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Post #25.10, Tues., October 26, 2021

Historical setting: 588 C.E.

         An autumn wind brushes through the patch of rosemary wafting with the scent of broken stems setting a storm onto our patch of sky then drenching rain. With Eve’s house in ash there is no shelter. We are all, however we grieve, soaking in shared rain.

         The soft gray dust of what was once a place for healing now clings to my feet. Why do I wonder over the substance of angel’s wings? Are they only an artist’s plaster, or are they made of feathers, as the images and metaphors imply? Now I see the wings of angels are made of ash, and it is our tears that weigh them to earth and don’t allow the pneuma to come as wind and carry them off in a great swirl of dust to be one with God.

         Dear God, please see this face past the ravages of her earthly woes, the pox, the blindness, the wear of time, and know the beautiful daughter you loaned to teach me more of your love than I had ever known. Amen.

         Some foundation stones mark the house.  The hearthstones stand cold; the flame is gone. Candles she kept here are now dark stain on formless ash.

         Where there was the shed no animals are here. The mules were moved to the count’s stables months ago. I find here the iron tool that was once Nic’s own dagger that he had hammered into this child-sized sickle for Anatase. I tuck that into my bag.  Even the coop for the chickens is burnt up, yet three chickens are flapping free waiting for their daily dish of grain.

         A farmer comes from a neighboring cottage. He says he heard the screams and stepped out in the darkness to see. “They came up from the river. They were Persians, swarthy like the olive skin of the pagan woman they killed. They had broad swords flashing in the moonlight. Flames were already rising. One had the screaming, thrashing younger woman over his shoulder. The blind woman was groping after the screams wandering into the dark. One of the pirates went right up to her swinging his sword probably expecting the woman would run away, but she moved toward to sound of the sword slashing at the wind, calling the girl’s name into the darkness; so she was slashed on her neck and killed. She spoke no prayer. They ran off toward the river. I’m sure they were pirates.”

 (Continued tomorrow)

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Post #25.9, Thurs., October 21, 2021

Historical setting: 588 C.E. leaving Ligugè

         We leave after morning matins. The rising golden sun, the alleluias of our lauds, even the early songs of the birds rising from the trees for their autumn pilgrimage – it all seems out of place in my own grieving. 

         Riding at an easy gait the young man Thole is a length ahead of me.

         Dear God, thank you for the crispy dawning. Please stay close. Let tragedy not be impetus for vengeance, but in your way, rescue us  to love. Help me through my hurt and rage. Amen.

         Eve is wrapped in a linen sheet. A grave was dug in that same place next to Eve’s and Ezra’s mother where Nic once laid my bones. I draw back the cloth from her face. My chin quivers. She is ashen and as always scarred with pox and hollows of hurts. The slash of a sword on her neck is the single blow of death I see. My tears drop onto her face as I kiss her forehead and pull the linen to cover her forever and after. Ezra’s hand is on my shoulder as he too weeps. She is laid in the grave, and the pages I scribed that Anatase enhanced with herbs are laid onto her. I add as many handfuls of rosemary as I can gather after the Christian practice.

         There are no pagan gifts given here to take her to their other world. She will have to die a Christian as she was born. Dear God, please take Eve’s spirit into the ever flowing river of your love — stay close. And thank you for the gift of her. Amen.

         Everyone has a grief in this. The strongest men of us, Thole, Ezra and Daniel, and I too weep silently.  Colleta brings the loud wailing of Christian muddle of sin and guilt. And here is Thole’s father, Jesse, cousin to Colleta, wracked with the passions of his second love lost. Thole said his father never stopped pleading with Eve for marriage, and she never relented in proclaiming against it. Now he is shouting his woes into a loud and raging rally for vengeance.  Count Bertigan and Celeste are standing further back with their children, good mannered, watching. And there are others here as well. Maybe they are the new tenants on this land, or people who have come to Eve for healing, or maybe so many are here simply drawn by the rumors of a violent death.

         Some mourners scatter to their homes. I stay here to wander the ashes with my plea to God for closeness.

(Continues Tuesday, October 26, 2021)

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Post #25.8, Weds., October 20, 2021

Historical setting: 588 C.E. Ligugè

         I’ve just met this man who has come as a messenger bringing the sorrows we share. We both love Eve in our own ways. I’ve learned now that Eve was violently slashed by invaders outside her burning house. She was clutching her precious parchments on which Anatase had placed herbs for ‘reading’ in her blindness. Thole tells me the child was stolen, probably to be a young wife for some brutal heathen.

         I do know of this man Thole. All those years ago even before there was Nic, I was staying in the haymow of Eve’s cottage when I heard the farmer, Jesse, pounding at the door begging Eve to come help his wife in the midst of a difficult birth. (Blog posts #3.13 & #4.1) So it was an icy Christmas Eve when this man was born, and also when his mother died. The Christian mid-wives and even the whole family of his father, Jesse, on that night were celebrating the birth of Jesus at the Cathedral of the Saint. He could find no Christian to help with the birth so he walked all the way to Eve to summons a healer he thought was pagan. I heard him at her door, but I didn’t realize what was happening until near morning when I found Eve returning alone in the icy storm nearly frozen to death. This man Thole was born in a bed of sorrow that night, and now here we are strangers to one another, both grieving for a woman who was called by Christian’s  “pagan.”  But the chant she taught to fill that night with shouts and pleas was the Jesus prayer. She told me his father, who claimed the creed, didn’t even know the words to the Jesus prayer. She had to teach it to him so the cold silence of the death before the birth would be hallowed.

         I think at his birth this boy was named “Troll” by his father, to honor the pagan who came when no Christian would come. Now he is called “Thole” and I also know that as a small child he was Eve’s helper before she had Anatase.

         He remembers her. He says, “I could easily see why my father was so taken with her. My papa always wanted to marry her, I wish he had; then she really would have been my mother.  But she would never hear of it.”

