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In Dominican Spanish la ñapa refers to "the little extra" added on at the end. Just when you thought you'd gotten all that you would get, along comes your ñapa, like a baker's dozen, with one more kiss, one more pastelito, one more mango at the mercado.

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March 26, 2011, 8:30 pm

This past year I decided that I wanted a slower, quieter, ceremonial way to celebrate the new year.
I'd been reading a lovely little book by a Benedictine monk, David Steindl-Rast, titled The Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours. It's about the eight times during the day when monks gather to chant and pray:
Vigils: The night watch
Lauds: The coming of the light
Prime: Deliberate beginning
Terce: Blessing
Sext: Fervor and commitment
None: Shadows grow longer
Vespers: Lighting the lamps
Compline: Completing the circle
David Steindl-Rast considers these eight hours or "offices" of the day as moments to stop and respond to the call of that hour, moments to connect not to clock time (chronological time), but to what the Greeks called kairos, time as opportunity or encounter.
It's quite a beautiful, ceremonial way to s-l-o-w down and be aware and awake to the rhythms of a day.
So, the day before New Year's Eve day, Bill and I drove down to Holy Cross Monastery, an Episcopalian Benedictine Monastery on the Hudson River, to spend three days slowing down and making that crossing from the old to new year in a ceremonial and quiet and communal way.
At each of the hours, we joined with the monks to chant or be in silence in their small chapel. We also joined them at meal times. At night, we slept in small, simple cell-like rooms, looking out at the wintery Hudson. It didn't surprise me that I felt at home at Holy Cross. There's a deep-down recluse in me that loves the simplicity and solitude of the monastic life.
But my favorite part was "The Great Silence." Every evening after Compline, from 9 pm until 9 am, the following morning, we were not to speak. The Great Silence was a way to quiet everything down so we could hear the small, inner voice of spirit speaking inside us and around us.
It was a little awkward initially to be among strangers and not yak-yak-yak. Also a little scary not to fill the "empty" night with our noise and noisy toys. But after the first few hours, it felt deliciously liberating. A slowing down aurally. A listening to the music of the silence. I had forgotten how much there is to hear when you are quiet enough to listen.
our bird feeder one snowy night -- photo by Julia Alvarez
our bird feeder one snowy night
I bring this up because it strikes me that Earth Hour is a visual version of this Great Silence. We turn off our manmade lights for one hour in order to inhabit a world without our flashy interventions. We become aware of how much there is to see when we look up and look around us. We discover that we have our very own luminous inner light, and so do others.
Best of all, as with the monks gathering in the chapel, Earth Hour is that gathering on a global scale. Around the world, people are standing together as a human family, and for one brief hour acknowledging that our best, most luminous resource is each other.

Julia Alvarez
Weybridge, Vermont

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