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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.

A series of written meditations and reflections

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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

January 2011

Copyright © 2010 by Al Fritsch

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Approaching the New Year
(photo: Janet Powell)

January Reflections, 2011

      A new year is a time of reckoning, for we are only certain of a few things; one is our passing from this mortal life.  Why in the dead of January when nature is at rest, the leaves are gone and the birds that remain tell us that new life is a way off and yet it is there all the same?  January gives us "promise" -- that the "up ahead" is certain although not yet attained.  January opens us to possibilities.  Just as the hidden tree roots begin to move in this period of winter, so our internal spiritual growth occurs, still hidden but certain to yield fruit in the coming seasons.  January is our preparation, our way of opening self to the possibilities in our journey of faith.  Some prefer to put off considerations of eternal life; others know that this is the precious and fleeting time to prepare for that life.  In fact, it is an integral part of being "pro-life."  When that occasional snow keeps us at home and cancels all the busyness of ordinary life, let's see this as January's opportunity to make us reflect on preparatory steps needed for the life to come. 

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On the move. Opossum, Didelphis marsupialis.
(*photo credit)

January 1, 2011    National Resolution:  Exit Afghanistan 

      The military actions in Afghanistan all contribute to the great distraction of seeking security in wrong places.  National security? Hardly, if the deaths of innocent civilians in that war-torn country are blamed on our fighting machine, and result in a form of insecurity for those suffering from war.  Nation-building?  The Afghans have never known nationhood in thousands of years of tribal existence, and America hardly needs to be others' history teachers through use of guns.  National economy? This approaches a true yet mostly unspoken reason for military action.  We may need to be leaders for a more just world, but can't this be done at lower costs?  Why a one-hundred-billion-dollar-a-year military?  Why hundreds of dead men and women along with countless wounded?   

      Dictated by the military/industrial complex?  Yes, this phrase, first coined by President Eisenhower a half century ago, is something that is operative right now.  This is the complex reason, and few in Congress want to change the status quo when perks to their districts make it virtually impossible to vote against war authorizations.  The economy directs and the war industry chieftains dictate that we fight.  How else could they stay productive and profitable?  If we were playing games this would sound humorous, but with actual essential needs in a world (Haiti) without proper housing) calling, a practical and just change becomes an urgent challenge. 

       Let us get out at the end of this year as some experts (e.g., William Polk of the W.P. Carey  Foundation) say must be considered -- and an anti-war movement is starting to stir.  The European and NATO allies are losing patience as well, as one by one they seek to pull out their token contingents and abandon the American volunteers to slug it out and take casualties.  We have got to be people of resolve in a world of insecurities.  A family that does not have the food to feed its children tomorrow is quite a bit more "insecure" than a nation at war because the rugged terrain of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan harbor remnants of terrorist elements that created 9-11.  We can guard our borders and airports with far fewer resources than are used to pay outrageous rates to keep supplies moving into lawless Afghanistan -- or hope for a more responsible government to end the money-greasing corruption.

      Resolve:  Set a withdrawal date:  December 31, 2011. Now the people of Kabul and beyond know that each clinic and school is completely theirs this time next year.  Now is the time for beginning an orderly withdrawal at the least cost of casualties.  We are not going to democratize a tribal "nation" in this year; such is beyond the original mandate and beyond our limited American treasury.   We could take some of the saved money and put our people to work rebuilding our infrastructure and launching a renewable energy economy.  We could also bring true security to a hungry world.   

      Prayer:  Lord, help us become a just people with true resolve.








Breathtaking overlook north of Fort Nelson, British Columbia.
(*photo credit)

January 2, 2011   Epiphany:  Tell It Like It Is    

      Epiphany comes from the Greek, meaning an appearance or a manifestation.  At this time of year, it is part of the Christmas season and refers to the manifestation of the Christ or Messiah to the rest of the world beyond the place of birth.  It is the culmination of the Christmas season and the Incarnation event.

In some churches of the east the event is combined with that of the baptism of Jesus and the visit of the Magi.  Epiphany is a global festive celebration of the coming of Christ.  Each year we read the same liturgical selections and that makes new themes difficult.  However, new problems and needs arise -- and thus so for this year 2011.  This is a time to be honest and manifest the thoughts and hesitancies of what ought to be done or said.  In other words our own manifestations must be all the more transparent.  This year we need to be more open in many ways. 

      Financial openness:  Global, national, regional, local and domestic financial concerns make this a time of being truly honest abut priorities with limited financial resources.  Thus a new economics is truly in order.  Some actually hide their rather desperate condition although their situation ought to be known as grounds for a new world economic order of sharing resources.  More openness will mean new ways of sharing resources. 

      Ecological signs:  Some would like to deny the conditions of our world of the privileged consuming vast quantities of physical resources, when others are in need of food, clean water, and proper lodging.  Frankly many environmental emissions are growing even in these enlightened times, and a wave of denial on the part of many is retarding meaningful efforts to curb human-made disasters.  Global warming is here, and we are partly to blame.  

      Personal extravagance: Closely related to the above two is the issue of people enjoying materials far beyond their means.  It is a people driving recklessly to a cliff and enjoying the few minutes left in utter abandon.  We need to come to terms with our physical and mental health as well as with our tastes and demands, some of which go well beyond reason.  An epiphany may occur with a physical exam or with an analysis of resource use, or a closer look at appliances or vehicles used.  We create the personal epiphanies that could lead to disaster on the personal or community level. 

      Spiritual demands:  We are a collective people on the road and that means not excluding others from our material privileges, but rather understanding the needs of people everywhere and fighting  to obtain a just redistribution of resources so all may live in peace.  What Epiphany calls us is not to ASK the rich to part with their abundance, but rather to DEMAND it.

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to be transparent in a most pronounced manner so that the world may be a better place in which to live.  Help us to prioritize our individual and collective needs so that 2011 will be a more meaningful year for all. 







Choppy waters of Norway Lake, Kenton, MI.
(*photo credit)

January 3, 2011  Disparity in Wealth: Number One Global Insecurity 

      During the heart of the financial meltdown in 2008 and 2009, the disparity of wealth, which had been growing in this country since the 1970s, accelerated.  The American rich gained over eight percent in their cumulative wealth while many of the middle and lower class retreated. Today the top one percent of Americans have 1.3 trillion dollars in wealth, and the bottom ten percent are unemployed and scratching to stay alive.  Few challenge this ability of the wealthy to gain and regard the gulf between rich and poor as a problem and threat.  How else will my unemployed loved one get lucky and possibly become a billionaire?  "If anything, let's keep the status quo," they say, "lest the battles for possible wealth elude us."  They fail to see that expanding wealth is a threat to the democratic processes. 

      First, the bald fact is that disparity of wealth is growing at a very rapid rate.  Bill Gates, amid his many well-publicized giveaways, gained three billion dollars last year.  If the world is helpless as the rich become richer, people will tend to do either of two things:  they will cater to the rich so that some crumbs that fall from the table will be picked up (perpetrate the American Dream), or they will rebel and try to change the system in the very style that Thomas Jefferson said ought to be done if a system is not working for the people.  Jefferson was not a perfect person but he understood democratic process far better than tea-party folks. 

      Second, we must become sensible about the problems of this world.  In many places, including parts of this country, the issue is not too much government but a lack of governmental controls over the wealthy.  Such diffidence leads to overlooking the needs of people for jobs, health care and basic essentials of life.  When the rest of the world has immense hunger and lack of access to basic resources, government is needed to help redistribute essential resources as part of global health and security.  Wealth is meant to be distributed, not retained as a tool of power -- and telling this is a matter of bringing "Good News." 

