Christin's Words from Sunshine Hill

If it is to be music
you must be present to it, must offer to it
a profound self-remembering.
-from Altar Music

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I got a little lonely yesterday. It was bound to happen I suppose. It snowed in the morning--those big cornflake sized flakes alternating with gusts of tiny wet flakes almost like sleet. You can watch it coming towards the house from across the mountains to the southwest where the ocean is. The Internet forecast said it would do this all day. It isn’t that I can’t drive in snow; I’m from Minnesota after all! It’s the slickness of steep hills around here should they ice up. So I made myself a nuisance to Carolyn. I’d made arrangements to shadow her and her husband as they took Communion to residents of a local nursing home, and I was looking forward to doing it. So I called around nine -- “I don’t think I can drive in this.” Then “I can’t drive in this.” Then the sun came out for a minute and I made another call to say I thought I could, but they were already gone. “Well,” I said aloud to no one but myself and Mo, “I guess there was some reason I needed to stay home today.”

Maybe the reason was to make bread. It turned into Christmas rolls. Christmas music filled the spaces of the house, not “Let It Snow,” but the more classical kind: medieval carols, Nutcracker, Ave Maria… In the afternoon I sat down with Mary Gordon’s new book, READING JESUS: A Writer’s Encounter with the Gospels. I’d started it a few weeks ago but the Preface didn’t grab me. But now I’m into the heart of it and loving her approach--recognizing it as a writer’s approach, the approach of one who understands how literature is made, and even more than that--how to read it.

Every once in a while I’d look up at the Christmas Willow Tree Angels on the mantle, at the Advent candles, at the lighted angel John and I bought for the top of the tree (but this year not on a tree but beside the picture of John) and feel a pang of loneliness. For a while I wondered if I should have braved the snow and possible ice to be with the people in the nursing home. Maybe I wouldn’t have been lonely there. But then I realized: this is my reason for being home--to know this and to experience the love that caused the loneliness to occur.

The winter holidays become frenetic sometimes. It can be fun, particularly if all the hustle and bustle involves children. I’m loving news about nieces and nephews, pictures of their wonder-filled eyes. But I also hear of jangled adults many of whom are attempting to meet unrealizable expectations that become more complex and impossible each year. And I want to put my arms around them and whisper, “Do only what flows from the love in your heart.”

The gift we give to one another is the gift of ourselves. Every tangible object or action is a sign of that self-gifting or it means nothing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful and peaceful if all our Christmas activities bore the mark of calm and thoughtful love? Sometimes it takes a pang of our own loneliness to remind us to let go of the frenzy, to settle into the love from which the loneliness arose, and to remember the amazing gift we are given in each moment of life, in the eyes of each person we meet, in the heart and hands of all who have ever loved us. The gift, of its very nature, then flows without effort through us, exactly as the other person needs.

Peace to you,



Monday, December 14, 2009


Light rising over the mountain outside my window transfigures the tall pines as though the mountain is Tabor and I am witness to something beyond my understanding. This makes me think of Agnes whom I met just yesterday. After the Mass of Rejoicing (Third Sunday of Advent) I attended a celebration luncheon for Eileen who, for over ten years, coordinated the Outreach Ministry for Eucharistic Ministers to the Homebound, and has recently needed to resign. What brought me there was a powerful inclination towards doing something new when I read in the church bulletin of their need for more ministers. That was in the beginning of November, and since then I’ve been meeting the people, being trained, and am looking forward to being “commissioned” at Mass this Wednesday. Joyce, the parish coordinator of ministries, thought that Eileen’s celebration would offer a good opportunity for me to meet the other Eucharistic Ministers.

While I was exercising my short term memory on names, an exuberantly friendly man--Don--pointed across the room at a thin taper of a woman with hair like a white flame. “She used to be a nun,” he confided with a mixture of secrecy and awe. I looked over the Christmassy luncheon tables at her and then crossed to where she stood.

She actually looked like a nun, like a carving of an old nun’s face in marble, smooth, the lines of age providing artistic enhancements. She also looked like your seventh grade teacher bringing order to the class on a Monday morning. She revealed nothing but being.

“I’m told you were a nun,” I ventured. “So was I.”

“Oh.” She responded.

“Which community?” I ventured again.

