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'Take long walks ... if you would keep your spirits up'

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Henry David Thoreau was America's foremost nature writer and philosopher. Below is the entry in his journal for Dec. 25, in 1857. He kept careful record of his forays and expeditions outdoors on the outskirts of Concord, Mass. He was a careful observer of the natural world. Here he writes of his discoveries on a Christmas Day walk and makes an observation that is also good advice for all of us.

"Dec. 25, 1857: A strong wind from the northwest is gathering the snow into picturesque drifts behind the walls. As usual they resemble shells more than anything, sometimes prows of vessels, also the folds of a white napkin or counterpane dropped over a bonneted head. There are no such picturesque snow drifts as are formed behind loose or open stone walls. Already yesterday it had drifted so much, i.e. so much ground was bare, that there were as may carts as sleights in the streets.

Just beyond Hubbard's Bridge, on Conant's Brook Meadow, I am surprised to find a tract of ice, some thirty by seven or eight rods, blown quite bare. It shows how unstable the snow is.

Without winter, we would be less whole

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I’ve long been a fan of winter. I just like its paraphernalia, its garb, its customs, necessities, limitations and snowflakes. As a kid I suffered every summer from hay fever, welcoming the relief the frosts always brought. A spell of living in the country also helped me cultivate a taste for the cold times. Winter is different away from the cities and suburbs.

An acquired taste perhaps, I believe the season of winter deserves a prominent niche in the Academy of the Underrated.

There's still time to unplug from holiday consumerism

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Many of you are probably familiar with Kathy in the comics. The quintessential shopper, she’s gullible to every sales pitch, buys expensive things she doesn’t need, and is neurotic about buying the perfect gift. She wouldn’t be funny or popular if she didn’t reflect some truth about our obsessions.
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Jesus came to free us from our obsessions, so let’s give him a chance to help us do things differently. We don’t have to be mindless consumers, overburdening our lives with material possessions. I teach classes now and then on “Clearing Your Clutter,” and it’s amazing to see how people cling to possessions, even when they are burdensome and unfreeing.

Christmas will be here in a few days, but it’s not too late to take a few immediate actions to defy the consumption patterns that assail us like the flu bug.

Is virtual life really life giving?

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The Sammy Cahn Christmas song, made popular by Frank Sinatra and the Carpenters, may have stated, “It’s that time of year when the world falls in love,” but we all know it’s that time of year when we get new electronics! It’s not the time for sleigh rides, walking in a winter wonderland, or roasting chestnuts over an open fire, but for spending hours with our new ipods, cell phones that can do everything except cook dinner, video and internet games, big-screen TVs, our Wii, and much more.

Wow, isn’t this technology wonderful? Hours of blissful amusement to wile away these long winter days when we can’t get outside. How inane is jumping rope, roller-skating, building with Legos, and playing family board games when we can enter the exciting and unlimited realm of virtual reality. Whoa! Let’s put on the brakes for a minute and examine whether this trend of spending more and more time interacting with machines and a fantasy world is really good for us.

Keep the Earth in Christmas

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The Earth is probably the last thing most people are focused on at Christmas. It’s just an inert, unimportant backdrop for the joyous reality of Christ’s birth, right? Not if we look a little deeper. In spite of poor theology that might portray it that way, Christmas is not about a pie-in-the-sky reality, a fleeing from this depraved realm of created matter.

So let’s look at some of the connections between Christmas and a renewed [img_assist|nid=21937||desc=|link=none|align=right|width=211|height=138]earthiness and acknowledgment of God’s action in creation. We don’t really know the details of Jesus’ birth, but all the mythology centers around very earthy things: a journey by donkey under open skies, animal and dung smells in a stable mingling with the sweetness of baby breath, shepherds guarding their drowsy flocks via moon and star shine. Then there’s the drama of a scandalous pregnancy, no lodging in a strange city, and a jealous, murdering king. This birth is no other-worldly event, but emerges out of the glory and chaos of the natural world and its inhabitants.

'It doesn't take a Wikileak to document U.S. pressure on Vatican in favor of GMOs'

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One doesn't have to go to Wikileaks to find out about U.S. advocacy of GMOs to the Vatican. It has been a consistent effort: Colin Powell as Secretary of State tried to have the Vatican silence Jesuit Fr. Peter Henriot who helped the Zambian government reject GMO grain during a food crisis in Zambia.

The first thing that Condaleeza Rice told the Vatican on her first visit was to support GMOs The U.S. mission to the Holy See has always supported the moral imperative to have the Vatican support GMOs and convinced the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to host two conferences on this topic, one in 2004 and one in 2008. The second meeting only included supporters of GMOs, including among the speakers was Nino Fodoroff, biotechnology advisor to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

The gift of Christmas presence: Mindfulness exercises for the 12 Days of Christmas, Part 2

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The Fifth Day of Christmas: Eating an Orange
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Do you remember in the Little House on the Prairie books how delighted Mary and Laura were to find an orange in their Christmas stocking? It was precious to them because at the time having an orange in the winter was a rare treat. Today we can eat an orange every day if we wish to do so, but it can still be a lesson in mindfulness, as Thich Nhat Hanh models for us in his meditation on eating a tangerine in the book Peace is Every Step.

Book review: Replenishing the Earth, by Wangari Matthai

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REPLENISHING THE EARTH
SPIRITUAL VALUES FOR HEALING
OURSELVES AND THE WORLD
By Wangari Maathai
Published by Doubleday, $13

In our modern world it is easy to feel disconnected from the physical planet we live on. Nobel laureate Wangari Matthai has spent decades working with the Green Belt Movement to help women in rural Kenya plant and sustain millions of trees. With their hands in the dirt, these women often find themselves newly empowered and at home in a way they have never before experienced.

Advent journal: three reflections

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This Advent journal comes from Joni Woelfel, who lives in Minnesota. She is author of A Party of One: Meditations for Those Who Live Alone, The Light Within: A Woman's Book of Solace and Craving Hope: A Spiritual Companion on Your Weight Loss Journey.

Our first major cold spell has hit, with temps down into the 20 below readings. Within days, the open lakes froze and now people are out in droves ice fishing with great enthusiasm. It is challenging for me to get excited about the cold but I’m trying to change my attitude. This morning, my husband Jerry and I were watching a documentary about a unique Siberian salamander that has an anti-freeze type substance in its blood. In fact, it is one of the few creatures on earth who can survive being frozen solid for as long as several years--- only to unthaw and come alive again (or resurrect, as the narrator called it) with no ill effects at all.

Vatican pressured by U.S. to take more positive line on GMO food

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John Allen reports on the NCR Today blog that previously confidential diplomatic cables released today as part of the Wikileaks disclosures show American diplomats pressing the Vatican to take a more positive line on the aftermath of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and on genetically modified food.


NCR's Eco Catholic Blog

Eco Catholic is an exploration of the green Catholic imagination and ecological spirituality. Contributors include Rich Heffern, NCR staff writer, columnist and author, and Carol Meyer, executive director of the Sustainable Sanctuary Coalition.

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August 29-September 11, 2014

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