Saturday, March 19, 2016

Right Where We Should Be: At the Foot of the Cross

By Mary Susann Wake

            We are coming up on Holy Week in the Year of Mercy. We are also in the middle of a particularly ugly election, which is, I believe, threatening to derail many of the things that are good in a free and civil society. People on all sides are displaying signs of unease and sometimes a down right feeling of impeding doom. My Facebook newsfeed, which represents people of all political persuasions, is filled with a good deal of angst, my neighbors are filled with angst, the news reports are all filled with angst, and the list could go on. The juxtaposition of Holy Week with this phenomenon has struck me as brilliant and Providential. I see the hand of God reaching out to us in mercy.
            I am a Conservative Catholic. I have been a Republican all of my life because the Republican Party, for all of its faults, has been the best political vehicle for the building of a civic order that best protects the sacred value of human life from conception to natural death, the protection of marriage between one man and one woman as an institution which is a fundamental building block of society, and the protection of private property, especially small businesses, as the best means for allowing people to secure a livelihood and have a place to live in dignity.
            Of course, the Republican Party isn’t perfect. We are all sinners. We are all affected by pride, greed, and desire for power. Politicians are perhaps more tempted than the rest of us. But I only say “perhaps” because I perceive in the pro-Trump movement a quest for power by people who feel disenfranchised. I understand that feeling. I have been feeling for a long time unease that my political party doesn’t reflect my core values well enough. I don’t like political shenanigans. If you had told me a few years ago there was going to be a revolution in the Republican Party, I would have thought I would be on the side of the revolutionaries. But now that we are here, I find myself revolting against the revolution for many reasons that I hope to address at a later date.
            Right now I want to focus on my own sins and my own need and expectation for God’s grace and mercy. I now see that much of my animosity towards the Republican Party springs from my own failures. Specifically, it springs from the fact that I don’t have the virtue of prudence—that hinge of all virtues that helps us to act with right moral judgment in particular circumstances. I desire it, I can explain it, I recognize its necessity, but I don’t have it. I have wrapped my talents in cheesecloth and buried them under a pile of farm chores, drowned them in milk and vegetables. I have avoided errors in speaking by not speaking, instead of making the effort to speak in all truth and charity. This is not right judgment.
Because I lack the virtue of prudence, I most likely fail to see the value of the virtue when others display it. Instead of recognizing when political leaders are making difficult prudential judgments, I accuse them of caving. Instead of recognizing the possibility that they made the decision that was in fact better for the common good than the one I would have made, I think they are just plain bad politicians. Maybe the politicians need to change, but I certainly do. Just because someone else chose to act and made a mistake in their acting does not mean that they are worse then me who failed to act. God had been giving me the grace to see this even prior to my sudden political reawakening.
            So when I woke up, just before Holy Week in this Year Mercy, to the political disorder that is wrecking the Republican Party, in the midst of the gloominess that pervaded my soul I also saw that I was just where I should be: standing at the foot of the Cross in need of God’s mercy. May I humbly suggest that all of us, no matter what our political persuasion, do an examination of conscience about how we act or don’t act in regards to the good of the public order and bring our sins to be washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb? We are all sinners. Your sins are likely different from mine. If we all make this examination of conscience with a will to change ourselves, then we can set about reforming the political order and expect good results. If we don’t do it, if we spend all of our time looking at the faults of the other side, be they Democrat or Republican, pro-Trump or anti-Trump, no matter who wins elections we are all going to loose a truly free and civil society, and we will deserve what we get.

“Wash, make yourselves clean, take your wrong-doing out of my sight. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, helped the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us talk this over, says the Lord; though your sins by like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Is. 1:16-18).


Thursday, October 31, 2013

The 5 Minute challenge

Ah! Late autumn! I love it! The garden has died down; the milk production has slowed; there’s time to think and to catch up on all those things I have no time for in the summer.
            One of about 1,000 possible projects that came to my mind after the first frost was, “Time to start blogging again.” But what to write about? My big problem was not lack of possible subject matter, but too much.
            As I was going about the kitchen doing “5 minute challenges” I thought “Why not write about ‘5 minute challenges’, my favorite house cleaning technique?” The idea for 5 minute challenges came about one day when I was too tired to think, and the kitchen was a total mess. I decide to set the timer for five minutes and clean just one section of counter top until the timer went off. As soon as it went off, I quit working in that area whether I was finished or not. I reset the timer and moved onto cleaning the next section. The technique worked marvelously, so much so, that I now use it often.
            There are three main reasons that it works for me. First of all, time is short. I seldom have a long enough stretch of time to tackle whole projects, but five minute increments are easier to find. Setting the timer helps make sure those precious spare moments don’t go off into space. Second, setting the timer aids focus.  When I am running about from one task to the next I am rarely as effective as I could be.  Third, setting the timer prevents perfectionism from taking me away from something that I could have accomplished if I hadn’t got hung up on some little detail. For example there are times I could have gotten the whole house reasonably decent looking, but most of it iwas still in shambles because I decided to scrub the floor instead of just sweeping.
            The idea goes for more than just cleaning. I decided as an experiment to use the idea for writing this blog. It took more than five minutes to write it altogether. But breaking it down, and writing it under a time limit means that it is now in my computer and not still in my head with those 1,000 other possible blog topics.

