Last week I reflected on the unthinkable becoming reality. It turns out there were more unthinkable moments ahead. It truly shows how serious this crisis is when my post last week is woefully out of date. This week, I want to share with you what I shared with my parish. This is a Pastor's response to his people. Parishioners of mine have lost their jobs, fear how they are going to feed their children, and today it was announced the state of Wisconsin is moving to home confinement to flatten the curve of the spread of this virus. I wish I could wax eloquently today with you on the questions of faith and astronomy. Instead, I simply offer the following resources and message I have shared with my parishioners: God will see us through this crisis.
Just to clarify, the resources below in no way reflect anything official from the Vatican. Writing for Sacred Space Astronomy, people sometimes presume that every pixel I publish comes with a Vatican seal of approval. I'm sure that, in time, there will be, if there hasn't been already, official resources of home prayer in the absence of Mass from the Vatican. I simply share with you what I have provided for my parish of St. Olaf Parish in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. If you find these resources helpful, by all means, use them!
Let us support one another. We will get through this. And may we take this time to see God's love and presence in the small things in life. Christ is with us in this spiritual desert. As I have had the good fortune of watching a mother hummingbird build a nest for her future youth, let us delight in the smallness of God's creation around us, finding time to take a mental break from this pandemic. As we strive to be as safe as possible, let us also seek simple ways to smile, find peace, and love one another.
My Facebook post from Yesterday:
After silencing my heart today, I asked: Lord, are we, amid this crisis, entering a new era of mission?
In silence, the Lord wrote on my heart: You are my mission. You have been my mission. You will always be my mission.
Lord, break into our seclusion. Meet us with your love. May it fill us with the fervor of 1,000 missionaries. Make the desert of our fears bloom with the flowers of hope, peace of heart, joy, and love.
A family prayer when Mass is not possible.
Guide for Home Prayer – St. Olaf Parish
Prepare a small altar someplace in your home where your family can be comfortably seated. Find a white cloth that can cover the table. If you have a cross or a crucifix, place it in a central location on the table. Take a Bible and place it before the cross. Find one candle and place it by the cross.
Begin your prayer with the following blessing as you light the candle on your table:
This candle reminds us of the light of Christ’s love that burns in our hearts.
Amid these dark days, come as light into our home, our family, and our hearts.
Chase away the darkness of fear and lighten our hearts with love, joy, and peace.
We ask this through Christ our Lord
Leader or other family member:
Let us pray.
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the
human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to
take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross,
giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant
that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share
in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
First Reading from the Prophet Ezekiel
Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.
The Word of the Lord
All: Thanks be to God
Reflection: At times of crisis, we can begin to lose hope, feeling like our heart is in a type of spiritual tomb. In that darkness and cold, God reminds us that He will break through this “entombment of the heart” and allow the warmth and light of his love to penetrate our hearts.
As a family, reflect on this question: Do you feel your heart is entombed or bathed in the light of Christ? Regardless of how we feel, where do we see signs of hope that God is breaking into the darkness of our times?
- (7) With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.
R. With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
LORD, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
R. With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the LORD.
R. With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
For with the LORD is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel
from all their iniquities.
R. With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.
Reflection: Have we felt a desire to cry out to the Lord? Have you allowed your heart to do so? I challenge your family, whether now or after the prayer service, share the fears and tears that are hidden in your hearts, not simply for the sake of grieving, but allowing us to get the venom we taste out of our mouths so we can instead taste the sweetness of Christ’s healing and mercy.
Gospel John 11:1-45
The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying,
“Master, the one you love is ill.”
When Jesus heard this he said,
“This illness is not to end in death,
but is for the glory of God,
that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
So when he heard that he was ill,
he remained for two days in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to his disciples,
+Let us go back to Judea.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus
had already been in the tomb for four days.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
Your brother will rise.”
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”
He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said,
“Where have you laid him?”
They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”
But some of them said,
“Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man
have done something so that this man would not have died?”
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him,
“Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.”
Jesus said to her,
“Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone.
And Jesus raised his eyes and said,
“Father, I thank you for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me;
but because of the crowd here I have said this,
that they may believe that you sent me.”
And when he had said this,
He cried out in a loud voice,
“Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth.
So Jesus said to them,
“Untie him and let him go.”
Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
The Gospel of the Lord
All: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
A Word from Fr. James: As the fears of pandemic are reaching deeper and deeper, it wouldn’t surprise me if you feel a little like Lazarus. We can see in our world death and fears of what the future holds. The hard truth is that we don’t know what the future holds. All I know is this: God is God of the living and he wishes to bring his light and life to crisis we face. Do not give into the temptation to feel that all is lost. Take one another’s hand. Express your love for each other. And know that God’s light of hope will shine brightly through these times. Your Pastor loves you. God loves you. And, together, let us allow the Love of Christ to see us through these times.
At this time, share your petitions as a family to God. I would personally ask you to continue your prayers for Brett Kleinke as he prepares to become Catholic and join St. Olaf Parish with his fiancé Lydia LaBudda.
In the spirit of the upcoming Easter Vigil, let us renew our baptismal promises.
Leader: Do you believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth?
All: I do.
Priest: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered death and was buried,
rose again from the dead
and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
All: I do.
Priest: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting?
All: I do.
Pray together an Our Father
An Act of Spiritual Communion
My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come spiritually into my heart. I embrace You, Lord, embrace me in your love and mercy. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.
