Dearest Freshness Deep Down Things

Who doesn’t like the musical, Annie? It’s theme song, Tomorrow is one of those melodies engrained somewhere in the recesses of our minds that surfaces just when we seem to need encouragement the most!

Well tomorrow — Tuesday, September 1 — really is a special day. When Pope Francis released his prophetic encyclical on ecology and the environment – Laudato si – back on June 18th, a leading Orthodox bishop who had been asked to help present the document, said: “I should like to mention that the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided as early as 1989 to devote the 1st of September of each year to praying for the environment.”

Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon then made a request: “Might this not become a date for such prayer for all Christians? This would mark a step towards further closeness among them.” So what’s the Pope to do? Of course, he followed suit by endorsing what the Orthodox Church has been doing for 25 years!

Most of the recommendations I’ve seen for tomorrow’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation strike me as disembodied, cerebral, too “vertical” — focusing on “saying” prayers or going to church. Seriously, isn’t that just the sort of heavenly-minded spirituality that has got us into the bifurcated mess we find ourselves in?

So here are a few more creation-centered ways of marking a day that is to refocus our attention on the Earth and how all life is intertwined:

  • Sing “Tomorrow, Tomorrow, the sun’ll come out tomorrow” along with Annie. Be child-like again — the way you were playing outside in nature when you were a kid! Here is a YouTube [link]. Consider: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” Mark 10:15
  • Sit aside running water (we have a creek 3 blocks away). Listen to the gurgle. Wonder at the leaf floating atop the passing water. Imagine the stream’s source, it’s destination. What’s all this got to do with your Baptism (or ceremonial washing common to all world religions)?
  • Walk around your block — actually any place will do. This time get out of your head and dismiss every thought about what you have to do next. Just consider what you see. Pay attention. Attend to nature’s persistent poking forth. Marvel at the minuscule. Consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air — just consider them, resist making this about you and your worries. Simply consider what you see — as they are, for what they are!
  • Go get yourself a Fall plant from the Garden Store. Fantastic purple-blue asters are coming into our markets right now. Reverently transform your yard with autumn splendor. As you dig the hole and carefully pat down the earth around your favorite Fall selection, remember that human, humus and humility all share the same root-word.
  • Spend some time — whatever you have — getting the following poem into your bones. It is surely as relevant today as when Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote it in the 1880s:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Finally, just be grateful. Say, “WOW… Thanks!”  If tomorrow’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation gets more us us doing that it will have been a rousing success.

Tubs, Tissue Paper and Umbrellas

The clerk at CVS had just spoken of his fear that the roof was going to blow off during the storm front that had just passed. Now we navigated some of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes consolidated in the Target parking lot. Though unspoken we both tried to dismiss concern about the weather for our outdoor wedding three weeks to the day.

Antique baskets for the table and altar flowers need to be packed carefully. We were in search of tissue paper and solid plastic tubs. The price of plain white tissue paper — neatly folded and encased in crystal clear cellophane — could rattle the rafters!

“Do we have paper towels at home? We could use paper towels and they’d be right there ready to go at the wedding.” Once again, the ingenuity of the man I love shone forth.  We moved on from paper to plastic.

Who knew storage tubs came in so many sizes and could be marketed for so many distinct purposes? The price caused us to ask if cardboard boxes might serve as well. We even considered emptying tubs we already have tucked away in the basement for this one-time wedding use. In the end we bought two more imagining additional uses, protestations that we already have too much stuff not withstanding!

Target’s automated doors swung open to a world awash in infinite shades of gray. Thankfully the rain had stopped, the wind had subsided. Remnants of a white and green umbrella obstinately poked from the trash bin near the exit, certainly a casualty of the recent rattling storm. Being the unabashed dumpster-diver that I am, of course it required my inspection.

“Honey, you are not taking stuff home from the Target trash bin!” Mortification washed across his face as he distanced himself from me.

“But, look, it’s perfectly good… three of the pins just need to be reattached”, proudly claiming new-found treasure, feeling satisfied in my ability to repair and reuse. Besides, at 65 I am long past caring what others think of me retrieving what someone else too quickly trashes.

