Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Yes to Someone


Dag Hammerskjold, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations,was born on this date in 1905. In his book Markings he said:
"I don't know Who - or what- put the question. I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone - or Something - and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal."
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Wildness and Wet


One of my favorite poets Gerard Manly Hopkins was born on this date in 1874. I think it's safe to call him the first modern poet. His poetry didn't come to be appreciated until 1918, about thirty years after he died. In a college course called "Great Writers" we spent a quarter studying his poetry. In an exam we could write a poem from memory instead of answering one of the questions. Here are the last two stanzas of one that I memorized called "Inversnaid." I had to go to the book. It is no longer in my memory.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010



A great blue heron on a neighbor's pontoon boat in the early morning.
In Luke 11:1-13 Jesus tells us to pray to God as "Father." In Luke's time most fathers had absolute authority so it is important for Jesus to help his hearers to understand in what sense God is father. Today, also, thinking of God as Father is not helpful for some people. Their father may have been stern, even cruel and abusive. Or he may have been an alcoholic, very unreliable.
Jesus wants us to see God as a generous and compassionate father, someone we can count on to provide for us and care for us. He wants us to have a nurturing relationship with God our Father, similar to that we often see between young fathers today and their children. In our prayer we can let God hold us in a warm, loving embrace.
My own father was very understanding and forgiving. I remember only once getting a spanking from him with a strap. I don't remember what it was for. What I remember is that he was crying when he stopped. The father Jesus tells us about in the parable of the Prodigal Son loves and forgives unconditionally.
Jesus even encourages us to pester God for whatever we want. Like a good father, God will not always give us what we want, but he will always give us what we need. Jesus concludes by pointing out that what we need most is the Holy Spirit, a gift we can be sure our reliable Father will always give us.
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Conscience Rules


This is my favorite swimming hole in Red Creek in Dolly Sods Wilderness. It is about a two hour hike from the car. It always feels like freedom.
Before and after the 4th of July I've been thinking a lot about freedom of conscience. Many very devout Catholics have a hard time understanding that conscience is the ultimate norm of morality. I know it seems sort of contradictory to quote authority to support following one's conscience, but I collect quotes about it. I value this latest addition from the current pope when he was just young Father Josef Ratzinger commenting on Vatican II in 1967:
"Over the Pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one's own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official Church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism."
One of my life goals is to help people to celebrate and use their freedom.
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Friday, July 16, 2010

Letting Go


As I continue to reflect on Martha and Mary, I am reminded of the quote from Dorothy Day that helped me to decide to retire:
"Buddhists teach that a person's life is divided into three parts:
the first part for education and growing up;
the second for continued learning, through marriage and raising a family,
involvement with the life of the senses, the mind, and the spirit;
and the third period, the time of withdrawal from responsibility,
letting go of the things of this life, letting God take over."
(Day's Catholic Worker column, March, 1975)
After rushing around the house this morning getting ready for company, I got a glass of water and sat on the deck just looking at the Lake and enjoying the cooling wind and letting go. Day's quote came to mind. I began to wonder how much I have been able to do this withdrawing from responsibility.
The picture that I took this summer at Dolly Sods Wilderness reminds me of what a great place that is for letting go.
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Thursday, July 15, 2010



When I stepped out the back door this morning at 7:30 I was shocked to see the chipmunk in the trap. It has been eating my potted plants for several summers, especially the roots, and I have been trying to trap it for two summers. Success startled me.
Before I started my morning routine I put the trap in the trunk of my car and drove seven and a half miles to the top of the nearest mountain and let it out into the woods. I wanted to make sure I dropped it far away from anybody's home, especially mine. As I drove I thought about the old movie "Lassie Come Home," in which the dog endures many miles of troubles to get back to his home. I was hoping this chipmunk didn't have the same homing instinct and determination.
Since I have never seen more than one chipmunk at a time, I am hoping that the one I trapped was the only one who made my property home.
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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Right Choice