If your family is so bold, sing a closing hymn… don’t be afraid to share a laugh with each other if it sounds… creative! 😉
I am not an expert on the Corona Virus. I have tried to keep up with developments while on sabbatical and learn what I can. The only thing I have learned is that once I think I understand what is happening, things change rapidly. At the Redemptorist Renewal Center, our group has felt as if we have been living in a bubble, distant from Corona hysteria. That ended this morning when, during the petitions at Mass, it was made known that a parishioner's brother died from complications of this virus. Even in the safety of the Saguaro Desert, this pandemic continues to be indiscriminate in its impact.
At my home Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, measures are being taken to limit the spread of this virus. All programming and events have been canceled. The obligation to attend Sunday Mass has been lifted. To put it another way, what was once unthinkable just weeks ago is now our reality.
The sober mind tells me this will be a short lived reality - Let the virus run its course and, in a few weeks, we'll start complaining about politicians, arguing over who's going to win the World Series this year, and becoming consumed with our work once again. However, the heart inebriated with concern for my parish, family, and loved ones also acknowledges that we really don't know where this is going. When will we see "life as usual" again? In a different direction, that same heart that is on sabbatical to remove myself from "life as usual" makes me wonder, "Do we want to go back to 'life as usual?'" As we pray for the victims of this disease and all who will be called home by God with life threatening illnesses, let us ask God to teach us what we are to learn through this crisis and who we are to become when it ends.
When I have gone through the loss of a loved one, I often feel like "time stands still" in a not good sense, almost getting angry at the world as it continues to wiz by while my heart aches. I often wonder if a similar moment happened to Mary as her son hung on the cross on Good Friday. Did the world simply pass Jesus by in his suffering as the business that comes just before Sabbath was going on? Did anyone even stop and simply say, "That is some mother's child on that cross."
We live in that stillness and awareness as schools, business, and parishes are shutting down. Now... What will we do with the communal pause? Is it simply a pregnant pause before we begin our cultural sprint of meaningless productivity or in the Good Friday we are living will we see in the victims of this and many other diseases a call to allow time to stop more frequently out of love of those who suffer, of our friends, the stranger, and even those we hold grudges toward? Are we simply waiting for the light to turn from red to green so we can begin our mindless sprinting once again, worshiping the false god of productivity and objectifying those around us as mere speed bumps toward our consumerist goals?
I am not an expert on the Corona Virus. I don't know where this is going. And I don't know how you are receiving this reflection. All I know is I am living in an odd tension of wanting to end my sabbatical to try and "do something" about this crisis. In that moment, I enter prayer and the only answer that emerges is to stay in sabbatical. To borrow an oft used phrase, these are strange times we live to see. Will they be the best of times? Will they be the worst of times? Only time will tell.
What does this have to do with a Faith and Astronomy blog? Not much other than the fact that this crisis is on the minds and hearts of every person these days. I could talk to you about how I have learned Corona Virus is part of the SARS family of viruses and is considered "mild" in that family. At the same time, I don't know what that means and I don't know what to say about the science or the faith of this virus. All I know is that last night I went for a walk in the wash of Picture Rocks Canyon. Camera in hand, I was taking astrophotography and praying for my parishioners at St. Olaf, wondering if Holy Week was going to be canceled. As I was imaging the heavens, the exsultet, the chanted Easter proclamation that is sung on Holy Saturday, began to echo in my heart. In particular, I was moved to pray with the sections that spoke of the paradox of night that was as bright as day. Let us pray that the cultural night we have entered gives way to the light of new hope this coming Easter. And may all who die this day from Corona Virus, Flu, various forms of Cancer, War, and acts of terrorism be remembered with more than just a passing glance as we sprint between appointments. May we have a moment of reverential silence and prayer for those who have died. May God bring healing and calm to our world.
This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel's children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.
This is the night
that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.
This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!
This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.
The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
Lord, Bless those you will call home today through serious illness. Bless all those who suffer greatly whether it be illness, persecution, age, loneliness, and any other affliction. Thank you for loving us through these difficulties. And thank you for the dawn we await and will receive from your loving kindness. Dispel the night of our fear. Turn our night into day. Amen.
I am a week away from starting my sabbatical! Many have asked, "Father, are you excited to go to Arizona?" I must admit that it is an odd question to answer. I know that I need a sabbatical and that this time of rest will be very good for me. Still, I'm feeling the tug to stay at the parish, experiencing feelings of missing my family, both my parish and on the farm, before departure. In those times of mixed emotions, I have reminded myself of what our Vicar of Clergy told me is the first lesson of sabbatical - "James, the parish will be fine without you."
One of the aspects of sabbatical I am greatly looking forward to is having the weekends to myself. One of my goals for these weekends is to do some astrophotography along with other "shutter bug" projects. To have ten weekends to shoot the stars in one of the best places on Earth to do night photography is an opportunity I do not want to take for granted. Still, I am keeping this desire secondary to the primary goals of embracing the desert spirituality program at the Redemptorist Renewal Center and working on improving my spiritual, physical, and emotional health. Needless to say, this has the potential to be one of the most life changing times of my priesthood!
My goal for my day off today is to begin packing. This includes thinking through the astrophotography gear I want to take while still leaving room for things like cloths! After doing a little research, I find that astrophotographers have a great problem of taking way too much gear with them on their trips. In that spirit, I'm trying to limit myself to three or four lenses and a small travel telescope.
The lenses I'm choosing to bring are based on the type of photography I will be primarily focusing on: Wide-angle landscapes. The starting point of good astrophotography is wide shots of the Milky Way. Therefore, my Rokinon SP 14mm 2.4 is coming along with me as well as my Tokina Opera 16-28mm zoom lens. Here are some images I have taken with both of these lenses.
