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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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February, 2020

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Claytonia virginica, spring beauty
(*photo credit)

February Reflections, 2020

         For those who endure harsh winters, February is always a challenge.  All too often it can be even harsher than January and leads us to ask whether it will ever end.  Mercifully this month is shorter than the rest.  Furthermore, we watch each day as sunrises come earlier and sunsets later.  Spring is ever so gradually emerging before us!  A spark of hope arises in our hearts; thus we are heartened when we perceive those first visible signs of new growth in wild onions and ubiquitous dandelions.  Nature stirs and is very much alive.  February's stirrings have a way of challenging us all to be innovative; thus we gain courage from the February-born, i.e., George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John Steinbeck, Thomas Edison, and on and on.  Enduring February with a smile enables us to face challenges later.

                                     Spring Beauty

                           So you brave the cold winter blasts
                              to be quite early to burst forth
                         and brighten our sagging spirits,
                              plus announcing a renewed life. flowers                         Hungry folks enjoy your tubers
                              and everyone your glad beauty.

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Frozen rural Kentucky creek.
(*photo credit)

February 1, 2020  Elements of a Global Energy Policy

     Some basic principles for a global energy policy include:

     1. Affirm current problems.  Accept that global climate change and pollution from wasteful resource practices are occurring through human use of fossil fuels and excessive consumption.  This affirmation can lead to an authentic spirituality based on the common good and service to others -- not individual interests and self-gratification.  Many consumers seek to avoid complex problems and solutions that take extra effort; they want to believe that problems are not as serious as some would make them out to be.  This is all the more reason that those who sound the alarm must do so in a meaningful manner that does not exaggerate the problem, but yet is something that is solidly prophetic. 

     2. Take cautious proven steps.  Use energy conservation and rigid efficiency standards to avoid wasting fuel in applications.  Geoengineering methods are pie-in-the-sky with no proven track record, and even partial testing can lead to long-term disaster.  We have to learn to treat our fragile nature with respect, and the risk-taking that has gotten the human race into this mess cannot be a model for solving the human-made problems.

     3. Focus on a renewable energy economy.  Favoring renewable energy in all its proven forms (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and tidal) is a necessity, but the profitable status quo fossil fuel economy is fighting for life.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that transferring billions of dollars in funding for fossil fuel utilization to renewables would boost global economy, environment, and energy security.  Helping to fund developing countries expenses in the Paris Climate Change Accord is the only just approach given that much of excess CO2 emissions were produced by more industrial and affluent nations.  Every nation is expected to do its part along with encouraging sub-divisions such as urban and corporate groups to move to a 100% carbon-free environment. 

     4. Realize proven reclamation.  Weeding out distracting and far-fetched solutions is challenging enough in itself.  Besides preserving forested areas and all forms of resource conservation, a proven reclamation technique is to plant trees and reforest all areas where trees can grow.  Conversion of tropical forests into plantations and pastureland should be highly discouraged.  Wilderness areas must be kept in a healthy state with policing of sensitive areas to preserve endangered plants and animals. 

     5. Move to a low meat diet.  Few global actions would have more lasting effects by freeing land for plant foods for direct human consumption -- and to reduce livestock methane generation.

     Prayer: Lord, inspire us to move from the present energy economy to a willingness to accept balanced solutions and to bring them into effect as soon as possible.









Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora
Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora.
*photo credit)  

February 2, 2020   Beatitudes and Blessings

     He began to teach them saying: Blessed are... (Matthew 5:1-12)

     Through his beatitudes Jesus gives us a summary of all his teachings -- and the list is a portrait of who he is.  Jesus is the Divine blessing, and he invites us to follow his example.  Thus we look forward to giving blessings on every occasion possible.  These blessings and beatitudes lead to a win-win situation.  We seek a peace of soul and manifest such in distributing blessings, where others would say no peace could be found.  Being like Christ means that we seek to find every opportunity for giving blessings to others within a threatened world.  Jesus makes everyday life an occasion for beatitude and invites us to follow and do likewise:

* Jesus addresses the poor in spirit directly (e.g., the blind and lepers) and seeks to bring them within the arena of his ongoing love; so ought we, for we need enrichment in spirit and the courage to enrich others;
* Jesus comforts those who mourn (e.g., the widow with the dead son).  We ought to approach those who bear the sadness of loss of loved ones and need our consoling words and presence;
* Jesus gives special attention to the meek (e.g., Barthimeus).  We observe many who are afraid to act boldly and we encourage them to stand up for their rights;
* Jesus uplifts the downtrodden, those hungry and thirsty for justice (e.g., the neglected and overlooked).  We must speak for the righteous at every opportunity;
* Jesus shows solidarity to the merciful.  We too ought to give a sense of mercy to all who are looking for forgiveness;
* Jesus blesses the clean of heart.  We must look out for the ones who live quiet ordinary lives with clean hearts and uplift them;  
* Jesus joins with peacemakers of all ages who want to reduce strife.  We must recognize those who seek to be bridge builders in our communities and support them;
* Jesus is aware of those who are persecuted and is at one with them.  We unite with him in our awareness and exposure of the victims' plight, so they can be allowed to live in peace.

     We seek opportunities to give a multitude of blessings --
* to those who bring Christ to the homes of shut-ins and the ill;
* on occasions of celebrating special liturgical events (e.g., St. Blaise's Day blessing throats and protection from all forms of illness); 
* among our family and friends before meals and major celebrations;
* for homes where the very young are frightened of darkness, or members suffer from food insecurity; and
* for travelers as they prepare to go on a long journey, especially in winter months.

     Prayer: Lord, help us to magnify your beatitudes.









Sunset on Lake Superior, rays of light
Sunset on Lake Superior, rays of light.
*photo credit)  

February 3, 2020      Enjoy "Appalachian Winter"

     This is the midpoint of winter today and so we need to resolve to make the best of this season, for there's most likely more winter to come.

                      APPALACHIAN WINTER        

Sing of spring, simmer in summer, enthrall in fall,
Brave souls enter and enjoy Appalachian winter.

Unclothed mid‑year's greenery, bare‑breasted knobs,
Naked landscape, stripped, clearcut, littered over.

The countryside reveals a million shades of gray:
Farm ponds, tulip tree bark, briar patches,

Swinging bridges, grape vines, dried goldenrod butts,  
Icicles hanging from north slope roadcuts.

Squealing playgrounds of vanishing snow patches,
Just before the rare sun transforms the landscape.

A jumble of intertwined curvy graveled roads
Without shoulders and with no distinguishing codes.  

The squat barns sit on coved in hillsides
Hunkered down like contented nesting hens before.

Some roadside plots show last year's tobacco stumps,        
Amid green sprigged winter wheat and rye.

Hay rolls punctuate the livestock fields,
Picked at by scruffy heifers or old plugs
Who earn their retirement where they were born.

And there's manure piled knee‑deep, shed filled,
Partly composting, left to March and windy climes.

If you like black and white photos,
With many shades of gray,
You'll love Appalachian Winter.
-AF 2008  

     Prayer: Lord, help us to both endure the winter season and to make the best of it, both for our own sakes and for those we are called to serve.









An old friend, American beech, Fagus grandifolia
An old friend, American beech, Fagus grandifolia.
*photo credit)  

February 4, 2020   Need for Religious Celebration Today

     A balanced economy leading to social equality demands the foundation of a religious culture that strives to protect freedom for all.  We are aware that intolerance among a variety of so-called religious worshippers who are willing to resort to terrorism is no answer; violence breeds further violence.  Nor is an oppressive secular or atheistic world more inviting as we know from the Stalinist era in Russia and Maoist period in China.  Tolerant religion with its public manifestation of spiritual values as a community trust is essential for global social progress.

     A "spiritual life" is lifeless without religion.  The first reason is that religion encourages civility and respect within a culture.  Experts tell us that those who engage in regular religious practice are more involved in civic affairs and public spirited activities.  This is not a coincidence; religious people feel a sense of responsibility, that is, responding to the God Who calls.  Believers respond through prayerful communication with Another, and this becomes something real and encompasses all people within a believing community, provided tolerance is being practiced.

     The second aspect is the prophetic witness of religious life.  The source of that witness is God and this engenders respect by all believers.  We are best able to act when reinforced by a prayerful religious community that recognizes the prophetic word.  Religion, or acknowledgment of our condition before God, allows us to see the HERE and NOW, the where in place and the when in time.  Awareness of situations and seasons is enhanced by a sense of togetherness, a WE, a community with acknowledged strengths and weaknesses.  This is fully recognized by prophets who are unafraid to speak truth.

     The third aspect of religion utterly needed today is encouragement of others in community through compassion.  We all must take special steps to avoid burning out and to experience the pain of others nearing burnout as well.  A believing community gives witness to our strengths and weaknesses, and these must be revealed with a certain degree of gentleness.  Affluence leads to insensitivity, and religion calls us back to what is important.  Without it, the unhealthy condition of luxury spreads like an epidemic.  Spiritual health involves the public concern for each other's health and sensitivity to authentic needs.  That includes an effort to curtail extravagance for the good of all, and especially the needy.   

     The fourth element of a loving religious community is the need to bring unity among people.  God called the Israel community of old in the worship of ONE God.  The chosen people were to introduce a unity in belief to a world of Babel that was divided and fractured.  That call is still quite valid and operative today.

     Prayer: Lord, inspire us to show respect, give prophetic witness, exhibit compassion, and help establish unity among all.









Paperwhites, Narcissus tazetta
Paperwhites, Narcissus tazetta.
*photo credit)  

February 5, 2020   Champion Wellbeing through Nature Experiences     

     We are living in February where nature yearns to come back to life, and we are in sympathy with this movement to renew life.  We need to be near nature, but limited educational budgets especially threaten this for many urban folks.  Cuts in discretionary funding involve curbs in experiencing nature because of reduced transport subsidies for visits to nature preserves and centers.  Such reductions seldom consider the hidden benefits of human health and well-being triggered by love of nature found in several ways:

     1. Backyard experiences.  A bird feeder or camp-outs by kids near home could be introductions to long-term nature experiences of outdoors and fresh air, and an association with the sights and sounds of nocturnal life.  Fear is dispelled and the invitation to do more is never too far away.  Likewise those who invite and entice wildlife on a limited basis (songbirds and squirrels perhaps) get great enjoyment that adds to their well-being and mental health.  However, stray cats must be curbed as dangers to various local wildlife species.

     2. Wildlife experiences at home.  Look for ways to improve knowledge about wildlife, much of which is already accessible and needs tapping.  The vicarious nature experience that goes beyond bird feeders outside the window is perfect for shut-ins and those who are immobile.  The multitude of printed materials in libraries and through periodicals, the videotapes and films on television or at- home VCRs, and the lectures and slide shows of organized classes are all within reach of many.  The informational range is vast and growing.  The works of naturalists are readily available through Googling or exploring YouTube.  While these experiences are not like being there, still distance experiences do not disturb wildlife, damage landscape or leave a carbon footprint.  

