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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.

A series of written meditations and reflections

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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

December 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Al Fritsch

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A first snowfall of Autumn in Kentucky.  November 26, 2010.
(photo: Janet Powell)

December Reflections, 2010

            Welcome December.  This is the first time I've said this in my life, but after the hottest summer on record the cool weather seems welcome indeed.  As of this writing in late summer we have had over eighty days of 90+ degree temperatures -- more than ever previously recorded.  Cold weather is hard to welcome but with global warming our winters are definitely milder, although they may have more snow in spots.  

     December has a host of other advantages besides milder weather.  It is the holiday season with a certain amount of celebration and an inviting opportunity to prepare for the coming year with anticipation and resolve.  This is the time to remember loved ones and forgotten folks, to consider giving special gifts, to prepare for snug snowy days, to get out snow shoes and shovel for possible use, to take that first winter hike, to crack and eat some walnuts or hickory nuts, to do some baking that was too onerous for hotter weather, to pray in Advent for the coming of Love Divine and -- by finding time -- to take a day off and relax. 

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Trash removal from Kentucky stream. Found: rusty hubcap.
(*photo credit)

December 1, 2010         ALL Can Be Earth Healers

      Recently an academically-inclined friend asked me why I expected all kinds of people to be like me and thus forsake their own vocational calling.  The misinterpretation deserves a response, for each and every individual inhabitant of this planet can be an Earth Healer -- and they don't have to be like me.  One can do this without doing public environmental advocacy. 

      * Gardeners and farmers have a challenge to make their plots a mini-example of what the rest of the world could become; 

      * Poets and authors, especially novelists, could draw others through their works to the urgency of current action; 

      * Parents and homemakers must realize that their dwelling is to be a starting place for all to see that Earth can be healed and made more whole again; 

      * Religious leaders could insert in homilies and sermons some mention of the need to take healing as a ministry of all people; 

      * Youth and athletic leaders could encourage youth and others to live simply and to donate time to help others; 

      * Health caregivers can donate time and skills to the poor in various parts of the community or world;  

      * Students can plan for careers that are for assisting others and can give encouragement to their peers; 

      * The sick, aged and retirees who have extra time to pray ought to offer their sufferings in a sense of gratitude to God and thus discover and communicate the power of their offerings for the entire global healing enterprise; 

      * The technically-inclined and engineers must be willing to explore and advocate for more appropriate technologies; 

      * Academics and teachers must break the hold of peer pressure and speak out as witnesses and encourage others to do likewise, and thus break the culture of silence; 

      * The military must see that the discipline that they use could be applied for the good of all people in times of grave need; 

      * Elected officials must face the reality that profound change in the economic and political system is necessary in order to save our wounded Earth; and  

      * The wealthy and business people must voluntarily give up any surpluses for the sake of the poor of the world. 

      Prayer:  Help us, Lord, to convince all to be Earth Healers. 






Leaves of young oak, late Autumn color.
(*photo credit)

December 2, 2010   Sustainability:  An Ambiguous Concept     

      In late summer, I had the pleasure of a rare person-to-person visit from my long-time colleague and friend, Art Purcell and his wife Debbie.  Art is teaching an on-line course for the University of Denver entitled, Sustainability: Policy and Practice.  I told him that I seldom use the word "sustainability," because it has a variety of meanings depending on one's individual political and theological stances.  Art is cognizant of differences and has in his syllabus included a discussion of two books dealing with different public and private policy approaches.  Fine, but much depends on the ultimate lecture content.  Denver, an academic institution with deep Christian origins, must take a public politico-theological stance that is prophetic, namely, that the present unchallenged politico-economic system is unsustainable. 

      Repeating what I say in Reclaiming the Commons found on this website, I note that those who regard "sustainability" in its present form either mean sustaining a status quo or tweaking a dysfunctional system so that a modified status quo will continue.  Instead of trying to modify non-sustainable systems, we must initiate a new and socially just sustainable approach.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, we should not have a world of haves and have-nots.  If such continues, it is a direct road to moral and financial bankruptcy. The socio-economic system must be changed to something sustainable.  Prophets say, "what happens, unless," not "what will happen." 

      Real sustainability will demand that multi-trillion-dollar- fortunes now sequestered in banks and tax havens be made public and taxed.  The vast wealth that belongs to ALL the people must be freed for employing the countless hordes of the unemployed for the construction of adequate housing, primary schools, health clinics and rural roads, for furnishing fertilizers for food crops, for establishing agricultural marketing infrastructure in poor countries, and for returning health workers to their native lands.  Some of the collected taxes from people making ungodly salaries must be redistributed for decent wages for literacy trainers, domestic caregivers, construction workers, and others doing meaningful work.  Banking institutions too big to fail are a threat to all of us, and must be downsized and allowed to fail.  The corporate "person" must be seen as a figment of the imagination.  Billionaires' incomes must be capped.

      Sustainability without profound reform is wishful thinking.  It takes away from valuable time needed to truly reclaim the commons for the benefit of all.  Sustaining the present mode of thinking will prove disastrous and that is why this is a fruitful subject for course work.  It may be the road to a security that is not being met by the 1.5-trillion-dollar world defense system, half the costs of which are crippling the United States.   

      Prayer:  Lord teach us that true sustainability and freedom from bankruptcy must go hand-in-hand.









Lines of communication in small Kentucky town.
(*photo credit)

December 3, 2010  Communications:  The Overlooked Commons    

      This is the day we recall that St. Francis Xavier, the great missionary, looked out from a lonely isle off the coast of China and, in contemplating the vastness of the field before him, passed on to eternal life -- a relatively young man though already burnt up with zeal and the desire to continue to serve the Lord. 

      Sharing comes through communicating with others, whether that act extends to neighbors, shut-ins, prisoners, or the totally neglected.  Sharing the predominant language should be encouraged on a local community level provided we do not inflict hardships on anyone such as slow learners.  Often newly arriving people are literate, but do not know the predominant language.  The ideal is to retain native language skills while becoming fluent in the new language -- a challenge to some with limited time and skills.   

      Many people seek to hide their limited reading and writing abilities.  Literacy campaigns in which we may choose to participate, often require extensive tutorial resources that can include the services of schools, churches and civic organizations as well as retirees willing to work at one-on-one tutorial levels.  Literacy frees the reader to venture into vast information areas and thus to become a resource to the entire community.  Literacy programs using educational films and tools could promote general knowledge -- the continents, nations, cultural habits, neighborly relations, and ordinary modern business operations. 

      Internet is another manifestation of the communications commons, together with such devices as cell phones and computers.  This very Internet must remain free and open for use by all people -- for the freedom to publish and spread the word has revolutionized the way we act.  Efforts are constantly being made both by nervous governments and by greedy and power-hungry, profit-seeking larger communications networks to control the Internet.   

      The ability of a world to connect socially with others has many obvious good effects such as breaking the curse of isolation by allowing lower-cost exchange at almost an instant with people in other parts of the world.  Such social contact also allows for national oppression to be publicized and for the shaping of a freer global economy and networking among peoples.  Through rapid communication we can become one with others.  However, such easily available communications can result in excessive interacting, when other practices are demanded such as study or driving.  Perhaps it may be a waste of time meant for other pursuits.  Pornography can be easily disseminated in an unprotected world; the good names of individuals can be harmed by defamation of character.  Nevertheless, even considering all potential evil effects, we can still find immense value in reasserting the commons of communication. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us see our prayer to you as our most important form of communication. 






Christmas decorations, artificial and real.
(*photo credit)

December 4, 2010    Artificial vs. Real Christmas Decorations 

      A general rule is that live vegetation is more loved than  artificial greenery.   However, a second rule is that some decoration of whatever variety is generally better than little or no decoration at all.  Tell it through flowers means freshly-cut bouquets that are more scented and aesthetically pleasing than artificial ones.  The contrast between an European cemetery where live beds of flowers are prominent and a graveyard with artificial bunches of flowers is telling -- but the latter has far greater beauty than the forsaken burial sites that sometimes exist in our countryside.  Artificial flowers for patients and celebrants of anniversaries have a value and longer lasting potential -- but the real flowers with scents mean so very much.  Need we say more? 

     Holiday decorations are those personal choices that crop up every year.  Real holly and mistletoe are expensive and hard to acquire in some places.  In the era of the Great Depression we devoted one annual Sunday afternoon to the selection of our "weed" cedar bush for the holidays, and to this day the smell of cedar brings back a warm feeling of Christmas cheer in a loving familial way.  Nevertheless, elders certainly may choose artificial decorations that they can pull out each year without the bother of buying -- or gathering -- the fresh stuff.   