Obviously, these images are heavily edited. These edits were trying to bring out the main subjects I wanted to present. For example, in the two Rokinon shots I wanted the trees to be a significant part of the image composition. For the Tokina, I wanted the Milky Way to be prominent with St. Raymond Church in the foreground. Personally, I have had a lot of mixed feelings about image editing. There is part of me that wants to be a purist and focus on the "out of camera image." Yet, part of me greatly enjoys the creative process of editing an image to emphasize certain aspects of the capture. This theme of creative editing was emphasized when I saw a documentary on Ansel Adams, arguably the greatest landscape photographer in American history.
Of the many things I learned from Adams' approach to photography, I realized editing was a huge part of what made his photography grow from great to prolific. The analogy he used was that of the relationship between a musical score and the conductor of an orchestra. Ansel explained that the editing of an image was the composer's performance of what she or he feels and sees in the score. This analogy spoke deeply to me as a trained musician, knowing that a sheet of music is simply the road map for making music. We, the musician, must take that road map and go on the journey. This became very important to me after finding the travel telescope that will work well for me on sabbatical. Mounting the William Optics 61mm telescope displayed below on a StarTracker gave me a 30 second to 5 minute exposure time of the Orion Nebula! The real fun, however, was when I took these images to Lightroom and started to pull out the colors I wanted to emphasize. Is this how the Orion Nebula actually looks? Probably not. Do I feel it captures what I experienced when I got these captures? Yes, but there are better images to come that will better express those feelings. Sadly, clouds brought both captures to an early end, limiting the data I had to work with. I can't wait to see what I capture with this little rig in the Arizona desert!
The significance of editing images reminds me of one of the great lessons I've already learned about faith and science: All of us view our lives through a series of filters to understand God and the world God created. In the past, I've shared this image of Pluto presented in rather psychedelic colors. Though it is rather self-evident that this is not how Pluto actually looks, the false coloring helped the New Horizon's team learn a great deal about the varying geography of this mysterious Dwarf Planet. In many ways, all images of heavenly bodies are subjective presentations of an objective reality. This subjective application of false colors heightens the objective reality of the varying aspects of Pluto's surface. Put another way, a creative application of the subjective knowledge of the New Horizon's scientists was able to bring out the objective truth of Pluto's geography.
A similar lesson can be learned from the photography of Ansel Adams. A turning point for Ansel Adams' photography was when he employed a red filter on his camera to darken the sky of a landscape image he was capturing, later title "Monolith, Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park." The reason he did this was to not only draw greater attention to the rocky face of the cliff by muting the bright sky, but he wanted to communicate his experience of this magnificent stone facade. If we were to look at both of Adams' images of the cliff, one with the red filter and the other without, one could argue which is the "true" image: The one that is not edited out of camera or the edited image that captures the surface of the rock, the weather, and the smallness experienced before this stony facade?
When trying to give voice to our faith in God, we, too, use internal filters to express the truth found in the divine. Whether it be the sources of Scripture, Tradition, or the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, we find this tension between the limits of our subjective knowledge and experience of God that needs to communicate clearly what the objective reality of God is. Just as one filter can not provide us with the total image of Pluto, so, too, do we need multiple sources to explore the depths of God. Some of those sources and filters may seem rather cold and abstract like technical definitions of Trinity, Essence, Nature, Person, and Substance, similar to the filter used to image Pluto's surface. Some may be more experiential, exploring how God moves the human heart, changes lives, and inspires people to live and share their faith, similar to how Ansel Adams used a red filter to communicate what he felt when he experienced Yosemite National Park. It is not that one filter is better than the other or more important than the other, but that both are necessary to help us gain a deeper awareness and appreciation of who God is and how we can understand God through the created world that has been given to us as gift and responsibility.
Spiritual Exercise: How do you view the world around you? What are the filters of the mind and heart you use when viewing creation? Are they filters that help draw you into a larger framework of understanding God or do they limit and obscure divinity? Pray with this today and may all of us find new and creative ways to express our inner thoughts and feelings about the God who loves us and created us in a way that gives clearer voice to who God actually is in our lives and in the lives of all people.
As Br. Guy posted in his beautiful piece on the passing Fr. George Coyne, SJ, today the Church will lay to rest an historic figure in the Church. Why do I call Fr. Coyne an historic figure? After all, he didn't put forward a stunning theory on par with Georges Lemaitre's "Cosmic Egg," nor will his name be adapted to a catch phrase like, "The Copernican Revolution." He will never become a science textbook staple like the "Father" of modern genetics, Fr. Gergor Mendel, nor will his name be synonymous with famous Catholic scientists like Galileo Galilei. Yet, Galileo would have salivated at the opportunity to spy the heavens through the optic Fr. Coyne helped bring into being. True, Fr. Coyne was not the "Angel" in a Jewish Synagogue who spun the lens for the VATT telescope, but his dialogue with Roger Angel and agreement that if this Angel spun the glass Fr. Coyne would build it's house led to the development of the Vatican Observatory's research home on Mount Graham with the blessing of now St. John Paul II. The success of the VATT made Roger Angel's spin cast technique the foundation for the forthcoming giant mirror telescopes like the Giant Magellan Telescope. In light of this, I think it safe to say that Fr. Coyne has at least a partial claim as co-grandfather of professional spin cast mirror telescopes.
Risk and reward, the heart of a scientist, the heart of a Catholic, and the heart of Fr. George Coyne.
