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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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Reflections January 2024

            New life is before us: days get longer, roots are awakening, and sounds are more haunting, especially on a crystal-cold night when we gaze on the grandeur of the heavens.  Mystery confronts within, without and beyond.  We listen for our individual calling in the stillness of night; we discover culinary delights; we smell the wood smoke of winter; we feel the harmony of creative activity in books we read and through our social media.  Through a deepening reflection we discover clues to deeper Divine Mystery.  In 2024 we seek to heal our wounded Earth, as the window of time to halt climate change closes.  


In winter your greenery freshens
   our drab indoors as a potted plant,
   giving hope even through the season
   that growth is forever forthcoming;
A green herb leads the way helping us
   sharpen our fading memory.  Thanks!



Kentucky morning sunrise.
(*photo credit)

January 1, 2024                                  Reflecting During Troubled Times

            We are answering our troubled age by continuing to find the little things that give us hope throughout the year. While each day is made to stand alone, the weekdays of this year are serialized for an emerging seasonally conditioned spirituality.  The underlying problem of climate change demands a sustaining spirituality arming us to fight against deniers.  For the greater part, our reflections from January through December involve a previous unpublished manuscript judged too long for a single book on Eco-Spirituality through the Seasons.  Samples were taken from the book published in 2013 with Warren Brunner, Appalachian Sensations: A Journey through the Seasons.   

We start with some basic elements from Down to Earth Spirituality, namely, not focusing on distant places -- there, distant times -- then, or on learned experts -- they.  God's creation is beneath your and my feet and worthy of stooping down for a closer look -- here, something deserving of our immediately response -- now, and requiring cooperative sharing by all working people of good will working together -- we.

            HERE is our own local environment, which shapes our attitudes today.  Yours and mine are different and so my suggestions are meant for you the reader to observe your own world: weather conditions and patterns, topography or "lay of the land," plant and animal species worth further acquaintance, areas needing further exploration, and neighbors willing to share experiences.  The HERE of our world must be appropriated and not substituted by some distant expert who knows little about your situation.  Your basic stance calls for a unique response and here we place trust in each other.  Let's communicate about our specific eco-experiences.

            NOW is the acceptable time to take up our common concerns in a spiritual manner that affords respect for each other, even climate change deniers.  We cannot concede the seriousness of the situation nor the fact that we are limited in resources of energy and time when compared to the vast wealth being used to sustain the status quo.  We must be realistic, for our time span is closing and still we need fortitude not to panic.  This means less scattered subject areas of reflection (though they have value as areas of relief).  We must think frugally and sharpen our persuasive skills.

            The WE refers to a gathering of like-minded people who must encourage each other against burnout and distractions.  Acting in an individual manner forces us to confront our limitations and the need for others' talents.  The road ahead is quite rough and nothing is certain except death and taxes; we don't know the exact time of the first nor exact amount of the second.  WE must trust together in the Lord and keep our vision and listening capacities open to emerging yet now hidden collective goals.  What the coming system is like is not yet evident -- but it must come to be.










Ground cherry, Physalis virginiana, seed pods in winter.
(*photo credit)

January 2, 2024                      Changing Climate Is Not Given Top Priority

           Why begin the year with troubles?  Why not, for we are in the middle of them and an ultimate positive stance demands beginning with raw reality.  For concerned citizens, climate change is a major ongoing issue.  This issue is here before us, involves serious consequences, and is something we as a people of this planet can do something about.  However, inflation in the grocery store, ongoing pandemic issues especially with children, the continued war in the Ukraine, and gun violence in all its forms captures our attention.  These are serious and major distractions, but also compete well for popular concern.  We cannot forget that the climate change issue is of very great concern, for we have a closing window of time to act and the issue is quite complex.

1. Demands for a conservation ethic -- Heavy demands are being made by the general public to address this issue through a participative process that many naive consumers oppose.
2. Aggressive denial by commercial interests -- Hundreds of millions of dollars are involved in the denial campaign now being undertaken by industrial capitalists, with their profits threatened if polluting fossil fuels are replaced.
3. Difficulty in proof of condition -- Much of what is coming is based on scientific projections, along with data of the past two decades.  Climate issues are difficult subjects to determine.
4. Delay in real effects -- The natural inclination is to put off future generation problems because selfish people think only of themselves in the current situation, not issues for grandchildren. 
5. Arrival of cheap and plentiful fracted fossil fuels -- For some a godsend, but for the champions of renewable energy a delay and distraction because of immediate lower-priced fossil fuels.
6. Promotion of renewables -- These sources have never had the government's subsidies and tax benefits of fossil and nuclear fuels, and thus have had to compete with far greater handicaps.
7. Transition period required -- In the movement to a renewable economy, fossil fuels will play a transitory role and compromising on amounts and time lengths is extremely delicate.
8. Politicization of issue -- Republicans were environmental supporters for several decades, but recently have become less Inclined to champion environmental issues.
9. Contrary to a consumer culture -- The current economic system of privileged consumption by affluent people is augmented by the continuation of the status quo, with heavy commercial support by many of the lower economic class.
10. Call for a new Economic Order -- Progressives realize that perpetuating the status quo is shutting off debate exposing the current economic system as causing the environmental crisis.
11. Less popular Issue -- Granted, in the competition for press attention the longer-term call for addressing climate change does not have media captivating attention like emotional issues of the latest social news breakers.










A winding path through Kentucky woods.
(*photo credit)

January 3, 2024                                    Discovering Sacred Sights

Look around you, look at the fields, already they
are white, ready for the harvest.        (John 4:35)

            January is the season of mystery.  On a crystal-cold winter night we look out and see beyond the horizon of our limited world. The blinding light that flashes across the heavens announces the beginning of the creative act.  The holy night, when all is still, the Savior comes on his own, and that is a sacred sight seen only by a privileged few.  We think back about our own birth, though unremembered.  Our eyes open after the darkness of our maternal womb and we behold an incandescent light that announces our coming onto our own.  It is a sacred sight.

God gives an order, divine word flashes to earth:
to spread snow like a blanket, to strew hoarfrost like ashes,
to drop ice like breadcrumbs, and when the cold is unbearable,
God sends word to bring the thaw
and warm wind to melt the snow.            (Psalm 147:15-18)

            A snow-covered landscape is the Creator's masterpiece, each snowflake a different design (at least that's the theory impossible to verify), each curved snow drift nature's work of art.  The sight is a jewel to be gazed at from a distance, without daring to step out and disturb the almost perfect landscape.  Well, not quite undisturbed, for cottontail's tracks are there and other wildlife will surely follow soon.  This fresh blanket of snow is like the cloth placed over a coffin at Church, signifying the baptized person's journey to eternal life. 
            Mark Spencer and I were able to climb to a prominent peak in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Crestone, Colorado.  We started the evening before, camped overnight at treeline for an early final ascent and then reached the top in late morning on a sunny June day.  We peered over the peaked ridge and saw the northern side, which was as though in the middle of winter, covered with snow and mist.  Suddenly I realized why several previous June attempts resulted in being bogged down in snow -- we attempted a North Slope approach.  Much depends on where the sunlight hits the range and peaks; obvious to Rocky Mountain folks!  Just being there above 14,000 feet was a unique experience, a sight to behold.
           Road cuts, stripped hillsides, and mismanaged forestlands are for a brief moment covered over by new snow.  Abused land is hidden from sight.  This pall-covered suffering land recalls for us the divine promise to cleanse us of our faults, to make us pure as new‑fallen snow, and to give us new life.  Snowfall in January signifies forgiveness and renewal.  We glory in this short‑lived scene, this epiphany of God among us. 










A young redbud basks in winter sun.
(*photo credit)

January 4, 2024                                  Observing the World Around Us

Eco-spirituality encounters faith -- seeing the brilliant countenance of Christ
looking up at us from every creature.                                       (My ordination card)

            Gerald Manley Hopkins would keenly observe the microcosm at his feet to such an extent that he would lie prone on the ground motionless for long periods of time.  On one occasion, a community brother thought Hopkins was stricken because of his strange motionless posture in the garden, lying perfectly still for a long time.  The brother became alarmed and went to his aid but that only caused Gerald to apologize and continue his observations.

            Observers may look out at the heavens, the traditional seat of divine majesty, to proclaim God's glory -- and this can certainly be a humbling experience.  How can I imagine a million light years in span and miles?  This seems to overwhelm us.  As a down-to-Earth person, I look down and discover a world beneath my feet, a world of earthworms and insects, composting soil and decaying leaves, a world that permits an avenue of interest as well as glory and splendor.  Microcosmic attention is more to my personal taste and seems more within my reach than a distant star. Let's tolerate the preferences of others who look at the heavens. Some may be mesmerized by awesome artifacts: roads, bridges, towering buildings, humble shrines, statues, and rows of corn on the Great Plains, boats, trains, airplanes, factories, well-preserved forests and clean beaches.  They may even find it hard to avoid an accident when driving down an Interstate when a blooming wildscape distracts them, or at this time of year by icicles on a road cut.

            January is a month when the naked trees show their true form, a laying bare of what in summer is nature's green covering.  We hike unhindered across the countryside and scan the wider vistas; we concentrate on the summer-hidden wounds of bare hills; we strive to get to the roots of things, for winter really begins the growing season.  January is a practical, down-to-earth time and yet quiet enough for us to look out at the stars, standing at the doorway of the grandeur of God's creation, and spending time in praise of the Holy One.  Time never stands still, and winter, while certainly slow moving, never allows us to forget the moving clock of cosmic time.

          We point to the crisis-ridden Earth around us with its flooding one month, hurricane another, massive earthquake on the third, and whacked with seemingly endless warring factionalism.  If willing to be attentive we cannot ignore these signposts; nor should we let these happenings overcome us in a modern angst that saps energy and drains creative juices.  Simply put, January is the acceptable time to sense mystery, survey the cosmic phenomena, redouble our openness to every new calling, and proclaim the harmony all about us; it is beginning a new year of life.










After mild winter rain, a ring fungi appears on the forest floor.
(*photo credit)

January 5, 2024                                  Moving Us to Divine Mystery

Ever since God created the world the divine everlasting power and deity -- however invisible
-- have been there for the mind to see in the things God has made.                  (Romans 1:20)

          I'll never forget the western part of South Dakota in 1955 when I saw the beginnings of the Far West for the first time.  We had crossed the Missouri River at Chamberlain, and moved towards the color-subdued Badlands just ahead in the sunset.  It was a new world, an unseen now seen, a sampling of God's glory. 

