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

Sharings - Starcross' Seasonal Newsletter

Sharings - Summer 2002


Listen to the voices of South African High School students —

Trisha: After school I have to go to work to save for after my parents’ deaths. I will have to give up ever going to medical school. I am tied to my younger brother and sister.

Aalia: AIDS has robbed me of my hope. I am no longer afraid of murders, tyrants or even harsh criminals. I am afraid only of AIDS.

Sindisiwe: When our parents die who is going to take care of us and give us food, take us to school? When parents die children find it hard to survive and they turn to crime. They kill for food.

Listen also to the forever silent voices of 16 teen-agers who committed suicide recently because sick and dying parents were no longer able to pay village school fees of $50 a year.

The Facts

South Africa has the fastest growing HIV infection rate of any country in the world. There are over 500,000 AIDS orphans there now and by 2015 there will be 1,850,000! This a tidal wave of tragedy beyond anything we have seen yet in this horrible pandemic. South Africa, with all its many problems is only now beginning to address the problem of AIDS orphans. Starcross' experience in California, Romania, and Uganda gives us a sense of how bad this is going to be and, to be honest, we would rather not get into it. But that same experience of ours is unique and valuable. We know what has to be done and, with your help, we can throw a lifeline to perhaps 100 desperate children. As always, the hope is that what we do, and how we do it, will become a model for others.

The Plan

In Uganda the most successful and unique part of our program has been providing remedial support for orphans, getting them into good secondary boarding schools, helping them into college, and a life which will contribute to their own happiness and that of their nation. And, through it all, being home and family to this group of young people. In South Africa we would like to focus on this aspect of the problem. Younger children would come to us from the grassroots foster homes which are slowly springing up. We are now, with the help of friends, exploring the practical details. This investigation could take a few months. Following that, at least one of us will have to go there (it is a very long trip!) with one of our people from the House of Hope in Uganda to make the final decisions and select a South African director.

A Touch of Reality

It was 12 years ago when we opened our house in Romania. Now we need help doing the organizational things we once did alone. Even in the exploratory fact-finding stage we could not have handled it without all the boring work of people who spent hours, and days, on the web and in libraries getting the needed information . As we move on, we know what to do but we need a lot of energy from others in getting it done.

When the plan is in operation we are also going to need sponsors for 100 kids. Probably that will be about the same as in Uganda, $800 a year for each child. In addition, we need modest funds for a house, air transportation and other special expenses. For this, we hope you will lend a hand.

We have formed a separate charitable non-profit corporation for AIDS orphans called "Starcross Kin Worldwide." It will take a few months before we clear all the governmental hurdles. Until then we will continue to handle all the financial expenses and contributions as usual. However, this step already allows us to make better use of friends and advisors in forming and implementing plans for South Africa.

“But what does this have to do with me?”

Recently I read a report from an area in South Africa called "God's Window" because of the awe-inspiring view from a high ridge across mountains and valleys and the plains beyond. But the report was also about Manuel, 14, and his brother Malatji, 11, the only survivors of their family who live in abject poverty of the body and the soul. They live without hope. After September 11, 2001 we realized that people living without hope do have something to do with all our lives. As important as what we do for the children is the ability for us to build a bridge of solidarity with some people of the developing world.

This project has evolved to the point we felt you should know about it. If you want to help, write or e-mail us at Please keep this venture, and all the children of Africa, in your thoughts and prayers.

Brother Toby

Family Journal


We had all looked forward to slowing down, just being together on the farm with everyone home from school. Well, here we are, but somehow the slowing down part hasn’t happened yet.

The new barn is going up, a wonderful building. We will be able to do our wreath shipping from there this December, and next year package the dried fruit. It will have enough space for the olive press in a few years when that is needed.

After all these years it is still a big surprise each August when we realize it is time to prepare for Christmas wreath and dried fruit season. This is our main means of self-support, so please keep us in mind as you plan your holiday gifts.

And then there are the children, going off in all directions to summer camps — horse camp, music camp, drama!