         “I know.”        

         I show Thole to the guestroom. We will leave at first light.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #25.7, Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Historical setting: 588 C.E. Ligugè

         The abbot tells me the messenger will stay the night, and in the morning I can go back to the vineyards with him. May we not be too late for Eve’s burial. The abbot said this fellow wanted to visit the grave of Old Nic so I can find him there.

         Brother August comes with me to the graveyard.

         Yes, I see this messenger is here. He is a slender young man with a shock of orange hair. Standing here in the breezy autumn twilight he is like a slender candle with a flickering flame. To bring me this news, and to know of Brother Nic he must know something of my family but I’ve never seen him before.

         “You are the messenger who has come for me?” (He nods with a curiously raised brow.) “And I’m Lazarus.”

         “Brother Lazarus? I was expecting someone older.”

         August intrudes, “This Lazarus is the son of Nic’s friend Lazarus.”

         The stranger speaks for himself, “I’m Thole, a friend of your family. Auntie Eve was like a mother to me.”

         Brother August is questioning. “How is it that you don’t know one another?”

         “It was a matter of timing, I suppose. I do know of this man Thole, he is the son of Jesse, Ezra’s wife’s cousin. Thank you for coming for me. I hope we won’t be too late for Eve’s burial. Maybe we should leave immediately rather than wait until morning.”

         “We won’t be late; they’re waiting for us. They knew we would have to rest the horses before we could return tomorrow morning. And travel by night would be inadvisable.”

          August goes on to vespers and Thole mentions, “Apparently, here they don’t know of your, shall I say, ‘gift’?”

         “Gift? You may call it that. It is simply more of a unique circumstance.”

         “I was a very young child staying with your daughter Eve, when Nic first came with your bones all wrapped and I watched him build a sepulcher as he waited for your rising. That was very interesting for me, as a young child.”

         “I imagine. Did Nic offer any worthy explanation?”

         “Not to my liking.  Of course I missed lots of what he meant for me to hear. He wanted to teach me to read and to know the Christian things. But Auntie Eve wasn’t a demanding enough tutor so I never minded my lessons.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #25.6, Thurs., October 14, 2021

Historical setting: 588 C.E. The courtyard of Ligugè

         The abbot comes to me, grim faced with my old tunic and cowl across his arms, and on top of my once familiar clothing is a sword.

         “Brother Lazarus, a messenger has arrived from the vineyards on the Loire. They are calling all of the young men of your family to war.”

         “Why, what do you mean?”

         The abbot is blunt, “The messenger brought you a horse and a sword because you are called to battle against the heathen of the forest.”

         “I don’t understand. What is this about?”

         “A known pagan healer was murdered and her house was burned. And for some reason, maybe you can make some sense of, your Christian family has taken it upon themselves to avenge this horror.”

         I can’t speak, I can’t even catch my breath. I sit down next to the uncut stone. The abbot can see my pain and he lays the sword and clothing aside. Brother August reaches his hand onto my shoulder – it is strength. Dear God, are you near?

         The abbot answers in gentler voice, “I know you are not one to go warring; we can turn the messenger away for the sake of your Christian duty here.”

         “No. Eve is my family. Her house was my house. Is there news of the child?”

         “So you mean you know of these pagans and heathens? I’m sorry to bring you this sad news then.”

         My prayer is aloud so the abbot will know my heart, “Dear God, you know the prayers of this daughter Eve – she knows you well. You’ve heard her healing chants in Christian prayers. Through all her own pain she lets her empathy and love for others only increase. I’ve heard her whispering to you, ‘Dear Mother Creator God who is, let us be on earth as it is in your own heart of love, forever, and after Amen.’ Stay close to Eve, Dear God, stay close. 

         “Abbot, Father, what can I do now?  I’m a Christian, like Jesus and I can’t carry a sword or do harm to any so-called enemy. My duty is to love.”

         “Brother Lazarus, my son, some of the things Jesus taught are not relevant to our real lives. Maybe you can’t let this heathen enemy go unpunished. Your own family seems to own this battle.”

         “Did the messenger say anything of the child?”

         “The messenger is staying this night. You can ask him.”

(Continues Tuesday, October 19, 2021)

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Post #25.5, Weds., October 13, 2021

Historical setting: 588 C.E. The courtyard of Ligugè

         But this is the day Brother August was delivered a great quarried stone of marble. Ligugè has a new commission. With Brother August’s eye and artist’s hand we are consigned a task to create a greater work of sculpture for a wealthy man’s garden than his neighbor’s Queen of Heaven statue. The huge stone comes on a flat bed with several axles, so that when the work is completed the wheels that brought the stone here can be put back, and mules can tow it to the place of its sponsorship.

         Brother August will chisel to mark a pattern of spaces to be hammered away by others monks helping in this work.  When the chisels are nearly deep enough to find the hidden mother and child Brother August will lay the next pattern; the artist always watching and choosing each lump of marble to be hammered off until the form is perfect and ready for polish. This statue will have symmetry and this time Mary will dress up like a queen. It was what the sponsor requested.

         “So how is it all so simple, Brother August?  You’ve always said your art is your prayer – as psalm calling for response your hands answer. Is your own creative work still the dialogue with the Creator herself?”

         Brother August answers, “Creative artwork follows the law of abundance as does prayer. The more you use it the more it is.”

         I know, “I know that law of creative abundance too, the more one creates the more ideas come. The more you love the more you love. So by that logical razor the earthly metaphor for the spiritual nature of love becomes lots of children. One seed becomes many in the next season; that’s the law of abundance.

         “But what does the law say of war? Doesn’t a small battle also yield a wider war?” I argue this dark side of abundance with Brother August. “And what of fears and hates? Do these destructive things also increase with use?”