          The mystery of our Earth and beyond confronts us, especially when minds are free to reflect.  Yes, we must dare to give time to look out and observe.  We come to God in different ways and are colored by our cultural outlooks.  Some of us cling to a natural theology that holds that the only true God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty through his works by the natural light of the human reason.  

            The Protestant theologian Pore Pere finds fault with this natural theology and with what he considers to be the Catholic exegesis of the above passage from Romans.  Henri Bouillard, in The Knowledge of God (New York: Herder and Herder, 1967), defends a natural knowledge of God, something that I have always found most comforting since taking a course in Natural Theology in 1959.  However, Pere's fear of constructed idols is worthy of note since human beings unguided by Revelation will tend to create their own gods.  Bouillard says St. Paul discovers a knowledge of God in the idolatry of pagans.  Noting that pagans demonize creatures, Paul reflects on this conduct in order to understand both its possibility and its culpability (Bouillard, p. 51).

            Natural grandeur is enhanced by all around us, and even by the modern theory of evolution.  Here the intelligent divine design of the Creator is expressed through natural phenomenon.   For centuries the intellectual and rational process has been considered a manifestation of the Creator -- a fertile field for thinkers from St. Augustine to Thomas Aquinas and beyond.  Mental "artifacts" have been the domain of the scholastics and then the academics.

            Today our faith journey when graced by divine favor allows us to enter the deeper realms of Mystery, with help both from science and Divine Revelation.  We accept that the creative act is at work.  We concede that difficulties arise as human beings take evolution within our own power, a power resulting from our invitation into the divine family and the work of healing a wounded Earth.  Mistakes can be and are made.  We are called to be participants, neither to draw back in fright nor to plunge ahead as foolhardy adolescents.  In recognizing our calling, we glory in the privilege and are humbled by the magnitude of work ahead.









Christmas Tree Farm - Woodford Co KY 1
Tree farm in snow. Woodford Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

January 6, 2024                                  Manifesting Mystery: The Epiphany

             Epiphany is a divine manifestation, a public viewing just as is the Baptism of Jesus and the Cana Wedding.  For many cultures, this feast is "Little Christmas," a child's event.  Parents take their offspring to the manger display and show them the rearranged figures of camels and Magi in place of shepherds and sheep.  But is this not also an adult's feast as well?  Perhaps youth have something to teach us in the manner in which we approach mystery. Those who are not distracted by over-affluence come before the Epiphany display with a sense of wonder and adoration.  We also need to see the Messiah's manifestation as a time in which we wonder about our very sense of wonder and mystery -- and hopefully we are not sated by affluence.

          A manifestation of God's glory gives us the consolation we need to balance our actions and judgments and cultivate an interior ecology needed so we are not paralyzed by anger or panicked by the shrinking span of time for environmental action.  Ordinary life is demanding; we could fool ourselves and think that the immediate anxieties of life are the truly real -- when this can be distracting.  We must take time for reflection, or we cannot see what God has in store for us.  The temptation is great to shorten prayer and reflection because "important" daily matters seem to press upon us.

            Let's start each day as a time of thanksgiving for precious life itself; let's end each day with additional gratitude for being still alive and hopeful.  Certainly, our praying includes petitions for self and others and a request for forgiveness due to mistakes made.  But at the heart of reflection are the gifts received over the years and especially in these troubled times.  To see God-given gifts in our midst is a spiritually mature participation in Epiphany.  To see the universality of these gifts throughout the world elicits a deepening sense of that gratitude by a concerned body of believers.

            The Christmas season is exhausting, with material cares and accumulated stuff.  Let's not get caught up in the symbolism of Matthew's Gospel gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  They are precious, not necessarily bulky (depending on the amount of gold) being brought from a long distance by camel power.  What we bring of ourselves to the newborn infant is who we are and where we are on our journey of faith.  In many ways we must be as humble as a young child approaching the manger, for what we give is imperfect; it bespeaks of a fleeting time with a window closing.  We bring ourselves with all the scars of Earth -- but with future hopes.

          Note: On the twelfth day of Christmas we could follow an Anglo-Saxon tradition and "wassail" the apple trees by drinking to the health of the oldest ones.  We celebrate nature's first awakening in dead of winter, a hidden change we sense is happening.  Let's not forget amid concerns that we have much to celebrate.











Reflections in pool. St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church. Ravenna, KY.
(*photo credit)

January 7, 2024                        Considering the Meaning of Our Baptism

No sooner had he [Jesus] come up out of the water than he saw the heavens
torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him.              (Mark 1:10)

            The Spirit comes to Jesus and to each of us when we are reborn in the completion of Baptism at our Confirmation.  We too are filled with the Spirit and thus given special insight to see and do what God wants us to be and do. Jesus' ministry is launched on the banks of the Jordan River.  John the Baptist objects to performing such an awesome task, and yet he is reassured by Jesus; John professes his unfitness for the mighty task ahead.  In some way, this dramatic second manifestation of Jesus that follows that of the Epiphany is an invitation to participate in the mystery of the salvation process.  We as participants feel our unworthiness.   

          The divine favor rests on the Chosen One, but that resting is a focusing, a special gift that is not meant to be clutched as a sole possession.  Water is poured on Jesus just at the place where the Jordan is a fast flowing stream in springtime.  The rushing water manifests a coming of the Spirit, an enlivening for the mission ahead.  The rushing water foreshadows the movement of Jesus out from his native Galilee to Jerusalem; it foreshadows the pouring forth of Pentecost, and the passing of the mission on to his disciples.  Through the course of Salvation History we observe God's favor resting on One, but the descent of the Holy Spirit would also occur on each of the disciples and ultimately on each of Christ's followers, resting on us.
          Peter speaks to Cornelius, "I begin to see how true it is that God shows no partiality.  Rather the one of any nation who fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to the Almighty" (Acts 10:34-35).  Peter as leader of the Apostles begins to sense the utter majesty of the grand work of salvation and he finds himself at a loss, being a mere human instrument in the work ahead.   All God-fearing persons are within the arena of God's favor -- but each of us must see the need to do what is right in order to be fit instruments in the divine plan.  God's favor rests as a gift that we certainly do not merit or have owed to us in any way but it is freely extended if we follow Jesus.  The role of Peter is to accept the universal mission and to bring Good News to others who will follow the pattern that Jesus has undertaken.

            Our Baptism washes away the stain of sin and bestows new life on us.  This is our regeneration, preparing us to be the bearers of Good News.  Our baptism is a launching pad, the most important moment between our birth and our passing from this life.   We cannot rest by saying that we have been saved and such is sufficient.  We now must respond in an individual manner through the righteous living of our lives and performing good deeds that are needed to save our troubled planet – and ourselves.







Coping with Weather Extremes

By Fr. Al Fritsch, SJ

Be aware.  As I was writing this essay Hurricane Lee was coming across the Atlantic Ocean and at one point it was listed as a category 5 hurricane.  Climate change issues and their frequency are becoming very important and quite evident to most of us, but not all.  Some are simply unaware or uninterested about major weather events occurring around them, yet understanding where the storms are and where they're going can make severe weather much less stressful.

A second point is advance preparation – thinking about where you will take shelter, making sure you have several ways to get weather warnings and information, and having a plan for you and your family – can help reduce your fear and stress levels when storms are in the area.  You should always keep a stock of basic items in your car and an evacuation plan to reach safety.  This could include items such as candles, matches in a waterproof container, a first aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, at least a several-day supply of non-perishable food, a knife, a hand-crank or battery-operated radio and an extra set of clothes, appropriate to the weather.

Other items such as important papers and medicines should be ready so that within less than five minutes you can grab them and go, and that should apply to everyone in a family.  This is a big challenge, especially when you have young ones, but it is critical to plan ahead.  Of course it would be nice to also have water and a potty and several other items not absolutely needed for the start, but at least having enough gasoline to drive away is important.  I lived for 18 years near the Bluegrass Army Depot (the largest depot of military chemical weapons in the world), and to mitigate fear the government would yearly send us an evacuation route in case of emergency.  Some kind of preparation is very important.   

Being willing to help others when these episodes occur is also important.  If something would have happened in those 18 years I would have had to slip by the old folk’s home and help them as best I could, because they would be in great need of getting their people to higher ground or get them completely out of the area.  We have to be psychologically prepared for such events and understand that their frequency is increasing because of climate change.  There were 40 category 5 hurricanes in the last century and yet 1/5th of them occurred in the last seven years.  We have to do the best we can and also be willing to help others do the same.

Be prepared in advance.  If in a hurricane zone, plan potential evacuation routes ahead of hurricane season, and if in danger of winter storms, think about what supplies you'd need on hand if you were to be snowed in for days without power.  Formulate a strategy of staying in contact should your area lose power, internet or cellular service.  And last of all, strive to be as positive as possible about the conditions that we are in today.  Let’s pray to God that we can be helped and trust in the Lord to see us through.



A late autumn snow_Laurel Co KY
January snow on fallen leaves.
(*photo credit)

January 8, 2024                                  Perceiving Mystery Within

             Childlike wonder fills the natural adventurer.  We see and don't see; we strive to know more and yet find limits in our attention and time.  God's grandeur is present but, as purists, we dare not stare for that is embarrassing.  Is it more natural to reach out and grab hold of creation as a small child attempts, or to accept the impossibility?  Some of us would argue that it is more natural to take hold of and improve natural things, for we are part of the total natural picture.  Others say that nature should be left alone and should remain removed, for they know we are limited; they insist that wilderness be set apart from human reach.

            In the early 1970s the late Rene Dubos spoke to a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on this subject of restraint and involvement; essentially he proposed that human action and improvement are part of the natural process.  He argued that we, as part of nature, can transform it for the better.  I liked that man; he was one of our earliest and most respected advisors at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and wrote a number of books including The God Within.  He gave me strong support in my early writings and was one of the organizers of the Stockholm United Nations Conference on the Environment in 1972, where I conversed with him for the last time.

