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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.

A series of written meditations and reflections

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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

May 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Al Fritsch

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Wild blue phlox, Phlox divaricata
(photo: Janet Powell)

May Reflections, 2010

    In our part of the country, May is the beautiful month of high springtime. May does not just have blessings; May is a blessing, all contained in revealing sights, sweet sounds, fresh smells and a feeling of new life. In many ways, May excels: the forests are clothed in greenery, wildflowers reach their zenith, children seem all the more exuberant, the nestlings venture forth into a new but somewhat harsh world, the berry patches blaze in glory. May is when the mockingbird greets the morning on the highest point giving a repertoire of the entire avian community. May exudes the scent of black locust blossoms. May is the confident feeling that winter and sharp winds are behind, and an exciting growing year ahead. With May come transplanted tomato and pepper plants starting to take root. May offers us promises of better days and fortifies us for the hot summer season ahead. Yes, some of us wheeze and sneeze with rose pollen in the air; this makes us all the more aware that nothing around us is perfect, not even May.










A natural bouquet of May wildflowers.
(*photo credit)

May 1, 2010    Joseph the Worker: The Right to Work 

    The first day of May has a long history involving Celtic May poles and other special celebrations.  Several decades ago, Soviet military might was exhibited by the USSR on May Day.  But both the Celtic and the Soviet traditions have faded, though this is still a "workers' day" to some degree.  However, there is further special attention on May first to St. Joseph the worker.  We feel close to this foster father of Jesus, with all his responsibility, trust and struggles.  The just Joseph cannot fathom why the innocent betrothed Mary is with child.  What must he do?  The Spirit tells him to take her, and Joseph follows, journeying with unwavering trust to Bethlehem with the pregnant Mary, and then fleeing with his little family into Egypt as refugees from Herod's reign.   

   Yes, Joseph is more than a carpenter -- and that is not said with disrespect for that noble profession.  Joseph is constant in his trust and thus the protector of the Church as an extended part of the Holy Family.   He is the patron of workers.  He does not speak a recorded word in Scripture, but remains in the background in Jesus' early life -- but still he becomes a key figure in history,  "Was this not the son of Joseph and do we not know his family?"  Joseph's humble life becomes a target of cynics who ask whether the Messiah comes from such a simple household.    

    Joseph is thrust into a pivotal position in the coming and revelation of the Messiah, yet he is a tradesman from hill country without degrees or wealth.  He works in obscure Nazareth, even though of the noble House of David.  He takes turtle doves, the sacrificial gift of poor folks, when he and Mary present Christ in the Temple.  He brings the family yearly to the Temple festivals.  He is the breadwinner, the overseer of home life.  Joseph is well aware that native wood is scarce, and so carpentry involves making buildings, furniture, doors, and a multitude of items by skillful use of materials, all needed to provide a family's livelihood.

      Work brings on self-respect.  This respect is horribly shattered when ambitious youth discover that the dog-eat-dog world does not afford them opportunities to do what they want.  We sympathize with them, and pray that they do not become cynical.  Would that they become the cadre of those demanding their right to work.  Will it shake the nations with their accepted bonus-takers, tax havens and deductions for the wealthy?  Why should the unemployed frighten anyone?  Are we to keep them contented as though it is our religious mission?  Should we help shake off contentment and arouse the unemployed to recognize their self-worth?  Shouldn't we break the silence about civil rights violations?  Isn't it a crime that workers are willing and much work must be done -- and yet financial resources are sequestered by the privileged few?  Isn't the challenge to liberate financial resources to allow willing workers to help build housing, roads and needed infrastructure in our world? 

      Prayer: St. Joseph, people pray to you to help find a place to live;  I pray also that they seek to find a place to work. 







Fresh cherries enjoy a spring's soaking rain.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

May 2, 2010     Loving: The Unfinished Story

     Deuteronomy 6:5  You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.      

     What does it mean to love God?  Millions of words are spoken, written, or sung about love, and yet love is better expressed in deeds -- to sacrifice for another.  We yearn to break out of the prison of self-love, and to go beyond to a sometimes distant calling.  We want to fly, hang glide, rappel, experience the freedom of a skipping child, or ride the scooter in the leaping turn.  And to love is to be free as well in a more profound manner, to abandon selfishness and move towards the mystery of God.  In the Gospel of John (Chapter 14) we see God's love, the love of us through the suffering and death of Christ, and the love we return by performing deeds for others.

     The Second Commandment:  Love of Neighbor.  Leviticus says, "You must love your neighbor as yourself."  The Shema or prayer of hearing follows immediately after the Ten Commandments.  The second passage that Jesus relates to love of God is taken from the "Holiness code" in Leviticus -- the collection of the principles on how to be holy.  The two commands are coupled,  because love of God is not genuine for us unless shown in love of neighbor, while love of neighbor is not truly founded unless we recognize the source as love of God.  The infinite ocean of love stretches before us.  The motivation to love one's neighbor springs from love of God, and the test of authenticity of love of God is found in love of neighbor.  In loving our neighbor our love of God grows.  We flee from biases and dislikes for certain cultures or races.  We are to love all -- radical Muslims, communists, skinheads, those on death row.  Jesus says, "Love as I love you."   

     The Good Samaritan parable in St. Luke's Gospel identifies our neighbor, our love of everyone even when we have special friends.  Today the Internet, TV and radio bring neighbors from the other side of the globe into our own living rooms -- a truly global phenomenon.  This raises our consciousness to the cries of needy folks.  We learn from Mother Teresa, who saw urgent need and responded immediately -- thus seeing what catholic means.         

     Love is inclusive.  The early Christian community faced the challenge to take in Gentiles in the community.  The laws that already applied to Gentiles were included in the discussion, but certain regulations that applied only to the Jewish community were omitted.  Extending our love to a global community will challenge us to move out and accept the ways of other cultures.  We can't be inclusive with overabundance when living in a world of hungry neighbors.  Rather we are drawn by the power of love to share our own resources and urge others to do the same.  Our very salvation is at stake, a salvation tied to universal love and divine mercy.  

  Prayer:  Lord teach us to love as Jesus has loved us, for that is our unfinished journey to you.    





Bladderpods (Staphylea trifoliata) by streamside.
(*photo credit)

May 3, 2010     Emphasizing Prudence in the Climate Change Controversy 

      Scientific experts tell us that the planet's temperature has risen 0.8 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial-revolution times.  Some of the 2010 snowed-in crop of naysayers and denyers, and those "lubricated" by the non-renewable energy industry, have accepted global warming facts;  however, they say these changes are due to natural cycles and not major human manipulation or causation.  A vast majority of scientists (over 90%) accept the human causation contribution to climate change and point to dire consequences, if the temperature continues to rise by two degrees Celsius by 2050.  More pessimistic climate scientists say that without outright efforts on the part of major energy-using countries such as China, the United States, and India, the very serious two-degree rise could be doubled in this century;  this would result in catastrophic effects on certain regions of the world.

      Those who are accustomed to living in unsustainable ways, by using far more resources than needed, hardly ever consider the virtue of prudence, much less justice for those who need resources now squandered in luxurious lifestyles.  Prudence means careful management of resources at hand.  Those who waste or control resources for selfish gain, are acting contrary to prudence;  they oppose any change in practice that affects their privileged position.  On the other hand, prudent people are willing to err on the side of caution.  Here the critical consideration involves the health and safety of human beings and Earth herself.

      We work in this imperfect world with a convergence of moral, judgmental, and scientific evidence -- even when evidence is incomplete and possibly exaggerated.  In matters of salvation (this involves the saving of our wounded Earth), we must be willing to risk erring on the side of prudence.  The signs of our times, the reddening skies of climate change, stand as a real possibility.  The focus is on, "what if ...."  The possible consequence is that the poor will be gravely affected, and conditions could worsen over time.  Are current wasteful practices worth that possibility?  No. 

      The fallout from the disappointing Copenhagen Conference is the derision of the green positions by ever-more-vocal denyers.  However, climate scientists talk about the long run, not the local weather at a given time or a single year's temperature rise or fall.  Climate change may and does include more severe snowfall and winter temperatures in certain places.  Prudence considers these facts, and even worse possible scenarios when human extravagance and overuse of resources affect the most vulnerable through floods, droughts and other severe impacts.  Climate change denyers argue the emotional greens are alarmists.  However, don't we sound alarms when there really is a fire or we smell smoke?  To deny what a majority of climatologists say is certainly imprudent.

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to be prudent on climate issues, not to be overly alarmist, and to realize and take steps when human beings are found to harm our vulnerable planet. 




Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) with a visitor.
(*photo credit)

May 4, 2010

              Asking Soteriological Questions 

               Christ saves us all, we say,

                    and is that the total message's worth?

               Is all saving a matter of Christ's sole action?

                  Or do we help save our wounded earth?


                What is this our imitating role:

                   Securing what in theory is already gained?

                Proclaiming a deed that will unfold?

                   Or adding chorus to a grace-filled refrain? 

                Is presumption saying Earth will be saved?

                   And despair saying it will not?

                Or is hope's mission what Christ's members say:

                   "Earth will be saved, if we but.."?   




