Sunday, August 30, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #6... The elephants in the room

Life magazine's celebration of the "Throwaway Life"
August 1, 1955
A "throwaway culture," climate change, and the common good -- all in four paragraphs. Pope Francis and his encyclical writer friends certainly know how to pack their punches. Laudato Si, the latest encyclical, is designed to name the elephants in our earth's rooms (that is, environmental issues that we'd rather ignore) and get us thinking about what we need to do to save our planet and as many of its species as we can. The extinction of species in particular has been on my mind since I heard some frightening stats this week about how many creatures are disappearing daily because of the activities of one particular species -- ours.

This Sunday's piece of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (paragraphs 22-26 -- you can access the entire document by clicking here) looks briefly at the way many of the world's industrial systems (that create things to satisfy our needs and wants) are linear rather than circular. Unlike biologically sound ecosystem cycles, most of our human-made production methods are unable to "absorb and reuse waste and by-products," simply because recycling/reuse hasn't been built in, and a lot of us don't bother to reduce our consumption by using only what we need (and our wants are clearly too much for the planet to handle on its own).

When it comes to reducing, reusing and recycling as much as possible -- well, we have a long way to go to counteract our throwaway culture, which was first celebrated by a Life magazine article 60 years ago, picturing a family delightedly throwing disposable articles into the air because of all the convenience they offered. And we are still suckers for convenience. Paper towels, plastic bags, single use coffee cups, disposable water bottles, the list goes on...

Chuck Brodsky, a folksinger I heard at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival three weeks ago, sang a wonderful, tongue-in-cheek song, pointing out the fact that really, we can't throw anything "away":
....That old TV quit on me brother
Ten years ago so I got me another
The first one's sittin' out by the porch swing
With the stove and the 'fridge and a bunch of other things.
Take 'em out back, dump 'em in the river,
Take 'em out back, throw 'em in the woods,
Take 'em out back, chuck 'em down the hillside,
Keep the front yard looking good.... 
Of course, this approach to waste management is why Francis and friends pointed out that particular elephant when they wrote that the earth is starting to look like "an immense pile of filth." Only when our production loops become a full circle including the three Rs -- reduce, reuse, and recycle -- will we have a solution to the problems created by our throwaway culture. We probably shouldn't even be creating or using those things for which the loop can't be closed. There's no question -- wasteless living requires a huge amount of thought and effort!

Having addressed the throwaway culture elephant, Francis and friends turn their attention to the climate change elephant. Explaining that "the climate is a common good... a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life," the encyclical calls us to "recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat... the human causes" which aggravate climate change (paragraph 23).

It's been a few years since we learned that 97% of scientists agree that our climate is changing because of human use and abuse of greenhouse gases, creating a vicious cycle that is messing with our weather patterns. Our scientist pope names the issues clearly in paragraph 24 and following, explaining that it is the poor who live in areas most affected by dangerous weather, which will only worsen if we continue with our present rates of production and consumption. Environmental degradation means that people become desperate to find ways to migrate -- and this week's horrific story of our 71 brothers and sisters found dead in a truck in Austria should be reason enough to want to preserve peoples' homelands from both violence and climate disasters.

This weekend's 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is a good time to rethink our lifestyles and "develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced." We need to increase our use of renewable energies, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce energy waste, and get rid of all the elephants in the room.
Wednesday at Maligne Lake

My husband and I went camping this week (not the best use of fossil fuels, I'll admit) in Jasper National Park. I love breathing the fresh mountain air and seeing the sun on the lakes -- but neither of those things were quite right this time around. The droughts being experienced in Western North America this summer because of climate change have caused a huge forest fire in the state of Washington, almost 600 km south, and on Wednesday, we could hardly see the mountains for the smoke. Of course, that's nothing compared to what people in Washington are experiencing. What scared me was when Lee commented, "If we don't reduce climate change, our air could be like this permanently, as it is in places in China."

So this week, let's see how many times we can cut back on our creation of greenhouse gases by using alternate transportation (feet, bicycles, transit) and using less energy, period. Our sister, Mother Earth, and all her children (not just the human ones) are depending on us to change. The only species I would like to see extinct are these elephants in the room.

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #7... What are you made of?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Working for our food

On Saturday, I spent most of the day either in the garden, catching up with the produce that ripened while we were away, or in the kitchen, turning the harvest into soup.

