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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.


A series of written meditations and reflections



Sustainable Living Through Appropriate Technology

by Al Fritsch & Paul Gallimore

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February 2005

earth healing february calendar


A February Day

When winter extends itself in frosty clime,
and spring won't come, nor poems rhyme. 
Such is the shortest month sublime,
but longest by far in psychic time.

Sing out winter's final dirge,
Fault the neighbor, mall-led splurge.
Exercising urge, Lenten purge,
Greenhouse starts when spirits surge.

Candlemas Day, a feast of light,
For days get longer, an hour less night.
Hear the mourning dove, birdsong-starved delight
Listen! the tree sap's finding height. 

Poured molasses in January's a chore,
but molasses in February is still slower.
Winter, winter, may it ebb away?
Modest delay, oh fibbing February!

Copyright © 2005 by Al Fritsch




















February 1, 2005 Cabin Fever/ First Robin

February may be the shortest month in calendar time, but for
me it is the longest in psychic time. Will the winter ever end? 
What will overcome cabin fever and the itch to get outdoors and
turn the soil? That cabin fever has a physical and psychological
basis in fact; it develops from lack of full spectrum sunlight
and fully nutritious foods, from lack of ordinary social
intercourse due to weather conditions and bad roads, and the
inability by many to get the fresh air needed to overcome indoor
atmosphere and the dreary four walls in the dark period of the

Yes, February's lengthening days are most welcome, as is the
sound of the cooing mourning doves -- those wonderful harbingers of

February is the faint awakening of the new growing season. 
We strain our eyes to see the faint hue of yellow-green as it
appears on the willow trees, and we search for the budding
crocuses, the greening wild leeks, the first snowdrop, and the
green and yellow mist of winter-growing chickweed. We discover the
delights of a blooming dandelion. We extend compassion for the
returning robins who have to suffer through unexpected cold spells
-- or did some of them ever leave?. The groundhog myth is right on
in at least one way: all nature is on the lookout for some sign of
spring. And while you do different things depending on where you
reside, here in Kentucky we sow our peas and set out our onion
bulbs with hopes that spring will soon come to us.

It is the month of the President's Day, and the day allows us
the opportunity to discover characteristics in the lives of
Washington and Lincoln needed by our country and world today.


No migrant so earns our gratitude,
When you bid the south adieu.
Perky, alert, wired and clued,
A soon-laden robin with ova blue,
To start a new brood 
When that nest is through.

You honor us, your choice of place
You could have graced another homestead,
The welcome mat is our greenspace.
You feast upon our space instead --
A sign that no chemical trace
Will harm what you have bred. 


February 2, 2005 Light a Candle

...because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared
for all nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the
glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:30-32)

The feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary is also called
Candlemas Day, the day when the candles used in liturgical services
throughout the year have traditionally been blessed. It is a
fitting time because this is also the high season of winter, the
week when winter is half over by the reckoning of winter solstice
to Vernal (spring) Equinox. 

The Candle's Light. The ancient wax-and-wick means of lighting
is a truly symbolic instrument. It can be a guide; it illumines
the way within the house just as a lighthouse directs ships on the
seacoast. The candle gives a gentle light, much as Mary gave a
gentle glow in her life. Candles are associated with festive
events, for they give dignity to cold, dark interiors. 
Candles in the way they burn are truly uplifting; they are
beckoning and warm. Their flicker adds a sense of harmony to the
interior environment with its play of shadows -- a one-candle-power
light show. 

The Advent candles give a sense of darkness can be conquered;
the Christmas candles and light announce that Christ has come to
the world; the ordinary church candles at the feast of the
Presentation foreshadows the strength of sunlight that is coming; 
the baptismal candle signifies that we are light to others; 
the Easter New First tells us that Christ ushers in a new Creation;
and the Paschal Candle announces The Risen Christ. The tapes
carried by the congregation show that we strive to imitate the
Risen Lord.

Mystical Light. The foretelling of sorrow by Simeon to Mary in
chapter two of Luke's Gospel is a glimpse into the future, just as
Anna's announcement that she had fulfilled her life in seeing the
infant is a choice moment which contains elements of both past and
future. There is a sense of the mystical woven into the entire
event, as happens at very special times. The candle here is
something special commemorating the past and foreshadowing the ever
strengthening sunlight of the coming months. Both the past and the
future are before us. However, we are still immersed in winter,
and so the past has a grip on us which we know will be loosened,
but not yet.

Nature's Light. February 2nd has both religious and secular
significance, because of its placement at the beginning of this
mercifully short month of February. All creatures -- human and
non-human -- crave the coming of spring; all creation seemed
focused on what is to come, that is, an end to our half-spent
winter. We need to go to the door and look out at the seemlingly
lifeless landscape. We await in hope better days to come.





February 3, 2005 Reasons for Composting

Composting is natural recycling. Life will return to this
seemingly lifeless world. From death will come new life.
Yard wastes (grass, tree leaves and trimmings) as well as non-meat
kitchen wastes can be composted by the use of earthworms, friendly
bacteria, moisture and air, in outdoor or indoor containers. The
amount of time needed to turn the waste products into humus for the
garden will vary with the season and the arrangement of the
composting pile, as well as the care given to it over time. 
Composting works faster when the pile is mixed occasionally, and
when the proper amount of water and air are present. A balance of
carbon and nitrogen must also be obtained. Under suitable
conditions, the waste from animal manures and dry composting
toilets can be used as garden compost. 

Six reasons for composting:

1. Encourage natural processes -- Composting is a form of
natural recycling of organic matter. Materials that could be
discarded are reused in growing areas as organic humus matter. 
These may include but are not limited to the following: yard
products (branches, leaves, etc.); garden waste (vines, stems,
etc.); orchards and agricultural waste; animal and barnyard wastes;
and kitchen wastes (non-grease products).

2. Prevent pollution -- Potential landfill discards are instead
reused by conversion to organic matter and this cuts landfill
volume in some areas by as much as half.

3. Furnish a mulch source -- Composting is not only efficient
natural recycling but the product is valuable soil amendment.

4. Physical Exercise Opportunity -- This is ideal outdoor work
that is not overly strenuous.

5. Model of Environmental Education -- This is one of the best
displays or models for educating others to less resource waste and

6. Responsibility -- Through composting, one reduces the waste
in one's backyard and does so without burdening other places with
waste. We take responsibility for what we have used and do not
pass our so-called wastes off onto other (poorer) communities.

Devices and procedures for composting include bins that need
not be commercial or a waste of resources in themselves. For
example, outdoor composting bins can be made from discarded wooden
pallets or slabs; kitchen composting boxes can be made from wooden
packing crates or ammo boxes; large-scale operations use windrows
made by farm or heavy industrial machinery. An excellent pollution
prevention practice is to compost waste materials directly in the
field or garden, if space and circumstances permit. 






February 4, 2005 Hospitality and Wildlife 

Wildlife in the wild is a delight to see, observe over time
and photograph. However, it is another matter when animals get
into one's garden. Surprisingly, this is becoming a suburban and
urban gardening problem, the one which produces many inquiries for
all of us who love the wilderness. How do you protect your lawn
shrubs and garden from deer, coons, rabbits, squirrel, mice, and
groundhogs? There is as much written about wildlife control as
about wildlife attraction (bats, bees, birds, butterflies, frogs
and other friendly wildlife).

We can take steps to invite the wildlife that enhances this
particular plot such as by constructing nesting areas, bird boxes,
feeders, watering places and salt blocks. However, for some who
offer no positive enticements, wildlife can become pests. We tell
meat eaters that one ecological principle to consider is to eat
what grows locally. Some want, or encourage others, to harvest
deer for sausage or capture these pesky turkeys and geese for
holiday meals. Others prefer Have-A-Heart traps, and dump
captured animals at someone else's garden -- hardly a charitable

In our relatively remote but wildlife loving garden on the
banks of the Rockcastle River we only grow produce that the deer,
rabbit and coon do not like (okra, the nightshades -- potatoes,
tomatoes, peppers and eggplant -- and members of the onion and
brassica families (collards, kale, mustard, kohlrabi,etc.) and
melons, cucumbers, and pumpkins. At our residential gardens, we
find that dogs are the best protection against stray wildlife which
are attracted to beans and peas. Some gardeners even resort to
buildings double fences about six feet apart and four feet high to
confuse the deer. 