     3. Nature Center experiences.  Certain places attempt to concentrate the natural experiences for the education of natives and visitors at great distances.  For several decades we attempted to do this at the Mary E. Fritsch Nature Center at Livingston, Kentucky.  This afforded natural experiences to youth and others in the region by identifying a hundred native trees along with a multitude of flowers and random wildlife of the immediate surroundings.  However, it's costly to keep such places operating.

     4. Nature immersion experiences.  A summer spent in nature with few possibilities of flush toilets and fast foods may be a memorable experience, if one is prepared to live in such circumstances.  In 1687, the explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle, led colonists destined to colonize a site at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  Unfortunately, their ships got lost and landed in Texas -- a sad story of people with no preparation and unable to survive well in a strange wilderness, a lesson worth remembering.

     Prayers: Lord, help us to enjoy good health and to see that part of being healthy is by becoming acquainted with nature.










Pinson mounds (Middle Woodland Period). Pinson, TN
Pinson mounds (Middle Woodland Period). Pinson, TN.
*photo credit)  

February 6, 2020   Vacation by Reducing the Carbon-Print

     As the days lengthen and the thought of spring ahead comes to mind, let's start thinking about vacation time with relatives and friends.  Consider how we can couple any trips with other activities so as not to apportion the entire use of fuel to one exercise alone.  Yes, fuel apportionment is key.  One past essay that we decided to suppress involved calculating the hoofprint of air-shipping show horses from overseas to the World Equestrian Games in nearby Lexington, Kentucky.  It baffled us as to how to apportion the energy expenditure among the reported half million visitors.  Really if only a few were present, the fuel use would be extravagant, but large numbers tend to justify energy expenditures.  

     Suggestions for green tourism are found in Ecotourism in Appalachia: Marketing the Mountains (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2004) co-authored with the late Kristin Johannsen.  Some include:

     * Social action.  Combine vacations with charitable acts of helping repair buildings or relieving caregivers so that they can have time off for their personal well-being.  Perform works of mercy, e.g., visit the sick or feed the hungry.

     * Agritourism.  New and different working experiences can be a hallmark of some vacations.  Quite often youth (and adults as well) get much out of opportunities to assist in work that is radically different from urban life, and this gives them the chance to meet new people and expand their work experience.

     * Education and religious travel.  Occasionally, intellectual and spiritual well-being may justify increased travel; the justification is due to benefits gained.  Many discover that gathering information on family history is a learning experience, and this may entail visits to ancestral places.

     * Closer to Home.  We need not travel great distances except on rare occasions, and so greater frequency of local targets works better and takes far less stressful travel time.  Besides, such vacations cost less and stimulate the local community economy.

     * Multiple persons.  Nothing reduces auto travel resource costs more than increasing from one to two or two to three or more people per vehicle.  Think of it!  Air travel fuel costs are extravagant, even when flights are fully booked.

     * Alternative travel modes.  Biking, canoeing, boating, hiking, and mountain-climbing are vacation modes that create virtually no carbon imprints except for motoring to or from the hiking or travel starting and ending points.   

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to make our vacations ever greener; help us to consider more travel companions, our modes of travel, length of trips, and multiple purposes during anticipated trips.







Eco-Spiritual Experiences in February

        During February we seek an authentic eco-spirituality (AES) in order to become effective Earthhealers to meet the critical tasks before us.  We concede that winter is tiresome, for nothing moves slower than molasses in January than it in February.  The landscape is desolate and except for wild garlic new growth is slow.  We battle desolation during this mercifully shortest month.  Yet days are getting longer: mourning doves are cooing; naked trees are coming to life; forsythia buds swell; sap is rising.  We bless candles and await Lent and the coming of spring. 

        While January experiences God's glory, a deeper look in February pains us for it reveals tarnished glory.  The Garden of Eden faded when our ancestors messed things up -- and so do we.  An authentic movement of the spirit refutes both the idealism of solely natural untouched glory and fatalism that we can't halt the onrushing mistreatment of Mother Earth: flora and fauna threats and exotic species proliferation, increased noise pollution, global potable water scarcity, air pollution and increased greenhouse effect, and diseases and pandemics that could spread rapidly through increased mobility.  The word "catholic" signifies use of all senses: sight of flowers, sound of music, smell of incense, taste of Eucharist; and touch of anointing oil; sharpened senses perceive the reality of desolation and an AES invites a review:

          1. Desolate Sights.   In the nineteenth century bounty hunters perched on trains shot up bison herds -- and thus destroyed Sioux livelihood; by 1900 only two U.S. remnant herds remained.  The passenger pigeon fate was worse; 19th century white settlers saw and shot them at their traditional roosts -- the last of billions died on 9/1/1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo (anthropogenic extinction).  Song birds diminished when their feathers became an early 20th century hat craze.  Unsustainable forest harvest and road fragmentation destroy bird and wildlife habitats, and palm oil plantations now clear away rare tropical habitats.  Toxic materials collected lower on the food chain threaten eagles and hawks.  Some native species are in decline; others increase through loss of nature's checks and balances (e.g. wolf decline); also, imbalances arise involving introduced exotic species such as kudzu (covering 7,000,000 acres of America).  

          2. Sounds of Mourning.  If we listen we find that nature is a marvelous teacher; we detect the sound of the mourning dove, our commonest species in America (Zenaida macroura), and the harbinger of spring.  Earth is awakening, sap is rising, and wildlife is stirring from hibernation.  Actually sounds of serene cow bells and church bells yield to congested roadways (squealing tires, revving motorcycles, and blowing horns) and airplanes overhead, hair dryers and vacuum sweepers, boom box blaring and all-invasive TV, paging systems and loudspeakers, jackhammers and earth movers, lawn mowers and leaf blowers, and voices shouting to be heard.  Why do all discordant sounds and accompanying stress abound except that we lapse into silent intimidation amid disturbances of rest and sleep patterns?  An AES provides a balance of individual and community responsibility; both sound and silence have their respected place.

          3. Tastes of Desolation.  Everyone has a right to potable water.  However, the quantity of drinkable water is only a fraction of Earth's water supply -- and some of that is contaminated.  Dilution is not the solution to pollution; sewage, either untreated or flushed away, is still a major problem in many parts of the world.  Industrial and agricultural pollutants contaminate waterways and often do not biodegrade rapidly.  One billion people drink polluted or lower quality water; besides, potable water is often used to wash cars, wet lawns of non-native grass, or fill swimming pools.  Irrigation makes heavier demands on fresh water than do suburban homes occupying comparable space.  Traditional water purification methods are unable to remove complex chemicals such as steroids and medicines from current used-water supplies.  Untreated human and animal wastes contaminate lakes, streams and wetlands.  Water purification (boiling, use of UV for treatment, chlorine, etc.) can be expensive and requires technical expertise. 

          4. Clouds and Clouds.   Read the signs of the times.  Clean air, that freest and most essential of all Earthly components, is denied to those living in congested areas.  In the 1800's, people regarded a smoking factory chimney as a sign of available work; today, smokestacks remind us of polluted air and respiratory diseases that can cause smog-related deaths (e.g. Donora, PA and London, England in the mid-20th century).  Air has been co-opted by industrialists in similar ways to 17th century barons grabbing pastureland from the commons.  Dirty air components are signals of greed and insensitivity: sulfur and nitrogen oxides, soot and ozone that can mix with moisture to produce harmful acid rain.  Burning fossil fuels leads to build-up of CO2 greenhouse emission levels reaching 407 ppm in 2019.  Earth is warmer than in any other time in recorded history: glaciers and ice sheets melt, extreme weather events become more frequent; oceanic island nations are being inundated; and melting permafrost triggers feedback that could release methane and overheat our planet.  This failure of a will to address the climate change issue is a crime against humanity.

          5. Touching Hell in Earth's Troubles.  Vivid descriptions of hell from the past are out-of-date, an outmoded revivalism.  Fewer preachers may turn on the fear spigot and mesmerize listeners, even though hell is better felt than heard.  Today it is better to focus on the infinite mercy of God.  Furthermore, we have hell on Earth in the form of terrorism, slum squalor, despair among the addicted, oozing toxic waste where children play, drought stricken wildlife habitats, migrant camps, belly-extended underfed children, and natural catastrophes such as pestilence, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis.  A balanced AES discovers hell amid current conditions and expresses the critical need for divine assistance.

        Enumeration of such desolation is not satisfying, and so we launch into positive reflections in coming weeks.  Bear with us.







Snow on bright foliage
*photo credit)

February 7, 2020    Benefits of a Rocking Chair

     The senior who says, "Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits" tells us something important.  Maybe a little rocking and enjoying body movement without changing basic location is rest as well.  The perfect instrument for such an undertaking is the rocking chair, which many of us discover over time.  The swinging motion is perfectly calming and still allows for reflection and reading.

     Rocking chairs have a recent history though some archeologists may unearth relics from a distant past.  Some say Ben Franklin (1706-90) was the inventor, but did he spend that much time rocking?  Furthermore, he was a youth in 1725 when England was rocking with these chairs.  Let's concede the instrument to the English; the "Windsor Rocker” was popular near Windsor Castle by the 1740s.  However, by that time the Swedes had the Gungstol (a six-legged device) and other models soon followed.  By the 1820s the rocking chair gained fashion in America with such models as the Shaker Rocker (generally of cherry wood and with a woven bark or tape seat); these were popular products of craftsmen in the United Society of Believers, or Shakers.  Light-weight Wicker Rockers became widespread somewhat before the Civil War.  Adirondack and Appalachian crafters created a variety of designs from local materials throughout the nineteenth century and beyond.

     Rocking chairs reduce stress and permit relaxation.  The rocking chair is a natural compromise -- movement and sitting in one place.  While sitting in an auto allows mobility from place to place, a rocking chair never changes basic location while still allowing motion in place, much as horseback riding -- and this is relaxing, for few rocking-chair travel accidents occur.  Those from infants to the elderly find rest and slumber in a well worn rocking chair.

     Acquiring the perfect chair may be a hit-and-miss operation.  So many want a soft model, a silent one, a sturdy one, or one made from certain wood or fiber seating and backing.  The possibilities allow for variety and a broad price range.  Some rockers are antiques, but who wants to use a costly artifact?  A normal rocker can become a pleasant fixture among a wide variety of types and ages.  Our choices depend on where we are and how we want to rest.  Unused rockers are out there at garage and yard sales, so be on the lookout for a bargain.  Rocking is an exercise that is easy to master, for it requires only shifting body weight and/or using the feet with a small pushing motion.  Taking time to rock may be the important decision once the instrument is acquired.  You may like it alone or along with others, for reflecting or listening or conversing.  Sometimes a creaking rocking chair is welcome; in other times we like the silence of the particular rocking chair.  All in all, rocking is pleasing.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to enjoy a rest even in times of busy activity.  Allow us the instruments we need to give us this rest.