Root veggies and my over-abundant kale were the day's focus. I made about 14 liters of kale soup just from our onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, beets and kale. The only things that didn't come from our yard were the sausage, kidney beans, and chicken broth. Here's the recipe (which I multiplied by four) in case you'd like some of your own:

1 lb kale
1 lb potatoes
1 lb beets
1 lb sausage 
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped carrots
2 tsp chopped garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
8 cups chicken broth or combination chicken and beef broth
3 lb peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes (or a large can or two)
1 cup kidney beans
Salt and pepper


Strip the leaves from the washed kale and cut diagonally into wide slices. You should end of with 6 - 8 cups lightly packed kale. Wash, peel and chop potatoes and keep in cold water. Prick sausage; blanch in boiling water for 5 - 10 minutes to release fat. Drain; cut into 1/2 inch slices; set aside. In a large saucepan, saute onions, carrots and garlic in oil and butter, cooking until softened, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, beets and broth, and simmer, partially covered, for 15 or 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Stir in tomatoes and kidney beans and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. Add the kale and sausage, cook 5 - 10 minutes longer and season to taste. (Serves 6 - 8)

I love that our freezer is filling up with hearty and nutritious stuff from our garden. It hasn't travelled thousands of miles to come to us, and it's organic. All those frozen strawberries, raspberries, beans, zucchini and my sisters' cherries mean that we have some local food to carry us through the winter.

But what really blows my mind is that my grandma spent all spring, summer and fall every year to put away food to carry her family through the year -- in the early years of her family's life, she couldn't turn to a grocery store every time she ran out of something. Preserving food, butchering animals, baking and parenting (12 kids) were her full time job. Especially in August and September, I find myself thinking of her and all her hard work, realizing that I don't do half of what she did. The planning alone boggles my mind!

And I think about how far our society has come from knowing how to create our own food -- how my daughter's 12-year-old friend didn't know that salsa was made from tomatoes! So much of what we find in our grocery stores comes in manufactured packages of "food-like substances" from Ontario or the US because we just don't have the time to do much from scratch any more. But I know that I'll never appreciate any of that packaged stuff as much as I will enjoy the soup made from scratch on August 22, pulled from my freezer in the middle of January, warmed and served with some homemade bread or biscuits.

Somehow, there's something satisfying about working for our food instead of taking the store-bought, easy way out...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #5... What's under the carpet?

This is a real challenge, coming up with these reflections. Not because there's nothing to say, more that reflecting on 5 paragraphs at a time is difficult when they're so dense. Sometimes there's a lot to think about in just a half sentence! I have to hand it to Pope Francis and his team of encyclical letter writers -- they really pack their paragraphs full! So let me encourage you to read Laudato Si for yourself, because the bits and pieces that inspire you might be completely different from what grabs me!

Today I'm looking at paragraphs 17-21 of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Chapter One: What is happening to our common home (the entire text can be accessed by clicking here). It's the beginning of a frank assessment of what's actually happening to our environment before getting into the theology and philosophy that could be helpful in determining how to prevent further damage to the only home we have.

Right off the bat in paragraph 18, Pope Francis and friends name "rapidification" as a factor contributing to the planet's problems. Basically, change is happening more rapidly than we or the earth can actually adapt, and keeping up to the pace is stressing everyone and everything. (How many people do you know who say that life is too busy, or that they're moving too fast for their liking?)

For too long, we have gone along with an "irrational confidence in progress and human abilities." The good news is that some of us are starting to see the problems caused by thinking human beings know everything we need to know, and by living in such a hurry all the time. I'll never forget attending a talk by Canadian scientist and TV personality, David Suzuki, in 1989, when he talked about the fallacy of perpetual growth. For me, it was the beginning of critical thinking about the pace of North American life and the different kinds of cancerous-perpetual-growth-pollution appearing around the globe.

Pope Francis is inviting us to review things that we would rather ignore or "sweep under the carpet" in order to "become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it (paragraph 19)." In other words, to continue the theme from last Sunday, we must become more mindful of how our lives impact our planet, its many species, and ourselves. Our ignorance about our lifestyles' repercussions has created problems to which we can no longer turn a blind eye.