      However, our "golden eagle" Earth Healing consultant Sally is part of a tree-farm couple.  Live trees are holiday treats that can be more deeply appreciated; the business of growing these can be green application of cultivation for proper consumer use and a legitimate crop.  Live trees are pleasing to behold and to smell and truly enliven interior space.  Live vegetation involves selecting, purchasing, and decorating -- all are part of a ritual that gives meaning to the event celebrated.  Greenness can be enhanced if the tree is rooted, and then planted in greenspace in the yard or field.  A modified green practice is to recycle the trees through chipping them into wood- wastes for use around shrubs and in cultivated or walk areas, or to be left in heaps for wildlife protection.   

      Artificial decorations can be safer -- but not necessarily so.   A dried out tree or vegetation can be a fire hazard but, by keeping the plants moist, care can be taken to ensure that nothing tragic happens.  The safety of artificial lights contrasts with the lit candles of yesteryear, whether these were implanted in holly wreathes or Christmas evergreens or in a young maiden's hair (on December 13th, St. Lucy's Day).  Heaven forbid!  Statistics do not exist for the damages done in those less safety-conscious times, but enough fires are reported in history to surmise that fire prevention was never perfectly practiced.  Artificial lighting must be moderate and involve the use of energy-efficient bulbs. 

      Prayer: Lord, help us to choose the things needed to enhance celebration but with safety, beauty and cost in mind. 





Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides.

December 5, 2010         Return Christ to "Xmas" 

      Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing praise to your name.   (Romans 15:9) 

      "The reason for the season" is heard and seen in Christian literature.  Some dislike the use of an "X" with reference to Christ or Christmas even though this is the symbol of the 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet named "chi;" this is the first letter of Christus -- and has been used symbolically for Christ for centuries.  However, unknowing Christians today may regard the use as an attempt to remove Christ from Christmas.  In my own shorthand I have long used "Xt" for Christ and "Xmas" for Christmas. 

      The battle often pits materialistic commercial interests against the attempts by religious adherents of the Christmas event.  Few recall that one-hundred and fifty years ago in Puritan New England, Catholics who wanted to observe Christmas were not permitted to take the day off -- shades of modern 24-7 stores and their overworked and never-free salespeople who do not want to jeopardize their work by seeking to attend Sunday services. 

      Why is this battle over "Christ" so important?  It is not to be a triumphal attack on other religions or even on the more celebrating and the less celebrating portions of the Christian community.  Rather this is a battle over the dignity and lives of all people versus the privilege of a few to control what they so desire at the expense of those who barely make a living.  This is to emphasize that Christ comes with Good News; the saving power of God extends to all people in the world -- not just to the wealthy or the nobles or the notable characters in this world.   

      If we see this event in its fullness, we see that it is God's free hand that enters into human history in a very special way and prepares us for a life of holiness and responsibility for our communal welfare.  Our personal good and the Common Good are so deeply intertwined; true happiness is to share here on Earth in a community.  This is even before an eternal heavenly bliss is to be established as a Kingdom of peace, love and happiness.  In part this kingdom is anticipated as established in our individual hearts whether we reside in homes or senior citizens places or prisons.   

      A worshipping community with peace of soul can establish the Kingdom of God in a surrounding world of hostility and oppression.  Furthermore, this growing sense of communal spiritual empowerment, this kingdom of love and peace can extend through democratic efforts to a wider world.   With efforts albeit limited and imperfect we can begin to address the injustices that exist among various people on this Earth -- the inequality of wealth, the lack of food, housing and other resources. 

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the energy to make this a meaningful season wherein the meaning of Christ's coming is deeply appreciated through our good words and deeds. 






Pets enjoy gifts, too.
(*photo credit)

December 6, 2010      Gift-Giving and St. Nicholas 

      Much like St. Valentine, St. Nicholas, a generous fourth century A.D. bishop of Myra in Lydia, is popular in our culture and yet his real life is hardly known.  In some parts of Europe, this day is still a time to give children gifts.  This is rarely practiced in this country, for the 25th is the gift-giving time.  Maybe we need to consider a few gift-giving hints some of which are repeated from year to year. 

      * Give from the heart in such a way that the heart is felt in both the act of giving and the gift content.  When it takes an extra effort, others appreciate it all the more -- most of the time.  However, part of "heart" is that we do not expect thanks. 

      * Give some gifts to people who cannot possibly return more than a look of recognition or even less -- especially to the severely mentally challenged.  Quite often the normal caregivers are weighed down with lack of recognition; encouragement will be grateful in the name of the patients they serve.   

      * When recipients are in full use of their faculties, a pure gratuity could be asked by us.  This would be in the form of a spiritual effort such as a prayer.  It is important that the receiving person has the opportunity to communicate in a meaningful manner.  If this is not asked, a recipient can take the gift for granted -- and thus a false culture of charity is fostered. 

      *  The delivery can be important whether in the form of personal visit and presentation or a personal note that accompanies the gift.  Often the manner of presentation means as much to the one receiving the gift as the gift itself, for it is often a means of expressing the heart-felt motivation from within us. 

      *  Give something that is treasured.  It removes our own sense of possessiveness when God gives so much to us.  Persuading a budding materialist to part with a favorite toy or keepsake is a great victory.  The recipient will possibly appreciate that this has meant so much that it is shared by the giver. 

      *  Encourage others to give also during this season of peace and love.  A major gift that some will not immediately understand is reconciling divided parties with each other at this time. 

      Think seriously about appropriate gifts.  If someone suffers from overweight, do not burden that person with sugary delights that would better fit a super-active youngster who burns up calories quite rapidly. 

      Prayer: Lord, teach us to give and not to count the cost in time and effort.  Help us see that material gifts are not necessarily the only ones of value.  








Mushroom patch appears after December rains.
(*photo credit)

December 7, 2010    Energy Efficiency as the New Frontier 

     Once I was asked the question at an energy ethics consultation -- if solar energy is so easy to obtain, are we not able to use as much as we want?  The mentality is what is scary as using what we want implies overuse.  Besides, resources are needed for fabricating and maintaining the solar devices.  However, if left unasked, such questions go unanswered.  One of the weaknesses of a consumer culture is that it devalues the effects of using less -- for more is always regarded as better.  Thus to conserve rather than to use is hard to implement even though any serious reflection in this energy-conscious age would say otherwise.  This was the theme of The Contrasumers: A Citizens Guide to Resource Conservation some thirty-seven years ago. 

      A new generation of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) use about one-third or less the energy used by traditional incandescent bulbs.  Lighting cost is to increase from $13.5 billion to $32.2 billion in 2015 according to Environmental Leader, and about one-fifth of electricity is used for lighting.  The U.S. Department of Energy reports that over the next two decades $120 billion in energy costs could be saved by adopting LEDs (light-emitting diodes).  LEDs are on track to capture half of commercial lighting market by 2010. 

      David Goldstein in his new book, Invisible Energy: Strategies to Rescue the Economy and Save the Planet shows a variety of ways that our nation could reduce energy consumption by 80% in the next four decades.  The truth that part of the energy industry may wish to overlook is that energy efficiency is a multi-win situation: 

     * Fewer powerplants need to be built and the investments can be diverted to adequate housing, public infrastructure enhancement, and food crop production; 

      * Human health can be improved through less pollution such as ozone and particulates resulting from fossil fuel utilization; 

    * Fossil fuel and other emissions including carbon dioxide and methane as major climate change agents can be avoided;

     * Consumers can save on fuel and utility bills while using less energy and getting the same benefits;     

      * An entirely new philosophy of life  that replaces an economy based on consumption of goods could be championed.  A conservation-based economy would then turn attention to the many who do not share the benefits of the richer cultures of the world. 

      Prayer:  Lord teach us to value the power of being efficient in what we do in energy-related areas. 






Mary in the garden. Historic Cane Ridge Meeting House. Paris, KY.
(*photo credit)

December 8, 2010      Mary:  Pure Transparency 

     May it be done to me according to your word.  (Luke 1:37) 

      To proclaim a monumental and Earth-shaking "yes" demands a special person and, when this voicing is done in a simple setting, it is all the more important that pure transparency is complete.  Any fault will mar the effectiveness of the proclamation, for it was in the recesses of a distant past that our ancestors uttered a "no" that resonate down through future generations.   

