in scientific literature, and ultimate application for the betterment of human beings and all creatures. Scientific knowledge, both in theory and in practice, must be directed to the Common Good.
Seeing Earthhealing as inspired. We are called to address the disharmonies of our wounded Earth, heal ourselves and help unfold the Mystery of an eternal and immutable God at work in a changeable and wounded world. We do not ask for miracles, only divine inspiration. While convinced that healing Earth can and ultimately will occur, we do not doubt the "can" (the potential to do a certain task), but may doubt the "will" within the foreseeable future. The prophetic word needs to be heard in its conditional manner, "If excessive carbon dioxide generation is not curbed, then surely harm will come to Earth." True prophets do not foretell the future; they only see the conditional future with clarity. Restorative steps can be undertaken, but will they be?
Don't expect a gnostic secret healing procedure or spiritual knowledge about Earthhealing. While non-believers can contribute immensely to environmental work through their expertise, Christians can show a profound sense of confidence about the ultimate outcome -- and this colors the manner in which they work. Believers can affirm that a Trinitarian healing process occurs that involves respect (for all creation), knowledge (work experience) and love (sharing will those in need of essentials). We are concerned that, whatever the specificity of the process, an authentic restoration includes: a recognition of gifts beyond our own making, a cautious awareness of possible misuse, and a willingness to share the benefits with all, especially the poor and destitute.
Touching the Wilderness. Earthhealers constantly make an effort to stay close to Earth. Only then do we discover natural harmony and are able to incorporate it in our healing mission. For some, this means a getaway for retreat or periodic reflection for some length of silent time. Think "wilderness," a friendly and beckoning place. If we are moved to embrace wilderness, we must show respect, for overly frequent penetration of wilderness can disturb the habitat of wildlife. Low impact activity involves no littering, no digging of wild flowers, no campfires except in designated areas, and proper camping when staying overnight.
As we age and wane in energy, we modify immersion experiences, we reduce hiking to strolls and camping to day ventures. Whatever our abilities, we strive to select a "sacred place" that allows us to pray and reflect. Hopefully, it is accessible wilderness, but where limited in choices it may be a vacant lot, a park, a scenic backyard or a windowed interior that looks out to trees or flowers. Our senses are activated by sacred places: sight of landscape, sound of running water or birds, smell of flowers and Earth herself, taste of nearby berries, and feeling of breeze. Every Earthhealer should consider wilderness as friend and source of inspiration.
Coming closer to the Spirit. Inspiration involves spirit, for we are challenged by current health uncertainties. As agents of change we need the Holy Spirit, for Earthhealing is a grand challenge with political, economic and social implications. We must be balanced and plot results deliberately, conscious of limitations and seek divine assistance to counter the dark side of human existence. Healing Earth requires inner harmony of the healer, as well as working with others of good will. In collaboration we seek to establish, not unravel, the Mystery that grounds our being, is our destiny, and triggers our restlessness. Through prayerful introspection and eyes of faith we seek a broadening view of our ecological HERE, NOW and WE. This, in turn, helps justify our restlessness that is part of our eternal calling. Becoming better Earthhealers means we look to the Source of all gifts, the Gift (Christ), and the Giving (the Spirit).
We show gratitude by involvement through words and deeds. Yes, we have an opportunity to make salvation history, an opportunity available to those living today. The consolation found in being present to Mystery makes us more restless in seeking the end -- a New Heaven and New Earth. Allowing Mystery to be truly present is to share in divine life here and now; we glory in our restlessness, for it reveals the divine Mystery within. Our actions both look to the future of what is to be fulfilled, and presently bear a Trinitarian character with shared harmony. God is within, prompting us to give loving service with the future in mind.
Everyone prefers to have enough to keep going, and yet some live beyond their means. This also applies to the federal government that far too often absolves itself of a growing indebtedness. Those who in the past were fiscal conservatives are starting to ask, "Is default such a disaster, if it is a lesson to teach us to live within our means?" How can any of us, individual citizens or governments, pretend to be acting responsibly by playing around with only raising 75 cents for every dollar spent by the government? Do we really have control over our collective lives? The country's debt reflects individual practices of a people who avoid a conservationist ethic, and champion excessive military expenditures. Ours is a land addicted to indebtedness and ignoring the consequences. A material collapse may be a small price to pay for a spiritual reawakening.