The Pope starts by focusing on pollution, naming the many kinds of pollution with which we live (and die -- too often "no measures are taken until after people's health has been irreversibly affected" (paragraph 21)). He points out that the technology we think will save us isn't always capable of seeing the interconnectedness between all things, and as a result, may solve one problem only to replace it with another that was unforeseen! For example, genetically modified crops have produced bigger yields to feed the earth, but have also created disasters for species that are part of the food chain living in or around those crops. And food chains are often linked in unexpected ways...

The most quoted line I noticed in media coverage when the encyclical letter came out in June appears in paragraph 21: "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth." Media outlets all over the world pounced on that line. And it's not just that we find litter in the landscapes we love. The muck from our over-industrialized way of life has found its way into our skies, sea and soil.

It's hard to tell a star from space junk at night. The barges of garbage that have been dumped in our oceans have created the Pacific Gyre, a massive area of plastic bits that float in the area of Midway Island and starve sea life that mistake the trash for food. In the compost I create to enrich the soil in my gardens, I find plastic fruit stickers that take forever to biodegrade, or candy wrappers that blew into the fall leaf collection necessary for making compost. And the tissues in our bodies accumulate the chemical residues of drugs, fertilizers, and flame retardants that get into our water, air and soil -- no wonder the incidence of different forms of cancer seems to be increasing.

It's depressing; I won't lie. But what's more depressing is that so many of us sweep it all under the carpet and go on as if nothing is wrong. We have the power to stop creating so much "filth" by choosing to live more simply, using what we have as well as we can, and demanding that the products we choose are recyclable, or better yet, wasteless (I'm thinking of the endless over-packaging of so many store items). We can avoid single use items like plastic grocery bags, whose average life use is usually only 12 minutes (I refuse to buy groceries if I don't have my reusable bags with me). We can pick up litter even if it isn't ours, as a sign of our love and respect for the earth. These are little things, but if everyone on the planet got in on the act, the mess wouldn't be so overwhelming.

So how are you going to make less of a mess of our planet in the week ahead? How can you encourage those around you to create less garbage and trouble for our sister, Mother Earth?

A while back, we had a little movie night, my family and I, and we learned a few things. The movie was a little Canadian made documentary called "The Clean Bin Project," and I've posted its trailer below (there's also a thought-provoking blog that you can access by clicking here). Grant and Jen challenge each other to see who can produce the least amount of garbage, and their results are quite amazing. Not sure if the movie is available in your neck of the woods, but I'd encourage you to check it out if you can, and do whatever you can to reduce the waste you produce.


We can prevent our earth from garnering more filth, but we all need to do our part. We need to look under our personal carpets and become aware of how we contribute to the suffering on our planet, making that suffering our own rather than pretending it doesn't exist.

As Chris Jordan, the artist in the movie trailer above, says, when we feel something, we act. Pope Francis is inviting us all to feel the suffering caused by the human-made filth that is despoiling creation. He's calling a spade a spade. And I'm maybe jumping the gun a little and inviting us all to reduce our own wastefulness, starting now. What's one less thing you can waste this week?

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #6... The elephants in the room

Friday, August 21, 2015

Six days away

We're just back from 6 days in the beautiful mountains that we missed last summer, and we packed a fair bit into those six days...


Julia's holiday wish was a high level tree obstacle course 
(Lee and Julia are up on the top platform, 
getting ready to zipline across the gap)...


Camping above the clouds --
the town of Radium Hotsprings, BC
 is hidden below the clouds in the valley ...


Golfing at Edgewater, BC -- 
we played best ball and managed to score
43 on 9 holes of a par three course... 
so you could say we're not great golfers,
but it was an enjoyable morning,
 the course was gorgeous...


and the clubhouse homemade pie was delish!


Suzanna's holiday wish was a trail ride. 
Even though I hadn't been on a horse in 29 years,
it was an enjoyable hour with lovely views of the Columbia Valley.


(Felt really good to get off the horse when it was over!)

Unfortunately, both our girls ended up with miserable colds,
so we decided to come home early, 
stopping near Banff at Lake Minnewanka for a lunch break.


Otherwise, it was a pretty relaxing week of reading books, 
doing puzzles, taking a dip in the hot springs, 
cooking on a campstove due to the fireban,
attending a nature program at the campground amphitheatre, 
and sleeping in my favourite bed in the tent trailer.

Now we're home with a pup who is happy to have his family back,


and a garden that will keep me busy for the next several weeks...
(today's pickings!)