      Redistribution will never be achieved voluntarily by the holders, for their financial power tends to corrupt them and lessen their total generosity -- that includes surrender of political/economic power.  A fair and just process can only be achieved through a process that is anathema this year -- more taxes especially on the wealthy, lest this world move to revolution or to right-wing governments as occurred with the rise of Nazism during the Great Depression.  Preserving democracy occurs through fair taxation.  The resolve to equalize wealth would be the most notable way of keeping the political system intact and bringing about security and reduced terrorism in the world around us.  But are we willing as a threatened democracy to take on the rich? 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to exercise our democratic citizenship and to protect the vulnerable and confront the powerful -- and to do this with equanimity and positive resolve.   







Scrambled egg and broccoli casserole.
(*photo credit)

January 4, 2011    A Challenge:  365 Different Breakfasts 

      For the past two years I have assembled lists of soups and salads; I consumed 365 soups in 2009 and the same number of salads in 2010 (see Special Issues).  The purpose was to demonstrate that one can live simply and yet have a variety of nutritious foods at very low cost in monetary and personal cooking time.  Soups are generally in the evening and salads at lunches, and so people have asked -- can you create that number of breakfast main dishes?  The challenge is all the greater because we are folks of habit, and the beginning repast is generally the one that we repeat day-after-day.   

      However, on second thought, inventive people attempt to vary even the first meal somewhat over time;  this adds additional flavor or variety to what could be mind-numbing daily routine.  When we have visitors or when on the road ourselves, breakfast variety comes calling.  But then why not set creative juices to work?  New breakfasts are as challenging as new salad creations and soup concoctions.  Some principles that may give different breakfasts include: 

     * Do not rely on variation in meat as the main protein source.  Rather consider eggs and beans or other legumes.  For those of us who seek to limit our eggs to two a week, this reduces the options and still allows for use of beans or other materials as a substitute.  However, varying the type of beans ought not to constitute a new breakfast. 

      * Do not regard a variety of cold cereal types or brands as a major mark of variation either.  Hot cereal variations as to type and added ingredients could be a fruitful source of difference.  We do vary the types of fruit or nuts introduced to the cereal types in order to reflect seasonal local availability.  Liquids used in the cereals are an added ingredient. 

      * Limit but do not exclude meat use.  For those of us who do not purchase meat, this becomes a limiting barrier to success. 

      * Though some heavy carbohydrate-based breakfasts are admissible, these should be limited to special occasions and never eaten more than once or twice a week.  

     All things considered, breakfasts are still a challenge.  What if there were restaurants that have a different breakfast every day?  Most likely they would soon admit that this is not fun and is not profitable either.  The quest for variety is at stake here. The hope is that others will accept the challenge to think about different meals and thus start the day on a more creative note.  Develop a new breakfast and discover your own creativity. 

      Prayer:  Lord, let us start a new day, one given to us for the betterment of ourselves, our neighbors and our world.  Help us to constantly start in a more concrete, food-based and spiritual way. 







Tennessee wind farm.
(*photo credit)

January 5, 2011   Renewable Energy Is Growing Remarkably 

      While supporters of traditional energy sources (oil, coal and nuclear) are making efforts to keep the current importance of these sources favored by tax credits, perks and relaxed regulations, the use of renewable energy sources is expanding rapidly.  Some regard 2010 as the tipping point when renewables came into their own  ("Renewables 2010 Global Status Report,"  <RenewableEnergy World.com>, September 27, 2010).  This renewable trend has gone beyond European countries like wind-conscious Denmark, has penetrated Asia with China moving into the renewable arena, and is catching on fitfully in the United States.  In 2009 renewables (hydro, geothermal, wind, solar and biofuels) accounted for one-quarter of the global power capacity and 18% of the global electricity supply.  In fact, this past year was the second in a row when more money was invested in new renewable power capacity than in fossil fuel capacity.  Now over half of added capacity is from renewable sources both here and abroad. 

      Advantages of the renewable energy trend include: lessening of environmental degradation through air pollutants; avoidance of the higher and longer-term construction costs of nuclear power facilities; encouragement of improvement in solar and wind electricity generating technologies; better worker safety in contrast to coal and uranium extraction;  additional encouragement from general acceptance and preference for renewables by a broad span of the political and social communities; transportation energy savings; and improved security when turning away from using nuclear and fossil fuel resources.     

      Wind is currently the most promising renewable source.  Most folks are familiar with the growing potential for wind on the Great Plains, but wind-rich areas are present and plentiful along our heavily populated eastern American seashore from Boston to Florida.  When considering only wind energy from turbines located in waters thirty meters (about one hundred feet) deep and three to twenty-four miles off shore, an Oceana report estimated that 127 gigawatts of power could be furnished.  This is sufficient for the total electricity demands of North Carolina, Delaware, and Massachusetts along with 92% of New Jersey's, 83% of Virginia's, and 64% of South Carolina's electricity needs.  Totally, over half of the electricity demand of that populated east coast could be supplied by wind alone when fully utilized.  

      Besides wind, a mix of renewables could fill up the ongoing demands of an electricity hungry world.  Proper low-head hydro facilities are inviting, as are geothermal possibilities.  Solar energy is awaiting development on a decentralized basis when home roofs and windows can be equipped with photovoltaic coatings that influence electric demands of the individual locations.  With proper incentives and tax breaks these sources can shine. 

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the courage to launch into a less polluting world in which renewable energy will have a major role. 








Reading the Earth Healing website with the Kindle e-book reader's web browser.
(*photo credit)

January 6, 2011   The Pros and Cons of Electronic Books  

      Researchers wonder at the start of 2011 how to divide communications efforts between hard copy and electronic output. Young people are more likely to do their reading with new electronic readers than are older folks.  They have not had the number of years of the safe feeling of books on shelves and notations made in margins -- though the glory of either is somewhat exaggerated.  Libraries of thousands and millions mean little if the books go unused.  I recently had a bequest of some nature books from a deceased parishioner who knew I shared his delight in wildlife.  The bequest was graciously received but it struck me that many will go unused if inaccessible where needed.    

      Electronic books are cheaper.  Book-starved developing regions of the world are hard to reach from lands overstocked with hard copies -- and so they were turning to electronics just as they leapfrogged over land-based phones to cell phones.  Many residents of central Africa and Latin America are finding that choosing electronic books means going from school and domestic libraries of dozens of expensive printed books to thousands and millions of electronic books now available on cell phones or the Internet.   

      Electronic books are easier to produce.  My own quandary extends beyond distribution to the effort it takes to produce printed materials in contrast to electronic copies.  Changes that need to be made can occur with less effort through electronic adjustments than through changing the presses.  Furthermore, books  are easier to store in disk fashion, as a library can be carried around dangled from one's little finger.  Try porting a voluminous library about with you from place to place.  In addition, the electronic book is often easier to access for it can be word- searched or flipped through so much more quickly than can its printed cousin.  Getting to know its very existence, especially if not a popular subject or title, involves searches that permit accessibility by seekers of certain subjects. 

      Electronic books are not only in the future but also THE future.  However, drawbacks remain.  Books have more permanence and are not destroyed by a nearby lightning strike, though libraries burn down.  Printed communication is not dependent on new technologies and delivery systems, making older ones so outdated that they become useless, like floppy discs containing valuable information.  Printed matter is easier on the eyes of some of us who suffer from eye trouble.  Printed matter is a gift worth transferring from one to another.  Printed matter allows for longer periods of relaxation and reflection for those trained and steeped in certain forms of meditative reading and photographic reproduction (our photographic book, Mountain Moments, in contrast with electronically-reproduced photos with each Daily Reflection).  Certainly printed matter has some advantages.   

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to receive the Word in a variety of ways and with open hearts and minds so that more benefit. 







Nepentes ventricosa hybrid, potted.  Native of the Philippines.