“Sisters of Notre Dame.” Still that marble look. My imagination dressed her in the traditional habit of that community, the heavily starched linen under the veil that one Notre Dame sister once told me acted as blinders, so it was difficult to drive.

“I was a Sister of St. Joseph.” I could tell I was beginning to ratchet up my energy. “What’s your name?”

“Agnes,” she said, and I pointed to me saying “Christin.”

More questions, then: trying to situate us in the history of the exodus from convents back in the Sixties and Seventies. It turned out that she wasn’t “called forth” from her religious community until about ten years ago. How old was she? What kind of courage must setting out on her own have required? Certainly she was past retirement age. “I knew from the beginning that eventually God would call me forth from there into something new,“ she smiled.

That realization may have been what did it. Or something else did it. Who can say what does such a thing? Light burst from her eyes. Some kind of opening to kindness, to wonder, to joy. Her whole being became an Advent Moment.

Looking now at the sunlight, I smile too, and think of how wonderful life is as we are constantly being called to something new, and how we can’t anticipate what surprise of light might dawn in the next moment, or how beautiful it will appear when shining out at us from someone else's eyes.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Evolution of Mama's Date Bread

Ken called early to say “Don’t drive down your road; it’s slick out there.” Just in case I wasn’t thinking about the freezing rain we had last night, or how it felt to step out onto the back deck, or how Mo slid while running, or how winters used to be in Minnesota. Here, though, I have the curvy hill, on which the four-wheel-drive would not grip the ice, and I could find myself airborne out past the road and into the field. So I’m making Mama’s date bread instead of going out anywhere at all.

Mama’s Christmas date bread is an argument for evolution. I started out almost forty years ago attempting to make this delicious concoction exactly according to her scribbled recipe--something tricky in itself because in her haste she wrote some of it in shorthand and failed to give directions (only ingredients). Young enough then, I could remember standing beside her as she baked, and so I think the results matched hers.

When I came to California with John the first change happened because I couldn’t keep him from cutting into the loaf right out of the oven. Mama always insisted that it be wrapped in foil several days before cutting so that the flavors would combine. But lo and behold, it tastes great right out of the oven, and besides that, the crust is --- crusty.

Then a few years later John said it would taste better with orange zest as part of it. OK. And I also used orange juice instead of water. A BIG improvement.

This fall I added cherries and grains to the dates and nuts, and used Agave rather than sugar to lessen the glycemic impact. And voila! Another culinary success.

Today I included some sesame seeds (but I forgot the orange juice--phooey!) and softened the grains before adding them. As I write two loaves are in the oven. I plan to give Ken a loaf for thinking of my safety---though I may need to wait until the ice melts.

Mama’s Scribbled Date Bread Recipe (sans shorthand)

1 loaf Date Bread

1 cup Boiling water

¾ “ Sugar

1 egg

1 tbsp melted shortening

½ tsp salt

½ “ vanilla

1 ¼ cup flour

1 tsp B. Powder

¼ “ Soda

½ cup nuts

(and just in case anyone should decide to try this: soak the dates in the hot water, mix wet and dry ingredients separately, then combine. Add the dates and nuts last. Bake at 350 for about an hour.)



Friday, December 11, 2009

Clouds and Music

Here it is, Friday already, and only now am I posting the writing from the Feast of St. Nicholas. My satellite was out that day until evening. Just now as I was getting my mind in gear to write another little missive, I realized that this one never made it out of my hard drive.

Thanks to my dear Krista Karels for the photograph of moss on one of my winter oaks.

December 6

The Hughes satellite penetrates the heavy clouds of this morning only sporadically. The temperatures rose, though, during the night, for which these same clouds are probably responsible. (This is some weather-wisdom gleaned from John over the years). A few minutes ago the blue lights on the Hughes equipment indicated that I had a window of opportunity during which I did get nine emails, then the signal blinked out again. It could be snowing on those mountains to the south. “All you need is an unobstructed view of the southern sky,” say the commercials from Hughes. Nobody says anything about clouds.

Here on my little mountain I depend upon my various means of communication. It’s the Internet that opens my way into the larger world each morning. Today, though, it’s fine that snow might be blowing in over the coastal mountains possibly strengthening my hermit status, because last night was one of people, lights and song. Each year a contingent of folks from Buncum (the little ghost town a mile down the road) attend a musical performance at the Craterian Theater in Medford. The same group -- The Trail Band -- has been coming here for fourteen years, and my friend, Connie, had an extra ticket. Beforehand these neighbors of mine, most of whom I have either never met or know only slightly, meet for wine and a potluck of yummy snacks in a room above the lobby of the theater.