Flowers of the mulberry (Morus) tree.
(*photo credit)

May 5, 2010      Championing Mulberries

      When I was young, we did not have mulberries in our rather varied orchard, but when we visited our cemetery on Decoration Day we discovered a mulberry tree.  That was my first taste of mulberries and gave birth to the thought that all cemeteries should have edible landscaping.  Why not, and why not mulberries, for here is a native species that would be an everbearing fruit?   

      Since that youthful introduction, I have come to see the value of the mulberry tree, for it has many good qualities.  On further investigation we find that mulberries come in a variety of colors and flavors and that some are from our side of the planet and some, such as the white mulberry (introduced for silkworm cultivation), have been brought over from the Old World.  Our Illinois mulberry was planted in honor of a former pastor, Father Tom Imfeld;  this tree has thrived on poor soil, and it sprang up to become an almost 20-foot high tree in less than four years; growers predict that such trees could reach 35 feet.  The tree has had a good crop of mulberries from almost the start and larger amounts with each passing year whether wet or dry.  The fruit has a wonderful taste and comes throughout the summer months.  If the berries are picked often and when not perfectly ripe, birds tend to avoid them, for most like ripe sweet berries.   

      Most mulberries tolerate poor soil and a variety of wet and dry conditions.   They are generally free of pests and diseases.   The trees like full sun and would prefer enough room to spread out.  In urban areas, some residents dislike colored mulberries, because the fallen fruit will stain everything it touches and can be tracked onto sidewalks and into homes.  For better or worse, birds like the ripe fruit and their mulberry-stained dropping can splatter the countryside and clothes drying too close to the trees. 

      Mulberry trees can be trained so that the number of branches will not become too dense.  Trees should be pruned while dormant, because the cut place tends to bleed sap in summer.   The white mulberry is regarded as a weed tree in both rural and urban areas of America.  Depending on the sub-species, the mulberry is quite cold-hardy;  it seems to tolerate pollution, and some sub-species can even grow well in a tub.     

      I was so enamored by our Illinois Everbearing Mulberry from Stark Brothers that I persuaded the parish to purchase three more and on this past March 17th, several of us planted the three in a south-hillside fill area, which in the future will be able to furnish shade for the parish hall.  These trees help fulfill the qualification for edible landscaping, that is, a good shade and a good fruit-bearing species.

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to love the simple things of life, even the simple trees that some regard as of little worth.  Help us see value in many things that others overlook -- including mulberries. 








A moment for contemplation.
(*photo credit)

May 6, 2010      Having a Time for Keeping Silent, a Time for Speaking

                                  (Ecclesiastes 3:7)

     It is as important to cultivate your silence power as your word power.       
                     William James

      They tell us that sometimes silence is not golden -- just yellow.  In fact, both our speaking or our remaining silent have their time and place.  Far better than always opening or never opening one's mouth, is to know when to do each.  Here is a listing of silent blessing and contrasting failure to speak.  

      Silence is a blessing when -- 

     * All need time to reflect deeply on a subject;

     * Others need time to concentrate, rest or work;

     * We are preparing for a difficult task ahead;

      * Speaking will be distracting for those performing a difficult undertaking;

      * We are at a vast and beautiful vista and no words are really desired or worthy of the scene;

      * We are trying to make a retreat or pray in private;

     * We have concluded our remarks in an emphatic manner and all know we have little more to say;

     * We and others know we have nothing more to say;

     * Outside noises bother us immensely and so we retreat;

      * We accept deafness as a challenge and a reality with which we tend to cope as best we can;

     * We attend a wake and act respectfully;

      * We are walking through a cemetery;

     * Taps is being played; 

     * And we just sit in the presence of another we love. 

      Silence is a curse when --

     * Someone lonely wants to hear from us, and we have so many other things to do or places to be;

      * Our public voice means so much for the oppressed;

      * Peers demand silence so they alone can speak;

     * A loved one is on the wrong road and will perhaps, though not necessarily, listen to words of offered advice;

     * We fail to tell a loved one who is on the wrong track just how deeply his or her actions affect us;

     * Our civic duty is to vote, write in protest or speak up as part of the need for justice;

      * Another person is hurt unjustly and we stand back and do nothing;

     * We are too intimidated to speak up;

      * Our singing, chanting, resonating voices need to be heard in unison for the good of all; and

      * Oppressors frighten us, and we capitulate.

      Prayer:  Lord, prompt us to speak when we must, be silent when we ought, and know when to open and when to close our mouths. 






A lovely, flower-lined walkway through the forest/
(*photo credit)

May 7, 2010        Bestowing the Blessings of May 

      We consider May as a blessing in itself, but it does also consist of countless minor components called blessings in themselves.  Within an atmosphere of gratitude we recognize the ability to bestow as well as to receive blessings -- thus seeing blessings as empowering in themselves.  We can make May a greater blessed event by being especially thankful for:

      * The forests that are now clothed in full greenery as the late oaks are finally leafing out;

      * The flowers, the flowers of May -- the last of the litany of wildflowers along with those in lawns such as azaleas, lilac, bridal wreath, lilies-of-the-valley, and subtle blackberry blossoms and fragrant black locust blooms that last a brief span and then are gone for another year; 

      * The newly started and growing garden with a variety of herbs and vegetables all seeking to grow to fullness in a short while; 

      * The May rains that enhance the garden's growing plants; 

      * The smell of new-mown hay -- coumarin -- that fills the air; 

      * The mockingbirds and all those nestlings that are now learning to fly.  May they succeed and have a satisfying life; 

      * Swimming pools and watering holes now made ready for the influx of gleeful youth who love the splashing sound of water; 

      * Graduation music and the hopes of those who seize their diplomas and move out to a waiting and somewhat hostile world; 

      * Farewells to friends at moments of change and departure, though people always stay close today through cell phones and text messages; 

      * Those speeding on the highway and hopefully giving the proper attention to the road and not to cell phones, iPods and things to eat and drink; 

     * Those who defend the security of our country at this time or in times past, that the gratitude for their service and their memory will never be lost; and 

      * Mothers everywhere that their love and care for those under their charge will always be intense and warm, and for the rest who remember and show respect for their mothers living and deceased. 

      Prayer:  For all of these we give our heartfelt thanks.  May eternal life be eternal May. 





Intricate flower of the wild ginger (Asarum canadense).
(*photo credit)

May 8, 2010      Defending Wildlife, Wilderness and Forest Commons 

     There is no quiet space in the white man's cities.  What is there to life, if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around the pond at night?                                  Chief Seattle 

      In a privatized world of reservations for the select few, it is important to reaffirm and defend the commons, that is, resources to be shared by and with all.  The global resource of wildlife and wilderness should be regarded as belonging to this common heritage. A polar bear or elephant ought to have its own habitat and not be pushed off by others wanting to use the resource for their own benefit.  Wildlife and wilderness have value by their presence, and that should not be reduced to tourist potential or commercialized animal parts.  Value goes beyond human utility and includes the worth of just being and being present -- even when human activity in a wilderness is minimized or avoided.

      Since so much of the global treasures of wildlife and wilderness is threatened, our defense must be all the more emphatic.  We learn all too slowly to respect wildlife habitats through protective means.  Furthermore, we ought to be satisfied with simply enjoying wildlife's presence on the planet through virtual proximity -- reading or viewing films of wildlife or wilderness on video or DVD.  Sanctuaries such as wildlife nesting and feeding areas must be encouraged for stressed species, even when nature purists say that birds do not need special attention.  Sponsorship of wildlife nature centers and education programs, maintenance of nature trails, periodic bird counts, and control of feral cats and populations of certain game animals are all part of a balanced wildlife program. 

      Forests are also part of the global commons, but commercial interests have encouraged privatization of forest land since the advent of white colonists to the Western Hemisphere.  Native populations understood this commons concept better than did newcomers bent on commercial gain from furs, timber, and farmland.  Even when respecting private forests, the common demands of the world's people require that forests are maintained as wildlife habitat and as the "lungs of the planet."   

      In the county where I reside, the nineteenth-century charcoal-fueled, iron furnace industry denuded trees for miles around.  However, today forests have regenerated and tree covering is healing the barren landscape.  Deforested areas of the world await replanting -- a simple healing act and ideal youth activity.  This extends to urban reforestation that enhances summer cooling and has other energy-saving benefits.  Tree planting under the direction of expert foresters should emphasize variety and not single variety plantations; sensitive expert  foresters can suggest the more suitable fruit and nut trees for humans and wildlife. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to respect the commons even when we are tempted to use everything ourselves in utilitarian ways. 





Blueberries in full bloom.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

May 9, 2010      Planting the Gift of Peace at Home       

                     My own peace I give you... (John 14:27a)

    God is the ultimate giver of all peace, and our role is to receive and preserve this precious gift of peace within an atmosphere of gratitude.  The peace that is given to us as gift from God is able to expand; it is not so limited that it can only be sequestered and grasped by a few.  Peace is of infinite spiritual value, not limited material worth, and so we have the responsibility to pass our individual peace on to others.   

      Peace that we receive into our hearts is allowed to sink in and rest for a brief moment.  However, this inner peace is fragile, and its growth potential depends on how well we pick it up, mold it, and prepare it to be extended to others.  If we ignore peace or become too selective in what we attempt to do with it, the peace is utterly distorted and lost.  Friction results.  On the contrary, peace must be allowed to settle within our hearts, be recognized  through prayer, be nurtured through sacramental life, and then be extended as a gift to others.  Gift received is gift given, and being a spiritual gift it has infinite quality. 