January 7, 2011   The Benefits of Potted or Houseplants 

      Why talk about potted plants when the world is in such turmoil?  This was written on a day the BBC was announcing that deep austerity measures in the United Kingdom include curbing maintenance of office potted plants.  Why the fuss over indoor plants?  Let them be received as gifts and encourage the room user to water the plants once a week.  Big deal!  Just remember to water on a regular basis.  I have a Christmas cactus that has an annual red bloom, some parsley I bring in at frost, frost, an inherited water plant that needs cropping at times, and an aloe vera for cuts and burns.  Others may add ferns, flowers, and herbs. 

Domestic or office plants have benefits worth enumerating:

     * Care for creation -- Help fulfill the need for everyone to care for the environment;  even the less able can tend to plants in some meaningful fashion through watering them; 

     * Interior atmosphere -- Enliven the interior of the house or office in winter with a form of greenery and life; 

     * Natural air purification -- Freshen the space in a natural manner in a rather inexpensive way; 

     * Environmental commitment -- Plants show the occupant to be a nature-friendly person who affirms life in more than mere words; 

     * Practical products -- Plants furnish a source of beneficial products for the resident that include fresh seasonings and medicinal remedies right at hand; 

      * Opportunities to touch soil -- Plants have the potential to be repotted or subdivided over time and thus give a chance to get one's hands dirty;   

      * Meaningful gifts -- Use the sub-divided potted plant as an ideal gift to others who need to enhance their own living space; 

      * Gardening skills -- Consider the effects of growing on a small scale as a launching pad for braving the raising of more plants outside when the growing season allows; 

      * Personal responsibility -- Regard growing houseplants as beyond being an adult or womanly task and include kids and males; 

      * Conversation piece -- Discover linkages with people who also value houseplants as part of their everyday experience; and 

      * Potential prizes --  Remember to be proud of what is grown.  My mother won many ribbons for her healthy houseplants, which she barely mothered but always watered. 

      Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to value the floral life that is near and dear to us through more gentle beckoning and extended care. 






A coal plant in Muhlenberg Co., KY, near Paradise.
(*photo credit)

January 8, 2011     Hypocrisy: Coal Use and Opposition 

      If you really oppose using coal as a fuel, please turn off the lights and shut down this computer.  Too many of us utilize coal to furnish the electricity we use everyday.  In our non-nuclear states we do have reason enough to justify opposing nuclear power as a source of electricity.  But coal?  The trains come by outside my window: about six 110-car trains loaded with seventy-five tons of coal each weekly to the best of my calculations.   

     A qualified opposition to fossil fuel is possible, even while benefits accrue from coal use.  I have always opposed destructive extraction of coal from Appalachia and have spoken, up for the need to reclaim damaged minelands.  This situation is more acute in our fragile Appalachian region than in more easily reclaimable flat plains further west.  Accepting coal as an intermediate fuel before the transition to the renewable fuel economy means depending on it for forty percent of our electricity for our own lifetimes and beyond.  Granted, renewable energy sources now equal nuclear power in this country in their contribution to national electricity demands.  In all but an idealistic scenario renewables will take time to complete the replacement.

      Hypocrisy can occur when we knock something we need while accepting coal-derived benefits.  I find some environmental critics to be in the company of Thomas Jefferson, who in "The Virginia Papers" slammed slavery and rightly so;  however, at the same time he not only held slaves but even sold off individual slaves to embellish his home "Monticello."  We ought to learn from the imperfections of the past.  We cannot benefit from coal while totally knocking it, and heavily criticizing it without proper qualifications becomes a weakness that the fossil fuel industry is quick to show.  When living in a solar economy (at the ASPI solarized Nature Center in the last century, I was justified in criticizing coal policy; today, my current office has its electricity from coal-burning powerplants.   

      An equal playing field for renewable energy is a justified demand.  We seek more rapid transitions and call for and use fuel efficiency measures.  Today, some 500 billion dollars a year is spent on tax breaks and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, while only one-tenth that amount goes for renewable energy sources that have been hit quite hard by the Great Recession.  An even playing field would allow the rapid advance that is occurring in wind and solar to proceed at an even more accelerated rate.  We are moving away from coal but not very fast.  Increasing that rate is a proper goal and attempting to reduce the bad effects of coal extraction should be a simultaneous demand.  Qualifying our opposition to excesses of coal use reduces popular appeal -- but that is only fair for coal users. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to be moderate in all things, not being silenced and yet not being overly critical in non-realistic ways. 







A rural Kentucky stream.  Anderson Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

January 9, 2011   Baptism: Called by the Exclusive ONE ...   

  This is my son, the beloved; my favour rests on him. (Matt. 3:17)

      There is only one God; no other gods are tolerated.  The Hebrew Scriptures speak loud and clear.  God demands exclusive worship and attention -- and with this solemn demand God directs the Israelite community to prepare the path -- to a common global worship.  The commons was divided at Babel into islands of groups worshiping material things and false gods -- and this division still exists.  To reclaim the commons of singular attention to God is the initial call to a chosen people on whom had been bestowed a solemn vocation, as these people work together to bring about global unity.  Rather than let the Israelite community be a static faithful remnant, the message went forward -- and that was what the Baptism of Jesus was all about.  Amid great solemnity a Messianic journey was launched at the Jordan River to reclaim a world and, a fortiori, the commons.  

      The Babel tower twists the Divine Command and this twisted image still hangs over us;  this man-made structure overshadows a divided world grasping for privileges that are of human origin, causing people to strive for exclusive privilege built on cultural similitude, competing islands of self-interest with an inclusivity of gods of every type.  Jews and later Christians and then Muslims have often misinterpreted the message; they have thought of themselves as exclusively chosen or saved as though in a static way.  These mistaken folks may place inclusivity in forms of idol-fashioning that help them retain their privileges;  they dare not declare that they really worship mini-Capitalistic gods.  The materialist "exclusivity" is the justification of vast possessions by billionaires although while they live in utter luxury many of the poor are still starving; the materialist "inclusivity" is to include tolerance of all forms of hidden and public idols.     

     The sound of the roaring Jordan below Mount Hermon still rings in my ears, a musical prelude to the event of Baptism, that I had the privilege to hear in April, 1992.  Jesus is a covenant of the people, the light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness (Isaiah 42:6-7).  The process of reclamation needs one empowered to act and clothed in divinity.  Thus the solemn task ahead of us is a task launched long ago as narrated in the account in the third chapter of Matthew.  The process requires a divine leader going ahead of us, a light for us all to follow.  Such a leader at a singular starting moment is exclusive, for it is from God;  it is Godly; it is a divine Messiah's mission  The divine exclusive ONE is Emmanuel among us.    

      Prayer:  Lord help us to reaffirm to our Jewish brothers and sisters that their mission is still operative, and that we as part of the human family affirm it to be to spread the Good News that God alone is to be served and worshiped.  God is exclusive; we are missioned to act in inclusive ways to bring this about.   






Gathering of the herd. Cows in Washington Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

January 10, 2011     ... To Reclaim the Commons by the Inclusive ALL 

      In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.  (Acts 10:34) 

      The commons is the gifts given to ALL peoples, not to a privileged few.  In turn, all ought to participate in the fruits of these gifts and help preserve them for others -- and in doing so become acceptable to God.  All participants from every nation who act uprightly and fear God (Acts 10:35) are part of a cooperative whole, a people of God invited to take part in the commonality of cooperative effort.  Christ follows the prophets of the Old Testament who are called by God; now we follow Christ the leader and Light of the World.  His coming was urgently desired;  our following has an urgent aspect as well.  John the Baptist, hesitant at such an awesome task of baptizing Jesus, encourages us to present Christ to the troubled world.  Our performance moves from exclusive calling to inclusive participation with all people of good will.  God invites us to a common enterprise in which we have unique gifts to share -- not meant for privileged retention.  