First, our country is one of the most wasteful in history. See the mountains of garbage rising near New York, Chicago, and other areas that salve consciences by collecting some of the escaping methane in the decomposition process, and fool themselves into thinking that they are not being wasteful. Any form of wasting shows disrespect for God's gifts to us. Wasting desensitizes people and makes them constantly want more.
Secondly, fiction abounds as if reality; we actually believe that indebtedness will be paid off easily through some unknown manner. We allow our lives to be run on pretending, for the coming rainy day is always put off until beyond our mortal lives. Too many military and foreign wars; too many medical treatments that are unneeded; too much untaxed wealth and luxury spending unaccounted for; and too much continued use of fossil fuels where renewables could be replacements. No complete sentences? No, this is a complete sentencing of false ways of life that are unsustainable and leading to an unhappy ending.
Thirdly, living within our means has always been practiced by some, but not all. Tolerance for the excesses of a few is not right, for the goals of the Common Good must be respected. We need a new sensitivity for our wounded world. Our citizens ought to --
* Travel less by auto and do so in efficient vehicles;
* Eat food locally-produced and less resource-intensive;
* Recycle more, waste less and promote renewable energy;
* Heat and cool space more moderately -- and that is healthy;
* Live in smaller homes and convert lawns to edible landscape;
* Insist on fair taxes for the wealthy;
* Stop the bleeding of jobs to distant locations;
* Halt advertisements for prescription drugs; and
* Budget what we have, and live by it.
Prayer: Lord, assist us when we recklessly create our disasters to learn from them, and discover a spiritual reawakening that is necessary for our personal and eco-health and welfare.
August 29, 2020 Realizing That We Are Both Powerless and Powerful
Our power as people of faith could be looked at two ways: first, we are gifted people with the power to change the world; second, we are weak people unable to do anything on our own and depending on the grace of God to empower us. To focus on the first exclusively could lead to pride or unrealistic goals of which we soon fail with or without secular assistance; to focus on the second could allow us to succumb to capitalistic propaganda telling those who lack resources that they are too powerless to change the system. Neither statement in itself can stand alone: we have power collectively, but we are powerless individually on our own.
The strange thing about these two statements is that while they appear at face value to be contradictory, both are true in describing what people of faith are called to be and do. In our potential deeds, we are enabled to change the world -- by the grace of God. Our powerless condition, as human beings filled with imperfections of which each of us is all-the-more familiar, only becoming spiritually empowered when fully understanding what we have been given -- a power to do great things with others through our invitation into the Divine Family. As individuals, we are aware we can do little; by working in a grace-filled body we can transform a hopeless world. The power of faith to move mountains rests in some God-awful way within us, and this brings us to our knees, not to a swelling of our heads. Power does not come from self within but God within, though at times people's egotism takes over and they deceive themselves by false pretensions.
Let's ask the basic question: If we have power amid our own powerlessness, where does it come from? The answer must only be that God is the source, though this can be expressed in the communal activity of mutual support within a God-fearing community of faith. Furthermore, we know from Scripture that God works with the poor, so that the divine almighty power is manifested in them. God works with weak human beings in the heart of their own poverty, and, in our belief in this divine power, we can achieve great things. We are empowered, but we must believe collaboratively.
Each day we must say, "Lord, I am weak." This confessing of weakness cannot stop there, for some could see this as the temptation to do little and be excused from deeds that can make a great difference. The devil is at work in such circumstances, for we can easily become immersed in self-doubt and excuse. The basic response is that "With the Lord I am strong." This first is a confession; next it is an utterance of praise; recognizing the two simultaneously elicit an act of thanksgiving.
Prayer: Lord, you know our weaknesses. Help us in this age of potential change to know the power you have given us, sincerely to see you as seat of power; please manifest your glory in showing the world that profound change can and will occur in your name to spring forth and save a threatened world while we have precious time to do so.
Self-denial is part of a balanced person's life and a part of the proper practice of believers. We sometimes observe others who are over-indulgent -- in drugs, alcohol, gambling, computer games, etc., -- and know there is something wrong without judging them. However, we become aware that a better course must be pursued and that is a must. We overlook the fact that individually we can be immersed in affluent ways. Countering this through self-denial takes various forms:
Limiting substance intake -- We shouldn't eat too much, so we take smaller portions or refrain from the dessert even though all looks so good, a denying of too much of a good thing.
Saying only so much -- We have to say something about what appears a bad family or community practice, and we are asked to give an opinion. While wanting to say much, we hold up and put off the reply until we calm down, refraining to speak emotionally.