      People crave a peace that the world cannot give, and thus we turn within to peaceable people who recognize God as the author -- these with spiritual insight are the ones capable of extending peace to others.  What we discover is that peace within our hearts is able to be cultivated.  If the heart of Christ is the source of peace, and if we as loving members of the body of Christ constitute that heart in the world around us, then our peace is meant to be contagious, to go out to all the world.   

      Peace comes through showing God's love and mercy as experienced by us and is meant to be shared.  Scripture tells us that we show this love through deeds and not merely words.  We need to requite or repay this love through loving deeds to and for others.  Jesus' farewell address tells us that we are to love as he loves us and sacrifices himself totally for us.  God prompts us to  recognize that love is already here, to accept it, and to allow it to break loose from within us through our prayers, charitable deeds and sacrifices for others: 

     1) Sacrificing for others involves letting them know that we pray for them and with them;  Love is an uncreated love, not a love that we fashion apart from God; we merely open floodgates so that loving peace can move out.  

     2) Establishing peace in our homes involves making the place one of love and peace.  Let's prepare our homes by following the promises made to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, namely, if our home is graced with the Sacred Heart picture that is placed in a prominent place for all to see, peace will come to that place.  

      Prayer:  Lord, help us open our hearts and our homes for the beginning of peace in our world -- starting at the grassroots, that is, in our interior hearts and in our dwelling places. 










English ivy vine and pink geranium flowers line a not-so-busy walkway.
(*photo credit)

May 10, 2010       Degrees of Humility:  Thinking Globally 

     Our Earth all around us has troubles, and we take note.  Our senses detect unhealthy conditions that fly in our face and that we cannot avoid.  We have first a vague and then an ever more encompassing awareness that something is amiss, first immediately around us and then, through communication with others, we sense the entire globe is involved to some degree.

       St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises speaks of three kinds of  humility.  The first kind is necessary for salvation, and involves obeying the law of God and in no way violating the commandments that bind me mortally even to save my own life.  The second kind is more perfect and involves an attitude wherein I do not desire riches rather than poverty, provided that in doing so I promote equally the service of God our Lord.  Even to save my own life, I would not consent to do the most venial of offenses against God.  The final and most perfect kind of humility assumes the first two and states that if God is equally serviced one would desire and choose poverty with Christ's poor, rather than riches and even to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ -- because he was thus treated.  Christ is present in the poor, poor people and poor Earth.

      The first degree of environmental consciousness:  Becoming green follows the same patterns as does individual spiritual growth.  We are moved to turn from the misdeeds that harm our wounded Earth.  If we are silent to polluting practices, we are party to them.  The first stages of environmental consciousness in the 1970s and 1980s was seeing environmental harm and deciding to say something about what was observed.  However, often initial observation made the damages stand at a distance from us, and merely seeing the damage, voicing objections and calling for remediation seemed sufficient from this initial level of awareness. 

      Denial is not an option for us.  Someone must act and halt the malpractice: air and water pollution, deforestation, pesticide contamination, endangerment of species habitat and extinction of species, toxic waste, and land erosion and mining damage, to name but a few.   At this first level, human irresponsibility stands out, must be exposed, and a firm resolution made to halt these malpractices. Specific laws, regulations and restrictions are imposed by governments at various levels in order to stop air or water pollution, deforestation, or to save the gray wolf or bald eagle.  Actions on this level include current climate change battles.  In the process of acting, the conscientious person becomes aware that the actions are imperfect.  From the concerned citizen's standpoint there is need to influence governmental agencies whether by citizen contact, legal action or through citizen petition and lobbying. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help me to see the poor, the hungry, the suffering.  I do not want to be lost due to insensitivity, which is a mortal fault.  Help me accept my citizen responsibilities and move to deeper levels of awareness.









Flowers of the chive plant.
(*photo credit)

May 11, 2010  The Second Degree:  Acting Locally

      Individuals abandon blatant forms of misconduct and approach those who have suffered as victims.  We move from merely seeing troubles and come to realize that something ought to be done.  My indignation goes beyond blaming the distant culprit. I resolve that I must take several types of actions:  to help others change their lives; to change my own life in some way.  It is not enough to merely see damages from a distance.  Rather, by acting, my sensitivity is heightened, my modeling catalyzes others to act, and my will power is strengthened.  My growth in environmental consciousness goes beyond pinpointing environmental damage by others.  I must do something and help in some way.

      The second degree of environmental consciousness looks at the personal need for assisting others;  it involves going out to help them in many ways:  with housing, with feeding the hungry, with servicing the sick, with environmental repair and with clean-up operations.  In the process of going out we find that we are imperfect and the work is not done perfectly. Physician heal yourself.  Introspection ensues.  We make some inner discoveries.  In part our imperfections stem from unrecognized privileges and use of resources due to our current place in the world.  Yes, I am partly to blame for the conditions of the world around us:  I use resources;  I fail to recycle; I travel much through inefficient means.  I contribute to the consumer culture in my use of electricity, my mobility and my consuming goods geared for planned obsolescence.  Local involvement in change is necessary.

      Excuse is no viable option.  I look down into the practices through an audit of what is used at all levels of my consumer practice.  An entire world opens before me with many resource conservation techniques:  conserving water; turning off unused electronic devices and unused lighting; driving energy-efficient vehicles or traveling by public means or hiking or biking; engaging in less environmentally-impacting forms of recreation; growing fruits and vegetables and purchasing organic locally-grown food;  turning lawns into edible landscape, turning down heat in winter and cooling devices in summer; and a host of simpler living techniques.

      Simple techniques consume time and effort, and after much study, practice and interchange we justify this focus by saying it is sufficient.  Like-minded individuals can re-enforce our attention to individual and local activities.  In fact, the methods are so diversified that new and better techniques are constantly coming to the fore and information exchanged.  Is this enough?  A wider world is out there, and our model living may be overlooked or only tolerated; others may continue in their wasteful practices.  We may simplify (a kenotic revolution) -- but the world will not.  Earth is not automatically saved (presumption) nor damned (despair); hope of salvation rests with a deeper spirituality.  

      Prayer:  Lord, give us ways to overcome our uneasiness with others in need;  show us how to reach out and help them.








A bed of iris buds, waiting to bloom.
(*photo credit)

May 12, 2010      The Third Degree:  Acting in Solidarity with Others

      On the third degree of humility, an individual seeks to be with Christ in all that it takes.  A solidarity embraces the crucified persons in our world.  While this level is quite plainspoken when it comes to individuals, at the more collective level, beyond committed intentional communities espousing poverty, this gets more difficult.  However, the present system is not working and joint action must be taken.  Any temptation to tweak the system is only denying the urgency that each of us is impelled to espouse.  The need goes beyond the individual and a powerlessness prevails.  Forms of escape come to the fore:  we must work within the system;  we cannot expect to accomplish much even as a committed community;  love makes us refuse to offend anyone and any push to the commons is offending the privileged.

      A third degree of environmental consciousness is starting to awaken.  I see how little I can do alone and sense a growing need to involve and join with others in a collective enterprise.  We seek a certain solidarity with our fragile sister Earth.  We express this in song, poetry, prayer, dance or other artistic and spiritual ways.  This deepest level may not be primarily a natural consequence of the first two levels, but rather a major ingredient in the relationship of primitive and nature-loving simple people to Earth.  To be one with the poor as a WE does not mean selfishly escaping to an ever-shrinking natural wilderness;  it does not mean being a China, India or another emerging nation increasing its appetite for material resources, the extraction and processing of which the materialistic West has done for decades.

      Escape to our ever tempting allurements is no option; we cannot run from what is before us no matter how difficult the task and how risky our efforts at solutions.   Today, poor Earth is threatened as never before; the poor will suffer all the more and so true solidarity means not seeing disaster or even hearing the cry of the poor, but being poor and saying: "WE the poor" -- yes, poor people and poor Earth.   At this deepest level of environmental involvement, the emphasis is on social justice.  Earth's resources belong to all of us, in a common good of which Benedict XVI speaks.  Yes, we have no room for economic and political systems that permit the resource-using privileged few.

      We conclude that if we do not act now Earth will be severely damaged in the long haul.  We must propose and bring about a new world economic system not based on material profit nor fostering greed, but rather based upon fair distribution of essentials and avoidance of wastes.

      Prayer:  Lord, make us see beyond simple individual acts and go to a deeper level of organization, and thus set our goals at working to enhance a system wherein justice may prevail upon our wounded Earth.  Give us the courage to act as a people to bring about the changes that are due here and now. 




Flower of the pawpaw (Asimina triloba) plant.
(*photo credit)

May 13, 2010      Testifying to God's Presence 

      If we believe that Christ is really present, then we are to present Christ in a meaningful manner to our world.  Christians often profess in words their belief in the Lord's presence in our midst;  however, making Christ present in deed is a greater calling -- but we can also do that.  St. Theresa of Avila speaks of our being hands and feet of the Lord -- through deeds showing belief.