A broader sense of homemaking that includes gardening
encourages us to attract wildlife friends to the garden. These
will enhance the garden's productivity, or make their homes there
without harming the environment. Song birds have been decimated
through loss of habitat and need to be welcomed as refugees and as
partners in promoting organic gardening. This can be done by
providing winter feeding areas, nest locations and bird baths. 
Some purists among the naturalist community do not agree with such
positive attraction, but if human activity has threatened these
species by destruction of rain forests and other habitats, then we
must also take positive steps to protect songbirds. The same could
be said for having frog ponds with pure rainwater, or building
gardens with attractive flowers and liquids for butterflies or

Salt licks are favorites for attracting deer, but we must
remember what close-by neighbors will say at this form of wildlife
enticement. Our sense of hospitality may be resented by others who
view wildlife with some fear and trepidation.




February 5, 2005 Bucking our State Religion 

Every year around Superbowl time, we are forced to reconsider
just how religiously people watch or participate in this national
event. Does this tap into a deeper chord in this country which is
religious? Is it so engraved that questioning it may make us
disloyal and even "heretical"? We are not talking about existing
church buildings or congregations, but a "church" in a more general
sense. It has such ingredients as capitalism, money, Wall Street,
competition and self interest. Yes, doesn't America have an
undeclared state religion with all its structures, rituals, and
even its own god? Woe to those who question the system and its
hidden values.

The State Religion is the American Economic System.
The god in whom we trust is money.
The high temple's sanctuary is Wall Street 
(note a passageway, and not a building).
The indoctrination system is the television screen.
The sacred orders are the graduate degrees or
the act of belonging to wealth.
The current high priest is Alan Greenspan.
The hierarchy are graduates of Harvard's and a few other
business schools.
The clergy are bankers and the business elite.
The parishes are corporations.
The pews are the automobiles and computers.
The aisles are the Interstates and Internet.
The prayers are e-mails and ATM transactions.
The prayer cards are credit cards.
The creed is the American Way.
The church banners are advertisements.
The liturgical celebrations are sitcoms and sporting 
The Church picnic is the Superbowl.
The collection basket is the deposit account and the 
collectors are the IRS agents.
The introductory song is The Star Spangled Banner
before each game. 
The excommunication is jail for felons -- especially
for bucking the System.
The main sins are being humble instead of greedy,
public interest instead of self interest,
living simply instead of being a consumer,
and non-conforming to the American Way.
The missionaries are fair trade folks 
working through American embassies.
The goal is the total triumph of the American Way.
The dutiful rank and file are the universities, 
businesses and, unfortunately, many churches. 
The heretic is the one who strives to bring down 
this system for an alternative. 
Woe to you who do not follow the System; you will be
rendered powerless and marginalized. 





February 6, 2005 Light to the World

You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:13)

On Candlemas Day (Feb. 2) we mentioned different light sources
which serve as symbols for us during the year. During this part of
winter we are keenly aware of light in many of its forms. God is
the source of all light and in the liturgical readings today we are
asked to become lights to the world. 

The Big Bang was an initial moment of light's beginning. God
said "let there be light" and there was light. And God saw that
light was good, and God divided light from darkness. (Genesis 1:3)
As author of all light, God truly is our source of physical and
spiritual energy.

The advantages of physical light. We all need light to see
by in the daylight work we must perform. Light that is artificial
is needed for signals, road markers, for illumination in our
interior living space, and for a multitude of operations. Light
gives us a sense of security. Light triggers the growing or
photosynthetic process of the plants which become our food and
shade trees. Light warms, light heals, light enlightens. 

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your
wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before
you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah
58:8). Christ is a spiritual source for all of us; Christ is a
lamp rolling back the darkness of our environment; he is the way or
lighthouse that guides our journey of faith; he is our life
enlivening us to perform noble deeds; he is the light we need for
healing and refreshment of our bodies. When we let our car sit in sunlight
 in the middle of winter, the interior warms up.  This is a greenhouse effect.
 So there is a greenhouse effect within each of us.  The rays of the light
 of Christ come to us and are transformed to heat energy which cannot 
escape and warms us as though our bodies are greenhouses.
 And thus we become the fuel to warm and enlighten the world.

Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may
see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Matthew
5:16). Christ transfers light to us in a special way in which we
become other Christs to the world around us through the graces of
our Baptism and Confirmation. We are not just mirrors of Christ,
but we enliven as in the photosynthetic process; we guide others;
we furnish a lamplight through which these who have been in
darkness can now have their way illuminated.

Lighten up. This command to be light is most reasonable in
February. Maybe it is time we are to lighten up, spread some
laughter, find a way to make others enjoy what we say. Being light
has a serious quality, for we are to enlighten those in darkness,
but it also has a less serious manner. To be light is to dispel
the darkness of fear and foreboding that makes others shun coming
forth in the truth. There are many ways we become sources of
light. A little humor may be one of those.





February 7, 2005 Waterfalls

A water-related device that has become quite popular is that
of a "waterfalls" within or near a home -- installed for beauty and
sound. Advocates say it can please the ear and ease the mind. I
observed at the summer home of Elaine Burns (she was a volunteer
who helped edit a number of our 1970 vintage books and reports) a
natural Ozark waterfall, around which was built a summer villa. It
was unusual but emitted a very soothing sound through the entire
building. However, one does not have to build around a natural
waterfalls which could disturb the natural landscape. Indoor
artificial waterfalls can be installed at far less cost to the
environment. These can be soothing and the water can be recycled.

Different Types. Outdoor and indoor artificial waterfalls
come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The outdoor ones are
usually water troughs which flow at various slopes to a collecting
pool, from which a pump recirculates the water. These waterfalls
contain basins which can be decorated with objects such as rocks
gathered from different places. Solar water pumps can be modified
for circulating external waterfalls, operating when the sun shines
or immediately afterwards. Internal devices are generally far
smaller and can sit on furniture. One called Moon Shadow is a dish
above which is suspended a globe. Over this a tube brings water
that flows over the whole surface, is collected and then recycled. 
The variety of designs can recycle water effectively, and thus the
style can be selected by what pleases the user. 

Health Effects. Joseph Campbell mentions the sound of water
as being a primitive sound which is recognized by all people. It
harkens back to our earliest instincts and our first emergence from
water millennia ago. Certainly this sound, along with that of a
burning hearth fire, are two of the most soothing, and can have
healing effects on the nerves. The same effects that are given
when speaking of external water fountains apply both to external
and internal falls, except that the bubbling spring effect of the
water jet is absent. The sight and sound can be healing all the
same and establish a nice ambiance for the room. 

Promoting Artificial Waterfalls. Some suggest putting these
devices in offices, banks, doctors' waiting rooms, dentist offices,
and restaurants. Some churches have added permanent waterfalls to
the indoor entrance area. If the waterfalls is something
temporary, it is often added at Easter time or on feasts where
water is a central symbol, especially living or running water. The
only disadvantage is that it can cause some members in
congregations to use the restroom more frequently. Others who are
devotees of Chinese philosophy have more elaborate schemes of
placing the running water at a center of the room, and providing a
reflection area for people to sit or observe the water's movement
and sound and utter a wish -- many cultures associate running water
with good luck. Today, such small waterfalls are becoming very
popular and are worth considering as a gift (whether homemade or
commercially obtained) for ailing or invalid relatives or friends. 