          The creation that surrounds us reflects divine glory and encourages us to delve deeper into discovering the wonders of creation within ourselves -- another untapped world.  We reflect upon ourselves, our relations to others, our neighbors who include human beings scattered around the planet, along with diverse plant and animal species.  In knowing others, we sense the complexity of creation, for every person is unique and yet this is part of our maturation process.  Other creatures are our companions on our spiritual journey of faith; they encourage us to gaze within and discover the infinite world of self, a source of mystery that also can lead to godliness.  But we hesitate because of the temptation to self-idolatry, a possible narcissistic creation.

            In more proper individual growth we can probe the mystery of self and say with the truly humble Mary, Yes from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me (Luke 2:48-9).  This blessedness has a divine source and we are humbled by being privileged.  Yes, we have power to express our inner creativity, as we will see; we can cooperate and share with others; we can heal and teach and do deeds of great benefit; but it is only because we participate in deeper Mystery -- and that is a divine gift.  As we probe the depths within, we find ourselves asking over and over: Why? Why? Why?  Each partly answered question affords still another question, never ending or satisfying, but we continue along the mysterious pathways and stirring of the soul to a God who invites us beyond ourselves to absolute Mystery. 











An eastward view on a snowy winter morning.
(*photo credit)

January 9, 2024                                  Looking Up to the Heavens

I look up at your heavens, made by your fingers, at the moon and stars you set in place.   (Psalm 8:3)

          I was part of an environmental team exploring solar cooker possibilities in Peru.  We made a side trip to Lake Titicaca in the remote Bolivian border region where there was no electricity. The night was black except for the heavens and there was the Southern Cross, stars I would never see again and with such brilliance.  It left a permanent memory of glory.

          Some prefer to start their observing quest with the vast universe, with its incomprehensible distances of light measured in the years it takes for a beam to travel at the speed of light. In a rare personal occasion, I spent last night outside during Full Hunter's Moon observing an eclipse.  Along with other observers, I encounter astronomical distances that are almost incomprehensible. I observe a tiny fraction of stars twinkling above with pinpoints of warmth and color in a vast outer cold and dark space.

          Part of January's outdoor experience is to observe the heavens that stand out in the clear nocturnal sky.  I prefer to start at ground level with down-to-earth scenes, but others start with looking up to the heavens and for good reasons.  Admittedly, that is more tempting in winter, when the microcosm is frozen and the macrocosm is so inviting on clear nights. For decades, I thought rural folks look down at the fresh soil below them and urban folks looked up to the heavens and its vastness.  What a gross oversimplification!  Besides, today many people in urban areas are plagued by "light pollution," the effects of artificial lighting that obscures the immense panorama of the heavens. 

            The night sky remains a last great natural frontier of God's creation.  A century ago, scientists focused on one galaxy with its estimated one hundred million stars.   With modern instrumentation observers extended the heavenly viewing domain; now we know our Milky Way contains a multitude of stars and that there are countless galaxies in the universe, each with additional multitudes of stars.  Who are so insensitive as to never look upward or to be awestruck at the sight of the heavens on that clear cold January night?  Would they not wonder about the properties of these heavenly bodies: their color, shape, light texture, movement?

            How can one even imagine a light year and yet we speak of thousands or millions of them in universe distances?  And amid vastness we speak of the almighty Creator.  Experts with high-powered telescopes plumb the heavens.  Does the grandeur of God's cosmos trigger a prayer of praise?  Maybe for someone it could be a resolution to take deprived urban youth beyond the light-polluted metropolitan area for their first chance to see a star-lit night.  What a privilege! Let’s be open to new things.







Kentucky Ice Storm, 2009
Frozen remnant of autumn.
 (*photo credit)  

January 10, 2024                                  Gazing Always Ahead      

Pride of the heights, shining vault,
     so, in a glorious spectacle, the sky appears.
The sun, as he emerges, proclaims (radiates heat) at his rising,
     'A thing of wonder is the work of the Most High!'
(Ecclesiasticus 43:1-2)

            We do not journey through life with heads turned backwards, lest we stumble.  We do not look constantly out to the distant horizons lest we again lose our footing.  Joggers are aware of the road immediately ahead, the here where we are at a given moment.  Finding God in all things is what we seek to do, and yet we watch our steps.  We look into places others often ignored, but the great surprise is that God is with us here and now -- and thus we refrain from over concern about future or past gazes.  If God is everywhere, surely the Holy One is in the hidden crannies of this Earth and our personal inner worlds as well, the HERE.  God is with us in the menial tasks of cleaning house, preparing meals, gardening, repairing, sleeping, eating, and jogging. 

          God is deepest Mystery and the source of all mysteries around us and within us.  We assert this on faith.  At first, we are captivated by the mysterious in the divine handiwork, Yahweh imprinted on the world around us.  We look within ourselves and find another world of mystery and seek to fathom this in our soul and within the inquiring powers for deeper and deeper questions and answers.  God does not leave us orphans.  Believers see Jesus as seat of ultimate Divine Mystery, who keeps us close through sacramental life.  We trust his words -- To have seen me is to have seen the Father. (John 14:9b).  Jesus is faithful; he guides us through our wilderness, our bewilderment.  He turns wilderness into a friendly place, a neighborhood worth protecting.  Jesus is the gentle companion amid the glorious array of creation that reflects divine glory.  He beckons us to come to the incomprehensible Mystery that will be before us on an eternal journey of love.  God is Mystery.  God, the Creator be praised!  Let nature's beauty unfold!  Let me be drawn to Mystery as a moth to light!  And help us someday to see that light!

            Nature speaks in more than sight.  In winter we attend to sounds and tastes and smells as well: creeks gurgle under snow banks; thunder announces a dramatic change of weather; the chipmunks chirp bounding about in search of food.  When we listen more intensely in this season, we may even hear disharmonious sounds: flooded streams rushing down a denuded mountainside; the crash of a broken tree in a cut over forest patch; the crow squawking when disturbed.  Sights and sounds work in harmony in an elementary way first perceived by the child; with this fresh attitude let us be ever more sensitive to the voice of nature. 










Autumn Landscape Laurel Co KY
An inverse of black and white of summer image creates illusion of winter.
(*photo credit)

January 11, 2024                                Seeing the Mystery in All Creation

Ah what is man that you should spare a thought of him ... Yet you have made him little
less than a god, you have crowned him with glory and splendor.              (Psalm 8:4a, 5)

          I have always admired the colorful butterfly and the manner in which it can enliven my day.  The butterfly museum at Hunawihr near my ancestral home in Alsace, with its colorful and graceful flying creatures, is an absolute delight to visit.  That admiration of sight extends to observing butterfly feats from here.  A monarch butterfly travels from Kentucky all the way to Mexico for its winter sojourn, an incredible undertaking of over a thousand miles by such a small and delicate creature.  Let's marvel!

          Creation is wrapped in mystery, the creation around and the creation within us.  Young children experience that first dawning of mystery and reach out with awe and wonder.  As adults we may not attempt to test a new thing by putting it into our mouths, but we are fascinated by new places, enticing scenes of sunrises and sunsets, and beautiful artifacts.  We venture into scientific descriptions of geological phenomena, the architecture of termite hills, and the bonding of atoms.  We believe in a Creator of all that is seen and unseen; that includes what we see through naked eye and telescope, and the part never yet seen, or mysteries that the eye can never see.  The awesome power of God struck me deeply when I saw a television show on the first moments after the Big Bang; others might note the moments of rare insight into deeper mystery.  Amid all such experiences we still become aware of our inability to plumb the full depths of Mystery.

            Awesome respect covers us like a blanket, a pervading atmosphere which nurtures our faith.  This awe overshadows our first actions and is present in a bewildering array of undifferentiated mysteries which begin to unfold before us, causing us to blink and rub our eyes.  In youth, we sense the threefold nature of mysteries: the created world around us impregnated with mystery; our own mysterious interiority, which is the world within us that beckons us to a lifetime of searching; and we are beckoned to the deepest Mystery, the Holy One, our ultimate Source and our final End, our Alpha and Omega.     

             We go to a park, wildlife reserve, mountain, seashore; we gaze into the heavens.  We breathe fresh air and absorb full spectrum sunlight.  We notice particular trees, birds, mountain forests, rolling meadows, gurgling streams, the roaring seas and waterfalls, and on and on.  Some take photos of these sights seeking to concretize them.  A billion poems and a trillion memories punctuate these mysteries of creation.  We collect all as though we can hold on to them, and yet they seem to slip away.  And when memories fade, we see visions.









Picture 058
High water along Madison Co, KY creek.
(*photo credit)

January 12, 2024                       Hearin the Call: To Each His/Her Own

          The heavens declare the glory of God, the vault of heaven proclaims God's handiwork; day discourses of it to day, night to night hands on the knowledge.  No utterance at all, no speech, no sound that anyone can hear; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their message to the ends of the world.                                                                                                                                     (Psalm 19: 1-4)

          We were gathered on the porch of Great Aunt Mary and Great Uncle Joe's home, the 1812 Bruce House, in Fleming County.  Father Danz had come out to visit them on that Sunday afternoon.  For some unexplained reason I went up and told him I wanted to be a priest.  He was the only person to whom I confided this for two decades.
          We listen and hear God's call, a constant call in the springs, summers, and autumns of life.  Yes, I was called in that eternal winter before my birth, in the ages before I was even a thought, a preconception throughout our journey of faith.

          God calls us from that distant eternity and, once existing, we are called as our mind becomes active and as reasoning appears.  We hear God's call in the seasons of our life both at specific times (as St. Paul's dramatic call in being knocked from a horse) and throughout our journey of faith.  God calls us to take on good causes, to move to marriage, religious profession, graduation from professional school, and other important stages of life.  God calls us back when we err and then to adjust to new assignments and directions in life.  God's calls become part of our continuous adventures, an unfolding story which becomes part of our quest. 

            We can enter this quest wholeheartedly or we can allow ourselves to be distracted by other allurements.  We become aware that our impulsive question-asking power never ceases.  The young child's questioning gives way to an equally inquisitive maturing traveler seeking answers to the rough road or journey ahead.  We are free to pursue our questions and say "yes" or "no" before our God, for at times we hesitate and turn away; mercifully we are called over and over even to the hour of death.

            The phenomenology of life's journey, the "travelogue of faith," makes up the totality of our personal experiences.  We never see it from a distance for we are immersed in the rushing moment.  We get a glimpse of the trips of others as they pass by, but only a glimpse.  Each person's venture is unique with its challenges, burdens and high points, but patterns develop which challenge the scientists of mind and personality.  Friends, companions, spiritual directors, and counselors guide us; they help us through our seasons of life.  Precise spans of life's seasons are comprehended nearer the end of the journey, when we prepare to go to deeper Mystery -- and we are inspired to look back.











