Red Egg Jewelry

Red Egg prayer beads and jewelry

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Red Egg is a center for art that deepens our connection with wisdom traditions around the world. Read more


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Seasons Greetings...

from Dublin,



S. Quirico d'Orcia,

and Montepulciano,

And from Krakow. We wish you a very blessed Christmas!


Ora et labora – San Vincenzo al Volturno

The remains of the Benedictine monastery of San Vincenzo al Volturno date back to the early 9th century.

And it has the most important surviving medieval frescoes in Europe.

But actually the place is much older than that…

…since the Benedictine monastery was built upon an earlier Etruscan and then Roman site.

But it isn’t a relic either.

Nor will it ever be.

Because there is something so essential in the Benedictine motto…

Ora et labora.

Prayer and work.

Nineteen years ago Benedictine nuns from America brought the monastic rhythms of prayer and work back to San Vincenzo.

Mother Agnes is a calligrapher and bookbinder.

Mother Philip is an artisan who works in many media.

Recently, her primary focus has been beaded jewelry…

…beautiful work, as you can see.

She is also an anthropologist – and we’ve been humbled to see how immediately and enthusiastically Mother Philip has understood what “Red Egg Gallery” is all about.

The idea of ora et labore isn’t merely to alternate periods of work with periods of prayer. Perhaps in one way or another each of us does that.

The idea is to integrate the two – to have them become one pulsing rhythm in our lives.

Work grounds us – when prayerful.

And prayer helps make us mindful. “Pray without ceasing,” Jesus says. It sounds like a riddle – or an impossibility. How can you pray always? And if you tried, where would you pack all that anxious rush of thought?

At this stage of our journey, the two of us are visiting familiar places – and dear friends. In particular, now that we’re in Italy, we’ve entered into a monastic rhythm with communities we already know and love.

We’ve known Mother Miriam for 31 years – from the first year of our marriage, when we were living in Seattle, and Mother Miriam was at the monastery of Our Lady of the Rock on Shaw Island in Puget Sound.

In fact, the community was so important to us that we named our daughter Caitlin after the monastery. She’s Caitlin Shaw Lorenc. (Shaw because Debi put her foot down and insisted that Shaw was a more tolerable middle name for a baby girl than my own first choice…Rock.)

And sure enough it’s been nothing but ora et labore for Caitlin ever since.

Mother Miriam is the abbess of the community – and among all the other things she is, she is also the best farmer we have ever known.

As we said in our recent food blog, Mother Miriam and the community produce virtually all of San Vincenzo’s food themselves.

Mother Miriam makes wine, olive oil, gelato, bread…all the essentials by which we live.

You’ll notice how low our wine and olive oil jars already are.

We were just in time for the olive harvest, and not only had the chance to pitch in with the harvest ourselves…

…but Mother Miriam took us with her to the frantoio just down the road…

…where the olives are washed…

…and crushed…

…in a kind of alchemy....

…to produce this stream of amber-gold -- a Biblical substance, all-told…

…in which even the simplest working tools attain a Benedictine sense of the dignity of work.

Mother Miriam asked us if we would create the Christmas crèche for the monastery. We had been joining Mother Miriam, Philip, and Agnes each day for morning and evening prayer…

…but creating the crèche…

…gave us yet another means for entering into the rhythm of Advent.

Debi has been delinquent in her homework for becoming an oblate with our beloved New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur.

But as with so many other things in life, this delinquency has turned out to have its own intention…
…because now Debi has accepted Mother Miriam’s invitation to become an oblate with San Vincenzo al Volturno instead.

This means – as Mother Miriam says – that the fact that I am an oblate with New Camaldoli will augment Debi’s oblature with San Vincenzo, just as Debi will remain deeply-connected with the Camaldolese-Benedictines.

As a couple, our relationship with both communities will continue to deepen.

OK, this is your final test. Can you identify the gloves of the farmer-abbess and those of the photographer and icon-painter?

Aha, you missed!

Mother Miriam and Debi have traded and now wear each other’s gloves.


Stone, spiral, book (I)

You might remember this labyrinth from the Snæfellsnes peninsula in Ísland…

…and this Inukshuk from Mallikjuag in Nunavut.

In truth, we’ve been traveling in a world of stone for a long time now.
The passage tombs at Brú na Bóinne in County Meath in Ireland are 5,000 years old. They’re older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids.

The white-quartz walls, like here at Newgrange, had long been fallen…

…so that the passage tombs appeared as natural hill forms for four millennia – despite the old stories of the uncanny that people in the Boyne Valley told.