One thing I am not so good at is keeping my spirituality firmly grounded in the stuff of life. For example, last week regulars here read this only slightly veiled self-revelation of my own conviction:

The monk … feels in a confused way that he must live within a certain ill-defined ecclesiological space, at a point where the partitions erected by the separation have not prevailed and where already those walls are yielding which, as Metropolitan Platon of Kiev said one day, certainly do not rise all the way to heaven.

I can hear my bother-in-law John saying, “What the hell does that mean!?!”

So, my apologies for the many times I get too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. Yet, never will I apologize for reveling in such wisdom. It’s the way I’m wired. Besides, the intellectual and mystical tradition of the church is also a place to find God and to be pursued as well as cherished.

But my personal need for spiritual growth is to keep myself grounded in the equal wisdom of spiritual giants like Wendell Berry. Regular readers will recall that I quoted the Kentucky farmer two weeks ago:

No use talking about getting enlightened or saving your soul if you can’t keep the topsoil from washing away.

My brother-in-law would say, “Amen to that, brother!”

Tubs, tissue paper and umbrellas are more than utilitarian. They reveal values, priorities, how connected we are with the physical world, revealing our true spirituality! Preparing for a marriage has a way of bringing this to the forefront — perhaps we all need to renew our covenant of love with the creation that makes it all possible.

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The reference to “the monk” recalls my August 20 post and is from In the School of Contemplation by Andre Louf, p. 128.  The Wendell Berry quote was first cited here in an August 12 post.

Homeland

Tomorrow we head off to Omaha. That’s where I want to be to celebrate my 65th birthday on Sunday — with people I love and in the place that will always be home. What can be a six-hour drive will be one of indeterminate length because of Jeb the Dog. He’s family and I cannot imagine a birthday without him.

Stopping every 100 miles or so is not a burden — we use Jeb’s need for “exercise” as our excuse. Truth is, we’ve plotted a pretty handy course which correlates Jeb’s needs with antique malls, casinos, candy stores and Made-Rite hamburger restaurants. Without frequent stops, how else would we have discovered that the highest point in Iowa — we’re talking altitude — is on a farm-place just across the state-line from Worthington, MN?

Driving through farm country Monday evening after attending the wake of a 63 y/o man in Northfield — something we are also doing more and more these days — heightened our anticipation for our trip to Omaha. Timely rains have yielded beautiful landscapes and the promise of an abundant harvest. The elongated shadows cast by the 6 pm sunlight remind all who are lucky enough to see just what inspired Claude Monet’s obsession with haystacks!

For this nostalgic occasion I will try to quiet anxious voices reminding all who will look or listen that we have created a perilous ecological crisis. This Earth — who ancient peoples reverenced as mother, the “home” we all hold in sacred trust — labors under the weight of our blissful ignorance.  Dare we acknowledge this as the consequence of our collective greed?

Returning home through farm-country I will take along two poignant assertions by Kentucky farmer-writer Wendell Berry: “I’m not interested in spirituality that is dependent on cheap fossil fuel, soil erosion, and air pollution.” Or even more to the point, “No use talking about getting enlightened or saving your soul if you can’t keep the topsoil from washing away.”

Milestones increasingly recognized as a gift — like turning 65 — are not times for rancor or remorse. So, I will hold as bedrock and birthright an even more foundational quote: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)
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This reflection was inspired by Eric Anglada’s review of Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder, edited by Chad Wriglesworth in the current issue of the National Catholic Reporter [http://ncronline.org/authors/eric-anglada]

Life in the Garden

Breathtaking! Absolutely amazing precision within a process that took more than nine years resulted in sharp photos of Pluto! OMG… literally Oh, My God! How many billions of years old is the universe? Consider what we have just seen for the very first time! Consider for a moment more, human ingenuity achieved this incredible feat.

That sharp black and white photo of Pluto’s craggy surface — much more complex, variable and revealing than scientists had anticipated — has been fixed in my imagination. This Pluto voyage completes NASA’s decades-long mission to investigate all the planets of our solar system. For a generation old enough to remember President Kennedy’s outrageously bold aspiration of a moon landing, NASA’s achievement is nothing short of mind-boggling.

Another image is becoming fixed. Slowly, as the stunning achievement of planetary exploration settles into our consciousness, something else becomes obvious. Each and all of the planets in our solar system appear to be devoid of life as we know it. Even the Mars probe has yielded scant evidence of water on the Red Planet or other conditions necessary for life.

