In March, life is returning to the landscape while we await through Lent the coming of spring and the Easter flowers of April. This is a season of patience as harsh winter winds change to brisk
Spring breezes. Our spirits rise and fall with the seasons. Healing is bringing back to life, and healing our Earth involves knowing what must be done, addressing the areas of improvements, and assisting in redistributing the resources needed to curb the excessive concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the privileged few.
Saddled with an odd name, gentle white spring herald trying all the harder to uplift the spirits of those who happen on your floral hollow spurs
as pantaloons, ankles up.
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March 1, 2017 Ash Wednesday's Message: Sacrifice and Love
Remember that you are dust and into dust you shall return.
Many of us are highly influenced by these somber words at the beginning of the Lenten season. However, the message of a relationship to dust is not the whole story, and that is why Lent has an ever deepening meaning. We spring from Earth and our skin and bones return to the same Earth, but in the meanwhile we show love through sacrifice -- and the immortal and eternal residue of love is what we cultivate and bear with us on our eternal journey.
This body begins from dust. When we think of the dust or humus from which we came, we are humbled and feel its totally leveling effect. We realize that life is a gift from God, something we certainly do not deserve in some manner of inheriting a right to exist. In God's plan, we were freely and lovingly created and we continue to exist in a sea of divine love. Our origins are not from some premortal necessity. In fact, all those who are connected with our lives -- parents, community, nation, church -- are within God's generosity as well. We look back at our earthly origin as part of the immensity of God's creative love shown in the breath of life.
This body will return to dust, and so today when ashes are placed on our heads we become all the more aware of the second aspect of stewardship along with the gifts given, namely, the short time we have to complete the use of these gifts during this mortal span. It's a fleeting period when we grow in love and prepare to take the only thing we can carry with us when life is ended and we find finality. We take eternal love, which surpasses faith and hope, both having limited duration. Our attention is to better self-control, which we consider again during Lent; we are encouraged to remember that life is so short and that we must act with dispatch and ever-increasing effectiveness.
Lent adds another element as the season culminates in the suffering and death of the Lord. Much of the sacrifice we will make in this life may be through the suffering on our journey of faith. We realize that we miss the mark in our spiritual life; we need to be willing to let go and to acquire the new -- our leaving home and parting from loved ones, the times of childbirth, ailments, wasting diseases, and loss of powers, and ultimately our mortal life. When the sacrifice is made in union with the suffering and death of Christ, we add meaning to our efforts, the combustion in the sacrificing fire of our respective lives. The remains are truly ashes, but spiritual ashes include the fertile ingredients of love of God, who is Love. God gives us life, and we return that love in one oblation within our journey of life.
Prayer: Lord you give us today sacramental symbols of past and future on our journey of faith. You are here with us, loving us and having mercy on us. As ashes fertilize new life, so let our deeds be filled with your love and manifest it to fellow travelers.
A food-conscious world consists of low-carbohydrate, low-salt, low-fat, low-cholesterol food, no mercury-contaminated fish, no artificial coloring or preservatives, and no pesticide-contaminated produce. Did I leave anything out? And what is left over generally costs dearly, or the items are not readily available in our local supermarkets in winter. Lent occurs when fresh local produce is in very limited amounts even when our protected garden and greenhouses yield some late winter produce. Yes, Lent becomes a challenge worth meeting with creative culinary ideas.
Introduce lentils in a soup, for these are a nutritious supplement that can help create a main dish. Add garlic and onions and perhaps some whole tomatoes with some carrots for flavor and color. Put in your own spice or herb to make this memorable.
Add a touch of sweetness in times of fasting and receive the added energy needed. You can use natural sweetening agents even if in small amounts: honey, maple syrup, apple syrup, sorghum or commercial molasses if the others are not available.
Consider oatmeal mixed with flax seed (for omega-three); this cereal is both good as a cholesterol-reducing fibrous morning meal or can be mixed with eggs to form a scrambled-egg dish that can be garnished with green wild garlic sprouts or early dandelions from the garden and yard.
Try a crock pot delight with a base of mixed beans and chickpeas with an additional variety of vegetables such as a brassica from the greenhouse or protected garden along with cabbage, green peppers, and Jerusalem artichokes or salsify.
The variety depends on your own taste and the added flavors can depend on herbs you care to add. Note what is added for you may want to repeat at a later date -- or do you cultivate the flare of spontaneity?
Make cornbread an occasional option. When you bake the corn bread you can add a variety of ingredients that give it a unique seasonal touch. Consider adding canned whole kernel corn and also some hot peppers (before the baking operation tones down the spiciness) -- and add cabbage, green peppers, onions, etc.
Fish is in season, especially if living near a fisher who believes in late winter catches. If not, consider canned mackerel (low priced but highly nutritious), salmon and tuna. Fix in a number of different ways as salad or main course.
Select herbal beverages to help flavor to late winter blues.
This may be a time to introduce a new 2017 hot or cold drink.
Prayer: Lord, help us to overcome the routine food needs, and be experienced enough and inspired to assist others to help tackle their Lenten food challenges.
As Lent unfolds, we review our commitment to faith, which is now a focal point in the coming weeks. If hope is the virtue of Advent, and love and its applications are those of the Pentecost season, we now focus on our faith commitment, both personally and within our church community. What constitutes this act of faith? How deep is it within our lives? How do I profess my faith in deed, as well as through a credal formula or prayer?
Fiction was never part of my life. Even as an infant I could not believe Santa Claus could climb up or down chimneys, for the whole myth was totally absurd. My folks told us the costumed characters were hired from local stores and we could believe that better than flying reindeer. Nor did fairies, witches or goblins enter our farm world. The natural world was composed of real beings; the supernatural world of Faith had little place for speculation and fantasy. Thus I never liked fiction though some historic novels do have enduring messages. Certainly fiction has its literary worth, its entertainment value, and its ability to captivate people through story-telling. But the best stories are from real life, not fiction. Still fiction enters our daydreams.
Fantasy is bizarre and uncontrolled imagination. If used to produce fictional writings it may be called a productive tool of employment. Sometimes, as a daydream of an unfulfilled desire, it has its place in a person's future, in the dreams of what could happen to make the world a better place, and in visions of things to come. But for some of the mentally ill, there is a confusion of the future with the present, and such people live in a "fantasy world." Unfortunately, this type of malady touches a great number of people, some distraught and others "normal," allowing fantasy to enter into and encroach on the present condition of their lives. In driving, we may fantasize as to what an accident with that truck up ahead could be like; in working, we may do the same about an upcoming event or how we would respond to an unexpected disaster.
A Down-to-Earth Spirituality strives to see the present for what it really is, not a fantasy, not fictional, but the real world in which we live and have our small part to play. It is a vital component of our journey of faith in which all our efforts in authentic living are called forth -- proper planning, assessment of resources, soundness of mind, meaningful deed, and continual search for God in our lives. We cannot confuse this quest for reality with fiction or fantasy. Our ever deepening grasp on our severely troubled world allows us to separate reality from pretending; the latter occurs among those who strive to live unsustainable lives by floating in the air and forgetting about the Earth below.
Prayer: Lord, keep our feet on the ground, our eyes focused on the road, and our minds alert. Help us to know what needs to be done and not to live the fantasies that so many espouse who live on credit cards and unsustainable lifestyles. Teach us to help break the cycle of pretending by those close to us.
Life can be quite stressful, especially when we lack respect for ourselves, those around us and all of creation. Respectful relations, courtesy and proper manners may be wishful thinking about our past. Examples from abrupt e-mail to foul-sounding talk shows, from rude driving habits to curt responses at the store make us wonder whether civility is eroding in our land. Do we still respect -- our past, our family life, our neighbors, our religious practice, our state and nation and the leaders, our environment, the political process, commercial and professional advice, and our elders and wise folks?
Is it possible that we have allowed the erosion of respect through silence when we should speak, through our own haste and lack of manners, or through pranks, jokes, back-biting, unresolved disputes and cynicism? Has a past courteous respect withered away, or was it ever there? Has respect eroded imperceptibly through commercialism, wars, legalized abortion, crass exploitation of the land, and the ever expanding gulf between the rich and poor? What about TV, ready cash through credit cards, talk about rights alone instead of rights and responsibilities, and a heavy volume of unprocessed information?
Maybe we were respectful in the past, but that may be quite romantic hindsight. Whatever was the past in its fullness, we get clues that there has been a history of lack of respect for life, for country, for leaders, or for church practice. "I for me" can play havoc to any common atmosphere of respect. To pay respects to someone who is sick or to the bereaved is an age-old custom that deserves preserving. To pause when the funeral passes is still a practice of respect that the undertakers tell us is fast disappearing in urbanized America. To welcome people into a community, to offer a seat to an elderly person, or to send get well cards are signs of respect that we hope will remain.
How can we respond to the perceived erosion of respect? Maybe it is through added respect. Can we counter the breakdown of marriage, family, community and neighborhood that all occur when respect for others fails? Do we respond through respectful social media to the irreverence in the mass media? Some suggest that the breakdown in respect and reverence extends both to the people and to the Earth itself -- broken down communities and broken down biosystems, as mountains are leveled, valleys filled, and the vegetative cover stripped away to satisfy distant chipmills. If we are persuaded by commercial interests to regard our region as worthless, then we are lulled into silence when destruction threatens. Our answer is to return respect through the effort it takes to grow a beautiful garden and restore the landscape.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to return to reverence in our prayer life. We owe You so much and we forget so easily. If You teach us to pray reverently, then we will extend this atmosphere of respect to all around us, humans and other creatures as well.
America First: Good or Bad
The President's address to Congress on Tuesday included the phrase "America First" with its strong isolationist origins. What does this mean with respect to global climate change and a renewable energy economy (items almost totally overlooked except for full steam ahead on oil pipelines)? Certainly to place America first has the advantages of focusing on national security, health, and welfare as well as neglected infrastructure. When extended to having allies contribute 2% of GDP to defense this makes some sense. However, our "brothers and sisters" in this world should include those beyond our boundaries, especially those who are ill, hungry, refugees, homeless, and others in need on this planet. From a humanitarian/Christian perspective our concerns ought to be global. Some further thoughts include:
1. Climate change disaster. As of now the President has not repudiated the Obama 2015 Paris Climate Change commitments. I refuse to say "give him time," because just maybe his daughter or someone in the billionaire-ridden cabinet may persuade him to refrain from such a reckless step. He has neglected the energy picture except for pushing the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines -- and that in itself is reprehensible. If the administration denies or omits climate reality and its aftereffects, other nations such as certain developing ones may follow the lead -- and catastrophe could follow. Climate change commitment is the opposite of nationalism. Environmental problems do not know borders; they are global in scope and require joint remedial action. Would that there were regulatory teeth in those voluntary national proposals.