      Peter, as human leader, comes to realize that the Almighty demands a service not a special privilege.  God's favor extends to us, but we, like Jesus, accept it by humbly going down to baptism.  Our gift is not merited but freely given;  we now must freely share it as a humble people.  Peter says, "God can evidently grant even the pagans the repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18).  Theirs is the universal response of all people of good will who, on hearing the Good News, seek to glorify God.  Baptism changes our lives; it removes the tarnished condition in which we go to the water;  as we emerge from our Jordan, we find new life to color our entire journey of faith.  Baptism is our launching pad, the most important moment between our birth and our passing from this life.  Our task ahead includes entering our work with our unique gifts and within a community where these gifts are self-reinforcing.

      "Inclusiveness" in a proper meaning involves the universalization of the participation process -- not the exclusivity of a Jewish people as recipients and retainers of privilege, but the inclusivity of their goal of adoring one God, now worshiped by more than half the world's population (Christians Moslems, and Baha'is).  It includes a message of unity to Hindus, Sikhs and all who fear God.  "Exclusivity" is not an individual human, racial, or national privilege but the direction of our worshipping attention to God, YHWH, and God alone.  The message of our inclusive cooperation in salvation goes out to the ends of the world -- and that is an ongoing call to Jews and now to Christians and others.  The proper use of the commons (not as a multitude of material gods but as our joint common essential means to salvation) allows us inclusively to worship our exclusive God, Creator of all.

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to see the divine redemptive process as a total gift from your exclusive Majesty;  teach us to see our unique gifts as worthy of being freely shared, not selfishly retained for privileged individual use. 








A wall of ice along the Kentucky River.
(*photo credit)

January 11, 2011    Attention Compulsive Meeting-Goers

      Quite often in winter, meetings have to be canceled.  Some meetings are utterly necessary;  some gatherings are routine and habitual; a few meetings are wasteful of time and energy.  The first class of meetings is honored and needs rescheduling; the second group can be cut and streamlined; and the third ought to be  avoided and suppressed because the existence of these meetings sets a priority to unimportant issues.  I define weekly church-going in the first category, though others place it in the second, and the highly secularized would relegate it to the third.  Some people live by meetings, the social instruments that define their lives and even work.  Others see many meetings as burdens requiring warm bodies to make the organizers feel good. 

      Discerning the importance of meetings is a critical issue for all who find travel increasingly difficult, energy levels declining, transportation costs cutting into budgets, ability to pay attention and to act civilly increasingly problematic, and other competing needs crowding into personal time and resources.  It takes effort to go to and give full attention to meetings; they cut into full schedules.  Consider the following:

     * Do the time and resources justify going to this meeting? 

     * Am I simply following the pressure springing from compulsive meeting-goers who want control of people and events? 

      * Can I delegate others to take my place instead of all going? 

     * Is the burden so great that attending depresses me?

      *  Are the meetings properly prepared and enticing in themselves or are they a burden on the meeting-goer? 

     * What will be the possible outcome of the meeting and are these meetings generally successful? 

     * Can the results be achieved in another fashion such as teleconferencing, telephone calls, e-mails, or posted reports? 

      * Could the frequency of the meeting be reduced for the good of all parties? 

     * Are all hidden benefits, such as development of social bonding that may be needed in person-to-person contact, understood? 

     * Are all energy and resource costs justified? 

     * Do all people have an opportunity to express themselves so that it is worthwhile for them to come? 

     Prayer:  Lord, reduce the number of meetings that I must attend and help me to have courage to attend those that I must.








Barnyard and haybales.
(*photo credit)

January 12, 2011 Lawns or Wildscape: Two Divergent Views

      Hasn't this topic been exhausted?  Hardly.  We are beset by differences as to the characteristics of our culture, and these differences show themselves in the way we care for our greenspace. 

      Position one embraces lawns according to city and housing regulations and demands.  Keep monocultural grass mowed to a certain length, and do it religiously in certain set times no matter what the cost.  The compulsion is to conform with the local demands even when these demands may be questionable.  Keep a manicured look, a sterile cleanliness that imitates personal hygiene.  If someone's lawn is unkept or not mowed once or, God forbid, twice each week, the burden rests with the non-mower to conform lest home prices in the vicinity collapse.  Lawn care must always come first, even before paying the mortgages or halting the foreclosure.  A shaggy lawn is never permitted.

      Position two is that a wildscape is something beautiful to behold.  Think of the benefits: no pesticides; the presence of pollinators so threatened by poisoned lawns; the blessed silence of no power mowers; the lack of carbon footprint and emissions in the atmosphere; the presence of the seasons and all that this means.  The diversion of precious lawn care resources CAN be more than negligence;  it can be a diversion to more meaningful causes. 

      Both positions are more than words; they are spoken to a critical world through deeds or their lack.  Both positions have their own lifestyles.  One is a twentieth-century phenomenon of the clean landscape devoid of buzzing things and birds but uniform, much as the minds of the home occupants.  It is the world of bowing to the wishes of neighborhood conformity; it is the world of good citizens who agree in all things, think alike, and live in areas where all are expected to think, eat, worship and live alike.

      The wildscape mentality is to say that nature is good and it is a comfortable place in which to live with other fauna and flora.  Let nature take its course;  when drought comes there is no artificial watering; there was no fertilizing and seeding and constant caring for beds of cultivated this or that.  Permaculture in trees and berries and other plants have priority.   

      Why the clash in cultures?  Mainly because the first category is allergic to the second, and the second depresses the first.  The different values make coexistence a little more difficult.  The answer is that some have a sense that housing is an investment in which they make a temporary commitment -- and there is some truth in this.  What is the outcome of the investment -- higher home prices or a more comfortable place to live?  Lawn care displays differences; tolerating the differences demands variety in lawns. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to see the power of words and that through our physical options we speak about what we are committed to in this world.  Help us to create middle grounds of tolerance. 








Swingset to provide a boost to children's exercise routine.
(*photo credit)

January 13, 2011     Barriers to a Physical Exercise Routine 

      In the dead of winter we are often tempted to forego what virtually all health care experts recommend for the young and the old alike, namely, daily physical exercise (PE).  Granted this is for many people the hardest month to continue such PE routine.  If none of the following affect you, then just keep going, but encourage others who encounter one or other of these barriers.  Ultimately our physical health is at stake. 

      Too far from exercise place --  Some people travel to a favorite jogging, hiking, swimming or exercise place and thus, when weather does not favor such adventures, the exercise is the casualty.  One response is to have alternative exercises (an indoor exercise bike or rowing machine) and this alternative or companion exercise regime becomes predominant in inclement weather. 

      Too exhausting -- This excuse is often the major one that curbs exercise when it only intends to cut back on the amount.  The experts say that the amount of PE can be quite minimal (fifteen minutes to a half-hour each day; I strive for at least one hour).  Furthermore, the type of exercise may prove too strenuous as a routine and an alternative may be more suited to energy levels. 

      Too uninteresting -- Granted, doing the same routine over and over may prove unappetizing to some tastes.  I find that playing mental games or keeping count in order to reach specific goals is helpful.  Some people do not like to exercise on their own, and so need companionship for encouragement;  others use television or radio to occupy their time;  still others find certain routines perfect for meditation and serious prayer. 

      Too dangerous -- Bikers or joggers may have chosen too busy a street, and some modification in route or time of exercise is necessary for safety's sake. 

      Too harsh -- Certain muscles may be overly taxed or due to changing body situations, we may have to choose a different physical exercise.  When my back gave out, I had to stop jogging and others change due to knees or hips or other joints being unable to withstand the constant strain.  Again, variety and amount of exercise may have to be altered, and that can be for the better. 

      Too embarrassing -- Some prefer not to be seen exercising; one solution is to make the physical exercise less public. 

      Too time-consuming -- This excuse is most likely the greatest temptation for busy people who can justify removing physical exercise from the daily routine -- but maybe that is a major mistake.  Again, what is all the time in a day used for? 

      Prayer: Lord, help us see that our lives must be given to a more healthy state, for our time is limited and our outlook needs to be open and enthusiastic through balanced physical exercise. 







