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    A lay monastic family,  questing for  the sacred,  and advocating for children.  
 

Sharings - Starcross' Seasonal Newsletter

Sharings - Spring 2000

FROM RAG PILE TO LECTURE “HALL”

  There are 86 young people in Uganda whose lives have changed dramatically because of our friends. Three years ago these AIDS orphans were in tiny mud huts living in dire poverty. Fast forward to well groomed, eager students thinking about careers from engineering to medicine. Typical is 14 year old honors freshman Ben Ssenyondo. When sister Julie met him he slept on a pile of rags in a teacher's storeroom and ate what people gave him. Ben had no family until he moved into our newly built House of Hope in Gganda

  As the children grow up the costs increase. Our House of Hope has had to expand rapidly. The secondary boarding school fee is $600 per year, without books, clothes or transportation. We've asked our sponsors to make a huge jump from $335 to $800 per child. Many responded at once. Understandably, some cannot afford to do that and we are urgently seeking new and shared sponsorships as well as one-time donations toward the house expansion. If you can help please contact sister Julie soon.

  It won't be long until our children are grown up and sharing their gifts and talents with others. If there is one thing they learn at the House of Hope it is that we are, all of us, family to each other.

MORNING GLORY HOUSE: SANTA ROSA

  We have had a lot of experience with seriously ill children and know first hand that the stress is truly more than any one family can handle. In 2001 we hope to open in Santa Rosa (Sonoma County) a place where, without charge, northern California families can find some respite.

  Morning Glory House will provide several things: planned short-term respite, transition between hospital and home, emergency respite and, if requested, terminal care. This will become a familiar second home for children (birth to 16) with life-limiting illnesses. There will be six beds for planned short-term respite care and two beds for emergency and terminal care. The time at MGH can be with the family or the child alone. This is a very expensive venture and we will need the help of many old and new friends. Already members of the medical and child-care communities have responded generously with offers of time.

  There will be a spiritual core to the program. Our experience is that palliative care is much more than symptom control. MGH will have play rooms, a music room, a spa, a garden, and a little place to gain strength, and sometimes to say goodbye. The program will be open to families on all spiritual paths. We are helped in our planning by Helen House, which was founded in Oxford by Sister Frances Dominica, an Anglican nun. She wrote a forward to the British edition of one of brother Toby's books and they became friends. We will be visiting Helen House soon to learn as much as we can from their experience.

  This is certainly one of our most ambitious projects. We pray that, with God's help, and the support of our friends the doors of MGH will open next year. It will be very special.

 PRAYING IN THE BATTLE WITH CANCER

 We have wonderful friends. Although they have many different spiritual outlooks and vocabularies, they all share deep concerns about life - and death. Beverly Aitken has headed a lovely Cistercian Abbey in the Arizona desert and guided many people in prayer. She wrote these words in February.

  Can you still pray when you get cancer? I’m not talking about the first few days after diagnosis, when it seems easy to pray in petition, or surrender, or even in thanksgiving for God’s sudden eruption in our life — rather I’m talking about the long haul.

  Is it still possible to pray even though we’ve just finished a radiation treatment and have no interior energy left even for a quiet “Hail Mary?” Or how can we continue to pray the Liturgy of the Hours when hours are spent sleeping off the side effects of our last chemo treatment? And what about that daily meditation time, or a decade of the rosary, or centering prayer when we are more scattered than centered?

  Cancer can be a journey through a “dark valley”, as the psalm says. Though at first all we can feel is the darkness, as our eyes adjust to the new terrain, we begin to sense the presence of God who holds us as a little child “on its mother’s breast” (Psalm 130). Our part is to rest there, even to sleep, while he watches over us.

  It is God himself who becomes our prayer, who takes our part, who consoles us in the night, who gently leads us. He is ever eager to bring us to a level of deeper trust, a level that is new to us, so that our relationship with him might be grounded not on our poor efforts but on his everlasting and unshakeable love.

  God longs to be trusted and delights in our resting in him. He will bring us through!

 Mother Beverly died on May 21.

When big brother David is home from music school at half-term, the kids’ noise level is fortissimo!

PRESERVING SPIRITUAL SPACES IN OUR LIVES

Annual Day of Spiritual Recollection

Saturday, August 19 • 9:30 AM - 3 PM

On this one-day retreat there will be times of joining the community in the chapel for Lauds and Vespers, spiritual talks, music, walks, and quiet. We will send information including directions and what you should bring for the pot-luck. Space is limited. It is necessary to contact us soon if you plan to come.

A VISIT FROM ROMANIA

Marolen Mullinax, who succeeded brother Toby as president of Casa Speranta, recently visited us. She enjoyed returning to the place where 9 years ago she received her training in home-care for children with AIDS. She jokes “I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t been watching TV that night and seen brother Toby in Romania!” Some of the children have died but many are doing well in public schools and enjoying life. This remarkable woman is a true pioneer inhome-care and has made Casa Speranta a model acclaimed by UNICEF and others.