That awareness could make us feel terribly alone. Or, allowing this evidence to seep into our consciousness could be awe-inspiring! Rather than a testament to our insignificance it may awaken an awareness of our inalienable dignity and moral duty. Think about it… our home truly is what Thomas Berry aptly coined “the garden planet of the universe.” The authors of the Genesis creation accounts could not have been more accurate than to say we have been placed in a garden and it is ours to tend and till.

Sadly, there is mounting evidence that we are killing it. Somewhere along the line we got the impression that Earth exists for our “use.” Just like our original forebears we became drunk with the original sin that we are the masters of good and evil. That we are as good as God! We have bought “the lie” that the Earth exists as a reservoir of passive resources for our economic exploitation. Supply is infinite and parts are replaceable! Slipping from the perch of inspired scientific research we fall into believing all we discover exists primarily for our commercial exploitation feeding an insatiable consumption.

Coincidentally, a storm ripped through Minneapolis the same weekend the spacecraft began sending back photos of Pluto. The winds tore through three lead branches of our seven-year old Hackberry on the boulevard in front of our house. City crews have marked it for removal due to the damage. We are heart-broken — it was itself a replacement for a diseased tree and was only now taking on the promise of its mature potential.

Our shredded tree stands as a gash and scar in our front yard — sentinel of a changing climate. Nature’s desperate attempt to communicate that something is terribly wrong with this picture. Scientific evidence is incontrovertible except for those who choose to live in denial. We cannot sustain our obsession with removing Earth’s bounty naively counting on more… always more!

Like the Tree that stood in the center of Eden reminds us, we live in a paradise.  But we live within limits as the Genesis account attests.  We have also been set in relationship with all other creatures brought into being by the one Creator. We are not God. Given for us to tend and till, neither are we sole proprietors for whom this Earth was created.

All is not right in our garden. With such incredible scientific feats revealing the truths of our universe, will our generation be the one to finally learn from the torn and shredded tree — the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Whose Side Are We On?

Disclaimer:  You will not want to finish reading this post.

Did you feel it? Probably not! The earth beneath our feet shifted a bit from its old axis yesterday.

There are moments that are truly transformative — yesterday was one. America changed forever on September 11, 2001. When the history of the 21st century is written, I believe 9/11 will pale in comparison with all that July 9, 2011 symbolizes.

There were no catastrophic deaths; visible edifices did not crumble in flames. Like a poor girl from an obscure town on the fringe of an imposing empire giving birth in Bethlehem of Judea, what happened yesterday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia will likely go unnoticed by world leaders consumed with their presumption of power.

Like the irrepressible pressure that builds over eons causing the earth to quake — or the indomitable life-force within a tulip bulb that splits darkness, dirt and cold to blossom in Spring — forces building over centuries converged yesterday and found insistent and incisive expression.

It is as if the Book of Revelation found apocalyptic voice once again: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).

Here is a sampling. Beware, its tough reading — you will want to “zone-out”, stop once you get the gist, keep it at arm’s length if you succeed in making it all the way.

  • There is an unjust global system that results in exclusion. Individualism is at the heart of this injustice. The rule of money is fueling this injustice.
  • Keep fighting for justice — Focus on people and interpersonal encounter not abstract ideologies; be moved by their suffering.
  • A just economy is one that serves people —where the quest for profits dominates, the earth is destroyed, and there is an unjust distribution of goods.
  • The economy must foster conditions that are compatible with human dignity and that unlock the potential of each person by respecting all of their rights as a person and allowing each one to flourish.
  • A just distribution of goods is not a task for philanthropy or charity alone; there is a moral obligation to ensure this just distribution.
  • An inclusive economy enables all people to fully participate; solidarity and subsidiarity are only fully present when participation is real.
  • All people and states are interdependent; we need global and international action to achieve justice.
  • The Church is not innocent when it comes to the sins of colonialism.
  • Our faith is radical and countercultural.

Pope Francis chose remote Santa Cruz, Bolivia — hardly an epicenter of economic prowess or political prestige — for his prophetic exhortation.

