Where is God in the Storm?

18 August 08 | Posted in Bible, Events, Spirituality, U.S. Catholic

The 37th prayer listed “for special occasions” in the Catholic Sacramentary, the official Catholic worship book, is the prayer “to avert storms.” The text reads:

Father, all the elements of nature obey your command. Calm the storm that threatens us and turn our fear of your power into praise of your goodness.

When floodwaters converged on Iowa City in early June, Fr. Jeff Belger, director of the Catholic Student Center, said he started to say the prayer at daily Masses. “It was the first time in five years as a priest that I’ve had to use that prayer.”

I’m sure some people are saying it now, as Tropical Storm Fay approaches the Florida Keys.  I am glad to know it, and will have it at hand, in my home out on the East End of Long Island once hurricane season gets underway.

Weather-related prayers – for rain in time of drought or protection from violent storms – are based on a concept of God as the one who controls nature.  In many cultures, including our own, people expect  priests and religious leaders to petition God for favorable weather, a good harvest, a safe voyage through the storm.

Some might say these prayers in times of terror and stress originate from the child within us. But a very famous scene in the Gospels – Christ rebuking the wind and calming the sea (Mark 4:37-41) – reinforces the belief God will intervene to save us, our loved ones and neighbors, our pets and property as the storm descends in fury.

If not, then to give us the strength to face what we must, and adapt with courage to the circumstances we are given, and trust that, whatever happens, we are always in God’s hands. 0721_jesus_calms_storm_christian_clipart.jpg

Meinrad Craighead: God the Mother

11 August 08 | Posted in Animals, Spirituality, U.S. Catholic

As the sun rises, a slight, gray-haired woman emerges onto the worn plank porch of her house and pours a glass of water out onto the sandy soil, lifts the cup to the sun, then drinks the rest of it.

In this daily ritual, artist Meinrad Craighead rebaptizes herself, making a short prayer to God as Mother: “You have given me life. This is my daily prayer. You’re going to take care of me.”

Her work portrays in vivid color both an active visual dialogue with God and a keen sense of the brooding, watching, beckoning power she finds in the land around her, in the sky above, the earth below, in the animals, in our dreams.

Her first real religious experience, at age 7, was not in church but in nature, with her dog, she said. She had retreated from the heat of a summer day to the shade of some hydrangea bushes.  Under the flowers’ blue dome, she found herself gazing into her dog’s eyes. “They were as deep, as bewildering, as unattainable as a night sky,” she said of the eyes, and as she stared she felt a rush of water coming from deep within her. meinrad_dog.JPG

“I listened to the sound of water inside, saw a woman’s face, and understood: This is God. Soon after this I came upon a photo in a book of a statue of a woman. The recognition was immediate, certain: I knew this was the woman I’d heard inthe water and whose face I had seen in the dog’s eyes. This discovery brought a sense of well-being and gratitude, which has never diminished. Because she was a living force within me, she was more real, more powerful than the remote ‘Father’ I was educated to have faith in.”

“God the Mother came to me and, as children will do, I kept her a secret. We hid together inside the structures of institutional Catholicism. Through half a lifetime of Catholic liturgies, during my school years, in my professional work as an educator, for 14 years in a monastery, she lived at my innermost center, the groundsill of my spirituality.” god.bmp

Read the whole, glorious article, Art and Spirituality: In the name of the mother, by Richard Heffern here.

Catholics Thinking Outside the Bottle

22 July 08 | Posted in Food, Stewardship, U.S. Catholic

Sr. Janet Corcoran, vice president of mission service at Marian Medical Center in Santa Clara, CA, is just one of the Catholic voices spreading the gospel that bottled water, however convenient, is environmentally, economically and politically wrong. “It’s a matter of getting people to think more consciously about what they are doing,” she said. Her column, “Environmental Tips from a Green Franciscan Sister” is published in a hospital publication.

Concerns about bottled water are bubbling up in Catholic organizations, adding clout to a growing number of municipalities and secular organizations concerned about the issue–with women religious strongly in the lead.

Numerous women’s religious communities are banning bottled water at their motherhouses, retreat houses and conference centers, and some are substituting refillable water bottles for the throw-away kind at sponsored events.

Bottled water has become a lighting rod for several environmental-social justice issues surrounding water. bottledwater.jpg

There is a negative environmental impact of discarded plastic bottles. I see plenty of those on the beach–used and left by fishermen (both native born and Spanish-speaking immigrants) to wash out into the ocean. There is the oil used to make plastic bottles.  And lastly, the prize of the ownership and access to good water, especially for developing countries. Like energy resources–oil, gas, coal–water is now being privatized by corporations.

The United Nations  estimates that more than 1 billion people currently lack access to safe drinking water and that by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population will not have access to drinking water.