February 8, 2005 Twelve Ways to Curb Fats

As part of Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday we need to consider the
original reason for this season and curb the fat intake during the
coming months. We all need some fat in our diets but this is a 
nutrition area which most American do not have trouble supplying. 
The smell of Big Macs comes to us on the byways and sidewalks and
most of us find it hard to resist. The following dozen suggestions
only work to the degree we allow them to curb our fat intake:

1. When having a meal in a fast food place stay with the salad
or salad bar and soup, and forget the fried meat and French fries -
- which they always make an extra effort to push off on us!

2. If you are not a vegetarian, consider only low-fat meats at
the grocery and also try those veggie substitutes which are getting
pretty good these days.

3. Pass up the donuts and pastries in the shopping line even
though they seem tempting at first.

4. Buy unsaturated cooking oil and make pancakes with it.

5. Omit butter and cream, and cut down on spreads and cream
sauces at meals. A good substitute for the sauces is low-fat
mushroom soup.

6. Fry less, and boil, broil, bake, saute, and steam more.

7. Watch types of snack foods if you are a snacker of any sort. 
How about popcorn, dry-popped and seasoned with chili and garlic
powder -- and other creative additions? Also consider low-fat
snacks such as pretzels.

8. Buy from the low- or no-fat sections: salad dressings, milk
and other dairy products, breakfast cereal, baked goods.

9. Egg consumption can be reduced. They tell us if every
Chinese person has one egg a day it would deplete the world's grain
reserves in a few years. We don't need a breakfast defined by
eggs. How about only one or two such meals per week.

10. Blot off fat when bacon or other cooked meats are being
prepared. It is a good use of the paper towels or newspaper which
is around the place. 

11. Imitation creamer is not as good tasting perhaps as the real
stuff, but most people are willing to take it in coffee if the
other is unavailable.

12. Reduce oil or fat used in cooking. Consider adding a dash
of olive oil when fats and oils must be present. Middle East
people, who use olive oil for cooking, have fewer heart attacks and
appear to be healthier. 






February 9, 2005 Ashes: Sacred Time and Place 

On this day one of the most meaningful liturgical actions
occur in the blessing of the ashes and distributing them to the
faithful people. Here is a holy time and place when and where the
sacredness of all creation becomes quite evident. Once a year we
confront our finitude. Our time is limited, for we are but a brief
candle; our place on the journey of life is transitory. We are
from and to dust, and the ashes remain us of our condition.

Powerful symbol. Ashes (or dust) were used far back in Judeo-
Christian tradition. Ashes were the sign of penance and a humble
stance before the Almighty. The cleansing properties of ashes may
be taken as signifying moral purification. In the early Middle
Ages a dying person was laid on sackcloth sprinkled with ashes and
asked to affirm his or her humble condition before the Creator.

Blessing ashes. We might be tempted to say that ashes are
weak symbols and only meant to be thrown out. That is not the
case. In blessing the ashes, the Church's ministers extend the
Creator's loving hand to what seems so commonplace. We see
something holy that others will pass over and tend to forget or
ignore. For them, ashes is a reminder of how fleeting is their
life and what was not achieved. In sacred time we accept Ash
Wednesday -- a day of great significance in the onrushing time. 

Touching foreheads. It is not enough to have a time set aside
for the presence of sacred ashes; the place is also important --
and that place is the living human beings who believe and thus give
sacredness a special meaning. We are blessed with blessed ashes
and thus this sign tells others that we are people who are
committed to doing special deeds during the upcoming Lenten season.

Other's Loving Touch. Creative participation involves
encouraging those living complex lifestyles, those who are in
life's ruts, the embarrassed and diffident, and those who think
busy themselves with many things, to touch the Earth. Yes, it may
be embarrassing at first for it involves getting our hands dirty. 
But one can soften the invitation by helping aspirants to
anticipate the hurdles to becoming humble. Truly, touching the
Earth is necessary for grave diggers, mud puddle players and
potters. We should all reverently touch the soil, and to see this
as a golden opportunity to enter into God's creative act. Some
prefer a ceremonial touching of soil in a ritualistic setting,
accompanied by poetry, song, dance, procession, and other
liturgical activities. 

Sacramental. Blessed ashes signify the passing of the old and
the beginning of new life. Just as ashes can be a garden
fertilizer for future hearty plants, so our involvement with ashes
can help enliven the world around us. If we are blessed with humus
or humble ashes, we need to extend that blessing to all around us. 
Let us resolve to bless other neighbors, humans and non-humans. 
Ashes are a start -- a fresh beginning for a troubled world.




February 10, 2005 Eat Less Meat

Good reasons exist for reducing meat consumption.

Solidarity with Creatures. Vegetarianism has a sense of
compassion associated with its practice. Abstaining from meat is
quite popular among those with a growing concern about the animals
in our world. Some, especially concerned young people, have
stopped eating meat because of the congestion in feedlots and
massive chicken houses where animals do not have the luxury of
grazing and running in open pastures. Note the bent drumstick, a
harsh reminder of what is happening in a poultry industry where the
chicks can not stand up straight and live normal lives.

Resource Conservation. As many of the world's people become
more affluent, customs change, and people in other countries are
drawn to American customs including the McDonalds fast food menu. 
Some would trace the reasons for this meat-eating rage to hunter-
gatherer instincts. The consumption of meat in the United States
increased fivefold from 1950 to 1999 to 217 million tons, double
the rate of population growth. Meat consumption per person went
from 17 kilograms to 36 kilograms. Meat diets consume more
resources than vegetarian ones, especially when the meat is
produced from grains as opposed to pasture. The various grain
conversion efficiencies are fairly well known: feedlot cattle
require about 7 kilograms for 1 kilogram live weight of product;
pigs 4 to 1, chickens scarcely 2 to 1 and fish less than 2 to 1. 
State of the World 2001, "Eradicating Hunger: A Growing
Challenge," p. 54. 

Season. February generally ushers in Lent. During this season
that follows Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday") the ancient tradition was
to remove the animal fats and meat from the kitchen for a totally
meatless menu. Though restrictions are not observed so strictly
today, still people find it salutary to voluntarily abstain from
meat for periods of time, and especially during Lent and late
winter. It is the season when some of us naturally gain weight,
and thus reducing food intake is a propos -- and cutting out meat
can be part of this curbing of total food consumption.

Economics. Meat can be costly in comparison with home-grown
vegetables, whole grains, and soy products. There is little need
of heavy meat expenditure. Most other cultures are able to prepare
smaller amounts of meat in their cooking and have meals that are
just as nutritious and tasty as our huge hunks of beef or pork.

Health. While a strong argument can be made that meat-eating
in moderation can be healthy, still excessive amounts can cause
gout. Recently meats are found to contain steroids, antibiotics
and other powerful chemicals fed to the meat animals. And what
about the mad cow disease scare? Not all of the growth hormones
and agri-chemicals have been flushed from the animal's body prior
to slaughter. The meat-eating human being is the end of the food
chain, and subject to bioaccumulation of toxic materials. 




February 11, 2005 Simplifying Life is Good News

Lent is a time to review our lifestyles, renew our past
resolutions, and try to take better care of ourselves. We take
seriously the message found in essays, sermons and homilies: we
Americans consume a quarter of the world's resources and only
comprise five percent of the world's people. If the rest of the
world could live like us, the available resources would be
essentially depleted in a short time. All the while, we know that
the hungry and destitute are only a door step away, at least via
the television tube. The parable of Lazarus becomes more vivid
with each day. Rice bowls are passed out; fasting includes coins
for the needy; maybe we settle for less television, fewer steaks;
a satisfying feeling comes over us. Yes, and simplifying lives
also saves money and resources. However, this fact is not
generally perceived immediately by individuals, and even less so by
members of affluent communities.