            Can you use the idea to help you meet one of your goals this week?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Managing March Madness

March Madness is a real phenomenon.  After being cooped up all winter, creatures (including humans) start going a little stir crazy. The goats get crabby and start head butting each other with more than usual intensity. The dog decides it is time to run the cats out of town. I start wanting to dig up every available patch of earth and throw seeds in it.

I have learned the hard way that madness is not the best way to plant the garden. First of all, in the normal March the soil temperature is too low, and even the seeds of the most cold-hardy plants don’t germinate well. The second problem is that I tend to plant more than I can reasonably care for, so come July I have a weedy, poorly performing mess. Furthermore, as I move more in the direction of live storage, I need to do more planting in the mid summer so that the vegetables are ready to harvest in the fall rather than summer.

This year March has been unusually warm. The vegetation is out several weeks in advance. Nature seems to have an urgency about getting a head start on the life cycle. The temptation to March madness is extremely strong, but still madness. A warm March can be followed by a cold April so even if the seeds germinate it still isn’t safe to plant anything except very cold hardy seeds such as radishes, spinach and onions. Furthermore there is still the temptation to over plant things.

In order to combat my temptation to March madness, I have decided to take a more contemplative approach to gardening this year. I recently read the expression that the best fertilizer is the foot steps of the gardener so I have decided that every morning I will take a stroll through the garden before I start working on things. Taking this stroll has allowed me to see that the plants that wintered over need some attention. The garlic and Egyptian onions that have come up from bulbs planted in the fall needed weeded. So did the collards that will be going to seed this year. I am also digging and planting things (seeds that say to plant as soon as soil can be worked on the seed package can be safely planted, but observe the frost free dates for anything else), but hopefully in a more reflective manner than I would be without that morning stroll.

It still remains to be seen if my newly formed habit of taking a daily stroll through the garden will bear results in a neater, more productive garden, but it has already born fruit in a few peaceful, happy gardening hours.

Wishing you a happy, productive garden season for 2012.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Beauty So Great

A cold grey morning...
Frost covers the ground.
Dark shapes of leafless trees
stand out sharply against the dull mist.

Beauty so great
has no need to shout,
but silently invites the soul
to stillness and peace.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Time to Plan the Garden

When the snow comes down and there is finally a chance to rest from all the outdoor chores, the avid gardener inevitably turns to seed catalogues and gardening books and dreams about next year’s load of heavy labor. It might be a form of insanity, but then again it might be a healthy instinct—now is the time to plan out the garden, go through seed inventories, and get those seeds ordered. Time to plant will be on us before we know it, and planning the garden ahead saves time and energy in spring and summer.

The first thing to do when planning a garden is to determine what your overall goal for gardening actually is. If you just want to add some flavor and nutrition to your table, your planning task is easier than if you want to start moving in the direction of food independence. But either way, here are some things to keep in mind while you are planning.

Grow what you like to eat. Don’t grow beets and turnips just because they are good storage crops if you are not going to eat them. But at the same time, be a little adventurous. Just because you didn’t like something as a kid doesn’t mean you won’t like it now, especially if you find new ways of cooking things. I try to plant a new thing every year. Last year I planted okra for the first time, and it was a great success. Some of my traditional plants like squash and cabbage did very poorly, but the okra thrived and added a welcome change to my dinner plate.

Make sure that what you grow is suited to your climate and soil type. Some plants have a long growing season and can’t reach maturity in northern climates. Others prefer cool weather and need to be planted in spring or fall in climates where the summer is hot.  There can also be considerable variety within a species of when you can expect a crop to mature. Seed catalogues usually list the number of days to maturity for the varieties they offer. Pay attention to the number of days and make sure that your growing season is long enough for a particular variety. You should also take into consideration what diseases affect your area. Your local county extension office can be of great service in all of these matters.