      We were all prepared in the minds of God for our calling -- and each has a unique calling to serve the Divine Majesty.  As St. Paul says, we were chosen from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12)) to be holy and without blemish before God.  For it was in God that we were all chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of the divine will.  So all of us exist for the praise of the divine glory, we who first hoped in Christ. 

     Mary was certainly called to be the first to hope in and with Jesus Christ, and such an "in and with" demanded a transparency, for a blemish of any sort would distort the utter hope.  For many of us, the "yes" of our choices contains the taints of a long-past uttered "no" in which the very genes of dissent reside.  Like all of us, Mary's was a calling from all eternity; but hers was the unique calling.  Mary's transparency in addressing this call had to be perfect, otherwise the calling would have been less spiritual in an imperfect world.  The uniqueness of the word called and deed performed demanded a unique recipient of the call.  Transparent word/deed means capable of being seen through and heard distinctly.  Mary was the bearer of the Light of the World and thus a spiritual transparency was in order.  Any bit of opacity would have dulled that light; God's intentions were that the Messiah was to be seen and heard.  Mary was first to bear the light/Word, and John was prepared to present Christ to an awaiting community.  For each the call was truly unique, but so is that of each of us.

      My birthplace, Mason County, Kentucky, is known the world over for "transparent puddings," put in the plural because there is a surprising variety of recipes listed with plenty of eggs, sugar, butter, Karo syrup, a little flour, and a dash of vanilla in some cases.   My mother made her unique plum pudding based on a modified recipe -- something that added flavor, not blemish.  Mary advanced in her calling with maturation and thus added to the uniqueness of her total call.  She heard the Word in the most profound way and lived it throughout her life.  However, the transparency of the first call gave it the world renown that was intended -- and that we celebrate today.  Each of us is called to be transparent in receiving God's word and then to add the "plum flavor" of our personal calling.  Mary is our guide. 

      Prayer:  Hail Mary,  full of grace, the Lord is with you. 







Snowy scene along a rural road in Harlan Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

December 9, 2010     Caroling and Christmas Songs 

      Among more remote preparations for Christmas ought to be the gift-giving of ourselves.  Many do this with gifts of music and song.  We may not appreciate how much songs mean to others to set the tone of the holidays.  The average church-going Christian has a greater repertoire of Christmas hymns than of any other song series, even patriotic or school or drinking or children's songs.  Thus this is a treasure worth releasing during this holiday season to brighten the season for others who tend to experience loneliness in such times when they remember better seasons in the past.   

      Some of us have cultural traditions of coming together in families or communities and singing during the holidays proper, and for some this is the twelve days of Christmas (December 25 to January 6).  There are few Advent hymns as such, and so people hardly ever congregate to sing such hymns.  We are sometimes slow at seeing profound changes in our culture and our need to adjust to them.  Many times the elderly who are institutionalized or those living alone are saddened by their anticipation of a lonely Christmas.  A Christmas caroling program in the weeks leading up to Christmas is the best way to give goodness and joy to them.   

      Caroling has traditionally occurred during the twelve days of Christmas (December 25th to January 6th),  but we all realize in our American culture that the Christmas commercial season is the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas day.  Thus, in essence, the weeks leading up to Christmas form the season, and the traditional twelve days includes a toning down and even a removal of the trees and decorations quite early -- often on the 26th of December.  Thus a conflict of cultural celebrations leads the lonely to experience more sadness prior to the 25th than afterwards, when the songs end so abruptly and popular attention turns to preparations for football playoffs and bowl games, to New Year's parties and to anticipating January, 2011, activities.   Of course there are gift exchanges and use of Christmas gift cards.

      Church-singing periods are also important for preparing the congregation for the true spirit of the season.  Originally, I wanted to place songs for the first time on the 24th (Christmas eve) itself, as though this is the first of the Christmas events.  It is good and well to prepare for those afternoon children's or evening adult liturgical events, and to do so after adequate scheduling and plans.  However, these need not be the first time the songs are sung for this year; use these in the advent season.

      Celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas in some fashion.  Encouraging the local media and parties to include Christmas songs after the 25th of December would be a great contribution to the spirit of the season.  Thus Christmas parties that include songs could be held during the twelve-day season. 

      Prayer: Lord, teach us the value of singing and how this fits into celebrating the season and helping to heal our wounded Earth. 






A home's side yard filled with blooming aromatic aster, Aster oblongifolius.
(*photo credit)

December 10, 2010     Rethink Lawns in the Climate Change Era 

      Few subjects trouble environmentally-minded citizens as much as lawns.  On one side is the maintenance director of a Midwestern college who confided that lawn care was greatly reduced because the administration had turned half the greenspace into parking -- even though the additional spaces were needed for only a few extraordinary events each year.  With an expanse of blacktop there were no more weekly or biweekly clippings, fertilizing, spraying and weed eradication.  I weakly objected with the statement -- "I guess you noted how much more heated the campus was in the middle of summer."  The response was, "Well the buildings are all air-conditioned."    

      In those brief comments is the heart of the issue.  Greenspace even in lawns that take so much care has advantages beyond obvious aesthetics.  Tradeoffs are present!   The greenspace whether in trees or grass is certainly cooler than blacktop and even somewhat more than gravel or rock surfaces, though institutions would not find the latter too customer-friendly.  Hot summers should make people strive to conserve on air-conditioning expenditures, and trees certainly are one way to do this.  All the same, the grass of lawns is worrisome, for to care for this takes time and effort -- and lawn-mowing with gasoline-powered mowers causes air pollution. 

      Green-conscious lawn-lovers can offer several suggestions as modifications to the uniform bluegrass monocultures that take extra care to water and fertilize.  First is to mow the lawn with human muscle.  Obviously this demands extra time and work from those seeking fresh air and exercise.  In fact, it is far better than sitting on a rider-driven, gasoline-powered mower with its fumes --and noise disturbing the neighborhood.  Greenspace need not be in total monocultural grass but can be permacultural edible (human or wildlife) landscaping, even if this is over the initial objections of neighbors.  Lawn care is an excellent way to introduce people for the first time to their own personal environmental choices.  It has worked in our parish to some degree.

      Some argue that neighborhood associations should set rules, and each member must faithfully follow, i.e., clip monocultural lawns to certain height in order to maintain the community's economic value.  One California resident bravely countered neighbors' objections and installed a xeriscape  (using native semidesert plants) in her lawn space that never needed lawn care or watering.  Over neighbor, fire personnel (hazards), and police (hideaways) objections, she fought and won.  In a few years the entire block was following suit with far fewer lawn maintenance costs.  Sloped lawns could definitely be put into ground cover; swamp areas should not be mowed in the first place and could be planted with water-loving vegetation (no exotic invasives please) after consultation with local garden experts.    

      Prayer:  Help us, Lord, to see that resource choices are personal and community decisions worthy of discernment.






Cedar apple-rust, Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae.
(*photo credit)

December 11, 2010     Weighing the Legalization of Marijuana  

      In northwestern California, in the counties below the Oregon border, one finds the marijuana capital of America where the product has great street value.  In 1996, California passed proposition 215 or the "Compassionate Use Act" that made marijuana legal for prescribed medical purposes.  Today, marijuana is legally dispensed in certain California centers.  The second highest marijuana-growing area in America, here in Kentucky, is where the crop is mercilessly hunted down and growers could face prison terms for their labor -- while legal distillers and tobacco growers go scot-free.  The three major American-produced, abusive substances are treated differently.  Many regard this as confusing and unfair. 

      Certainly regulations could be expected: as to access to minors, to promotion and advertising, on taxes of all "sin products," and on general commerce.  But why not legalize something the criminalizing of which fills jails with people who are not violent and are often hardworking.  One prisoner told me he was "just trying to make an honest living for his family."  I do not advocate the use of marijuana and in fact hate the smell of the stuff -- but let's challenge the current governmental policy with respect to marijuana.  Tobacco goes free though it is the number one killer; alcohol is prohibited in this and the majority of counties in this Commonwealth.  Please weigh these factors:                   


      *  Marijuana causes far less physical injury and death than either alcohol or tobacco, and is not properly regulated. 

      * Legal marijuana is a form of sin-tax that is quite lucrative for cash-strapped local and state governments. 

     * Marijuana has medical benefits for some sufferers. 

     * Marijuana conviction leads to expensive incarceration of many non-violent offenders.


   * Marijuana is a gateway to more serious drug intake and contributes to overdose deaths. 

      * Marijuana legalization leads to lack of prudence in everything from driving to home care and economy of time. 

      * Marijuana is fundamentally anti-social and leads to the separation of people who are indulging from those who despise the smell and effects. 