We are so blessed to be able to have a vacation!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #4... The immense and urgent challenge

sidewalk chalk art
The fact that Pope Francis has penned an encyclical letter about the ecological crises facing our planet is good news to all those who have been fighting long and hard for the environment -- and not such great news for those who are getting rich by exploiting its resources -- though the fact that Francis is finally speaking up is good news for all living beings, whether or not they understand how important clean air, soil, and water is for our existence. My husband came home from work last week saying, "Some of our big corporations are concerned that Francis could affect their bottom line." But if the real bottom line is an environment that supports life, I'm not so worried about those big corporations' profits as long as their employees receive a living wage.

Paragraphs 13-16 of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (the full text of which can be accessed by clicking here) are Francis' call to everyone on earth to recognize "the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face." Indeed, it's no small thing to slow climate change, clean the oceans, or regrow a rain forest. In fact, it's going to require us all to get involved.

In late 2006, my own uneasiness about the direction our planet was headed pushed me to attend a weekend retreat on Simplicity and Non-violence, led by Mark A. Burch, an author, educator and group facilitator of courses on Voluntary Simplicity. During the retreat, we spent a lot of time discussing the violence that is found beyond domestic abuse, anarchy, or warfare -- the violence that comes from our lives as consumers.

I already knew that species were facing extinction, people were starving, glaciers were melting, and our planet was in trouble, but the retreat made it clear that things were worse than I realized and that my own lifestyle was a contributing factor. My eyes were opened to the injustice and violence that is built into the consumer culture within which my society exists.

For example, I had no idea that my morning coffee was being produced by a large corporation that employed poor farming practices (violence to the soil) including the use of toxic chemical pesticides (violence to air, water, and small beings) and that said corporation kept its workers living below the poverty line (violence to human beings). And that was only one example. By the end of the second day of the retreat, I felt as though I was carrying twin bowling balls of guilt and worry in my lungs.

Wise woman and activist Vandana Shiva says, "Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence." Now there's something to think about. Over-consumption is pretty much built into our way of life in North America and pits us against the well-being of our sister, Mother Earth.

When I told Mark about the bowling balls in my lungs, he explained that the way to get rid of them was to do the right things -- to become more aware of the impacts my life is having on the earth and all its inhabitants, and to become mindful of the ways a change in my behaviour can make a difference. I can buy fair trade coffee, or give up coffee altogether and drink mint tea that is grown in my own garden. In other words, I can live simply, so that others can simply live. I can opt out of consumerism, and opt into care for the planet and its creatures. Of course, this can mean sacrificing personal comfort and convenience for the good of all, but the common good has to be the bottom line of every choice I make in my life.

And this is what Pope Francis is calling us to in these last few paragraphs of the introduction and the rest of his letter. He sees that our young people "wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded." And he calls EVERYONE (not just papal encyclical readers) to join in dialogue and action because we all rely on the earth's environment, and we are all part of the problem -- and its solution.

Francis' appeal to us is clear: "Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. (my emphasis) ... All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents."

It reminds me of how my friend Mark shared with retreat participants his understanding of the purpose of life. The bumper sticker adage, "He who has the most toys, wins" is about as far off the mark as the Sun is from Neptune. Rather, the purpose of life, its true meaning, is found where a person's passion and her or his abilities intersect with the needs of the world. Such meaning is rooted in unselfishness rather than personal ego trips. And it is this that Pope Francis is calling us toward with Laudato Si. The ecological and social challenges of our planet can seem overwhelming, but if we all work together out of love for our common home and each other, there is hope.

Next week, we'll be getting into the nitty gritty of chapter one. In the meantime, a few questions to ponder:

Where am I in denial about how my living standards affect creation/my brothers and sisters across the globe?
How can I face up to my part in my planet's ecological and social struggles rather than living in resignation or indifference?
In what ways am I willing to sacrifice my comfort and convenience if it helps the earth and all its inhabitants?
What is one small thing I can do to make a difference today?

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #5... What's under the carpet?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Today's harvest

It's really a terrible time to be heading off for our family vacation. So much is happening in the garden. See what I mean?

Fortunately for me, Charlotte, our niece and dog/house sitter might be convinced to pick a few things. And my parents and sisters are welcome to pick and eat to their hearts' content, too.