If your goal is to raise a substantial portion of your own food and put it by for the winter, then planning becomes more complicated. Here is something to consider. How will you preserve it? Freezing, canning, drying, and live storage are the major options. Some vegetables do better with one method rather than another. Corn out of the freezer is delicious, dried corn makes a nice chewy snack, but canned corn is cooked for a long time under pressure which changes the flavor and uses much fuel. Tomatoes, on the other hand, do not undergo a significant flavor change in the canning process, and they are good out of the freezer. The live storage time of both corn and tomatoes is limited. Root crops, such as potatoes and turnips, as well as cabbage, will keep a long time in storage is kept in a cool damp place where it will not freeze. Some root crops such as parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes can be stored in the ground all winter. (I love them. It is such fun to go out to the garden in the middle of February and find food!)

Now is time to go to the library and do some reading. One book that I use extensively in planning my garden is “Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruit & Vegetables” by Mike and Nancy Bubel. I first discovered it at my local library, but decided I needed my own copy for constant reference. It is a good idea to read up on other garden related topics such and soil improvement, pest control, and canning also. There is little time for reading in the summer and fall when the pests and harvest are upon you. And there is nothing worse than being in the middle of a canning project and discovering you don't have the right equipment!

Finally, don’t be overly ambitious. If you plant more than you can care for, your results will be disappointing. I haven’t learned to follow my own advice on this point yet! Just beware!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Simply Catholic in a Hostile World

I have always hated election years in spite of a life long interest in political philosophy. During election year the rhetoric flies and the mud flies; much of the rhetoric and the mud is only tangentially related to important issues. There are important issues, and we need to discuss them in a civil way. Election years, however, seem to be the occasion for emotions to rise to fever pitch and for reason to go out the window.

I am not immune to the temptation to respond to political issues with emotional outbursts. I fear that my current anger at modern culture occasioned in part by the Obama administration’s ruling that religious employers will be required to pay for contraception, sterilization, etc. regardless of issues of conscience is threatening to make me want to give in to rhetorical mudslinging and venting. My anger is even greater at the so called compromise the administration put forward on Friday. But my fear of not speaking out at a critical moment in history is even greater, so I resolve to start mixing in comments in government along with gardens and goats. My thoughts go to the Prophet Amos who said, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son,; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:14-15). I am feeling uncomfortable!

Before I start venturing into issues that are political hot buttons, I want to clarify some of my starting points. Particularly, I want to clarify my starting points for non Catholic readers because there are so many misconceptions about Catholics, Catholic doctrine, and the Catholic view of the political order.

I believe in God; I believe God is infinitely good and beautiful. I believe that human beings were created in His image and likeness. His image may be marred by sin but it is still there in every human being. We must never loose sight of this, ever. When we do loose sight of it, as we will in the heat of the moment, we must repent.

Nevertheless, there are objective standards of morality, and I believe that we only reach our full human potential if we try to live in conformity to those standards. For some reason, it is always the Church’s teaching on sexuality that gets the most vocal attention. Unfortunately, that attention is rarely in the form of intelligent discussion of the issues; and it rarely recognizes that the root of Catholic teaching on morality is that human dignity requires us to view sexuality in terms of the whole human person, and that human dignity requires that we never treat a person, including our own selves simply as an object of sensual gratification.

But sexuality is not the only subject that the Church teaches on, and it isn’t the only one that will make you politically unpopular, often with the very people that agree with the Church on sexual issues. Two such issues that are important to me are the environment and Middle Eastern peace. The Church’s position on these issues is also rooted in human dignity, as well as recognition that God is creator of all goods and meant these good for all persons. We must be good stewards to safe guard resources for future generations. We must look at issues surrounding Middle Eastern peace in view of the dignity of all persons regardless of race or religion.

Now these are all difficult issues, and many different political solutions can be debated and supported by people of good will in relationship to these issues. This is why you rarely hear the bishops coming out with such force on an issue as we have seen them do in regard to the HHS Mandate. Contrary to an old myth about Catholics that is still very much around, we don’t take political marching orders from the pope. I invite all who may disagree with me, whether on my first principles or my conclusions based on them to voice your position. I only ask that you keep in mind human dignity and forgive any human frailty.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Food in Due Season—Salad from the Root Cellar

I never would have thought of eating beets raw, but a visitor from New Zealand made this salad for us. It is now a favorite. It is worth a try even if you don’t like cooked beets. Raw beets are light and sweet; they don’t have the heavy, earthy flavor of cooked beets.

I was happy to find that the last of the fresh beets from the root cellar were still crisp and sweet enough to make this beet and apple salad.

1 raw grated beet root
2 raw grated apples
Chopped onion to taste
Mix and sprinkle lemon juice (about a tablespoon) on top. Chill for several hours. Serve with vinaigrette. I make it out of apple cider vinegar (homemade if I have it), sunflower oil, in one to one proportions and salt and pepper to taste.

“The eyes of all look to thee, and thou givest them their food in due season” (Psalm 145 [144]:15).