Remembering summer harvest.
(*photo credit)

January 14, 2011        Making Long-Range Garden Plans 

      In the sterile coldness of mid-winter when outdoor activity is harder to imagine, we attempt to compensate by preparing for spring gardening.  We use pencil and paper because the snow is too deep or the ground too frozen for the spade.  In this distance from the spring work, we could do different things:  say it is not worth it; plan later when the weather is more inviting; plan now.  However, too much planning straight-jackets future creative work in the garden.  Humans plan; God laughs.  However, we do consider such plans as tentative but still worthy of some benefit.  True, overplanning may lead to disappointment -- if we are slave to the plan.  However, a few time-tested planning points are worth noting: 

      * Last year's review -- Assemble data on what occurred in 2010 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 catalogs and move through them for ideas and varieties;   

      * Seed ordering -- Look through the seed catalogs that came in over the past few months; choose some for new varieties after reading the descriptions as to best locations and times to plant.  Just perusing photos and illustrations of luscious fruits and vegetables can be quite uplifting in this dormant season; 

      * Information exchange -- Call a gardening friend and find out what crops were a success, and consider whether some seeds can be shared with him or her for the coming growing year; 

      * New techniques and practices -- We should all try something new each year as to technique (extend fall gardening, or grow potatoes 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 during the 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.   





Empty seats.
(*photo credit)

January 15, 2011        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? 

      Prayer: 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.  


      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 the photographer's family studio --

           Brunner Studio  665 Big Hill Road, Berea, KY 40403


Upward bound...
(*photo credit)

January 16, 2011   Vocation: 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;  the calling is a sacred trust of which we never perfectly respond; the calling is ongoing, and thus subject to an ever-deepening commitment on the part of the recipient. 

      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 inner being.  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 deepest 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 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 not penetrated the heart.  An additional call forces us to see past limits now giving way to aging and the 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 weakness and mortality.  The demand for treatment or adjustment in lifestyle is part of the ongoing nature of our call, for life is moving to new horizons. 

      Our response awaits a final judgment.  We answer generosity in ever growing or faltering steps.  The final judgment comes at our end -- and yet we have the time to make the response ever better and more fulfilling.   To attend to anything is to be prepared to act to bring abut the demands of the call.  We can't just say we hear it and stop at that.  We must respond in practical ways, seeing the needs of those around us, and taking practical steps to respond as best we can. 

      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. 








Bernheim Aboretum and Research Forest.
(*photo credit)

January 17, 2011     Work Opportunities for Citizens

      There is no shortage of work, only the resources that allow people a livelihood while working.  New opportunities include: 

      * 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 who ought to receive some form of 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 recipients of this form of 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 auditors, writers, or fund-raisers;  

      * Environmental experience and training programs -- First, cleanup of damaged environments is of great necessity in fragile areas of our country.  Nature and wildlife rescue centers are in need of youthful, environmentally-literate citizens; 

      * Recreational supervision programs -- Millions of people from infants and after-school youth to elderly day-care recipients lack support from trained and experienced staff and needed assistants; 

      * Housing programs -- Habitat for Humanity and other ongoing volunteer services are in need of staffing in many areas; 

      * Financial and citizenship advisory programs --  Quite often people without financial expertise could get loans renegotiated at lower rates -- and those with business expertise are key to this. Public interest advocacy for more just economic considerations is desperately needed and could be publicly financed;

      * 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; 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 are needed from solar cooker installers to safe-water providers.

      Prayer:  Help us, Lord, to see authentic problems and to be willing to serve others by demanding the resources needed. 






Outreach program in action.
(*photo credit: Barack Obama, Flickr. Creative Commons License.)

January 18, 2011   Public Service and Student Loan Forgiveness 

     During this month we recall that God calls us to be of service to others.  However, those graduates who are highly indebted are so burdened that their services are limited due to the pressure to repay college loans.  Forgiving such loans through community service is one way out and thus this reflection differs from previous discussions on how to avoid the debts.  Currently, one outlet is service in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.  What more? 

      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 would need a program involving apprenticeship under experienced direction that could be verified.  Loan forgiveness could be based on a period of service, say three or four years.  Training of various sorts may be excluded, and the pure service counted.  Church-related institutions that are primarily social welfare, heath and education-related should be allowed within the programs.  Public interest advocacy for the good of the community should also be included.   

      Open up to early job training opportunities.  These programs could have the effect of bringing services to underserved areas, with the hidden subsidy of loan forgiveness.  Advantages include a place suited to satisfying the training program for the graduating student, while launching a chosen career.  With recent cutbacks in many service programs, the first to be rehired would normally be the experienced, laid-off individuals, thus closing out entry by the inexperienced new graduate.   

      Give incentives to the middle aged who seek to change careers.  Job opportunities change and demand new training and career shifts. For such middle-aged people, the burden or threat of the loans hanging over them on top of existing responsibilities stands as a very high hurdle.  New positions of service could range from senior citizen physical education to remedial reading for migrants.  

      Create a governmental agency to oversee loan forgiveness.  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, encourage volunteerism and public service, and allow the student-turned-public-servant to leave after three to four years with no debt.  Some services such as health care could have comparable longer forgiveness schedules depending on the increased debt load.  Flexible debt forgiveness scheduling must be built into the program for the benefit of our society. 

      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 as debt-free as more well-to-do students. 







Volunteer campground host. US Forest Service, Carp River. St. Ignace, MI.
(*photo credit)

January 19, 2011  Convert "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;  retirement relegates older people to a lesser role in our society as prized jobs are slated for the younger members of society.  In this way of thinking, the individual must exit gracefully to retirement 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 operative.

      Senior opportunities are galore.  "Question Retirement" (see January 29, 2009 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, 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 beyond have possible decades of 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 beyond those to youth in life's springtime.  Today, so-called "retirees" are called to hear the prompting of the Spirit to be of service. 

        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 are no longer on the elders.  With more time to spare, the elder can show genuine hospitality and provide opportunities for others to talk to a receptive hearer.  Elders know the community with its strengths and weaknesses; they have connections with social networking aspects  that ease a transition into needed service areas -- a social asset.

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







Work in progress as butterfly visits flower.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

January 20, 2011    Work as Curse or Work as Privileged Opportunity 

      I can almost hear the comment, "Cut the bull; who wants to work if they don't have to?"  The response comes after a slight hesitation, as though we are fighting as contrarians in standing up for work.  Yes, there is something more to serving others than making a livelihood out of it or as an obligation to parents or children.  Service can become the expression of who we are.  As Christians, we know that Christ came to serve and not to be served. 

      Privileges exist in different forms.  We often get service mixed up with the goal of being privileged enough to be served by others.  How great to sit back and let others come in and deliver a well-prepared meal or clean a room.  What a luxury worth dreaming about!  Actually the American dream is confused, and part of this foggy haze involves mixing work with slavery as has happened in the sectional differences of our cultures.  My life dwellings have straddled a South, where work is 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 call is one of service.  The able-bodied are empowered through the gift of health to do meaningful things in the span of a 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.  The call to do just this is a privilege to come closer to the Lord, and thus the idea of privilege itself has been turned on its head.  

      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.  Work is capitalized.  Granted, the process of exploiting takes effort, but is a false type of work, though considered by some as the practical goal of a capitalistic economy.  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 reduction is their gain -- and ultimately a spiritual gain for us in the longer term.   

      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.  The kingdom is now.  In other words, love of self takes distant place to love of God and neighbor.  This love is best expressed through the multitude of ways that have been pointed out this week in this series on public service. 

      Prayer:  Help us, Lord, to see the privilege that comes with seeing the good that we can do, and give us the energy to be in service to our fellow human beings and to Earth herself. 