Raven Arch_Carter Caves State Park
Raven Arch, Carter Caves State Park.
(*photo credit)

January 13, 2024                                Earthhealing: A Call within a Call

Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart.     (Psalm 90:12)

          Never was the call so pronounced as when I traveled up I-35 from post-doctorate work at Austin's University of Texas.  It was a call within a call within a call -- that of a scientist, a Jesuit, and now of public interest work in Washington, DC.  I hummed "Spirit of God in the clear running waters" all the way. 

          God calls us to deeper levels of service.  In freedom, we are all invited to respond.  At our infant baptism our godparents answered for us the invitation to enter a faith community and to serve others.  It takes time and maybe a lifetime to respond fully to that call.  Through sacramental life we mature as followers of Christ.  Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation (Mark 16:15).  This is a Christian's call to respond to Earth herself in time of need.  Earthhealing is an authentic call within a call, a true vocation for all of us. 

            Through dialog with my religious superiors I entered into environmental and public interest activities at the start of my priestly ministry in 1970 -- and on until now.  This ministry was reaffirmed in my only trip to the Holy Land in 1992, sponsored by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, a tour of environmental education centers.  I asked my companion (a Cypriot who knew Arabic as well as Greek) to help me hike over across the Kedron to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for it was my only chance to touch the ground on which the Savior's blood soaked.  Time passed and the bus would leave promptly by 9:00.  We found the place and even went to Mass with other Americans at the tomb a short distance from Calvary's mount.  With great trepidation and a feeling of grimy unpreparedness I rushed up the steps, reached into the dark hole to touch Calvary's rock and distinctly heard the words spoken with deep compassion, "Look what they have done to my Earth."  It is a source of continued consolation.

            God is generous and gives special gifts to everyone.  These differ because of the vast uniqueness of all on individual spiritual journeys; they depend on our personalities, talents, family roots and environment, culture, sex, educational history, and aspirations.  We all are on our quest for Mystery, which early on is youthful venture with its detours and blind turns, but becomes ever deeper as we advance in life.  Our journey of faith ultimately is a single whole, though containing detours and short cuts during our seasons of life.  Some are profoundly remembered and others, like mini-strokes, are ignored or forgotten.  Part of our journey is taken seriously and unfortunately part is misdirected and costly for all affected.













Falls of water along Watts Ferry. Woodford Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

  January 14, 2024                                  Calling “Samuel, Samuel”

"Here I am."  (I Samuel 3:4)

            God's call to Samuel is a touching episode.  Many wonderful elements appear in the short passage.  Samuel is an innocent young person who is very responsive to the call of another; thus, he goes immediately to answer the voice, thinking it comes from the old man Eli.  But Eli did not call, and still at the second call Samuel goes again, and still Eli denies that he has called.  One could have guessed that a less responsive person would have said "to heck with it. I'm going to continue sleeping." All the while we see this from the viewpoint of the old man Eli.  He is also disturbed twice and then a third time and only then, in the depths of his good heart, Eli realizes that God is calling Samuel.  The lamp of God has not yet gone out.  Eli is enlightened, even when only able to see dimly; he tells Samuel to answer, "Speak, Yahweh, your servant is listening."  The old man's integrity and closeness to God allows the communication's confusion to become clarified.

            Failures in response.  So often we all miss the cue, and fail to see that the younger person has an authentic call from God.  We fail to direct the person to be open for responding when it comes. It takes as much grace to know that another has a call from God as it does for the individual to respond to the call.  Would that all people knew that God constantly calls their near and dear ones, and that they should assist in responding by encouraging the called person to listen attentively to God's message for them.

            Individual call.  The call from God is unique to each individual. It is one of the most important parts of our journey of faith.  Too often we fail to see that this call is ongoing and not just a one-time thing.  But often the authenticity of the call is denied, and so we stumble on in the darkness.  To hear and listen takes a special grace, and also the openness and willingness to respond as it does for Samuel. Our degree of generosity to respond is what we seek to improve.  

            Repeated call.  So often we expect that a call comes but once.  That is not the case.  God's call comes both in unexpected ways at definite times and it constantly occurs on new occasions and under different conditions in our lives.  As we grow older, more limited, and less active, a different set of calls can be heard provided we are open and able to receive the message.  Eternity calls us.

            Crisis in vocations.  I really wonder if there is a vocation crisis or whether it is misinterpreted.  Perhaps some are not open to God's calling and so we do not have enough personnel to tend to the needs within the Church and elsewhere.  Perhaps the call is going out and others are unable to help distinguish the call and encourage people to respond.  In the latter case, the crisis, if it exists, is not necessarily with the young as also with elders who do not recognize authentic vocations and assist the called ones.   Vocational calls have a social dimension.






Sacrifice for Others

By Fr. Al Fritsch, SJ

Sacrifice is a rite in which we offer something to the Lord in order to create, maintain, or restore the correct relationship to the sacred order.  The fatted calf or the first fruits - these were examples in the Old Testament which show sacrifice in the full sense.  In the New Testament, Christ asked each of his apostles (and us) to do what he did, and therefore work with and for other people.  But it’s deeper than just service, and that is to give not only from our excess, but also from our own most basic resources when it is needed by others.  So the need for sacrifice comes at different times and at different levels.

We all know that in extraordinary circumstances sacrifice may be required.  For example, if a shark approaches someone in the water, we hope the lifeguard would go in and rescue them.  In that case there’s a risk, but also an action someone is willing to do for the sake of another, all coming in an unexpected instant.  A spontaneous action is one kind, but examples of self-sacrifice are all around us.  A mother or father gives up their career to stay home and take care of family.  Teachers give their time and energy, and many caregivers give so much of themselves to others.  Children may sacrifice their own wants and desires to take care of their aging parents later in life.  Sacrifices may be asked of all of us at different times.

Soldiers are asked to lay down their lives for country; veterans certainly know what it means to sacrifice.  It’s easy to forget that sometimes sacrifice is doing something for another even at a high cost.  Sacrifices can be both positive and in some cases negative.  Let’s take the case of someone who wants to profit from their land, even though it would damage it’s fertility by doing so.  Sacrificing fertility for gain may seem good, but perhaps not as good as protecting the land.  So in that sense it is negative, something where sacrifice was not necessary in the first place.  Someone’s health or safety may be at risk in some instances where more thought would suggest caution, as with emergencies or when we have to respond instantly.

Sacrifice is so common in family life that we often don’t even notice it.  Sacrifice can be active, as in doing something against your own inclination in order to please someone you love, or passive, not doing something that you’d like to do.  It may seem costly at times, but sacrifice is a gift with many rewards.  In relationships, mutual love grows as we serve and sacrifice for each other.  Still, sacrifices are hard to specify because they are unique to all person and their circumstances.  Christ says that what you do to the least my brothers, you also do to me, and giving the necessities and essentials of life to others requires sacrifice.  Are we aware of all the times and places where we need to do something for others?  That question has no easy answer, but it’s one we should ask ourselves.  In many ways we are called to be sacrificial people.

In conclusion, we should pray for awareness of the sacrifices asked of us, and be willing and have the courage to answer and respond.  We also can ask and encourage others to do the same when we see sacrifices required in their lives.  We may be the ones who trigger them to do it.  We can be thankful for the opportunity to do something for another person, even though it challenges us in a very special way.  We must open ourselves to the mystery of sacrifice.




May in Kentucky
Enjoying blooms of African Violets grown indoors.
(*photo credit

January 15, 2024                                Reaching Deeper Harmony

Let the heavens be glad, let earth rejoice, let the sea thunder and all that it holds, let the fields
exult and all that is in them, let all the woodland trees cry out for joy.               (Psalm 96:11-12)

            Those of us committed to a spirituality based on The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola often visualize particular scenes in the life of Jesus as part of our meditation. Ignatius encourages us to allow our imagination to relive the reality of the sacred Mystery, which is the subject of the meditation.  God's unfolding creation challenges us as a subject of our prayerful attention.  Jesus' life is a part of the believer's unfolding journey of faith and this invites us to deeper companionship.  We make use of the windows to our soul -- sight, sound, taste, aroma, and feeling.  We discover the harmony of our head, heart, and hands: interior harmony in tune with nature's deep Mystery.

          Earth's creatures join in the harmonic rhythms of nature and show their awareness and respect in the way they live.  Only those creatures of free will are capable of disharmonies within that fine-tuned world of sound.  Primitive peoples are often keen observers of seasonal changes, exact astronomical calculations, movement of heavenly bodies and native plant growth patterns; they celebrate solstices; they place stones precisely to allow sunlight to penetrate holes and gaps in rock at Stonehenge in England or in the American Southwest.  They toil on this Earth and experience sacrifice and suffering, and a natural sense of compassion. 

            Some modern people are equally blessed; we can respect harmony through housing that does not harm the landscape, cultivation that does not erode, and balanced nutrition in our food intake.  But excessive lawns, pesticide-covered fields and obese junk food eaters show we can say "no" to harmony.  Many like forest managers and wildcrafters, participate in harmonious actions when respecting their surroundings and seeking in their own ways to counteract the disharmonies by those who exploit the natural resources present.

            We can distinguish harmony and disharmony.  In music we appreciate and celebrate harmony in a heightened degree.  Those talented create harmony as a simultaneous sounding of two or more tones, a simultaneity of diverse elements coming together to form agreeable sounds.  Harmony involves a balancing of unity and diversity, a giving and receiving, an ultimate interplay between performers and audience. All of us are created to the image and likeness of God; we all inherit a godly impulse to harmonize.  When we turn from godly ways through misdeeds.  When we allow noises to go uncontrolled, we are captive to disharmonies: snowblowers, jackhammers, revved motorcycles, undampened hospital corridors, and first class airplane cabins with higher decibel levels than allowed in workplaces.  Move quickly to harmony. 