         The artist answers, “There is only a guise of increase in these evils but that isn’t abundance. Soon the increase quills and we see it for what it is. War upon war ends in annihilation, not abundance. Just follow a thing to its fullness. And fear which often appears as hate, doesn’t increase with use, it self-destructs when seen in the full light of day.”

         We are interrupted by a frenzy of fast horses – one messenger with two horses.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #25.4, Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Historical setting: 588 C.E. Courtyard of Ligugè

         I fear our peaceful joy of Creative Spirit eternal in beauty and life may not be perceived as enough to satisfy unquenched longings for earthly wins. Earth and heaven seem further apart. When creeds and mouthed prayers twist and unravel with the sound of a Christian earthly achievement as “thank you God for our numbers and power” something tangible may be seen, but also, something mystical is lost. 

         Now as Ligugè dwindles in numbers and earthly importance we too, are unsure if we celebrating a lasting spiritual legacy or grieving an earthly loss. Ligugè really doesn’t have much shine on earth. Yet I do know God is still present with us. Thank you God. We still have songs and prayers and responses to calls. We simply have none of the earthly “mosts” of today’s monasteries.

         Brother August’s artistry has attracted a sponsor. A marble stone was quarried, and is being brought to us by a team of mules.

         I’m glad we haven’t taken to making our own wine so that I can see my son once in a while even though fewer guests drink less wine. So it is longer between visits from Ezra. And I know Ezra too, is a rich patriarch now.

         These are times for remaking the metaphor for the Jesus kind of joyful peace, “the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus always answered questions of an eternal heaven in the present tense. He said, “I am with you always.” And whenever I find I am in his midst and warmth even in these times he never says “if you achieve enough goodness to earn your way to heaven I will be with you only in some far off distant day to come.” He is with me now, still speaking.

         In our Jewish ways we shouted out psalms of lament and expected God to be a power present with us. Now the blessings from earthly priests seem shy in calling God directly into the hungers and hurts of earth. The priests say “one day there will be golden streets and castles in heaven for those who suffer on earth.”  But isn’t that place with many rooms, prepared for us by Jesus right here in our midst like the prayer caves for the desert aesthetic? [John 14:1-7] Or is the long wander always somewhere other than in life. Is it like the horizon, always within view but never present?

         Here, I would ask the artist.

(Continues tomorrow)        

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Post #25.3, Thursday, October 7, 2021

Historical setting: 588 C.E. Ligugè

         Ezra is bringing me up-to-date on all the news from the vineyards.

         He goes on, “Eve adores that gift Anatase gave her that you helped in lettering when you first came here. Eve keeps her ‘precious pages’ next to the door and rubs her hands over the herbs often to ‘see’ through touch and smell what you and the apprentice wanted her to enjoy always. In the spring and fall seasons Eve and the young woman now, replace the dried leaves with the soft, fresh herbs so they never loose the fragrances and textures.”

          “Daniel was at the cooper near the forest and found that the druid priest was asking about Anatase because their village is in need of her now. But Daniel simply said she hasn’t completed her apprenticeship yet. It seemed to suffice.”

         I comment, “Eve and Anatase surely must need one another, now, more than ever in these times of transition. I’m glad to know the child wasn’t returned to that tribe as Eve had feared.”

         “Child? She is nearly a woman now; she seems older and wiser than any ancient magi. A lot has changed. Maybe, if this place is too dull for you just come back up our way.”

         “I’ve been thinking when the garden is under for the winter I may just spend the season up there. It’s good to hear about it.”

         I help Ezra harness the mules as he is on his way.

         Dear God, thank you for this good news of my family. Amen. He could have sent someone else with the wine, and saved himself this journey. He must have known I was thinking of them.

         Fewer of us are here and the elders who remain were once, like Brother August, lone aesthetics following visions of youth. Now this particular Christian community is aging and dwindling but here value and purpose aren’t measured by earthly tallies of numbers and wealth. The ancient tradition of spiritual peace gives these monks a kind of freedom from standards of worldly success which seem ever-creeping into the well-funded monasteries in these times. This distinction shows up in little ways like tipping one’s head to the most learned bishop or powerful pope, or scoring the most donors or greatest number of monks and nuns, or announcing the most miracles bestowed onto pilgrims. But here I still find that mystical peace free from the strivings and winnings.        

(Continues Tuesday, October 12, 2021)

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Post #25.2, Weds., October 6, 2021

Historical setting: 587 C.E. Ligugè

         Ezra still comes, though with our numbers thinning we have less need for wine.  I’m so glad to see him and hear the news he brings of family. I learn now that the vineyard land is also in transition. My concern in hearing of the death of King Chilperic was that Celeste’s husband, Bertigan, wouldn’t be allowed to keep his new land and title since he was a commoner appointed count by the late king.   

         Ezra explains, “King Chlothar the Young, is keeping better peace in his rule through his regent (strangely that would be Clothar’s great-grandmother, Brunhilda). With more negotiations and less warring he is leaving the kingdom of Neustra much as it was under his father, the late brother of the dead King Chilperic. So Bertigan remains a count, with Daniel his scribe.”

         I’m glad Daniel is literate, even though he isn’t a churchman. It seems a valued rarity in these times to be a literate commoner.

         Ezra continues, “Now Count Bertigan and Daniel have set more of our original land to cultivation and they are bringing others to do the work of tending the fields and vineyards. People who would be needy with no land to till are now working these lands splitting the harvests with the portions to Daniel and the Count. So even without the daily routines of farming this family has plenty in these years of good harvest. Celeste and the grandchildren moved into the grand new estate house, Bertigan Hall,” and Ezra adds, “Colleta and I find our place there also.”

         He tells me Celeste is a fine lady now, a countess, and he bragged on his grandchildren who are my family too of course though I don’t know them well.

         I say, “So there you are, the elder in a count’s castle and yet you drive the mules and deliver wine barrels to the monks.”