Creative living. Living simply has spiritual meaning to
serious individuals, who find it enhances prayer and can render
fasting uplifting -- at least temporary fasting. One of the great
mistakes in simplifying life is to think only in individual terms. 
In fact, living more simply opens up the greater community to new
possibilities. But a new awareness is beginning to emerge, namely,
that affluence is addictive and deadening. An awareness of simple
living steps, such as eating less meat at meals, or conserving
energy, opens vistas for change and improvement. The basic message
is that living simply is Good News for all citizens in our

A lost opportunity. We are faced with answering the
prevailing influence of a libertarian philosophy: Let all do as
they please, provided it does not hurt anyone. The simple living
folks remain silent when it is time to speak. We simplifiers have
history on our side, for every period of grand affluence is
followed by the rapid decline of religious life. Didn't some of
the prophets as Jeremiah, Isaiah and Amos say as much? And yet
even those of us who champion the prophetic spirit lapse into the
silence while clearly intuiting a dying civilization. We fear we
will be ignored or ridiculed, if we press the matter beyond our own
room or house. Such messages of simplification of life will be
laughed at on all sides.

Addictive behavior? The problem is deeper than missed
opportunities -- and that is why our silence is even more harmful. 
We are becoming aware that merely encouraging people to read more,
listen more and learn more is not enough. An intellectual
campaign, even an Earth Literacy Program, is not sufficient if
people are addicted. It is as though we would sponsor distillery
tours and health talks for alcoholics. On the other hand a
successful AA program teaches people to strengthen their will
power. It has proved far superior to a purely rational approach to
breaking addiction. Maybe those of us with a desire to simplify
lives could learn a lesson from the Alcoholics Anonymous people.






February 12, 2005 Sacred Sites

Hodgenville, KY, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, is a
sacred shrine or site. There are many others shrines in this
country associated with historic persons or events which we hold
with some reverence. Sacred sites are locations where the heart,
mind and whole being is moved to the wonder of Creation or where
something significant has occurred in our collective memory. Most
settled communities with a budding spiritual heritage have found
and identified their own "Sacred Sites," public places accessible
and recognized by the community. These may have cultural,
religious or historic significance for a special group or a broader
portion of the population. The shrine becomes a keystone and means
of preserving our collective memory. 

Description. These sites stimulate all the senses ---- the
beauty of a unique scene or vista, the scent of evergreens or
seawater, the sounds of wind, birds, or rushing water, the texture
of rock or tree bark, and the taste of sassafras or berries. Such
a confluence of stimuli makes a natural meditation area. Many
sites are plainly visible and known to all; others are known to
only a few so trespassers would not discover the place. Our faith
in the Incarnate One is sensuous and, especially Catholic
Christians as well as people of Earth-related religions, have a
propensity to find such sites of special interest. As Mitch Finley
says in The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (p. 19) "We like to
touch, taste, and smell God -- or, at least, we like to touch,
taste, and smell God's presence." Such sacred sites give us these

Importance. A sacred site has a powerful effect in forming
community as a natural gathering, reflecting, or resting place. 
Particular site selection characteristics include the following:
secluded, but not totally so for people fear vandalism; accessible
for a great number of people; scenic and devoid of major
distractions such as noise; natural and with minimal development,
conducive to prayer and reflection; and held as unique by
landholders, residents, or other interested parties. In some
cases, one finds out about these sites through research and
rediscovery. For instance, archaeologists may uncover artifacts
indicating that indigenous peoples worshipped in this location. A
certain site -- birthplace, imprisonment, awakening, gathering,
battle, or immense suffering -- becomes hallowed by reason of an
event of special attention and our setting the place apart. 

Sacred Earth. We can give special attention to portions of
the Earth where sacred memory is strong and thus broaden our sense
of respect, a virtue somewhat lacking in the casual American
culture. Those shrineless persons, who have no sense of sacredness
to any place, will most likely have no respect for the planet as a
whole or the fragile environment in which they are immersed. It's
time we champion sacred sites as models for a deepening sense of
respect for our entire planet and all its creatures. And promoting
such sacred space is a form of earth healing as well.





February 13, 2005 Times of Trial and Temptation

Trials and temptations are part of life, either arising from
within ourselves or from without. God is not intent on testing us
but may permit us to experience some difficult moments. We are
tempted to seek lives of comfort and success, if we but follow the
course of least resistance. At Lent's start we strive to confront
these moments that test our will power and commitment. Adam and
Eve were tempted and succumb after being blinded into thinking of
themselves as little gods. They became aware of their nakedness. 
The Israelites were tempted when wandering forty years, accepted
idols from neighboring Canaanite cults, turned from God, and
hardened their hearts. 

Jesus' Temptations. Jesus is tested immediately after his
baptism by John when his divinity was revealed. During this series
of tests in the desert we see that Jesus is like us in every way
but sin. While Mark's account of the temptations is brief, both
Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4: 1-13) speak of three though in a
different sequence. Unlike our first parents and the Israelites,
Jesus resisted. These were the tests which would deal with his
public ministry when he would announce liberation of captives "with
the power of the Spirit within him." How would Jesus accomplish
that short active ministry. Father Fitzmyer asks "Could it not be
that Jesus recounted some form of these stories as figurative,
parabolic resumes of the seduction latent in the diabolic
opposition to him and his ministry?" St. Luke Vol.1, p. 509.

Security in Material Objects. A major temptation is that
material things can give us security. "Not by bread alone" is the
quote from Deuteronomy which Jesus uses in response to the test. 
It would be nice to be rich enough not to need anything. "Would
that I could have a million dollars and be secure to do good
deeds." But worldly goods entice us to "need" more and more such
goods. We are tempted by boats, planes, fast cars, credit cards,
and goods of every type. Poverty may allow a spiritual security
not found in overabundance -- even that of bread from stones.

The Quest for Fame. Positioned on the pinnacle of the temple
Jesus endures the temptation to do something dramatic, to have a
spectacular entry into public life through the flare for attention
and drama, and to be an instant hero. We dream of soaring among
others like a figure skater who floats about effortlessly. We
dream of obtaining fame through deeds of glory. We are enticed to
the world of fiction and forget that obedience to God's will is
part of an ever deepening mystery, which is part of the journey of
our lives. To turn from the face of reality is a major temptation.

The Search for Power. We seek power over others and fail to
see that this is corrupting. The splendor of God's creation can
mesmerize us, allowing us to be detoured into seeing creatures as
idols or the beauty as a diversion. Rather, we are to be single-
hearted and chaste; only in God do we trust. Overcoming all forms
of temptation remains a challenge, and we thus seek God's help.





February 14, 2005 Valentine's Day and Prayer

Valentine's Day is really the baptizing of an ancient Roman
pagan love feast in the later part of the fifth century A.D. The
current name associated with the day from an earlier Roman martyr
named Valentine. Much of the current tradition of gifts of cards,
flowers and candy is from late Middle Age and more recent
traditions. The more light-hearted and comic gifts are of rather
recent vintage springing from the middle of the 19th century. 

Attempts through deeds. Many of us find it easier to say "I
love you" to another through deeds rather than words. The billions
of verbal expressions over the centuries are still as lacking as a
sincerely expressed regret over a loved one's passing. We seem
helpless and all words fail us at moments of sorrow or of testimony
to love. How do we express what is deep in our hearts except
through the works of our hands. 

Feeble words. Yes, we are drawn to speak because our
communication of love involves words. In some way, the Valentine
is a word seeking to express the extended love of what God has
shown to us by our sharing of that love for and with others. 
Perhaps this is the perfect time to ponder the poet's words, "it is
truly better to have loved and lost, than not to have loved at
all." We fail at times, we stumble, we are embarrassed about
expressions of our past. Yet we tried and that is all the more
important than to have succeeded.

God is Love. God is the Holy One who has loved us first. Our
existence is the divine loving deed; the inspiration in our heart
is the loving word spoke by the Other to us personally. So often
as fellow Jesuit Max Oliva writes in his book, Free to Pray, Free
to Love, we do not have an adequate awareness of the unconditional
love that God has for us. In part this is due to our lacking of
love for ourselves. We find it difficult to see how God could love
us so, since we are more aware of our own failures. Max quotes
Thomas Merton "To say I am made in the image of God is to say that
love is the reason for my existence, for God is love."