My remembrance of Fr. Coyne is less about his influence on modern astronomy and more of his influence on me. In 2003, I reached out to Fr. Coyne via e-mail, wondering if the Vatican Observatory had any programs for the non-scientist on matters of faith and astronomy. As a lover of both, I figured the Vatican Observatory was the best place to look for such a program. I must admit that my expectation was to not even receive a response. After all, why would a Vatican Office that is involved with scientific collaboration with groups like NASA, the ESA, and the Planetary Science Institute even care what a newly ordained priest with a four inch reflector telescope thinks about faith and astronomy. Much to my surprise and delight, Fr. Coyne responded quickly, professionally, and kindly. Fr. Coyne's e-mail (one that I looked for in my e-mail history, but could not find) quickly confirmed that the Vatican Observatory did not have programs for the non-scientist. After sharing the professional collaborations the Vatican Observatory does have, I was expecting the conclusion to be, "Therefore, don't call us, we'll call you." Instead, Fr. Coyne shared a sentiment that reflected his willingness to consider a risky new director for the Observatory, "Maybe we should look into something for the non-scientist... Check back with us in the future to see if we develop anything."
It was ten years later that Br. Guy walked through the door Fr. Coyne opened, leading to the first ever Faith and Astronomy Workshop. Though I never met Fr. Coyne, I can confidently say that he and Br. Guy changed my life and helped God realize a passion and gift that lay dormant in me that is now fully engaged with my explorations of faith and science with you on Sacred Space Astronomy.
One of the great gifts of YouTube is that historic figures can be remembered in video. Here is one of my favorite lectures from Fr. Coyne. Enjoy and say a prayer for Fr. Coyne and the Jesuit community as they return their brother to the Lord this day.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
"Hey Father, did you hear that Beetlejuice is going to explode tomorrow?" Whenever I hear such statements, my first response is always a smile at the mispronunciation of Betelgeuse. A couple years back, I shared with Br. Guy how I was a little embarrassed to find some missed typos in my first book, God's Canvas, after it had been published. Br. Guy consoled me by sharing that it was a couple years before someone pointed out that the star "Betelgeuse" was misspelled "Betelguese" in his book, Turn Left at Orion (and the misspelling wasn't his fault). It was one of those beautiful moments of realizing nobody is perfect and I shouldn't expect that I would be any different.
The second response when hearing of Betelgeuse's impending demise was, "Oh boy... here we go again." Whether it be Mayan Calendars supposedly predicting the end of the world, a comet that will destroy the Earth from three astronomical units away (meaning three times the distance the Earth is from the Sun), or a star in the sky that suffers from an identity crisis with a popular movie character, over dramatic statements about astronomical events prove that internet trolls are alive and well.
It is exceedingly hard to trust what surfaces on social media (as I write this for social media... ironically). This past weekend, a helicopter crash claimed the lives of nine souls. Given the legend status that Kobe Bryant achieved as a professional basketball player, it makes sense that this tragic accident has grabbed the attention of national and international media. What I find telling is just about everyone I've read or heard who were close to the victims of this horrible accident began their reflect with disbelief on two levels. The first level of disbelief was the predictable denial everyone experiences when news of a tragic, unexpected death is shared. The second level of disbelief was due to the fallacious nature of social media, causing many to understandably question this news because we've all been duped before by fake news spam. My prayers for all involved in this tragedy along with all those the Lord will call home this day.
What makes trolling so effective is the mix of a half-truth with over dramatized errors. Therefore, I want to lay out in this piece what is true of the news of Betelgeuse instead of continuing the over dramatic trolling I've seen emerge.
1. Betelgeuse is dimming - Yes, this is arguably the most underwhelming statement of this post, but what is getting everyone in a tizzy is that the red giant of the constellation Orion isn't looking as glorious as it usually does. Here's a picture I took about a week ago of Orion the Hunter. Does Betelgeuse look "sick" to you?
2. Just because it's dimming doesn't mean that death is imminent... still... - As a variable star, Betelgeuse's brightness does change. Therefore, some wonder if this might just be a larger than normal variance in the star's brightness. Still, what is grasping the attention of the astronomical world is that it has decreased in brightness far more than it has in the past. Therefore, the possibility of this being signs of a soon to occur supernova can't be ruled out. (Click here to read the most recent alert from the American Association of Variable Star Observers.) At the same time, I have yet to see anything from credible sources that is expressing confidence going beyond a "wait and see" attitude about Betelgeuse going "boom" any time soon. Yes, not the stuff for emotionally gripping headlines, but it does point to something different going on with the star. (Click here for a nice piece by National Geographic I find to be rather balanced on the subject).
3. Betelgeuse has been dying for quite some time - As a red giant, the demise of Betelgeuse has been happening for some time. It's hard for us to comprehend the life cycle of stars when that life is measured in millions or billions of years. That being said, Betelgeuse is in the autumn of it's life cycle, leading some to speculate that death is looming for this sick star... probably in about 100,000 years or more according to the cited National Geographic article. That being said, is there a chance it could happen in our lifetime? I'd defer to others who are professionals to give a more confident answer. From what I have read, I guess it's a possibility, but the odds are probably better for me winning the Megabucks lottery this week... and then get hit by lightening after I win... twice... in one month. Okay, maybe the odds for Betelgeuse's demise in the weeks to come might be a little better than what I stated (I need to avoid becoming a troll on the other end of the spectrum). Still, personally, I'm not holding my breath.
4. Let's say Betelgeuse does go "BOOM" this week... What would happen to us? - We would get a really neat light show! As mentioned in the previously cited National Geographic piece, Betelgeuse is far enough away from us that we have no need to worry about the star's destruction impacting us in any way.
What do I think will happen to Betelgeuse? Since I am not a scientist, I have no credentials that would allow me to make an educated statement on when Betelgeuse will meet it's end. From sources I do trust, what I can say is that something unique is happening to Betelgeuse and it could mean many different things are happening to this red giant. What are those "things?" Time will tell. In the meantime, get outside and enjoy Betelgeuse, the hand of Orion, while you can! My gut tells me we will have this star as a companion for many generations to come. However, who knows... perhaps we will be able to share with the next generation what Orion once looked like with the red giant. Betelgeuse will let us know when it's ready to meet its end... not cyberspace trolls!