         Ezra enjoys the irony. “Wine is always an excuse to see family.”

         I ask Ezra what of Eve and Anatase.

         “Eve and her apprentice still keep the work of healing with potions and remedies. Eve’s cottage and garden are as always, but Bert and Celeste’s cottage and our old cottage are houses for the families of the tenants. With the lands divvied as they are into smaller parcels worked by tenants there are still lots of folks around so Eve isn’t alone.

         ”That’s good.”

         “Oh and I took them that gift you helped the child make for Eve…”

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #25.1, Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Historical setting: 587 C.E. Ligugè

(A note to followers who receive this blog by e-mail and may lose track of the storyline:  A recap to end one month and start another is always current on the home page of the blog.)

         More than three years passed by us while I’ve been working in the inks of Ligugè. The commissions for our work continue to dwindle and our elder abbot has not accepted the available tasks of lettering copies of legal documents for secular dealings, as the politics of the aristocracy flail and shred in the shifting winds of royal whims. I know we need the work and the kings and counts need the help but the abbot holds to our sacred purpose despite the earthly tug toward what are called realistic values. 

         The nearby convent of the monastery of the Holy Cross has been tossed into a worse turbulence these days with the death of their abbess, Queen Ratigund on August 13. The appointment of a new abbess, Agnes, has inflamed the embers of disgruntlement already smoldering among the sister’s.  The sisters of the Abby, like Ratigund herself, are daughters of nobility and these nuns have long chided the strict Rule for Virgins. But now they are in flat-out rebellion over the appointment of an abbess of lesser rank. [Footnote] Rumor has it they are no longer confined to virginity by the walls of the Abby. Some are giving themselves away to marriage, or worse. But I suppose the advantage of an earthly, autocratic power-structure such as the bishops maintain will save this establishment in the end.

         I find my peace here at Ligugè where the bishop doesn’t interfere in our most intimate prayers with the Creator God, and this abbot affirms our version of obedience driven not by rule or threat but by love and respect.

         With less work to do in the inks I’ve been assigned to help in the gardens. Maybe it’s because I need the spiritual participation with things that grow, or perhaps it’s simply that I am one of the few of us with the youthful flexing of knees required to genuflect for every weed in need of pulling.

         As I watch the Creator’s patterns of continuation of life despite the shortness of seasons I see that changes from our clustered order of monks might become more as Jesus commanded, a mission of sending out, like a spreading of seeds on the wind. Whether or not we are a church of countable numbers or just a few wanderers, I know God will always provide a worthy pattern for Christians. To everything a season — for seeds flying — for seeds buried.

[Footnote] One source that attributes the nun’s rebellion to the noble ranking of the nuns is Patrick J. Geary’s Before France & Germany: the creation & transformation of the Merovingian world.(New York: Oxford University Press,1988.) p. 147.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #24.14, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         Copying a manuscript is a different practice than reading it, so to read the scriptures I do that in its own time.  Here’s this page John Chapter 9. I know this. I’ve seen it happen when I was following Jesus. We came upon a man blind from birth and Jesus spit on soil then placed mud on the man’s eyes and told him to go to a healing lake and wash it off. The man received sight. In John this is a sign, not a miracle. So what does the sign point to? I wonder anew each time I read it and the mystery only increases.

         The disciples’ questions, as usual, are base. In this story they asked who sinned to make this fellow blind from birth, was it the unborn infant or the parents? Jesus answers that it isn’t about sin; it’s about the light.  So there you have it; its not about sin so seeing another’s blindness, or pain, or woes doesn’t speak of God’s judgment but of light. So if that means God doesn’t reveal holy judgment by letting us see someone punished  maybe King Chilperic’s assassination wasn’t a display of holy justice.

         But the gospel story’s concern over judgment goes on and on. This tale is full of characters making wrong conclusions about God and sin, light and blindness. Everyone is looking for sin. No one is looking for light. Neighbors wonder who the man is  — is he the same person if he isn’t blind? Pharisees wonder about Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Maybe Jesus is the sinner? But we all (at least the ones speaking) know God doesn’t listen to sinners so the sinner can’t be Jesus because God listened to Jesus and the man was healed.  The Sadducees call for the man’s parents to tell if he was faking blindness all along. The parents defer to their now adult and sighted son.

         All these people just couldn’t let go of that idea of sin even though Jesus said in the very beginning it isn’t about that. It’s about light.

         Then Jesus makes everything perfectly clear when he explains, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind…If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” [John 9:41 NRSV]

         Okay that explains everything … maybe.

 (Continues Tuesday, October 5)

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Post #24.13, Weds, Sept. 29, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         The eulogy offered to King Chilperic I by Gregory of Tours is grim.

         Gregory of Tours said of the King, “… in laying waste and burning districts he had no feeling of anguish .. but rather joy; like Nero before him, when he recited tragedies as the palace burned. He often punished men unjustly to get their wealth. … He was a glutton and his god was his belly.” Gregory called Chilperic’s writings “feeble little verses” and said, “he put short syllables for long, and long syllables for short.” Gregory adds, “he hated the interests of the poor… was constantly blaspheming… He called one [bishop] a lightweight, that one arrogant, another was a spendthrift, and this one a lecher…” The Bishop of Tours was ceaseless in his lambast of the King. [Footnote]

         Gregory’s words for this dead king were not spoken at his burial. Bishop Mallulf of Senlis performed the burial rites and Chilperic was interred in Paris, not Tours.

         The talk among the Brothers of Ligugè is mostly affirming the perspective that God is righteous, but also, that God judges the wicked with a kind of punitive vengeance I once believed was only something the most ancient mythology of Hebrew or Pagan religions could accept. I thought the teachings of Jesus and surely the more recent Jewish writings had amended these old and human-centric views of a vengeful God.