I forgot how much I love making dill pickles... below is a pic of the first batch of 2015 along with our tomatoes and two winter squashes. The 2000-year-old squash isn't a delicata, I've decided -- it's a plain yellow banana squash. Not that I mind. Eating from the back yard is awesome, no matter what the veggie might be!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Whirly birds

Some people don't like crows, but I do. Oh, I know they can be ruthless and mean (ever see a murder of crows harrassing an owl?) but I prefer to focus on their positive qualities. To me, they are intelligent, creative, and very funny.

These two have been hanging around our neighbourhood this summer, and keeping me company in my garden. I watch for them, and when they're in range, I talk to them (I'm a bit funny myself). Usually, they sit on the back fence and complain at me if the bird bath is empty. One of them left me a turkey bone scavenged from somebody's garbage in the birdbath water. When I dumped it out to put in fresh water, she showed up to give me heck, fished it out from behind the pumpkin plant, and humphhed herself up to the garage roof to peck at it some more, as if to say, "see, there's still good food value here."

Image result for attic whirlybird ventBut the funniest thing I've seen was last Friday morning. I went out to hang my laundry, and could hear cawing and commotion on our roof. So I stepped out into the yard to see what was going on, and my crow buddies were up there, one of them on top of the aluminum attic whirlybird ventilator, going for a merry-go-round ride. No kidding! I couldn't believe my eyes. The whirlybird was spinning maybe 45 revolutions per minute, and the crow was having a hard time holding on. He slipped off, and I expected that would be that, but no, he jumped up again, like a kid who couldn't get enough of a good thing. Three or four times!

So now I've named my crow friends. One is Merry, as in merry-go-round, and one is Dizzy. Yes, they're noisy and rude, but they have a wide enough range that they're not in my yard all the time, so the little birds can come and go, too. My crow friends make me laugh, out loud sometimes. And don't we all have a few obnoxious friends that we can't help but like, at least a little?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday reflection #3... Becoming ecology-minded

Cameron Lake, near Waterton, Alberta
Do you remember a time when our earth's beauty bowled you over? When nature left you exultant, and/or speechless?

I suspect that St. Francis, after he became aware of his littleness in creation, spent much of his life in awareness of the incredible world God made and its many creatures (his Canticle of the Sun is just one example of his delight). And I'm guessing that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is cut from the same cloth.

Today I'm moodling about paragraphs 7-12 of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, which can be accessed by clicking here. Pope Francis' latest encyclical letter includes both Patriarch Bartholomew and St. Francis in its introduction.

I hadn't run into Patriarch Bartholomew until reading Laudato Si, but what I read in paragraphs 8 and 9 makes me think he's probably an unheralded wise man who has a lot to tell us. He's the bishop of Constantinople, and as such, is considered the humble leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians. He speaks strongly about humanity's actions 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."

But being one of those people who likes to take a positive approach to dealing with issues, I prefer it when he uses powerful words to call us to change by replacing "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... 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."" (paragraph 9)

Bartholomew's words fit with how St. Francis actually lived. I've gone on at length about St. Francis in several of my moodlings (click here to read one of my first posts about him). He's my favourite saint because I think he really understood and lived the way Jesus invites us all to live -- humbly, lovingly, and in harmony with creation. When the present pope was elected and it was announced to the multitudes in St. Peter's Square and over media across the globe that he had chosen the name Francis, I cried tears of joy because anyone who would model himself after Francis of Assisi would be following the direction that Jesus intended us to go before we started using our brains instead of our hearts, distracting ourselves from the love of God and neighbour with arguments over heady doctrines and dogmas.

Looking to St. Francis and Bartholomew for examples is easy. I only wish the encyclical also included wise words from the likes of Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama. I can easily imagine them, along with St. Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew, heads together, nodding in agreement over the peaceful and prayerful directions humanity needs to take to save the earth. Who was it who said, "Life is fragile -- handle with prayer"? To that, they would add, handle with justice, with compassion, with respect and love for all creatures...

These are the kinds of people (along with many women who have focused on Creation Spirituality) who really show humanity the way when it comes to living within and loving creation, but they get pretty short shrift in our media these days. Of course, people in Assisi thought Francis was a bit off his rocker because he preached to the birds and the flowers and called inanimate things his brothers and sisters. But he was really the wisest of fools, because rather than taking things for granted as we tend to do in this new millennium, he insisted on treating all of creation as utterly important, not just human beings, and most especially the lowliest of the lowly. (Our media this week spent time on the break-up of Kermit and Miss Piggy. Even in a slow news week, aren't there more important things?)