     * Marijuana-intake can lead to impairment in driving. 

      * Marijuana-smoking is profoundly annoying to others. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to discern properly in our lives. 








Remnants of white snakeroot, Ageratina altissima.
(*photo credit)

December 12, 2010    Focus on the Lord in Hard Times 

      We are going through very hard times as this holiday season approaches.  We are drawn to turn to the Lord in times of troubles.  However, although this can be said simply, even the turning is sometimes troublesome.  This is because we have to abandon our self-sufficiency and desire to be in control of situations. 

     John the Baptist, imprisoned, had little control over his life.  He was the prophet straddling the old and new covenant, and he was unsure with such questions, "Are you the one who is to come or are we to look for another?"   Perhaps we as people on our journey of faith answer this question in the certitude of faith; yet at times we may act as though we are looking about for another leader in times of troubles.  It is this turning attention to the Lord that should be our focus as this Christmas approaches. 

      The focus ought to be a faith in the power of the spiritual to overcome the material elements of this world.  We are all distracted by the allurements of this world, by wealth, by fame and by power of various sorts.  Rather, by putting on Christ as our guide in hard times we are to focus on the suffering Servant and accept that our spiritual option includes rejection of what is so tempting in this world -- material success.   

      The focus ought to be on love of our neighbor and not on some form of violence or thrashing out at others.  We have seen this temptation to terrorism especially since the 9-11 event and the emerging of those tempted to burn the Koran, or to advocate militant atheism, or other distortions of conduct and truth. 

      The focus ought to be on hope that we can make things better, not on withdrawing into a cocoon and attempting to become an asocial faithful remnant.  We are to speak openly on public issues and not to be tempted to remain silent, often forgetting that silence itself is a partisan political stance.  As citizens, we are to seek a bipartisan transformation to a better world.   

      The focus ought to be on a prevailing sense of joy -- for this is Gaudete Sunday, or the mid-portion of Advent that reminds us of the joy that will soon come.  Our times of troubles are short, and thus we are to preserve an atmosphere of faith in the future.  When we have confidence that good will ultimately triumph, we can have a peace of soul, and this will permeate our soul in hard times.   

      The focus on faith, hope, love, and joy will not be perfect and that requires patience through our distractions.  Our effort is to focus attention on a proper picture and not to be overly concerned about material gains, a temptation to violence, a loss of hope in the big picture, and a sadness that comes with troubles.   

      Prayer:  Lord, help us hear St. Paul calling for patience because our preparations will be well-meaning but imperfect.  






December moon on cold Kentucky night, lighting the path ahead.
(*photo credit)

December 13, 2010  Advent: Alertness in Looking Back and Ahead 

      Alertness ought to include all of our activities from walking to cooking, from information-gathering to awareness of another's cry for help or companionship.  Our driving demands that we constantly look in all directions -- a feat that is impossible to do simultaneously.  We know it can only be approximated by alertness.  In this final month of the year and as we approach the Christmas holidays, we need both to review the fleeting times that have just occurred and to anticipate events to come.   

      What happened in 2010?  What will 2011 bring?  Both questions taken together help define our present moment.  We live in that suspended instant when the past flees from us and the future lies just beyond the horizon -- and both are wrapped in some mystery; the past yearns for an explanation of how we emerged on the scene for a brief moment; the future contains the mystery of an eternity, which is yet unseen and unexperienced.  Our faith ought to involve an exercise in that alertness that extends back into the hazy past and seeks to intrude into the misty future.

      We are alert in our journey of faith because the present's boundaries are so ill-defined by past and future and the meaning we make of the "present" includes our way of handling both indefinite spans.  What comprises our faithfulness?  Our faith includes thanks for our past and begging to make good our future.  These become more than a birth out there in the receding past and an undetermined-but-certain death notice leading to an undetermined eternity.  Our present moment goes beyond both events and becomes, for those of faith, spans of time worth thankfulness and future promise.  Do we truly reflect on this present made meaningful in past and future? 

      Advent is that season when we refuse to be forgetful of God's fidelity even when our individual happenings fade.  We likewise refuse to forget that past promise fulfilled opens the possibility of future promise to be gained.  As the end of the year approaches, we realize the ever-approaching end of our mortal span, always closer and closer to reality.  This is why a balanced and awake adulthood contains a growing wisdom that realizes life's shortness. 

      We need to see alertness as a community and not merely an individual exercise.  We as a community have our journey of faith embracing all who are neighbors.  As broad as we make our own neighborhood, so we stretch our concerns to incorporate more and more of this world's family and see that our faith journey is part of journeying together with others.  Our vision embraces people of a variety of faith traditions, all struggling to obtain meaning in lives traveling together to an ever-approaching eternal horizon. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to be alert to the current situation around us.  We are told over and over in this season to stay awake -- easier said than done.  Being awake means being alert to the needs of neighbors as well as the aches of our individual journeys. 







Delicate interwoven strands of ice.
(*photo credit)

December 14, 2010    Basic Elements of a Social Discernment 

      In an urgent situation when decisions have to be made, a formal social discernment is needed.  Our planet has reached this level of urgency for, unless we consider the actions we are taking, we will not fulfill the calling given to us in this age.  This

"discernment" means weighing all the elements involved in a decision -- something that St. Ignatius of Loyola focused upon in The Spiritual Exercises.  The first focus was on getting individuals to accept their proper calling in life and to pay attention to the movements of good and bad spirits.  Such a process must be done prayerfully and, hopefully, with the able assistance of others who have been engaged in spiritual direction.  What about a social discernment on a communal calling to a way of life?

     1.  Will to change.  Part of the problem today is that there does not exist a will to change.  Yet the urgency of our day demands that we change habits that are damaging our world.  The privileged want to retain all privileges at all costs; the dreamer strives to get these privileges; and the spineless remain quiet so as not to disturb the holders and the aspirants.  The spirit of complacency is troubling and must be identified as such.  The comfort of accruing profits at others' expense is to be exposed and avoided. 

     2. Openness to listen.  A "discernment,"  where the result is already known, is not a discernment but a fruitless exercise in self gratification.  An openness demands an atmosphere of prayer, and yet we know some pray and others do not.  One can hardly expect all to come to prayerfulness, but we can expect that those seeing the value of prayer will see that their contribution is of utter importance to the final outcome.  All should pray; some MUST pray.  

     3. Participation by all.  The intellectual or economic elite do not have all the answers.  The poor and voiceless, the anawim of the world, must have equal voice with others.  Proper discernment involves listening to all and affirming and voicing what they have to say.  The Internet offers a forum for such an ongoing dialog.  

      4. Practical steps.  Declaring Earth's sickness is a precondition to discerning the healing process.  To say that nothing can be done is despair.  To presume that automatic healing will occur is equally bad.  A listening global community could learn much from the poor who know how to avoid wastefulness and make a living in simple ways.  Champion appropriate technology!

      5. Realistic goal.  The ultimate goal is to save our planet and to take practical steps to reach that goal.  Discernment champions goals as much as awareness of the condition and practical steps to be taken to solve the problems. 

    Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that you have given us the opportunity to assist in saving our threatened planet.  Help us to discern the condition, see the healing process, and follow it.   






Neatly-stacked wood. Rockcastle Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

December 15, 2010      Bill of Rights Day 

      On this date, December 15, 1791, the Virginia legislature ratified the first ten amendments or "Bill of Rights" (passed by Congress in 1789), and thus brought to the required three-fourths the states granting approval.  This allowed the amendments to be incorporated in the United States Constitution.

     I.   Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion and Petition --

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

     II.  Right to keep and bear arms --  A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

     III. Conditions for quarters of soldiers -- No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

      IV.  Right of search and seizure regulated -- The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  V.   Provisions concerning prosecution

               (see tomorrow)

      VI.  Right to a speedy trial, witnesses, etc. -- In all criminal prosecutions, the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. 

      VII. Right to a trial by jury -- In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

      VIII. Excessive bail, cruel punishment --  Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

     IX.   Rule of construction of Constitution --  The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. 

     X.    Rights of the States under Constitution --

     The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. 