Like a “voice crying in the wilderness”, Francis proclaims “the way of the Lord.” And let us not miss the poignancy of the location, Santa Cruz — are we not being invited to look upon the holy cross on which the Body of Christ hangs today?

I confess my tremendous resistance to paying more than pious lip service to Francis’ moral vision. Social and economic structures in which I am enmeshed serve my interests. I prefer not to see those who are excluded or on whose backs my security is built.

My hunch is most of us are in the same boat, heavily invested in the status quo. The more structures serve our personal interest, especially as we age, the more we resist change.  This seems to be the bane of the powerful, the truth of the ages!

But change we must. Change we will, willingly or not. Like the indomitable life force of a tulip or the irrepressible pressure of tectonic plates, the earth is shifting under out feet — and in this an always compassionate but insistent God is alive and active.

When the history of the 21st century is written, with whom and on whose side will we wish we had stood?
__________________

I am indebted to Robert Christian at millennialjournal.com for his marvelous synopsis of Francis’ speech. The above sampling of themes are lifted from his post.  I heartily recommend his entire summary to you [link].

Life Moves On

Folks say you can walk across, even jump across, the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park a couple hundred miles north of here. In fact, you’d have a few places to choose from — seems the actual headwaters of the river is a matter of serious civic pride and a cause for some dispute. There are at least three rival claims to the source of the Mississippi. Who’s to know?

Back in grad school in St. Louis — where there was absolutely no dispute about the size or source of the Great River — we tinkered with a silly but intriguing riddle: Can you step in the same river twice? Think about it… the current is constantly moving; the water you step in first is not the water you step in the second time. Even the fish and undergrowth are constantly awash, shifting, changing. Or, when those disputed waters in Itasca are frozen solid in a Minnesota winter, are they still the origins of the Mississippi?

Such mind-benders have intrigued mystics and confounded students for thousands of years. But they are important. Like a metaphysical crossword puzzle they tease us into looking at how something can be the same when everything about it changes. Does anything ever remain the same? What is the “same”? What, if anything, remains?

Forget about rivers! Are you the same person you were twenty years ago? We want to believe so but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Even the cellular make-up of our physical bodies is said to turn-over entirely numerous times during our lifetime? Who or what is the “me” amid all this flux and change?

Back in St Louis during the early 1980s I learned that Heraclitus, a resident of Ephesus during the 6th century BC, was the source of this riddle about stepping into a river twice. I remember him being portrayed as pretty much of a fall-guy or foyle for later philosophers — mentioned only to introduce the question which future thinkers would then be given the distinction for resolving.

In self-defense you need to know that I don’t think of Heraclitus very often. In fact, years go by! However, he made a surprise appearance recently in something I was reading about Thomas Merton. What Merton wrote stopped me in my tracks — something you cannot do with a river, by the way! I really liked it!

I like it so much that I’m willing to risk family once again telling me, “Read your blog… don’t know what the hell you were talking about.”  Aware of the risk, here’s what Merton wrote that hit me up-side the head:

This is the tragedy which most concerns Heraclitus — and which should concern us more than it did him: the fact that a majority of [people] think they see, and do not. They believe they listen, but they do not hear. They are “absent when present” because in the act of seeing and hearing they substitute the clichés of familiar prejudice for the new and unexpected truth that is being offered to them. They complacently imagine they are receiving a new light, but in the very moment of apprehension they renew their obsession with the old darkness, which is so familiar that it, and it alone, appears to them to be the light.

We live only a few miles from the Mississippi. Jeb the Dog takes me for a daily walk along a creek that empties into that river.  This afternoon, as Jeb leaps into the creek to tease and torment Mother Mallard with her five ducklings, I will remember Heraclitus.  His riddle, his question, this nudge toward deeper conversion, transformation, change will remain with me for a while.

Wherever you are, whatever river invites you this summer, be like Jeb the Dog — leap boldly into its free-flowing current.  Savor what it means to be fluid, alive, changing. Stay with the flow!

___________

The Merton quote is from his 1960 article in the September issue of Jubilee, “Herakleitus the Obscure”, paragraphs 264-65.  My source is from In the School of Prophets: The Formation of Thomas Merton’s Prophetic Spirituality by Ephrem Arcement, OSB.  Liturgical Press: Collegeville, 2015., pp. 67-68.