A trail through the forest, possibly a fox
*photo credit)

February 8, 2020  Disparity of Wealth and Environmental Crisis

     During the 21st century the super rich 1% of Americans increased their holding from 10% to nearly one-quarter of total national wealth.  Globally, some two dozen billionaires or super rich "own" more than the lower one half of the human race or 3.7 billion people.  This uncontested disparity is a death toll on democracy when recalling that all of God's creation is meant for the welfare of ALL people and not a few.  Excessive capitalism is immoral but the cost of such inequality is often overlooked.  Some church leaders counsel patience and hint that our discontent is based on the sin of envy.  But many in social justice do not envy the rich; rather, they (we) confront those who seek the status quo and challenge them to rethink the current situation.  Excessive wealth is an abomination, a perversion of power; these privileged seek to control our world through unjust property laws that permit untaxed resources to be moved to havens or blackmail legislators.

     Perversity affects our environment.  Those who are rapidly entering the middle class of the world (perhaps 400 million in China alone in this century) have the same aspirations to retain and freely use resources as do the very wealthy.  The rising demand for energy and water among this emerging class springs from these aspirations.  Physical materials, from cars and fuel to housing and appliances, are in ever greater demand.  Such wanton consumer demands place an ever heavier burden on our limited total environment.  Material wants can be insatiable -- and a consumer economy with its allurements feeds on just such addiction-generating appetites for more and more goods.

     Disparity of wealth leads to the emerging multitudes wanting these privileges as well, for they see things in store windows and on TV.  Seeking necessities for decent food or housing is one thing, but that is not where dispensable wealth is directed.  Those who "want" instead of "need" have money to spend, and this creates a demand for more resources to satisfy their insatiable affluence.  Furthermore, wealth disparity allows the super-rich to retain a stranglehold on legislators who enact privileges and tax structures that ensure the status quo.  All the while, globalization encourages ease in money transfer to less regulated places.

     The new middle class strive for more spacious housing, added electronic devices, air conditioning, and fuel for operating them.  Furthermore, operating and protecting these goods take more resources than bare-essential housing and other necessities for the poor.  Thus competition between essential needs and insatiable wants continues with growing depletion of resources and increasing climate change.  The poor are blamed for seeking protein from wildlife and firewood in pristine areas.  Runaway consumption can be curbed by removal of fossil fuel producer subsidies and fair taxes, which can help address the problem of excessive wealth.

     Prayer: Lord, sustain within us a balance of mercy and concern, and inspire us to effect needed global change.










A quiet moment, admiring ice-covered branches
*photo credit)

February 9, 2020         Lighten up the World

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

     During this part of winter we are keenly aware that the span of daylight is expanding.  God is the source of all light and, in the liturgical readings today, we are asked to become lights to the world, a challenge that could take a lifetime to achieve.  We are lovers of light and champions of those seeking to dispel darkness. 

     Enlighten by teaching.  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.  Physical light is a part of our mortal life, for we all need light to perform our work.  We utilize artificial light for signals, road markers, illumination in our interior living space, and for a multitude of operations.  We know our dependencies when electricity is "shut off" for even a brief period.  Light gives us a sense of security; light triggers the photosynthetic process of plants for food and shade; light warms, heals, and enlightens.  Our dependence on light seems to expand through the years.

     Enlighten through healing.  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 our spiritual source, our lamp rolling back the darkness of our self-created shadows, our way or lighthouse that guides our journey of faith.  Christ, our light, enlivening us to perform noble deeds; he is the light we need for healing and refreshment of our bodies.  The rays of Christ's light produce a greenhouse effect within us; light is transformed into a heart-warming energy, a love directed to serving others.

     Enlighten through being models to others.  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: 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 those who have been in darkness can now have their way illuminated, so they can walk in the light of faith.

     Cultivate light-heartedness.  To lighten up is a good reminder during February's dreariness.  Spread some laughter; find a way to make others enjoy what we say.  Cultivate humor, for that inspires others.  Being light-hearted has a serious quality, for it gives courage to others and allows them to grow in self-esteem.  Using humor is one way to enlighten an overly somber world that needs an occasional laugh; we have to accept the challenge to lighten up.

     Prayer: Teach us, Lord, how to be lights to others.









Winter visitors at birdbath: American Robin, Turdus migratorius and
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius
*photo credit)

February 10, 2020    Competition or Win/Win Approaches

     Competition is a major motivational factor in our economy, our cultural expressions, our school systems, our athletic programs and our professional sports industry.  We are considered disloyal and unpatriotic for raising any question as to the excesses of current competition.  What would we do about million-dollar contracted baseball pitchers or quarterbacks?  What about all the fans who come out to drink beer and threaten to throw empties at umpires or referees?  What about youth who seek college scholarships in swimming or track or football?  What about efforts to train youth for success in a competitive business world of winner-take-all?

     Winner pays all.  One possible alternative would be for the winner to buy beer or perform needed service to or for the loser.  Just losing requires the human balance of good sportsmanship, so losers are the ones in need of special attention.  Really this attending to the loser comes closer to the Scriptural model of washing the feet of others, of going the extra mile, and of doing loving service for the unfortunate.  Losing is unfortunate, for winning is its own reward; the losers are the needy of the world.  Looking out for them could be a better twenty-first century goal than human-style dog fights or bull elephant mating struggles.

     Be first in responding.  A second approach is to see winning not in beating another, but in being the first to give service to others in need.  Here winning is not a conquest but consists of leading the way, with hopes others will follow.  First in sensitivity and in time and not in physical prowess or luck or mental agility is something to be truly competitive about, and it makes good sense as well.  Number one in sensitivity to the needs of so many losers in our culture is a countercultural effort to challenge a dysfunctional system.  It sure beats conquering another by athletic or intellectual skills.

     Champion win/win games.  Several of our family were tired of regular Scrabble, and so we teamed up and tried to fill as many of the spaces on the board with lettered words that could fit; the objective took interactive cooperation.  In fact, we enjoyed the exercise, for there were no winners and no losers; we all took part.  The competitive ones in the family thought the exercise was a little crazy, for how could one live without winners and losers. 

     Later I discovered that the exercise was not so novel after all.  Some folks strive to have win/win games; they enjoy celebrations, folk dances and other festival activities where all win.  Can't we conquer mountains as a team, not by competition?  Why must we seek to always come out on top, or is this an implicit reinforcement of a dysfunctional economic system demanding approval of a disparity of wealth where the privileged are winners and the rest losers?

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to strive for the benefit of all and not be satisfied in a world of winners and losers.










Bamboo, nurtured through winter's chill
*photo credit)

February 11, 2020  Geothermal Energy: Renewable and Promising

     On the 173rd birthday of Thomas Edison, our thoughts turn to electricity.  We learn about energy-efficient innovations to some of Edison's applications (better light bulbs).  Solar and wind are here, but these are intermittent energy sources and need to overcome costs and siting hurdles.  In addition, a low cost and virtually environmentally benign source (when compared to coal, petroleum and natural gas, and even biofuels) is geothermal energy, a true, promising and underrated member of the renewable energy family.  This superior renewable energy source is found especially in California and Nevada (but also Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming).  Furthermore, much of the nation has some potential as is evidence by heat pump use throughout our country, but drilling costs differ according to location.

     Geothermal energy is clean but not perfectly; some emissions including some carbon dioxide occurring in processing, but only one sixth of "clean" natural gas emissions; in addition, closed cycle geothermal systems produce virtually no emissions.  The hurdle is in the costly drilling and preparation; once a geothermal plant is operating, there are none of the intermissions of solar or wind and a 90% availability that is far better than dirty coal electricity generators.  All in all, plants are dependable and established at far lower costs than nuclear facilities.  Unfortunately, geothermal receives only a minor amount of federal R&D funds.

     Let's recount the advantages of geothermal energy sources:

* cleaner air that does not have unmanageable pollutants and an added load of carbon dioxide;
* geothermal plants use relatively small acreages and do not require storage, transport or combustion of fuels;
* long-term sustainability of plants is expected with some producing after one century of use (Laardarello field in Italy);    * energy supplied at as low as 3 to 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour which is becoming highly competitive with other fuel sources;
* safety without the need of guarding nuclear powerplants and ultimate nuclear waste or coal ash disposal facilities;
* a continuous source without the worrisome intermittent characteristics of clean solar and wind energy;
* dispersal of sources over a wide geographic range that actually includes virtually all of this nation;
* solid sludges include extractable materials such as zinc, which has commercial value;
* opportunity to inject waste water safely into the system below the level of groundwater aquifers; and
* ease in construction and maintenance in comparison to many high cost fossil fuel or nuclear powerplants.  Minor air and water pollutants from geothermal generation are controlled at low cost.

     Prayer: Lord, inspire us to find and utilize cleaner sources of energy.








Gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
*photo credit)

February 12, 2020   Make Personal and Family Gardening Choices

     Gardening is an art that allows a certain freedom to the tiller of the soil.  We like to have opportunities to make more free choices which include: choice of what to grow, where to place the specific vegetable, when to plant, and how to assist in the growing process with fertilizer and mulch.  Making these choices is part of being ever closer to the land and the spiritual aspects related to touching dirt.  Refrain from being persuaded by those who want you to do gardening with their gadgets and services; commercial pressure can extend to possible purchases of fertilizers, seeds, shelters, soil conditioners and even gardener's clothing.  To preserve your freedom consider these suggestions:

     1. Grow what is healthy and you like to eat.  Perhaps you have discovered the benefits of greens and salads.  These grow in great variety, and with tender, loving care we can extend the growing season in both spring and autumn.  The variation in mixture, along with herbs such as dill or parsley, can generate ever new arenas of variation.  Furthermore, varieties of tomatoes and root veggies add nutrition and fiber.  Ask friends what they grow best.

     2. Grow what is more naturally suitable.  From growing experience or suggestions of immediate neighbors you can learn about a variety of choices that do surprisingly well in your own particular soil and microclimate.  However, individual conditions may differ in amount of sun, tree shading, or drainage characteristics from the neighbor's.  Know your own space.

     3. Grow to avoid or dissuade wildlife.  America has an abundance of "wild" turkey, deer, goose, rabbit, raccoon and squirrel.  These can determine what is grown in rural, suburban, or even urban gardens.  Some people protect by proper barriers and fencing and by having watchdogs; others dissuade wildlife by spraying hot pepper spray; still others by planting a border of plants the wildlife truly dislike such as mustard greens.  Some veggies such as okra, onions, peppers or spicy herbs have few wildlife takers -- and can be given priority where pests abound.