The sky after sunset last evening made me want to just sit still and look. I like this silver-gray light that often comes at twilight. The clouds added to the beauty, and the bit of color where the sun had gone down continued to develop and spread.
In Luke 10:38-42 Jesus praises Mary for sitting still and listening. Martha has complained to Jesus that she could use Mary's help in the kitchen. In almost all translations Jesus responds, "Mary has chosen the better part." Luke Timothy Johnson, however, in his commentary for the Sacra Pagina series, points out that the Greek simply says, "Mary has chosen the good part." Jesus is not using a comparative form. He is saying rather bluntly that Mary has made the right choice.
I tend to think of Jesus himself running around the land like the busy Martha. In Mark's Gospel, especially, he seems always on the go. Luke, in his Gospel, does stress that Jesus took time for prayer, but he still seems to be more Martha than Mary. And I see clearly that Jesus wouldn't get anything to eat if Martha came and sat with Mary. Jesus' statement, however, like the preceding parable of the Good Samaritan, forces me to re-evaluate. I try, and often succeed, in retirement to sit and listen. Having lived my life as a workaholic, nearly burning out twice, I still must persuade myself that "Mary has made the right choice."
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Monday, July 12, 2010

Mellow Monday


Since I have no shades or drapes on the many windows in my bedroom, the morning light usually wakes me. So much nicer than an alarm. This morning I awoke feeling especially mellow,and the morning itself seemed especially mellow. Windows were open and one bird in particular was sounding very happy. As I walked through the house I felt almost like I was floating. It was one of those times when everything seems exactly as it should and I find God in the order.
I found the words of a favorite hymn running through my head,
"My life flows on in endless song,
Above earth's lamentation.
I hear the real though far off hymn
That hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that Rock I'm clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?"
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Friday, July 9, 2010

Samaritan Neighbor


In Luke 10:25-37 Jesus quotes the Old Testament book of Leviticus, "Love your neighbor as yourself." The lawyer who had asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life then asks, "Who is my neighbor?" The Hebrew of Leviticus says "neighbor," but in a Jewish Bible I have the word is translated "kinsman." Another Bible says it means "fellow countryman." Perhaps there was a debate about how extensive this love command was.
By telling the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus expands the meaning of neighbor to mean anybody and everybody. Most of the Jews and Samaritans distrusted, even despised each other. Jesus makes the Samaritan the hero of his parable who goes way out of his way to care for a wounded Jew. When Jesus asks the lawyer which person showed himself neighbor, the lawyer must answer "The one who showed mercy."
Jesus wants the lawyer and me to understand that even somene we distrust and despise is the "neighbor" that we must love as ourselves. I think of individuals and groups of people. The clever parable also shows the Samaritan "neighbor" lovingly caring for his Jewish "neighbor." The lawyer and I must go and do the same.
Indian paintbrush has already started to bloom. Another name is bergamot. The leaves are used to make Earl Grey tea.
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Friday, July 2, 2010

Consent of the Governed


"How good to thank you, Lord,
to sing your love at dawn."
Psalm 92:1
This is what greeted me Tuesday morning when I woke before sunrise. The colors gradually changed into brilliant white, but the cloud formations stayed pretty much the same.
This week I've been reading and reflecting on the Declaration of Independence. This extraordinary document does it's moral reasoning in a way very different from the way most Americans do it. Most do a kind of "law and order" reasoning which says, "To do the right thing simply obey the law."
In the Declaration of Independence we say very clearly that to do the right thing we must disobey the law and rebel against our king. We feel that we owe the nations of the world an explanation for such rebellion. The heart of our moral reasoning is that governments derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed." In other words, no one has any more power over me than I give them.
We list all the injustices that we have experienced from England and declare our independence from such an unjust government. To do the right thing we must go beyond the law.
This kind of moral reasoning is a model for me in dealing with any unjust law, no matter what its source.
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