Some Catholic groups have borrowed information and ideas from Think Outside the Bottle, a major non-religious player in the anti-bottled water movement.

The organization has launched a web-based campaign that provides information and support. In addition to inviting individuals to sign a pledge to boycott bottled water, the program urges people to send postcards to corporations challenging corporate control of water, to attend stockholders’ meetings and mount other forms of pressure on corporate executives.

I guess what this means for me is to stop buying Poland Spring at Staples or the supermarket, and fill the empties with tap water.

I love Poland Spring. It’s easy to tote to the gym or have in the car. Water in refillable plastic bottles tastes vile.  This is going to be a tough one.

Equal Exchange Fair Trade Coffee

6 July 08 | Posted in Food, Social Justice, U.S. Catholic

As a member of the Social Justice Committee of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Brooklyn, NY I helped to start the “Coffee Project.” We sold Equal Exchange coffee after Masses once a month; and took special orders the rest of the time. Our parish secretary, a lovely lady, helped out to take care of people who were ill, out-of-town or couldn’t make it to Mass for some reason but still wanted their coffee. She would hold the bags in the office for people to come by and pick up.  Sales did quite well–our Social Justice Committee funded other projects and initiatives out of our $1 a bag coffee profits.

We sold Equal Exchange coffee, tea, chocolate and hot chocolate.  Everyone enjoyed the coffee, but the chocolate bars were the biggest hit. ee_coffee.jpg 

Our motto was: “Supporting fair wages and fair trade–one cup of coffee at a time.” Buying a bag of coffee after Mass made it easy and convenient to help support Catholic social justice initiatives several ways: small farmers were paid a fair price for their coffee beans and had access to credit; and the crops were planted and harvested in ecologically sound ways. Equal Exchange products are mostly organic and shade-grown, which further protects songbirds and wildlife.

Equal Exchange was great organization to work with, and I highly recommend them.  We found them through Catholic Relief Services, who maintain a list of fair trade coffee partners on their website.

The Oil Price Conundrum

23 June 08 | Posted in Social Justice, Stewardship, U.S. Catholic

Oil prices have gone up dramatically, impacting the cost of everything: filling up the gas tank, the cost of food, heating your home, airline travel.

It has impacted food in another way–farmers, especially agribusiness, are opting to plant crops for fuel rather than food production. Those choices are felt hard now in countries like Haiti. Some protests ended in food riots.

Why have oil prices gone up so much in the last year? Part of it is speculation. Oil and energy traders have driven up the price, betting that oil prices will continue to rise. Because regulatory measures are ineffective, government can’t intervene to stop the cycle. gas-prices.jpg

There is also supply and demand. China, India and other developing countries have developed a thirst for oil to rival that of the U.S. Demand for cheap Asian goods has fueled explosive growth in factories and a new consumer class. Now that transportation costs have risen, that growth may slow down a hair.

More oil and refined products are needed, but the supply isn’t easily or cheaply available. Iraq produces one million barrels a day less in 2008 than it did in 1990. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Range and off the coasts of California and Florida will supply millions of barrels, but it will be costly given legal challenges by homeowners, municipalities, environmental groups and others. Anyway, coastal and wilderness drilling is not a long-term solution as much as a short-term political fix.

Food, energy, land use, allocation and consumption of resources–are global as well as U.S. social justice issues.  The oil price conundrum is far more complex than a simple statement on the evils of abortion.

What about the evils of no food, no heat and not enough money to pay for them; oil slick birds, dirty shoreline, filthy water–weighed against Exxon Mobil setting an annual profit record by earning $40.61 billion last year.  Is it time for the bishops to speak up?

Catholicism in the U.S. especially the hierarchy, seems stuck on abortion and same-sex marriage. Should abortion continue to be the #1 issue on the bishops’ political agenda, or should it be natural resources management? Which impacts the “dignity of the human person” more? Which kills more innocent children–abortion; or starvation, malnutrition, and lack of clean water?

As a start, I suggest we support our bishops if they call on all Catholics to do the following:

– Conserve energy by driving less, and walking or taking public transportation more. This includes bishops, their staff, and diocesan managers.

– Pressure legislators to reduce unnecessary tax advantages and credits for oil companies; and initiate oversight into unregulated energy markets. Publicize these efforts in Diocesan papers and parish bulletins.

-Study and develop teaching on the interconnecting issues of food and fuel and how they impact the most vulnerable–children, poor people, the elderly, people on public assistance or disability payments, immigrants–through price increases and increased pollution.

Expand this working group beyond bishops to include laity, including energy traders, oil company executives, small scale farmers, social workers, and environmentalists. Many perspectives “from the ground” are needed to develop a realistic and positive solution.