David, our 16 year-old violinist, came home from The Yehudi Menuhin School in England with a French pianist friend and they did five concerts in Santa Rosa. They were wonderfully received. Six hundred people came to hear them at the Burbank Center for the Arts, and the auditorium held less than 400. There were people on the stage, in the lobby, everywhere, and the concert was magnificent. If you would like a video or CD of the performance send $15 for the video or $10 for the CD and we will send it to you.

Now the harvest is coming, all at once as usual, and we are enjoying blackberries, apples, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, green beans. It all tastes very good.

No wonder summer “vacation” seems so short. It is!


Up on the mountain tops, and even in the sky, big issues of our times crash around like chaotic thunderstorms. It is hard for most of us to find the wisdom and courage to respond unless we move down into a quieter place. There is a song we were taught many years ago by the Shaker sisters at the Sabbathday Lake community in Maine. It starts: "Down in the lowly vale / living waters never fail." In the Tao Te Ching there is a very similar sentiment

The Valley spirit never dies ....

Draw from it all you wish;

it will never run dry.

During the great Cistercian monastic reform of the 12th century, new monasteries were built in quiet valleys rather than on imposing hilltops. Sometimes we all have to fight battles up on those peaks but spiritual perspective, like water, seems to flow down hill.

In 2001 some Carmelite sisters in Indianapolis began reflecting on the news of the day and sharing their thoughts in a lovely website "Praying The News" ( This has encouraged us to do something similar but a bit different. From time to time we will take a topic which seems to be a fundamental concern in contemporary life, at least to us. We will reflect and share those thoughts. We will also invite some friends, and sometimes our children, to contribute. If any of you wish to respond to what is written on our website, we will post that as long as it is compact and there is space.

We hope to have this up and running by October. It would help for us to hear from you with suggested topics to consider. Send to





The mysterious white, grey and brown birds sit on the post.

White paper crashing on the almost finished barn.

Black and yellow bee buzzes past me.

Red, shining apple waiting to be picked.

Fast, colorless lizard dashes under the deck.

The golden grass swishes as I walk.


The green apple trees

The good harvest

The subtleness, the greenness of the farm

The olive grove in its way

Our house in its prettiness


When I am home from school I choose music like this for my family to listen to in the evenings:

Stravinsky: Rite of Spring (energetic)

Mendelssohn: Octet (beautiful, melodic)

Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé Suite no. 2 (Wavy, amazing harmonies)

Shostakovich: String Quartet no. 13 (painful, one movement Adagio)

Schubert: “Death and the Maiden” String Quartet (perfect chamber music) s


A Reflection from sister Julie

I am sitting on a bench next to my daughter's grave. There's sunlight on the little pink flowers. Tina's beautiful picture is next to the dates (1988-1991) on her stone. Behind us the brush grows so thick only the deer can penetrate. Wind swishes through tall redwoods. Birds soar overhead. This is sacred space.

It is said that the Pomo who inhabited this land hundreds of years ago considered it holy ground. That is not surprising. We feel it, too. The land has been blessed by native peoples as well as by the friends and loved ones who are remembered here each evening at Vespers in the little chapel.

Important things have happened here. A loving woman named Susan set aside her good life to go to Romania to care for babies with AIDS. She and her husband Bill ended up adopting those children, and then having another one. All are thriving. We are delighted that this summer that wonderful family celebrated their 10th anniversary by coming to Starcross. The olive tree they dedicated will long remain a symbol of peace, endurance, nourishment and life.

In recent years our new home has gone up. The gardens and orchards continue to provide abundantly. Twelve hundred sturdy olive saplings sway in the breeze. Beside the road, the new barn is nearly complete and we were able to have the annual day of reflection lunch there this month.

For 26 years we have been stewards of this piece of earth we call Starcross. We have cared for it with love. But it is not for us alone. It is also your space and your children's space. If we can solve the problem of retreat space this place will become even more of a sanctuary for those who could use its nourishment. We have taken steps that will preserve as sacred space and make appropriate use of the land for many, many decades

The children remind me it's time to cider. The Gravenstein trees are heavy-laden with juicy yellow apples. Ladders and picking sacks are ready. Soon the golden liquid will be flowing from the cider press. This too is sacred.

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