Resident of a horse camp near Cumberland Gap National Park.
(*photo credit)

January 21, 2011     Travel Education and Elderhostels 

      Many people had to work hard much of their lives, and in senior years have the additional time for new public service or for leisure educational opportunities.  Certainly the road to education is haphazard at best, because many people are not aware of what would be the best match for their own talents and opportunities.  The for-profit educational enterprises are often expensive and uncritical of those who want to enter or advance their own careers and work opportunities.  Consider these points. 

      First, all things considered, do it yourself.  Self-education economizes time and resources, provided you can see beyond existing barriers and are highly self-motivated.  Free information and advice exist for the taking.  Know your own skills and set reasonable goals through prayerful discernment.  If you feel qualified, launch out on a self-education program, but be willing to accept advice along the way.  

      Second, learn through working with others.  The next best way, after self-education, is apprenticeship to an expert; learn by the experience of being a volunteer in a whole variety of skills and practices from house-building to gardening, some of which are self-taught through many trial-and-error experiences.  Most often, people find that volunteering for existing organizations becomes the chance to learn skills that can be applied later.  Besides, citizen groups need help!  

      Third, go back to school after careful reflection.  This is not the first, but rather the third, approach when the first two do not seem plausible.  Many people take this step first, because peer and advertising pressure are so strong.  However, this can be a loss of time, energy and financial resources.  Much depends on how serious one is in taking a career-changing path or the studies desired at a particular time.  However, educational enterprises want your tuition payments and care little about your indebtedness.

      Lastly, consider leisure learning opportunities.  All work without some play is not a good quality of life.  Domestic fulfillment includes spiritual experiences, opportunities to study and learn second languages, and the chance to investigate archeological, historic and natural sites.  Furthermore, all people ought to have an opportunity to travel about, visit family, find cultural roots, and make religious pilgrimages.  Fulfilling these travel opportunities requires transportation, lodging and guide personnel who support a legitimate tourist and education service that contributes somewhat more remotely to the public service.  Mobile seniors may prefer the popular Elderhostel non-credit programs.  These senior-related programs were started in 1975 by Marty Knowlton and immediately became popular.  They cover a wide range of subjects and have countless satisfied participants.   

      Prayer:  Lord, give me the inspiration to continue my education in some manner so as to stay alert and mentally healthy. 







Marrietta Rapier, April 4, 1914 - December 22, 2010.
(*photo credit)

January 22, 2011    Loved Ones Can Give Permission to Die 

     Appalachians and others have a laudatory practice that  involves the moments when death approaches a loved one.  They give the person permission to go ahead and die.  Some might object that only God is to take the life at a chosen time.  However, the practice is really not a taking of a life but an acceptance that we pass on, freely acknowledging that God is in control.  The dying person who fights for mortal life now is able to freely accept mortality in its fullness.  On the Cross Jesus freely gives us the spirit; on our cross we can freely join the Lord in our final hour. 

      In my pastoral ministry, I find some people linger after the body functions start shutting down; they have no desire to eat more food;  they seem to await permission to leave their loved ones behind on their singular journey of faith into eternal life.  They hold out to hear that it is okay to pass on; the survivors will carry on.  However, the dying experience is not uniform.  Certainly those wanting to separate themselves from a bad situation may want to exit as painlessly and rapidly as possible and await no such permission.  Others have a certain confidence that the ones being left will be well cared for.  Others who have lived a good life do not want to burden caregivers. 

      We know that on Calvary Jesus "gave up his spirit."  He died in that ultimate act of freedom having suffered and died for each of us.  The free act included living AND dying.  When a middle-aged person suffers much, the loved ones still want their eternal rest to commence immediately, and so the permission includes the understanding that I do not want you to go but I do not want you to suffer more either.  Amid it all, I, as the permitting one, show that I am in oneness with God's will towards you.  While it is my will that you live with us here, it is God's will that must be done -- and I am, as permitting agent, in agreement with what God wants. 

      We accept our surrender to God.  The dying person receives the permission with joy of being released by a loving community.  The entire community is in agreement that God's will is being done with a definitive finality.  We acknowledge together that God, as author of life, invites us to cooperate in every way possible to increase our participation and quality of that life.  By living with the Lord we are also willing to die with the Lord.  We are one with the Lord and give up our spirit to enter into the totality of our offering with the loving community that we are departing from.  In love we were conceived; in love we were nourished; in love we made decisions; and in loving relationships we make our exit at least for a temporary parting of ways.  We truly believe in giving and accepting this permission that eternal life, together with loved ones, awaits us. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to let go -- to permit others to part company for a period of time.  Allow us to see that this permission is wrapped in the bonds of love and surrender to your will. 







Lycoperdon pyriforme on fallen log.
(*photo credit)

January 23, 2011     Urgent Times Demand Reformed People

  Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matt. 4:17) 

      We live in urgent times of financial crisis, of political turmoil, of seemingly unending war, and of environmental disaster in the most likely offing.  Enough has been written and said about existing troubles to make us move on to a more positive discussion, namely, what can we do about it.   We need not be tempted to retreat, to deny what is happening, to excuse ourselves from acting when we do perceive the trouble, or to seek to escape to more pleasant thoughts or activities.   

      What Jesus calls for is to listen to his word and heed it.  In the urgency of his day, Jesus sets before us a call to be an observant and reformed people, who will take up the activity needed through a joint cooperative endeavor.  The Gospel passage we hear today has a twofold aspect, Jesus proclaiming an urgent need, and his call to his disciples to assist his mission.  We too hear and seek companions to help carry on the work that is ahead of us.  In other words, the message is not to be a lone wolf in the wilderness;  we are to be an encouraging group, a church working together as an encouraging community of believers. 

      The first portion of the message involves knowing the urgency and this takes a sensitivity to distinguish the many competing sounds that confront us at any given time.  To reform in this age means to settle down to living simply without all the gadgets and latest fashions.  We are to distance ourselves from those who race for the best salaries and the good name and respect of the wealthy and privileged.  Down-sizing must occur for those caught in the depths of our capitalistic culture.  Giving time to reflection and caring for others must be part of moving in the direction of self-denial, simple living, and a conservationist ethic.  Certainly, part of the lack of reform is entwined in the urgent situation itself.  Breaking away is a major step but it is only part.

      The second aspect is that we need community to encourage and enhance our commitment to the Lord.  Apart from some granted extraordinary graces of perseverance, we the faithful majority need others to comfort us in rough times and ease our journey to simplicity. A spirituality that is communal in nature and that looks in gratitude to the gifts given is our goal.  With time we find that by suffering with others in these urgent times, we take on a "compassion" that is utterly needed to make all grow in a sense of solidarity -- groundwork for a world where we can jointly reclaim the commons that seems so far from us right now.    By responding enthusiastically we affirm the urgency of the situation and the willingness to be party to healing our Earth.

        Prayer: Lord, give us the honesty to see what must be done and the courage to start the process, for time is short.  Help us to be part of your vocational voice leading others to take brave steps to reform their own lives along with our own efforts. 






A warm nest for shelter.
(*photo credit)

January 24, 2011     Plenty of Sleep vs. Enough Sleep? 

      How much sleep do you need?  I think this is the practical question that is so a propos on these silent January days and nights when other things are not pressing.  January is the sleeping month, when nature is in the middle of its winter rest.  We ought to know our own needs and respond as well, for lack of rest is a major malady of our society.  This lack results in deterioration of health and excess stress that can affect major and minor decisions in the workplace and human relations.  How many broken marriages and accidents have been caused by simply not taking enough rest? 

      I prefer to speak of "enough" sleep.  I do not get more than about four or five hours on an average night (9 to 10 pm until 2 am is generally sufficient) along with an afternoon hour.  That is sufficient when not under stress, for that can cause a need for more sleep.  Occasionally, I set an alarm, because after a number of months I simply need to sleep and sleep.  My mother had the same sleepless "problem," though I told her it seemed a blessing because in my senior years I also would not need all that sleep.  For some of us, catnaps provide the "plenty" that is needed in sleeping. 

