Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Quiet of August

The hallowed halls of Holy Cross Monastery are very quiet these days. And that doesn't just go for the Guesthouse; the whole place is very much at rest. This year an unusual number of the community left for their private vacation time right after our Long Retreat ended last week. This has left only 5 of us here at home for most of this week, and soon, for a brief period, there will be only 3 of us at home. I'm going to be one of the departers. Sunday after the Eucharist is finished I'm going to New Jersey to spend time with some friends for a bit and then I'm going into Manhattan to join Br Adam who is having his holiday there, and we will do a few fun things in the City - though it remains to be seen how "fun" the City will be with the temperature in the 90's, which is what is predicted. I'll be back in the middle of the week and then some other of the brothers will begin returning and things will gradually look a bit more normal.

This year, with our numbers so low, those of us here are having almost as much rest as the people who have gone away, and it's been very nice. The schedule is quite informal by the standards of the rest of the year. The Offices go on, of course, though the singing gets a bit ragged now and then. And among the vacationers is Edward, our chef, so we are cooking for each other(with pizza and Chinese take-out allowed, too). It's nice to be providing food for each other, and the meals are relaxed and there is good conversation.

August offers us a good alternative to the pace of our Guesthouse work, and we need this time - it's part of our rhythm. By the end of the month we'll be ready for it to end, but for now it feels luxurious to be so quiet and unruffled. Some would say that it's "more monastic" but most of the people who say that wouldn't be monks themselves. The hospitality that the Guesthouse provides during most of the year is our ministry, and it's an important part of who we are. It's also very hard work, so an alternative pattern is quite refreshing.

But all is not complete calm. There has been a transition of some consequence in the Incense department that has needed to be dealt with. Earlier in the year I had a telephone call from the company that provides us with resins and perfume oils for our various blends of incense. The call was to say that we needed to make a change. The Rose Perfume Oil that we have used for many years in our St Augustine Incense was not going to be available any longer. The current world financial situation has reached its tentacles into the perfume industry, and some of the ingredients used to make that oil are now either unavailable or have become so expensive that they can't be used any longer. So they have ceased to produce that particular oil.

They suggested a Red Rose Perfume Oil as a possible substitute. So since the Spring I've been sniffing and blending and experimenting and finally got to the place where I thought I could do some test runs for production. It takes a while: St Augustine has always been slow to cure and the new oil seems to be even slower, so I will have to be allowing a month to a month and a half for production now. But finally last Sunday I was ready to test it out publicly, and trotted a sample out for Vespers, and in the midst of a raging thunderstorm we smelled the first results.

The reception was pretty enthusiastic. The new blend has a definite rose scent, which is important because that is why people buy that particular blend. It is also different. The former blend was complex with overlays of a number of scents. This blend is less "dark" as one of the brothers said. And overall, people seemed to feel that the lighter smell of this one goes very well with the rose scent that we want to predominate.

So we'll go into production now and introduce it gradually in the course of the fall. We can blend a bit of the new St Augustine into some of the former one and give people a gradual introduction. I estimate that by the end of the year we will have moved completely into the new incense. And then, we'll see. Because we're dealing with a smell, everyone who smells it will have their own reaction. Inevitably there will be those who like it a lot and those who don't like it at all. We'll see where it comes down, and it may be a while before we know. Liturgical Incense if not a high-volume business and most parishes order infrequently, so the new scent will get out there gradually. But some change had to be made, and I think we've got a pretty good one. The customers will have the last say on this one. And we still have our blend called Sancta Crux, which is made with Rosewood Oil and it also has a rose odor to it, though a more 'spicy' one.

Change comes everywhere, if you are around long enough.

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