When the existence of the passage tombs beneath the mounds was re-discovered a couple centuries ago, it was unthinkable that these human structures could have been over 5,000 years old.

After all, that would have meant they pre-dated the origin of the universe as a whole.

When you think about it, you realize that there are a finite number of elemental, archetypal forms the human hand might make – or might want to make.

Spirals, diamonds…

…pits, cupules, radiating sunburst lines…

…and mandalas of every form.

The depiction of the human form itself seems relatively a late development.

This is even true for early Celtic Christian stones.

Perhaps this was because the human presence was so self-evident. Perhaps it was because what sites of ritual once wanted to record was not “look, we, too, are here” – but rather, the elemental wholeness within which humans once found themselves.

An elemental wholeness not lost to all of us, it is true.

And it is also true that not all early human markings appear in pre-Celtic lands.

For instance, this is one of the most striking places that we know – back home in the Sur. And all during this current journey that we’re on, this stone keeps calling out to us.

It is likely as old, or older, than Brú na Bóinne. It may pre-date the arrival of both Hokan and Penutian-speaking peoples along the California coast. And if so, it was made by people we don’t know how to name…

…in a land whose calendar follows the seasons of the oaks.

And as we travel – particularly now in this winter season of inwardness and recollection – we remember you who are traveling in your own way, too. Many of you to places of memory, joy, and loss…

…to holy places of your own…

…to celebrate and mourn…

…those who have gone before us,

…a great cloud of witnesses – the living and the dead.

No one can really be sure of the function of places like Brú na Bóinne. It was once presumed that a “passage-tomb” was a burial place for the dead – except that there’s no empirical evidence for this.

Perhaps they were ritual centers instead -- places to commemorate the dead and to help spirit them along in their journeys -- much like a church or cathedral now.

In fact, there are striking architectural similarities.

Let us illustrate from our later visit to the 9th century church of Epyphanius at San Vincenzo al Volturno in Italy.

Churches and cathedrals are often aligned with the solar equinox.

Right now you’re standing in the nave in the east, looking west. Over the shoulder of architect Franco Valente is the base of the altar stone. Below that is the window to the crypt.

When you look exactly west – as if you were the rising sun on the equinox – you’ll see how aligned are the altar stone and the window to the crypt.

Photo by Ken Williams, from

The 5,000 year old passage tomb at Newgrange is aligned with the sun as well. But it is aligned with the winter solstice.

Precisely aligned.

Here is an overall map of some of the major monuments in Brú na Bóinne. You'll see the Newgrange passage tomb in the center. And again, its own passageway -- depicted in the photo above the map -- is exactly aligned with sunrise on the winter solstice.

And the interiors of both passage tomb and cathedral are generally cruciform in their floor plans. In this aerial plan of the crypt of Epyphanius, the tomb is that of the abbot Epyphanius. Below the tomb is the window into the crypt that you saw before.

So the sun runs the length of the nave from the east, passes through the window over the tomb, and then strikes the western wall.

Specifically, it strikes a fresco of Christ – in angelic form from the book of the Apocalypse.

That figure is above my head, flanked from left to right by Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, and Uriel. Obviously, this is interior electric light, so you don’t get the solar equinoctial effect.

Now you’re looking north down into the crypt yourself. The image of Christ is on the back wall to your left. And the tomb – and window into the crypt – is in the recess to your right.

In the interior chambers of passage tombs like Newgrange, there are ritual basins that can remind you of birthing stones or baptismal fonts. They feel “feminine” -- places for water in the darkness – as interior complements to the solar alignment of the whole.

And as you bow and crouch and move inside along the passageway, without noticing it, your feet are moving along a precisely calculated incline.

Photo by Ken Williams, from

OK. So let’s imagine it. It’s winter solstice night.

Only a small group of elders or priests can fit inside the small interior chamber. The rest of the people wait outside under the open sky – with prayer and fire and dance and chant.

It is the greatest festival of the year.

But you are one of those inside – waiting in utter darkness in a small stone room that feels like a tomb.

Then you begin to notice it. A thread of light is creeping along the floor of the narrow passageway.

It reaches the beehive central chamber and diffuses into a honey-glow.

Then a moment later, exactly at 8.52, the thread strikes the center of the recessed back wall like an arrow from the heart of light itself.

The light in the chamber lasts for exactly seventeen minutes.

You’ve been waiting for it all year.