About a year ago I was getting ready to head for Tuscon, Arizona for the Vatican Observatory Foundation's Faith and Astronomy Workshop. This bi-annual trip is always one that I look forward to so I can get away from the cold of Wisconsin and have a week of astronomy immersion. Last year, however, I was feeling a little different about the trip. I still looked forward to be a part of this wonderful event, but internally I was starting to feel and see the signs of burnout. Before I left, I had a conversation with our Vicar of Clergy (It's the title given to the priest responsible for overseeing the wellbeing of our Diocesan clergy). I was joking with him about a good friend of mine who was on sabbatical by saying, "Why is he on sabbatical, I should go on sabbatical!" What started as a playful poke at a good friend became a serious conversion. "James, if you want to go, I have an opening in the spring of 2020... You're overdue for a sabbatical."
Every ten years, our Diocese encourages us priests to go on sabbatical. I really didn't know much about sabbatical other than some guys would take one to write their book or take some classes for ongoing education. Since I've written a book and feel more than satisfied with the ongoing education I indirectly receive writing for Sacred Space Astronomy, I rushed to the presumption that I didn't need a sabbatical. After the door had been flung wide open for this opportunity, I did the "priest nerd" thing and looked up the etymology of the word sabbatical. What I found was a word whose Greek origins mean, "Of the sabbath."
I started to pray with this and asked, "If God is inviting me to a ten-week Sabbath, how am I to embrace this sacred rest?" The answer came immediately, "Deepen my prayer and address my weight issues." It was right at this time that I arrives at the Redemptorist Renewal Center for the Faith and Astronomy Workshop. In addition to being the home for the workshop, I had noticed in the past pamphlets at their help desk for sabbaticals. Since the staff has gotten to know me well over the years, I felt an immediate comfort with the idea of going on sabbatical at the center. Still, I wanted to make sure the program supported my goals of deepening my prayer and improving my health. When sitting with the director of the program, it became clear that all my goals for a sabbath rest of prayer and health would be well within the scope of this sabbatical program.
The program is rooted in desert spirituality. There is a long, ancient tradition in the Church of going out to the desert to detach oneself from the things of this world to listen intently for God's voice. As I learned about the sabbatical program, I felt a deep peace about what I would call "detachment Wednesdays." Wednesday will be a day of silence, encouraging us to not speak verbally, unplug from anything that could distract us, and take a day of restful prayer.
Two weeks age, I gave a presentation about my sabbatical to St. Olaf's youth in our Faith Formation Program. When I got to the part of explaining Wednesday Unplugged, I told them, "Don't bother trying to get a hold of me on Wednesday, but do know each one of you will be prayed for that day as I prayerfully take St. Olaf Parish with me into the desert."
A part of the sabbatical that has been both exciting, but also is feeling a bit odd is not having a parish assignment on the weekends. The idea of having weekends to travel, seeing places I've long wanted to see, and not be responsible for at least three Masses on a weekend feels strange. After 17 years of priesthood, the only time I have "free weekends" is when I go on vacation. Even then, I usually plan my trips to still celebrate Mass at the parish and then fly out immediately after my weekend Masses are done. Only being "on" for one Sunday Mass for 10 weeks will feel odd to me, but it also gives me the chance to deepen my love for my newfound hobby: Mirrorless camera astrophotography!
While on sabbatical, I want to take the opportunity to capture night images in one of the greatest places in the world to do stargazing. As I've committed to learning the art of astrophotography, I've grown in my knowledge of cameras, lenses, telescopes, and how to do all this on a budget. I'm starting to get my imaging "travel bag" together and am hoping that I can share the weekend trips of my sabbatical with you.
Now, as the Vicar of Clergy has already warned me, "Remember, you're going there to rest!" Therefore, I need to remain realistic about these weekend trips. Still, since the Redptorist Renewal Center shares a boarder with the Saguaro National Park West, I think it's safe to say I won’t have to travel that far to do some stunning photography! In short, March thru May will be a beautiful time for sabbath rest and capturing the beauty of God's creation... night and day... and maybe catch some spring training baseball games too... go Brewers!
Share Your Voice: As I prep for sabbatical, where in Arizona should I go to do some astrophotography? What images would you like to see pop up on Sacred Space Astronomy from my visual sabbatical journal? Leave your answer below. Pray for me as I prepare for 10 weeks of sabbath. And know that you, the readers of Sacred Space Astronomy, its authors, and all involved with maintaining this wonderful blog will be in my daily prayers! Just don't expect any posts from me on Wednesday!
This past year has been an important one for me in regard to astronomy and faith. Though I have dabbled with simple forms of astrophotography in the past, I decided to take the plunge and learn how to take high quality images of the night sky instead of just using online services to image the heavens. As is the case for many, I always felt intimidated when trying to do astrophotography. If you do a quick Google search on the subject, you will be introduced to many confusing articles and videos with equipment that can approach the price of a small car. Since my first attempts at astrophotography were in the film days, the expense combined with past failure seemed too risky.
Then a friend of mine who lives in Arizona, Ken Walsh, introduced me to a "fund me" campaign for a "point and shoot" astronomy camera called the Nano 1. The promise of doing astrophotography in a point and shoot manner was very appealing. When I got the camera, I was both pleased and slightly disappointed with the results. It wasn't quite point and shoot and the image quality wasn't the best, but what the camera did provide was a "go-pro" style of camera that stripped out all the settings except for the those that related to astrophotography. From this standpoint, the camera was exactly what I needed! Looking back at the first images I took with this little astro-cam, I had a few moments of thinking, "Wow, why did I think these were good?" The answer to this question always came quickly, "Because it is where I started the journey."