Our Prayer. Oh God of love, allow us to love as you have
loved us, and to see what is loving within ourselves so that we may
be able to express your love to others. Make our expressions of
concern and compassion a part of our prayer to You. Teach us to
comfort others with gentleness. Show us how to touch this Earth
tenderly, to feel the warmth of your love found in the creatures
all around us, and to demonstrate that through loving care of all
creation. Give us a deeper sense of respect for all who seek You
in their own life's journey. Grant us the willingness to break out
of ourselves and to become more whole and loving in our relations
to others, and to lead them to search for and find sacred spaces in
their own world. Inspire us to see all creatures as members of the
community of all beings of which we belong. Confirm in us that by
protecting this community we extend the powers You have given us in
becoming part of your family. 





February 15, 2005 Noise Pollution

In winter, we generally hear ordinary outdoor noises, which are
generally dampened by summer and autumn leaves. Also in the
unseasonably warmer days of late winter it seems that a sleeping
world comes back to live. Suddenly, we are awakened from naps to
the sounds of squealing children at play, revved up motor bikes,
dogs barking, crows cawing, garbage cans banging, and a host of
other noises. These sounds are measured in decibels with every ten
doubling the loudness, e.g., a quiet basement is 20, an average
voice is 60 and a lawnmower is 90 decibels for the operator. 

Pollution. Noise is rapidly becoming a major environmental
pollutant. It affects all rural and urban people, rich and poor,
old and young, those indoors and those outdoors. Noise affects us
without us acknowledging or even realizing its effects. Children
are particularly vulnerable to noise pollution, because of the
potential for irreversible inner ear damage and their ability to
stay near the source longer than the rest of us. Teenagers attend
rock concerts that register 110 decibels or more, while 115 is the
limit beyond which the Occupational Health and Safety
Administration (OSHA) forbids any unprotected exposure. Young
children play next to noisy highways. Senior citizens may live in
congested noisy neighborhoods, and endure the racket of a kitchen
garbage disposal which can reach 75 decibels. The best estimates
are that overall noise levels have increased by about 20 decibels
over the past half century. Leaf blowers can reach 100 decibels
for the operator. 

Health Effects. The dangers of noise pollution have long been
recognized. A 1970 study for the City of New York warned that
noise levels in that city were "intense, continuous and persistent
enough to threaten basic community life." Some say that noise
increases the secretion of adrenaline in humans, perhaps because
our ancestors were alerted to dangers from the roar of the lion and
the screams of a baby. Noise can cause stress with its long-term
detrimental health effects. No wonder ear protection is advised
for those with prolonged exposure at these levels. 

Quality of Life. Silence is golden. We understand why as we
start to realize that increased stress and decline in the quality
of life can be noise related. Perhaps future generations will no
more tolerate excessive noise than we now tolerate environmental
tobacco smoke or other forms of air pollution. In fact, noise may
prove to have as great a cumulative health effect on individual
Americans as air or water pollution. Someone who worked with an
airlines did some independent research on noise levels in the
first-class sections of seven different types of commercial
aircraft. Levels often exceeded those allowed in industrial work
space. Levels in various schools, playgrounds, near highway
congestion, and even senior citizen homes can at times exceed legal
industrial levels. Noise problems are often regarded as mere
nuisances of a few rather than a hazard to all of society.
Reference: Smithsonian, March 2001 pp. 88-98.






February 16, 2005 A Sense of Hope

"I can hardly imagine living without hope. As for the future 
of the world, there is a colorful spectrum of possibilities,
from the worst to the best. What will happen, I do not know.
Hope forces me to believe that those better alternatives will 
prevail, and above all it forces me to do something to make 
them happen."  -- Vaclav Havel

Havel seems as critical of the West as he has been of
Communism, which had no concern for the environment in its
incessant growth of production at all costs. The West is also a
system of impersonal power, especially through the practices of
multinational corporations and "the omnipresent dictatorship of
consumption, production, advertising, commerce/consumer culture."

Reference: Vaclav Havel, "Power and Powerless" in Living in
Truth, (London: Faber and Faber. 1989) 

People like Havel and Nelson Mandala have suffered from long
periods of imprisonment and have had the time to reflect on what is
happening in our world. However, even when seeing the faults of
the so-called enlightened cultures of the West, they do not
despair, though they easily could. 

The same sense of hope can be said of George Washington during
the darkest days of the American Revolution. In the winters of
1777 through 1780 his Continental army suffered from lack of
supplies, desertions, poor living quarters, and a lack of general
support by the Congress and other nations. Would it endure and see
the completion of the Revolution? Though Washington saw the
faults of the system that he was trying to overcome and the
inherent weaknesses of the colonies, he and his close associates
still had a vision which carried him through. He had hope and he
communicated the energy stemming from it to others around him. In
this way he was truly the father of our nation.

This same sense of hope can be found in the administration of
Abraham Lincoln in the dark days of the Civil War from 1861 to
1865. Just as in the Revolutionary War, there were sustained
periods of time during the Civil War when the cause could have been
lost. It was enduring hope -- and prayer -- which made Lincoln a
great leader through a dark trial in American history.

We can profit from hope-filled people even when we see their
own faults through the prism of time. We can regard them as models
for our own lives. And our most hopeful model is Christ himself
who is willing to assist us in our own needs both on the personal
and community levels. In hope, the AIDS pandemic can be better
understood, controlled, and eradicated. In hope, the root of
terrorism can be exposed and measures taken to change the climate
of hopelessness which generates it in the first place. In hope we
can help change a world of haves and have-nots to one of justice
for all people.





February 17, 2005 Exotic Species

February is a month when we often find ideal days to work in
the woods before the sprouts and greenery come out. It is a time
when the removal of some exotic species is possible -- and it is
good winter work. Though verdant kudzu is not prominent in winter,
summer travelers find it covering telephone poles, trees, and even
buildings. Some experts regard exotic species (those introduced
and growing without natural enemies and under suitable soil
conditions) as the most serious worldwide environmental threat.

Questions. Many examples are found in this country. Kudzu,
Japanese honeysuckle, and autumn olives were promoted by nurseries,
used as cover crops or found to be bird feed. Should exotic or
non-native species be allowed, if their particular growing habits
are not fully understood? Should controls be placed on importation
of non-native species, on planting and care of existing ones, and
on nursery sales? 

A difficult problem associated with threatening invasive
species is that what is worrisome in one part of the planet is not
so in another. Horticulturists are slow in getting certain plants
excluded from nurseries throughout the country, because in places
of origin the plant is fairly well controlled. However, from an
ecological standpoint, local and regional restrictions should be
encouraged for such sales. A general rule is that domestic growers
should be reluctant to introduce new species, and should rather
give preference to growing native ones. Naturalized plants can be
tolerated, if they are not invasive and have no likelihood of
spreading. However, the history of Kudzu in America shows an
innocent effort to introduce a dense and rapidly growing foraging
crop from Japan, where it is used for grazing by goats and other
livestock and carefully pruned. Kudzu Societies existed in the
United States South in pre-World War II days. Only after Kudzu
expanded beyond intended fields and covered trees and buildings did
residents begin to regard kudzu as a pest.

Economic Opportunities. One approach to confronting kudzu may
be the utilization of leaves and other plant parts. The kudzu
green matter is good animal feed, and the plant protein can be
extracted and used for supplements for food, as done by a group in
Berea, Kentucky called Leaf for Life. Goats could control kudzu,
but these require good fencing. Another possibility is to graze
with less demanding livestock such as Katadyn sheep. The root of
the kudzu is highly prized in Japan as a food starch, and could
gain popularity here if extracted (through a rather involved
process). This could be a winter employment opportunity for people
living in areas of fewer economic alternatives. Kudzu vines can be
make into baskets and woven craft products. Killing kudzu with
herbicide is a last resort, but rooting it out with equipment has
limited application on steep road cuts.