The real presence in the Eucharist is a matter of adoration, for many of us believe through the eyes of faith that Christ is present.  Our liturgical Eucharistic Consecration changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord.  For those without this sense of faith this action seems almost laughable.  However, we must reaffirm that this is not only ecclesially- and biblically-based from the time of Christ's earthly ministry, but that this faith act continues unbroken through apostolic succession and priestly commission.  The Lord is with us, a reality that grows with each Mass; the Calvary event continues in space and time.  Through faith, this Presence gives reality to our present moment, a coalescing of past and future into the sacred NOW.

      The past includes the Calvary event of two thousand years ago.  It was in historic time and one grand happening.  However, this event transcends time and thus is made ever present by our liturgical participation.  We accept the sufferings of the past and the yearning of ancient Israel for the Promised One.  The past is thus fulfilled with each passing day and our Liturgy extends that fulfillment with our participation in the sacred HERE.

    The future hoped-for coming of the Lord is included as well, an anticipation of the definitive coming of the kingdom of God when Word is presented in a formal manner.  The Word was born and became one of us in the Incarnation; the fulfilled Word will come again at the end of time to gather us all together.  The one who came and lived, suffered, and died is the one who rose and went before us in space and time.  It is the Christ who was and will be Lord of the Universe, who is among us and is made present by our faith- and hope-filled deeds performed in the present moment of love.  Since God is love, our loving deeds present God to the world around us.  We are the ones who believe and hope, and thus are the ones who love what we hold dear from past history and future promise.

      God is Love with or without us, and yet we know in faith that divine love spills over into us and allows us to be empowered to love in turn.  To profess faith with no love is meaningless and the same applies with hope as well.  Living our faith and hope can only be done through loving deed, when Word generated goes forth to all the world through what we are and do.  In this manner, we become a trinitarian manifestation of God who creates us, who redeems us and who inspires us to extend love to others.  Our own oneness in faith, hope and love testifies to the oneness of God; our loving deeds make this oneness known to others so they too may love.

      Prayer:  Lord, let us make your presence known through loving deed as well as word. 




A surprise (unplanted) guest at the garden's edge - a brassica.
(*photo credit)

May 14, 2010     Facing Reality as a Deepening Spirituality

         That voice is round me like a bursting sea:

           "And is thy earth so marred,

          Shattered in shard on shard?

           Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!"

              "The Hound of Heaven,"  Francis Thompson

      We know people who overspend, overeat, overdo or indulge in one or another substance;  we seem powerless to do anything about it, and yet there may creep in upon us a righteousness that at least on this matter we are better off.  We may dismiss their problems with "They can't face reality."  That may be true, but the lack of facing reality confronts more than a few.  We are all in a culture sated with material things and enamored by the quest for comfort.  We are a country of drugs and drug advertising; as a culture we lack a sense of abstinence;  we indulge in promises of future fortunes; we champion fiction and gaming; we are destitute of ways to handle reality.  In fact, some would chide us for trying to get folks to face reality:  "How can you be so cruel as to confront them?"  Their ways become private affairs.

     Facing reality extends to our nation as well as our neighbors in our local communities.  If we know relatives and neighbors who are going bankrupt, what about our nation's spending habits and our own needed commitment to civic responsibility?  Wake up!  We as a nation are living beyond our means, and we seem so powerless to act.  At the moment this was being written (in February), our Administration was allowing loan guarantees (really loans) for nuclear powerplants that are costly and risky -- all because of the power of corporations and lobbying efforts.  Facing reality is part of anyone's spiritual health.  We need a deeper sense of the hard knocks of life, the suffering to be expected, and our shortness of time.  Reality is stark but, when truly faced, it has a surprise -- God is present in our midst when we face up to reality.

      Fiction is all too popular; so is laying out elaborate plans that go by the wayside.  Shorter-term realistic planning is sparse. We need to do real things that count: be humble, refrain from overusing, conserve resources, cut back on improperly defined "needs," look for more than material profits.  People thrash about for material security and it evades them.  We all have those moments when the car stalls, the house is filled with smoke, a friend comes down with cancer.  In all, we stumble upon reality when least prepared, and then must face it or continue fleeing from it.  Ben Franklin said that it is good deeds, not good words, that count.  Deeds involve the healing that comes in facing reality with prayer.  We are not alone; we have God to help us.  If we are drinking too much, we can stop with God's help. If we cannot start or get involved in a task,  we can start with God's help.  We resolve to do more than make a promise;  we step forth and come face-to-face with reality, and therein act accordingly.

      Prayer: Lord, fortify our resolve to see what is before us, and, in seeing, to find you from whom we have been absent so long. 





Flower of the dill plant.
(*photo by Jon Hayes)

May 15, 2010      Selecting Dill as the Herb of the Year 

     You who pay your tithe of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law -- justice, mercy, good faith!                 (Matthew 23:23

      Why mix profound reflections with a mention of the lowly herb dill?  Are we not belittling major problems facing the human race and our wounded planet?  Don't we seem to tithe time and space for herbs and forget about focusing our reflections on justice, mercy and good faith?  Simple-living folks may attempt to address these questions differently, but my major reply to the focus question is -- "cultivating and enjoying dill helps prepare us to spend quality time on weightier matters."   

      Lowly dill has no medical properties of great moment though some can testify to its good effect.  Nor does dill have a special place in one or other grand culinary delight, but has the commoner quality of being liked in many simple ways.  The taste seems to grow on people.  I like dill in ice cream, but does that qualify?  Dill is enjoyable, and we need simple joys in a problem-filled world.  Besides, dill has a long history of being enjoyable in ancient and Biblical times through the Middle Ages, and right down to today.  Dill has staying power. 

        Those of us who belong to herb clubs, like our Estill County one, hear about a different herb each month.  Over time we get acquainted with many varieties.  However, we also have a "herb-of -the-year, when we reintroduce ourselves to one of our kitchen- cooking herbal family members.  Dill has the honor for the year 2010.  Compared to many of the other herbs needing special care, dill is easy-going and easy-growing.  Seeds germinate well;  some can come up from the previous summer;  the plant comes to seed in mid-summer and then a second crop can be produced that can be saved in pots in a greenhouse for winter use.  Protect in autumn, for the plant is quite susceptible to cold weather.  

      Dill is so much a part of menus that it can be overlooked.    Besides popular dill pickles, we have dill throughout much of the growing season and thus insert it for special flavor in many soups. I did not specifically mention it among the 365 varieties in our "Special Issues" due to omitting seasonings.  I like putting herbs in cornbread and have found dill to be a favorite.  Dill always adds excitement to cooking and so creative herb lovers slip dill into a host of stews, sauces and soups.  I sprinkle fresh dill into twelve-variety, mixed green salads creations.  When plentiful, fresh dill is a regular addition; at other times dill seed suffices.  I add dill to raw sauerkraut as a salad variety (await listing in the "Special Issues" at the end of 2010).  Fresh dill or seed can be put in vinegar for salad dressings.  French cooking includes dill in pastries, cakes and preserves of various types.  Dill goes well in many dishes and thus truly deserves to be the herb of the year.

      Prayer:  Lord, help us keep from being dull through dill. 






Blossoming trees of spring against blue skies.
(*photo credit)

May 16, 2010   Celebrating the Ascension 

      Why are you standing there looking at the sky?  (Acts 1) 

      At the time of his ascending into heaven the risen Lord invites us to become his hands and his feet in the world around us.  Our participation is one part of the mystery we reflect on today, all parts of which are interconnected:

     a) The Lord ascends in glory;

     b) We become participants in the glorifying process;

     c) The age of the Spirit begins through inspiring us to act. 

  Jesus Christ has moved among us, suffered, died and risen.  With the completion of this phase he departs as would a loved one and friend.  He ascends into the glory of heaven.  Sadness overcomes those who are in his company, and yet it resembles all  departures of friends, a bittersweet event.  Christ ascends so as to reign in heaven -- but the reign of one who is a suffering and serving Messiah.  Jesus hands back to his father the redemptive accomplishments he has wrought, a definitive act in the salvation of the world.   

      Christ's departure is part of our maturation.  His physical absence now allows us to take on the important work that he has called us to do, and that the disciples are to put into motion through the establishment of the Church and ministering of the sacraments.  We are not left alone, and so we launch into our work as part of the Family of God.  The Ascension opens the way for our own ascending in power to perform work needed here and now. 

      The Holy Spirit comes among us in this new age.  We are inspired through the act of divine Love to go out and assist others in some fashion.  We become messengers of God's Word through a maturation process.  The Kingdom now founded must be given full root and flourish and here the Spirit directs and encourages us to do what we are called to do.  In this age, the Spirit shows the glory of God manifested in each individual who obeys God's will and contributes to that divine mission.   

      Just as the disciples vainly expected a military messianic event even at the moment of Jesus' Ascension, still the Pentecost event ten days later opened for them a new and spiritual understanding.  So with time and the graces of our Baptism/Confirmation we are open to growing and maturing in the mission still ahead of us.  Spiritual privileges are bestowed on us;  we are to announce justice to the world.  We accept local tasks but must move on to help bring justice to the world.  We are to establish the new global Kingdom as a spiritual and civic duty. 