Despite my mixed feelings about the results, the itch was scratched. I experienced something I had seldom felt with astrophotography - Confidence! Even though I hardly ever use the Nano1 anymore, I still contend it was the best investment I ever made. It not only helped me take pictures of the stars, it turned something I love, images of the night sky, from a feeling of failure to achievement.
Having learned the basics of astrophotography through the Nano1, I then decided to venture into the mirrorless camera world to get better images of the night sky. I went on an auction website and found a Canon M Series camera and kit lens for far less than what I paid for the Nano1. It's 18 Megapixel sensor was the largest I had ever worked with, not realizing that it was actually rather small in comparison to today's DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Nevertheless, I was delighted with the results, prompting me to buy my first real camera lens: A Rokinon 10mm f/2.8. It was at this moment astrophotography (and photography in general) took hold of me.
I'm now to the point to take the next step: Shooting images through a telescope. This will be the far more challenging phase of this journey, but one I'm ready to make... I just wish January in Wisconsin was a bit warmer. Looking at the type of images I take now not only shows me my improvement as a photographer, but also gives me sacred reminders of the year that was 2019.
Pictures can tell powerful stories. I have a shoe box of old family pictures that I like to go through periodically. It's a reminder of my past and the past of my family - both the good and the difficult. Looking at images can reveal how we have grown not only in our physical appearance, but also spiritually as a child of God. As we come to the completion of the Christmas season, we have been reflecting on a lot of "family pictures" of the Holy Family. The pastoral images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are common to us, evoking Christmas wonder. What is always important for us to remember is that the infancy narratives not only ask us to look to the creche asking, "Who will this child be," but it also gazes upon a sacred past revealing who we were and where this journey has been.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham became the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.
Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez became the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab became the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz became the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth.
Obed became the father of Jesse,
Jesse the father of David the king.
David became the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
Solomon became the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asaph.
Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Uzziah.
Uzziah became the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amos,
Amos the father of Josiah.
Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers
at the time of the Babylonian exile.
After the Babylonian exile,
Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.
Abiud became the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok.
Zadok became the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar became the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ. (Matthew 1: 1-16)
Spiritual Exercise: What is the "spiritual photo album" of your life? What and who are the people, places, and events that have shaped who you are for better or worse? Are there images that speak more deeply to you than others? And what do you learn about yourself as you gaze upon the icons of your past? Pray with these questions, pull out some old pictures, and, if you have the courage, grab your camera that is collecting dust, get out, and try to image the heavens. If your first pictures leave you wanting, fear not. The more you shoot the better images you will take. And as you keep track of the images from past to present, you might see improvement in what you shoot, growth as a photographer, growth as a person, and develop a beautiful reminder of the depths of God's love for us through the beauty of the created world around us.
As we prepare to celebrate the baptism of the Lord, may the light of Christ shine brightly as a star of hope in these times that present to us a foreboding darkness of global instability. Pray for mercy. Pray for forgiveness. Pray for healing. Pray for peace. Pray for nothing but peace.
This week, I offer you a new form of contribution to Sacred Space Astronomy. I have decided as part of my "From The Backyard" series to put together some YouTube videos that summarize some of the main themes that I have focused on in my writing. In that spirit, here is my first video on the connection between Advent and Astronomy. It isn't the best of videos (a little dark and the sound needs a little work), but, in time, it will improve and be a nice addition to our blog. Enjoy!
What does it really mean to see God as Creator? One of the most foundational statements about God is that God is Creator, bringing all things into being from nothing. This is well and good, but it leads to another question: How does God create?
This question reemerged in my thoughts at our parish's Saint Nicholas Party. Every year, St. Olaf Parish holds a party for our youth around the date of St. Nicholas. We tell the story of this great saint, helping our youth understand the origins of what our culture presents as the celebration of Christmas. It acts as a fun evening celebration with stories, music, games, and activities.
Here is a summary of his life, including reference to the dowry he secretly gave to a poor family so their daughters could marry, which morphed into the gift giving we do in our modern celebration of Christmas.
My part of the evening is to provide an activity by teaching our young people how to paint. As a hobby artist, I greatly enjoy the art form called "Dirty Pour." It's basically a process of taking different colors of acrylic paint, introduce different additives to each paint, layer them in a cup, and then dump all the paint on a canvas. After that, you manipulate the canvas by tilting it, participating in a delicate artistic "dance" of trying to get the paint to do one thing, but realizing that, ultimately, the paint is going to do what the paint is going to do. It also doesn't hurt that it is a form of art that involves the use of a blowtorch! Put another way, Priest + Fire = Happy Priest!
After teaching the kids how to create, giving them the tools they needed to create, and then encouraged them to create, they did what kids do - They created. I was so proud of the canvases these kids did, many of them trying this art form for the first time. The older kids went first and so enjoyed it that they started to help our grade school kids do their paintings. The best part was I didn't have to ask them to help the younger kids. As I sat back with blowtorch in hand waiting for the request, "Father, I need some fire!" I reveled in the communal support I saw in our young people. It reminded me that we are creatures made in the image and likeness of the Creator whose creative, communal love of Father, Son, and Spirit loved us into existence. The canvases the kids made were like subtle fingerprints of the divine, realizing that carrying God's image and likeness also means we reflect certain traits of the Creator: A community that loves through a creative act.
Here are a few images of the kid's paintings. For those of you who are into psychology, you may find it interesting that I presented all the kids with the same six colors: White, Black, Blue, Aqua Blue, Yellow, and Burnt Umber. Despite this limited color spectrum, the kids presented wildly different canvases!