Knowing what can hurt us -- We will avoid or use moderately tobacco, alcohol, drugs (even some prescribed ones) by an understanding that use can be addictive, and will power is weak. Accepting our past -- Our self-denial includes our failure to come to terms with what has gone before. We doubt that the Lord forgives and desires that we accept his mercy, and thus we ignore our spiritual gifts and the opportunities to move forward.
Realizing our future -- Too often we say we want to do this or that (e.g., learn a language, become a wood carver, etc.), and lack determination, time, or talent to initiate the preparation to remake a better future.
Confront the present moment -- Lack of self-denial leads to false living and focusing on allurements that can distract us from doing what we ought. Through self-denial we can gain a sense of social involvement, something needed desperately at this time.
Needing to worship with others -- Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that we are too sick, or too tired, or too depressed to join others. It is wrong when we entertain a series of excuses that hold us back from true communion with others.
Looking out for others -- We need to be attentive to self needs but not overly attentive. Even those who commit themselves to living properly often overlook those immediately around them. Helping others is a denial of excessive self-attention.
Thinking of the world's destitute -- Self-denial opens the door to knowing that others are in worse shape than our local community, and deserve urgent attention at the global level.
Prayer: Lord, help us to deny ourselves for others' benefit.
An August scene: butterfly on ironweed plant.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
August 31, 2020 Rereading Upturned Plow
The following is my first and only poem I ever received any recognition in my life of scattered and random poems -- and so I thought after 62 years it would be good to share with my readership.
While rabbit hunting, we happened to stumble upon An old forsaken plow, half hidden amid the briers; Handles, paint-peeled and rotted, Protruded like a dead calf bloated in the summer sun. Rough handles worn smooth by smooth hands turned rough While pleading a livelihood from rocky soil. That blade lay partly buried in the gully clay, Rust-covered, mud-covered, frost-covered, Coatings, which that sword-beaten share never knew, When little kids stooped and grinned To see their faces on its clean used surface.
Colters, skimmers, prairie breakers, Crooked sticks, wood, bronze, iron, steel plows -- All had brute animal flesh before and human flesh behind, Who spent the warm spring daylight hours In raising and turning a dark brown ribbon of sod. For crude and toilsome though that labor was, The one who guided stood master of his course; And his pleasure seemed to be the art Of drawing plants from sweat-soaked soil.
So-called poets write of those with hoes, Who in the drudgery of their work Saw only despair, Who beat sun-hardened clods from dawn to dusk And never lived but to some day Be settled in some nameless urban slum. Write instead, poets, of the killdeer Running across the fresh-plowed field, With its plaintive, piercing cry; Or of the cowbird hovering around the straining team Just to snatch the uncovered earth worm. Write of the farmer calling to the team ahead -- "Gee," "haw," "whoa."
Speak of the drawling, fortunate country folk Whose words were living testimony to slow lives, The way of people with time to live and talk. These farm people could pray for rain or sun, Or trust that God would keep the frost away, Or ask for winds to dry and showers to moisten, Never satisfied but always trusting and pleading. Old toilers with battered hats and leather skin, Stubborn, free, proud, wiry race; Who would make you leave your soil? Who would ever bury you but in your blessed earth?
Landholders, your fields are wanted by thousands: By business people, developers, politicians, Wealthy with new wealth. Your small farms are gone and in their place Are large estates of gas-fed and wet-back slaves. Tillers, your chestnut Belgians have long since died And never left sired offspring in their passing. Now crawls a grunting tractor hungry for gas -- Destroyer of ten millennia of ox and camel and horse.
Settlers, your offspring have left their homes. Did it crush you the day you tried to stop them And found the reasons the farmer's life is good Far too noble to be expressed by mere words? Plowers, freeholders, teamsters, tenants: Those plows, those testimonies of toil now tossed away. Do you really want us to turn back the clock? Remember, you made straight furrows by a steady eye; We doubt if you would have us retrace those steps Or revive that sweaty art of nameless folks, Which had a beauty found in clear-cut fence rows, And tall dry barns, and rat-free grain bins.
Thank God, we still have piles of junk and rusty reapers. We are grateful for old stables with hand-hewn beams, And gray stone walls, and forgotten rutty roads, The last reminders of a hearty strain of people. On we hurry, and like grave visitors in the twilight, We pause and salute the strong and gallant generation That cared to live, and in due time did prepare to die.