Reference: "Weeds from Hell," David Tenenbaum Technology
Review, August/September 1996.





February 18, 2005 Knowing One's Age

Click here to read our special guest supplemental essay for today, 
"God Bless the Elderly," by Bernie Vonderheide

Wisdom creeps in when we realize that it is more cool to live
one's age than to try to be a younger person. It does not mean we
should stop taking care of ourselves and working to the degree we
can. But we must recognize exactly how old we are.

Yes, we are old when --

Anniversaries like golden and silver ones outnumber birthdays.

Tools we used in youth are found today in museums.

We name favorite movie celebrities, and get a blank stare.

The price we expect to pay for an item was about right thirty 
years ago.

Over half the obituary notices are for persons younger than us.

There's a new ache each day.

Christmases come twice as fast as when we were young.

There are more gatherings at funerals than other events. 

One remembers clearly things forty years ago, and can't even 
list one thing that happened last week.

The old home neighborhood can't be recognized.

We start to thank God for allowing us to wake up.

The geriatric catalogues have some good bargains.

Every scale seems to be weighing too heavy.

They tell us to be careful shoveling snow.

The waitress assumes you are wanting the senior plate.

World War II seems like yesterday; the First Gulf War is a
distant past.

We didn't notice repeating ourselves one more time.

Youth for us is older age for the really young.

Many seats look inviting until we remember we have to get out
of them sometime later.



February 19, 2005 Entrances & Signs

The main entrance of your home or building is the first sign
of who you are, and what environmental attitudes you have. Choose
your welcoming signs well; keep them brief; make them legible (half
of them are hard to read by the unknowing visitor); and paint them
neatly. The entrance leaves a lasting impression. Entrances may
be inviting, friendly, and cheerful or, whether intentionally or
not, they may be foreboding. Signs such as "MEAN DOGS, ENTER AT
OWN RISK!" send a clear message: visitors, if they feel welcomed,
at least come in a guarded manner. Less obvious signs of limited
hospitality include closed gates, apertures too narrow for most
vehicles, darkened walkways, and a forsaken look to the place. One
institution had five "don't" signs at the main entrance. Inviting? 

Decorations. Entrances tell a story in themselves. The
manner of presenting one's home or institution is evident at the
door where the first, and often most lasting, impressions are made. 
Your entrance is a statement to the rest of the world. Embellish
it with added flowers and possibly edible-landscape plants such as
berry bushes. These would provide an initial demonstration of the
service given to others, along with a commitment to God, people and
Earth. Granted, the decorations will take an effort on the part of
the grounds manager, but it is worth it. First impressions last,
and flowers make for a better beginning. 

Solar Signs. A working solar entrance provides an initial
demonstration of your great self-sustaining relationship with your
land. Reference: Photocomm, Inc. 7681 East Gray Road, Scottsdale,
Arizona 85260 (800) 223-9580. Depending on the amount of light
needed, and solar accessibility, systems can run from $300 to $600
installed. Through a local solar builder or expert, find someone
to help site the location of the sign for best solar utilization. 

Characteristics of directional signs include the following --

Functionality -- Essentially, signs point the way out of
confusion, to some other portion of the grounds, or signify that
the visitor has arrived at the correct location.

Sensitivity -- Through the entrance and signs, one gets the
first glimmer about the mission and goals of those who dwell here
or come for services.

Hospitality -- Allowing others to enter and inviting them
through an entrance means taking a risk. The occupants trust that
visitors come with good intentions.

Warmth -- Beyond a kind invitation is a spirit of the
community. The entrance and signs are able to communicate in
subtle ways some of that spirit that keeps the occupants happy and
contented. The first impression is generally a correct one. At
this deeper level, consider ways of communicating the wholeness of
who you and why you are open to others.




February 20, 2005 Present at the Transfiguration

And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the
sun and his clothes became white as light. (Matthew 17:2)

This mysterious event seems so distant from us that we feel
like Peter and the other disciples; we are paralyzed in how we can
really enter into this manifestation of Jesus in any specific
manner. Are we bound to simply observe from a distance of 2000
years and do nothing more?

We recognize the Messiah in Prayer. This awesome story is at
the very heart of the Gospel of Matthew. All leads up to it and
all flows from it -- for Jesus is Lord of history and Messiah. We
are invited to enter into his reign and so are not to stand back
aloof. We come closer as the mystery is revealed to us. We stand
beside Peter, James and John and speak in what is called
imaginative prayer. We spend the time at prayer feeling the wind
at the mountain, sensing the surroundings, hearing the voices from
the cloudy mists and seeing with the apostles the brightness of the
transfigured Jesus. His eyes meet ours as we observe the scene. 
We hold steady and ask what we can do at such a moment.

We perceive a gift given. He saved us and called us to a holy
life, not according to our works but according to his own design. 
(II Timothy 1:9). We participate not on our terms but on the
terms of the Giver of life. It is not that we make ourselves
better to receive gifts, but the immense generosity of God fills us
in the midst of our unworthiness. Sincere gratitude becomes the
mainstay of our being -- not fretting on how much more we must do
to prepare for action.

We are a blessing. All the communities of the Earth shall
find blessing in you. (Genesis 12:3) The blessing that is God's
gift to us is to radiate out from us, transforming us into the
divine image. Thus we will not so much do greater things but be
filled with enthusiasm -- the God within. In what is given to us
as observers we are not to hold it in, but allow others to see in
us and discover the Messiah through us. Transfiguration calls us
to truly be. So much of life is doing things and we certainly must
do actions as Scripture so inspires us. But there is transforming
power in being Christian. We will not know how much it matters or
who is influenced by our presence, but we are called to be public,
not hide or deny or excuse ourselves or seek to escape. We are
called to be holy people. 

Faith in being. We must believe in the power of personal
presence. This openness to being part of the Transfiguration
allows the gift of God to work on those who observe us, as much as
the disciples who were called to look upon the awesome event. We
become a moment of opportunity in others' lives. We are sent to
help save them and thus instruments in the divine plan. That is
how we participate in the Transfiguration event, by being the
transfigured Christ to them.






February 21. 2005 Wood Utilization 

Presidents' Day is an opportunity to review our proper
utilization of wood. For youthful Lincoln was a rail splitter and
lived in several log cabins; Washington chopped on cherry trees --
at least in myth and he surveyed the woods of Virginia. How do we
treat our forests when we cut them? Cutting down trees is one
thing; preventing pollution by utilization of wood wastes is
another, and worthy of special consideration. Industrial chippers
would like to chip and consume the whole tree, branches, leaves and
trunk -- even roots, if they could be extracted easily. Remember
that a forestry practice which leaves the small branches and some
wood is far more sustainable than the chipping operations becoming
more frequent today which sweep the forest clean.

A number of ways of using wood "wastes" exist such as -- 

Cones, needles and leaves -- for thatch, decorations and 

Roots -- allow to decompose, or use for erosion control.

Trunks -- discarded logs for wood critters, defective logs 
for fuel wood and knots for making bowls, or for using 
cordwood for building material.

Branches -- grow Shitaki mushrooms, use for walking canes, 
pole ladder, kindling material.

Bark -- tannery products, natural dyes, siding, mulch
cane back chairs and baskets. 

Sawdust -- for compost toilet use as carbonaceous organic 
matter, packing (especially cedar), paths for 
gardens (especially herb gardens), soil 
amendment, insulation, scobs, and pressed logs.

Shavings and chips -- animal bedding, packing, trail surface,
and tender for starting wood stove fires. 

Post Ends and slabs-- borders for flower or garden beds and 
use for cordwood buildings, siding or exterior and 
interior walls, compost bins, and fencing. 

Leaves -- compost materials or chopped for mulch or 
compost toilet filler.