     4. Grow what can be used now or preserved.  This includes produce that one does not tire of quickly, and that can be given, exchanged, or sold at the proper season.  Sometimes it is a little-known crop like kohlrabi or bok choy; often it is the early start or late production outside of traditional seasons (again, salad greens are good candidates).  Go easy on zucchini when everyone else's is in season.  My special choice is cucumbers.

     5. Grow something different each year.  Gardening involves continual learning; new varieties expand our sensory experiences and learning base.   I suggest salsify (oyster plant) if you want to avoid expensive shellfish.  Substitutes abound. 

     Prayer: Lord, inspire us gardeners to find space in our lives for wise and wholesome choices -- and to teach others the same.








A tree-lined buffer zone near a home, in winter
*photo credit)

February 13, 2020  Saving Earth Is Part of Salvation History

               Christ saves us all, we say,
                   and is that the total message's worth?
               Is all saving a matter of Christ's sole action?
                   Or do we help save our wounded earth?
               What is this our imitating role:
                   Securing what in theory is already gained?
               Proclaiming a deed that will unfold?
                   Or adding chorus to a grace-filled refrain?
               Is presumption saying Earth will be saved?
                   And despair saying it will not?
                Or is hope's mission what Christ's members say:
                   "Earth will be saved, if we but..."? 

                                                  AF  2006

     Soteriology is the Christian study of the divine accomplishment of salvation through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.  One might venture to say that this field was closed with the Calvary and Resurrection events of two millennia ago.  A challenge comes to us who seek to bring healing to our wounded Earth.  Is there not a saving deed that still needs to be accomplished in which we are party and even major participants?  Was salvation totally accomplished from a Christian viewpoint, or is there still more work to be done in an unfolding of human history?  Is what was redeemed still needing special care?

     One traditional view is that Christ has done all and we only need to prepare for his imminent coming.  St. Paul addressed this view when he told idle, expectant church members, that they would not eat if they did not work (II Thes.3:7-12).  However, in what does this work or effort consist?  It may mean more than merely being passive about upcoming events.  Does it not include St. Peter's active "hastening the day of the coming of the Lord"?  If our misdeeds have damaged our Earth (e.g., climate change of human causation) and frayed our social fabric, we must make repairs and join Jesus on an ongoing Calvary that involves suffering people and wounded Earth.  We are to be as compassionate of Jesus. I can do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church (Colossians 1:24).  We enter into the saving events in which Christ invites us, and thus we must make reparation for my wrongdoing and by a wayward society. 

     Christ has redeemed and is redeeming.  Salvation history is unfolding in broader ways than imagined by our ancestors, who did not know they could affect Earth's life or death.  We enter into salvation's work, not as redeemers, for there is only one redeemer, but in oneness in the Church with our Redeeming Christ.  We are at the invited service of the One, and thus at one with his saving deeds.  We participate in saving our wounded Earth and our frayed society.  We enter into soteriology's arena -- not as bystanders awaiting a coming, but by hastening a New Heaven and New Earth. 

     Prayer: Lord, help us to enter fully in your saving plan.











Reflections on the Need for Harmony

         In February, we become aware of wrongdoing to ourselves, our neighbors and our Earth; the latter includes damage to plants and animals through destruction of habitat, allowing invasion of exotic species, and noise, water and air pollution.  Animal and plant protection demands our attention at this time; noise control requires both community and individual cooperation; water and air problems go beyond individual actions to embrace various governmental agencies at all levels.  Our Earth, which is holy ground, is desecrated by the insensitive and greedy -- and our toleration lets misdeeds continue.  In order to become compassionate healers of Earth we must take these five steps:  

* Look into ourselves and find our personal faults;
* Listen through worldly noise to an inner call for repentance;
* Become aware of temptation to commission and omission;
* Experience poverty and accompanying essential needs; and 
* Touch the wounded with healing compassion.

          The Fall: Stumbling when distracted.  Sin is when one misses the mark, and the failure of human beings to take care of creation is a fall from grace, from the willingness to take care of God's gifts.  Sin affects individuals, but it is always social in nature; we all feel the effects of the original fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, the great dispersal at Babel and the suffering of the Babylonians exiles.  All the king’s men could not put a fallen egg-shattered world back together again.  History is filled with falls from grace; some are individual stumbles; others occur over time when empires crumble and fall.  Amid it all we become aware of both the beauty of creation and the marring of that beauty.  Scandal of all types stand out; the first shoe falls and we recognize the misdeed, but we then listen for the second shoe of aftermath, the social dysfunction, the lingering global results of wrongdoing.

        February 25th is Shrove Tuesday (time to be shriven), thus culminating a February when we approach our imperfect state, our stumbles, which damage our needed Earthhealing teamwork.  Face it, our faults divide people, irritate them, and drive them away from collaborative action.  Stumbles affect all of us and require reparation.  Confessing individual faults is public acknowledgment that we are imperfect and willing to take up our responsibility for our wrongdoing; human beings need other people to hear their state of mind, to tell of God's forgiveness, and to launch out once more on the road to renewal.  Furthermore, as members of a global community we recognize our shared social faults: overuse and misuse of resources, wholesale waste of food and essentials, and failure to speak out about junk, litter and unsightly mess.

       We must not try to walk backward through history.  That is why we must come to terms with the past so that we can advance boldly to the future.  Realizing that we are at fault, that we are sorry, that we ask God's pardon, and that we will strive to do better is all part of becoming balanced Earthhealers.  An authentic eco-spirituality (AES) that fails to address our own personal and collective issues will be limited, for it constantly attributes blame to other persons or institutions; such an attitude never addresses our own faults or our participation in collective faults.  Knowing ourselves for who we are allows us to seek and find God's mercy, the atmosphere in which compassion thrives.  If we hate, deny, excuse or run from ourselves to such an extent that we shun coming to terms with misdeeds we are spiritually handicapped.

         Discord and our Earth.  We are all aware that there is not perfect harmony in our world.  If we listen carefully we discover discord all about: bullying, substance abuse and to individuals or within families, unsolved frictions, marriage troubles, broken homes, terrorism, gang violence, racial division and wars -- and discord shown to Earth herself.  But we should never forget a major source of discord -- the chasm between rich and poor, the heights of affluence in a world where many do not have the essential needs of life and others squander the limited resources at hand. 

        Starting with Earth Day, 1970, many of us became sensitive to our wounded and mourning Earth and endangered creatures.  The Scripture speaks of the country in mourning where wild animals, birds and even fish are perishing (Hosea 4:3).  When we cause the suffering and neglect to heal wounds, we commit a "sacrilege."  Extensive exposition of this environmental discord predated the first Earth Day: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Ralph Nader's Unsafe at any Speed.  In 1970, when I started my public interest career, I thought environmental discord would be short-lived and easily corrected through exposition and governmental corrective measures within our democracy.  But early environmental activists were naive; tackling minor pollutants (e.g. removing lead from gasoline or excess mercury) was child's play compared to converting fossil fuel to renewable ones and curbing climate change.

        The sin of affluence has become a major stumbling block; it is the inability to see the needy due to the insensitivity resulting from possession of excessive material comforts.  It is this sin of omission that could condemn us (Matthew 25).  Affluence in a world of destitution distracts from sharing commons and collaborating with all people of good will; it weakens democracy by affording privileged power to the undertaxed; it fortifies itself with sophisticated networks, moves money from place to place with electronic ease, inserts friends in high places, and extends corporate control.  The chasm between haves and have-nots widens.  The affluent are fixated on security -- police, security guards, and military.  Environmentalists find it easier to point to corporate culprits who use false advertising practices and other promotional devices to enhance their economic power.  However, do we question capitalism, which encourages pervasive affluence? 

        We all need February's reflective time with designated moments of silence in order to enhance harmony with our neighbors.  This silence needs to be discovered, championed, promoted and defended against calloused noisemakers who seem to be in the ascendency.  We will build on this silent beginning at deeper reflection in the next essay.









Heart of Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana
Heart of Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana
*photo credit)

January 14, 2020     Making Long-Range Garden Plans

      In the sterile coldness of mid-winter when outdoor activity is harder to imagine, we attempt to compensate by turning our minds to the upcoming spring gardening season.  A planning pad and pencil can replace spade and hoe.  Looking ahead combats any form of winter depression or the temptation to postpone such thoughts to another day.  No, when nothing else is pressing try the uplifting feature of winter planning for spring planting.  A caution is in order: overplanning straight-jackets future creative work in the garden.  Humans plan; God laughs.  Compensate by accepting that no plan is cast in concrete and always worthy of modification according to changes in weather and growing conditions.  However, a few time-tested planning points are worth noting:

     * Last year's review -- Assemble data on what occurred in 2019 as to varieties and yields, taking into account the hot summer or the amount of rainfall during the year.  Note what is worth repeating and what ought to be modified or dropped;

     * New variety choices -- Decide on some new crops or shrubs or berries and pick up the books and literature and study contents for ideas and varieties; 

     * Seed ordering -- Look through the seed catalogs that came in over the past few months.  For those who trade with other seed savers, now is the time to do the ordering.  Choose some new varieties depending on what has been learned over the year.  Just perusing photos and illustrations of luscious fruits and vegetables can be quite uplifting in this dormant season;

      * New techniques and practices -- We should all try something new each year as to technique (extend fall gardening, or grow a new leafy green or root veggie for the first time, or use a new gardening device).  This may mean a rearrangement or expansion of growing areas, or it may mean taking better advantage of shaded or sunny areas;

     * Tentative design -- Refrain from getting carried away and overdesigning a garden space.  It simply will not work and will lead to disappointment in mid-growing season.  The playful approach allows us to think up new economies of scale, numbers of plantings, sequence of growing (spring, summer and autumn garden space), and other possibilities.  In fact some designs will be followed even though not rigidly adhered to for the next season; and

     * Fresh beginnings -- Looking back to older times when "hotbeds" were more popular, remember that this is the time to start plants in greenhouses or protected areas.  In this manner, the growing season is initiated far ahead of time.

     Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of the season, and ready us for the work ahead through careful planning and forethought. 










*photo credit)

January 15, 2020        Moments of Sorrow

            Then they will say to the mountains, "Cover us!"
            and to the hills, "Fall on us!"
                              (Hosea 10:8; also Luke 23:30)


                  Our mountains move -- yes sliding, tumbling
                     as fragile cover is skimmed away,
                  exposing jet-black coal, the fuel
                     that turns the urban night to day.
                  The soil and saplings slip downslope,
                     and they can't climb back up again;
                  down, down to rivers and streambeds
                     to smother fish and wildlife den.
                 Mountain movers dig up the dead
                     and bury down the living fold,
                  root up graveyards and oaken groves,
                     erase homes two centuries old.
                  All for pockets of distant wealth,
                     and when the silent land calls down--
                  Reclaim! Reclaim!  Wager it'll be
                     profiteers reaping a second round.
                  Will hills take in our compassion
                     and forgive all offenders' sin?
                  Will we cease to make the hills fall
                     and start to build them back again?