“An army marches on its stomach…”

Lest you get the misperception that all we’ve been doing is scrambling over Arctic tundra and lavafields…

…we thought we’d give you a behind-the-scenes view of what we’re really doing.

Hence, this is our food blog. (You can tell this by the Thanksgiving notice in McGann’s in Doolin on the coast of County Clare.)

To follow this blog, you’ll have to jump around from place to place…

…in no particular order.

And there will be close-readings required of all the salient texts.

In fact, to show how literarily hip we are, we’re giving away the ending right now.

Here we are typing this blog in this cool little flat we’ve found in West Kensington in London. We’re seated about a mile from where I was born – in St. Stephen’s Hospital on Fulham Road. I ran along that road before settling back down here to work.

Actually, it was a research-run. I was also scoping out bakeries and pubs in Chelsea along the way.

It’s been nothing but research all along the way.

For instance, we were so disappointed to have missed Moran’s Oyster Cottage outside Galway the night before…

…that we waited for it to open for lunch the next day…

…and walked along Galway Bay and struck up a conversation to bide our time awhile.

“What more does one need?” you might ask…

…with a good peat fire in the hearth beside you.

Now go through these next few photos really quickly. They work like one of those old flip-books if you do.

And notice it’s the same single pint of Guinness.

In broad daylight yet.

Or one could take a more contemplative – even sacramental – approach.

After all, there’s no end to the work that must be done…

…and to the decisions that must be made.

Raw Galway Bay oysters? Or garlic-grilled?

Fortunately, perhaps not even Solomon could’ve made a better choice.

We’ll even review for you from time to time.

Like reminding you of the sausage, eggs, bacon, and grits Mary Ann Petway lovingly made for us for breakfast.

And that there was barbeque in Selma.

And arctic char in Nunavut.

And farmers’ markets we look for everywhere.

And memorable gatherings with our family. This is a British breakfast at the Liverpool home of Chris’ cousin Helen and her husband James and daughter Lucy…

…who’s a talented actor, but an inordinately enthusiastic fan of High School Musical.

Helen took us to Ty Crainc, the home on Anglesey in North Wales that James’ forebearers built and which has been in his family for a century.

But instead of dining in baronial style there…

…we repaired to the nearby White Eagle Pub.

That’s a steak and ale pudding and a smooth pint of Weetwood Ale from Cheshire on the table.

And a trio of desserts.

Chocolate tart with cointreau and orange ice cream.

Bara brith bread and butter pudding with cinnamon ice cream.

It is a custom at Ty Crainc for guests to leave the house a poem. On the counter, those are bound volumes of them from a century ago.

So I diligently do my part.

One of the joys of our travel has been the alternating rhythm of urban-scapes…

…and the countryside.

Here’s Dublin preparing for Christmas…

…as Dublin best knows how.

And this sequence is for my brothers.

Just to see…

…if they’re paying any attention at all.

Debi’s sweet-tooth has surprised me, though with a pie shop like this one in Toronto it’s easy to see why.

But perhaps her favorite fare is a straightforward bowl of porridge.

And top prize thus far is Sister Jean’s porridge at the House of Prayer on Iona.

Although one night we stumbled upon a homespun place in Dublin…

…which names itself as you see above.

We met new friends there, Dublin artists Liam O’Callaghan and Anna Rackard, who (among their other work) have created Fish, Stone, Water, a book about the holy wells of Ireland. Needless to say we had a lot to talk about…

But the other thing that caught Debi’s eye…

…was what “Gruel” was famous for in the morning.

So here we are – back in our West Kensington flat…

OK. We’ve stretched the truth. A little literary license. We’ve moved on to Kent. This is my cousin Peter preparing chicken with almonds and raisins…

…and Peter and his wife Margaret making a lunch that had so much leisure and finesse it would make Italians blush.

Oh, alright, we’ll come completely clean then. In the interim, we’ve actually just arrived in bell’Italia…

…just in time for the olive harvest at the monastery of San Vincenzo al Volturno, where we've been helping out...

…and talking with the crew…

…and, of course, photographing.

Mother Miriam (left) is the abbess at San Vincenzo. We've known this dear friend since the first year of our marriage, when we were living in Seattle and Mother Miriam was at Our Lady of the Rock in Puget Sound. And Mother Philip is becoming a good friend, too.

On the farm at San Vincenzo, Mother Miriam and her helpers grow, harvest, and prepare virtually all their food by hand.

Olive oil, bread, wine, vegetables, cheese, gelato…

But now that we’re in Italy, if we don’t stop this food blog right now, it will never end.