2. Nationalized selfishness. America First gives attention to our interests without respect for others' needs; it is shortsighted as well as somewhat greedy. It is also poor public relations at a time when our nation ought to encourage and strengthen its allies who are under stress from terrorism and civil strife.
3. Overlook the poor. This year, for the first time in six, the world faces a United Nations defined "famine" in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and northeastern Nigeria, with hundreds of thousands of infants and young perhaps permanently damaged if not dying from malnutrition. Budgeting a cut in our limited foreign aid at this critical moment awakens in us our upcoming judgment day; the Lord will ask why we did not see the hungry. The question applies to individuals and to social groups and nations as well.
4. Developing lands neglected. Any sort of import taxes on the exports from other countries can severely affect the economies of those developing lands with singular exports (e.g., copper, lithium, precious metals). Granted some protection from imports may help some of our homegrown industries -- but is this across the board as a new global trade policy?
Roots of the American beech, Fagus grandifolia.
March 5, 2017 Temptations To Do and Not to Do
Temptations occur, and they may be either to act or not to act. The big question is not their occurrence, but how we deal with them. Adam and Eve were tempted and succumbed after being blinded into thinking that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom to be like God. In failure, they found their nakedness. The Israelites were tempted when wandering forty years, and they turned to Canaanite idols and hardened their hearts. All too often we are tempted to refrain from acting -- to deny the need to act, to excuse ourselves or to seek to escape into the world of addictive behavior.
Immediately after his baptism by John, Jesus is tempted. Mark's Gospel account of Jesus' temptations is brief, but both Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4: 1-13) speak of three temptations though in different sequences. However, unlike our first parents and the Israelites, Jesus resists. These tests deal with his public ministry when he announces the liberation of captives "with the power of the Spirit within him." How are these temptations related to Jesus' ministry? Father Fitzmyer asks, "Could it not be that Jesus recounted some form of these stories as figurative, parabolic resumes of the seduction latent in the diabolic opposition to him and his ministry?" (St. Luke Vol.1, p. 509).
Besides the temptations to denial, excuse and escape (the sins of omission that strike us all), we are also tempted to secure material comforts as though these are ultimate security. "Not by bread alone" is the Deuteronomy quote, which Jesus uses in response to the test for material comforts. In this age of utter materialism, we too are enticed to "need" more and more such goods. We are tempted by a desire for spacious homes, boats, fast cars, stocks, insurance policies, checking accounts, and goods of every type. However we are all called to a spiritual poverty that allows a security not found in overabundance but in trust in God's plenty.
Another temptation we face is that of fame. Positioned on the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus endures the temptation to do something dramatic, to have a spectacular entry into public life through the flare for attention and drama, and to be an instant hero. So often we would like to soar above others like a figure skater who floats about effortlessly. We dream of obtaining fame through deeds of glory; we are enticed to a fictitious world and forget that obedience to God's will is part of an ever deepening mystery, which is part of the journey of our lives.
We also seek power over others in many ways and fail to see that this is corrupting. The splendor of God's creation can mesmerize us, allowing us to be detoured into seeing creatures as idols or the beauty as a diversion. Instead we are to be single-hearted and chaste in our quest for God; to God alone do we fall down and worship; only in God do we trust.
Prayer: Lord, help us to overcome our temptations.
March 6, 2017 The Complex Issue of Genetic Engineering
I must confess I have never made a final stand on genetic engineering (GE), for the issue is quite complex and uses are now multiple in our lives. Innovations, which emerge in this troubled world, at first seem enticing, and then, after a little more investigation, reveal pitfalls beyond the hype of their commercial sponsors. A subject demanding the red flag of caution is the potentially lucrative area of genetic engineering (GE) with its genetically modified organisms (GMO) that can have unforeseen impacts within the life of our planet. Substances should not be released into the environment with inadequate scientific understanding of their environmental and human health impacts. Among such GMO problems are:
*Irreversibility -- GMOs could be genetic pollution, which, once released into the environment, could not be recalled.
* Corporate dependency -- The expensive GE research is controlled by for-profit corporations whose primary goal is a return on investment, not the public good. Through seed company buy-outs, these corporations could control food production and educational research facilities. Time honored seed-saving techniques would be lost, and these growers would be forced into corporate dependency. GMOs could cause pollen drift and thus threaten neighboring organic farming operations and cause a subsequent loss of certification.
* Transparency -- Without proper notification as to what is GE- produced, consumers would be unable to refrain from consuming GMOs for moral, religious or heath reasons. Labeling and segregating GE ingredients are necessary steps towards controlling their use.
* Human health issues -- GMOs could cause unintended harm and damage to the nutritional content of foods and may even add contaminants, which could increase breast and gastrointestinal cancers in human beings; as foods, GMOs could result in antibiotic resistance; GMOs could become a source of human allergies.
* Superbugs and superweeds -- The GMO could spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms. Many government-approved GMOs contain their own pesticide, a toxin produced by the BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) bacterium and plants that survive weed killers (Roundup). However, the ubiquitous nature of these plants could invite resistant strains of insects to evolve readily, and a pesticide within a plant structure used for food. Cross pollination with wild cousins could produce herbicide-resistant weeds.
* Possible environmental effects -- Monarch butterfly larvae die after eating milkweed dusted with genetically engineered corn pollen; Europeans find that the same happens to environmentally-friendly ladybugs and green lacewings; and some think honeybees could be affected. Residues of BT toxin in GE altered grain crops persist in soils for months and depress microbial activity.
Prayer: Lord, give us prudence in using commercial innovations.
March 7, 2017 Ideal Time to Prune Trees and Shrubs
Let's hope the title proves true and there's no snow storm today. Late winter is an ideal time to think of this season's fruit and berries; let's try to complete our pruning before the new life comes in full. In this part of the world March is time to cut back the excessive growth on fruit-bearing species though the season can be extended to blooming time. Yes, I do prune on warm late fall and early winter days as well and even cut back excessive growth in the warmer weather. An exception to the late winter pruning rule is the sweet cherry, which is pruned in August because there is less danger of bacterial infection then. Properly pruned and trained trees live longer than unpruned ones and produce the largest yields of higher quality fruit. A well pruned tree is more accessible in harvest time as well. The sense of care and love for the property is immediately evident in a well pruned orchard or yard.
The act of pruning is truly an expression of good art. We are configuring the tree to our image of an ideal shape. It is far closer to sculpturing than some might admit. In fact, one can get lost in the process of pruning after the first shoots and dead wood have been removed. People who prune admit to the sense of enjoyment, which comes in making the tree into a more perfect shape. Fruit trees can be trained to either an "open-center" or a "central leader." Fully dwarfed apples and standard and dwarf pear trees should be trained to either a central leader or an open-center crown. Standard apples, sweet cherries, peaches, and plum trees should all be trained to the open-center system.
A beginning pruner should learn tips from an experienced pruner in what to leave and what to cut. Rather than merely discussing with the expert pruner, accompany him or her for a part of a day and learn pruning technique. Generally beginners tend to leave too much, but that is not always the case. When a tree is overcut there is little room for repair. Make a clean cut and do not allow the bark to tear. A proper and sharp pruning tool is necessary.
Pruning extends to the shade trees, which are planted for summer shading and/or winter wind protection. Do your own removal of dead limbs or branches, unsightly parts of trees, sprouts along the main trunk, "V" crotches on younger trees, branches that interfere with utility lines, branches that rub or cross another, and all top branches but the one nearest the vertical, for trees where a single leader is normal. Professional pruning is expensive so consider taking responsibility -- and become proud of your results.
Prayer: Lord, teach us this Lent to prune away our personal dead wood, namely, the tendencies that block our becoming more fruitful in your service. Help us to focus our spiritual growth on what is most needed for gaining the wisdom and understanding it takes to be true healers of our Earth.
Preparing to plant wild plums, Prunus americana.
March 8, 2017 Singing the Benefits of Trees
Our environment would be improved if every school child could list the benefits of trees just as they recite the alphabet. Most people can list trees used for shade, timber, fuel wood and for fruit and nuts. But the list of benefits is quite lengthy. Maybe A-B-Cs of tree benefits could prove helpful. Construct some rhymes to accompany the learning process. Trees offer the following:
Apples, so tasty -- and easily cooked;
Beauty in itself so overlooked;
Cooler areas from the hot summer sun;
Wow, the temperature's drop has begun?
Different wood products, a million and one;
Erosion control in so many ways;
Fossil fuel buried millions of days;
Good for healing after land has rested;
Habitats for squirrel and birds nested;
Insulation as breaks from winter's sharp route;
Justly deserved privacy for all about;
Isn't it quieter among the trees
when we come to enjoy the breeze?
Kinder places so neighbors live in peace;*
Leaves for raking and for compost pile;
Market enhancers that improve property sale;
Nuts, the delight of which bards have sung;
Oxygen, coming from forests, our Earth's lung;
Purifiers of our air where toxics have clung;
Quick sinks for carbon dioxide from any source;
Replenishment of aquifer, water course;
Spongy soil to absorb the moisture deep;
Tree saplings for another generation's keep;
Utility for anchoring a clothes line;
Vista enhancers with a tourist sign;
X marking property in olden days;
Yard shade that cools our homestead;
Zest and energizers in barren watershed.
* Trees as Social Benefits. Drs. William Sullivan and Frances
Kuo of the University of Illinois interviewed three hundred residents of buildings of identical architecture. The only difference was that half the buildings were surrounded by trees and half the buildings by urban deserts of concrete. Where there was "accessible nature," people reported stronger ties and better relations with their neighbors than did individuals in the more barren housing areas. Individuals near pockets of trees felt safer and had less violence in their homes, and would be most likely to use reasoning to overcome conflict. The researchers found that trees reduced mental fatigue and that residents were more likely to be future-oriented and to generate creative solutions to problems.