Wood Wastes often occur in constructing buildings. Some
materials only need nail removal. In fact, construction sites as
well as demolition sites are potential mines for good quality
materials. Old wood is perfect for creative types of furniture;
planks can be used for scaffolding, rafts, boat docks, and animal
pens. Sunny February days are ideal times for such demolition
work. A bit of caution: take care for this can be dangerous work.






February 22, 2005 Private Worship Space

While some prefer public worship, others prefer the quiet of
a small space, whether interior or exterior, apart from the hustle
and bustle of the world around them. Some of us like both the
public and the private space at different times in the year or
times in our own life. The moment may be just right to have the
silent private recesses of hidden spaces which are quiet and away
from others. 

Pertinent Questions. When selecting our private space, we may
not have options. If confined by illness, lack of mobility or
imprisonments, we may have to discover the silence of our own
hearts in which to worship God. When healthy, free and
unencumbered we may be able to select private worship space and
thus can ask some of the following:

* Is the place safe for and accessible for a worshipper?
* Is there sufficient space for worshipping?
* Is it conducive to worship (silent, clean, well maintained,
and with an atmosphere of peace)?
* Is the artistic decor and the architecture uplifting, or
does it distract from worship?
* Are there needs that would strengthen the ecological
witness of the building as such -- for example, windows needing
replacement or more insulation required?

Group Response. Some of these are quantitative questions
(e.g., actual size) and some depend on the sensitivity of the
observer (e.g. atmosphere of peace). A thorough assessment of
something as complex as a chapel will depend on responses from an
outside objective observer (to the degree the person can be
objective) and on those who worship there (again, an honest
objectivity may not be forthcoming). One person simply may not
like this place for worship, while another worshipper may prefer
this place and all its happy associations. Generally, a consensus
of the worshipping community would suffice to answer some of these
questions about more public worship space, but such consensus is
not as imperative for private worship space selection.

Areas for Worship Space Improvement. Besides heating,
cooling and lighting, worship space may have other shortfalls such
as lack of good acoustics, a feeling of being too far removed from
the focal altar, a sense of claustrophobia or of being isolated by
over-expansiveness, a lack of color or to much distracting color or
decoration, a mixture of various designs, poor art, or lack of
music or flowers. All of these can be changed with modifications
over a period of time. Through continuing discussion, compromises 
are possible which can satisfy most dissenters. At times what is
more private must be shared by a larger community. This may demand
accommodating such measures as more safety devices, better
lighting, easier access for the less mobile, and improved seating






February 23, 2005 Public Worship Space

We may show gratitude to God in public acts of worship in such
formal sacred space as chapels, shrines, cathedrals, and simple
churches. These are consecrated areas reserved for the worship of
God, and made available for prayer and reflection. The design and
functionality of formal worship space reflects the sensitivities or
insensitivities of the group. If the worshippers are elitist, the
space is exclusive; if they are pretentious and showy, the space is
gaudy; and if the worship is genuine but simple, the space may be
welcoming and receptive. However, attractiveness is not directly
connected to affluence. In fact, very humble and simple worship
space may be quite tastefully done and exude the warm feelings
needed for worship. Decorations, access, light, building
materials, and spatial arrangements all help draw people to pray.

Throughout history, churches and sacred space have served a
variety of non-worshipping functions such as -- 

* "Bridges" or transmitters of culture. The monastery served
this function in the Dark Ages.

* "Sanctuaries" are places of protection for those in trouble
with the law. Today the church could serve as sanctuary for native
plants and animals, a function not often implemented but most
needed, especially among newer churches in suburban environments.

* "Educational facilities," either in the use of the space in
non-worship times for schooling, or through the decorations and art
as a way of elevating the unlettered through pictures, statues, and
stained glass. Environmental education may include posters, book
corners, designated indoor or outdoor plants, and expressive art. 

* "Home" for a community that may not have hospitable
surroundings or dwelling places. At such times the place becomes
a warm and inviting space, where people know each other and share
experiences. It draws those who are otherwise isolated. 

Worshippers who build their own sacred space manifest their
individual creative and artistic skills and fervor. This
cooperative endeavor is rarer today than a few decades back, but
where it occurs, it is a key moment in building community. When
builders possess a sense of history and a knowledge of native
materials and practices, their work is enduring. Down-to-Earth
worshipers create buildings that reflect their own aspirations. 
Generally, worshippers assist in the design of a worship space and
leave construction to professional contractors. If possible,
formal places of worship should obey the following ecological
principles: a location which "feels" proper for worship; spacious
only to the degree needed for major worship periods; heated and
cooled only when necessary and through renewable resources; shared
with other groups and communities if possible; and built
moderately, tastefully, functionally, by the community, and using
native materials.






February 24, 2005 Privacy Screens & Noise Barriers

Urban Community Barriers. We are driving along in an urban or
suburban area, and the walls soon appear. They could be concrete
or sometimes wood, and they stretch for miles and miles as we
drive, often on both sides of the road. We feel like we are moving
through a canyon, and we become irritated. But that evaporates as
we remember the homeowners who would otherwise have the intrusion
of noise and of people looking into the backyards when residents
want to swim or party. Why should others infringe on the residents
privacy? However costly the barrier, there are also benefits which
go beyond the residences which adjoin the highway itself. 

Need for Privacy. The gated-communities of elite colonies do
not appeal to many of us, but realizing that intruders are both
noises and roaming trespassers makes the outlay of cost a little
more justified. Are we returning to the rationale of castle
building? People need private getaways from a fast-paced and
stress-laden world, noisy traffic and constant intrusions of
ringing phones, sirens and squealing tires. People want to
insulate themselves and their home, yard, and garden. Space may be
fashioned into a privacy zone. Wire or picket fences may not prove
sufficient if you are trying to escape the public gaze. And the
desire for privacy is good for mental and psychic health. 
Sometimes getting away to a distant place will help satisfy the
craving for privacy for a short time; when this cannot be done, we
must use sound-proofing and other devices to make our own private
space. In rare cases, we have only our interior life and thus
private space can only be within our hearts -- though such limited
space is a challenge in satisfying our deepest needs. 

Vegetative barriers. February is the time to order plants --
and that includes vegetative privacy barriers for living or work
space. Consider rather dense shrubs or trees which can be places
at the property or space boundaries. Vegetative barriers are
aesthetically more pleasing, can be cooler in summer, and allow for
natural nesting for insects and wildlife -- and they cost less that
most constructed "artificial" barrier walls. For such vegetative
barriers, use native plants, if possible. In many eastern parts of
the country evergreens such as cedar or white pine furnish a thick
and inexpensive natural barrier. In others, such hedges as
Manchurian cherry allow for quick-growing thick vegetative barriers
that increase privacy and reduce noise. 

The vegetative barrier may consist of dense non-native hedge or
shrub which can be obtained from the local nursery and will not
escape and become invasive. Tall screening hedges (like mock
orange, tatarian honey suckle, European privet, and maackii
honeysuckle) are popular methods of limiting the visibility of the
property. Consider snowberry, wisteria, and viburnums as possible
alternatives. Hedges such as the holly cherry are dense, bear
edible fruit, display attractive blossoms, and encourage beneficial
insects. Again, seek types of non-natives which will not prove
worrisome as exotic and invasive species. 






February 25, 2005 On Our Word

...for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.
(Luke 6:45)
In this Scripture passage we realize we must be true to
ourselves, and not hypocritical in our conduct. 

Our Daily Word. I remember standing by the blacksmith anvil in
the building which served as our family farm carpenter shop and
tobacco stripping room. Daddy told me that the cattle he had just
sold to a trader by word of mouth (and not yet delivered) could now
have brought much more due to a sudden rise in cattle prices. I
remarked that we could sell them on the open market, since no
written contract had been drawn up. Daddy turned and said, in
shock and sorrow, "But it was on my word." The cattle sale was a
loss, but I never forgot the conversation, and in some ways the
money loss was outweighed by the lesson taught in moral behavior. 
One's word is what is most important, and on that word we live.