Potted paperwhites emerge for holiday delight.
(*photo credit)

December 16, 2010  Distinguishing Primary and Secondary Rights 

     V. Provisions concerning prosecution -- No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentation or indictment by a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

      Conflicts over rights have existed from the start of the Constitution.  Certainly when private property is involved and this is held in vast amounts, the power of the private holder can be so great as to include special access to political influence.  This threatens our very democracy.  A threat to our very life or liberty raises questions about primary rights where human life and dignity are involved and secondary rights when excess property is a matter of consideration. The corporations ran our elections before the decision (Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission) and will do so now -- just with a fig leaf of "legality."  Howard Zinn

      The right to life includes questions of abortion, death sentencing, and assisted suicides.  Right to liberty includes distinctions about infringing on free speech or whether snake handling is free exercise of worship.  However, when it comes to the pursuit of happiness, there is more discussion, for some possessions constituting happiness for millionaires could infringe on the rights of others to food, shelter or life itself.  

      Where have rights been infringed upon?  In the past two years we have seen Wall Street bankers plunge this nation and the world into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  Do you think this horrifying act was punished?  The excuse of being "too large to fail" (as though their actions weren't failures) allowed the banks' privileged few to be rewarded with $700 billion of our tax dollars and started our nation on the road to unsustainable financial existence.   

      The "right to property" has been so infringed upon that it is ludicrous to those who try to live fiscally sound personal lives.  The un- and underemployed  see their basic right to life and  livelihood infringed upon.  The secondary "right" to property is now currently being ensured by tax breaks with the often vain hope that wealthy investors will create jobs.  In Citizens United vs. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court in a five-to-four decision extended to corporations the right to bribe political candidates.  Again this "right to corporate personhood" is being challenged by progressive groups in citizen actions (see July 4, 2010).   

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to defend the basic rights of all people and the democratic system needed to preserve these rights. 







Firmly rooted, reaching upward.
(*photo credit)

December 17, 2010 Anniversary of Utility-Scale Geothermal Power 

      We are celebrating this year the fiftieth anniversary of the use of geothermal energy as a form of production by utilities of both heat and electricity.  In the exposition at Sacramento this past August, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) found much to celebrate.  In 1960, they started construction on "The Geysers," a single small powerplant north of San Francisco.  Since then, this site has become the world's largest group of geothermal powerplants.  Today, the United States produces about one-third of the 11 gigawatts of deep geothermal power utilized by 24 countries; geothermal is a rapidly expanding source that should hit 18 gigawatts by 2015.  Currently the Philippines is second in construction with 1.8 gigawatts.  Some 70 nations make use of geothermal heat from various sources. 

      Geothermal, along with wind and solar, is a renewable energy source that comes at a rapidly declining cost per unit generated.  The source is relatively widespread on this planet and has massive potential.  Experts estimate that when fully utilized, geothermal could furnish 50,000 times the energy needed at this time throughout the world, with small environmental costs and manageable economic ones.   One must realize that geothermal efficiency is lower than that of conventional high temperatures from boilers and is only around 10-23%.  However, geothermal is more reliable than solar and wind, the variable sources of renewable energy.      

      Unlike far-more-polluting accessible coal, oil, and even natural gas, this resource has great potential for further development, although there are some environmental concerns as with all forms of energy generation systems.  Tapping fluids from deep underground geothermal operations does allow some carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia to be released, but nowhere near the carbon dioxide levels from fossil fuel facilities.  The hydrogen sulfide and ammonia can be captured easily by standard emission-control systems.  Some toxic materials are released in the geothermal fluids that come to the surface, but these fluids can be  reinjected to enhance further geothermal production and to reduce any possible environmental pollutants that may affect groundwater and surface water.     

  Economically, the major cost of geothermal energy is the drilling of the initial wells -- about one-fifth of the total cost of the operation.  Although a few wells fail, generally geologists can predict good returns from deep drilling operations.  Plants stay operating over long periods of time without major maintenance costs.  The power is generated at the wellhead and does not incur fuel transportation costs as occurs with most coal and petroleum-based powerplants; security and disposal programs are far less than for nuclear powerplants; and resulting carbon dioxide far less than for even natural gas.  Experts regard geothermal as one of the bright energy promises of the late twenty-first century.  

      Prayer: Lord, let us see Earth as a source of dependable energy.








Buffalo Mountain Wind Farm, near Oak Ridge, TN.
(*photo credit)

December 18, 2010     Are Promising Renewables Enough?     

      Shadows and bright spots form a patchwork on the energy picture of our country and world.  In a year when coal power plants increase at one per month in the United States and one per week in China, we still note that in both of these energy powerhouses renewable energy applications are brightening the energy picture.  However, it is evident that coal use will continue for years. 

    The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that in 2009 the U.S. renewable energy market became 8% of total U.S. market (from 7.4 to 7.7 quadrillion Btu) while total energy consumption decreased nearly 5%.   The increased renewable energy sub-sections included biofuels (+173 trillion Btu),  conventional hydroelectric (+170 trillion Btu), and wind (+150 trillion Btu).  As for electricity generation, wind has been making remarkable progress, going from 5% of the total renewable energy generation in 2005 to 17% in 2009.  Some 95% of the renewable energy increase in electricity generation came from wind energy.  Wind is rapidly becoming competitive with other non-renewable energy sources but, as is often pointed out, that wind needs to be combined with natural gas powerplants that assume the slack on windless days.   

      One cannot accept the bright future of renewables without a realistic picture of total energy demand -- which will continue to rise as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) become more important players in the world economic situation.  James Hansen in his book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, argues that the cutbacks demanded in fossil fuel energy use to stave off global disaster are not forthcoming.  While he accepts nuclear as one alternative, concerned people argue that far-lower-cost renewable energy installed on a crash program could suffice provided that are matched by energy efficiency as outlined in the reflections on December 7th.   

      Certainly solar energy is on the verge of major breakthroughs to where windowpane and roof coating will be generating in-house solar-generated electricity in significant amounts.  As discussed in yesterday's reflection, geothermal energy has a bright future.  Furthermore, offshore wind energy could supply all our energy needs when properly utilized, especially for the heavily populated east and west coast urban areas.  In the longer term, tidal and biofuels from non-food crops could contribute to an ever-enlarging  renewable energy mix.  However renewables are not saviors alone;  they must be coupled with some existing or innovative fossil fuel supplies (natural gas), while energy efficiency is implemented in every way possible.  A renewable future awaits a concerted effort on the part of our nation and world.  The question is "Will it get there in time?"  

      Prayer: Lord, help us to be realistic about Earth-healing possibilities and not to inflate renewable energy's role in saving the planet.  Renewables AND energy efficiency are needed. 







Waiting for repairs, Mt. Vernon, KY.
(*photo credit)

December 19, 2010     Practice Patience in Troubled Times 

     Be patient brothers and sisters until the coming of the Lord.

                             (James 5:7) 

     On various occasions I have been told that I may have some virtues but one lacking is patience.  These astute observers are correct, and yet to practice patience is quite difficult for those of us who are aging, living on the fast track, eating (even home-prepared) fast foods, driving often near or above the speed limit, and using fast-track forms of communications.  In short, my lack of patience is related to the life I've chosen to live.  We expect much, from cooperative traffic lights to instant checkouts, from banking service to electricity delivery.  Any lack of instant service overwhelms us and patience is tried.    

      A holy impatience must persist in one area.  If we see someone beating up another, we would be insane to approach the victim and say, "Brother have patience for the Day of the Lord is coming and all will be perfect."  Rather we show our impatience and attempt to halt the assault either through our powers of persuasion or by calling 911 for police protection.  Thus when the troubles involve another, we struggle to assist them, for their patience should not encourage our standoffishness.  Activity for the sake of another should not be restrained by our desire to be patient even when we are not totally effective. 

      Patience is something to do with our expectation of the Lord.  We help prepare the world for the coming but realize that we will not be perfect and our efforts will lack total success.  That should not make us impatient but rather to make us accept our limitations and the challenge to grow in patience.  However, others, upon seeing us not lose heart in our imperfect efforts, may admire us.  We are doing the best we can  -- though improvement may come. 

      This deeper way of accepting a holy impatience at social injustice to others and an equally holy patience with our own limitations and shortcomings would have apostolic witness power. We can stand honestly before the Lord and before our fellow human beings.  When we admit limitations, others identify with us, for they often see their own lack of success, and in many cases are better able to handle their limitations and live with themselves.  Certainly, they can give us better advice on how to show patience, to occupy down time, to be prepared for and make room for delays, and to admit freely all human beings are imperfect.  It may not have always been our own fault, and that takes effort to see as well. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to see ourselves as people in need of your mercy, and still show a sense of willingness to await your coming with equanimity and continued joy and good humor.  Help us establish an atmosphere where others can act in the same way.  