         The God who is God known to us through the eons is the God who sent out the prophet Jonah. Jonah was sent to the worst of the worst sinners ever — to Ninivah of Babylon, in order to warn them and tell them to repent. Jonah, being human and all, believed this loving God who is God would hear the message and simply forgive the sinful nation with no worse retribution than Jonah himself suffered in being vomited by a fish. And that is what God did; he forgave Ninivah. There are lots of old Hebrew myths and stories of God who didn’t seem to punish adequately. [Jonah]

         Why does it always surprise me that news spreads so quickly in these silent halls? Whatever it means, even our worship prayers are thanking God for this prevalence of righteous “justice” observed now in the death of a King. Personally, I wonder what will become of my granddaughter’s family enriched with the plunder when Chilperic ruled.

         I’ve returned to my workstation.

         Today the text I am assigned to copy is John 9, considering the question of blame in the case of the man born blind.

[Footnote] Murray, A.C., editor and translator, Gregory of Tours: The Merovingians Broadview Press, Ontario, 2000. page 145.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #24.12, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         This morning I follow the stable master to his workplace after morning prayers and before our work begins. I want to assure him I have prayerfully considered my attitude and he was right. My father would surely be dismayed at my insolence. I won’t try to untangle the confusion he nurtures over any of the versions of eternal fatherhood this may invoke. Eternal anything is confusing and mortally unverifiable.

         A messenger arrives in a flurry on a tired horse. As the soldier’s saddle is changed to a fresh mount, the messenger announces the news he is spreading of King Chilperic: “The King is dead!”

         “How? What happened?”

          “He was assassinated returning from a hunting trip.”

         “Who did this?”

         “It’s unknown.”

         “So it was by God’s own hand,” the stable master surmises.

         The messenger answers with detail. “As is usual when our hefty king dismounts his horse he had one hand on his retainer’s shoulder when the king was stabbed under his arm, then in his stomach. He died quickly in a great flow of blood at the hand of an unknown assailant.” [Footnote]

            The stable master assumes, “So surely, if the assailant was unknown, yet standing at the intimate distance of dagger, it must have been…”

         “The message from the Bishop of Tours is that he deserved it.”

         Whatever we thought of the king the news left a huge lump of quiet in our midst. When words returned to our circle the questions were of justice. Was this God’s justice? Who was the assassin? Was it a servant sent by a hated brother or another queen? Was it an angel of the Lord who did this? In these times, in this land hatred is administered in extravagant acts of torture. Stories abound of one who was tortured, then allowed to heal so that he may endure the full pain of his torture onto death. Complicated acts of violence to remove evil from the earth may include lashings, or burdening with chains, or having animals – horses or camels — drawing and quartering a man or woman. Was the king’s quick and easy demise simply a blessing by a servant? It’s well known that God has already punished this king with plague – bringing death to two of his sons and sickness to his household even to himself. Then he did acknowledge that it was God’s punishment for the heavy taxes he had placed on the poor farmers who paid it with vats of wine. After that he lifted much of the burden on the poor then, and God was apparently appeased.

[Footnote]The account of Chilperic’s death, and much of what is known of the history of these times in France was written by Gregory of Tours in his ”History of the Franks” This account is paraphrased from Gregory’s Book VI, number 46. [Murray, A.C., editor and translator, Gregory of Tours: The Merovingians Broadview Press, Ontario, 2000.]

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #24.11, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         So the rumor is that the tree fell due to my disrespect for the holiness of an image representing the Holy Spirit swath of Trinity. I guess I should repent before any more trees faint away in the forest.

         Dear God, please help me to be more respectful of others particularly these of this community whom I say I love as my brothers even though they are so completely ignorant of your grace. Let me not practice disdain for their pagan ways of human judgment, and their ridiculous assumption that any god punishes, even, in our times of better knowledge of the grace of the God who is truly God …Dear God, Maybe I should think through my prayer a bit more before I pray it.

         My thought, here I am looking to blame the stable master for his primitive ignorance while at the same time I’m using my own prayer to ask for God to help me be respectful of others. But these brothers of mine seem to assume God would spew punishments for anothers disrespectful attitude of the Trinity. Are they completely ignorant of God’s relentless love? God who is the very nature of love is gracious, always giving freely according to our need, in fact way beyond our need, and not giving to us as reward for human good behavior. So why would that same power of love throw oak branches at a monk’s cell because his drawing of a dove didn’t meet the human standard of Trinity? And before I can pray that to God, I can see that the Holy answer is in the twist of my own words where I think I am asking God’s forgiveness for my insensitivity when really I am trying to blame another for being so ignorant. Let me give better words to my prayer.

         Dear God, thank you for setting all of us in the constancy of your love. Help me always to practice that pattern, repeating it ever, even in the midst of all of our human flaws and error. May I forgive others, as you forgive me. Amen.

         At first it seemed ironic that my dead so-called ‘father’ would be embarrassed by my insolence. But, as I think of it, my actual father, a Pharisee named Simon, would most definitely be embarrassed by my insolence though he surely would have no use for a three-part God especially with one part being my earthly, childhood friend Jesus.

(Continues Tuesday, September 28)

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Post #24.10, Weds., Sept. 22, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         I’m grateful that the chatty stable master delivers dry straw for my mat and he stays with his ax to help me finish tidying the debris of twigs and sticks.  Now after the others have gone he is still helping me weave back my damaged roof. Even in this time for silence this fellow is never short of conversation.

         “So do you suppose God sent this disaster on your cell to punish your obstinacy?”

         “What do you mean?”

         “Even in the stable I heard what you did with that wisp of horse hair you gathered for your brush. You painted a tumbling and fumbling, rancorous dove of the Holy Spirit, falling splat onto the head of Jesus our Savior.”

         “Is that what you heard?”

         “That’s what you did my brother. Your father would be very disappointed with you. And you know, Brother August knew your father before his untimely death. You probably don’t even remember your father.”