What do you see when you look at the canvases? Some of the parents watching their children create these canvases used words like "space, dreamy, galactic" to describe their child's art. Some spoke of how it reminded them of surface features of planets taken from outer space. Others gravitated to more simple explanations as "pretty" and "peaceful." What everyone is always amazed at when I do these demonstrations is that no brushes are used and I encourage no preconceived "this is what I want the canvas to look like" mentalities before starting. I encourage them to not think of color combinations, but simply let the paint and the canvas point them to the road of the final image. One of the peaceful parts of this art form is the attentiveness that emerges as you become attuned to ever aspect of the process of creating this art.
One time, I saw a demonstration video that claimed that dirty pour art was amazing because it "Lets science do the painting." Did science do the paintings you see above? No, the youth of Saint Olaf Parish did the paintings above. Science can be an interpretive language to describe the paintings, how the six colors I presented interacted with each other to create a far richer color pallet, how the inconsistencies of each canvas funneled the paint in different directions, how the kids movement of the canvas impacted the image, and so forth. Science can interpret these paintings through a certain set of eyes, but science, along with psychology, theology, and a various number of other -ologies, didn't "do" the paintings. Kids did the paintings. Kids made in God's image and likeness. Kids made by a Creator who loved them into existence. And kids who were given an opportunity to reflect that creative love in canvas and paint.
As someone who would consider himself to be "A Creative," to quote the oft used cultural cliche, I find that the act of creating is essential for my emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Whether it's a painting, a piece of music, a picture I take with my camera, or a dish of food I make for friends, the act of creating something gives me a deep peace and connection with the Creator. When I let those creative faculties go dormant, I begin to see struggles in my emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
Should this surprise us that in order to be a healthy creation we need to participate in God's creative act? Should it surprise us that we are a kind of "co-creator with God" that reflects the fecund vibrancy of God's love as we constantly seek to create new expressions of that love in the world around us? And should it surprise us that, over time, we have developed a myriad of interpretive lenses to help understand this creative act like science, psychology, philosophy, and theology? And should we also be weary of attempts to reduce the creative process to one interpretive lens, potentially stripping from it a dimension of its vibrancy and beauty, leaving nothing more than a uninteresting, monochrome view of our world? The rich tapestry of our created world and our inner desire to create implies that we need to let our interpretive lenses also be a delicately woven tapestry that doesn't reduce Creator and creation to mere categorical titles. Instead, we need to let the different languages of interpretation draw us into deeper wonder and awe at the beauty of God, God's creative act, and our longing to share in that creative love.
How does God create? God creates through love, a Communion of Love that loved us into existence. It is a love that is continual and ongoing. And it is a love that is so deeply ingrained in us that we intuitively desire to share in that creative love. Do I see that creative love in each canvas our St. Olaf youth created last week? Yes, I do. However, I saw it even more present when, after experiencing the joy of doing good art, our high school and middle school students wanted to help our grade school students discover that same joy. It was this communal act of love that made me very proud to be their Pastor. The paintings are simply icons to remind me of that moment.
Spiritual Exercise: How is God calling you to love today? Pray with this and find a healthy way to share in God's creative act of love. Do not let that act be stifled by categories that can make you feel inadequate or hesitant to share your creativity. Rather, allow the creative genius we all possess both express itself and connect itself with the Source of that creative desire: The Creator who loved you and me into existence.
Making the commitment to become good at astrophotography has become more life giving than I could have imagined. At the beginning, I thought I could just specialize in star photography and that would be that. However, I began to realize that in order to take good pictures of the Milky Way, I must first understand the difference between a good and bad picture. A constant theme I encounter when reading professional photographers is the necessity to take pictures that tell stories.
At first, the necessity to tell stories through images felt a little awkward, thinking that all I wanted to do is take "pretty pictures." However, the more I thought about it the more I realized the difference between taking a picture and capturing a moment. Any picture can tell you a story as long as you know how to "read" the image. The key to good story telling through photography is that there needs to be a universally understood realism for an image to pop.
For example, the football team for the high school I was once the chaplain for advanced to "level 4 playoffs." What that meant is that if they won the game, they would play for the Wisconsin state championship in football for Division 6 (smaller schools). I took my camera with me to try and capture the story of the game. Regis won the game 36-6 playing a style of football that is easily summarized as "ground and pound." In other words, they ran the football all night and played amazing defense. Below is the "story" of the game in images.
Another opportunity to try and capture a story was when the contemporary Christian singer/songwriter Aly Aliegha gave a concert at Regis and my parish of St. Olaf. Again, I pulled out my camera to try to capture the story of her concert. Her music spoke to me of authenticity, humility, honesty in our brokenness, and openness to God's grace to heal that brokenness. Again, here is the story of her two concerts that day through images.
Just as we can find stories in our everyday lives with the people and events of our week, so, too, can we find stories in the created world around us. As I have been trying to develop a "style" of astrophotography, I've started by looking for "stories in the sky." The "easiest" way to do this is to put something in the foreground of the image and use the stars as a backdrop. At the same time, I didn't want to reduce our galactic home to artsy wallpaper. I wanted to have the foreground image tell a story of how humanity, regardless of culture and era, has sought to connect our daily lives with the stars above.
One of the ways I attempted to connect our lives on earth with the stars above was to take images of a windmill with the stars in the background. There are multiple stories to be told when capturing these images - The rotation of the stars and the rotation of the blades of the windmill, the stillness of the windmill in contrast to the motion of the heavens, and so forth. This exercise reaffirms that we live in a creation of stories that are constantly around us and want to be told. The key in our story telling creation is to ask if we are attentive to the stories around us and are we open to the possibility that if there is a story to be told then there must be a "Story Teller."