Cranks Creek Survival Center, Harlan Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

December 20, 2010         Getting Smart on Drugs

                      Guest Essayist Fr. John Rausch

      Texas swapped a $600 million prison-expansion plan in 2007 for a $241 million plan to expand its community-based drug and alcohol treatment services.  It created residential drug and mental health facilities for in-prison and post-prison populations, and halfway houses for new parolees,  By 2009 its inmate population declined.

Michigan closed eight prisons and invested the savings in an expanded network of drug, mental health and job training services for ex-offenders,  Following suit, Kansas also closed prisons after investing in drug treatment programs and services for parolees. With fiscal problems facing every state but North Dakota, legislatures are looking for savings around their prison populations that on average rose 600 percent from the 1970s.  So far ten states have addressed the uncritical rhetoric of "tough on crime" with the companionate wisdom of "smart on drugs." 

     The United States with less than 5% of the world's population consumes 60% of the world's illegal drugs and incarcerates 25% of the world's prisoners.  States and municipalities are discovering that without treating drug and alcohol addiction as a complex disease, recidivism rates remain high.  According to the National center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, of the 2.3 million prison inmates in America, 1.5 million, or 65%, meet the standard medical criteria  for drug and alcohol addiction and abuse.  Its research reveals that drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are implicated in 78% of violent crimes like assault and rape, and 83% of property crimes like burglary. 

      Studies indicate that drug treatment represents a highly cost-effective way to reduce substance abuse and crime.  According to a 1998 Rand Corporation study, quality substance abuse treatment versus imprisonment is three times less expensive.  To people of faith the arguments from economics finally accomplished what the Gospel values on human dignity seemingly failed to inspire.  The "War on Drugs" overwhelmingly targeted the supply source of drugs, but failed to adequately address the demand use of drugs.  It ignored the cultural forces that promoted the euphoric "highs" and the relief from even the slightest pains.  Once a user creates a frequent pattern, an addiction, whether physical or process, can easily take a hold.  Drug abuse can no longer be viewed merely as a public safety problem leading to crime, but must be understood as a public health problem dealing with lives.  Thousands of young people in Appalachia and elsewhere have died of drug overdoses.  Federal, state and local governments in 2005 spent $74 billion in court, probation, parole and incarceration costs for drug and alcohol offenders, while spending less than 1% ($632 million) on prevention and treatment. 

      "Getting smart on drugs" means reaching into the prisons for the redemption of offenders and grasping the teens in our communities before they fall off the cliff.  We're talking tough love, community involvement and Gospel compassion about a disease that's killing our culture. 








    Iron Furnace Fitchburg KY Kentucky
Fitchburg Furnace, near Stanton, KY.
      (Photo: Jeff Kerr)

December 21, 2010  Local Attractions: The Fitchburg Furnace 

      Virtually all parts of the country or world have attractions that can draw others for scenic, cultural, historic or other reasons -- and thus we can say with confidence that all places are unique in some way.  As expected, Estill County, in which I reside, has more claims to fame than just being downwind from the Bluegrass Army Depot.   One attractive aspect is the massive sandstone Fitchburg Furnace, the world's largest iron furnace when constructed right after the Civil War.  In many ways it is also one of the most beautiful, and some regard it as a work of art with its unique industrial arches.   

      This furnace (really a set of two) was built by Frank and Fred Fitch as the very latest in industrial technology.  However, the bulk materials (iron ore, limestone, and fuel) did not have, for transportation, either nearby water for barges or operating railroads -- and thus all hauling was done by animal power and human effort.  The furnace really proved to be a good idea in the wrong time and place, for it was soon hit by a financial crisis.  

      In the past year, a federal stimulus package of over a quarter million dollars made possible the acquisition of sandstones for replacement blocks from the quarry that furnished the original blocks.  The furnace had been overgrown by trees.  The task at hand is to attempt to reclaim what has been lost to nature.  Part of the restoration includes removal of vegetation and putting a roof over the furnace to keep out rainwater that could further damage the structure.  Fencing, parking, educational displays and draining areas are being added to show the industrial plant (which only operated for four years before closing during the economic Panic of 1873).  This closing brought an abrupt end to the first American iron production region (southeast Ohio and northeast Kentucky). 

      Enormous amounts of charcoal were demanded to make a ton of this pig iron for furnaces that had to run continuously day and night at very high temperatures.  The production of that charcoal required all the trees for miles around, and the entire section of the county was denuded of forests during this brief period of time. 

      Retention of historic sites is a value in itself for it shows a respect for our industrial past.  Such practices as restoration foster respect for one's own surroundings and lead to a desire to participate in global site preservation sites, to enhance one's civic pride, to furnish a tourist potential in areas needing different forms of business, and to make citizens aware of the need to preserve the environmental -- and historic -- resources of a particular region. 

      Prayer: Give us, Lord a respect for all creation and lead us to start near home, seeing that sites can attract, and that we are willing to discover and publicize these attractions and make efforts to preserve them,  







A frozen Kentucky stream.
(*photo credit)

December 22, 2010          Winter's Gift 

              As you struggle through

                the branches and brambles,

                the dogeared duties of daily life;

              There looms beyond

                the grand and lofty principles

                the faith that keeps you going. 

              When the leaves come out,

                the vision may be blocked.

              You must struggle along

                on a memory and a hope,

              Knowing that with winter

                comes a dying back

                that lets you again draw near

                to the strength of your being. 

                           Katherine Atwood Fritsch 

Enjoying December snow.
(*photo credit)

December 23, 2010      Counting Our December Blessings 

      The poem of yesterday presents two blessings of winter, namely, the uncovering of trees due to leaf withering and falling, and the drawing of families together during the present season.  What we seldom do is enumerate all the winter blessings even when the cold weather sets in and the need for warmer clothes is ever present to us.  When needs are not met, we beg that they are and that people will be blessed to help us.   However when needs are satisfied, these become blessings and initiate our listing: 

      * Warm clothes that feel so good when out in the harsh weather, and sound shoes to protect delicate feet from the cold; 

      * Warm adequate housing and furnishings in which to live with a certain degree of comfort; 

      * Paper or electronic books to read and eyesight to do so; 

      * Friends to greet and to give gifts to during this season; 

      * Nourishing food to fulfill our hunger needs, and especially the festive foods of this holy season; 

      * The insight to see that what we have as adequate in winter is not shared and ought to be in the best way we can provide; 

      * The fauna of winter companions such as squirrels, small mammals, deer, turkeys, and such winter birds as cardinals; 

      * The freedom from biting insects such as mosquitoes, yellowjackets, wasps, hornets, deer flies, ticks and horse flies; 

      * Cool weather in contrast to the heat and humidity of summer and the glare of summer's penetrating sun; 

      * The cleanness, silence and beauty of a new snowfall; 

      * The night time to slow down from summer activities and to conserve physical energy in a variety of ways; 

      * The smell and lazy curl of wood smoke;

      * The taste of newly cracked walnuts or hickory nuts; 

      * The aroma of a festive meal; and 

      * Once more for emphasis, the togetherness of the season.   

      Prayer:  Lord, we discover monthly, abundant blessings -- those given and those received;  we ask for the insight to see both groups as a total or double blessing.  Help us find those hidden blessings in a communal quest that encourages others to discover still more blessings. 






Christmas decorations in snow.
(*photo credit)

December 24, 2010   The Art of Preparing for a Great Event 

      There are two basic extremes in preparation for an event: get all the minutiae in perfect order; or letting things happen as they will.  In my compulsion for orderliness, I stand in the former position, although I know perfectly well that memorable events have occurred without the Martha-like detail and concerns.  Having said this, we all need to take a balanced position of making sure events occur in good order, and yet do so without overly exerting ourselves to such a point that we miss the significance of the event itself.  That balanced approach includes: 

      * Schedule plenty of time for each portion of the preparation.  If you are to have a gift exchange tomorrow, do not wait until today to get all the presents assembled;   

      * Get others involved.  Establish a program with as many as possible involved in the preparation and in the actual event.  Make sure that all who ought to feel invited are properly informed.  Afterwards, the lasting memory includes that personal involvement. 

      * List details in writing so that one has a clear understanding as to who gets the room in order and who selects the music.  Compiling fine details too far in advance verges on the minutiae folks' approach, but pinpointing general details allows informal people to see that some things ought to be done early -- and keeps the fretters allayed.  Parties take some preparation. 

      * Accept the two types of people as involved in this event, whether a formal religious occasion or a social party, and be willing to live with and satisfy to some degree both types -- minutia folks are taken up with details and relaxed ones with omitting fine details; 

      * Expect the unexpected and even plan for it, for storms arise and accidents occur.  Meet all adversity with equanimity; 

      * Reflect on the significance of the event.  Give some time the day before to consider the spiritual significance of Christmas or the event at hand.  Thank God for the opportunity to be present and to assist in making this a memorable occasion for others.  Our serving others as best we can is itself part of the ingredients that ought to be remembered.   