STARCROSS: A SACRED SPACE FOREVER

  We came to the remote hills of northwestern Sonoma County 24 years ago. In the past few years the hills have become much less remote because our area has been discovered as a premium location for wine grapes. Hillsides are becoming vineyards. Wineries are planned. Development for tourists is sure to follow. Starcross may soon be a spiritual island in a sea of human activity.

  This land is sacred to us, both because of what it was before we came and because of the stories that have been lived out here. The time has come for us to be sure that our monastery will always be one of God's sanctuaries, for nature and for people. Toward that end we are working with a number of friends and the Sonoma Land Trust to guarantee that the character and use of this haven will continue forever.

  We see four zones: a quiet area, a retreat/administration/business center, the forest, the agricultural fields. (1) The chapel, Family House, and burial areas will be used just as they are now in the coming generations. It is here that the contemplative spirit and the ventures around the world which reflect our charism will initiate and be maintained. (2) The land near the county road, with the old farmhouse and the small retreat house, will eventually become a larger retreat center. The offices will be there as well as any commercial activities. (3) About half of our land, behind the chapel, is a re-emerging forest. It was clear cut 40 years ago. That land will continue to be a nature sanctuary -- we even have a flock of wild turkeys there now! We will take firewood and a little timber for our own use from the forest but nothing else will be harvested. (4) 30 acres of our land has been in agricultural use for over a century. We will use these acres prudently to support the other parts of the land in the future.

  Some acreage will be planted to olives for oil. Our consultants include an abbey in Tuscany. We will lease another 14 acres to a European family long known for its quality wine. We receive a percentage of the value of the crop. About five acres will be reserved for a cooperative venture with our neighbors. We think this use of the land is a wise balance of commerce and conservation.

  Our chapel is on the highest point at Starcross. Standing on the chapel steps it would be hard to guess what you could see surrounding us 50 years from now. But this place itself will be just as it is now.

A reflection by brother Toby

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT HOLINESS AND SPIT

  We have always had connections with Hawaii. Our eight-year-old Andrew is Hawaiian. Tina was born there. Sister Julie spent a very important week with Tina on Maui the year before she died from AIDS.

  I made my first visit to the islands this spring. April 15 was the 111th anniversary of the death of Father Damien De Veuster, who worked among those taken from their families and exiled to Molokai because of their leprosy. He was buried next to the church he had built with his own hands at Kalawao. There were already 2000 graves in the churchyard when Damien died from leprosy. Many more were added after his death until a cure was discovered in 1946. The world is on its way to forgetting all about the cruel story of over 8000 people sentenced to suffering and deprivation by a disease and an insensitive society. No one lives at Kalawao anymore. A Honolulu service club has planted hundreds of trees which obliterate most evidence of former human habitation. The 46 survivors live in Kalaupapa, the other town on the forlorn peninsula. The National Park Service is poised to make an historical park as soon as possible after the last resident dies.

  As I walked the lonely paths, or chatted with some of the people, I realized that a story was coming to an end. A very horrible, but authentic and spiritual story. "Do you think this is sacred ground?" one of the Kalaupapa leaders asked me. I certainly do.

  The Catholic Church wants to declare Damien a saint. His body was moved to his native Belgium in anticipation of pilgrimages. Molokai is very remote. Recently a church official sent back one of his hands to be reburied at Kalawao. Damien was not always so revered.

  A prominent Protestant clergyman described him in a letter as a coarse, dirty man, headstrong and bigoted. Damien's own religious superior considered him rather stupid. He was irritated by Damien's reports and requests for his people. That priest once reported he had urged Damien to give up the idea of writing down everything that comes into his small-brained head. Even his supporters admitted it was difficult to work with him. And yet, we owe much of what we now cherish in hospices and respite programs around the world to this stubborn man.

  To me, what makes Damien a saint is his awareness of little things. Things like spit. People battling with leprosy and some other serious illness have to spit often. Damien cut neat little square holes in the floor of his church. His parishioners arrived with rolled up banana leaves. They sat on the floor. One end of the tube was put in the hole. They could spit without leaving the church. In this way they could listen to the readings, participate in the beautiful singing, receive communion. Those little holes helped give the people dignity. And, when Damien stood in that church and said We lepers he was a spiritual bridge out of their isolation. Saints, I think, are people who are concerned about spit and dignity.

  When I left Molokai, Julie had arranged for us to see a hula show performed by children in Maui. From where I sat at dinner, I could see the sun setting behind Molokai and I was a bit melancholy. Suddenly, I was aware one of the young dancers was standing beside me. She took off her flower lei and put it over my head. The sweet smell and her generous smile gave me instant peace.

  I brought the lei back to Starcross and laid it on Tina's grave, under the tall fir trees behind the chapel. There it has slowly and gracefully faded into the bed of needles and cones.

 

 
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