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to accept the invitation given to carry on Christ's work.  God operates through us and not in distant and only miraculous ways.  Make us realize our unique roles as participants and inspire us to carry on the work Jesus initiated while in his public ministry. 








Dwarf larkspur, Delphinium tricorne.
(*photo credit)

May 17, 2010  Using Tools Properly 

      I once knew a crafty old farmer who would ask the aspiring worker to go pick up the shovel or hoe and bring it to him.  He testified that he could tell how experienced the candidate was by the way he picked up the tool, how familiar he was with it, and how well he gripped the handle and balanced the implement in his hands.   I remember that farmer when I ask people to pick up hammers and spades.  However, I caution myself for some act improperly, but they are earnest and learn faster.

      A picture in a recent issue of the periodical "One" shows a farmer in Ethiopia, and from the way he positions the scythe (parallel to the ground) I know he is an experienced farmer.  There is a knack to handling every instrument -- and that applies to everything from a tennis racket and baseball bat to a concrete trowel and level, from a keyboard to a cello.  There are ways that make the task easier and more accomplished, and good teaching and observation make these practices teachable.  However we must also be tolerant in allowing for handling peculiarities by some. 

      This story goes beyond crafts and arts and extends to the way we run our households, whether domestic, regional, or national.  The economic tools at our homes include everything from a check book to credit cards, from light switches to cooking devices.  Our cars can be regarded as instruments of travel, and these also are handled differently as are cell phones and iPods possessed by drivers who are tempted to multitask.  We learn with time that we must attend to each task in order to succeed.  Do we show such care in our domestic and community relations?

      On a national level, the tools of state include administrative regulations, legislative measures, and use of powerful military weapons.  Tax revenues are instruments as well that can be used justly or unjustly.  Where does an aroused citizenry demanding fiscal responsibility fit into the picture today?  Why the massive military budget?  Does it render perks to most congressional districts, rendering legislators paralyzed to make needed cuts?

      We must handle all tools with care, knowing which ones we can use properly and where we should look for the ones who can use them better than we can.  It takes grace and humility to realize the need to detect, learn and discern what is needed to create an efficient labor force.  One bit of tough love:  beware of the inexperienced! One unskilled person with a hoe can ruin a garden quickly by chopping out plants, loosening soil near them too much, or omitting the weeds that need to be attacked.  Our unpleasant task may be to divert the inexperienced to less damaging work.  We need to persuade some to defer to others.  Encouragement must be given to each, once they have proper tools and instruction.

      Prayer: Lord, we are tool-handling creatures;  guide us in our choice and use of them, so that the world will be a better place through the works we perform and the workers, artists and crafts people we encourage and support.







A burst of blue in Mercer Co., KY forest.
(*photo credit)

May 18, 2010        Failing to Face Cultural Bankruptcy

     And they [Cities] will be swept away by various kinds of destruction: some will be ruined by wars. others will be destroyed by idleness and a peace that ends in sloth, or by luxury, the bane of those of great wealth.        Seneca 

     A few years back, I sent a donation to a colleague who had started a small non-profit organization in Appalachia.  However, his plans did not seem well formulated and so I asked him how he was to keep the new office functioning.  He replied, "I have a credit card."  Though I held my silence (while his group struggled), I should have said,  "This is the mentality of why I don't have a credit card."  Living on credit fosters a fiction that the brighter future will erase all debts, and that sources of income will happily arise out of nowhere.  Paying off credit debts is beyond people who live in the world of pretending.

      Fiction-writing is so popular -- and lucrative -- that I am tempted to shift to that pursuit.  Why not tell within a gripping story about the rottenness of the credit mentality and how we live unsustainable lives on the sure road to cultural bankruptcy?  There is plenty of ammo for such stories: one-third of a million foreclosures occur per month; credit card fraud and identity theft abound;  people make choices between fixed bills and health insurance;  European nations, states and cities stand at the brink of default, and yet their streets are filled with citizens defending their overpriced positions.  Maybe the fictional story should be of people craving change, showing dissatisfaction with those who are materially privileged, and calling for a new economic order.  Is the reason we hesitate to change because we still believe in storybook magic or, as the selfish elders among us think, because the chickens will come to roost after they die?  

      The truth is always that reality is stranger than fiction, and quite often more interesting.  However, few want to delve deeply and would prefer to stay in the comfort of fictional living that distances the reader/viewer from immediate reality.  Our illusion within our materialistic culture is that we can conquer cultural  problems through sufficient material techniques and resources.  Children's stories mesmerize adults who prefer books of fiction, novels, and network sitcoms;  we fail to abandon unsustainable living practices.  We fail to see the need for longer-term solutions;  something is out of place, is askew, is missing. 

      Culturally we must change;  we simply cannot continue the policies leading to ruin.  Are we really so powerless?  Can we not stop before it is too late?  Can we confront the cultural greed and  covetousness leading all to ruin?   Can we halt the unsustainable practices of the affluent bonus-takers who deserve to be in jail? 

      Prayer:  Lord, shake our collective being in such ways that we doubt the fiction we popularize;  give us the courage to face the truth that stands before us;  turn hearts to spiritual things.   





May, 2010 flooding in Eastern Kentucky.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

May 19, 2010       Confronting the Drug Culture  

      When you see more drug reps than patients in a doctor's office, you know something is wrong. (An astute patient, 2010)

     In 1910:   Doctor, must you give me this drug to take?  I do not like to ingest any foreign substances.

     In 2010:   Doctor, you must give me this drug to take.  I saw it advertized on tv.  I forgot the name but it is the purple pill. 

      Americans have problems with drugs on the individual, local regional and national level.  In fact, this problem is not uniquely American.  Note that there are poppy growers, coca gatherers and mafia cartels in many nations.  Even with all the wars on drugs the business of drugs is booming. Part of failure is the permissiveness of a culture that advertises legal drugs, glorifies consumption in virtually all its forms, encourages greed, makes money into a god, and never confronts the dangers of excessive use of just about anything.  Addicts abound and most think they are still rational enough to make informed choices, while addiction extends to illegal and legal substances, from narcotics to anabolic steroids. 

     America is home to less than five percent of the world's people, and yet our people consume two-thirds of the world's antidepressants (one-eighth of our people take Prozac and that is only one of thirty depressants).  Over three billion dollars (2005) is spent by Americans on the medicine Zoloft alone.  Numerous drugs are widely advertised; patients pressure doctors for prescriptions.  Most of us might be inclined to say, "But that is a rare happening."  Really?   Earlier this year, in the BBC interview with a celebrity physician at the time of the trial of the doctor who treated Michael Jackson, an interesting answer emerged.  When asked whether doctors are badgered by patients, the interviewee said that it happens all the time.  He spoke of "doctor-shopping," or moving from one to another by those with drug-seeking behavior; they hunt for willing dispensers and even threaten those who do not comply.  Unfortunately, they find the obliging medical person who will try to satisfy them, but drugs do not satisfy. 

      Face it!  We have become a drugged culture; we grope for the remnants of rationality and solid hopes and stitch these together to reconstitute a healthy society.  Drugs are an illusion, a fiction of our culture, the inherent limitations of all material things that call for more and more.  It is as though the quantity will keep the process functioning.  We are drugged even by the dollars that seem to say, "The more the better."  Material profit motivation fuels the drugged culture; it builds on itself with a craving for things illegal or legalized by those who captivate our law-makers.  Citizens and health professionals are caught in a struggle going far beyond drugs and the production, dispensing, advertising and transporting of legal and illegal substances.  

      Prayer:  Lord, help us to see and address the real situation.  Keep us free from drugs and help us liberate those held captive. 







Taking a break to enjoy warm spring sun.
(*photo credit)

May 20, 2010     Contrasting Material and Spiritual Privilege 

      We often mention the "privileged few" versus the great numbers who lack material means, the ones who satisfy wants with impunity and the needy caught in the drought of basic needs.  To allow this condition to continue is a SIN of our culture of which we must realize, confess and make amends for.  As stated in "Reclaiming the Commons" on this website, such a condition of wealth for the few and poverty for a widening majority of people, will damage and destroy the cherished but fragile democratic spirit.  As responsible citizens, we must challenge wealth becoming power, power becoming access, and access making possible influence;  thus the materially privileged have become de facto nobles who can purchase laws that enhance their privileged status.  Through media they influence irate citizens with the mantra, "No new taxes," and turn them into lemmings rushing to the sea of national bankruptcy. 

      On the other hand, a spiritual privilege also exists that is unlimited in nature, a gift given in our sacraments by a generous God who creates us and sets us apart to bring all together.  These gifts are not short-lived and unsatisfactory;  they have eternal duration; they are not exclusive but are directed to inclusivity of all.   Good News reaches the ears of the condemned prisoner, slave or beggar and eventually to all the poor, for spiritual privilege is for all, not a few.  Let's make it reach everyone!  The future is an unlimited horizon, and the insight is itself a grace.

      Spiritual privilege involves being the first to see the spiritual dimension, not becoming the few who are allowed to see it.  This graced privilege of first in time does not mean to stop at this point;  we must invite others to enter the limitless sea of God's Love.  Being first only means being first to invite others, not to knock others out of a limited competition.  This is why a privileged ability to see ahead is a gift that exists with awesome responsibility.  Sharing overcomes any desire for exclusive possession -- and this is why a materially tainted spirituality is so harmful.  We receive a spiritual privilege to share;  service is inherently a refutation of exclusive "spiritual privilege" that leads to self-righteousness and a blinding insensitivity to others.