Our Solemn Word. Years later, I began to realize the value of
that word, spoken and not necessarily written, and I know that
Kentuckians and others harbor the same reverence for the word. 
While it is a wonderful treasure, many people don't recognize it
for what it is -- a verbal contract sealed by the worth of the
persons involved. What is important is to see that our word in our
covenant of love with God should be based on the same intensity as
our traditional spoken agreements. We too have given our word in
the vows of Baptism, in our confirmation ceremony, in our words
seeking forgiveness at the sacrament of reconciliation, in the
religious and matrimonial vows taken, and in promises made. How
true are we to those words spoken in solemn ceremony?

Two Way Street. What becomes evident is that we should speak
only statements we really hold true. Thus, by speaking we reveal
the serious nature of our inner struggles and journey, and through
speaking we can strive to do better. When a word is wrongly
spoken, in anger, or as a curse, or as an ill-phrased remark, then
it will come back to haunt us. And the haunting may not be all so
bad. It will force us to hear what we have just said, and to see
that we need to fix our own beings in such ways that we speak
better in the future.

Incarnate Word. We are wrapped in the great Mystery of God
with us, and in that we find that our word is a model of the
speaking of God through Jesus Christ. We speak what is in our
heart and, if Christ is in our heart, we say the right things at
times when we think all words have failed us. Under very trying
circumstances we sometimes speak the truth without knowing how it
originated. I have experienced saying things which I experience is
coming from within, but is not directly from my rational powers. 
That could possibly be the Holy Spirit speaking in and through us. 
We bring God to others in such words, and in the pleading in prayer
we are preparing ourselves for those otherwise wordless moments
when God speaks to us and through us. 






February 26, 2005 Rest for All

Those in positions of authority can overlook the subordinates
need for silent work space and periods of rest. We have all seen
movies where the reporter or the policeman lives on coffee, smokes
and clanging typewriters. While typewriters are out, still the
noisy circumstances remain. Noise tolerance levels vary from
person to person, and so all of us ought to be sensitive to the
hard-working, non-complaining person. Even people who say they are
immune to or are able to ignore work place noises probably are not
aware of how noise makes their lives more stressful. Recent
studies by the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs have revealed a
causal link between noise pollution and sleeping disturbances,
increased blood pressure, irritability, and fatigue. 

Resolving to Have More Rest. While some people who are
solicitous of their health and well-being need not worry, the
normal person could ask the following during an annual health
examination period:

* Do I get enough sleep? High quality and restful sleep?
Could I add a half hour or an hour to this daily average? Could
this be at a different hour than normal bedtime? 

* Do I take some breaks during the day? Do I take these when
needed or on a schedule set by others? Am I willing to increase
these, if need be? Do I take breaks from the computer for periods
of time? Do I take breaks from driving?

* Do I take a sabbatical rest in some fashion? Are there
fixed forms of entertainment and relaxation that I engage in? Do
I help others find their periods of weekly rest? Do I look forward
to holidays and enjoy them?

* Do I tolerate chaotic situations? Do I try to prove that
I am in control, have nerves of steel, and I can get along when I
really despise hyperactivity? Some stress-related industries
recognize the need for rest through mandated time-off periods. For
instance, commercial trucking firms (along with some state and
Federal regulations) require drivers to keep logs and take
mandatory breaks. Assembly line workers are required to do the
same, as are airline pilots and bus drivers, certain service
employees and computer analysts. 

* Do I spend too much time at a computer even for doing the
word processing related to this work? Now that applies to me as
well as to you. Dr. Sydney Blair, a medical expert on hand-
related health problems, says that no one should spend an excessive
length of time at a computer -- a rule I often overlook. Only two
hours a day. Really? Medical experts predict computer
occupational hazards, namely stress of the eye, hand, back and
neck. To spend entire days before the screen in one fixed position
is not good for us. Maybe we need more time to rest and relax --
and now is the time to start.








February 27, 2005 Woman at the Well: A Gentle Confrontation

Give me some of that water so that I will never get thirsty.
(John 4:15).

The first time I presented this passage of the Samaritan woman
at the well at a retreat last month at Milford, Ohio, I
inadvertently elicited a profound response from a score or more of
the retreatants. Perhaps, I am not confrontational any more than
many of them with dear friends and relatives whose lives I do not
fully approve. I hold that the American culture of allowing
everyone to do what he or she pleases is one thing; to remain
silent when what they do hurts me (or you) deeply is another. 

Confronting different cultures. American secular culture
dictates that each is to do what he or she determines with no
challenges ever made -- for that is a sacred private matter of
which they have the right to operate as they please. We may not
attempt to force them to do different things, but we can learn from
Jesus when it comes to confronting different cultures. He does not
avoid the detour so often made by Galileans to avoid Samaria; he
takes his disciples straight through Samaria; he stops at the well
and speaks to a resident and a woman at that. But that is just the
beginning. He tells her all about herself by a direct provocation,
"Go and call your husband." Many Americans would like to soften
the story for that interchange is not according to our manner of
acting. It is a delving in private matters of which we have no
business. But let's see the conversation through to completion. 
Jesus is gentle; Jesus is earnest and loving when he says she is
right that she has no husband, for she has had five the one she is
with is not her husband.

The unexpected. Let's look deeply at this for Jesus' success
is so complete in just a few words. The woman is receptive to the
grace of the Lord. She acknowledges who she is and hastens back to
the village as the world's first Christian missionary; she tells
her people with enthusiasm who it is she has been conversing -- the
long-awaited Messiah. The Good News is spoken, heard and repeated. 
Would that such people with such limited qualifications for
missionary work could have the opportunity to profess their faith.

Being evangelical. This does not mean going out and smiling
and praying secretly for those among our family and friends we do
not perceive to be living as they ought. It means telling them
exactly how we feel at this moment in history and to do this in a
gentle and forthright way. How else but though our own unique
manner of acting, for that is the best we can do? We allow the
Spirit through the grace of our confirmation to do the rest. We
testify to our faith before those who are shaken in faith at this
time. We may think it is all their fault and perhaps they feel
shunned in some way by the way we act. By revealing our true
feelings they may respond, "I don't want to hurt you, grandma." 
That hurt becomes the occasion to spread the Good News and is an
integral part of our own testimony of faith.






February 28, 2005 The Prayer for Global Restoration

Good and Gracious God,
Source of all Life,
all creation is charged with your Divine Energy.

Ignite your spark within us,
that we may know ourselves
as truly human and holy,
irrevocably part of the Web of Life.

All creation
-- each star and every flower,
-- each drop of water and every person, 
-- each and every atom, down to its very electrons,
explodes with the revelation
of your Sacred Mystery. 

Our minds alone cannot fathom such splendor.
Our hearts can only respond in awe, praise and gratitude.

Forgive us, we pray, our ignorance
and insecurities which
-- blind us with your Thumbprint writ large,
-- deafen us to the sacred space
between two heartbeats,
-- prompt us in arrogance to demand and dominate,
-- numb us to the destruction we've caused,
-- hold us hostage to "either-or" thinking and living.

May we always walk gently upon the earth,
in right relationship,
-- nurtured by your Love,
-- taking only what we need,
-- giving back to the earth in gratitude,
-- sharing what we have,
-- honoring all with reverence,
-- reconciling and healing,
-- mindful of those who will come after,
-- recognizing our proper place as part of,
not apart from, your creation.

Grant us the strength and courage, we pray
for such radical transformation into your Kingdom.

Then we, too, with the very stones will shout,

by Michelle Balek, Pax Christi, 532 W. 8th Street 
Erie, PA 16502-1343 

Note: Pax Christi is an organization well worth supporting


Copyright © 2007 Earth Healing, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Janet Powell, Developer
Mary Byrd Davis, Editor
Paul Gallimore, ERAS Coordinator

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