         “My father?”

         “Lazarus, your namesake. Brother August said he was a very good man. He was a dear friend of our departed Brother Nic as well. I’ll bet your father would be shocked and embarrassed to know of your youthful insolence. And now, because of your little whimsy of jest we all had to suffer through that storm God sent down on us. Even the horses turned restless at the shudders and roars of that storm.”

         I don’t believe these things are punishments by God. I try to answer with scripture, so that my so-called ‘youthful insolence’ won’t be further revealed. “It was said by Jesus himself that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. [Matthew 5:45b] But I apologize if it is thought by the others that my sins wetted all of us with this rain.”

         He argues, “In community as we are here, when one suffers we all suffer.  Of course God’s judgment fell harder upon you with the crashing of the tree. That’s how we could all know it was your sins that brought on the holy retribution. It was all on account of your disrespect for the Holy Spirit that the heavens hurled spears of lightning, and bolts of thunder. Even though it’s been said that God lets the rains fall on the just and the unjust, the punitive bolts are only for the sinners.”

         I thank the brother for his help with my roof. Good night.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #24.9, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” [John 1:5] It was the metaphor of message in the letters we inked.

         It happens every day, and sometimes after a thunderstorm. A glorious refreshing lightness overcomes darkness. The great human lust for dualities is satisfied, though application of judgment, the good and the bad of it can only be inferred. Darkness itself isn’t always what evil is. It hides the prey and narrows the confusion of sight. It allows for sleep and dreaming in dreams and visions and for some, imaginings. Whatever we bring to the darkness or hide from in darkness it is our most intimate selves. It is a cozy quilt of nestling families of fox and critters of all varieties of furs and feathers. Neither the darkness nor the light is substantive. Both are illusions of sight.

         Thank you God, for darkness and the light.

         But here in the waning light of what was today I see the storm that left last hour cleansed the earth fragranced it with sweet mist. At its height it bolted through the oak near my cell and left a huge tree where once I had pieced together a weave of branches and leaves to be my roof.

         Communities of monks, such as Ligugè, first here with St. Martin, is a random collection of lone ascetics only slightly sheltered from the wilderness; here as community there is also the power of neighbor. The fallen oak becomes a purpose to rally help from every able-bodied monk. So the massive limb with all its sticks and branches and the full weight of leaves is an easy lift for ten monks. My cell wall, a circle of clay bricks, is just slightly damaged, but the covering of brush for the roof will need to be replaced.  The fallen limb wrapped in a vine that escaped from an unkempt vineyard becomes the new material for this repair. I use the untangled vine as rope to bind my roof into a tighter woof and weft than it had before.

         The storm and the broken tree plundered our usual sacred silence, and gave opportunity for the chatty stable master to stay and help long after the others have gone to back to finish vespers. And here he is face-to-face with me, filling late hours with decrees of his own order of justice.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #24.8, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         This time I paint the dove from the back. Triangular, yes, but its head is forward with legs extended for the landing on the head of Jesus.  Maybe it’s a more awkward position than a nestled dove but it is true to nature and yet a triangular wingspread is discernible. I’ve achieved compromise.

         Today it’s the master of the scribes who comes by my bench.  “Scrape it clean Brother Lazarus. Brother August will finish this. You do well with the pen, we thought you would be able with the brush also. But for now, we need you more for copying exactly.”  So I’ve been demoted, sent back to scribe.

         St. Jerome’s translation is really quite similar to my own since he chose to work from the ancient Hebrew, so I appreciate the cadence. Of course, John was always in Greek, at least since the Jewish stories of Jesus were morphed into Gospel by the new emergence called “Christian.” And the master of the scribes doesn’t seem to notice my own little edits with an all-cap lettering style for the places where Roman up-dates once changed “Sadducees” to “The Jews.” No one who is a capable reader seems to slow down and ponder a lettering style, so it goes unnoticed among scholars. But those student readers who pick through the letters one-by-one might notice. My hope is that readers who come with fresh eyes and will see that “THE JEWS” are different from “the Jews” who were all of us, and it was only “THE JEWS” who were making the politics of hate into Roman prejudice against our own people. Shouldn’t it mean something that Jesus was Jewish? In these times Jesus isn’t even known as a man; he is of some other “substance.” My indelible hope is that this gospel won’t be fodder for prejudice. Wishful thinking perhaps, but still…

         Dear God may it be so that this gospel does not become a forever tool for human hatred. So be it.

         The days are shorter now and with the afternoon thunder storm rising we are very nearly working in the dark. Some are moving our benches at angles to windows to capture whatever light overcomes the dark. Some light lamps. The shadows are danced onto walls with only the slightest light — lamps with lightning flashes nearly constant.

         The rain pours down, drenching, cleansing, quenching a thirsty earth. A sweet fragrance of earth anoints us.        

(Continues Tuesday, September 21)

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Post #24.7 Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         “It’s relentless! The stiff, unbent, notions get painted over the ancient stories and called doctrine. It is as though God needs to be reinvented in each war of Bishops called Councils.” I plead with the master of the inks.

         “Scrape it clean and start again, Brother Lazarus.”

          I beg, “No one has to invent God! God already is! God is present with every little snail and dove. Doesn’t anyone notice?”

         Brother August tries to quill my wrath. “Let it go. We all have to scrape the parchments at first.”

          “The God-shine of nature is still here today as John saw it. This creative image of God is always new for new eyes but also always ancient and true. Like a new day rising, not pre-read for interpretation by the anointed scholar then tucked rotting away to a formless odor in a timeless reliquary.  I thought you, of all people, Brother August, would understand how these structures of creed intrude!”