AF  2010


           All Merciful Lord, give us the grace of compassion for our suffering highlands, and help us to halt the damage done to them, and start the reclaiming work with a renewable energy economy.

      The entire passage is taken with permission from the section entitled "Compassion" from our book Mountain Moments, which can be obtained from books stores or regular Internet sites, from the publisher, Acclaim Press, or from Amazon Books.











Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
*photo credit)

January 16, 2020  Converting "Retirement Years" to Public Service

     No healthy and energetic person in adult and senior age should "retire," for that is a category fraught with difficulties.  The category of "retirement" relegates older people to a lesser role in our society, as prized jobs are intended for the younger members of society.  In this way of thinking, the individual must exit gracefully to senior villages and golf courses, fishing places and tea parties.  Nonsense.  People of so-called retirement age can be prime contributors to society, for their past experience is valuable and the distracting drive for professional ladder-climbing is no longer most prime.

     Senior opportunities are galore.  "Questioning Retirement" (see January 29, 2018 Daily Reflections) focuses on the problem of people moving from a steady occupation or office to a time of fun and games.  Others say that such approaches are sophomoric, selfish, and quite often life-threatening.  For the ever-working soul, being of good health and energy is a gift from God and the "R" word really has to be taken with qualification.  Health is such a blessing that, when we have it at whatever age, we must use it in the service of others.  If "retirement" means halting the particular work in which one is engaged, it becomes a confusing designation, since so many people change jobs.  Today a host of early military "retirees" are perfectly suited for further public service.  They are often even in their forties and fifties.  With the gifts of health and with acquired expertise, normally those in their sixties and seventies have opportunities for further service.  

     Choices ought to be made wisely.  Often, seniors know their own limitations as to types of work; they need to choose wisely, since some programs that could be quite enticing to younger people are unsuited for them.  When people are able to do overseas work, they should realize their language and cultural limitations and possible medical and dietary needs.  Often, the so-called early retirees, whether from the public or private sectors, enjoy good health and accumulated experience and are ideal candidates to be volunteers at the service of the less fortunate both in this country and overseas.  God's call extends to people of all ages; retirees should listen to the prompting of the Spirit.

     Senior gifts are different.  Older volunteers offer gifts of wisdom, experience, and patience -- things often in short supply in the youthful inexperienced who are more concerned about career launching and livelihoods; such real-life pressures may no longer strain elders.  However, some feel a need for further income. With more time to spare, many elders can extend genuine hospitality and provide a listening ear to those in need.  Elders know the community with its strengths and weaknesses; they have connections through longer term social networking -- a true asset for those in need.

    Prayer: Lord, give us the ability in older age to see what we can do by offering ourselves at the service of others.










Earth's magnificence. Corbin sandstone boulder as substrate
for life. Carter Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

January 17, 2020   Creating Work Opportunities for Citizens

     There is no shortage of work to be done, only the financial resources that provide people a livelihood while working.  New opportunities include:

     * Infrastructure building and refurbishings -- The demand for higher paying jobs in maintaining and rebuilding our highways, railroads, shipping ports, airports, locks and dams, as well as the making of a renewable energy economic systems will require millions of workers.  Higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy could easily generate the financial resources required for these public works much in the system of the highly successful WPA after the Great Depression;
      * Health and home care programs -- Health care ranging from primary medical care through home health and physical therapy is a major issue in lower-income rural and urban areas.  Elderly and ill people in need of treatment ought to have assistance in cooking, physical care, and travel, bestowed by individuals (often relatives who ought to receive just compensation for their services;
      * Literacy training programs -- A million new citizens and several million illiterate citizens (many at older ages) are eligible for training by patient and caring people in the English language.  Computer literacy is also a growing need today and younger people are prime candidates for this form of meaningful employment;
      * School auxiliary and special training programs -- Much additional assistance is needed in literacy training programs, prisons, drug rehabilitation centers, health and paralegal services, senior citizen centers, and administrative offices of non-profit organizations: as managers, auditors, writers, or fund-raisers;
      * Environmental experience and training programs -- cleaning up the damaged environment is of great necessity in fragile areas of our country.  Nature centers and wildlife rescue centers are in need of youthful as well as experienced environmentally-literate citizens;
      * Recreational supervision programs -- Millions of people from infants and after-school youth to elderly day-care recipients lack supervisory support from trained and experienced staff and other assistants;
      * Beautification and freedom garden programs -- Blighted communities are in need of converting abandoned housing to park and greenspace.  Supervisors and organizers for gardening projects are needed in urban areas.  A program of reforestation, especially in blighted and urban areas, is very needed at this time; and
      * Domestic and overseas technical programs -- Peace Corps and AmeriCorps volunteers have been a mainstay of public service beyond our borders.  A wide variety of technical assistance groups such as solar cooker installers to safe-water providers are in urgent demand.

     Prayer: Help us, Lord, to see authentic problems and to be willing to serve others wheresoever we are most needed.











A tree-lined buffer zone near a home, in winter
*photo credit)

January 18, 2020   Forgiving Student Loans through Public Service

     During January we acknowledge the divine called to each of us to be of service to others.  This is of particular interest to those about to graduate in professional and technical fields.  However, those graduates who are financially indebted are so burdened that their services are limited due to the pressure to repay high interest college loans.  Forgiving such loans through community service is one way out and has been applied in a limited degree for some times.  Currently, one outlet is service in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.  Far more deserve such programs.

     Broaden the field of public service.  One needs to include education and health services in low-income and underserved urban and rural communities.  The student-turned-public-service person could also be receiving a valuable apprenticeship under experienced direction that is properly monitored.  Loan forgiveness could be based on a period of service, say three to five years depending on loan size.  Church-related institutions that are primarily social welfare, health and education-related should be allowed within the programs.  Public interest advocacy for the good of lower income communities should also be included. 

     Open up to early job training opportunities.  Gaining concrete experience in a variety of fields sometimes involve apprenticeships that are lower paying.  These programs could have the effect of bringing services to underserved areas, with the added incentive that would be provided by federally funded loan forgiveness.  Advantages include a place suited to satisfying the initial training program for the graduating student.   

     Give incentives to the middle aged who seek to change careers.  Certainly, the program should include forgiving the costs of career changes when employment shrinks in a number of technical and middle management areas.  Job opportunities change and demand new training and career shifts some quite costly for lower income folks.  For middle-aged people with family obligations, the burden or threat of a retraining program hangs over them or adds a severe burden to a stretched family income.  New positions of service could range from senior citizen physical education and care to remedial reading programs for migrants and illiterate seniors.

     Create governmental funds to replace high interest rates.  One horrible dilemma facing college loan programs is the emergence of for-profit "academic" institutions, which take advantage of people seeking a higher education.  When properly operated and maintained, government oversight would encourage college academic work and training, volunteerism and public service, and allow the student-turned-public-servant to leave after several years with no or low interest debt. 

     Prayer: Help us, Lord, to see that public service is part of our citizenship, and those who are more indebted should have this opportunity to be debt-free in reasonable time.










A thick coating of ice
*photo credit)

January 19, 2020      Salvation Reaching Out to All

     I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  (Isaiah 49:6)

     In January, we review the mystery of our baptismal calling -- the great privilege to serve God according to our station in life.  The calling is a gift for which we are eternally thankful.  This personal calling is a sacred trust, to which we never perfectly respond.  This calling is ongoing, and thus subject to an ever-deepening commitment on the part of us as recipients.

     The gift of calling makes us "graced" by God's goodness.  We do not deserve what we are to become; we are privileged to be invited to become God's people.  Our freedom shows itself in raw but simple form, for we can say "yes" or "no" in the depths of our heart.  We can be spiritually deaf and blind -- two eyes and two ears, but not the two divided in a responded "yes" or "no."  Even when we unfortunately say "no," in hidden gratitude we thank God for the freedom to do so.

     The trust stands heavy upon those who flee from responsibility or who are caught in false leads and detours of life; these allurements consume precious time and make us deaf to the cries of the poor.  "Forgive us Lord" is said when the promises we made were not perfectly kept, and we see how golden opportunities for betterment were not followed.  The trust was mercifully given; the failure in that trust, when later seen and sincerely regretted, is given once more in the freshness of an all-merciful God calling us.

     The deepening in our calling is an emerging reality to each of us.  We have heard but not listened, seen but not perceived, felt but it has not penetrated.  An additional call forces us to see past limits now yielding to a sense of new responsibilities.  In rare but very real circumstances, we make dramatic adjustments in lifestyle and manner of acting.  For some of us comes the sudden acknowledgement that aches and pains indicate approaching physical weakness and mortality.  The demand for treatment or adjustment in lifestyle is part of the ongoing nature of our call, for life moves on to new horizons.

     Our response awaits a final judgment, but it can be one that grows in love and gratitude during the shrinking span of mortal life.  The final judgment comes at our end -- and yet we have the God-given time to make the response ever better and more fulfilling.  With divine grace we can do better like the Good Thief.  We can speak for those in need, assist them in encouraging words, perform acts of kindnesses, and even spend time in fasting.  The time left is short but it can be profoundly meaningful.

     Prayer: Lord, let this be my final ever-rephrased remark: "Lord, I answered you."  Help us through prayer to improve the depth of that answer, through a spiritual maturation that sharpens our response to an ever more deepening call to serve others.










Old fencepost
*photo credit)

January 20, 2020  Considering Work as Curse or Blessing

     I have heard the comment, "Cut the bull; who wants to work if they don't have to?"  My response came after a slight hesitation, as though I was fighting as a contrarian in standing up for some form of idealized work.  Yes, work can be a blessing and something more than making a livelihood out of obligation for self and loved ones.  Service for others often involves steady dependable work.   Christians, we know that Christ came to serve and not to be served; we are called to imitate him and do the same.

     Privileges come in different forms: talents, financial success, recognized station in life AND service for others.  At time we are able to recognize and fully appreciate the service done for us in unexpected gifts, prepared meals and well cleaned rooms.  What a necessity for the ill, very young or elderly -- and a feeling of satisfaction by those performing the service.  Not all is the haunting work of serfs, slaves and peons driven to perform by stern taskmasters.  Much service for people has attached loving care that radiates to all parties.  My life dwellings have straddled a South, where farm work was disdained, and a Midwest, where freeholders first saw farm and industrial work as a holy opportunity to advance.  Scriptural messages were used for both positions and so the curse and the opportunity of work clashed.