      A distinction is in order:  we condemn material privilege in a world of haves and have nots;  we affirm spiritual privilege that involves confronting the materially privileged.  We do not rest and excuse ourselves by saying that material privilege is a facade, which in the long term it is.  Rather we must condemn the status that makes so many aspire for the limited material resources controlled by the few.  From a citizen and democratic standpoint we cannot permit unlimited material privilege, or the power of those who have to continue getting, letting those without remain in their destitution.  Material wants are fueled by an inordinate greed.  Confronting this vice is our duty as suffering servants, becoming vulnerable for the sake of others.

      Prayer:  Lord, thanks for spiritual privilege to see ahead. 






Butterfly on fence at Fr. Marquette Memorial, MI.
(*photo credit)

May 21, 2010   Challenging Talents Turned to Material Privilege 

      All of us are privileged with certain natural and cultivated gifts:  intellectual, athletic, artistic, etc.  A few are Beethovens and Handels;  while Mozart died penniless, many of the talented are now being privileged in monetary ways.  The early Greek athletes received a non-monetary crown of laurel, but modern athletes receive more than laurels and gold medals.  Money, big money looms just over the horizon.  Our materialistic culture goes farther; gives the winners perks.  Why is Tiger Woods, a talented golfer, a billionaire?  Is it simply the road from talents-recognized to material privilege?     

      We admit that the presence of a gifted individual does not mean another person is entirely bereft of gifts, only that society does not place equal value on all talents.  All of us are to know our gifts and to help others find theirs for the sake of the common good.  The difficulty is that in a materialistic society, people place value on certain gifts and then reward the celebrities with advertising contracts and other monetary awards in order to knight them with material privilege.         

      Those who should be teaching spiritual values often mix the goals of material and spiritual privilege.  Is the intellectual on a road through privileged institutions of learning to positions of privileged power and wealth?   Intellectual or artistic talent is recognized and granted material privilege.  One easy answer is to allow the material awards to be given, but to subject them to virtually total taxation.  People may bask in becoming instant millionaires or billionaires, and then watch in satisfaction as their awards are redistributed through the power of fair taxation to those more in need.

      Prosperity is regarded by some as a mark of spiritual growth.  Fools certainly rush in where angels fear to tread.  Thus these prophets of profits concoct examples as Jesus dining with the wealthy, or wearing a seamless garment, or being given Magi gold.  The leader of a "prosperity church" struts on stage with diamond rings and travels by private jet to the next glittering event.  This is a natural outcome of those who hold a perverted view that material prosperity is the mark of success.  It is ever so tempting!  Akin to material success is the tolerance of those who are privileged either by royal blood or material wealth;  they are permitted to remain wealthy, provided they give (at their own discretion) a portion to the destitute and poor.  Material privilege must never be justified as an opportunity for spiritual growth through charity.  What a perversity!  We need to purge this world of such misunderstandings and prepare it for a radical sharing of wealth, whether freely done or enforced by proper regulated taxation.

   Prayer:  Lord make us radical enough to resist the temptation to material success, and strong enough to challenge others who  succumb to spending quality time acquiring wealth. 







Rowan Co., KY. Quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides.
(*photo credit)

May 22, 2010      Revealing the Mixed Mesophytic Forest 

      Residents in forested areas tend to overlook their near-at-hand treasures. Affirmation comes in celebration and appreciation of forested ecological gems.  Those who want to extract timber or coal from these priceless commons often deliberately suppress the value, so that what they extract goes virtually unchallenged.   

      Our forested gem, the "Mixed Mesophytic Forest," stretches from southwestern Pennsylvania to northern Alabama, and includes the Appalachians and Cumberland Plateau.  The name of the forest was bestowed by noted botanist and ecologist, E. Lucy Braun (1889-1971), who amassed some 12,000 plant species in the course of her lifetime.  "Mixed" refers to thirty plus canopy trees that appear in predominant patterns and are thus called oak-hickory, beech-maple, oak-pine, etc.  This forest is a relic of the ancient mesic forests that once covered much of the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere; it escaped the last ice age and thus is the world's oldest and most varied temperate forest.  It contains a rich understory of fungi, ferns, small trees and shrubs, herbaceous plants, a multitude of wildflowers, and a variety of animal wildlife species.  For millennia the region has abounded in elk, deer, bear, wolf, fox, snakes, opossum, raccoon, beaver, rabbit, turkey, and some two hundred species of migratory or resident birds.  Creeks teemed with varieties of fish and crayfish, frogs and salamanders. Behold a treasure! 

               Mixed Mesophytic Forest 

            Verdant ancient garment of America's East

          Oak and hickory-stitched, chestnut deceased,

          spring flowers, refreshing showers, and firetowers,

          elk, bison, deer, geese, and the Indians cry "Ours,";

          while trailblazers say, "My gun empowers." 

          Remnant of a distant past,

          you did survive the glacial mast,

          but can you now outlast pollution's blast,

          or timber worth more than price of land

          or off-roaders who grand stand this grandest stand? 

            We know how different axe and chainsaw sound,

          one hacks and thins, the other mows it all around.

          Trees can regrow, but forests don't rebound

          from traffic flow of loader, skidder, dozer,

          justified as canopy's exposure -- true foreclosure. 

            "Shelterwood's" the Forest Service name,

             but rape's the same however came,,

          even to the non-virgin and the tame.

            Crashing trees release a made-made breeze,

          and in an instant the wildlife flees.

          Must this mighty forest cease?      





White stonecrop, Sedum album, in Woodford Co., KY.
(*photo credit)

May 23, 2010      Pentecost:  Spreading the Good News 

      The spread of multimedia communications and its rich 'menu of options' might make us think it is sufficient simply to be present on the Web; [We are] challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources..  Benedict XVI

       World Communications Day, January 23, 2010 

      At Pentecost, more than at any other time of the year, we are reminded to go out and spread the Good News.  This spreading means "communication," and today it is coupled closely with the modern Internet.  Through modern communications what was distant and foreign is now present in our living rooms and offices.  What was once, a year away by sailing ship, is now an instant removed through email.  We connect with others, at a closeness never before perceived in the history of the human race.  We are privileged and we show our sense of responsibility through gracious interchange. 

      Spreading Good News has gone through many stages in the two thousand years since that first Pentecost event.  In the infant Church, people spread Good News through use of the excellent Roman road system, and so small communities of faith sprang up throughout the empire in a relatively short period of time.  Through the centuries and after many ups and downs, Good News has spread to outlying barbarian lands --Celtic, Slavic, Scandinavian, Dutch, and then on in the East to India and even to China.  Through heightened travel and navigation, at one time or other much of the Eurasian land mass received Good News to some degree.  Then the Western Hemisphere, Sub-Saharan portions of Africa, and finally the far-flung isles of Oceania were receptors through missionary efforts. 

      Today, the extent of territory has been covered to some degree, but qualitative penetration is still occurring.  The Good News continues to go forth and touch every valley and hamlet, but it must also be able to penetrate the hearts of the hearers, or at least become an opportunity for them to hear.  The complete spreading of Good News is as yet an incomplete task.  On that first Pentecost we are told that large crowds received the basic message in their own languages.  Amazingly, the content of Good News has not changed: Christ lived, died and rose for us.  All who can ought to spread the Good News as best they can; all need opportunities to hear the message.  The language of the Good News must be simple so that it is translated accurately and with full meaning;  the message should be straightforward and express the urgency of the times; the thought ought to be able to be comprehended.    

      However, mere hearing is the beginning and not the end.  Anyone who hears and receives the message must then carry on by working in and through the worshipping community to encourage those appointed to render the message all the more penetrating. 

      Prayer:  Lord, give us the grace to spread the Good News, to see opportunities when they arise, and to use the Internet and all means possible to achieve these global goals. 




Fort McPherson National Cemetery.
(*photo credit)

May 24, 2010      Decorating Graves of Loved Ones 

      As we approach Memorial Day weekend, we try to show respect for those who have passed on and were so much a part of making us who we are.  This year my siblings and I are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the birth of our mother in 1910;  she wanted to celebrate that event with us, and she came within five years of doing so.  We planted a rosebush at her grave, which practice is allowed in the very obliging St. Patrick's cemetery that holds the remains of our parents, four grandparents, and two great grandparents, plus scores of uncles, aunts and cousins.  We were also able to place daisies on the grave of our maternal grandmother who said, if nothing more, just put some daisies on me.

    It was good to connect on this one occasion.  Many mobile Americans are distant from their homeplaces and only return on rare occasions.  Many do the second best thing and decorate graves with artificial flowers that endure the summer sun and give a sense of color and care to cemeteries.  We realize that many Europeans but few Americans actually cultivate a grave site with flowers and tend these during the year.  Others seek help from those living closer to the site and ask them to go and decorate graves as a gesture of good will.  