I'd like to positively paraphrase the last ideas of paragraph 11 because I can imagine St. Francis using words like this, too: If we approach nature and the environment with openness, awe and wonder, if we speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then care will well up spontaneously, and we will never turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled. And that's how the world becomes a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise instead of a problem to be solved.

Of course, simple positive thinking isn't enough to solve all our problems, to make humanity ecology-minded and turn us from our present course of destruction. The positive thinking has to be translated into action. The challenge is to stop acting as masters, consumers and ruthless exploiters of the earth, trying to satisfy our limitless wants through taking everything.

So today... I want to put on my ecological mind. It's time to look around my life a little. Where am I overdoing it with my consumption of the earth's resources? Where am I failing to appreciate creation? Where do I need to care more and exploit less? It could be something as simple as remembering to turn off a light, or compost an apple core. To avoid buying something I don't need. To think less of myself, whose needs are satisfied, and offer my resources to do more for those whose basic needs aren't being met.

The point is to start thinking like St. Francis, who followed closer in Christ's steps than most of us ever will. Let's consider how we are using (or abusing?) our water, air, earth, and the lives of other creatures with whom we share our world.

It's just a small start back towards the speechless wonder we need to cultivate as members of God's creation. And making it a daily habit to be aware of our consumption of resources and to pray for our earth might also help us to restore the balance it has lost on our account. That's what I am committing to today:

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #4... The immense and urgent challenge

Friday, August 7, 2015

August garden update

It's getting to that time of year when the garden is at its peak, the sun is shifting in the sky, and the evenings are a little bit cooler. Harvest is beginning, and I've been a pretty busy woman for the last several days. Today, I spent my time on kale chips, cherry kuchen, and broad beans. Also picked a half pail of cukes and pulled some weeds (a never ending job!!!) So you could say I'm a little tuckered, but oh so grateful for the garden and all the wonderful organic food it gives us.

Image result for Peter pan squash

Here's a picture of a funny little Peter Pan squash like the one growing in the three sisters' corner. We ate one last week, roasted, and it wasn't bad. Julia thought it looked like a hat and wore it on her head for a few minutes.


I've taken plenty of pictures of the garden, which is my favourite place on the planet -- so lucky to have it just outside the back door, where I can take my morning coffee and sit and watch the birds nibbling at the chard or chasing each other through the sunflowers. Last week as I sifted compost, a sparrow bathed in the birdbath right beside me, sheltered by a pumpkin leaf so he didn't see me watching. Our 500 or so sq. feet (45 sq. metres) of growing space don't just give us food, but also our own little nature sanctuary and plenty of good exercise for mind and soul.

Instead of posting a dozen pictures for my garden update this week, here's a five minute tour. Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Enjoying our Canadian heritage

One of the things I really love about my country is that it welcomes people from all over the globe to become citizens, and I really love to see the different cultures celebrated at Edmonton's Heritage Days.

My niece sums it up perfectly in her status on Facebook: "Almost cried today because I was so happy that I can watch people dance their hearts out in their own way, and share their culture freely without judgement or harm. Loving heritage days!"

You said it, my dear girl!

And there's so much to love! I actually did cry when a Russian choral group from Calgary started to sing some very familiar melodies -- songs I remember hearing on a Russian record as a child. Getting old and sentimental, or something!


There's nothing like enjoying bratwurst and sauerkraut while listening to a German polka!
(Couldn't quite convince my daughter to dance with me, sigh.)
Both of my heritages, Russian and German, were within earshot of each other, 
so I got to hear both in my first five minutes
 in a park with 85 different nationalities represented.


For a complete change of pace -- here are some Greek knife-fighting dancers. 
One was left for dead (oh the drama!) but bounced back up with a smile and a flourish.


The Sudanese shishkabobs below were delish!
Compliments to the chef!


I could have happily listened to Guatemalan music for the afternoon, 
but there was just too much to see!


There were some yummy Israeli pastries beside these dancers' stage... 
and refreshing minty lemonade. Heritage Days means 
both entertainment and food, if you haven't yet guessed.


These gorgeous Polish young people had me thinking 
that I want to be a folk dancer in my next life.


Their performance told a story, where, at one point, 
they were so tired they were falling asleep as they danced.