Prayer: Lord, we recall the words Joyce Kilmer: Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.
In late winter as we are preparing the garden year in earnest it is a perfect time to select 2017 varieties. Here are some suggestions for this growing year:
* What do you like to eat? That question should not be overly rigid for it is good to introduce to your diet a new vegetable or herb variety each year; it keeps us young. Still some of us are tomato people, some greens people, or something else. The question tailored to year-round eating habits includes what preserved foods do you favor during the off-season? All growers like to specialize while allowing some change over time when tastes, health, and digestive processes call for differences.
* What are the soil conditions? Soils differ greatly from site to site. With proper nurture and soil amendments, conditions can improve over time. Clay soils are a challenge, but so are sandy soils. Consider soil improvement now and take hints for experienced local gardeners.
* What is the microclimate? General climate zones are found in most gardening books, and these can prove helpful in seed selection. Besides general climates, we need to recognize local microclimates, because there are great differences depending on which side of a hill or valley a garden is located, whether on high ground or river bottom, and how proximate the garden is to forested areas. Regional early or late frosts may help determine crop selection.
* What are your space and placement limitations? Some vegetables such as corn or melons take more space to grow (land extensive) -- train some vines (melons, etc.) to extend across grass space or on fences. A shortage of space may limit how much if any of such crops are grown. Sometimes a taste of okra is sufficient. Some vegetables are tall, some squat. Put taller plants (corn, Jerusalem artichokes, caster beans or sunflowers), or those growing on trellises on the north side; don't block sunlight from low-lying leaf or root crops.
* How's the sun situation? Plants require differing amounts of sunlight. Determining this does not require year round checking. Insolation on a given site or portion of a site can be established by using a Solar Pathfinder, or in winter by watching where the snow melts first. With keen observation we can get a good profile.
* Should you rotate crops? Grow different varieties on the particular land in succeeding years both to reduce the possibility of pests and to better use nutrients in the soil. Cover crops in winter help but can be harvestable edibles.
* Are you interplanting faster growing varieties? When desiring two or even three crops per year, omit slow-growers (e.g., parsnips, peanuts or salsify). Interplant slow with faster growing ones.
Prayer: Lord, show me how to choose all things wisely.
Landscape of the Bluegrass region of Kentucky.
March 10, 2017 Destitution is a Form of Slavery
And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. (Luke 15:16)
This verse from the Prodigal Son (or Forgiving Father, or Unforgiving Brother) parable refers to a form of destitution involving a dire condition of the human being who brings it on through careless living. Note that others who were the prodigal son's partners offered him nothing -- the atmosphere of gross insensitivity. Under such circumstances the slavery of destitution exists; note that many of the destitute do not have a rich father to return to. Unless we act as neighbor, their condition of enslavement to conditions of want continues. This extreme poverty should never be regarded as permanent, for it is fundamentally a destabilizing condition on the world around us that awaits our growing sensitivity.
In the ultimate analysis, excessive wealth breeds destitution, for wealth is fungible and must be shared. There's enough for need but not for greed. Taking more than what is needed is taking from the just resources of those without the power to be satisfied from the plentiful commons. Destitution includes an inability to live in proper housing, uncertainty about the next meal, lack of warm clothing, insecurity for family members, lack of proper health facilities, inability to obtain a proper education, and lack of decent employment or access to a living wage.
The deepest wrong is that those of us who have plenty allow this destitution to continue, thus jeopardizing our own immortal souls in the process. How can we allow this form of pervasive slavery after seeing so much of the injustice that slavery, in all its forms, has caused in this world? As citizens of this Earth we must not tolerate destitution in any of its many and ugly forms, but how do we start? Recognition is first; removing the blame on the poor for their poverty is second; preparing ways so that reformed governments will tax fairly and redistribute is a third.
In slavery, masters dictate that their slaves work under harsh conditions. In a slavery of destitution the wealthy require the silence of the poor so that the inequality will continue. Enlightenment led nations to abandon labor-based slavery. Recall that rural slave holders in the South argued that they treated day laborers more humanely than did Northern factory owners. Perhaps some did. Today slavery still exists in the form of sex trade, child labor, child soldiers, and labor opportunities to the lowest bidder. Others are enslaved to certain drugs and substances. Impoverished people are often unable to migrate to areas of a promising life; their basic rights are affirmed even though not fully exercised. The Lincolnian insight applies to all -- enjoying basics of life is a right of all people on this Earth.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see the destitute wherever they exist and to move governments and aid agencies to help provide for their welfare.
Current Administration Environmental Assault
After 47 years of public interest work I have never seen such attacks on environment safeguards as what is now occurring both in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other parts of government. The most brazen and cynical of all Trump-originated attacks has been the presidential directive decreeing that for any new regulation two old ones have to be removed. Disaster! Add to this other directives that mandate removing old rules to offset cost of new ones. When it comes to environment and other issues, this simply shuts down additional needed regulations at a time when climate change issues need regulation. This in effect calls for the EPA to issue new rules at the expense of older ones.
In order to save our wounded Earth we must realize that the benefits of new environmental regulation would have to occur at the expense of other benefits. It would easily happen when directors
are (as in the case of the new EPA director) cozy with Big business, these choose what two rules are to be abolished. In essence, this means abandoning regulations that were much to the benefit of the public in favor of less impacting newer ones. It is as though minor new rules will replace older truly ecologically sound ones -- and industry can help select which rules are to die.
This is a gross trade-off requiring arbitrary agency judgments and violates laws and the governmental responsibility for safety and health. To put this into effect the current Administration trample on regulatory procedures and flaunt eco-justice. Public Citizen is launching a lawsuit to challenge this perversity. The public interest group says that this executive order will require federal agencies to violate numerous statutes -- and this is a matter of life and death when it comes to safety issues such as with their example of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. By the laws of our land it is impossible to require the Agency to make arbitrary decisions.
All the samples of upcoming rule-making have an environmentally-related aspect:
* new limits on workplace exposures to the hazardous chemical styrene;
* a rule to prevent mining equipment from crushing minors;
* a measure to avert oil train derailments and explosives;
* implementation of the newly amended Toxic Substances Control Act, under which the EPA regulated toxic chemicals;
* energy efficiency standards that would save consumers billions of dollars;
* endangered species protection; and
* new clean air standards.
One approach to participating against this absurdity is to donate to cover the expenses of suing this Administration -- Public Citizen 1600 20th Street, NW Washington, DC 2009.
Robert Weissman <email@example.com>
We need our weekly rest. My father, a successful Kentucky farmer, said he could recognize a farm where the operator never rested, for it lacked proper planning. A need for sabbatical rest extends beyond farmers to all people, creatures and the land itself. The demise of the Blue Laws that forbade working on Sunday (or Saturday) is not a blessing. People need rest, and this includes those who service fast food restaurants and shopping malls, all now frequented seven days a week -- and especially on weekends -- "twenty-four-seven". Service employees struggle to grind on, day after day, with work that never ceases. Routine without breaks becomes unbearable, not just day-by-day but week-by-week or year-by-year lacking pauses or vacations.
Keeping holy the Sabbath is one of the least observed of the Commandments. People today prefer to shop and do a million chores on Sunday. Note that in the Old Testament reading (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) the emphasis is not on resting after Creation, but on the liberation of the people from the slavery of Egypt, and the freedom that comes with free time. Consider that the Greeks had children's toys operated by steam, yet they never harnessed steam to do human work; they had no incentive, because their slaves ensured their own leisure, though not that of the slave's. The Church insisted on free time to pray and reflect. The monks of the "Dark Ages" finally harnessed wind and water to do the work that others once did by hand or the treadmills; they did so that all including slaves and serfs may have that precious Sabbath time to pray and celebrate.
Necessary functions were allowed even in the strictest of the Old Testament restrictions on Sabbath rest. Jesus realizes that his disciples are hungry and thus they pick grain and eat it on the Sabbath -- contrary to the faultfinders' code of activity and inactivity. When Jesus heals a person or makes one whole on the Sabbath, critics find something wrong here as well. Jesus shows that to heal or make whole is fundamental to life and certainly is to be allowed, but Jesus says more; we are free to celebrate the Sabbath, and in that freedom we have room to act.
The sabbatical means free or rest time taken off after a period of academic or professional work, a time to be more creative. A reduction of stressful situations should be a prominent factor in choice of a planned sabbatical. Rest and free time extend to family leaves through work agreements and allow for the solitude necessary to mend fractured lives. Family leaves are needed with respect to the arrival of a child, special care for an elderly relative, or during times of marriage problems.
Prayer: Lord, help us to take breaks when necessary to relieve the stresses around us through free time. Teach us to counter this modern age that proclaims busyness to be the sign of success and fulfillment. You, Creator of all, give us the gift of new life. We rest because You rest in us. We appreciate rest time for it reminds us that your activity is most important, not ours.
The delicate beauty of the Claytonia virginica.
March 12, 2017 Transfiguration and Earthhealing
His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. (Matthew 17:2)
The Transfiguration of Jesus is regarded as one of the luminous mysteries. Jesus needs the consolation of this event to be energized to undergo the mission that lies ahead (his suffering and death). A glory will come beyond the short-term happenings, and this motivates us to move forward. Transfiguration is a temporary look into the future, a moment of what is to come, becoming so vividly present that it keeps us on the difficult journey now being traversed. Jesus' transfiguration thus is a living, ongoing event in which we as other christs enter in a very special way. Through his transfiguration we are illumined into becoming enlightened members of the Body of Christ; we live with him; we suffer with him; we are transfigured with him, and thus we will rise with him.
As other christs we accept the role of being healers of our wounded Earth -- saviors in some extended sense. To speak this way makes us uneasy because we know there is but one Savior. However, we participate with Jesus as part of the Body of Christ in the saving work of giving new life to our planet. What do we especially bring? We must endure the effort it takes to heal and see this as part of the ever deepening mystery of our vocation -- and unfolding of the future right now. We bring to others an unfolding future of eternal glory that is before us. We gently encourage them to have a faith in that future and in the One who promises and makes it all possible.