    Memorial Day weekend is not just the beginning of summer events;  it is a time of serious remembrances, of visits and home comings, of picnics and graduations and departures.  We pause for a brief moment and remember those who went before us.  We pay our respects and that is meaningful in itself.  Next to our paternal grandparents' plots is a very fruitful pear tree, and I think they would enjoy the fruit, for they came from Alsace and appreciated pear trees there.  In Europe, when a grave ceases to be decorated, it may be declared abandoned and reused.  Fortunately we have enough land in most parts of America that this is not considered a necessity at this time.    

    Our American roots go way back in history.  Much sweat and care went into bringing us to where we are, and we recognize this fact each time we revisit an ancestor's grave site and remember him or her in a prayerful manner.  Each visit does much for us, for our links to the past are forged through respect -- and time has a way of eroding the bindings.  Our links also need to be passed on, for we bear the responsibility to our offspring to transfer some of that respect to them.  Graves have ways of quietly recalling for us the love that was generated over time and continues in our lives.  It is not sufficient that some (whether neighbors or elders) do the task of visits for us;  we have to make the pilgrimage on occasion, for we need the reminder that we live and die a little each day.  By distancing ourselves from our ancestors we can easily forget the history that gives so much meaning to our lives.

      Prayer: Lord teach us respect that includes those living among us and those who came before and have now passed on.  May they who live be respected and may those who rest in peace be seen as living also, eternally, all wrapped in one community of love. 







Flower pods of the black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) tree.
(*photo credit)

May 25, 2010     Reflecting on Ecotourism in Appalachia

      Like all parts of the United States, the Appalachian region is desperate to discover ways to entice and promote new business in these hard times.  The beauty of our region with its scenic rivers, forests, caves, gorges, natural bridges and cliffs makes it a prime attraction for visitors-- and these scenic resources are potential business opportunities, provided the resource is not damaged by the business operation.  One such opportunity is ecotourism, that is, the practice of inviting people to come to enjoy ecological attractions and to act in a non-threatening manner.  Sightseeing, the number one tourist activity, accounts for about forty percent of all tourism in America, and is a worthy candidate for being truly ecological.  Some tourist activities like hiking impact the environment only slightly;  others such as off-road motorized vehicles can prove quite harmful if regulations are not enforced. 

      Tourism is the region's third largest business and source of income, and it holds an even greater promise for poorer regions, provided competing for tourists does not lower environmental standards.  Central Appalachia is poor and has ecotourist potential, and is susceptible to such temptations.  General tourism, with its heavy carbon imprint through air travel, can prove a mixed blessing.  However caution is needed for along with income could come: unplanned development;  disregard for local customs; mass-produced and cheapened crafts; underpaid services by poor locals seeking jobs; and subtly dictated the suppression of local culture.    

    For many years, our region has been beset by an influx of motorized vehicles that traverse at will both public and private lands in the guise of "ecotourism."  Pressure builds with these types of recreational activities because equipment makers see sizeable profits.  Special recreational interests such as the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) create a myth of ecotourism through advertising pressure and some guise of responsible practices.  NOHVCC also gives scholarships to Marshall University as part of this "good neighbor policy" that includes a host of trails on reclaimed strip mine lands.       

    The goals of responsible environmental groups who desire to control motorized recreational vehicles are fairly straightforward:  maintain the integrity of our public and private lands and especially fragile areas; prohibit such vehicles where they come into conflict with natural resources, wildlife, roadless wilderness areas, wildlife habitat, air, water, vegetation, landscape, solitude, natural quiet, and archeological and historical sites; allow them only on designated roads and routes, with all cross- country off-road vehicles prohibited; and allow motorized water craft only on public waterways where these vehicles cause no measurable ecological impacts or human conflicts. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to always treat our world with due respect, especially when we seek to enjoy nature's vast resources.Move us to make all of our recreational activities green. 









Poppy in rain.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

May 26, 2010      Exposing Greed as a Vice 

      Some call greed the catalyst, fuel and lubricant of our economic system and market economy.  Greed, the excessive desire for more goods on the part of individual "consumers," is expected to stoke economic growth expressed as Gross National Product (GNP).  Estimates are that about seventy percent of that growth is contributed by materially satisfying individual consumer needs and wants.  Needed food, water, lodging and fuel are one component;  wanted higher resource foods, luxury use of water, spacious homes and private vehicles are another.  The first is a vital necessity; the second can be a resource-wasteful luxury.   

      While current world economy tolerates a relatively small number of privileged individuals with extravagant habits, the ultimate unsustainability of such a system becomes clear with time.  When their numbers and impact of the privileged were smaller, material privilege appeared more a blessing than a curse;  it was the goal that the poorer folks strived to reach, as well as a comfort for those who had attained the goal to some degree.  Only in a closer look at details do we see that some in richer places hog the limited resource pie, and others are virtually excluded.  However, the story becomes critical when millions of Asian and Latin Americans seek to imitate Europeans and North Americans in achieving private motor vehicles, resource-intensive foods and more spacious homes.  The contemporary material aspirations include both essential and luxury items for over six billion people.  One billion of these are hungry people and two billion lack proper living space.  And there are a million Haitian earthquake victims.  

      Greed is stimulated by the consumer industry's advertizing and material-profit motivation.  Greed triggers the demand for more  cars, more spacious houses, up-to-date electronics, and all types of prescription and over-the-counter medicines and cosmetics.  Some see the inevitable dangers ahead and define responsible consumerism as tweaking the system through resource efficiency.  Others are starting to see that an uncontrolled material greed can spell doom to our planet.  They are speaking up for "contrasumption" or the direct assault on our runaway consumer-based economic system.  However, when this new system is placed in material terms, it will never gain popularity.  When people attack greed fostered by the Godless (not "godless," for plenty of material gods exist) culture, they are marginalized, seen as ridiculous, and called unpatriotic. 

      In our dysfunctional consumer situation, greed holds the prominent position of being a virtue;  this will continue as long as profit-motivation goes unchecked, excessive wealth goes untaxed and tax havens are allowed to exist with impunity.  Promoters of this culture turn "free market" into an oxymoron;  they allow greed to be an epidemic that sinks its fangs into the sinews of our culture, sweeping up the athletic, the intellectual, the young and the old -- and they silence those who call greed a vice. 

      Prayer:  Lord, teach us to see the capital sin of greed in all its hidden allurement;  lead us to radical sharing of resources.









All in a day's work.
(*photo credit)

May 27, 2010      Living with Daily Routines

      We can divide human beings into two groups:  those who prefer routine and those who live less formally.  Most likely this distinction has a long history, but clashes occur more readily when people live in closer quarters, and life takes on a more frenetic  pace.  As we become more mobile and time sensitive, we find the informal living people are sort of an anomaly.  Tight schedules and polished routines go hand-in-hand.  Some of us who budget time find routine the great liberating element in our hurried lives.  We soon parse out times to pray, to eat, to exercise, to do certain types of work, and to sleep.  Granted, emergencies do arise that demand the breaking of routine, but that is not normal.  Routines are.

      I grew up on a small dairy farm and at least some family members were expected to be at one or other of the two milking periods each day before light in the morning and at dusk at night (plus or minus some sunlight depending on the season).  Yes, cow milking was a fixed routine for us.  Others who open and close stores, deliver newspapers, follow the bells or whistles, or hold a regular job with transportation schedules know all about routines.  Amazingly, when delving into the habits of primitive hunting and gathering cultures, one finds that during certain prime hunting and gathering seasons routines were essential.   

      Some few "free spirits" strive to flee from or avoid routines -- and live from free time to free time.  They know that regularity is built into everyday living and even into religious practice: church services,  days of fasting, and prayers at times during the day.  Those who think of themselves beyond such requirements also find that they are distancing themselves from being effective in a world that has a hunger requiring routine feeding of essential food every day.  Furthermore, they realize that love has its informality, but it also requires a service based on routine.  Those who say "My world," intending to exclude other people, will most likely have a shock on Judgment Day.    

      Hints for improving necessary regularity include:  accepting that all need checklists when memory begins to dull with age or cares;  keeping a day book or weekly or monthly planner and using it;  planning tomorrow's tasks the evening before;  following the schedule as closely as possible but not being bound totally by it;  giving ample time between activities so as not to be late;  developing contingency plans for changes in weather or unexpected delays;  communicating ahead so that the parties in an upcoming event know what you are doing immediately before; acknowledging that irregularities have occurred and offering regrets even when you are not the cause;  and giving a final review at the end of the day.  Don't forget something else in a bow to informality:  give yourself some free time for celebration in spontaneous ways.  

      Prayer:  God who is the master of time, make us find our place in the limited space allowed, and prepare us through routine for the possible informality of eternity. 










Eastern Kentucky sunset.
(*photo credit)

May 28, 2010       Facing Mountaintop Removal Practices

      If I look out my window, I observe one of the nation's largest coal- related rail switching yards.  Am I disloyal in questioning coal as a permanent source of fuel?  Each day 110-car coal trains come from further in the mountains, and these are turned over to other locomotives that carry the coal to to powerplants in Florida and Georgia.  Some of this coal is deep-mined and some obtained by slicing down mountains exposing and extracting layer after layer of black gold destined for electricity generation.  Coal is currently the cheapest fuel, provided some critical environmental costs are deferred to later generations.  