Beforehand, though, Connie and I stopped at the Medford Armory for a Christmas tree extravaganza and music offered by young people from high schools in the valley. I learned that the newest in decoration is an upsidedown evergreen. A first for me. “That’s just wrong!” I commented. But later, at the theater, I saw another one. My eye, now a bit more accustomed, found that one a bit like an enormous vase with fluted top. The Buncumite standing next to me allowed that the decorations really were more visible with the bottom at the top.

The Buncum people have come from everywhere, many of them in the last fifteen years. Connie, of course, has lived around here forever. One couple had lived a long time in Minnesota. Ah, old home folks! Many had been city people: San Diego, Chicago…. Now they devote their time to their arts, their ranches, environmental work.

The Trail Band name makes it sound like a western group, and although Connie kept saying that wasn’t really what they were, I realize now that I didn’t believe her. It surprised me to hear them playing and singing what really were Christmas folk songs from around the world, Spanish, Celtic, French, Old English--sprinkling in some Nutcracker Suite featuring the hammered dulcimer.

It’s snowing now. The satellite still blinks on and off. I probably won’t get this sent until later, after I get back from the Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent. Probably the mountain roads will be slippery, But hey--I’m a Minnesota girl. And besides that I had several years of winter driving in mountains all the way to Portland and back. So no excuses for hunkering down in my warm house. It’s my favorite time of year.





Tuesday, December 1, 2009


The land is white with frost this morning, a perfectly Advent kind of day. My favorite of all seasons is here again. This favoritism of mine puts me a bit out of sync with the commercial world--well, with the secular world altogether. Last night I watched the Hallmark Hall of Fame 2009 Christmas program which I’d recorded on Sunday, a tale about “A Dog Named Christmas.” It had all of the heartwarming themes of a classic dog story--loyalty, courage, devotion--in which friendship with a dog saves someone from a deep hurt that’s taken over his heart. I love dogs, so I appreciated most of Hallmark’s sweet and sentimental narrative. But one thing caught like a claw in my mind. The words, “On December 26th the dog has to go back to the shelter, because that is the day Christmas ends.”

Wait! This family, sweet as they were, was celebrating Christmas all during Advent. They intended to stop on the 26th, just as I will have begun. But then it is almost impossible to buck the culture that surrounds us. Everywhere are Christmas trees and lights and silver bells. And over the years I’ve found myself incorporating many of what used to be exclusively Christmas symbols into my Advent preparations. I just change their meaning a tad. Advent observes these four weeks before Christmas as a time of waiting for the three comings of Christ: the memory of the coming at Bethlehem when, as Father Mike said this Sunday, “God broke through the boundaries of our world”; the awareness of the moment by moment coming of Christ into our individual lives; and the final coming of Christ in the fullness of time. I light my advent candles each night at sunset, praying that the Divine Light will come soon to dispel the darkness. I put up a Christmas Tree right along with everyone else to light the way through the dark wilderness of time. I buy candles and light them in the darkness before dawn each day to burn during prayer.

Wonder mounts each year as we move closer to the Christ-Mass, the thanks-giving celebration for the God-With-Us: the Emmanuel. And that is just the beginning, not the end. Christmas season lasts until February 2nd. Nobody seems to know that anymore, and I find it sad to realize that for most of us the season of joy is cut so short. Tradition has the season continue until the celebration of Candle-Mass, at forty days distant from the Christ-Mass, when according to tradition Mary would have gone to the temple to present her son along with two white doves. It is the day of the old prophets, Simeon and Anna, the day they predict who this child is to be, and open the doors of the mind to the paradox of earthly life. To Mary, Simeon says, “a sword shall pierce your soul.” If Christmas ends, this is the day of that foreshadowing. In some eternal plan, though, it will never end, and there’s the paradox.

Come to think of it--Hallmark has the dog find his way back to the family even though they return him to the shelter as agreed, on the "day that Christmas ends." It’s a classic dog story theme, so I wasn’t surprised. But just now I had to laugh. Even though they told us that Christmas would end on December 26th, that very same night Christmas came back.