Historical setting: 6th Century C.E. Somewhere in the Pyrenees
We are here for a few days at this place where sandstone is sculpted into statuary, awaiting transportation for the sculpture of Mary and her baby. Nic paid a healthy sum to this man, Antton, to take this Christian work as a gift to the monastery near Poitiers where we are going.
A messenger who was sent to find an oxcart with a driver willing to make a long journey into Gaul has returned alone. It seems an oxcart makes slow any journey and the driver who is willing to help us seems not to acknowledge timeliness. The messenger on horseback was impatient and rode ahead leaving the cart and driver alone on the slow path into these foothills.
The messenger warns us we will be completely bored with this fellow August. “He never even speaks and he and the ox drudge onward only slow or slower.”
Nic assures the messenger we won’t suffer from the silence. “Laz can talk on enough for the three of us.”
“Thanks Nic. I thought you liked all my stories.”
But it is true I am never short of story. Now memories of pilgrimages into wildernesses inform my extended chatter.
“I have to tell you Nic, I’ve followed this lifestyle at times myself. For me, I’ve gone alone into desolate places in order to have uncountable days for healing both physically and spiritually.”
Nic’s thought, “As for me, I think I would get lonely if it were just God and me forever, but then you probably wouldn’t be one to feel so alone; you would just keep on spinning your stories even if no human brother were listening and you would never notice that empty moment when even God seems far off.”
I give Nic my most sympathetic moment of silence right here before I answer. I know he is one who thrives in community. It is his gift.
Nic breaks the silence, “Maybe it has to be a personal thing.”
“Yes, maybe it is personal and that’s how it is so different from the cults. I find it is a commitment woven from many individual experiences of awakenings. And I know from talking to some of these desert fathers their reasons differ. Some go into the wilderness looking for penance while others are following the hints and flashes they have already seen of mystical illumination. I also know of others who become lone pilgrims in order to enter into a lifestyle of God’s loving acceptance when the world around them seems so smudged in fears and hates.”