      We are a people living off of future generations, and that applies to credit, agricultural resources and energy supplies as well.  As climate change occurs and we experience summer and winter temperatures that break previous records, we begin to see that chickens are coming home to roost.  We eventually must give an environmental accounting for what has occurred in our world, face the truth and move to cleaner sources of energy.  To destroy the mountains so others can have cheap electricity is not proper.  

     In the 1960s, some Appalachians confronted the beginnings of surface mining by attempting to block bulldozers at their front door, or actually doing direct action against instruments used in mining.  The force of law brought these expressions of opposition to a halt through threats and arrests.  A more moderate approach came to the fore in the efforts of the 1970s to enact surface mining legislation.  These new laws appeared successful at first, but soon the extractors found ways around them.  In recent decades, coal companies obtained entire mountains and concentrated mining operations.  Coal-containing mountains resemble the layers of a cake.  Why dip in only so far?  Slice off mountaintops and extract successive layers until the cake is leveled and the valleys filled. 

      Opposition to mountaintop removal has become somewhat vocal as the practice continues to expand.  However, these opposing voices have been countered by miners wanting to retain their high-paid jobs and industries that want their high-paid profits. Gatherings on this practice have become quite emotional, for coal has a way of triggering differences in opinion.  Those of us, who seek a less emotional and more appropriate approach, champion energy efficiency and renewable energy sources: wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal and tidal -- the first ones more appropriate for this region than the latter ones.  All the while, we also see the mountains as a valuable resource for ecotourism (May 25th).  We realize that coal remains a source of energy for the immediate future both because it is plentiful and because it can be easily extracted through current technology.   

      Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of respect so that we want to save the beauty of our mountains;  give us also the practicality and urgency to implement fuel substitutes that make the shaving off of mountains unnecessary.  Help us usher in this new economy ASAP.





A "fairy ring" of mushrooms after an extended period of rainfall.
(*photo credit)

May 29, 2010     Saying Farewell to the Last Survivor of the Bo

      A news story in February reminded me of a breakfast conversation I once held with an aging Latinist.  I told him each time I hear of a language ceasing to exist it makes me feel the same way as the extinction of a certain plant or animal -- in this case a culture ceases to live.  He replied, to my astonishment, "Who cares?"  My weak reply was, "At least I do. In fact, my care includes the loss of Latin also."   

       This recent story reported the passing of Boa Sr., the last surviving speaker of the Bo tribal language.  This Bo tribe was one of ten distinct Great Andamanese tribes from India's Andaman Islands. Survival International estimates that only 52 Great Andamanese from all tribes are left, down from about 5,000 when the British colonized the islands in 1858.   The Bo are estimated to have inhabited these islands for 65,000 years, making them the descendants of one of the oldest cultures on Earth.  

       Unfortunately, Boa's death is not an uncommon event, for the loss of language occurs about two or three times each month somewhere on this planet.  That is, if we believe the recent UN estimates, half of the world's 6,000 languages will disappear in this century.  Many of the non-major and national languages are endangered to some degree.  Some will survive and flourish locally through the concerted effort of sponsors;  many are indigenous, but the thrust for Internet instant communication drives natives to learn one or more of the major languages.  Native youth quite often prefer to break loose and communicate with larger numbers, and they can hardly be faulted for this.  No one wants to be a living museum specimen.  Authentic thriving cultures must be able to be self-sustaining to some degree -- but many are not able to compete with predominant cultures.  All too often, the drive for globalization occurs at the expense of indigenous languages.  The precarious condition of many languages is recognized too late, and even the songs and tales from these remnant cultures are not recorded in time to preserve them. 

      The difficulty in preserving cultures is more than the lack of resources to take audio or video tape recordings.  It may be the "who cares?" attitude on the part of people who may be astute in other matters;  they lack a green consciousness when it comes to plants and animals and cultures.  We must face those who think that fewer languages will make us more alike and united.  Furthermore, there is a lack of persistent champions, for the last speakers are often marginalized and have little voice.  Maybe the problem is the  dysfunctional condition of many indigenous tribes.  Those reduced to being beggars soon learn to communicate in the language of the food suppliers.  Such is life! 

      Prayer: Lord, make us sensitive to the needs of all peoples and help us appreciate that a surviving culture is a precious treasure worth preserving and enhancing.  Give us the insight to see that native tribes need as much or even more protection than all other threatened and endangered plants and animals. 






Scenes along a rural Kentucky road.
(*photo credit)

May 30, 2010    Spreading Good News through a Loving Community

      I am immersed in God's creation;  I praise God for the life-giving gifts given over a long span of precious time.  My prayer of praise expresses my understanding of how I can act in this world.  Realizing that I do not act or pray alone, I am moved to come together with others to be part of a worshipping community.  We are God's children now;  we proceed to realize the greatness of God's majestic gifts, expressing gratitude on our part, and a dynamic love that encourages us to share with others.  In doing so, we show that we are made to God's image and act in a God-like, even a "trinitarian," fashion.  Our worship contains patterns that could be translated into a new world order, grounded in our Christian faith, our hope in future glory, and our loving deeds; here past and future come together in one present act of oblation.

     We bear Good News when in community we perceive God's gifts to us; we do more than voice our communal praise; we perform loving deeds for and with others.  Involved in this total action on our part is an environment of gratitude that is shown through the total sharing of all that we are and have.  Our own understanding of Christ being present takes on a special significance.  We perceive that we have been privileged in the close connection we have within God's family, and this allows us to proceed, spreading out of what we have been given through radical sharing of resources.  

      Mighty acts of God are experienced.  In late spring when the world comes alive, we discover rebirth and our entire being is filled with exaltation.  Some become so overwhelmed that they stop and focus their attention on a flower, a plant, a special creek.  However, we go beyond the temptation to stop for long and focus, and look up at the broader vista, the greatness of all God's creation.  Thus we gather and express ourselves as a community in articulated praise that incorporates the uniqueness of assembled members.  Private prayerful experience gives way to public worship. 

      Proclaimed Word shows our understanding.  Why capitalize "word" in this context?  Our articulated words when proclaimed together incarnate the  "Word," Christ himself.  In speaking as a body, the Church, we unite as people who are the Body of Christ, and our spoken liturgical Word is the fullness of the Lord in our midst.  Whenever we pray, Christ is with us; when we spread the message, he is with us.  All too often the example of misplaced words becomes publicized;  when differences of interpretation are magnified, then the spreading is stifled to some degree.  A faith-filled community professes the spoken Word in unison.    

    Loving Deeds are put into practice.  The Spirit empowers us to go beyond speaking in public assembly;  we are now able to go forth and put what we uniquely understand into actual deeds.  The freer we are, the better we can perform right deeds, to be sensitive to and serve the others' needs on matters that are essential to them. 

      Prayer:  Show us, Lord, how our actions proclaim who you are.



A patch of lilies marks an old homestead.
(*photo credit)

May 31, 2010     Founding a New World Order on the Magnificat  

      The Song of the Virgin is the prophetic announcement of the mystery of the total salvation of humanity.   John Paul II 

      Today is the Feast of the Visitation, in which we read from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter Two, the words of the Magnificat or Mary's response to Elizabeth's greetings.  These words are pertinent today because of the dysfunctionality of the current social, political and economic order in our nation and the world.  This is becoming apparent to all astute observers of the signs of the times.  Are satisfactory answers to our questions to be found among the recognized economists and political thinkers?  Is not the bias of the affluent so deep and divisive that one simply must look elsewhere?  Affluence deadens the spirit and leaves the soul desiccated, and thus it is nearly impossible for inspiration to come solely from an affluent culture.   

      Should we look for inspiration from within the non-affluent portions of the world's population where the spirited response of the lowly plays an immense role?   If Mary helps usher in the salvation event through a simple fiat, surely her song of praise, the Magnificat, has something to say about a New World Order.

From a spiritual perspective, the one who will inspire will be the one who is most inspired, the humblest and most lowly, the one who is most transparent and pure, the one who is closest to God, the Virgin Mary.  What Mary experiences in her life, we as members of Church are to do on our spiritual journey to rebuild a troubled world.  Like Mary, we, as democratic people, are called to participate in salvation history.  In many ways Mary shows her lowly birth, humble upbringing and universal concern for the poor.

      Mary goes before us, though she is infinitely unique; we follow in her footsteps in humble but unique ways as well. Mary's proclamation is ours today -- a revolutionary prayer of the Church.  We are to bear Christ to other people, and thus we too are called to become involved in salvation history -- the saving of our planet.  Mary goes before us though infinitely unique; we follow both as individuals who bear Christ and as a community of faith who enters into salvation  history in unique ways.  Reflection on her song of praise had immense possibilities for us who fumble in our search for new meaning.   

      Mary's song contained at least the following elements or qualities that are components of any radical change leading to a New World Order: praise and thanksgiving, blessings, spiritual privilege, fear of God, non-violence and compassion, grass-rooted participation, spiritual sustainability,  merciful service, and continuity in tradition.  If modern change agents take on these qualities, we can be assured that justice will prevail.  See our Special Issues coming soon;  Magnificat:  A Bluebook for Ushering in a New World Order.    

      Prayer: Lord, help us to proclaim the words of the Magnificat and not to be shamed by those who deride us for our efforts.

Copyright © 2010 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved.

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

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

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