      Much depends on one's physical and psychological makeup.  Some people need more sleep and some in history (such as James Madison or John F. Kennedy) are known to have survived on less.  However, since we are not fully aware of personal circumstances, some of the sleepless ones could have had improved  social relationships had they indulged in more sleep.  Like me, they prided themselves on less sleep -- and since my early hours of the day are the most productive ones as far as research and writing goes, I regard the lack of sleeping time to be a productive blessing as life gets shorter and shorter.  Furthermore, those who want and need more sleep should not generalize any more than I do.  Failing to sleep as much as they do need not be a deficiency on our part;  it just may be a blessing in the way we see it. 

      A further point on sleeping, and here I express a possibly unjustified suspicion.  Do some of those who demand more sleep want to fill the day with needed activity?  Thus does their unacknowledged boredom convert into a need for extra sleep as useful filling of the twenty-four hour span?  By testifying to their need for longer times of sleep they have less need of doing things that they find boring or burdensome.  In my way of seeing things, oversleep could actually be unhealthy, if people should be more discerning about their limited span of mortal time.  However, between lack of sleep and oversleep is a happy medium, a time of allowing for additional sleep when needed and less sleep when important things press us to spring out of bed and engage in work.  Here much depends on whether one works in or needs the resting place.  January is perfect to learn about life's rest. 

     Prayer:  Lord, allow me to know my needs and also my excuses;  permit me to sleep when sleeping and be awake when driving, talking, reading, praying, and working. 








January 25, 2011   Oneness within the Christian Community

      We need to be at ONE with the Lord and at one with each other. Today, this is what the conclusion of the Church Unity Octave is all about.  On this feast of the Conversion of St. Paul we strive to realize our connectedness.  Paul understood better than others of his age that our world of Greek and Jew, male and female, slave and free, had to come together in a unity that was absent in the culture in which he lived.  People saw others in black and white terms;  some were of unreconcilable racial, cultural and national origins; some were economically pronounced to be privileged and others not. Paul realized that the Good News meant we are all together in Christ for he died for all, not just for a few. 

      Our oneness is thus founded in God's will that we be one people in one world.  To make divisions and to perpetuate these divisions goes against that salvation for ALL.  Since Catholic means universal, the inclusion of others in the layers of unity is part of our sacred mission and goal.  We do not want to hinder the act of coming together in any way.  We recognize that our sinfulness has caused disunity and has hindered the movement of the Spirit in the great act of Pentecost overcoming the devolution caused by Babel and the division of peoples.  

      Being at one in the world.  On this outer layer of "oneness" we are committed to unity among nations and people in making this a higher quality place for all to live in peace and prosperity.  Our goal is to eliminate hunger and want in all its forms or else, instead of oneness, we will have terroristic separation.  Here at this level we join with all people of good will, especially those who live righteous lives and believe in God's mercy and goodness. 

      Being at one among Christians.  On a more intimate level of love we seek to join forces with other Christians who speak up for the freedom of all peoples and who strive to work together to allow a decent life.  Here church communities need to work together in our collective journey of faith.  We become one with others in a very special bond of Baptism and wish them well, not knocking their beliefs or efforts, but striving to enhance their own ministry especially with youth, elders, the sick and the disadvantaged.  We wish them well; we pray for them;  we bless them in what they do.  

      Being at one within our Church.  We need to see this unity as something that our community seeks to bond us all the more closely in troubled times.  Thus we pray for and come more deeply to a commitment to each other within our faith community.  We think with the Church; we strive to make it one with others; we have a deep sympathy with the leaders of our Church and their great struggles to keep discipline and to grow in mutual understanding and respect for each other.  We need to love the efforts of others and to bless them in what they strive so earnestly to achieve. 

      Prayers:  Lord, teach us to be at one, as Christ is with us, and we are called to be with each other.   








January 26, 2011      Winter's Moments of Gratitude 

     As we advance in age, harsh weather, whether in the heat of summer or the cold of winter, seems harder to endure.  Thus we may be tempted to grumble about heat or cold and how these extremes reduce our mobility, make us prone to illness, or just seem too unpleasant.  However, winter has advantages worth considering: 

     * Winter's silence gives us moments to stop and reflect on the calling God has given us in very special ways; 

     * Winter's crispness sharpens our powers to use the resources at hand far more wisely and efficiently; 

      * Winter's new snow allows us to see that imperfections can be covered over in mercy, and blemished life can have a fresh start; 

      * Winter's inclement moments can keep us immobile for a time, and thus help us to avoid the busyness of everyday life; 

      * Winter's difference from summer enables us to appreciate each season in its own turn; 

      * Winter's darkness affords periods for profound rest;

      * Winter's wildlife makes us aware that others depend on our largess in order to stay alive; 

      * Winter's stirring, while ever so faint, makes us strain to find new reasons for hope for a springtime that seems so distant;  

      * Winter's nakedness manifests the forms of trees and landscape and the human artifacts that punctuate the countryside; 

      * Winter's moonlit nights give us a sense of enchantment at our sister the moon, and its gentle way of enlightening us; 

      * Winter's warm food and drink comfort the uncomfortable and spark renewed gratitude for having a contented belly; 

      * Winter's fewer sounds tune us in to nature's call from the owl, the coyote, and the snow that crunches as we walk on the frozen earth; 

      * Winter's time invites us to use things wisely, for flowers will soon be here, and yet we are challenged to continue our more burdensome physical exercises; and  

      * Winter's very harshness affords us opportunities to encourage others who find the season hard to endure. 

      Prayer: Lord, when thanksgiving seems harder to make, give us the added inspiration to look into deeper gifts so often hidden from our eyes.  Help us see the mini-miracles of life. 







January 27, 2011  Language Revitalization and the Commons 

      Through past Daily Reflections we have discussed the possible demise of half the world's six to seven thousand languages in this century.  These disappear at a rate of one every two weeks, and the picture is bleak.  Hundreds of tongues have reached levels of tens or hundreds of speakers, and often very old people.  However, the picture does have some glimmers of hope, as people identify the most endangered languages and record songs, tales, and dictionaries for an effort in retaining these treasures.  

    Furthermore David Harrison in a new book, The Last Tongues, mentions some areas where youth within the culture have taken it on themselves to sing, rap, and speak the endangered language of their native village or region.  When these speakers see a value in retaining a tongue that is being threatened by a major language in their area, they make an effort to learn to speak it well from elders, and thus they grow in respect for their cultural heritage.  Professor Harrison is convinced that if the young are able to learn and retain the language, they can pass on this unique heritage that includes personal stories, creation myths, songs, native medicines and many other aspects of valuable folklore that are not easily or possibly fully translatable to a predominant tongue. 

      Language revitalization is promising and can be done provided the language is not at death's door with the very last speakers aged residents unable to pass on a tradition to interested younger members.  Much depends on the critical span of time and younger people; if they are interested, then the language will survive;  if they do not show interest in what the elders say and do, then all of a valuable language, like an exotic plant or threatened animal, is lost forever.  It is not enough to simply record the remnant speakers;  vitality calls for carrying on that vital cultural force to another generation. 

      Threatened languages require the same effort and resources as do threatened flora and fauna species.  First, the threat must be discovered and identified.  Next, those who work with such threats must enter into the cultural area and interest younger people to take up the issue.  Third, the efforts at preserving must be publicized and rewarded to some degree.  Governments must take pride in these treasures in their midst and make the efforts known to a wider world.  By giving a sense of worth to the speakers and creating a series of exercises, educational programs, cultural events and other innovative activities, the picture could be change quite drastically.  Young people learn faster and can find and exude pride especially when their efforts are rewarded.  Last of all, an international effort must be made to save this precious commons' resource. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to love the cultural diversity of our world, and to see this as an enrichment worthy of support, especially for those who wish to foster their threatened native languages. 