      * Thank God afterwards.  Realize that the occasion may have proved different from what was anticipated.  Nothing in this world is perfect and so the gathering may not meet over-expectations.  That is a good reason to let it come as it does. 

      Prayer:  Lord, tomorrow is Christmas.  Help us plan to celebrate this event, realizing that this is a happening that you planned in the fullness of time, and we are mere participants.  Give us a sense of how to celebrate this day in the fullness of Spirit and to assist others in doing the same.   






An assortment of gifts.
(*photo credit)

December 25, 2010     The Ultimate Christmas Gift 

      Send victory like a dew you heavens, and let the clouds rain it down.  Let the earth open for salvation to spring up. Let deliverance, too, bud forth which I, Yhwh, shall create.

                                   (Isaiah 45:8)

     At Christmas we celebrate the coming of the Lord in a special way, a profoundly gentle way that only the mercy of God can give us.  A Christmas card says it all in the awe and wonderment in the eyes of young shepherds looking at the infant.  The artist captured by picture what fails us in words written or spoken.  Our past recedes; our future is beyond the horizon -- but the present moment consists of a gaze into the crib.  Jesus comes to us here and now, something children grasp better than adults.  Here, like mountains and bluegrass, Heaven and Earth kiss.

      We are grateful --

     *  for having been saved by the Messiah and being invited into the saving process as a member of the divine Family; 

      *  for adequate health to be present and alive right now;  

     *  for the good food and essentials needed to live this year including gardens, fields, woods, and ample fresh water;

      *  for the gratitude of the poor who seemed so much more thankful for gifts given this year then in times past; 

      *  for the awakening of poor nations who call for proper compensation for the wrongdoing of past and present;  

     *  for peacemakers who speak out in this war-torn world, even amid the horrible pressure of the military/industrial complex to pursue goals through military means; 

      *  for our Holy Father and his writings, talks and general leadership; 

      *  for all guardians of the faith who constantly call us back to examine our ways of doing things so we do not lapse;   

      *  for the insight to see the connection between environmental problems and our economic system -- and the need for change;  

      *  for benefactors willing to support unpopular causes and for the nine million who visited the Earthhealing website; 

      *  for freedom to communicate at low costs to people in 115 countries and to prepare to publish books in the coming year; and 

      *  most importantly, for experiencing Christ's presence in our midst in a special way this Christmas. 



Baking Christmas cookies from traditional family technique.
(*photo credit)

December 26, 2010          May All Families Be Holy 

    And who is this Jesus?  The early church asked this question and so do people in every age.  Parts of the Luke and Matthew infancy narratives seek to answer this.  Joseph Fitzmyer says that there is a historic nucleus to those parallel stories: the reign of Herod, the virgin Mary, Joseph being of the House of David, angelic announcements, Jesus as Son of David, the Holy Spirit, Joseph not being involved, the  name "Jesus," Savior, born after Mary and Joseph came together, the birth place of Jesus in Bethlehem, and the childhood in Nazareth.   

     Flight into Egypt.  Abraham Lincoln summed up his youth's history as "I was a poor boy" and much of his hidden life was turned into a myth with a historic nucleus.  Matthew's Gospel of the flight is the struggle of a poor refugee family, not unlike the journey of millions this year alone.  During the Christmas season we travel with the infant in the womb as we prepare ourselves to be a new light to the world.  We travel with Joseph, Mary and with the child Jesus.  Here a journey or a toil for accommodations are rudimentary and the destination uncertain.  We too are itinerant people heading to a destiny we cannot fully visualize. 

     We are descendants of people of faith.  They believed in the future to such a degree that they bore and nurtured children; yet for 99% of us, our ancestry is only a few generations of names and dates.  We honor their graves; we remember them in our celebrations; we hold their photos in revered places.  To look back occasionally, though not walk backward lest we stumble, is a way to get our perspective on life's journey.  The story will end in a cave in Bethlehem, or the flight into Egypt.  We are meant to be going to the light -- the distant place where things will be better.  Our journey of faith started with our ancestors who nurtured us in faith and love.   

    Similarly, we look ahead and hope that things will endure.  God is faithful and loves us as we are here and now.  To begin to achieve HERE within ourselves is a more perfect harmony; NOW we are capable of extending our love out in space and time to those in need.  We remember our past and those deceased loved ones; and we await the future in hope.  Our present moment is built on love, and this virtue alone will last when faith and hope fade away.  Familial love enhances the present moment for all of us. 

     People are mobile.  These are difficult times for migrants, refugees, or those from broken homes.  Modern communication helps us keep in touch, but it takes an effort to hold things together.  Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were refugees from a tyranny, and so are many others today. 

      Prayer: Lord, help us to emphasize family-centered togetherness that includes celebrations, gatherings, and sharing of our lives with those nearer and dearer to us.  We could call on Joseph and Mary, the first Christian refugees, to show us the way.





Glowing embers from fireplace.
(*photo credit)

December 27, 2010     Healing Benefits of Classical Music 

      As we rest a little after Christmas events, nothing is better than good music to help us relax.  My apologies for having written about two thousands essays related to healing our wounded Earth, and not a note about the classical music that I listen to several hours every day.  Perhaps it is because we do not conceive of something so pleasing as music in a pragmatic sense.  Or maybe it is the sacred nature of music that makes us want to keep it respected and untouched and even unmentioned.  No excuses suffice. 

      The experts give good music credit for relieving human ailments and for a wide variety of benefits.  Some credit Mozart's works with increasing the intelligence of unborn babies.  Those youngsters also can have teaching enhanced with the proper soothing sounds.  By teenage years, music often plays a role but here the detrimental nature of loud music as the onset of deafness has been cited as a music minus.  Elders are known through a variety of studies to be comforted by classical music and this includes with strengthening those with illnesses both physical and mental.  The role of music in meditation and prayer is evident to many worshippers and has led to great advances in sacred music. 

      The value of music for pets is more documented than for other domesticated animals or wildlife.  However, some admit that experimental animals and draft animals (horses, oxen, etc.) perform better with good and soothing music.  Daily, people will attest to that. In the inverse, loud music can affect the performance of these animals. In my youth, we knew that loud or rumbling music disturbed our dairy cows and prevented their being properly milked.  I greatly suspect that not all animals have such discriminating tastes, for some dogs seem to thrive on all types of music.  However, soothing music is generally liked by many.

      As reported in The Guardian Weekly (July 2, 2010), a German sewage plant pipes in music by Mozart that the director, Anton Stucki, insists leads the bacteria to help make a more efficient decomposition of the biomass in his plant in eastern Germany.  This person says he thinks the secret is in the musical vibrations, "which penetrate everything, including the water, the sewage and the cells.  It creates a resonance that stimulates the microbes and helps them to work better."  Another Austrian sewage plant has also adapted the classical music approach and the operators testify that this has reduced the cost of sewage treatment.  No details for subjecting gardens to classical music are given but if we speak and garden plants respond, so do these more sophisticated plants respond to some degree to classical music.  Studies ought to be conducted on this subject.  Most likely, all involved in healing our troubled Earth demand the accompaniment of good music. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to hear the heavenly court's music  at a distance and, in a feeling gratitude and joy, to move in that direction in our journey of faith.  




Farm in rural Anderson Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

December 28, 2010     Facing Our Phobias, Especially Phobophobia 

      We prepare to enter into another year, 2011, and we do not know what it will bring as far as global security, national welfare, family and community relations and personal health goes.  Must we expect to be fearful or strive to be fearless and rid ourselves of all fears, or is there a middling position?    

      The Greek-derived word, Phobia, refers to an irrational, excessive or persistent fear of a particular thing or situation or types of people.  Hundreds of types of fears have been unearthed ranging from ablutophobia (fear of washing or bathing) to zoophobia (fear of animals).  Some other examples include:  claustrophobia (fear of being in an enclosed space); hydrophobia (fear of water);  necrophobia (fear of death or dead bodies); photophobia (extreme sensitivity to light); and Pyrophobia (excessive fear of fire).  A collection of all phobias can be found by googling "Phobia Fear Release."  This source includes some surprises and some expected fears of heights, darkness, noises, or bears.  If anything, the listing can be a basic lesson in Greek or Latin vocabulary.   