Could have been the heat, which sent us into the Hawrylak Amphitheatre
for a wonderful showcase of different cultures' song and dance.
Below, some ladies do graceful Tai Chi to gentle oriental music.


This African group could really shake it up!


And the Chinese Dragon Dancers never stopped until the drummers did!


The park itself was lush and green after all our recent rains, for a pleasurable stroll.
I was happy to see the City of Edmonton's promotion of public transportation
as an effort to "give trees a year off"!


Wait a minute! What are the Wajjo West African Drummers doing at the Irish pavilion?
(My friend, Robert, is the third from the left, in the white cap.)


They're playing for the bonnie lads and lassies, of course,
in a wonderful Celtic/African fusion.


Here's a wee video taste of what we saw at the Irish Pavillion just before heading home. 



I'm very grateful that the Heritage Festival has been going on for these past 40 years, celebrating the many different people who make Edmonton such a wonderful place.
It's definitely worth a visit! I'm already looking forward to next year!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday reflection #2... Turn that ship around!

Some of the fruits of Mother Earth, grown in our garden.
Il Cantico del Sole (The Canticle of the Sun), written by St. Francis of Assisi, has always been my favourite prayer poem. I kept a copy of the Italian version above my desk during my university years, well before I ever set foot in St. Francis' homeland, where I fell in love with all things Italian.

I'm guessing Pope Francis and friends love the Canticle too, because the newest encyclical takes its name from the Canticle's verse about our sister, Mother Earth:

Laudato si mi signore per sora nostra matre terra. la quale ne sustenta et gouerna. et produce diuersi fructi con coloriti fiore et herba.

It translates, "Praise be to you, God, for our sister, mother earth, who sustains and governs us, and produces different fruits with coloured flowers and herbs." And of course, our life on our sister, mother earth, is the whole point of  the encyclical, which can be accessed by clicking here. Today I'll be looking at sections 1-6, and offering my own summary/reflections about them.

Pope Francis reminds us that "our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us", but it's pretty clear that we haven't been treating the earth as lovingly as we would treat such close family members. Rather, we've failed to respect Mother Earth, allowing her air, soil, and water (though we depend on those same elements!) to become polluted to the point that she "is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she "groans in travail" (Rom 8:22) (paragraph 2).

Popes have been fretting about our planet for quite some time. Laudato Si tells us that John XXIII wrote a letter about Peace on Earth (Pacem in Terris) at the height of the nuclear arms crisis in 1963, and Paul VI spoke to the UN about humanity's exploitation of nature in 1971 (the same year Dr. Seuss published his eco-parable, The Lorax). John Paul II was the first to mention the necessity of an ecological conversion, commenting on it at different times in his papacy, but mostly out of concern for the "human environment" rather than for nature itself, it seems. Of all the popes, it's Benedict XVI who probably spoke the strongest words, urging humanity to see that creation is hurt "where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property, and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves."

It seems that the introduction of Laudato Si is focused on establishing that the Catholic Church has a track record with environmental awareness, but clearly, that awareness has come rather late in the game in many ways. The Church's environmental mystics like Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich and Meister Eckhart, whose words have been with us for centuries, have been too often ignored in favour of great theological minds closer to the papal chair who were counting angels on the heads of pins rather than seeing God in creation. More recently, Creation Spirituality and folks like Matthew Fox were treated as New Ageish and dismissed (or excommunicated).

In fact, so much of the Church's energy over the past 50 years has been spent preaching about morality, sexuality, and preserving the Church and its own traditions that it has nearly missed the boat when it comes to encouraging humanity to "turn the ship around" before reaching the tipping point toward environmental catastrophe. But here is Pope Francis, finally standing up for our sister, Mother Earth, not a moment too soon -- and hopefully, not a moment too late.

If I could sit down and have a chat with the man, I'd encourage him even further -- not only to do whatever he can to bring the world to further awareness of our need for ecological conversion, but also, to change the Church's prayers to reflect environmental and social concerns even more, to pray not only "for our good and the good of all his holy church," but "for the good of all creation." (I change those words every Sunday, pagan Catholic that I am.) Prayers that remind us of creation's beauty and goodness and our role in the world's ecological conversion need to be lived and prayed in our churches, homes and daily lives until they convert the way we think about and treat the gifts of creation all around us, always and all ways...

Which is why I'll end each of these Sunday reflections with A prayer for our earth, taken from the end of Laudato Si:

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #3... Becoming ecology-minded