Occasionally we come to the hilltop, a vista from which we look ahead -- and that is our transfiguring moment. We stop for a brief moment to rest, for we all need moments for reflection. The sun breaks through the clouds, and we strain to observe and listen to nature -- the mourning dove, the robin and the distant crow. It's a world we have so often ignored. Late winter has its variation in shades. The shapes of trees take on a pronounced design before being reclothed in a few months ahead. In faith, we look about for light, inner light and outer light. Faith is that insight that there are greater things in store.
Faith is seeing the brilliant countenance of Christ looking up at us from every creature. We need this consoling moment of light, this seeing within and without in one harmony. We are not tough guys who can continue existing on a vague promise. No, we also need the consoling insight, the moment when we are encouraged by the Lord in sight, feeling, vibration and in word. We are reassured that we are hand-picked and chosen, and we thank God for the privilege. We are blessed, and if we but listen, we hear the affirming word that we are called to act.
Prayer: Lord, we pause for a moment and we rest with You. You help us see the light shining through clouds of doubt and uncertainty. You speak in a whisper telling us we are special; we are to undertake the healing mission ahead and to do so with joy.
Jefferson salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum, which can live to an age of 30 years.
March 13, 2017Benefits and Disadvantages of Underground Homes
Underground homes seem ideal in many respects:
* they use the earth itself for winter and summer insulation
and thus conserve domestic space heating and cooling energy;
* they do not need the decorative siding materials or wall upkeep of the above-ground building;
* they are more easily protected from theft, fire and tornadoes
in this age of increasing extreme weather events;
* they allow the landscape to be free of buildings and permit use of the saved space for gardening and greenspace;
* they have better sound-proofing from traffic noises due to the surrounding earthen walls;
* they do not require inaccessible and costly roof maintenance by those who are not agile or are afraid of heights;
* they have no gutter-fixing chores or the need of ladders;
* they afford greater privacy;
* they provide isolated retreat space for those with stressful lifestyles; and
* they are good conversation pieces.
Some of the disadvantages of underground homes include:
* they can be expensive depending on the mode of construction, requiring roof reinforcement (concrete and steel) and moisture proofing if covered above with sod;
* they can have water problems depending on how well originally constructed, the lay of the land, and the climate;
* the interior may become or remain damp for, without special care, they tend to leak in areas of heavy rainfall;
* the ceiling problems may prove harder to repair if covered with sod;
* they may have ventilation problems -- a major concern if indoor fires occur; and
* some claustrophobic-tending residents find the enclosure of the underground house without windows quite stressful.
One compromise when contemplating building an underground house is to minimize disadvantages by constructing a partly submerged structure. Such buildings may have windows or half windows or even skylights for natural lights. They may have one side opened, preferably to the south for solar space heating. They may have a conventional roof of lower height and lower cost than the steel and concrete bunker variety belonging to the totally underground house. An earthen berm around a partly submerged structure may help give additional insulation and the privacy and sound-proofing characteristics of a totally submerged structure. Buried in the berm may be cooling pipes for use in pumping cool air for summer cooling. Whether the building is totally or partly submerged, seek professional advice in designing for that pays in the long term.
Prayer: Lord, help us to discern the type of housing we intend to build both physically and spiritually.
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 seas, crying, 'To the One who is sitting on the throne and to the Lamb, be all praise, honour, glory and power, forever and ever.' Revelation 5:13.
We are all aware of resonance in our physical and spiritual lives. My current special project seeks to show this phenomenon is of divine origin. Resonance, The Echo of Our Triune God treats this continuity of resonance phenomenon, the expression of the divine within the world around us. The Trinity as persons resonate; the world as created by God expresses various forms of this resonance. Why not? Scripture in its own way points this out as in the Revelation passage above.
We may be people who see visions and dream dreams, but our spiritual seeing is no more pronounced than our hearing and feeling. The senses of people of faith are attuned to our Creator. The image of God is more than a visual expression, for no one has seen the face of God. Only in Jesus Christ has the Lamb who came and lived, died and rose become the visual presence of God in our midst. When the Lamb appears the whole of creation breaks out into song and sings. All give praise and resonate with their Creator. This springtime is one of praise of God by all of nature -- for all resonate together.
All creation gives praise just as all creation cries and laments and has other aspects of feelings. It is not simply a New Age concept but a Scriptural one, which is deep within our spiritual psyche. Believers become aware of what is occurring in this universal expression of joy. In one spiritual way the world is sensate and can take part in producing a sound that resonates; all are created gift of God, all are finite and limited in their own way and yet give some form of expression. These beings revel in what they are, their diversity, their complexity, their very participation in the community of God. They share in being present to other beings and to resonate with each other even if in a hardly noticeable manner. All creation enjoys life even if for an instant or for an unhurried moment before mortality takes its toll.
We humans, who are more conscious of ourselves and our journey, know that the gift of existence is from God and all return to God in some manner. We come and we go and we shine on Earth from a short time, like a brief candle. The stewardship that we strive to practice and reaffirm during this Lenten season encourages us to see and glory in the generosity of our Creator and to recognize the limits to these gifts. Our special praise joins with all creation and in some way resonates with the One whose own community is the prime resonance. Humans are able to freely articulate a word of thanksgiving; we feel vibrations that spring from the collective joy that is within; we give thanks through songs of joy.
Prayer: Lord, thanks for helping us await springtime patiently.
The gusts of March can knock us over and at this point our thoughts turn to wind power, a renewable energy source of choice that is now competing forcefully against fossil fuels. Wind has many more advantages than disadvantages in an age of growing concern about global warming. Windmills for a variety of operations made their first appearance in Europe in 1150 AD, and spread to the south of Europe by the sixteenth century. They were preferred over water power because water wheels would cease under icy winter conditions. Harnessing wind was popular during early American prairie settlement, but lost popularity with the New Deal push for cheap rural electricity. Older wind-enthusiasts speak respectfully about Marcellus Jacobs, the father of American wind-generated electricity. His small-scale wind devices were durable but inefficient by modern standards; they were placed near use sites to minimize line losses.
Advantages of windpower are now becoming recognized:
* Growing efficiency -- Today's state-of-the-art, aerodynamically engineered devices can run at far lower wind speeds (as low as five miles per hour);
* Ecologically green -- No emissions occurs as in fossil fuel electric generation and thus the advantage of not requiring remedial actions from harmful pollutants;
* Declining costs -- Electricity consumption will undoubtedly rise with time as more devices are used (even when more highly efficient in applications). The importance of fuel sources which demand renewables renders wind a major component. Currently wind is competitive with coal and natural gas, especially if environmental costs are included;
* Convenient source -- Certainly wind is abundant on the Great Plains were populations are sparse, but offshore wind capability in the Northeast and elsewhere is close to population centers in grave need of electricity sources;
* Rapid construction -- Facilities can be build in less than two years from planning to production of electricity, whereas nuclear plants at multi-billion dollar price tags take a decade to complete;
* Safer source -- Wind is not a security risk as are powerplants that can be damaged and create massive supply problems, or health problems if a nuclear powerplant is damaged or destroyed;
* Public acceptance -- Over 70% of the American public have a high rating for wind and solar as energy sources. This along with increasing application within conservative states in the Midwest allows for a broader range of popularity and thus better chances for longer-term governmental incentives. Over half of new electricity capacity is renewable even with lower prices of fracked natural gas;
* New Employment opportunities -- This is occurring both in manufacturing of turbine components and in installing and maintenance; and
* Multiple use of sites -- farming may occur within wind generating areas.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to promote clean energy in order to enhance our Earth's needed healing process.
Northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, in late winter snow. (*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
March 16, 2017 To Jet or Not to Jet: Flying Is for the Birds
Astoundingly I once looked forward to air travel and now I despise it. It certainly gets us from place to place over great distances far faster than walking or traveling by sail ship, but it has some obstacles that need to be considered when we discern whether we need/ought to make the next trip. Here are some considerations:
Questions before getting tickets -- Do I have to go in the first place, for so much can be achieved by less frequent trips, by phone or email or teleconferencing? If not too distant, could I car pool and drive? Will others present get something out of my being there, or could I contribute in my absence by sending some written materials if done well? How many people will be at the meeting thinking it is work or is an excuse from work? Just the thought of going may be so disconcerting that I fail to enjoy the trip.
Green travel -- Heartaches accompany the green traveler. How many tons of carbon dioxide and others pollutants do this trip cost? Just the thought is overwhelming when we realize that future generations may speak of this as the time when people felt obliged to jet about in the name of caring for others. Cars take more time and fuel if the trip is over five hundred miles and -- unless you carpool with someone else from the same direction or "triangulate," that is, do another service while making the trip.
Jet fatigue, lag, induced colds -- A quick jet trip could get us so out of sorts that we are not on our perfect behavior, and thus the reason for the visit is really being compromised by the speed of coming and going. Will I survive the trip without coming down with the shared germs from a nearby passenger? One does not like to wear a surgical mask on the airplane, but that may be appropriate for self or others in the next seat.
Airport lines -- Inspectors want to see everything fast; they do not tolerate silly comments from the inspected. Discipline, speed and facility are important and require dexterity on the part of all. We learn to deliver our ticket and photo ID at the right moment (some wear the ID on a necklace around the neck); we are wise to leave stick pins, nail, clippers, scissors, and pocket knives at home.
Baggage -- Keeping it all together is somewhat difficult and makes us wince when we see the heavily burdened person entering a plane without being challenged as to checking the excess baggage. Add to this those at the check-in counter who seem to be traveling with all their belongings. My rule of travel was if I could not lift my baggage with my little finger, it is too much. However, sometimes I would like to have brought an extra sweater. Better, in older age I prefer to stay at home and communicate electronically.
Prayer: Teach me, Lord, to be content to staying put, to leave it to the birds to fly unless necessary, to communicate through less expensive means, and to do so with added enthusiasm.
Ginseng, Panax quinquefolium, in Appalachia.
March 17, 2017 Respect Non-Timber Forest Products
Forests have immense value apart from the timber content that is decimating tropical rain and temperate forests at a frightening rate. Through a growing sense of our global commons we are seeing the value of our forests that retain moisture, store carbon dioxide in a living storage system, cool the surrounding landscape, and help mitigate the harshness of climate. Forests can furnish cover for the wildlife, which are natural non-timber forest value -- not commercial product.