         “Brother Lazarus, this work isn’t where artists find our prayers – it’s just the craft we practice to support the monastery. When I came here I had been finding my own prayers in my cave using my hands, sculpting in stone. Your father, Lazarus and I talked about the asymmetry that I believed marked the nature of a mother and child, when the only thing the Church really expected was symmetry. It was a hard lesson I couldn’t learn, so my artwork is still in my private place for personal prayer. Here, I use my skill of the craft to ink the usual expectation. When your parchment is clean again make the dove point to a dryer-headed, baptized Jesus.”

         “But clearly it says, ‘It rested on him when he came up from the water.’ It’s what John says.”

         “Of course, that’s what the words say, but, young Brother, we always think of the dove reflecting the Holy Trinity as it ascends. That is what the patron who receives this bible will expect.”

         Now it’s Brother August who is talking market. And worse than scrapping the parchment again, would be a pointless argument with Brother August.

         Dear God, do you find all this scraping away as distasteful as I do? I suppose you see everything, even this, more broadly. Help me see wide, too. Amen.  

(Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #24.6, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         With a fine, strong hair for a brush I’m now at an artist’s bench to fill a circle of art on the page of John 1:32. My subject will be a dove landing on the wettened head of my friend and teacher, Jesus. The dove finds respite from the swirling winds of distant edges of sky onto the raging and roiling river Jordan not far from my own birthplace in Bethany. John, who lives among the smallest of nature’s critters — those of the locust and honeybees — sees God through the metaphors of nature. A dove, resting on the head of Jesus is surely a sign for John that the Holy Spirit of God finds a home with this man, Jesus.

         In my drawing I see no need for tri-sections of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. My little sister Mary was there by the river that day.  She was in her teen years then, a bit of a rebel, always looking for the new ways of thinking maybe just to roust our father’s old Pharisee ways, or maybe she was called by the Spirit toward something new. Who am I to know her motives? So she followed this wraggle-taggle wanderer in a hair shirt, shouting, I mean shouting!  She and many others were drawn to the voice in the wilderness shouting repentance – the turning from the old ways to the new. At first she thought he was speaking of a personal sin, the dishonor of her father she felt in her rebellion, then with the crowds there she realized this was the whole world changing not just a few of the Jews. The voice of the prophet would not let go of humankind any more than God could. John was setting the world on a whole new axis but he hadn’t yet observed this reversal; he was waiting. He knew change was eminent. He called for repentance, and when the dove landed on the head of Jesus he recognized God’s Spirit anew – manna from heaven for the hungry minds – escaping the enslavement of Roman imperial orders and free from the punitive fears of power politics, set into the loving nature of God’s grace.

         Dear God, Thank you for windows on grace. May my little circle with a dove finding safe refuge from the waters become a new porthole to see out into your forever love. Amen.  

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #24.5, Thursday, September 9, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         The stable master is a caldron of bubbling royal rumors, and now he is telling me of a commoner, a son of a slave, turned into a count by King Chilperic.

         He goes on, “So this is how the fellow, Leudast, sleezzeled his way to the high place of being stable master for one of King Chilperic’s favorite wives.

         “’… He [Leudast] was sent to service … to the royal kitchen. But as his eyes were bleared … and the bitter smoke hurt them he was removed from the pestle and promoted to the basket, but he only pretended to be happy among the fermented dough.’ [Footnote]  So he was promoted again to stable master for that Queen. It was only a short step then to be assigned Count of Tours.”

         The stable master adds, “His service as count only got worse after that. In the end he was executed.”

         I wonder, “And the King’s men chose to tell this story to a loyal stable master?”

         “Yes, humbling for me, but it was I who asked about Leudast, because I had heard of his high appointment. It seems it is Bishop Gregory who is the one keeping a cold shadow over this, using Leudast’s demise as a lesson in sins and punishments.  The Bishop distains the King’s appointments of commoners. Consider King Chilperic’s most favorite wife, Queen Ferdigund was first a mere concubine.“

         Thinking of my own granddaughter’s husband, Bertigan, “I was wondering about this penchant for raising commoners to higher office because I know of a count of a lesser berg than Tours. Chilperic also raised him to office of count though he had no noble inheritance.”

         “Good trick if you can do it.  The Bishop would say it’s against God. So the king’s apparent disrespect for nobility is just one more thing Gregory adds to Chilperic’s list of the sins.”

         I mention, “But of course, the King is not the only one of noble birth here. Bishop Gregory himself is of the lineage of Florantinus, so his opinion may be more personal than holy.  I mean, Jesus himself was a commoner.”

         “Hardly” the stable monk argues back, “Jesus was a king, born in the lineage of David…”

         “As was said of most of the Pharisee Jews of the times.”

         “But Jesus is seated on a great throne of heaven at the right hand of God. Isn’t that right, Brother? Surely you’ve heard the gospels.”  

[Footnote] A History of the Franks, Book V, #48,  by Gregory of Tours, Translated by Ernest Brehaut, (reprint from First Rate Publisher).

(Continues Tuesday, September 14)

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Post #24.4, Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         Now there is a stirring among the horses and the doves flap and fly immediately into the rafters.  The stable master is at the doorway, surprised to see another monk here in his own assigned workplace.

         “I came out here for some hairs of horses for my paint brush.”

         “Hairs of horses we have aplenty here, Brother. And my currycomb still has some hairs of royal horses who stopped by here yesterday when one of them came up lame. All four of them came in here at noontide to escape the sun’s heat, and after a wrap of the hocks and a rest they were on their way again.”

         This man must be lonely. He is a fountain of human chatter with news as the one who meets all the visitors when they first arrive, even just travelers who aren’t even guests. He knows all the latest happenings of the world and he waits to tell all to anyone who shows up listening.

         “The king’s men were here for hours with all the news of the Kingdom but the abbot doesn’t want us spreading the unholy gossip in the oratorio or at the dining boards. So I can only speak it to the horses unless someone comes in here for the hair of a brush. Let me tell you what I know.”

         I nod; he continues.

