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

Sharings - Starcross' Seasonal Newsletter

Sharings - Spring 2001


Brother Toby

On a lovely Sunday afternoon in February sister Julie and I took our 98 Ugandan children from the House of Hope on a picnic. It was very hot but we were in the shaded park surrounding the Basilica of the Martyrs in Namugongo.

Our young people sang with beautiful African harmony and danced with awesome energy. These orphans have suffered incredibly. All they had held secure and loved vanished before the AIDS plague. Every one of the children have a dramatic story to share with all of us.

I have a special fondness for 15 year-old Nakityo Bena Victoria. She is very bright and a popular leader in school. Bena is independent and strong willed, and at the same time deeply spiritual. She has lost all her family to AIDS. Her mom died a few weeks ago. Julie and I were surprised when Bena came to sit by me at the picnic. But, we had been saying we were family to them and so she simply did what she should do with an aging elder. Bena did not come to be taken care of but to take care of me. In a few moments she quickly ascertained all health problems I might have. When an insect dropped on my shirt she removed it. And, she respectfully explained the moments of the dances and translated the words of the song.

Bena asked only one question about the United States; "In your country do children dance and sing every day as we do?" When I said many do not, she looked genuinely sorry to hear it. Here is this girl who has lost her whole family and her home, who has only one set of clothes and otherwise owns nothing, who has to work hard every day, being solicitous of the children of our affluent and often over-privileged society.

These children of the House of Hope know they must care for each other. They accommodate each others skills and failings in dance, song, drum beats, and community life. Their adversities have made them strong and gentle. Unlike some others growing up in Africa, these kids see no enemies.

It was a long picnic, about eight hours, with much singing and dancing. For all of us, this time at Namugongo was very special. These children are not only treasures for the future of their country and continent but of the world.


The readings and hymns of Easter are filled with the joy of new beginnings. But for us there have been several goodbys as well.

Rebecca Ault died during Holy Week, at 49. She had been the first teacher of all our children and had gone to Romania to set up a Montessori school for children with AIDS in our House of Hope. We are honored that her ashes will be buried here. Rebecca was the fourth close friend we lost this spring. Carolyn Lund was a journalist who told our story to the world. Brother Paul Bernard Williams from New Clairvaux abbey and retired Bishop Mark Hurley had been our spiritual companions for 30 years. Almost as a symbol of all this, we lost our dear cat “Patrick.” He walked into our lives on his own as a kitten one day when we were getting the nursery ready before David was born. Pat always thought it was for him.

Just before Holy Week we raced up to the mountains for the last of the snow. Brother Toby always takes these trips as a Lenten penance. “All winter I have been waiting for spring weather, and now we go up to shiver in the snow!” But the kids love it. And it did make spring all the more beautiful when we drove back.

The chapel is completely surrounded by flowering bushes as if it were resting on a floral cushion. The bluebirds are raising families in the little tree houses we put up. The barn swallows have returned in droves. But there is no barn since the fire of last August. They were a bit confused but have now managed to find nesting places under other eves. It seems sure that they will return next year.

So as with nature, our friends, the children, and the Easter message our hearts are lighter and we look forward to new beginnings.


There are 98 orphans in Uganda, whose parents and relatives were casualties of the AIDS pandemic in Africa, who depend solely on our help to provide for all their needs. We can do this because of the wonderful and generous help of our sponsors - but there aren’t enough.

We just received welcome news that the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine will sponsor 2 children! This leaves eight children who have no sponsors and nine others who are only partially sponsored. Because we have made a commitment to them, we are taking up the slack from the general Starcross budget but this cannot continue indefinitely. The cost is $800 per year per child, which can be paid $200 each quarter. Sponsorships can be renewed annually. Half sponsorships of $400 and one time contributions in any amount are most welcome as well. Can you help? Please contact sister Julie at (707)886-1919, or e-mail her:

Thank you so much. These are God’s children and right now we are all they have.

Yes, the publication dates have been set for brother Toby’s new book. Officially it will be out in October. But we have been promised some copies by late August. So watch the next issue of Sharings for a special pre-publication offer.

This is how the publisher, PageMill Press, describes the book,

An award-winning author, shares his lifelong quest for the sacred with the growing number of spiritual seekers in America who wish to rediscover their ancient faith traditions and go beyond the official church and religious hierarchy. “There is an old official path across the meadow of our spiritual heritage and it is still recommended by some,” McCarroll writes in the introduction. “That old path is worn out and not very inviting to most people. But, the meadow itself is fresh and vibrant, always growing and changing. It would be a tragic mistake to abandon the meadow when we reject the old path. There can be many new refreshing paths into this magnificent landscape.” So begins this beautiful exploration of the Christian legacy. But even more than an exploration, it is Tolbert McCarroll's spiritual will and testament to us, we who are seekers of every faith and none.

PageMill Press is committed “to produce wise and accessible books for thoughtful seekers across the full spectrum of Christian tradition.” The editorial director, Roy Carlisle, was for many years with Harper’s in San Francisco. Thinking With the Heart is one of 7 books selected by PageMill to begin its spiritual series. A small excerpt from the book is on the back page of this issue.


Our annual fund appeal went out a few weeks ago, and we thank all who have contributed. We are truly grateful for your necessary support. If you have been meaning to send something and just haven’t gotten around to it yet, we thank you, too.

We talk, and worry, and plan a lot about becoming self-sufficient, but the fact is we are not. Your contributions keep us going. We are excited about the new olive grove we will plant. In time, along with the wreaths, dried fruit, and book sales, I am sure it will help support us. But, for the present, we need your help to do what we do and hope to do.

Thanks again! sister Marti



 The following is from brother Toby’s new book Thinking With the Heart. One of the editors pointed out that the memory of his father listening to the radio and his mother praying, reflected brother Toby’s own later spiritual journey. Certainly, responding to the needs of the world and also following a contemplative life has been part of his contribution to the story of Starcross.

Wholeness, peace of soul, and spiritual comfort have come to me now mainly in the ordinary moments of daily life. My experience of God comes in a gentle breeze. The places where I have truly opened myself to the divine presence have been next to a sick child, planting a flower, watching a bird, sitting on a train, washing clothes, listening to children making music, cleaning a small chapel. That is the sort of hope I want to leave those who come after me, especially those I love: the understanding that looking at a sunset can change your life, smelling a blossom on a spring morning can make you aware of God, being with someone who is dying can get you splashed with the peace that heaven wraps around those who are leaving us, touching the hand of someone who cares can make us deeply understand the “Good News” of the gospels.

Sacred space, a place where the line between the divine and the human is blurred, has been important to me from my early years. My parents were always worrying about making ends meet. The Depression years had been hard. Life was uncertain. To take a break from this anxiety, my father would turn on his little radio and listen to the evening news. My mother would pray. She was very happy when she prayed. It was a gateway to a holy place, a sanctuary, where she felt at home, safe, and accepted. I grew up keenly sensing the need for such spaces.

I have been many things in my life, but now I am primarily the keeper of a small sacred space. To me, it is a monastery. To my children, it is simply our home. To friends, it is a place of pilgrimage. In this place, large butterflies come in the summer and flocks of birds in the winter. The trees bloom in the spring and turn red in the autumn. Here those I love are born and die. The young must travel away to new places, that they may continue to grow. The older of us are sometimes distracted by illness, but live gently.

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