      The privileged include those who freely serve others.  The able-bodied are empowered through the gift of health to do meaningful things in the span of a relatively short life.  Opportune work allows us to assist others in work, studies, daily chores, and a multitude of other tasks.  Even the ill who willingly and joyfully offer up their sufferings for fellow human beings are serving people.  The call to serve through work is a privilege to come closer to the Lord in being like him.

     False notions of privilege abound.  Those who attacked Christianity as being at the root cause of the environmental crisis have never been fully answered, because too many Christians believed in exploitation, colonization, and gaining material profits at the expense of others.  Granted, the process of exploiting takes effort, but is a deceptive type of work.  The entire effort is based on false premises of personal gain.  If the privilege were one of allowing others to profit at our expense, then our loss is their gain.  Really exploiters do not benefit. 

     Loving service is a spiritual investment in future glory while the immediate goal of helping another is foremost in our mind.  Some of that future is obtained now in the satisfaction of being of service even when not recognized.  The kingdom has begun.  Love of self can take distant place to love of God and neighbor.  This love is best expressed through the multitude of ways that have been pointed out this month in our series on public service.

     Prayer: Help us, Lord, to see the privilege that comes with seeing the good that we can do, and energize us to serve others.











Further Reflections on Essential Needs

        Let us continue the review of personal and group conduct needed for us to be balanced healers of the Earth in these critical times.  We continue to treat our authentic eco-spirituality (AES) with the hope that it becomes a collaborative venture.

           Facing Temptation.  Temptation is part of the human condition.  From Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 we find Jesus' temptations -- to wealth, fame and power by turning stone into bread, flying off the parapet of the Temple, and falling down and adoring the Evil One.  Jesus successfully overcomes temptation by obedience to the Divine Will, living a simple life, and enduring the ignominy of the cross.  Mark's Gospel focuses more on temptations to omission than on evil deeds of commission; Jesus was tempted not to risk going to hostile Jerusalem.  Likewise we are tempted by various enticements: pride in accomplishments, coveted wealth, lust for power and comforts, gluttony, envy, anger and sloth.  Likewise, we too have our sins of omission: to deny, to excuse, and to escape through addictions.

        a) Denial.  A common mode of avoiding reality is to pretend and accept a life of fiction.  Those who deny may be overly optimistic and unable to come to terms with troubles, or they may lie to themselves about their condition and live amid a make-believe world.  Denial of the current climatic situation is fading with evidence, but denial still extends to personal life and health: overweight, harmful smoking, and problem drinking and drugs; it is heightened by fake news, false ads, inflated resumes, doctored financial records, and a society living on borrowed funds.  A "yes" to God's goodness counteracts denial.

        b) Excuse.  A legitimate excuse is acceptable from people who recognize shortcomings and allow experts to handle all emergencies.  However, when excuse is a non-acceptance of responsibility, it's a different matter: parents failing to correct children, overspending on credit cards, or neglect in voting and civic duties.  A creative mind always finds excuses.  The opposite of excuse is acceptance of responsibility.  Jesus redeems us by taking up the burden of our human wrongdoing; he accepts the Father's will in obedience that is better than sacrifice. "In the scroll of the book am I not commanded to obey your will?" (Ps. 40:8).  We must be responsible.

        c) Escape.  You don't cure alcoholism by touring a distillery or by attending lectures on how alcohol affects health.  Rather, concrete action is needed such as attending an AA meeting on a regular basis.  Consumers can become addicted to consumerism by seeking to fulfill hidden wants.  We must be convinced that the opposite of escape is involvement.  Jesus comes from hill country to hurting people; he heals those with illnesses, teaches disciples, confronts the Pharisees and others, drives the moneychangers from the Temple, and suffers and dies for us.  If we are involved, we take on the risk that comes with activism.

          Awareness of Needs.  To be human involves acknowledging the needs of our neighbors and doing something about it.  Sensitivity to the hungry, thirsty, and homeless is part of that definition.  Believers look to Jesus as a model: he heals the sick, feeds the multitudes, and tells the people to give Jairus's little daughter something to eat.  Jesus as judge will ask us on that final day whether we joined him in works of mercy.  "You fed me" or "you didn't feed me" will manifest the degree of our acts of mercy or the absence thereof.  Early Church Fathers said if neighbors are hungry we could not receive communion worthily unless we feed them.  The expansion of neighborhood through the Internet challenges us.

        People in distant lands and even within our neighborhood may go to bed hungry.  Malnutrition stalks children with pot-bellies and discolored hair and elders who die from opportunistic diseases due to improper diet.  One billion undernourished people surround us, and alleviating that condition is no easy matter; it requires a massive global effort: food transportation, storage facilities, and distribution networks.  On the other end of the consumption scale, overeating of fatty and sugar-filled foods is a problem for half of all Americans; furthermore, animal products take a major portion of our farmland and add to the intensity of climate change.

       Climate change means rising ocean levels with flooding in low-lying areas where many poor folks reside.  Homeless people have no place to call their own; they rest on urban grates or if lucky in a homeless shelter.  A billion people live in inadequate housing and another billion deserve better housing.  Affordable housing is a hope for those seeking minimum privacy or a safe place to locate away from frequent natural disasters.  However, many of these people do not have basic funding, materials, skills, or land on which to construct their residences.  How can we help?

        Being touched with Compassion.  Being one human family means being in solidarity with the hungry, thirsty, and homeless.  In doing so we plunge into the Mystery of Divine Love; we seek and acquire compassion or suffering with another.  We become more godly and plunge into the infinite ocean of God's love.  Ironically, from an expanded spiritual sense of compassion for fellow human beings, comes an awareness of social justice -- establishing justice and right harmony for all those who are mistreated and overlooked.  We renew the structures of society in collaboration with others.

       By expanding our sensitivity and compassion, we reach beyond our afflicted human family and confront "suffering" plant and animal species under threat of extinction; we respect sensate animals; we offer protection to animals and plants that are aggressively threatened in any way.  Compassion for other creatures is found in Scripture, e.g., Don't muzzle the oxen during the threshing season; likewise, the Jonah story shows God's compassion reaching to non-Hebrew peoples and even to the animals.  Compassion for animals is also found in Buddhism, Jainism, or other religions.  Hunting and gathering primitive people are often more in tune with wildlife than those of developed lands; they seek forgiveness of animals harvested for food.  Should we not do the same?









Hackberry tree leans over old chicken house
*photo credit)

February 21, 2020        Review Disaster Supplies

Challenge: Should we be prepared for disasters?

       I live downwind from the Bluegrass Army Depot with its store of the largest number of aging chemical weapons -- though a plant to destroy the weapons is being built.  In our Estill County, all residents receive a yearly calendar containing evacuation routes and other information in case of a disaster.  Allow me to share that calendar's "Family Disaster Supply Kit" with its five basic areas, for all of you who may have to endure possible emergencies.  I keep many of these supplies on standby both in my residence and some in my vehicle.

Store a minimum of one gallon of water per person per day.

Ready to eat canned, smoked or dried meats (beef jerky).
Canned, powdered or crystallized juices.
High energy food like peanut butter, crackers, nuts, or nutritional bars.
Prepackaged foods that have a long shelf life and don't  require cooking.

First Aid Kit
2" sterile roller bandages (5).
2" and 3" gauze pads (8-12 of each).
Adhesive tape.
Scissors, tweezers, needle, and safety razor blade.
Bar of soap, antiseptic spray and ointment.
Moistened towelettes (8-10 individual packets).

Tools and Supplies
Paper (reusable plastic) plates, cups and utensils.
Battery-operated (or solar) radio, flashlight, and
extra batteries.
Non-electric can opener and utility knife.
Clothing and bedding (blankets and sleeping bags).
Plastic sheeting, duct tape, scissors.
Hat, gloves, sturdy shoes or boots.
Emergency literature.

Special Needs Items
Baby formula, diapers, bottles.
Medication (prescription and/or over-the-counter).
Eye glasses or extra contacts.
Identification with important papers (birth certificate, etc.)

     Prayer: Lord, help us to be prepared for disasters and to encourage our neighbors to do likewise.        











A misty morning, Washington Co., KY
*photo credit)

February 22, 2020    Beware of the Addictive Internet

      The Internet is a blessing.  We start with this premise, but add quickly that it is a mixed blessing.  The world can come together more quickly through rapid and global communications, a wonder unheard of a hundred years ago.  And this mixed blessing can be used for personal safety, community emergencies, national policy making and global breaking news not awaiting the next day's newspaper account.  Internet can be captivating in so many ways,  including obtaining basic information quickly or finding the route to a business that must be visited, or scanning the obituary for those who are critical ill or just passed on.  Internet can be our friend provided we see it as a mere tool for ordinary life, and not something greater.

     Why mixed?  Experts in addiction see the overdependence on the Internet as being itself a danger with all the same symptoms as that of substance and other forms of abuse.  The blessing can become a crutch for the lonely or isolated to such a degree that interpersonal face-to-face relations suffer.  Certainly, the Internet can be helpful for those suffering for lack of inter-personal relationships, but when it reaches a level of constant attention and a compulsion calling for us to always be connected, then something can be wrong.  We discover to our surprise that we are addicted in ways unknown a few decades ago. 

     A major problem with those who are alone and unwatched is that of pornography and the vast numbers of people (males more so) who watch this junk a little, then more, and then at points of continual usage.  In fact some say one-third of all Internet traffic is in this debasement of the human person.   Balanced lives with others is ignored and a cloud of guilt and selfishness descends on the Internet user.

     A less severe but somewhat serious effect from the Internet is the failure to interact with the immediate surroundings and with people near and dear who have problems overlooked by the addicted Internet user.  The same that could be said of the druggie or the alcoholic can occur here with deterioration in family and community relations, overstress on self-fulfillment at the expense of others and super-connectedness that omits the privacy and reflection time we all need.  Over connectedness is almost a watchfulness that hangs over individuals who need private space. 

     Part of the allurement of the Internet is rapid information -- but that could be false or deliberately misleading and can do harm to others, since the Internet message is public and can never be fully erased.  The user must be always on the alert against saying the wrong thing and controlling emotions because the sender does not see the reactions of the one receiving this hit-and-run communications endeavor.  Let's be aware of "mixed" blessing.

     Prayer: Lord, help us see an entire world as ripe for the harvest, and how we can use the Internet to bring this about.










Decomposing chips of log, species unknown.        
*photo credit)

February 23, 2020   An Eye for Eye and a Tooth for Tooth

     Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away. (Matthew 5:43)

     Loving our enemies and doing good to them replaces the natural impulse to show revenge whether to an individual or a nation.  The ancient maxim (an eye for an eye...) had its place, and yet is often misinterpreted; this is not license to continue a vendetta or dog fight, but a restriction on the response of kind: don't break someone's arm because he blackened you eye, whether inadvertently or in a fight.  However, Jesus teaches us to look at things from a deeper and more kindly level, namely, "Love your enemies." 

