Category Archives: Religion/Spirituality

We are apart of – not a part from Mother Nature

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 Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says a spiritual revolution is needed if we are going to confront the environmental challenges that face us. Photograph: Plum Village

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has been practising meditation and mindfulness for 70 years and radiates an extraordinary sense of calm and peace. This is a man who on a fundamental level walks his talk, and whom Buddhists revere as a Bodhisattva; seeking the highest level of being in order to help others.

Ever since being caught up in the horrors of the Vietnam war, the 86-year-old monk has committed his life to reconciling conflict and in 1967 Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, saying “his ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.” Continue reading We are apart of – not a part from Mother Nature

Who are we and what are we doing here?

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The Tree of Life and the Cosmos are One

This morning I prayed….. in fact, I pray every morning.  I pray for the knowledge of God’s will for me and the power to carry it out.  I pray to a God that is beyond my understanding. I pray because doing so has resulted in long periods of serenity, moments of clarity, and the chance to practice using spiritual tools that allow me to get through the difficult times and dark periods.  I pray for peace – and I work for a more sustainable world that will be free from want and fear – for all.

I was born into a religious tradition that taught me to fear that I would be punished (for Continue reading Who are we and what are we doing here?

Catholic Church “sustainability superhero” needs our help

popePope Francis has become something of a sustainability superhero today, finding his picture on the front covers of Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and TIME magazine. He has been an outspoken critic of the dominance of the human desire for short term financial success at the expense of the other two sustainability goals of social justice and environmental quality. But I have to wonder if we are not expecting too much from just one man. If we are to realize positive change and a more sustainable world, this Pope needs our help.

Pope Francis surely deserves praise as he has courageously used his bully pulpit to challenge his own management team, the Roman Curia, to examine their collective Continue reading Catholic Church “sustainability superhero” needs our help

A question of faith – struggling with being a Catholic academic

With a deep breath and a prayer, I wade into a topic I have avoided writing about (or even talking about).  Although I’ve posted more than 100 blogs on Changing the Story over the past few years, I’ve rarely shared any thoughts on spirituality and never on religion.

So, why would anyone in their right mind want to write about something as controversial as their own particular form of religion – especially one as unpopular among academics as the Roman Catholic Church?

Why speak out now?

I’ve struggled with my own Catholic identity for more than 50 years, but over the past 15 Continue reading A question of faith – struggling with being a Catholic academic

Catholic leader calls for an end to “business as usual”

Pope Francis declares global capitalism the “new tyranny”

The Pope wants his Church to be a voice for the poor – as he himself speaks out against economic ideologies that promote “the absolute autonomy of the marketplace” and reject the right of nations to protect people from exploitation by multinational corporations – but he needs our help.  Pope Francis decries global capitalism as a deadly “new tyranny” which imposes its own rules on the poor and powerless.

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘Thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

Pope Francis in “The Joy of the Gospel”  (paragraph 53)

NOTE:  I’ve included some “Pope tweets” in this blog.  Pope Francis gets five to twenty thousand retweets for each post like the one below. Follow him here!

Inequality is not inevitable, but rather the result of economic institutions designed by Continue reading Catholic leader calls for an end to “business as usual”

American Nuns deal with “power-over” Vatican hierarchy in a productive way

I was impressed while reading a story on the response of the American Catholic Nuns to an investigation and subsequent rebuke by the (all male) leadership of the Church.  If you don’t know the background to this story, the short version is that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (representing most of the American Sisters) were accused of “undermining the Church” and instructed to reform their ways in order to come in line with the accepted teaching of the Roman Catholic Church as determined by Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (which interestingly was established in 1542 as the Congregation for Universal Inquisition).

The U.S. Sisters were accused of radical feminist themes that were deemed Continue reading American Nuns deal with “power-over” Vatican hierarchy in a productive way

Quercus Questions: "I am oak"

Okay, so this blog is quite different than most of my others

Summer time you know!  

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A small, gray squirrel stopped his running about one day to say hello to his friend and provider, the great oak tree in the wood. Scampering up the rough, whitish trunk, he sat among the many branches, sighed and said “you are so strong – so tall – so old – you have seen much in your many years here in the wood – but don’t you ever want to run about like me, to play, to jump, to climb?”

After a moment, while the wind played softly among the leaves of the old tree, the oak replied quietly… “I am oak.”

The small, gray squirrel nodded knowingly (or at least as knowingly as the small brained rodent could nod). He said to the oak, yes, yes, yes you are oak, but really aren’t you even curious to see what is over the next hill, beyond the woods, where I can go whenever I want? Oh yes, I remember you telling me how your roots intermingle with the other trees in the forest and you do know what lies around you for many hills – but come on, wouldn’t you just like to get up and go see it for yourself?”

After a moment, while the wind played softly among the leaves of the old tree, the oak replied quietly…

I am oak.”