Red fox family (Vulpes vulpes), Montana
The sound of wind over grasslands for family of red fox, Vulpes vulpes, Montana.
(*photo credit)

January 16, 2024                      Sounds and Silence: Needing Pauses

          Then came a mighty wind, so strong that it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before YHWH.  But YHWH was not in the wind.  After the wind came an earthquake.  But YHWH was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire.  But YHWH was not in the fire.  And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze.                                                                       (I Kings 19:11b-12)

          Harmony is more than pleasant sounds; it is the actual interplay of pleasing sound and silent pauses -- distant church bells with intervals, playing children at recess, and cow bells tinkling in the meadow.  Harmony is the contrasts of light and darkness with accompanying hues and colors.  We flee congestion and noise pollution for silent space; we seek to escape air pollution's odors and littered and overdeveloped landscapes.  Ultimately, we flee to the silent recesses of the heart where God prepares harmonious space for us.  We crave harmony like a hunger for food.   

          The divine harmony is eternal, but is revealed to us in space and time.  A return to original harmony captivates us and beckons us forward.  We hear the distant resonances of the Big Bang.  Auditory and other sensations are received through our functioning receptors via surrounding air.  Sounds travel at one thousand feet per second and so we approximate distances by how long it takes thunder to reach us after the lightning flash.  

            We listen to (or perform) music and forget the passage of time.  A sound catches our fancy, causes us to pause, to concentrate.  We slip from physical time to a psychic suspension of time, a moment of eternity.  We awake to "reality," but isn't this moment of timelessness reality also?  Good music is in time and yet beyond, ignoring clocks and schedules.  Symphonies, no matter how elevating in grandeur, have breaks and pauses for refreshment but, when occurring, make us forget time.  In music we glimpse mystery both in time and timelessness; we perceive harmony coursing through our body, a gateway to Divine Mystery revealed in passing time, a moment of grace, a promise of future glory.  We seize the moment and experience other-worldliness.  The three (past memory, future promise and present moment) are distinct but become one in music.

          God's grace floods the universe with a sound hardly perceived except by compassionate listeners.  We suffer with others and thus create a balance needed to heal our wounded Earth.  We see and yet fail to see; we hear and yet must listen harder.  We strive to harmonize our hands, head and heart so as to sharpen our balance, our eco-balance that is interiorly acquired and retained -- a reflection of divine harmony.  We partake of the exuberance of creative activity as interested onlookers.  January sharpens our senses and raises our hopes to improve our relationship with all creatures so we can rediscover nature's initial harmony. 









Pebbles and life along a weathered shore.
(*photo credit)

January 17, 2024                      Harmonizing within Artistic Activities         

          Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these
parts, though many, make up one body, so it is with Christ.                    (I Corinthians 12: 12)

          St. Paul speaks of the gathering of the faithful people as a body, and proceeds to call it the "body of Christ."  Believers are members of that body and work together for the health and welfare of all.  So it is with the creative act of an individual crafter/ artist or a team working together; head and heart and hands contribute to the totality of the artist's creative activity.  The head contrives, plans, designs, directs and guides the making of the artifact; the heart gives inspiration and the impulse to demonstrate the artifact to others.  A work of art is made public through exposure, a communication for others to admire and benefit.  The hands help in the practical creation of the art work, whether an individual's masterpiece or an ecological restoration through cooperative endeavors.  While head plans and heart has healing compassion, hands bring the work to completion.  All contribute in a cooperative fashion.

          Our entire body enters into the creative act, though some parts contribute more than others.  Artists speak about how their work totally involves them, and it certainly must.  But even though other body parts contribute to artistic creativity, lowly human hands liberate us and allow us to rise above other primates in dexterity.  Human beings develop tools and can make good use of them.  Although other animals may excel us in strength in pulling, speed in climbing, and agility in swinging, human beings are the master tool makers, users, and developers.  Hands are important, and yet dexterity requires more than hands, because a brainless or demented human being with good hands will do little.  Also consider that a heartless person can turn tools into weapons. 

            Good handwork implies a total human integrity.  If we use hands in conjunction with our head and heart for the good of others, we become more like the Trinity working in our world and, our bodily harmony shares in the divine harmony of the universe.  Such cooperation becomes for us a prayer, a meeting with God.  Note that sacred icons are the works of art which are created in an atmosphere of prayer, and the art work itself becomes a form of meditation.  The handcraft is a window to Mystery and has been elevated to a high art form, especially by Orthodox Christians. 

             The creation of an artifact includes a succession of operations -- planning, model-building, theme, experiments, and making it public.  The receiving of the art completes the sharing by the community.  Art involves body coordination and the product judged satisfactory by the creator -- or discarded.  Artists participate in the creative process with the totality of their beings, but the work must be received by us for maximum benefit.









Scenes from the farm
A cord of wood to soften winter's chill.
(*photo credit)

January 18, 2024                                Listening to Sacred Sounds

The footsteps of those who bring good news is a welcome sound.    (Rom. 10:15)

            In the beginning was the Word -- heard only by God.  Yes, God speaks and God hears what is spoken, and that is an eternal communicated Word.  God speaks further with the sound of the "Big Bang," which still resonates throughout the universe and can still be detected now by certain sophisticated instrumentation.  Is it not the ringing in our ears when we are in tune?  Winter's stillness invites us to enter a listening mood and attune our auditory senses.  We break our sacred silence through testimony in a world overwhelmed by discordant noises. 

            In my novitiate days we experienced a set time from evening to early morning prayer; even in that rather artificial atmosphere we could still set times of sacred silence in our noisy lives.  These are periods when we recall, plan, reflect, and talk with God.  Ours is not a total silence of course, since we must go out and perform our business, but January has its moments for listening for unrecognized sounds. 

Then I heard all the living things in creation --
everything that lives in the air, and on the ground,
and under the ground, and in the sea, crying,
"To the One who is sitting on the throne
and to the lamb, be all praise, honor, glory and power,
forever and ever."            (Revelations 5:13)

          Squeals of delight are part of the chorus of living beings.  The bird’s song, the insect’s chorus, the frog’s call, the owl’s hoot; all blend with the excitement of youth at winter play.  Creatures praise the Creator through winter sounds unmuffled by summer foliage.  The joy expressed in riding a sled is part of the chorus of creation: birds and animals awaken plants and trees and call the sap to rise; even in winter our celebrations are part of nature's performance.  These new-found winter sounds manifest immense contrast.  In winter they are unhindered and carry for miles.  Then it starts to snow again; winter suddenly returns to a pause of sacred silence, for falling fluffy stuff creates a very quiet period.  Thus, when snow falls and before outdoor winter sports begin, we pause and listen, and listen, and listen.  God speaks in gentle breezes and even in falling snow.  Spiritually-tuned ears can distinguish pauses in nature's winter symphony.

          Establishing harmony is a delicate matter, one easily overlooked by the insensitive or distracted.  Nature has its own harmonies: biodiversity of flora and fauna, carbon and nitrogen cycles, wildlife migratory routes, ingenious construction of a den or nest, repertoire of mockingbirds, budding trees, adaptive ways of flourishing forest understory, and on and on.  Nature speaks.










Scenes from the farm
Red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, at birdfeeder.
(*photo credit)

January 19, 2024                                Tasting the Goodness of the Lord

            God's favor is a flavor, and we are the taster.  God enjoys flavorful things, because God is the origin of all good.  We remember that human cooking arts are what add to the creativity of these flavors, and that we are moved to pass through spoken word and written recipe in our search for what will please our taste buds and also the palates of others.  In a season before the vegetable growing begins, we often seek to prepare tasty soups and dishes of a variety of flavors.  We are at all times encouraged to taste and see the goodness of the Lord embodied in good foods.

          To enter into God's goodness involves a choice of good tastes -- and there are a multitude to choose from.  Each of us has our favorites; mine include the exquisite taste of a ripe wild plum in summer, poke shoots in spring, persimmons ripened by the deep freeze of late autumn, and a hickory nut cake in winter.  These recall happy times and events; they are like a precious moment of heaven on Earth. Let me fetch a little bread and you shall refresh yourself before going further.  (Genesis 17:5a)

            An Appalachian home is a place where a visitor can feel and taste the refreshment of our region.  Just as wanderers in the hot Middle Eastern desert are always in need of refreshment so, from the earliest days of our region's settlement, travelers are invited to share the simple fare of most mountain households.  Even to this day, our folks are concerned about those lost or unsure of their way, about those who cannot find lodging or a place to eat.  We are willing to give something of our limited substance to others in need, and never ask payment for it.  If a person's car breaks down, in most cases it will only be a short time before someone stops to help.  And hospitality is the sign of good taste -- the opposite of stereotypical notions about Appalachia's attitudes towards strangers and foreigners.

          When we visited my great aunt and uncle's place in Fleming County as youngsters, Aunt Mary's cookies tasted so good.  Perhaps much had to do with the special people, the kind hearts, the serving hands, and the sunshine smile that blessed these foods. They are all part of a hospitable environment, which permeates the food itself.  We pray that the willingness to share food with others will never be lost from our Appalachian or wider human tradition -- and that our food will always taste delightful to those who are hungry and come in for refreshment.

          We are what we eat, and so we strive to encourage people to eat local produce for this very reason -- to be part of their community.  We like to taste a little of where we are if possible. On my only trip to the Holy Land I was scolded by one by our guides in central Israel for tasting wild fennel and told never to taste anything green when we go to the Negeb, for if something is green in the desert it will most likely be highly poisonous.  Tastes are wonderful, but need responsible controls.   








Beauty for spring_Bounty for summer
Apple blossoms in Kentucky spring.
(*photo credit)
January 20, 2024                                Recounting Ways to Prepare Apples

          The best way to eat an apple is from a tree but, the question is whether we can find 365 ways to prepare good apple treats as....

Apple and Brown Rice Pilaf
Apple and Carrot Casserole
Apple and Wilted Lettuce Salad
Apple Barley Pilaf
Apple Beet Salad
Apple Bits
Apple Blue Cheese Slaw
Apple Brandy
Apple Bread
Apple Brown Betty
Apple Butter, Apple Butter Bread
Apple Buttermilk Bread
Apple Cabbage Salad
Apple Candy
Apple Cake, Appalachian Stack Cake
Easy Applesauce Cake, Fresh Apple Cake
Monticello Apple Cake
Apple Cheese and Walnut Salad
Apple Chicken Stir-Fry
Apple Cider, Apple Jack
Apple Cinnamon Yogurt Muffins
Apple Cobbler
Apple Curry Rice
Apple Dumplings
Apple Fennel Soup
Apple Fritters
Apple Grape Salad
Apple Halibut Kabob
Apple Honey Shake
Apple Jelly, Apple Mint Jelly
Apple Oat Bran Muffins
Apple Onion Soup Gratin
Apple Pasta Salad
Apple Pesto Potato Salad
Apple Pie, Apple Pecan Crumb Pie
Apple Raisin and Nut Sauce
Apple Raspberry Salad
Apple, Roast Beef and Watercress Salad
Apple Roll
Apple Salad
Apple Sauce
Apple Squares
Apple Syrup
Apple Tarts
Apple Turkey Sauté
Apple Turnovers
Apple Yogurt Trifle, and on and on.