The most overlooked non-timber forest product is that of the view or vista itself -- a major tourist asset. That vista vanishes when the land has been clearcut, and may even disappear for a number of years after selective logging using sustainable methods has occurred. The view not only has a qualitative value to residents, but it is also of economic importance, since over 40% of tourists come to forested areas for the sightseeing. A beautiful forest is a sight to behold and attracts tourists and their dollars.
Most people would think of wild fruits, berries, nuts and roots in the understory as part of the non-timber forest products: papaws, mayapples, persimmons, crabapples, wild cherries, wild plums, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, wild strawberries, cranberries, elderberries, hickory nuts, walnuts, butternuts, hazelnuts, acorns, mushrooms, lambs quarters, ramps, wild garlic, watercress, teas (sumac, sassafras, mint), locust pods, wild honey, maple syrup, etc.
* A general rule is to take a small amount for home consumption: "Take a Mess; Don't Make a Mess." When a product is known as valuable, the temptation is to take too much. Don't instruct fly-by-night gatherers about plants present in the forest. If they learn from responsible gatherers there is less likelihood that the plants will be overharvested. Exotic species are often brought from outside areas to forests through such means as vehicles, poor farming practice, livestock feed, nursery plants for landscaping, poor reclamation practice, etc., and they may spread as invasive species. This may result in harm where roadways, streets and development have fragmented the land.
* Invasive plants, such as kudzu, can often be quite aggressive and crowd out the native flowers and plants; thus, encourage their removal. "Harvest existing invasives without damaging the forest proper." Use kudzu root for food starch, vines for baskets, and flowers for jellies; dig the chicory root; harvest dandelions and other exotic greens.
* When demand is great, assist in growing virtual wild species in as near to natural conditions as possible. This applies to wild ginseng, golden seal, bloodroot and black and blue cohosh.
* Discourage the introduction of game animals such as turkeys that can destroy native understory due to the fowls' highly efficient harvesting methods and digestive destruction of seeds.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to treat our forests with respect and to keep them intact for future generations.
A closer look at mourning dove, Zenaida macroura.
March 18, 2017 Encourage Other to Watch for the Birds
Many of us have heard in story or song about the swallows returning each year to the Spanish Mission of San Juan Capistrano, the jewel of the Missions. This historic place contains the oldest buildings still used in California. Each year the swallows return on March nineteenth, the feast of St. Joseph. They also depart with the same unexplained punctuality on St. Johns Day on October twenty-third. On these two dates, thousands gather to watch the birds' movements. In less dramatic fashion, many of us anxiously await the return of migratory birds and the monarch butterflies from Central America and Mexico. While this waiting is part of the ritual of spring, it involves a deepening anxiety as we note in recent years the destruction of some of the creatures' habitats in both the winter and the summer seasons. The numbers of some semi-tropical migratory bird and butterflies have been in decline.
The cause of bird population declines is hard to determine. The Audubon Society has recruited many birdwatchers to observe certain specific areas and engage in annual bird counts. Experts are able to compare the statistics gathered with numbers counted in previous bird censuses and determine trends. Over time a profile has emerged, and it is not promising for a number of semi-tropical birds such as the Cerulean warbler. Large numbers of beautiful sounding and bright colored birds may not be with us for long, unless strong emergency conservation measures are taken. These measures include protection of both winter rest and summer nesting habitats, removal of feral cats, and some feeding and special care for birds. Though some naturalists dislike artificial feeding, a strong case is made that the toll on natural habitat is so great that such feeding is necessary for the health of the threatened bird species.
The art of birdwatching can be a green form of recreation, provided the watcher does not engage in frequent distant travel (less frequent and more local trips could certainly fit under the aegis of "greener" recreation). This outdoor hobby suits the enjoyment needs of large numbers of people of all ages and requires both sight and sound identification skills. Surprisingly, some deaf people do manage to be good birdwatchers. Actually, this recreational activity extends to observing other flora and fauna, provided the watchers do not disturb the wilderness.
To help budding watchers hone their observational skills, consider furnishing them with books or videotapes on wildlife, or take them to visit an aquarium, animal farm, pet shop, zoological garden or butterfly garden. Some enjoy animals through care for pets. The "birders" are perhaps larger in number than other wildlife observers because of variety and frequency of the wildlife forms even in urban and suburban areas. Another advantage is that birdwatchers may stand or move about with few obstacles, in contrast to having to stoop to inspect insects and wildflowers.
Prayer: Lord, help us to appreciate the birds of the air that seem to have no care in the world; make their cheerfulness ours.
Scott Pruitt's EPA: A Disaster in the Making
Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been called a fox appointed to guard the hen house. He rejects the scientific climate community's consensus on climate change -- though he admits human activity contributes in some manner. Also he rejects carbon dioxide as a primary contributor to the global warming phenomenon. In response, 447 former EPA employees said they believed he "will not put the public welfare ahead of private interests." As attorney General of Oklahoma he sued EPA numerous times holding that states should handle many environmental regulations. His close connection with Big Oil is a reality. And he was born in KY -- an embarrassment!
For environmentalists who have worked for a half century in an efficient agency established to protect our national and global environment, this is a major blow. Add to this that the proposed Trump budget calls for a 31% cut in EPA funds, the lowest budget in 40 years. Devastating EPA is a extremely serious matter because our nation has been a leader in environmental problems and in fighting to curb climate change effects. If the lead U.S. person in "environment" wants no part of being green, what does this say for getting others, especially developing countries like India, to reduce fossil fuel use? If the U.S. declines its leadership role then unfortunately others will most likely follow. Instead of helping to transition to a renewable energy economy, EPA will be paralyzed as a global catastrophe occurs -- if we remain silent.
Pruitt should never have been chosen as EPA director. He is worse than what Dalia Hashad of AVAAZ calls a bad joke, "a kooky climate denying ideologue." He and that covey of billionaires want to kill climate programs and cut agency funding -- if not eliminate EPA. He is a nightmare, and Christians should speak out publicly. Christ called Herod a "fox" and said woe directly to Scribes and Pharisees. This is an opportunity to speak out accordingly.
Over decades, EPA has developed a strong analytical capability and attracted some strong scientists with good environmental records to the credit of their work. One area of recent concern has been in assembling (through requests from gas producers) enough data to show the dangers of natural gas fracking, processing, transportation and use. This essential program in determining climate change methane problems is now being terminated.
One thing we can do is to fight every act of regulatory abolishment that paralyzes climate change reduction efforts whether by executive decree or EPA action. This week the President was in Detroit telling auto executives that recent fuel standards would be abolished; the propaganda that these regs hurt jobs is fallacious, and the only smiles come from profiteers. Sign petitions to tell the EPA chief the science is settled. Pressure our legislators to enact meaningful legislation. Send Pruitt extra copies of "Global Warming for Dummies" for his staff. Ultimately we will win.
March 19, 2017 Proclaiming Water As Essential for Life
The water that I will give will become the spring of eternal life. (John 4:14)
This Sunday of Lent we hear about the request by Jesus to get a drink from the Samaritan woman and the well, and the subsequent conversation and conversion experience. Water entered the picture both spiritually and physically. We enter the body of believers through the cleansing waters of Baptism. Thus, from the start our spiritual life is connected with water, the living flowing water of this primary sacrament of our salvation through Christ, Source of this living water. If we are saved through water, we are called to save the water. A humble beginning includes a humble calling. It is our Christian duty to save water at the individual, household, local community, regional, national and global levels. Water conservation awareness is part of the Good News, and that is especially true as we see Christ, the Living Water, asking us to follow his example. To waste even water is to deny God's goodness in all things.
This globe would be a barren, lifeless place without water. The connection between life as we know it and water is exemplified today by the Mars search vehicles moving about testing for traces of moisture and possible past life forms on that planet. We all know that four-fifths of the surface of our globe is covered by oceans and lakes, which give the blue-green color to the Earth from a distant space photograph. Physical life and water are essentially connected.
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. We know that our water can become contaminated and that this affects human health. Over a billion people lack safe drinking water and are subject to a variety of water-borne diseases. The quest for clean potable water is rapidly becoming a major problem in many so-called developing countries, as more and more people compete for limited high quality water supplies. While this was edited two states of south India were vying over use of dammed river water for irrigation and domestic use. Drinking ground water from newly dug wells in parts of Bangladesh has led to arsenic poisoning (while collecting plentiful rainwater in cisterns is often overlooked); shrinking glaciers and snow packs spell water shortages in Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Without sufficient water our plants would wither and our animals would die of thirst. Much of the land-based wildlife's time is taken with hunting for food and drink. As plentiful wetlands dry up or are developed, flora and fauna suffer. If and when climate change affects precipitation patterns, increasing numbers of wildlife will face threats of extinction through droughts or floods. With the rising oceans the human family by the millions will be forced to flee to higher ground, and that will entail much suffering and discomfort.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see the value of our salvation by undertaking crucial actions dealing with water as needed by all of us humans and all living beings. In gratitude for our Christian faith inspire us to help others save and obtain sufficient water for use.
Yellow violets in Eastern pine grove. Red River Gorge, KY.
March 20, 2017 Encourage Students to Act Environmentally
Enough, if something from our hands has power To live, and act, and serve the future hour. William Wordsworth
Respect for Earth and all creators can be learned early in life. Young people can take the first steps to improve personally by actually joining activists in educational institutions to make them greener. Consider resourcefulness in food eaten, materials used in study, energy and water. Establishing "profiles" of actual environmental situations can be an undertaking for which students, working with faculty supervision receive credit.
Food Waste Profile. Actually weigh the food waste in a cafeteria before considering composting options. Often the volume of food waste is so great that composting is made difficult. Food wastes may be curbed through the way food is served (reducing the size of portions) or through an educational program to allow leftovers to go to the poor. From such waste profiles, youth get an understanding of the need for conservation of resources.