     This extending of love is really a fulfillment of the Old Testament command to be holy because God is holy.  You shall not bear hatred for your brother, in your heart...You must love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18).  We hear the refrain from Psalm 103, The Lord is kind and merciful.  Because of our need to be holy and godly, we must see the arena of love extend from local neighbors to more distant people, even our enemies.  Where would be the economics of warfare or the need to ever more expensive defense industries and profits?  A just world order demands correct relationship, that is respect and civility.  However, love reaches out to a broad horizon, something beyond the litigious nature of correct relations among people.  If you step on my toe I will sue, and I've more money to hire a lawyer than you.  There's something wrong in that way of thinking.

     Jesus calls us to go beyond and widen the world order to work better for all people.  Giving to another more than his or her "due" is really at the heart of his message.  We see the beginnings of a redistribution of global resources from those who want to those who need.  Let's concede that the needy have to receive proper assessments of essentials and how they are to be defined, apportioned and utilized.  Many do not know how to have access to basics or how to steward them; thus, they may need assistance.

     We have been experiencing Brotherhood-Sisterhood Week, and we are astonished that Jesus tells us not to turn away those who wish to borrow.  At the heart of this is the message that we ought to give from the depth of our collective hearts and to question a system that fosters excessive loans as profitable business.  That some have much and others must beg or borrow needs a radical challenging.  We must set about making a new world order where the commons is reclaimed, not borrowed with interest by some from the privileged.  Jesus calls us to a more perfect state, and challenges us to break from the locked step of this current dysfunctional system.  If we truly love the rich, who could lose their souls in current practices, we ought to liberate them from the chains of their oppression -- their wealth.  We love all our neighbors.

     Prayer: Lord, help us to know your teachings and apply them.










Ice of a small stream.  Franklin Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

February 24, 2020    The Last of the Civil War Kids

     At the turn of the twentieth Century (120 years ago) millions of American youngsters sat at their veteran granddaddies feet and heard stories about "the War," the American Civil War that is.  Gradually, the youngsters matured, veterans passed on, and memories faded.  The daydreams of youth became relics of the past and most of the great events of that immense struggle slipped into history books or displays at museums.  Those who could hear stories first hand also thinned in rank and their numbers became fewer and fewer. 

     I am one of the surviving kids whose mind is good enough to recall "Ole Joe Davis."  Mr. Davis was a retired farmer who lived in the big house across the road and who frequently tottered down to our place to find some company.  My mother would say she was busy when we told her Mr. Davis was on the way; he called her Lizzie (his wife's name), a name Mama hated but, nonetheless, she would fix him a nice cool drink.  We were expected to be his listeners, but he was a gifted Kentucky story-teller.  We admired his reaches into the past, for when he was our age he remembered both the start and finish of "the War."  In 1861, he went on horseback with his dad, a recruit in the KY Home Guard gathering.  The local commander was Colonel Charles Marshall (great nephew of Chief Justice John Marshall), who mustered the Mason County unit in a vain effort to keep the Commonwealth neutral doing the impending conflict.  At the end of the fight in 1865 Mr. Davis recalled troops returning to the North stopping through while the Davis family was eating, and they stole a whole ham off the table by spearing it with a sword; maybe farfetched, but did it matter?

The War was from our border state's position very costly in damages to folks on either side by those who were getting even; it involved relatives on both sides (see YouTube on "Old Washington KY: A living Relic" of two generals from opposite sides growing up in the same house).  Mr. Davis never mentioned the divisions in his own family; neither did I for that matter, even though I saw a group family picture where two of my maternal great grandfather's brothers were dressed in Union uniforms -- at that time when I was a champion of the losers.   

     Local history meant much to us during my youth and having someone we could admire from out of the past gave continuity and integrity to our community lives.  Even the trauma of civil conflict made us proud of the past, even though some actions were embarrassing.  Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" observed a black man being sold at an auction at Washington, only a mile away.  I passed that chipped auction block on the way to school for twelve years, and realized that it came from earlier confused times.  We had to come to terms with social changes such as our family discussion that black folks were invited to eat at our dinner table when working on our farm.  History was being written years after that tragic war, and we were part of it.   

     Prayer: Lord, help us recall our past and benefit from it.










Morel mushroom, a surprise find in the forest
*photo credit)

February 25, 2020   Geoengineering: Promising or Just Plain Hubris?

     Repairing our wounded planet goes beyond curbing deforestation and planting trees.  Certainly, trees take up carbon dioxide in order to grow, but they grow slowly, some do not survive, and the temptation exists to harvest valuable wood and clear forestlands for agricultural purposes.  This is especially true in tropical areas where the trees are truly lungs for our planet.  In order to address growing environmental problems and yet continue a limited modification of the status quo, proponents propose practices that sound and may be outlandish.  These include “geoengineering" techniques (ideas to fix man-made climate change through technical changes to our threatened Earth's rhythms).  Some have included:

     * Hazing.  Imitate volcanoes that inject sulfur dioxide that cool Earth's surface by reflecting sunlight back into space.  Modifications include releasing sulfuric acid particles into the upper atmosphere.  They would be carried by 80 airships delivering a million tons of acid per year at about $1-2 billion per year over a 20-year operational life.  Damage would be done to the ozone layer and there are many complications in that technical proposal.  Warming would be reduced but not climate change.  Won't rainfall be diminished in places?  Is this a Faustian bargain?

     * Plankton growing.  Another geoengineering strategy is to fertilize oceans with iron filings to accelerate photosynthetic production.  Instead of producing diatoms with a hard shell (little silicic acid available) that discourage predators, a softer variety of phytoplankton resulted from the first attempt; these were eaten by hungry shrimp and no deposited carbon dioxide occurred.  However, the iron is an ocean contaminant.

     * Tying up Glaciers.  It really sounds outlandish but it is argued that melt water under ice sheets will lubricate the sliding of glaciers into oceans and raise water levels.  Alternatives include freezing the smaller areas of greatest danger by pumping out ice water or refreezing with liquid nitrogen.  Really? 

     * Cloud whitening. Another far-fetched technical approach is to use a fleet of remote-controlled, energy self-sufficient ships (between 300 and 1,800) to spray very small droplets of seawater into the air to whiten and expand clouds.  This would reflect sunlight away from Earth and into space.  Okay and then what?

     * Air scrubbers.  These are giant mechanical devices that act as space cleaners and, though far-fetched as far as practicality, are still favored by some fossil-fuel promoters. 

     * Liming.  This involves using massive amounts of lime to decrease the rising acidity of oceans caused by increasing carbon dioxide.  However, lime is derived from carbonates from which carbon dioxide has been removed.  Again, really?

     Geoengineering ideas make good media coverage, even when "off the wall."  While research is lacking, it ought not to be at the planet's expense.  Can the world afford to become a guinea pig?

     Prayer: Lord, help us to abandon crazy ideas and keep our minds on energy efficiency and renewable energy alternatives.










Colorful bracket fungus on tree
*photo credit)

February 26, 2020  Lent: A Favorable Time to Speak Up

     Ash Wednesday in some of our part s of the country is even more popular than is Christmas for those who frequent church services rarely.  Something speaks to them to receive ashes and to try to participate in a more somber season.  Lent reminds us in late winter that spring and new life is ahead and we must prepare for it.  Through ashes we are minded that mortal life is short and the ever shrinking span of prep time must be reaffirmed and lived in a more meaningful way. We see our life's work as a privilege and not a burden, and always in need of perfecting.

     Ash Wednesday initiates a special season of renewal of our spirit; this is a season of fasting and abnegation, of recognition of wrongdoing, of repentance and confession.  We can look into ourselves and challenge the denials, excuses, and escapes that so tempt us to divert attention from our personal serious concerns and hidden goals of eternal life.  We are dragged down by material allurements, time-killing entertainments, and failure to serve others.  Confronting ourselves in the mirror is part of Lent.

     Ash Wednesday is a day to recognize that renewal is in order on all levels of our society.  We are perhaps diligent about reducing energy wastes through changing from incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs to newer energy efficient LEDs.  However, we need to regard our duties as stretching beyond home economies and to see our neighborhood as being our entire planet.  We need to become active through exercising our citizenship by connecting with national and global issues, especially those associated with threats to our planet's own life.  We are called to join Christ in saving our world and this is best done by speaking up -- and our words when focused on correcting wrongdoing are Good News.

     Ash Wednesday is when we need to turn attention to the government that we elected at the state and national levels.  We ought to address our concerns to the members of these legislative bodies.  They need to know about a total pro-life approach to reality.  Congress must hear not only on popular issues of individual human life at its beginning and end, but also on the life of our Earth, without which there is no quality human life.  Prime attention must be given to the Paris Climate Change Accord and to do so on more than progressive state and local government initiatives.  Any overlooking of climate change is immoral and certainly not pro-life.  Let's speak up on this issue.

     Prayer: Lord, move us to speak when we must during this Lenten season.  Inspire us to review our lifestyles and civic actions to make sure that words and deeds are working in harmony.  Help us do more than mumble rote prayers to ourselves.  Help us speak in a merciful manner, but with the force of someone who keeps his or her word.  Inspire us to review our ways of seeing justice in the world around us.  At the beginning of this Lent allow us to recognize human rights in their entirety and to speak up in their favor. 











A red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

February 27, 2020  Lessons from Birds: Trust, Freedom, Joy

         Look at the birds in the sky.  They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they are? (Matthew 6:25-26)

     Our attitudes towards other creatures are quite varied.  We can act as overlords, masters, exploiters, stewards or friends.  During Lent we may discover a more humble stance within the arena of all being.  Jesus teaches us to serve and to be attentive.

     Trust.  Before our Creator we are like trusting children.  We are at the mercy of God, but so are birds and other creatures.  The basic message in Matthew's Gospel passage quoted above is a trust in God who watches over us always and gives us the confidence to continue on our journey of faith.  Birds do not sow or reap.  While we human beings strive to be sedentary enough to sow and reap, we must see such actions are not the entirety of life.  God takes care of us to the degree that we all ought to share and find sufficient resources -- provided some do not take what belongs to others.  Trusting in God inspires us to regard the protective cloak of providence as an environment in which good may occur.  Let's become the providence of God to others, and be energized by the Bread of Life.