Intricate patterns within burning fireplace logs.
(*photo credit)

January 21, 2024                                Recalling Jonah to Restoration
          The Middle East is always within our economic and social concerns.  Jonah stands as a true but very human reformer who indicates the need to listen to God in order to come to resolution of our problems.  Remembering Jonah in association with a whale is like remembering a speaker by his cab ride to the talk. Jonah is a prophet, one of a great variety, and he suffers from being disobedient in his coming to his mission.  He is called to go to the vast city of Nineveh, and yet he goes off to Tarshish -- the other end of the Earth.  There is a lot of non-history here, but the Good Book still tells a parable or amusing story that in some way resembles our own lives.  Jonah finally listens to the call to convert Nineveh after being in a storm at sea.  Reluctantly he is thrown into the sea by those who still show respect for him and his God.  He is rescued by a whale, comes to land, goes about his designated but delayed mission, and then complains because of the success of the mission.

          The theological story includes reforms needed by audience and by the prophet himself.  God is love and mercy, slow to anger and of great compassion at the slightest sign of repentance.  God accepts us where we are.  The last part of the story is the hardest to understand.  Jonah's work is completed and successful and yet he sits outside the city expecting to die.  There he sits and God has mercy on him and allows a castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) to grow and shade him -- a good choice since these beautiful but poisonous plants grow so rapidly.  It dies and Jonah faces the scorching sun again, wanting to die.  God tries to teach him that mercy is necessary, even for people (old and young) as well as for all the brute animals.  Even the prophet needs mercy.

The Jonah story has application for us:

*  There is humor with God, and we are able to laugh at ourselves along with the Lord, if we strive to reform our ways;

*  God is merciful to all and so should we be to those who fault another -- to protagonists and antagonists in Russia and Ukraine;

*  God's love and mercy extends to the brute animals as well; these are included in calculating the extent of repentance by the Nineveh community -- a remarkable assessment;

*  The human prophet fails to see the urgency to bring about reform and to appreciate the mission that is being undertaken;

*  Repentance is paramount to the current world, for the harm done is very deep and our need to hear the calling is very great; and
*  We are but servants in the service of our God, and that should be its own simple satisfaction, if we but listen and obey the calling we have been given.  Be true Jonahs and seek to bring about change to a troubled world.









Controversy: Right or Wrong

By Fr. Al Fritsch, SJ

Many people are involved in controversy today; our social media is filled with strongly polarized opinions and high emotions.  Several people have asked me why I’m not involved in some of the major controversies today, such as gender issues or same-sex marriage and others.  We focus mainly on ecology, but that doesn’t mean we are uninvolved as far as controversy goes.  In fact, there are several controversies I’m deeply involved in and that includes fossil fuels and moving as fast as we can to a renewable energy economy.  And this is, of course, controversial.  It’s just that we don’t get involved in every issue that comes along.

Some people will say “I’d like to know what your opinion is on this issue.”  I respond, “Well, it’s nice to think about, but I don’t have a deep opinion on some of those things and it simply takes a lot to get involved.”  We accept the fact that in this world some controversies will involve us, and we put as much into them as we are able.  This takes our talent, our energy, and our personal dedication to get involved, but sometimes we have to do it.  This is a part of Earthhealing, and we try to increase awareness of important issues - to criticize ideas, not individuals.  But even controversies change, over time.

An example I often use is that of smoking.  In the 1980s it was considered that individuals had the right to smoke or not, and only in the 1990s did it become evident that a second party was involved, that is, the non-smoker in the vicinity of the smoke.  In this case personal rights became more nuanced and changed the very discussion.  The controversy was allowed to open up and develop over a period of time.  We learned from the conflict.

There are those who would differ with our approach to ecological issues.  One, whom I’ve talked to and argued with for over 25 years, is very authoritarian in his approach.  It’s of interest that even though we’ve differed on many issues, we never once got mad at each other.  We attacked the ideas and not each other, and we can laugh about things now.  This means that the attitude we take in relation to controversy is very important.  We have to be fair with others and non-threatening in our approach.  We must proceed deliberately and be clear, and we must listen respectfully, without interrupting the other party.

We must commit to learning, not debating, and avoid blame, speculation, and inflammatory language.  We shouldn’t dwell on controversy or take opposing views personally, but steer conversation to higher ground.  And pray for the ability to say the right thing and say it in such a way that helps others to understand.  We can encourage others to do the same thing and approach controversy within a framework of common good for everyone.  There’s so much controversy out there, too much really, and seeking common ground with those who have opposing views can lift us all up eventually.  We have to know where we stand.  We have to know the issue.  We must present ourselves in some fashion that others can profit from, and do so in such a way that the issue itself becomes more clarified over time.  Controversy never stands alone.




Historic Kentucky rock fence. Woodford Co., KY. Read more here.
(*photo credit)

January 22, 2024                                Dignifying Manual Labor

So if all that we have in common means anything to you,
welcome him as you would me ...              (Philemon 17a)

          Workers -- We all worked together at threshing time, whites and blacks in the hot Kentucky sun.  No one complained that we sweated in the same field.  But when it came time for dinner, and a big one at that for everyone, we were segregated, and whites ate in the kitchen and blacks on the porch.  It was the same menu of chicken and twelve other dishes, but customs did not allow us to share a meal together.  It really pained us as a family and we had a heart-to-heart dialog and decided to confront southern custom; at our home we would eat together just as we worked together.

            Paul urged Philemon to receive back his slave Onesimus (The Letter from Paul to Philemon).  So often the ones who toil to make this nation and world are segregated from and overlooked by the ones who enjoy the benefits.  That segregation is a denial of the nobility of the work of migrants, servants, child laborers, and the nameless millions or billions who work from the sweat of their brows.  They have built levees on the rivers, railroads and highways across the land, irrigation ditches, warehouses, humble cob houses, and small gardens for their families.  They have herded goats and cattle and cooked countless meals for hungry mouths. 

            Work as revelation.  Common workers are godly people steeped in glory.  A merciful and humorous God reveals part of the divine nature to godly people who sweat and change the world.  Shepherds and fishermen are the first to proclaim the Good News of the messianic age -- humble laborers.  We plumb the depths of human labor, its artifacts, its character, and its contribution to world history to find something about the Almighty.  We acquire a product that is the labor of hands, head and heart cooperating.  Pain, sweat, and backache are ingredients in many foods and articles of clothes -- and yet we hardly notice.  Compassion makes us sensitive and so does manual labor.  We need to look all about the ordinary tasks of life and reaffirm the nobility of work.

            Laborers and the Messianic Age -- Laborers throughout the ages contribute to building pyramids, irrigation canals and roads.  Is the one who hoisted the cathedral stone to the next higher platform an artisan or a simple noble co-worker of the stone carver?  We see the reflection of God more easily in individual products (crafts, art, gardens, buildings), but this reflection is present also in cooperative works of a multitude.  The person who cleans the house does not get recognition, but is important in the divine scheme of things.  No one's efforts are lost; all is gain. Through their efforts these nameless ones bring on the Messianic Age; they are the faithful chorus, the collective bearers of Good News.  Our memories may be short and fade; God remembers our good and forgets our wrongdoing in an atmosphere of Divine Mercy.  










Racoon tracks through newly-fallen Kentucky snow.
(*photo credit)

January 23, 2024                                Rendering Footprints as Sacred Touch 

How beautiful on the mountains,
are the feet of one who brings good news,
who heralds peace, brings happiness,
proclaims salvation, and tells Zion,  
"Your God is King!         (Isaiah 52:7)

          Our footprints are part of our bonding with the mountains. But footprints need to be gingerly made, not leaving a lasting imprint, but rather faint and fading with time.  We seem to know that our bare feet are more sensitive to the soil than shod feet; bare-footed we experience the land's roughness or softness, its warmth or coldness.  I remember well the sun-warmed cow paths in the 1940s, weaving through the ragweed patches in the sunlit meadow in late summer; I remember sharp cold November grass when I stretched barefoot season to an extreme, for I disliked shoes.  Footprints create an unforgettable sensation, a closeness to Earth.

            Footprints add beauty to the mountains, for they show the love of the one who brings Good News.  Their imprint is worth celebrating.  It is better that the mountains feel the footprints of people present than that they be depopulated and barren.  Nature is at its best when glorified, touched by human presence and bearing the mark of our feet for, without our gentle footprints, nature is not yet fulfilled.  In turn, our passage should involve faint and gentle footprints, not the heavy-footed tracks of bulldozers and massive earth‑moving equipment.  May we respect the ground on which we tread and always do so ever so lightly! 

            The places we touch reverently are made holy through raising our minds, hearts, and all senses in a prayer way.  We are touched particularly by special places, this little bit of heaven.  Sacred space is our declared sanctuary, whether a reserved space or an area of our own heart, where others are not to enter.  It is our rest stop for refreshment and clearer focus.  Although all land is Holy Land, we designate special places because these manifest a sacredness we need in order to discover God's presence. 

            Sacred spaces may be unexploited pristine areas ‑‑ though these are rarer; they may be grandiose scenic views or quiet nooks, places that touch our souls and where we find a private moment with God.  Some places seem completely inappropriate due to human noise or congestion or environmental pollution.  The rest stops of life, far from negating our journey of faith, actually punctuate it and show how soon we get out of breath, and how much we need divine assistance.  The sacred space may be revisited on a regular basis or only occasionally and yet remain sacred in our memory.  We retouch with reverence the sacred space around us.