Energy Profile. Young people in schools can audit and report to the school management on energy use for classrooms and various areas of the building. Computerized monitoring for energy use may utilize an AC watt/hour meter costing approximately $100. Larger computerized hard-wired devices can check the flow of electricity to all parts of an institution. The auditing work and resulting profile enters the consciousness of the student and can carry over into the domestic consumption patterns of home life. Ways of cutting costs such as turning off unused electrical devices or installing more efficient lighting devices (LEDs) can be proposed.
Transportation Profile. Youth can check on traffic flow on a campus, the number of parking places available, how many of each is filled at various times, and at what points overcrowded conditions exist. Auditors can discover ways to reduce the "peak load" parking, so that valuable green space is not sacrificed through blacktopping. This reduction in parking could be achieved through restrictive auto use, car pooling, alternative parking, and schedule changes.
Wildlife Inventory. Biology classes can report on the number of birds or mammals on parts of a campus, and discover wildlife pests that need to be controlled. From such inventories, observers learn the need for wildlife sanctuaries.
Space Profile. Constructed indoor space has expanded enormously in recent years, and complaints about lack of space may be exaggerated. Monitoring use of indoor space allows such possibilities as multiple use of given areas. Classrooms can double for non-class time activities, thus saving energy for heating and cooling and reducing the need for more expansion of buildings.
Prayer: Lord, help us to encourage others to be watchful for what can be done in greener ways through using fewer resources.
In our temperate climate spring often comes in fits and starts with some lingering of cold weather in and through April. In these parts of America we talk about different "winters," which means unseasonably colder times when one or more of the various succession of blossoms have unfolded. The Appalachian "Serviceberry Winter" is one of the earlier ones since that tree blooms very early. There are both "Redbud Winter" and "Dogwood Winter," which can sometimes overlap because both trees are blooming at the same time. "Black Locust Winter" in early May is succeeded by "Blackberry Winter" in mid-May, one of the last of the possible springtime winters, but these come even later in areas where the blackberry blooming moves on towards June. Some of these designated "winters" are dependent on land elevation, proximity to water bodies, and geographic location.
Late frosts have a killing effect on the blooming fruit trees and cannot be predicted as to when they occur. Thus, many growers deliberately plant these early blooming trees on north-facing slopes that are cooler (and thus have a slower time in blooming) than west- or south-facing ones. Some people are as sensitive to the quirks of early spring weather as are the plants; they are preparing for the warm days of spring and then the weather turns bad one more time; their spirits are suddenly depressed. The "winters" of springtime can be discomforting to those anticipating a frost-free growing season, especially when they have to cover the new vegetable and flower plants at night -- not that difficult for small growers. Adults can be like impatient children who want results right now. A more wholesome outlook is to expect that spring includes the unexpected and to keep a sense of humor through ups and downs.
Weather can do more than just linger for a few days or weeks. About one time every other century the lingering continued through the growing season and summer never came; the grass grows but the grain crops did not mature properly, and disaster faced the world for want of warm weather. One such period was in the 1630s and others of a milder degree in the early 1800s. It is possible that with all the current climate change effects, this condition of an occasional winter-in-summer may not occur again in our lifetimes -- but don't count on it, even with all these hotter than last year summers. Weather quirks happen.
Always be prepared for the worst. Don't pack away winter clothes too soon; keep the space heating units ready for the unexpected; have plenty of covering materials to go out on the garden plants; hold off from planting tomatoes and other frost-sensitive plants until later, but the brassicas can take it; watch for temperature drops; return pots of flowers to the greenhouse on cool evenings; and keep cheerful even when returning to winter clothes for a short span of time. Pray the weather warms, for we need this year's crop harvests to feed a hungry world.
Prayer: Lord, help us to expect the worst, give thanks for the best, and accept all that in between with a magnanimous spirit.
March 22, 2017 Celebrate Spring's Arrival with Greens
Few seasonal delights equal that of gathering and cooking the first greens of spring. Children seem to sense the coming of spring showing more excitement in their play and more skip in their movements. Life is quickening, and all nature seems to catch the spirit. The first shoots of greenery confirm this stance even as we move along in the middle of Lent. We need to reflect and pray and engage in spiritual spring house-cleaning. The first sprigs of greenery are starting to appear whether wild garlic or daffodils. With a burst of energy we take a pan and knife and venture into the awakening outdoors. We have missed plentiful fresh vegetables, but not nearly as much as our ancestors, who did not have access to greenhouse or fresh produce from near or distant places. Still it is a blessing to gather and "fix" these "messes" of plants, either fresh and raw, or cooked in a kettle as "pot herbs."
Spring is the natural time for such delicacies, because the different greens are young and tender. Know where to find them in the woods, on the roadside, in leaf piles, in gardens and lawns and in just about any space where greenery appears. Certainly, as we age it is less fun gathering greens and then cleaning them of the winter dead leaves, dirt and earthworms, which may be attached. But with some patience, care and a deft hand a nutritious spring greens dish is made ready in an amazingly short time. Dandelion is the most important herbal ingredient; it's abundant, easily recognized, and good and nutritious, especially when young; as it matures, the milky bitter sap will flavor the dish and require additional cooking and spicing. A good practice is cutting the crown just below the ground surface so that the entire bunch of leaves comes up and can be shaken clean -- thus removing the unwanted litter.
Some regard dandelion greens as the main ingredient, but they can be mixed with other spring greens, which are known to the experienced gatherer. My mother always prepared dandelions with boiled eggs and potatoes and onions, and then wilted them with hot bacon grease or salad oil and vinegar. It still remains my favorite spring meal, when mixed with wild or domestic garlic.
Other single or mixed cooked greens could include early Crows' foot, which is a variety of Toothwort. Evening primrose is also called "speckled britches" and emerges early as a rosette speckled or tinged with red and is gathered like dandelions. Lamb's quarters comes a little later in our part of the country, but is one of the oldest foods of cave dwellers of a millennia or two ago. Shepherd's purse springs up in abundance in moist soil, as does Water-cress near to creeks and cold springs. Upland cress is known as "creasies" and is found as a rosette of dark green leaves in early April. Wild lettuce is common in the lowlands and near streams and the most tender leaves are excellent greens. Plantain soon arrives. So does my second favorite type of greens, pokeweed, which also appears in early April (see our YouTube on this website for further details).
Prayer: Lord, teach us to find good things and enjoy them.
Indigo bunting at bird feeder.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
March 23, 2017 Sharing Limited Space with Wildlife
Preserving wildlife habitat is paramount to maintaining the health of many of the world's flora and fauna. Unimpeded wildlife reserves and healthy protected migratory routes are desired because competition between human beings and wildlife for living space is fierce. From whales to monarch butterflies we notice wildlife habitat under attack: from hunters, developers, marginal farmers, greedy resource extractors, ocean shippers, airplanes, second home buyers, and recreational vehicle operators.
On top of these competing infringements on habitats, wildlife game species (encouraged by hunting interests) have multiplied until they have become worrisome pests, namely, rabbits, squirrels, white-tailed deer, "wild" turkeys, and Canadian geese. In fact, these last three species are more numerous than anytime in American history. Deer evade many fence barriers and nibble on suburban shrubs and flowers; turkeys (not really wild but with a mix of aggressive cultured turkey genes) devastate the forest understory; and geese manure lawns, sidewalks and golf greens in abandon. I observed geese as interlopers in many cages and pools at the Milwaukee Zoological Garden. They feed on Midwestern corn fields and winter near bodies of water all over the nation. Why fly when home fare is so lavish?
Habitat preservation is needed and especially an end to tendencies to sub-divide and penetrate wilderness areas through roads and other disturbances. For many species of birds and other wildlife the lack of deliberate human disturbance is the best habitat policy.
Areas need to be kept whole both on land and in oceans as wildlife sanctuaries.
Garden growers living near wildlife habitats realize that some vegetables are delicacies for rabbits, groundhogs, raccoons, and turkeys. A good fence is insufficient. A watchdog is better, but may be unable to guard distant gardens. I discovered that sowing strips of spicy mustard greens around vegetable beds dissuade rabbits, which gravitate to beans and peas; consider bordering carrots and lettuce as well. Some gardeners provide enough for visiting wildlife, but it is hard to grow enough of anything for hungry groundhogs. Deer are finicky and generally leave melons alone. However, to my surprise the bucks would ram the pumpkins with their antlers to break them open and get the seeds. If you like the pioneer dish "burgoo," make a kettle of various varmints cooked overnight with potatoes, carrots and onions; you'll find garden raiders make excellent sources for meat eaters bent on eating local products. Deer avoid double fences erected about six feet apart. Few wildlife like onions, garlic, nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant), some brassicas (cabbage, collards, cauliflower, and kohlrabi), turnips, radishes, okra or squash.
Prayer: O Creator of all, You give us enough space to allow the creatures of this Earth to thrive and live in harmony. Teach us to give them their space and respect it. Help us to protect the wildlife entrusted to our care.
Squaw root, Conopholis americana, with visitor.
March 24, 2017 We become Our Land: Resonance
We become our land because we are rooted in it; we see it as mother of us all; we are able to find a unity with others through the tilling of it; and we love it with a love that resonates and allows it to be fruitful. Like loved plants and animals, the land itself knows when it is loved. We become like the Creator in the love we give, a love that knows no bounds and allows us to extend our love to all creation around us. We can resonate with all creation.
We are not God; we cannot do everything. But we can do some small things well with divine help. Our modest individual efforts are important, but quite limited in the scale of world history. We are not miracle workers. When taken together with others, we do make a difference, and thus we see the importance of individual acts becoming cooperative endeavors. While each tiller of the soil is unique and gifted, all collectively contribute to the whole -- and are needed for the health of the whole Earth. That is because we see that the cooperative spirit yields something more than the sum of individual efforts. The cooperative worker inspires others and motivates them to participate in the greater good; the inspiration spreads like a virus, a catalytic vitality extending throughout the surface of the Earth itself. It is like rhizomes extending from our rootedness in our Earth.
Land is able to produce our food and make us better for working with it. When we assimilate food, we take in the land now turned to produce. We become our land when we consume the produce grown on it. We do not wish to "become" some distant place, like others who prefer to buy out-of-season and distantly-produced food. Rather, through domestic gardening we become our local land, and our land becomes us. We then become truly rooted in this place, something missed by people who think the distant exotic is better. Becoming home-bound through eating local produce has only recently been understood even by food-conscious people. Grow and consume your food!