The Earth Just Shifted. Feel It?

Let’s, just for a moment, take a different tack. There is a veritable avalanche of commentaries and analyses of Laudato Si, Francis’ encyclical. I’m not competent to add much to that discussion.  Yet, there is something that can be said — needs to be appreciated and celebrated — right off the bat!

As one would expect, the very first paragraph sets the tone with a moving reference to Francis of Assisi’s Canticle from which the encyclical takes its name:

LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore – Praise be to you, my Lord… Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

According to good argumentative style, Pope Francis first references Scripture (Paragraph 2) and then places his pastoral exhortation squarely within the tradition of the church. With one paragraph each, Francis grounds his teaching in that of his immediate predecessors John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI (paragraphs 3-6).

There is still nothing unique or exceptional about Francis citing secular authorities to bolster his teaching.  His claim is not simply anchored in Scripture and Catholic teaching. In paragraph 7 Francis writes:

These statements of the Popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions.

That reliance on additional sources of teaching authority reflects the best of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

The inclusive context set by Francis is especially welcome and refreshing. He makes a deliberate effort to raise up and give expression to a broad spectrum of additional voices:

Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities — and other religions as well — have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

Notice… “the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch.” Even more, notice the careful phrasing, “with whom we share the hope” not “with whom we hope to share.” The hope for full communion is already shared!

Francis’ next two paragraphs (8 and 9) cites the teaching and authority of the esteemed Patriarch of Constantinople — considered the “Successor of St. Andrew”, first among equals in the Orthodox Churches.

This sequencing can be nothing but deliberate… first Francis of Assisi, then Scripture, then his immediate predecessors of the past fifty years, then scientists, philosophers, theologians and other civil authorities. Nobody, but nobody, is shown more respect or given such deferential authority as the Orthodox patriarch with a reference in paragraph 7 and then two lengthy paragraphs (below) citing Bartholomew’s teaching authority.

Yes, this encyclical is about our moral obligation to be responsible stewards of God’s good creation. But the earth just shifted under our feet! Did you feel it? When have you seen the Bishop of Rome pay such fraternal respect and deference to another Patriarch?  Not in a thousand years has a “Successor of St. Peter” so deliberately shared teaching authority for the church with the “Successor of St. Andrew”!

For the first time ever a high-ranking Orthodox bishop — Metropolitan John of Pergamon — helped unveil a papal text.  In addition, two women joined the president the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace headlining a panel of five people presenting various aspects of the document.

The women were Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services and a former dean of the business school a the University of Notre Dame; and Valeria Martano, a teacher and community organizer in the outlying areas of Rome.  The fifth person is an avowed agnostic, John Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Something dramatic has changed. I like it, I like it a lot! Gives greater credence to whatever else Francis has to say. Makes me excited to read more! The air we’re breathing is already fresher!

LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore – Praise be to you, my Lord!
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Here are Paragraphs 8 and 9 if you care to read them in their entirety:
8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings … to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.

Gift Beyond Gift, Beyond Reason

Is there any day of the week more nondescript than Thursday? Today is pretty innocuous even for a summer day in Minnesota — forecast is for clouds to hang around all day. It’s tempting to get lulled into monotony.

But stop! Every day is as Denise Levertov protests in her marvelous poem, The Yellow Tulip.  

But it’s so: a caravan arrives constantly
out of desert dust, laden
with gift beyond gift, beyond reason.

Though tulips have faded in Minneapolis — and we are probably the last people to enjoy this Springtime ritual — take a moment today to savor Levertov’s praise for this humble flower. [link].

But today, this partly-cloudy Thursday in June, is hardly ordinary. In fact, it’s quite remarkable. For one thing, today is the beginning of Ramadan, the month-long season of fasting and heightened attention to prayer and spiritual practices.

In this world of religious fanaticism and fundamentalism of all stripes, we do well to respectfully remember and honor this holy season. Too often we hear only headlines caused by extremists. Today we would do well to listen to what rank-and-file Muslim neighbors have on their minds. A simple, short summary of Ramadan is available [here].

And today, Thursday, June 18, 2015 is a momentous day that will be recalled a hundred years from now! Today the much anticipated — you know something is really significant when vested-interests and nay-sayers attack something well before it is even published!!! — release of Pope Francis’ letter on creation.