Kentucky Ice Storm, 2009
Delicate jewels made of ice. Kentucky ice storm, 2009.
 (*photo credit)

January 24, 2024                    Touching the Earth (A Potter Molding Clay)

Take a potter, now, laboriously working the soft earth,
shaping all sorts of things for us to use.
Out of the same clay, even so one models
vessels intended for clean purposes
and the contrary sort, all alike;             
but which of these two uses each will have
is for the selfsame potter to decide.  (Wisdom 15:7)

       I came upon a potter at the festival;
she was so diligent and wanted others to observe
the talented works of her hand.
I asked her whether her fingerprints would stay
on the piece that she was fashioning.
She assured me they would not, and
smiled at my ignorance.
She ran the wire under the moist clay
and set the pot free and on its own.  A birth!
Is it really so bad if the fingerprint remains,
I said to myself?
For the genius was in the creation,
and this would be her own signature.
We are fashioned from wet clay,
here awhile with smudging fingerprints,
All characteristic of each individual
and no other has the same.
We are clay creations from a mighty potter's hand;
and then we fade in death's own kiln,
Glazed into a reflection of eternal light.
Will not all fingerprints remain?

            Although not a potter, I marvel at the work such as I saw Mt. Mitchell State Park in North Carolina.  My dad spent his retirement years in Kentucky creating a series of wooden craft and art works, some of which are now housed in local museums.  It is the work of our hands, which we offer with bread and wine (grown, milled, baked, picked, fermented, bottled) solemnly at each Liturgy.  We offer gifts made by many hands, and we thank God for hands to use the computer -- otherwise no work here.  However, handless artists can produce masterpieces.  Still, hands participate in creativity and are vital to human progress.  Our distant human relative, homo habilis, was aided by hands when he/she no longer needed them to double as feet (standing erect), and thus began to exploit stone for tools, which became a powerful step in human progress.

          Our Earth is hardened by January freeze and yet we feel the vibrations of roots starting to grow beneath our feet, for feet feel as much as hands.  We feel an edginess to get moving and prepare for the upcoming growing season.  It is hard to act alone and enter collaborative endeavors.   









Tufts of frost and snow on winter teasel.
(*photo credit)

January 25, 2024                                Establishing a Sacred Aroma

The sons of Aaron must burn this part on the altar,
in addition to the holocaust
on the wood of the fire.
It will be a burnt offering
and its fragrance will appease Yahweh.      (Leviticus 3:5)

          The cabin smoke of January indicates occupancy, wellbeing, good will, and a sense of domestic tranquility.  The interior of the place is cozy and inviting while the outdoors is harsh.  However, smoke elicits an ambivalence, a host of human reactions, some good and some not so.  Our ancestors could think of the sacrifice on the altar with its wood‑fueled oblation as an appeasement or as a thanksgiving offering -- even though some describe the actual Temple site where smelly organs are burned.  Most certainly, if certain aromas such as the smell of roasting meat are widely liked by hungry people, the Almighty must have first liked them -- since we are made in God's image.  The scent of wood smoke triggers either serious or festive mods, depending on the circumstances of the offering.  We react with likes and dislikes.

          Our basic attraction to fire stretches back into our prehistory; we are drawn to fire's sight, sound, odor, and feel as warmth in an instinctive way.  A whiff of smoke recalls the creature comforts of a heated place and ample food, or it may set off fire alarms in the brain.  In the not too distant past a smoking factory chimney was a good sign of employment; only in more recent periods of environmental consciousness has the same scene become a sign of a polluted neighborhood.

             Early believers considered the Almighty appeased by rich aromas.  We detect disturbing odors arising from fouled air and water where resources are misused and wasted.  We yearn for the comforting aroma of sweetness that means a return of eco-balance to a distressed world.  A healing Earth begins to emit a freshness that must be expanded rapidly to curb threatening climate change. Eco-spirituality is home-oriented and that means we look to homemakers to make Earth once again a truly harmonious place.

          Harmony goes beyond sound and is found in cooking and enjoying meals, especially in festival time.  Aromas entice us to enjoy more of life that extends in various arenas through the olfactory sense: a faint perfume is enticing, whereas a heavy concentration is repulsive; composting leaves add freshness to the late autumn and early winter air, while we seek to avoid decaying animal matter. Aroma harmonies indicate an accomplished cook, an inviting environment, attractive table setting, and perhaps even soothing music.  The home can exude an ambiance of harmony and that extends to our Earthly home environment where natural harmony is craved.  It is our job to create a refreshing cosmic aroma.








British Columbia / Canada
The vast, wild wilderness of British Columbia.
(*photo credit)

January 26, 2024                                Purging Useless Stuff in Order to Focus

            Materials get in the way and are intended to by status quo materialists bent on their own privilege and profits.  A primary resolution to advance in spiritual fortitude is to refrain from buying and retaining unneeded material things.  When is enough, enough?  When is too much harmful?  Even if we put goods in a yard sale, it only enhances another's cluttered place with the same requirements of maintenance and storage.  If we donate them to form another's clutter are we not offending the Golden Rule, "Would I honestly want someone to push this stuff off on me?"  I recall going into a home of a person in northern California and seeing a familiar object from my youthful farm in a decorative front room location.  I exclaimed "a corn sheller!"  The hostess said I was the first ever to identify it.  Unused farm discards are either decorative items or in museums. Time flies!

            Some categorize "prepared foods" as a primary form of useless stuff.  They are attractively wrapped and filled with chemical preservatives along with excessive salt or sugar.  Other non-edible items are convenient but barely more than useless, such as electric pencil sharpeners, can openers, and leaf blowers -- though they could be useful for handicapped persons.  Certain forms of exercising devices come high on the list when mere outdoor walking or running could prove much more beneficial.  A host of gadgets and wall ornaments, of knickknacks and souvenirs, of games and articles of clothing could be added. 

          My idol -- When I owned that first car it was like a dream.  I had wheels, freedom, power, and independence.  What a feeling!  I cherished that green 1950 Oldsmobile and of all the things I had to give up, nothing ever hurt me more than parting with the shiny chrome-laden gas hog of the mid-twentieth century.   Looking back I'm convinced I idolized that car like a good materialist.  

            Others have their unacknowledged idols as well.  People collect stamps, coins, auto licenses, electioneering signs and buttons and on and on.  The worst aspect of retaining useless articles is that it reinforces a miserly mentality that makes people feel more secure because they are surrounded by items they find hard to discard or recycle -- and thus they become junk squirrels (forgive demeaning those varmints who store essential edibles for winter).  Retention of useless things is a message from a budding materialist confused about values.  Believe me, they are distractions that allow us to lose focus on important issues.  Make the 2024 resolution be to stop their proliferation, to realize that they take up space needing heating, cooling and maintenance, and to persuade others to do the same.  But let's keep an open mind.  Some may find decorative items that beautify their place as ways to uplift their spirits, and treasured enough to give to another in the next holiday season.   So be it!











Honeybees, efficient users and producers of food.
(*photo credit)      

January 27, 2024                     Knowing and Applying a Conservation Ethic

Make use of created things in as far as they help in the attainment of our end, and rid ourselves in as
far as they prove a hindrance.   (St. Ignatius, The Spiritual Exercises "First Principle and Foundation.")

            During January we strive to conserve energy -- for space heating, in our physical exercise, and to fueling our vehicles.  While conservation is a good year-round environmental practice, it appeals to us in dead of winter.  Fuel bills mount, exercising outdoors is problematic, and energy laden foods are fattening.  A good conservation ethic is an elementary part of needed environmental action, and that means doing things that are countercultural to our super-charged consumer culture.  Yes, the media and Big Energy call us unpatriotic -- but we act.   

          A conservation ethic is our calling.  Waste is out; lower resource (whole grain and fruit and vegetables) nutritious foods are in; personal wants are questioned; essential needs of others are answered.  Climate change deniers ignore the concept of commons; they also deny that waste is a blasphemy against an all- good God who creates enough for all.  However, we cannot tolerate wastes that erode the spirit of communal life and manifest a basic insensitivity: "Why did you not feed me when I was hungry?" 

            Once during a January environmental resource assessment in South Carolina, I challenged a church maintenance director about a window that would not close properly.  His reply was, "Don't worry; we have the resources to take care of extra heating bills."  I gave a talk six years later in the same building and was amazed to find the very window still not fixed.  Did the message get across? 
          Wasteful people squander time, talent, and opportunities; their wastes distract us and ultimately drag us down.  Creation is no longer a wonder to behold; it becomes a commodity to be seized, hoarded, and dumped in favor of something new.  We answer wasteful practice by conservation that saves resources, initiates self-control, and allows us to use the resources entrusted to us.  Once at a conference someone asked whether free solar energy does not permit us to disregard conservation.  However, solar installment and maintenance comes at a cost demanding conservation.

          Numerous applications of a conservation ethic are found under various topics in the Table of Contents of these Daily Reflections. These include: recycling, composting organic wastes, refraining from purchases, water conservation, cooking hints, energy conservation, especially lighting and space heating regulation, and choosing, operating, and maintaining energy efficient autos.  Citizen conservation actions include: support recycling centers, champion environmental education, form garden and herbal clubs; preserve local natural resources, feed birds, patronize farmer's markets and garden clubs, and invest locally.









Energy Lake Sunset
Sunset near Cadiz, KY.
(*photo credit)

January 28, 2024                                Defending a Fragile Earth
          I should like you to be free of anxieties.       (I Cor. 7:32)

          Speaking up in defense of our wounded and troubled Earth takes courage, integrity and an emotional balance that is convincing in itself.  We find these characteristics in the deeds of Jesus, as in today’s Mark Gospel passage.  His audience recognized his authority and responded in his favor. Followers of Christ are expected to imitate him with courage, integrity and emotional balance – and thus attract those seeking improvement of life.  Such is the challenge in the world of climate change and a closing window of time to do something about it.

          Confront opposition.  With courage Jesus directly addresses the unclean spirits.  We too must recognize that some who defy climate change have materialistic motives of continuing the profitability of fossil fuels at the expense of our planet’s health.  This is similar to the motivation of tobacco companies for expanding tobacco use.  Fossil fuels must fill the gap before renewable energy sources are fully operative, but not beyond that time.  Part of confrontation is to reduce and eliminate subsidies now being made to fossil fuel companies and transfer funds to renewables.

          Know the situation.  Jesus focused on the person in need and stayed until the good deed is completed.  We need to focus on climate change as a threat to our planet and not move about to other semi-popular issues.  To realize the seriousness of what could happen if left unattended, we move forward seeking global participation in efforts to bring about change. 