We assimilate our land's produce, and through this eating with the love shown to us in God becoming incarnate, we lovingly become one with the land and the flora and fauna on the land. We pattern the divine condescension to become one like us in our humanity, for through love we give further meaning to all creatures on the Earth. Just as the God-man is a bonding of divinity and humanity within our human family, so we human beings as part of the Divine Family are bonded to Earth herself, extending to other creatures in our own sacrifices what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ. We become united to our Earth in a special way by being like Christ.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to treat the land with reverence, to touch the soil lightly, and to see that in consuming Earth's produce we become part of where it grows. This becoming is part of growing in the Body of Christ, something we do with each passing day as we come nearer to You. Thus in "becoming our land" we perform a humble act of helping to heal our wounded Earth.
"Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the Earth bring forth a savior."
(Responsorial refrain on Wednesday, Third Week of Advent)
The Word comes from above and the Earth rises to bring forth a savior in space and time. Jesus, son of David, is conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Earth is the place of our human origin, our mother and our womb. The mystery of the incarnation is the resonating of Heaven and Earth, at a time two thousand years ago, and in a place, the Holy Land. This deep mystery of God's touching us so directly is that personal union of divine and human. This is God's self-communication, Jesus Christ, a loving caring person, one of mercy and compassion. Jesus, as man, springs from the Earth, from Adam and Eve's children, from the House of David, from Mary as bearer of the God-man. This is union of heaven and earth in a living person, God's uttermost revelation to us in Jesus, resonating, sacrificing, teaching, leading and loving us.
The church community looks in two directions: from above, from the teaching word of its magisterium of Pope, bishops and theologians; and from below with the grassroots work of each Christian person. The union of the above and below is a model of the union of God with humans, the perfect union in Christ, now manifested on Earth as the Body of Christ -- and seen through the eyes of faith. We are truly people of faith when we perceive the union of God with us and are willing to accept the task to imitate Christ in our actions as part of the Family of God. The Church acts divinely and humanly, and this two-fold nature is the Christ who is in our midst.
The opportunity is for us to proclaim the incarnation. Do we stand merely as observers of a mystery unfolding or as participants in the Incarnation event? First, the eternal Word is now spoken in time and thus the Earth itself is blessed in a divine way. We listen to the advent of the Word spoken, and we stand in awe like shepherds at the stable adoring the new-born king, the Word now incarnate. The patron of ecology, St. Francis, initiated the crib (Creche) as a teaching tool par excellence for all of us from small children to wise elders. It has become a prime observational point for viewing the Nativity happening. But we must do more than stand by.
Within the Liturgy we mingle water and wine and ask to come to share the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity. We bring the word to those eager to hear Good News through our teaching, proclamation, prayer, encouragement, and giving information and promotion, all requiring our energy and time. We unite in our own being a view of the world and a need to get our own hands dirty. Observation yields to practical action, for, if we love, we must love those near to us; if we have been given the grace of divine life in Baptism, then we must effect the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in our daily lives.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be incarnate in our actions.
Dealing with Trumpitude: A Christian Approach?
On each Saturday during these first 100 days of this Administration I have presented reflections dealing with concerns about our new President. Some would say, "Give the poor old boy a break." Much of his first actions are what Robert Reich calls "cruel," including a budget that affects the truly poor. President Trump is not poor, and he does not pause long enough for a break. His Big Oil mouthpieces march forward on the Dakota and Keystone XL Pipelines and on aggressive climate change denial. Attention this week is on health care, but the grand energy issue does not go away. So amid the political chatter we ought to reflect on what more can we as concerned citizens do. Is it a matter of timing?
One citizen action that still awaits a substantial reason to trigger was NOT suggested in last weeks suggestions: Impeachment. Much awaits the conclusions of interactions with Russian parties on the recent election, but these may very well appear in the next month -- and prove to be solid grounds. The importance of the office demands the cold truth that efforts must be made to remove Trump from office to save our troubled Earth and its people. This manner of removal from office is not really unprecedented; the House of Representatives attempted such a procedure against President Clinton two decades ago; in the previous century the Senate had a formal trial of the seventeenth President, Andrew Jackson. Recently, both Brazil and South Korea removed their presidents by similar procedures.
This legal civil approach must address a major fault in governing by an individual person. The problem is that there are not yet sufficient grounds, but the possibility ought not be ruled out, even though it is hard at this time to see Republicans going along with such procedures -- though anything is possible. The option is quite clearly spelled out in the U.S. Constitution and, if the possibility starts to emerge in a meaningful manner, the President may improve his learning curve on a number of these "cruel" issues. An argument for considering impeachment as a real possibility is that it might lead to his changes on energy issues; he just might accept renewable energy sources as excellent job opportunities and economic and environmental improvement as win-win. If the president is willing to drop promotion of new health care legislation, he may not feel bound on his energy opinions. The active threat of office removal may trigger these changes.
The option is not new and was introduced by a few on January 20th (Inauguration Day) <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For the sake of all concerned, it may be the most Christian thing to consider at this time. The possibility is real, for an advancement to favor the current Vice-President might have great benefits associated with a transfer of power. Furthermore, since everyone is able to change his or her mind, this may be the opportunity for a new Trump approach to governing. What do you think? Comments are most certainly invited.
March 26, 2017 Faith Models: The Blind Man and Others
At the mid-mark of our Lenten journey of faith (Laetare Sunday) we are heartened by the drama of the story of the blind man in John, Chapter Nine. Here is a person who really must act as a courageous single individual, for even his parents forsake him under the pressure of the established order all around. Of all the passages in the New Testament, this one impressed me most in my early spiritual journey. What honesty and integrity! What fidelity and bravery! This blind man remains faithful even though ostracized and thrown out of the synagogue and placed in a life-threatening situation.
We find help in a community of faith. But there are times when a solitary witness must stand up for faith because others refuse to assist. Rare examples stand out. The first is that of Franz Zaggerstadder in Austria, who was able to show that he would not fight for the Nazis under any circumstances, and for that he was executed by Hitler's regime. He was buried in a hidden grave in his home town, for people were ashamed of his action; and he was virtually forgotten until Gordon Zahn, a conscientious objector in the Second World War heard about an Austrian who did the same and wrote "In Solitary Witness." Franz's cause is moving to sainthood.
The second example is that of Joan of Arc, the maid of Orleans, but really a Lorraine cow-herding teen-age maiden who was called by St. Michael and St. Margaret to lead the French army, which was in disarray. Though she did not bear arms, she was the banner bearer and went ahead to encourage the soldiers until she was captured and tried, defended her own faith (showing the Holy Spirit will tell us what to say), then was condemned by the English, and burned at the stake. As the flames leaped up around her she cried, "Jesu, Jesu,” and the English soldiers never forgot her haunting last words.
The man born blind affirmed Christ and thus was thrown out of the synagogue and that means put outside the pale, the approved religions in the powerful Roman Empire (at that time the Jewish religion was one of the tolerated ones). He, as a Christ follower, became an outlaw, lion's bait in those troubled times when John's Gospel was being written. His bravery deeply impresses us.
On this joyful Laetare Sunday we pause and rejoice for those who are our models in faith. We rejoice in the beginning of spring in Earth and all her creatures. Peace of soul as expressed in this rejoicing is found in the born blind, one who went from not seeing to a person of faith willing to accept all consequences. In these troubled times we are the solitary witnesses in this world. In doing so, we witness to the need to heal our wounded Earth with whatever it takes, and current economic and political conditions make this all the more difficult.
Prayer: Lord, we can only repeat today's "Entrance Antiphon:” Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts.
March 27, 2017 Recognizing the Roles of Senior Citizens
If we can sing on March 8th about the ABCs of tree benefits, we can do as much about the many roles that senior citizens can play by offering benefits to their society. So often they (or we) are overlooked and thus need the comfort of being loved and wanted for the betterment of all. Here are the ABCs of senior roles:
AARP members and if you don't know what that means,
ask one of them; Baby Boomers are now being included in the fastest growing portion of our American aging population; Citizens, who take their duties seriously in many ways; Devoted church-goers in a greater numbers than the younger ones; Elders can mediate many disputes; Fumblers seeking help from youth to open child-proof bottles; Gold miners of many forms of activism and yet good listeners as well; Homemakers par excellence; IdealKeepers of the secrets of past depressions; Joiners of just causes worth fighting for without fear of loss of reputation or position; Knowers of the shortness of life; Letter writers to legislators when others do not have time; Memory retainers of the ancient past, not the recent present, which can be more easily forgotten; Neighbors worth cultivating on many occasions and especially as visitors to other elderly, the sick, forgotten folks, prisoners, and others who need moral and spiritual support; Old Folks, who add spice of life by their presence in a celebration; Public citizens on a host of community and national issues; Quality of life lovers, who know how to cook and eat well; Retirees, with shortened memories except when it comes time to vote; Story-tellers, even when stories are repeated until mellow with age; Trackers of problem areas in the community; Users of health benefits and costly medicine$; Volunteers, willing to work for literacy campaigns, citizen organizations, museums, libraries, demonstration centers, youth camps, abuse centers, Green Thumb programs for gardeners, Meals on Wheels for those with driver's licenses, and a vast assortment of charitable groups which lack sufficient funding; Wise persons, worthy of comment on many issues: X-perienced resources, even when often overlooked; Youth at heart, who serve well as teacher assistants and baby sitters; Zealots of a kinder sort, who can effectively lobby for the poor, the hungry, the un- or underemployed, and the homeless, especially for programs that alleviate troubling conditions.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to respect all in our society, especially those who are encouraged to assume new roles in their senior years.
The primary fuel choice for motorized vehicles was made back at the turn of the twentieth century over a hundred years ago. Electric cars were built and considered as a choice, but then advocates of the internal combustion engine (ICE) allied themselves with strong oil companies’ support; they were able to win the day. By the First World War the ICE was the clear victor, and a worldwide search for oil was undertaken to satisfy the rapidly growing appetite for petroleum-fueled vehicles. Refineries were built to meet spiraling demand for gasoline and diesel. Over the years, modifications in fuel refining and efficiency were added. But fossil fuels came at the price of air pollution, respiratory diseases, stepped up security to protect fuel sources, and depletion of petroleum reserves. The rising craze to have ethanol as a substitute has not really changed need for non-renewables to help grow and process this corn-based biofuel; recall biofuel removes grain supply from limited global food reserves.