      First we each ought to know and list our own fears, some mild and some so serious that they result in avoidance mechanisms and lack of coming to terms with certain behavior.  Knowing our phobias is the first step to becoming more balanced Earth healers. Treating those (some say all are treatable) that hinder our mobility and ministry could be a second step.  Some fears may even prove a good thing given our situations, addictions, struggles or propensities.  For one struggling for perfection, peccaphobia or fear of sin is a good; in fact, one (fear of God) is regarded as a gift of the Holy Spirit.  Proper fears may help or hinder us.  If we must ride a vehicle to do ordinary activities then autophobia will have to be addressed.  If the phobia is another person's, we may help them ride the elevator or see the doctor. 

      Phobias occur within other parts of the animal kingdom.  Some dogs are extremely afraid of thunder perhaps triggered by the sound (more than the lightning), and they will be desperate to hide or get inside the house.  One acquaintance had two dogs; the senior male lost control in a thunder storm and the underling assumed dominance in a very dramatic fashion.  People will also show dominance by taking advantage of those with phobias to threaten, laugh at, or impose practices that would never be otherwise attempted had a phobia not expressed itself at given situations.  We become vulnerable during times when phobias express themselves, and thus many of us have fear of fears -- phobophobia.  "Don't be afraid," the Lord tells the apostles and his audiences on various occasions and maybe in our hopes of being fearless at all times we seek to suppress or hide our fears.  At times, it's best to say "I fear the speed you are traveling;" "I fear for your safety."  

      Prayer:  Lord, allow us to be fearless when needed, fearful at the proper time and in some challenging circumstances, and give us the wisdom to know the difference.  





Warming rays of sunlight strike icy waters.
(*photo credit)

December 29, 2010    Prudence and Climate Change Deniers 

      Today's title has three aspects: the virtue of prudence, climate change, and people who deny human-caused situations.  Taken individually they are interesting areas of speculation; taken together these could be the ingredients of a perfect global storm.  Let us first look at each in turn. 

      Prudence is a cardinal virtue related to sound judgment in practical matters.  As we mature, we ought to become less reckless in behavior.  We learn to take enough provisions on a journey; we speak in a civil fashion for assistance and companionship; we drive with some degree of care and alertness; we do not overuse food, drink, or prescribed pills; we dress warmly, and on and on.  Failing to act prudently results in acting recklessly, thoughtlessness, or a misguided sense of privileged guardianship by parents, teachers, friends, government regulators, medical doctors or just about anyone.  On the other hand, people do not want to be "prudes," or those overly concerned or modest about proper behavior or speech.  Prudence is practiced with discretion.  

      Climate change is something that can be observed reasonably when close at hand.  In late summer, EnvironmentAmerica put out a report, "Global Warming and Extreme Weather," that detailed expected hurricanes, coastal storms, extreme precipitation, wildfires (1.2 million acres in California alone in 2008), and heat waves (most can vouch for that in 2010).  We hear that glaciers are melting and ice sheets calving.  Few deny the occurrence of climate change.  However, some latch on to "climategate" stories from 2009, and they deny human causes for global warming. 

      Denying is not a new art; in fact, one can find examples any place where human history is recorded.  Some people cannot face a sound judgment, and therefore refuse to change or to initiate new practices.  Some deny that the alarm has sounded or that they have health troubles.  Some deny what is evident to an astute observer: the money flow indicates overspending; the military does not provide security; or my personal health is not threatened by the undiagnosed aches and pains.  We all deny some things from effects of long-term eating practice or shorter-term squabbles.  Denial is common in coping with life's crosses. 

      Any one of the three terms just described is of some value.  Combine them and we could have a global perfect storm, especially if climate change is caused by our own activities, some of which we refuse to change through denial.  The call to the virtue of prudence is not necessarily going to settle the deniers, but it must be voiced even when the witness is regarded as a disturber of peace -- or more accurately the social tranquility.  Confront deniers.  Have them read James Hansen's Storms of My Grandchildren: The truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (Bloomsbury 2009). 

      Prayer:  Lord teach us how to be prudent in troubled times.





Thorns of the honeylocust tree.

December 30, 2010   Let's Get Serious: Realistic Resolutions 

      Like most people, I'm not an expert on resolutions, for I have forgotten or broken a great majority over a long life.  Frankly, part of the reason is that many resolutions are unrealistic and are allowed to lapse.  Often we are too discouraged to restart them as the year moves along.  Even such meaningful resolutions as cutting food consumption, or reading more, or increasing physical exercise may seem easy on January first and onerous on the thirty-first.  Practices may be too vague, and concrete results demand a longer- term persistence.  Start with resolutions that can succeed easily. 

      In resolution making let's get serious; life is short and we need to conserve our time and effort.  We can have a moving prayer life while involved in activities that consume our day, for we are to pray always.  If there are periods of quiet and recollection, all the better; but let's not so fix these that they hinder our daily activities. The following areas may offer some success: 

      * Morning Prayer --  Begin the day with the simple thanks that we have survived the night and are prepared to make the day the best that is possible.  Some make a meditation of some definite length; however, rigid requirements may result in a failure that compounds discouragement.  Some start with the prayer of Matins and continue with the hours with psalms and communal reflections.   

      * A Day's Offering --  The average person will live about thirty thousand days, and that is a nice array of human potential to give as an offering back to God.  Merely offering each day, even if for a single moment, for the good of others with whom we are in some sort of contact will be of immense value to them and us.  This is especially true if we have aches and ailments of which there is no foreseeable terminal point -- and yet we offer them for the good of others.  Often we can tell the person(s) for whom we make the offering.  No matter what their own degree of prayer life, most people appreciate our remembering them in a special way.  

      * Individual Acts of Gratitude --  Some time during the course of the day we could attempt to just say "thanks" to another person or to the Lord for allowing us to breathe and live.  It only takes a moment to say "thanks," and it gives our ministry of gratitude a boost; it permits our healing powers to expand in an inspired enthusiasm that consumes our day in a spiritual way. 

      * Evening Examen -- Complete the day with a review just before falling asleep; this is the day's most important prayer according to St. Ignatius.  I have found that a thankful survey of what has been accomplished is at the heart of the review -- not a feeling of guilt as to how things could have been done better.  In some cases a resolution for betterment may be called for.   

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to pray as best we can, to find the best periods of the day for more formal prayers and to see life itself as an informal conversation with God. 






(*photo by Kevin Millham)

December 31, 2010   Memorial to Kristin Johannsen (1957-2010)                          

      Thanks to all our Internet users for your loyal visits in 2010.  Our "Daily Reflections" have been visited by people from 113 countries, and our website received over ten million hits in 2010.  Your and our interests come together, and we continue to hope that you benefit from these "Daily Reflections" and the photographs that accompany each entry.  Please help support our efforts through donations and spreading the good word.


                    The Blooming Cosmos

       God comes to us in gentle ways,

          yes, in flowers, when words have interlude,

       and our hearing sinks in utter solitude,

           and future chorus melts into a silent maze. 

       A cosmos bouquet on Kristin's final day,

          Kevin says it was her favorite flower, 

       and has a photo of her immersed in a Korean patch,

           a celestial rapture, a cosmic ray. 

       I sow cosmos, my Grandma's favorite also,

          among vegetables to enliven and draw butterflies.

       On this October frost-prone day when impulse tries

          to compost the stripped stalk -- a voice says, "No."        

       After the funeral, on returning from Wisconsin,

          I find the stalk is in full bloom,

       even amid the drought-ravaged, bone-dry garden.

          Mini-miracle?  Natural autumn growth again? 

        Thus I gather the fifteen blooms now here,

         to adorn the Berea altar at Kristin's memorial,

       To show God's favor rests on her writing career,

         cut short at the end of her fifty-third year.  

       My homily is meant to touch what God lets us know

         in the Good Book's immortal words of love.

       But we are speechless in letting go of a friend,

         Only cosmos' brilliant pink says all miss her so.           

       When will the blooming end?  After shared words glow,

         I return to the garden and there the stalk

       has bloomed again.  In dying, Kristin teaches us 

         that all is a miracle for those who let go.


               Al Fritsch, SJ Author and Earthhealing Team --

               Mary Davis, Editing Consultant

               Charlie Fritsch, Technical Consultant, EH Board

               Janet Powell, Web Manager, EH Board

               Sally Ramsdell, "The Golden Eagle"

               Mark Spencer, Technical Resources, EH Board

Copyright © 2010 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved.

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

Excerpts from the JERUSALEM BIBLE, copyright © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday & Company, Inc.  Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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