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December's night sky: a total lunar eclipse approaches

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December stars seem twice as brilliant as those of summer. The sky is doubly clear; the dust of summer is washed out of the atmosphere. The Big Dipper, which is actually not a constellation but what is called an "asterism," a configuration of stars that look like something, is down on the northern horizon. The Big Dipper is part of the greater constellation called Ursa Major, the Great Bear. Native peoples say its on the horizon now because it has come down to wash its paws in the deep lakes before they completely freeze over.

Bruce Friedrich: Advent and factory farms

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"Advent is upon us. It's a particularly holy time of the year for Christians, a time for us to ponder the meaning of Christ's birth, his proclamation of "Good News" for the poor and downtrodden, and the degree to which our lives align with Christ's vision. And so I view Advent as a key time to reflect and consider whether I'm living up to my Christian call to service on behalf of a more compassionate world.

From 1990 to 1996, I lived and worked in a "hospitality house" in Washington, D.C., sharing my life with the city's most down and out people, as a part of the Catholic Worker movement. We provided shelter to homeless families, as well as food, clothing and blankets to the city's poor. While I was there, a friend gave me Christianity and the Rights of Animals by the Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey, an Anglican Priest and professor of theology at Oxford University. It changed my life.

Advent: Approaching the birth of the self-emptying Christ

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Early Christianity was honed and shaped in the deserts of the Middle East. The desert fathers and mothers from the second and third centuries went to the wilderness so that they could strip from themselves all but the basics of life, to remove all the layers with which we encumber the self, in order to know who they really were, what their place in the universe was. Thoreau-like, they sought to pare life down to its essence, and in the silence and emptiness be able to know something of the divine presence, the tangible murmurings of eternity that penetrate when all distractions are swept away.

Desire and fulfilling those desires keep us so often from seeing the depth of what is. As all we thought we wanted or needed is taken away from us, we come closer and closer to the Mystery at the heart of being.

Jesuit Fr. Karl Rahner coined the wonderful definition of God as “the past-all-graspness.” He describes the emptying that is the paschal mystery thusly:

Winter's little grey bundle of life and energy

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One of the miracles of our world is the lowly chickadee. It’s a common little bird most often seen in winter. If there is a bird feeder nearby, you will see one or two of these little grey bundles of energy. The chickadee's range includes most of the United States.

A full-grown chickadee weighs little more than half an ounce, about the weight of a few pieces of paper. Inside that tiny feathered frame is a heart that beats close to 700 times a minute, so fast that through a stethoscope its sound is just a busy buzz. Its body temperature ranges around 105 degrees, which explains the frenzied beating of its heart. On cold winter nights, these birds reduce their body temperature by up to 10-12 °C to conserve energy.

The chickadee has a black cap and bib with white sides to the face. Its underparts are white with rusty brown on the flanks and its back is gray. It has a short dark bill, short wings and a long tail.

We need meaningful mysticism

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We are severely damaged by the absence of meaningful mysticism. I believe that only such deep spirituality can give us the wisdom, courage, heart and great souls needed to confront and turn around the government, religions and business institutions that work together now to destroy our world. How else do we engender hope and vitality in the face of these destructive forces?

The human spirit was never meant to live with so much fear and helplessness. So mysticism – the idea that we can directly access the divine in our human experience, in our everyday living – haunts our imagination. I would define meaningful mysticism or spirituality as a capacity for mystery, together with a longing for the infinite.

Iowa farmer advises the Vatican on biotech crops

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Vatican leaders sought information about genetically modified organisms and how they may or may not help developing countries, so they turned to an Iowa farmer, Andrew Apel, for help.

Apel of Raymond, Iowa was one of 40 experts from 17 countries to travel to the Vatican in May 2009 to give his views on biotechnology in agriculture. The group released its findings in Dec.

The story is on the WFC Courier.

Mexico climate conference: 'The bar has been raised'

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A good, comprehensive analysis of the outcome of the Mexico U.N. climate conference appeared in the New York Times on Dec. 13 written by Lisa Friedman of ClimateWire.

In apprasing the "Cancun Agreements," she writes, "Ministers and activists alike said the agreements restored much-needed confidence in the multilateral system and laid the groundwork for serious technology developments to help poorer countries deploy low-carbon energy. For the first time in an official U.N. agreement, countries agreed to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and acknowledged that the emission cut pledges America, China and others made in Copenhagen should be just a beginning."

The next worldwide conference on climate change will take place next year in Durban, South Africa. South Africa's Minister for Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, told ClimateWire that while much work needs to be done between now and the Durban conference, she said the "building blocks are now on the table" for ever-stronger climate agreements.

Eco pet practices

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Hundreds of four-footed pals have come through my doors in the last seven years. You see, I take care of dogs in my home while their owners are out of town. So I am fairly familiar with how most people care for their pets. And adopting earth-friendly pet practices hardly seems to register on their radar screen. So if you are one of these persons who has never even thought about that possibility, I’m here to raise your awareness of how you can love your pet and love the Earth at the same time.
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Start with giving your pet healthy food. If you can afford a local, natural, homemade product without additives, that would be ideal. I’ve given my cat Nala a high-quality food and at 15, she’s perky and playful, a masterful hunter who’s never seen the inside of a vet’s office. Don’t feed to excess, because all that unnecessary food took energy and resources to produce. And definitely watch the packaging the food comes in. I cringe when someone brings individual packets of wet food that must be tossed in the trash when emptied. If you must use canned food, then be sure the recycle the cans.
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Advent is about waiting

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With all the bustle of Christmas preparation, I’m not so sure waiting is a big theme of Advent anymore. Kids may find it hard to wait until Christmas, but not most adults. Sadly, half of them are probably waiting for it to be over! But waiting is a reality in all our lives, so this is still a good season to reflect on it.

Trusting in the timing of things. In spite of our culture’s insistence on instant satisfaction, everything has its own beautiful process of coming into being that takes a while. Mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme says that the timing of the universe is perfect. For instance, the galaxies were formed when conditions were just right, and it couldn’t have happened earlier or later. If this is true on a cosmic scale, it must be true of us. I love the idea that you just can’t rush or force things. There’s a freedom in knowing you don’t have to. “Don’t push the river. It flows by itself,” is a maxim worth recalling often.

Bishop Erwin Kr‰utler's acceptance speech and an interview appear on the Right Livelihood Award Web site

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Erwin Kräutler, a Catholic bishop motivated by liberation theology, is one of Brazil's most important defenders of and advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples. Already in the 1980s, he helped secure the inclusion of indigenous peoples' rights into the Brazilian constitution. He also plays an important role in opposing one of South America's largest and most controversial energy projects: the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River.

Last week he received the Right Livelihood Award "for outstanding vision and work on behalf of our planet and its people."

His acceptance speech and an interview appear on the Right Livelihood Award Web site.

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September 26-October 9, 2014

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