The world is now reconsidering in the light of climate change and starting to build vehicle-powered alternatives, namely, hybrids, totally electric and hydrogen-fueled autos. The hybrid option that has been around for a decade or so reduces fossil fuel; however, far more interesting is the totally electric. As of last fall over a half million American-owned electric plug-ins were purchased and some test vehicles from a dozen manufacturers are coming on stream. And they are getting more efficient all the time; one test vehicle ran 600 miles on a single charge.
Such vehicles can be charged directly with solar charging stations during the daylight hours while workers are busy at the office. Totally electric vehicles without a solar or other renewable energy fueling station require using the current utility grid, which now is still fueled for the greater part by non-renewable fuel sources. Thus this is merely a transfer of emissions from the congested urban vehicle use areas to the location where electricity is generated. In areas of the world where hydropower or wind or solar power are major electricity sources, electric cars can be recharged from renewable electricity sources.
The sun is certainly free, and this is being recognized more all the time. Solar-powered vehicles do not require a heavy engine and component parts, but in the past have required heavy lead/acid batteries; now these are being replaced with lithium and lighter weight ones. Currently, the world is in a vast movement to these more efficient batteries -- though some prove dangerous due to spontaneous fires as recent reports tell us. ASPI at Livingston, Kentucky, developed its own solar/electric car (a converted Dodge Colt) that has a range of about eighty miles and was recharged by a bank of solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of the office that was tied into that public utility system. The project proved to have educational impact.
Prayer: Lord, give to us the willingness to move over in time to a renewable energy transport system even though still a promise.
Carolina wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus, at suet feeder.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
March 29, 2017 Finding Sacred Space within the Heart
An old lady on the southern front porch rocking chair says, "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits."
We all look for familiar space to reflect and pray and where we find God in the silence of our hearts. Interior progress and spiritual growth demand this silence of the heart, a peaceful environment that comes with awareness of communion with the Almighty. This peace of soul is wrapped in an ever-deepening interior silence -- the very grounds on which progress of the spirit is possible. The massive invasion of privacy in our intrusive modern age makes a discovery or creation of silent space a major challenge. We are all bombarded by noise and by interruptions that break into our private space. E-mails, phones, television, traffic, crying children, and a host of other interruptions affect average people.
Silence of the heart is needed by all, but it is of special importance to immobile individuals (confined prisoner, physically ill, severely challenged), or to care-givers responsible for the lives of others, or to the "we" who suffer in our everyday encounters with noise. Creating silent space may be done by individuals or in company with others who prefer communal rather than private prayer. Ideal sacred space is where all senses are in tune with the creator. I found a favorite rock on a bluff overlooking the Rockcastle River; the huckleberries, singing birds, swaying trees and sassafras smell added to the rough warm rock to give a sense of divine nearness. The more all the senses are involved, the more ideal the sacred space. Thus we should seek an ideal private natural setting as our favorite sacred space.
Churches, when open for visits, are also ideal for retreat from the noisy world. The warmth of the Lord reserved as the "Blessed Sacrament" is immediately experienced by many people. Wayside chapels and shrines have been favorite sacred places in certain cultures with deep religious traditions. America is not generally blessed with such readily accessible places, but we do have a few if we look for them in areas where Catholic settlers were prominent at one time or other.
A federal prisoner complained about the lack of quiet space, but he needed to be reminded that God helps us create our sacred space. I had to remind him that ultimately the heart is the sanctuary of the God within. While certain surroundings may be more conducive to finding silence, such surroundings are not absolutely necessary, for God can transform our individual hearts into ultimate quiet space that no one can take from us. This becomes a form of resonance, the deepest form where God communes with us in the manner in which the Triune God resonates within Godself. By asking, God never refuses; through divine power the seeker is able to commune with God in the ultimate privacy of a heart -- in space that no one can take away.
Prayer: Lord, increase within our hearts a choice space where you reside and where your resonance of love finds a home.
Everyone has a favorite bird, and the tropical ones of color are often favorites when transported and caged. However, many of us favor the wild-ranging ones that have a certain amount of color, but also grace and pleasing appearance when feeding or flying. Perhaps a good candidate is the elegant and graceful inhabitant of our temperate zone, the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). In this part of America we see some throughout the year, though they often migrate to warmer lands in winter and farther north in summer. Some call them "cranes," for their large size, spindly legs and sharp bills (for spiking fish).
The heron is always on the alert and forages by choice most often near water (lakes, creeks, ponds, rivers, and swamps) for fish and marine creatures; however, when hungry the heron will feed on frogs, turtles, salamanders, insects, snakes, voles, gophers, and many species of small water birds. Certainly it could be designated as an adaptable bird. At the Kentucky State University Aquiculture Center in Frankfort, director Steve Mimms tells us that the local blue herons have adapted to the steep vertical siding of the fish tanks, which do not allow them to wade out in the traditional way to do their fishing. Instead, the herons have become nature's PT boats and speed in under the netting that protects the fish and get their catch in a different way, using their bellies and feet as paddles (duck like). Evolution now! We all are in the process of change, for that is natural.
Unfortunately, the size and grace of the heron has allowed it to be hunted even when restrictions have been imposed. Human development and activity has disturbed its natural habitat and still the heron is able to ride with the tide and be called "stable." Herons nest in trees or shrubs near water or sometimes on the ground where dangers from predators are minimal. These are built by the female with the male bringing in materials to compose the platform; some nests can even be in the tops of trees a hundred feet in the air. Incubation is by both sexes for about a month, and upon hatching they assume the duty of feeding nestlings by regurgitation. In two months the young are able to leave the nests and the family prefers a colony of herons rather than singular lifestyles.
For those of us who see the graceful flight patterns and the silent watchful heron on the shore, we regard them as a work of the Creator's hand. They are the subject of fine art and photography. Every effort must be made to protect their presence and to battle against so-called hunting seasons for their cousins the sandhill cranes. Hopefully the heron will continue to thrive here and throughout North America.
Prayer: Lord, in the springtime we welcome the migrating birds along with those who choose to winter with us. Help us to always be protective of these species whose habitats can easily be destroyed.
Spring affords us a chance to judge our activities, some that are greener than others. Some are quite wholesome; others threatening and risky to human health and safety. Some activities use little equipment, have low travel costs, and operate with little non-renewable energy; others are heavy users of the Earth's limited resources. This list goes from most to least friendly.
Socially significant and low-resource use
1. Nature observation
2. Wildlife preservation
3. Organic gardening (vegetables, herbs, flowers)
4. Home rehabilitation and repair
5. Solar energy development
6. Nature trail building and maintenance
7. Environmental writing and publicity
8. Environmental education
9. Visual arts and crafts (using safe materials)
10. Singing, dancing, playing music, performing arts Local and low resource use
11. Entertaining children with simple toys
12. Board games (non-electronic)
14. Walking, hiking, jogging, running (cross-country)
15 Swimming, wading, beach play (natural setting)
16. Snow-play, sledding, cross-country skiing
ice-skating (natural setting)
18. Picnics, potluck, social events (local)
19. Fishing (natural areas)
20. Home exercising, weight-lifting Local outdoor with equipment
21. Playground activities (swinging,
volleyball, sandbox, kite-flying)
22. Canoeing, rowboating
23. Softball, soccer, baseball
24. Track, field
25. Biking (hard surface)
26. Basketball, tennis, handball
27. Dry land skiing, roller skating
28. Antique and collectable assembling (coins, stamps, etc.)
29. Gym games (acrobatics, karate, racquetball, basketball)
30. Model plane-flying, electric toys Outdoors with equipment and moderate travel
31. Camping and backpacking (low impact)
33. Sailing, rafting
34. Rappelling, rope work
35. Summer camp games
36. Horseback riding (on trails)
37. Lawn croquet, badminton, lawn tennis
38. Spectator sports (outdoors)
39. Spelunking Indoors with equipment, operating energy
40. Home decorating (lights)
41. Wrestling, fencing, boxing
42. Movie-making, home video, YouTube
43. Amusement parks
44. Writing (using computer)
46. Electronic and video games
47. Computer hacking
48. Private gym activities (low use)
49. Private swimming (low use pool) Indoors with equipment, energy, some travel
50. Opera, concert, festival, movie (automobile)
51. Spectator basketball
52. Bowling (automated)
53. Ice skating (artificial ice) Outdoors with equipment, and human safety factors
54. Surfing, surf sailing
55. Ice sailing
56. Scuba diving
57. Target practice, archery
58. Hunting (products consumed)
59. Contact sports (football, rugby)
60. Ice hockey (natural setting) Outdoor, equipment, and travel
61. Camping and distant backpacking
62. Touring and sightseeing
63. Mountain biking
64. Horseback riding, fox hunts, polo (with horses) Outdoors, equipment, human safety and travel costs
65. Skiing or snowboarding downhill (mechanical lift)
67. Motorcycling (on highways)
68. Rock-climbing, mountain climbing
70. Auto-racing, drag racing, demolition derby
71. Rodeo riding
72. Hang gliding
73. Bungee jumping Outdoors, environmental threat
74. Lawn care and gardening (motorized and pesticides)
75. Landscaping with introduced species
76. Wildflower picking, wildlife gathering
78. Golfing (using chemicals on land)
79. Amateur archeology
80. Trophy hunting for wildlife (local or regional) Outdoors, heavy Energy use
81. Overseas vacationing
83. Ocean cruising
84. Horse racing
85. Deep-sea fishing
86. Motorized camping
88. Airplane touring and hot-air ballooning Outdoor, human and psychic health
90. Gambling and cock-fighting
91. Malling and compulsive shopping Heavy impacts of a multiple sort
92. Parachuting and sky-diving
93. Wildlife hunting for sport
94. Touring fragile lands, dunebuggy operation
95. Off-road vehicles (cross country)
96. Motor boating, water skiing
97. Big game hunting (distance travel)
99. Substance abuse (drugs, alcohol)