     Freedom.  There is something freeing in doing what Jesus inspires us to be and do, for by looking at the birds we see something that points to our relationship with God, a relationship of mutual giving and receiving.  To be free from sin and before God we find a fullness of life to move to a fuller horizon in our journey of faith.  The barriers can be overcome, and we alight at new places.  These winged creatures that are all about are the constant reminders that God is all present, and God freely sees and works with us.  Birds build nests, but after a period of bearing young they move on and on.  They seem to have the freedom of the hunter/gatherer and yet are willing to sit on a nest to hatch young and then to patiently teach the nestlings to fly.  Be free and teach others to also venture out and exercise their new-found freedom.

     Joy.  Perhaps nothing is more heartening than bird songs when we are sluggish, distracted or dispirited.  Suddenly everything lightens up and the shadows of gloom vanish, for God gives us the voice of creatures that sing before our eyes and ears.  Joy overwhelms the darkness of gloom and desolation and makes us aware that we are meant for eternal joy, even amid the ups and downs of our risky faith journey.  Amazingly, impending storms are coming and still the song of birds uplifts us.  Remain cheerful is today's lesson, and do this in a public way so others can see and hear and find joy as well.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to love the birds all around us, and to see them as meant to teach us the qualities that we should share with our neighbors.  Help us to protect birds so they will continue to teach us all --for a birdless Earth would be lacking in quality.










Warm rays of the sun melt away ice in Kentucky creek.
(*photo credit)

February 28, 2020  Gurgling Creeks: Nature's Musical Sounds

     Winter is silent season but not totally so; it is milder here in central Appalachia and so creeks are often flowing (or gurgling), unless we have a rare very cold spell, which freezes the smaller creeks and streams.  It is a perfect season to go out and listen to a hoot owl or coyote or what composers call the music of the stars.  How about the resonating effects from that original Big Bang?  Maybe these are somewhat farfetched for many of us, but what about the birds that stay through the winter or are starting now to return?  Nature has its music, but we have to listen in a quiet moment.  When the land is unusually covered in snowdrifts and icicles, the crunch of the white stuff beneath our boots is a prominent sound.  Whatever the conditions, winter is for listening.

     In this region much of our normal winters are snowless.  The lack of crunchy snow gives way to alternatives made by some human activity in cars and planes; it is also the sounds of mourning dove as well as that of the attention calling woodpecker on wood or ever our gutters.  But running water also has its own singing that is worth listening to, namely a gurgling, ice-free creek.  That sound seems sharper in February and is a greeting to our ears, though we find it quite difficult to spell out the sound we hear.

     Onomatopoeia is the formation of a word that imitates the natural sound that we hear-- and "gurgle" is supposed to do just that.  Does it really?  What letter does the rushing water action even begin with?  I am convinced that words fail to describe music, and so there is a gulf between the emotion engendered by a flowing and musical stream and the spoken language.  We need music from various sources, and so we strive to listen to natural music by just enjoying sounds without trying to capture them with our written hard copy.  More to the point, we need moments to listen and reflect -- and nature beckons us to stop long enough to relax and attend to what is occurring.  February is a perfect time for a little more rest and a little more listening.

     Gurgling streams are like the sounds of someone gasping for breath.  They call out as an expression of life, the life of living water that flows incessantly to the sea.  We realize that only one gurgle in a trillion is appreciated by many of us, for we let life's gifts pass unappreciated.  But the free gift of natural music reminds us that there is vastly more for the taking if we but give our time and listen.  Reflections like these are poor imitations, but they are invitations to readers to break away; leave these Internet connections and wander out to the creek and just listen and let sounds penetrate deep within us.  Something is gained even if for a brief precious moment.

     Prayer: Prompt us, Lord, to leave these written words and search the vastness of our environment for music to enjoy and to lift us up to you.  It is a world rich in sounds and impoverished in spoken appreciation to you first and others later.





Environmental Actions and Eco-Spirituality  

        With climate change looming we redouble our efforts to be good healers of Earth through an authentic eco-spirituality (AES).  As the late environmentalist Becky Simpson said, "When the land is damaged, we work to stop the harm; when people suffer, we care for them."  An AES faces a single troubled situation with two distinct parts: earthly and specifically human with a spiritual destiny; a secularized division is not proper, nor is a religious total focus on human destiny with disregard for our "temporary" home on Earth.  Note that Scripture speaks of a New Heaven and New Earth.  We need to hold to eco- and social justice as a single problem area.

          1. Environmental Actions: Record/Monitor Ecological Damage
As we have seen in the past few weeks, reviewing misdeeds to our Earth is painful, especially for those showing compassion for suffering neighbors; however it is the first step to healing Earth. In the First Book of Samuel, Eli suffers because he did not address the issue of his sons' wickedness.  Recording damage takes the spiritual stamina to see what we have neglected, and this is painful.  To painstakingly record mishaps places us publicly in the fray.  We do not deny that travesty has occurred, nor excuse ourselves because it is painful work, nor escape when we should act.  We immerse ourselves in an AES of February's and Lent's raw realism; we attune our senses, accept our calling, and take the first steps to actualize our responsibilities.

        Monitoring and recording takes effort and organization.  Over one billion people are illiterate and are unable to record through writing, but they can observe and alert recorders; in experiencing damage they can be the first line of environmental defense in heavily impacted areas; often it is the poor who have to endure the worst forms of pollution and know it.  Recording pollution requires teamwork: some are faithful monitors; others record information; still others report to proper agencies to take action to halt degradation, pinpoint culprits and implement renewable programs.

          2. Periodic Retreats to help Confront Desolation.  At this time of year we confront painful conditions and realize the possibility of personal or group depression.  Dealing with environmental degradation requires a genuine prayer life that, if lacking, has often led to "burnout."  We meet these sufferers from desolation, suicidal tendencies and drug addiction.  One spiritual response could follow the process outlined by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises; he speaks of inner battles of the spirit -- of consolation and desolation.  He calls us to discern movements of the spirit within us.  I feel terrible just before the weather turns from tranquil to stormy; never make decisions at such times.  In times of desolation seek help -- spiritual counselor, psychologist, physician, or wise friend.

     Activists need an annual retreat; strive to find a quiet place with few distractions.  The Spirit moves one to either formal settings for personal direction or a more natural setting to speak to God amid nature.  Place, time, and social connections are all quite important for choice.  Note that Jesus got away from the demanding crowds; he went to a lonely place to pray.  Work can overwhelm us and desolation erode our enthusiasm.  We need to seek spiritual consolation for support -- and doing works of mercy can be quite consoling as can restoring a broken and wounded Earth.  Consolation is a grateful gift from God who knows our needs.  Some saints had long periods of desolation before a consoling embrace of God; however, a merciful God never allows us too heavy a burden.

     3. Negative and Positive Environmental Actions.  Today, with advanced technology we are able to beam instant pictures from virtually anywhere on this planet back to our homes.  Our neighborliness should be at its highest in human history, and yet we are beset with over one billion of the world's people needing bare essentials of life (food, housing and basic health).  The unjust inequality of resources overwhelms us.  Even with recent improvements, over one billion of the poorest live on less than a dollar a day.  Exposing negative aspects or work on positive restorative issues are like two poles from which electricity flows: a negative environmentalism is needed to know the situation; a positive environmentalism seeks to reverse damage done through appropriate technological methods.  We must balance both: excessive negativism stresses activists; excessive positivism captivates homesteaders who opt out of activism.  Complementarity must exist in exposing degradation and accentuating restoration and renewal.

        In February, we confront greed and insensitivity and accept personal responsibility, which is spiritually empowering and takes raw nerve, courage, and focus.  Courageous prophetic leaders inspire us; for Christians, Jesus is the model worth following; he is the perfect ecologist, for his emotional and rational life are well balanced: he shows compassion for Jerusalem: How often I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings... (Luke 13:34); he comes to a justified anger at moneychangers and merchants exploiting the Temple commons: my house will be a house of prayer... (Luke 19, 45-46), for all the peoples (Isaiah 56:7).  Jesus is able to extend mercy and still show righteous anger when necessary.

     Summary.  In January, we experienced the HERE, the NOW and the WE for an AES sensitive to time, space, and society; we rejoiced in the glory of creation.  Now we thank God for the compliment of calling us to live in troubled times.  We look squarely at our individual and collective misdeeds and truly perceive wounded neighbors.  We touch a wounded Earth with compassion while willing to confront culprits, even if a risky enterprise.  Compassionate people do not overlook, or condone suffering, but accept it as a deepening mystery of human and ecological existence and redemption.  We balance eco-justice and social justice by both performing charitable deeds and demanding environmental regulations.  We expose environmental degradation through organizing, legal, political, and economic means.  These Lenten-encouraged actions take effort: our purification, our self-denial, and our willingness to confront the establishment.   







Shadows in the snow.
(*photo credit)

February 29, 2020   Make This Leap Day Something Special   

     The average person in America alive today will live over 28,000 days (I have been blessed with living 31,500 so far).  That is a significant number, and yet every four years we discover this extra leap day as though the calendar designers knew we need a special break.  Let's try to make the best of this grace-given event.  This is when we come to realize that every day is a temporal gift, for God is the author of life and we live in God-given time to help make the world a little better place. 

     Is there something extra to do today?  Search out the things that are needed and have been put off far too long.  Perhaps it may be enough to be a little more thankful for what we have.  Maybe the health is not perfect, but we are alive and willing to do something extra that can manifest our vitality.  Mortal life is precious and terminal; it gives way to eternal life, and so we must make the best of this short testing period and project ahead with eager desire on what is soon to come.

     Leap Day is a joyful time even for those of us who are too old to attempt a risky leap.  Today's joy includes the firm belief that we are enabled to do something more, to extend our quality of life through a closer connection with the Lord.  That extra time is God's extended mercy to us and worthy of our gratitude.  Let's pause a little today and ask some meaningful questions about our status in the world.  Maybe these are beginning ones: 

Do I use my extra time meaningfully?
Will I review this day before going to sleep?
Have I thanked God for the gift of life?  
Should I inspire others to use their extra time efficiently?
How do I persuade others in a positive way so as not to burden
them with guilt for watching TV or spending too much time on the social media portions of the Internet?
Must I remind myself once more that life is short --
and this mortal time span is constantly shortening?
On the other hand, must I take the passing with a certain
sense of equanimity and resignation?
Would it be wise to remind myself once more that this is 
the federal election year?
Also remind myself that this is Olympics Year and to have some awareness of sporting talents by others?
Is it right to consider each and every day as something  
special and well worth celebrating?
Am I able to recall yesterday and the day before and what made them special?
Can I look ahead; what will be special about tomorrow and    
tomorrow and tomorrow with all its petty pace?

     Prayer: Lord, let our reflections help prepare us for what is to come, and make each day's service for others something special.  Please be my spiritual accountant, for it's easier that way.

Copyright © 2020 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved.

Earth Healing team:
Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Charlie Fritsch
Janet Kalisz
Mark Spencer

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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