It is not a political or economic treatise! It is not about climate change, though that is central to his moral exhortation! Neither is it primarily about the environment, if by that we mean adoption of “green” policies in response to our current ecological crisis. It’s about creation, God’s bountious and boundless gift in which we humans are to serve as humble stewards.

Read that last sentence again… human, humble. These words are cognates of humus — rich, fertile soil from which all life springs. Human, humble, humus all come from the same root. Take time this Thursday to make the connection. We are by definition and nature earth-creatures. Give that some thought. Find your particular place in this God-given creation — it’s a humble place of honor!

If you’d care to review a simple, five-point summary of the pope’s pastoral exhortation, you can do no better than to take five minutes to read this [link].

Laudato Si… Yes, Praise be… even on an ordinary Thursday in 2015. Every day — each day — is anything but nondescript, innocuous or monotonous!

Or, as Francis of Assisi expressed it…

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!

All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

Surviving This Hell

The world is going to hell! There is more than enough evidence in the horrific stories popularized by the global 24/7 news cycle. Millennials are spurning commitment in record numbers such that the only ones wanting to get married these days are gays and priests!  Social, cultural and religious norms are crumbling.  What’s it all coming to?

Fast approaching my 65th birthday I’ve caught myself saying more than once, “Old people have been saying the world is going to hell for centuries, but this time it really is!” It generally elicits an intended chuckle. But just beneath my attempt at self-deprecating humor, a serious question festers. Are things getting worse? Have we chosen a fast-track to self-inflicted destruction?

It’s not just that murder and unthinkable forms of violence have become de’rigueur in our cities. Hideous acts of fanatical terrorism compete for public shock and outrage. Heightened electronic security and safety awareness training could not prevent the rape of a U of M freshman in her third-floor residence hall this past weekend. These are not just issues of personal safety; they beg questions about our collective, social sanity.

And it is not just what we do to each other that is killing us. Nine out of ten lakes, rivers and streams in SW Minnesota have been found to be unsafe for swimming no less consumption. What about the cattle that graze these fields and effects on the food we consume? What carcinogens is Jeb the Dog ingesting when we allow him to drink from Minnehaha Creek on his twice-a-day walk in the park?

I don’t have an answer, only questions! We cannot escape the urgency of the issues. If we don’t know the answer then we better ask, “Are we asking the right questions?” Maybe asking, “Is the world going to hell?” is the wrong question. Maybe it’s not even a good question. Perhaps its simply a kind of pretend-question that reframes the obvious, the sort of question that merely dabbles in curiosity only to assuage our feelings of powerlessness.

Are we willing to ask the right questions? Do we really want to face the truth? When it comes to senseless violence and acts of hellish inhumanity, its profoundly important to know who is asking the question. A 65 y/o white guy in Minneapolis? A 20 y/o black male in Baltimore? A Syrian mother fleeing to save her Christian children? A devout Muslim in Texas seeing the tenets of his faith mocked in cartoon fashion? If we disagree about the question we are bound to come up with different answers.

At 65 a few things are abundantly clear. I sure as hell do not have the answers like I once thought I did! Hell, I’m not even sure what questions to ask anymore. There is just one thing of which I am absolutely certain… our world will only solve the life and death issues confronting us if we begin to formulate questions and answers together!

This demands that we do a significantly better job of listening to one another, as well as to the whole of creation once teeming with life but now gasping to stay alive!

Authentic dialogue and sincere engagement with those other than ourselves offers our best hope for coming up with the questions and answers vital to the survival of life as we know it.

God and Lawn Care

Courtesy of my brother-in-law, here is a humorous variation on the theme of yesterday’s post…

GOD SAID:
“Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.”

St. FRANCIS:
It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD:
Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS:
Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD:
The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make theSuburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS:
Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it -sometimes twice a week.

GOD:
They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST.. FRANCIS:
Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD:
They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS:
No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD:
Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS:
Yes, Sir.

GOD:
These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST.. FRANCIS:
You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD:
What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.

ST.. FRANCIS:
You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD:
No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS:
After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD:
And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS:
They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD:
Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST.. CATHERINE:
‘Dumb and Dumber’, Lord. It’s a story about….

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.