January 28, 2011     Capitalism Fosters Lack of Faith 

     The title of this Daily Reflection may disturb confirmed capitalists who regard their supernatural faith as enwrapped within the current economic system.  Perhaps those folks might give some extra thought to what is involved in a system where a thousand billionaires live on a planet with one billion people who do not have enough to eat.  Poverty is immoral; to permit poverty in a democratic society damages the democratic process and weakens our ability to have faith (albeit a mixture of supernatural and natural faith) that we can make a difference.   

      When we are submerged in daily and hourly Wall Street reports and the day-to-day accounts of economic progress or its lack, we may question the faith that we can make a difference.  We think we are just part of a system, and others will laugh at our radicalism or idealism -- or both -- if we even question capitalistic ways of doing things.  However, let's look at the inverse.  To fail to question the system is taking a partisan position, a stance that we cannot make a difference, and that our cry in the wilderness will go unheeded.  To hold this sense of powerlessness is to lack faith. 

      On the contrary, every voice raised gives another person the encouragement to raise his or her voice questioning this immoral and perverse system.  Here we can take a stand that each citizen can make a difference and that our political influence can become contagious -- if we but continue to act publicly.  A capitalism that accepts accumulated wealth as the linchpin of progress demands the acceptance by the public of its accumulation of wealth.  It also demands that we do not have the faith that things can be changed for the better.  The system works on lack of faith on the part of the body politic.  Some who do not believe they can change the system will either look to leaders to tweak the system, or try to encourage a volunteerism that mitigates the system's abuses. 

      We need faith that we can move mountains as Jesus says.  With faith the system can be changed, and it is up to us to initiate the change;  we are the catalyst, the points of change that can accelerate the process that must be needed to confront and overcome the disparity of wealth.  We need to call for fair taxes, the simple and most democratic means of equalizing the wealth of the world.  These taxes are meant for the good of all the people -- not the wealthiest.  The possibility of placing tax burdens equally on the wealthy does not decrease the resources of our world, but allows for the spread of these to those seeking improved agriculture and better health and lodging conditions.   Our faith is that WE can make a difference, that we can change the system to a fairer and just one.  We can do it if we believe that we can make a difference.  While each must affirm this as an individual, the sooner we affirm this in community the faster change can occur in this troubled world. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us the power that resides within us, the power to do good and improve the lot of people through our action. 






January 29, 2010     Dying as Opportunity to Spread Good News

      Most people prefer to avoid discussions of dying for such are not pleasant topics.  However, we can make the most of any circumstance and, since we are certainly going to be involved in dying in the indefinite future, it is appropriate to see this as part of our personal calling.  The challenge is to make this most personal of issues a beneficial social event -- without it being a public execution as entertainment.  Sudden deaths either by accident or warfare hardly count here, for the great majority of people have some breathing time from the moment death is imminent.  This more common dying situation is highly likely for ourselves and loved ones, and thus some points are worth reflection. 

      Remote preparation is a teaching opportunity.  Often people in full use of their mental faculties can prepare for death as a natural occurrence.  Our financial and other preparations are good indicators that we take the natural in stride and affirm our participation in a singular and yet shared human event.  Dying is not to be denied but is coming inevitably.  None of us is experienced at this preparation, for we need help to select funeral songs or burial places or final rites.  All of these affairs have a finality that tells others we are prepared to move on to eternal life.  Remote preparation is a good teaching device. 

     Proximate preparation is an additional golden opportunity.  First, people who die a happy death give vast comfort to those loved ones left behind.   They show that the Kingdom of God is already beginning here and now.  To go with a satisfaction that the passing is an accomplishment is a good thing -- a happy death.  Those who stand near realize that their presence even in their utter helplessness is important -- a testimony that God is really in control.  When formal expressions of prayer are given, the comfort of the dying one is extended to those praying nearby.  When a Litany of Thanksgiving is said by those present, something special occurs, for the mercy of God comes in our praise of the Divine Will now manifested in a special way by a natural death.     

      Immediate preparation is more problematic.  Our wish is to die in style, and not in utter agony.  Here we trust in the mercy of our Creator.  None of us is sure of that final moment, and so we do the best by knowing it will come and accept who we are.  Those saying the "Hail Mary" with devotion will be assured a happy death -- and I have never seen it fail.  The greatest immediate preparation is a good remote one.  Expect that this most precious moment of life will come with a world closing in around us, and we experience our powerlessness and dependence on God.  Remembrance of past faults, even forgiven ones, still cloud the memories of some.  Assurance of God's mercy by those near at hand will make the passing a truly satisfying one.  In other words, those attending the dying person create and enhance the total teaching opportunity. 

      Prayer:  Help us, Lord, to make preparation for the time of dying that comes to all -- and to writer and reader as well.







January 30, 2011      Beatitudes and Blessings 

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

     Jesus gives to us through the Beatitudes a summary of all his teachings and examples -- 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 refer to happiness.  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 a troubled world.  Jesus makes everyday life an occasion for beatitude and invites us to follow his example: 

     * Jesus addresses the poor in spirit directly 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; 

      * 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.  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 quiet overlooked ones with clean hearts and uplift them;    

     * Jesus joins with peacemakers of all ages who want to reduce strife.  We must enter into that peaceable company. 

     * 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;

     * on occasions of celebrating special liturgical events (e.g., St. Blaise's Day blessing throats); 

     * among our family and friends before meals;

     * for homes where the very young are frightened of darkness, or members suffer from some form of abuse; and

     * for travelers as they prepare to go on a long journey. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to magnify your beatitudes. 









January 31, 2011   Seeking a Title for Reclaimers of the Commons

       We like categories, groups, parties, allegiances, and other gatherings of the like-minded, as do those of us who want to reclaim the commons for all people.   No special title of more than one word is satisfactory, and so Reclaimers of the Commons hardly suffices for popularists.  Neither does "commons do-gooders" make much sense and even conveys a volunteerism that seems the opposite of what is intended.  Titles have to be snappy and yet precise and directly related to what is desired in "entitlement."

      Reclaimers is not exclusive.  A reclaimer could be someone who is reclaiming land that is damaged by erosion, salination or deforestation;  it could be a person who is reclaiming title to property that was removed by just or unjust causes;  it could be someone who takes back a privilege that has been wrested away through outside causes.  However, those who reclaim the commons do the same activity performed by other reclaimers, and so the title is proper even if not exclusive.  

      Communists has some of the hallmarks of a commons for the people, but a sorry history of the twentieth century makes this a burdened legacy of Stalinism, Castroism and Maoism that will be hard to bury for those who have suffered through the communism/statism that suppressed individual freedom, religious expression and personal property rights.  Had that history not occurred, the communism of the early Church as found in the "Acts of the Apostles" would be a propos.  The operative principle, "to each according to need," makes sense.  But why burden reclaiming the commons with a title that only adds pain, burdens, and political negatives -- for few realize the Biblical roots of this political system?  Many who champion the Good Book wrap themselves in the banners of Godless (not godless, for money is idolized) capitalism.  Disentangling can be very difficult. 

      Commoners is certainly not perfect as a title either; while precise it lacks the virtue of snappiness;  it does contain a particularly humble and simple note, for it recalls the lower of the three estates of France or the alternative to the House of Lords (nobles and clergy) of England.  We are all part of the commons and so this becomes inclusive, even when we partly acknowledge that an implicit nobility of wealth still exists in our midst.  I prefer this as a temporary title, for it is precisely what is intended.  In accepting this title we acknowledge that currently our country -- and world -- are dominated by the privileged wealthy who decide policy and how their wealth is being expended. Our hope is that this form of undemocratic nobility is temporary.  Some can attain this through creative genius, inheritance or purely good luck.  However, we do not have to accept its class legitimacy or its immoral growing inequality.  All things considered, what do you suggest as a better title? 

      Prayer:  Lord, allow us to work for a better understanding of how to spread the Good News in all its expressions and nuances.

Copyright © 2011 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved..

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

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

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