Not only do photojournalists and hobby photographer priests look to tell the stories of creation. Scientists are storytellers too. They tell the story of a perspective of creation that is one part historical (where did this stuff come from, how did it get here, and what happens to it in different circumstances), medicinal (certain things in creation lead us to live while other things lead us to death), and prophetic (this is where things are going and certain choices made in our environment will have future consequences).
In many ways, I see a parallel between the type of information that scientific stories tell and the ministry of Jesus. Christ came to proclaim the Good News (this is where your life is now and this is where it is going), medicinal (the healing ministry of Jesus, both physical and spiritual), and prophetic (this is where our future is headed). Again, all of these stories presume there is a story to be told. And where there is a story to be told, there is a Story Teller not only in the interpretation of the data before us, but in the fact that there is data to interpret in the first place.
Spiritual Exercise: Go and find a story in the created world today. Whether that be your child's soccer match or gazing into the heavens, ask yourself, "What is the story being told?" And when you find your story, ask the Master Story Teller to illumine your heart with the deeper meaning of the story before you. A story that includes you. A story that includes me. A story that has been told since the beginning of time. The story of our universe. The story of God's creation.
As I write this post, we are only minutes away from the transit of Mercury across the Sun (click this link from EarthSky for a little more information). It was my hope to do my first LiveStream on Sacred Space Astronomy, talking with you live about the transit from my rectory office, showing real time video from my small h-alpha telescope, and give you a presentation about the connection between this transit and the Catholic Priest, Pierre Gassendi. The reason I didn't promote this little event was because Wisconsin is notorious for cloud cover at this time of year. And, as fate may have it, even though the Weather Channel claims the skies over my house are clear - It's cloudy.
Nevertheless, Sacred Space Astronomy has wonderful resources about Pierre Gassendi. Christopher Graney wrote a marvelous post about the rare books collection at the University of Louisville that includes Pierre Gassendi’s work, Institutio Astronomica juxta Hypotheses tam Veterum quàm Recentiorum. It was penned by Gassendi to be an introduction to science. I wrote a post on Gassendi the last time there was a transit of Mercury focused on how Gassendi was the first person to record the data of the transit. Click here to take a peak on my past reflection on Gassendi. Though Gassendi's observation may not hold the historical significance of Monsignor Georges Lemaitre's "Cosmic Egg," later dubbed The Big Bang, it is a reminder that Catholicism has had a history of engagement in the sciences, especially astronomy.
Below are two videos. The first is Christopher Graney discussing the rare books library I mentioned earlier and provides some insight into Gassendi along with other Catholic Priest scientists. The second is a YouTube live stream of the transit of Mercury from NASA TV. You can also take a look at real time images of the transit and construct your own "movie" from these images by clicking this link to NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory. You can also see NASA's SDO real time solar images by clicking on this link for The Sun Now. If the clouds clear, I might jump online later this morning, but, if not, enjoy these resources and have a wonderful Monday!
Live Stream of Mercury Transit
It's my birthday this week. As more moons pass in my life, I feel less and less like celebrating this day. However, since my mother, brother and I have our birthdays three days apart from each other, I went home for a modest birthday party with family.
After a nice dinner, time to catch up with my family, and a "geek-out" session with my nephew about his honors Jazz concert, I walked outside and saw pristine skies! Autumn in Wisconsin can be very cruel to a hobby astronomer. The lower humidity teases the possibility of clearer skies for observation, free of the distortion of August's moisture. The drawback is that the transition from summer to autumn to winter means many cloudy days - and I mean many! That being said, when you get those rare nights when the skies clear, the viewing is clear and crisp!
Last night was a beautiful night for stargazing in central Wisconsin! Not only did I decide to set up my camera for some star photography, but I also broke out a simple, wind-up clock tracker that is designed to help my camera follow the movement of the night sky. The results were stunning! Below is a six image panorama stack of the Milky Way. Each image is a fifteen second exposure at ISO 1250 f/2.8.
To the left of the image is my parents house where I grew up and to the right is the horizon of our cow pasture. On the horizon to the right, you can see a really bright light peaking through a tree. That bright light is the bell tower of my home parish, St. Maximillian Kolbe. When I stitched this image together, the title of the image became clear, "Coming Home." Whether it be the house I grew up in, the spiritual house where I found my faith in God, or our galactic home, this image encompasses who I am as a child of God. I so like this picture that I think I'm going to enter it into a photo competition!
The rest of the night was both joyful, but also a little frustrating. I tried my first six minute tracked exposure of the Milky Way and my clock tracker worked like a dream! Too bad I forgot to lower my ISO from 1250... darn! Thankfully, I was still was able to pull back a nice image with some creative editing. I also broke out my fisheye lens, thinking I would do some neat distorted images of the farm. Right after setting things up, clouds rolled in... foiled again! Still, a clear night of imaging stars, even if it only be for a couple hours, was a gift indeed!
Autumn can be a powerful time of reflection about life, transition, change, death, and what comes after the winter snows of our Earthly journey's end. As I stood in my parents backyard, I was able to see how I have changed, grown, and developed. I also reflected on how, despite the change, I still remain fundamentally James Kurzynski from central Wisconsin. It was a powerful moment of trying to better understand who I am, who God is in my life, and who God made me to be.
Spiritual Exercise: How have you grown this past year? What transition is God placing in your life? How can the changing of the seasons (if you live somewhere that has season changes) be seen as a metaphor for change in your life? How do you want to change? How do you need to change? Pray with these questions, get out and enjoy some clear skies, and, together, let us know thyself better through the wonderment and beauty of God's creation.