Slightly exasperated the small, gray squirrel said, yes, yes, yes I know you are oak, but aren’t you at all sad when you drop all your acorns and most of them are eaten by my brother squirrels, and those ridiculous little white-footed mice, the rabbits and even the very hungry bears? Most of your seed never sprout and grow into oaks like you – oh, well except for once in a while when I forget where I’ve stored my winter supply, and they sprout in the spring. But, but even then those small sprouts of oaks rarely grow up – most are eaten by deer or mice before they see one winter. Oh yes, I remember you telling me how you feel complete when you can be of service to others, giving of yourself that they might grow and live. But come on really, wouldn’t you like to see more baby oaks around here?  Wouldn’t ya? Wouldn’t ya?”

After a moment, while the wind played softly among the leaves of the old tree, the oak replied quietly…

I am oak.”

After a long slightly angry pause, the excited little gray squirrel thought of something that would surely elicit a more satisfying reply than “I am oak” – from the oak. With a scheming glint in his eye, the little gray squirrel said to the oak, “so what about those humans, huh?” He thought he felt a slight shudder in the trunk of the great tree, but it may just have been the wind. What do you think of their saws and bulldozers and trucks? What do you think you would do if you saw a human approaching, measuring (as they always do), looking you over with the eye of the hunter, desirous, greedy, murderous, what then? Would you be so generous then? You who love to give of yourself then – what would you say to that? What about those humans…. huh? huh?”

After a much longer moment, while the wind played softly among the leaves of the old tree, the oak replied quietly…

I am oak.”

With that, the little gray squirrel decided this game was no longer fun, he jumped to a lower limb and back to the ground, and just ran off without even saying goodbye. The oak took a deep breath and seemed to smile.

As time passed, the oak did as the oak always did and was content in his place – breathing the clean air, taking nourishment and water from the soil, dropping acorns in the fall for the many animals that lived at his feet. Dropping leaves in the winter to replenish the soil – in thanks. Occasionally the oak noticed a small sprout from one of the acorns the silly squirrels had planted and forgot, but always a deer ate it before it saw one winter. The oak didn’t mind, he was oak and that was his place. Once in a while he thought about the question of the human, but not having seen one for a long time he chose not to wonder, but just to breath, to grow slowly in place, to be oak.

One day as it happened, he heard a strange sound. Yes, it was a vehicle of some sort – which meant one thing – a human. He heard, well really he felt the on-coming presence of the human, measuring (as they always do), looking about with the eye of the hunter, desirous, greedy, murderous (you see, he did remember the words of the excited little, gray squirrel). As the human approached, the oak became curious. This man had no saw, no bulldozer, no truck. In fact, he looked fairly harmless, all in all.

The man approached the mighty oak, stopped, looked up, breathed deeply – and seemed to smile. Yes, it was a smile, but he was not measuring, he didn’t quite have the eye of the hunter, he didn’t appear desirous, greedy or those other things the squirrel had talked about. The man simply stood quietly before the oak – breathing the same air as the great tree, the small animals, the earth.

Slowly, with a voice full of quiet gratitude and much love the man spoke. “Spirit of the oak, I honor you you have lived long and seen much. You have felt the wind and the rain, the warmth of summer, the cold of winter. You have fed the earth with your leaves and the animals with your acorns for many, many years. My people honor you and all you have given. You are indeed oak.”

The oak wondered, how could this human – understand?

The human continued slowly “I come from a tribe that wishes to build a new home for a young family in our village. We come here to ask your permission and forgiveness. We wish to take your mighty trunk for timbers for a new dwelling that will stand for many years. We wish to make furniture of your limbs, to be used and admired in this home for many generations. We wish to take your many branches for the fire, to warm this home. We have come to thank you for your gifts to the soil, to the little animals, and to ask your permission to allow us the greatest gift you have – your self – for our needs.”

The oak breathed deeply.

The man breathed deeply.

The earth breathed deeply.

The man then said, I will return when you have dropped your leaves to feed the soil and your acorns to feed the many animals. At that time, I will seek your reply. The man left.

The oak signed.

As time passed, the oak did as the oak always did and was content in his place – breathing the clean air, taking nourishment and water from the soil, dropping acorns for the many animals that lived at his feet. Dropping leaves to replenish the soil – in thanks. He noticed one small sprout from one of his acorns had grown in a place that seemed to have more light and had not yet been eaten by a deer. Perhaps this one would grow? Perhaps this one would be the one?

And the man returned, as the oak knew he would. Once again the man stood before the great oak, smiling in appreciation – breathing the same air as the oak, and the animals, and the earth. After a time he said with a quite, grateful, loving voice “will you become part of a home for a young family in our village, part of the furnishings in this home, part of our lives, to be admired and appreciated for many years? Will you heat our homes so that our children can be warm? Will you give us permission and forgiveness for ending your time in this wood?”

The oak breathed deeply.

The man breathed deeply.

The earth breathed deeply.

And the great oak replied with acceptance and love…

I am oak.”

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