          Act with determination.  The sick can be healed; the planet can be brought to a new level of quality without the pollution of fossil fuel emissions.  Renewables are present, working and able to be employed to a higher degree, if the nations take it on themselves to act effectively.  We can succeed and we must fulfil these hopes now within the next two decades.

          Other areas of defense such as energy conservation add to the total picture of a stable planet.  These areas contribute efficiency as does renewable energy, and each is championed to the degree possible.  The picture of 2050 should stand out as a possibility and a necessity for the good of future generations who are threatened by an overly heated planet.  Now is the time for responsible environmental action.






Vibrations – Helpful or Harmful

By Fr. Al Fritsch, SJ

Earthquakes occur at all times; in fact, most are small ones.  Almost every day we have some examples of these and in rare cases, very large ones such as the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit Morocco earlier this year, killing thousands of people.  An understanding of vibrations and waves is essential to understanding our physical world, and much of what we see and hear is only possible because of them.  A vibration is a periodic wiggle in time, and a periodic wiggle in both space and time is a wave, extending from one place to another.  There’s actually a wave from the Big Bang, nearly 14 billion years ago that continues on through time.

And so vibrations are natural and present in our world.  People also create vibrations and in this congested world we are able, because of the mechanisms that we have made, to amplify these very vibrations.  We spoke about rest, silence and noise in a previous essay, but this goes way beyond that to the extreme that there really is no complete rest or cessation of vibration.  We have to live with what is present in a congested world, including traffic and jackhammers and other unpleasant sounds around us.  All creation vibrates.

In my early life I was baptized in St. Patrick’s Church in Maysville, which had the largest bell in Kentucky.  They tried to ring it a few times and decided it would ruin the limestone foundation of the church itself, and so they had to tone it down.  Later, I visited a monastery in Crestone Colorado with a bell constantly ringing to announce their services.  I noticed that the walls and beams had cracks in them, and therefore told them that this bell you’re ringing is too loud and the vibration is actually damaging the structure itself.  We need to realize that vibrations are both natural and also human made, and human made ones need moderation and sensitivity to the time, place and resources.

We don’t scream and yell in a closed room and therefore ruin our ears, but try to make a song that people will like and still be moderate in its approach.  Recently, after two nights of earth-shaking dancing at Taylor Swift's “Eras” tour concert in Seattle, enthusiastic fans caused seismic activity equivalent of a 2.3 magnitude earthquake, according to seismologist Jackie Caplan-Auerbach.  So earthquakes can be made by human beings, beyond even bells or rowdy fans to such activities as fracking in sensitive soils.  We must be careful and realize that the world is delicate and that we can create our own vibrations.

We also create minor vibrations that we don’t think about too often, and that is when we talk to God.  This time the talk is not loud, it’s not a thunder clap or a huge sea roaring around us, but as it was said to Ezekiel after a wind, an earthquake and a fire, it came in a whisper requiring us to listen closely.  For God to talk to each of us we have to listen to all of nature and its vibrations.  In Isaiah it’s said that the mountains will burst into song and the trees clap their hands.  There is a special truth to this - they have a vibrational celebration of their own, which as human beings tuned in to the creation we can celebrate. In conclusion, we have to face the fact that we will continue to have earthquakes and tornadoes and sounds that come roaring in from the ocean.  These are to be expected and we should be positive and listen and hear, and concentrate and feel, realizing that in a world with magnificent ups, we must also learn to cope with its downs.  In our vibrational world we can add to and create the positive, and accept that this makes us who we are; and so we live. 





Alpine view, Medicine Bow National Forest
Scenic valley view, Medicine Bow National Forest, WY.
(*photo credit)

January 29, 2024                                Creating Sacred Time and Space

            We are to pray always, but especially in troubled times like these. Our spiritual life depends on responding to the urge to pray. Some insist they do not need to pray: they talk to pets and plants and God in a single conversation.  Saints, like hermits Jerome or Fiacre or Blaise, connected with wildlife.  Certainly, God is near at all times.  This is true, but retaining our sense of nearness to God includes a desire for more intense conversation at certain choice times and places -- and this means removal of normal distractions.  Reserved time is good for us not because God needs it, but because we do; it is a symbolic expression of not being the owner of time, but only its steward.  Reservation of prayer time adds to quality of our prayer and our habit of frequency.  Busyness is not an excuse to omit a special time and place to pray.

              Upon seeing God's creation in its beauty and wonder, we are called to give praise and thanksgiving with attention and sincerity.  We know that contemplatives spend much time in formal prayer and most of us do not have that luxury, unless we become shut-ins or chronically sick.  From the early Church the practice of formal prayer took precedence.  The ministry of prayer mentioned as the delegated works of the first Apostles (Acts 6) to leading the community in formal prayer.  Believers were expected to give formal prayers at designated times and places.  In creative ways throughout history believers had the task of making room for prayer time.  Amounts and places vary among individual lay folk who are freer to choose times and places, though Christian and Buddhist monks and many Moslems have prescribed times and s.

            As Herman Melville says in Moby Dick, "I am a man running out of time."  Setting aside time to pray make this ever-reducing span for each of us as we age all the more important.  Really, many will describe their lives as busy though they admit that spare time can be found.  Some may say they have no need for periods set aside for personal prayer, saying "In whatever I do and say I pray -- and God hears me."  Truly, we believers are convinced God has good hearing and is always attentive, but special time is good for us who lack constant practices.  Yes, we rest on the Lord's Day; we reserve time for God as a form of personal sacrifice and center our lives with greater intensity.

          The period of more intense conversation with the one we love is important for building our relationships.  So we desire to see Divine Love grow within us.  To say with emphasis that all that God creates is wonderful to behold takes some words on occasion on our own part.  For ever-growing reverence, we create the spiritual openness of designated sacred time and space.  From a practical standpoint we need to organize our day both physically and spiritually.  Some of us place our formal prayer or meditation period at the start of the day; others prefer the end of day to review and give thanks for good things that have happened. Choose!










Shakertown Bessie
Friendly sheep at Shakertown, Mercer Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

January 30, 2024                          Refraining from Food Wastes

             Nothing is more disturbing when at an "all you can eat" restaurant as seeing perhaps hungry folks come, stoke up the plates, and then depart leaving half or more of what they had picked up.  Americans waste food, and one estimate is nearly half of all food that enters the kitchen leaves in waste receptacles or the garbage disposal.  That is particularly true when people are well fed or overfed, and when the food itself costs relatively little in comparison with other living expenses (perhaps as low as 7% of middle-income budgets though much higher among poorer folks).  

            But do we have a qualm about tossing high quality food or foods slightly beyond the sale date.  Such unnecessary tossing all too often never enters into our definition of “waste."  A friend said that when young he would tell his mom who told him not to waste food, that eating it when he was full was wasting it.  A good point, but not exactly a whole picture.  We can refrain from waste by preserving the food to be eaten later. I will never forget the horror of mountains of food left on students' plates at one university where I was performing an assessment.  How can people talk about resource conservation when they say, "I paid for the food so I will take it."  The practice is disconcerting to those of us who were taught to eat everything on our plates.

            A large area of food waste is fruits and vegetables that can spoil quickly or cease being fresh.  The advice never to buy more than is needed is often overlooked.  A good dictum is always buy food after a meal, not before one.  We tend to buy too much fresh or prepared foods and forget that the unused veggies can become prime candidates for soup, thus preserving much of their nutritional value.  Fruits, minus the rotten areas, can be cut into fruit cocktails.  Leftovers can often be frozen for future use or shared with soup kitchens. 

            Some are more conscious in curtailing food wastes by cooking only what is needed for the meal.  However, this goes against the basic principle that we are to cook in batches to save energy; we refrigerate or store the remaining portions for future meals.  If one has a conservationist approach, much more will be saved.  A connection between energy and resource conservation can easily be made along with pure economics in avoiding food wastes.  Lessons apply to the whole family and most especially youngsters, who do not yet have adult appetites.  The habit of leaving a little on the plate is not so bad if the little is really little and not a massive amount -- while one makes room for dessert.  Really, the practice of consuming all on the plate before the more liked dessert is a good habit to instill -- and those denied desserts are often fast learners to be less wasteful.  Home is a good place to start healing our planet.











Scenes from a hike on brisk winter day in central Kentucky.
(*photo credit)

January 31, 2024                    Reciting and Celebrating Our Common Creed

I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and
earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.                       The Nicene Creed

          God's creation is a mystery and still it is fragile and subject to being marred by willful human actions.  We have much to do to champion the greatness of creation and still in a sense of praise to defend a threatened environment.  Throughout the struggles we need to come together and celebrate the work of the people (Liturgy).  During this assembly we review our joint commitments by voicing our common creed.  This becomes a focal point as we gather in public places, pray, sing, and discover we are social beings destined for togetherness.  Our environmental defense and healing is enhanced by these periodic gatherings. 

            My God is our God and individual private prayer moves from Jesus-and-me to a collective body, a Jesus-and-us.  God comes among us as one of us, and stays close to us as our community expands ever broader in space and numbers.  In community we come to know what constitutes a loving community, and we see the need for team work in healing our broken world.  Furthermore our "we" includes the plants and animals that make up the larger planetary community.  Communal bonding grows as does mutual respect for the welfare of all.  Joint environmental action at global levels is imperative; limited individual conservation and restoration measures are not sufficient.  The People of God are that broader world community that embraces all people of good will, all called as believers in healing our wounded Earth.  We need to expand to the "Creatures of God," and include a wider community on this Earth, a community of living beings who are threatened by the impending climate change.

          The present moment becomes the time for action, not postponing to a future time what must be done at this moment.  We can speak of this being the instant between past events and future happenings, but not let our philosophical reflections deflect from the urgency that we experience at this vanishing time span for meaningful change.  A rapid rise in global warming, projecting towards 2 degrees Celsius and beyond, causes us to become serious about what the world must do if our descendants are to live on a quality planet.  The future depends on present global decisions.  The Church as body of Christ must speak and help raise the consciousness for environmental action at a global level.  We cannot afford to procrastinate.  If we allow the economic consumer system to continue at unchecked rates, disaster will follow.                

            God promised the chosen people a special Holy Land for them and their descendants.  With Christ the promised Holy Land includes our entire planet, an insight worthy of celebration and serious concern leading to responsible action.  Just as all space is Holy Land, all time is the Divine NOW, and this is the moment to act. Yes, we are called to act here and now.