         “King Chilperic is calling his guardsmen together to go on a hunt into his brother’s woods. You know it is Brunhilda who rules there now as consort to the baby King. They said the Bishop of Tours is very annoyed with Chilperic, the King of Nuestra, these days.  He calls him a “Nero.” That was an idiot ruler of Rome, you know.”

         “I know. But I thought Chilperic was on better terms with the Bishop.”

         “Yea, you would think, but when you get two rulers with power over the same territory, even though one claims heaven and the other earth, feathers are bound to fly.”

         “I’ve heard Chilperic is spreading the nobility far and wide nowadays, even making counts from commoners.”

         “Aye. Did you hear tell of the stable hand in Tours, son of a slave who was elevated through the ranks, right up to count? Leudast.” [Footnote]

         “I’ve heard of such rises in power. But the count I was thinking of is doing the king’s business in a smaller village than Tours, though he was also given lands.”

[Footnote] A History of the Franks, Book V, #48, by Gregory of Tours, Translated by Ernest Brehaut, (reprint from First Rate Publisher).

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #24.3, Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         In my plea to read the Gospel of John as poetic metaphor and less as literal things of earth I ended up promoted to an artist’s bench. Apparently, my sketch of vining grapes was more beloved than my argument against Trinity. So I’m assigned to illustrate a border circle on this page about John the Baptist.  This speaks in John’s voice of his baptizing of one of his followers. John is clearly trying to make sense of traditions for ranking teacher over follower as this newly baptized Jesus is already loosening the mortar of tradition. [John 1:15-31]  Maybe the abbot assigned this art to me because he knows I will sidestep ruts of tradition? The abbot is wise.

         This text gives images of baptismal waters and a bird landing on the head of Jesus. [John 1:32-35] I know the images of holy cliché –dove stylized into a triangle diving from cloud as a pointing arrow on a banner to denote the Jesus just popping up from the water. Do doves descend straight down into water? Or was the original artist of this image envisioning a diving duck? The words of it say the dove landed on Jesus, it didn’t just point to Jesus. Like the dove sent out in the Noah story, it found a safe place out of the water and maybe returned with an olive branch.

         I know where the doves roost. So let me prepare to ink this art by winding a few well-chosen horsehairs onto a stick to make my brush. I’m excused to visit the stable.

         The stable is the sweet smell of horses and hay, a welcome solitude for me at this moment. The wings of the doves flying among the rafters are readying for a winter that today only seems a mythical tale told in cooing to fledglings. And I’m sitting down here for such a long, quiet stillness amid the gentle sounds of horses at peace, snorting, chomping at hay, setting a hoof, rustling the straw. The dove’s songs and coos are long and peaceful. One flies down. It “ascends” and lands on stable gate. Now I see it’s true. The dove doesn’t drop straight down, and they don’t take the shape of an arrow. It is simply a soft wad of feathers, wings extended for the glide, then a tucking back into the ball after the landing. A second dove flies down, next to the first in the same pattern of gliding and feathers.  So what could be the artist’s image of this? 

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #24.2, Thursday, September 2, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         We are considering using more art in our copy of the Gospel of John. I make a sketch that doesn’t speak of the currently popular idea of Trinity to let the sketch itself argue the issue. I suggest the room we have on the page for art show the grape vine growing up and weaving around the whole page from the single root of God’s love. It will remind scholars, laypeople, Roman Christians even heretics and pagans that one God is the whole of it, like a vine, like Jesus told his followers near the end of his earthly life. [John 15]

         It’s for the artists, the abbot, the proof-reading master of the scribes and even the others of us scribes who ponder my sketch.

         “Shouldn’t the vine be at the end of the gospel?” the master asks.

         “Maybe it could be the beginning and the end.” I answer. 

         Brother August adds, “Maybe it should be on every page as a border.”

         “But wouldn’t that make this gospel different from the others we have already completed?” argues the master.

         “Maybe it is.”  The abbot concludes, “But if we use the grapevine, each leaf should have three lobes, and each vine should have three bunches of grapes, and each bunch should have three grapes, so there will be no mistake. This is the gospel that defines the Trinity.”

         “But, your Blessedness, Dear Abbot, leader, teacher, Father, friend, let me suggest that the gospel was here before the Trinity was contrived so many years ago. Why must our artwork speak of Trinity when the gospel didn’t mention it?”

         The proof-reading monk explains, “You can’t just read John, and know what it means.  The Councils of Nicaea, Chalcedon and even more of these convergences of scholars have had to interpret what it really says. It isn’t for the lay reader to know.”

         I would argue, but the abbot can see where this is headed and he simply orders the pragmatic compromise.

         “Dear Brother Lazarus, let it be known that those who sponsor the copying of these gospels are of this earth and of this time. We need to honor the boundaries already set by the Roman Christians in the work that we do here. It is what our sponsors expect.”

         “And so be it.”

         Now even Brother August is pleased with all these massive trinities of grapes.

         He answers, “This is rote obedience, not art.”

(Continues Tuesday, September 7)

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Post #24.1, Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         We are at our work stations in the inks instructed to slow-walk the copying of John’s Gospel because there is no next assignment waiting. We will use more art and smaller letters to take up our time. But I fear art is so definitive and this Gospel of John, by its very nature is ethereal.

         No doubt, my opinion is heresy, but it is surely no worse than any other heresy that uses this Gospel for its proof. Those expecting a purely tangible duality whisper that John is simply the battle between earth and heaven — even, at one time, it was thought to be a “Gnostic” gospel.  But of course it isn’t that.

         This metaphor of “Word” which has no word to fill that space but “Word,” is the unspoken name of God for which there is no speakable name. Light, untouchable, Love, invisible, Life, unbounded – these are metaphors that lead the spirit to see invisible things, yet these metaphors are also of earth. So how could this be Gnostic, which denies the sacred nature of earth? Those who would say John is Gnostic notice only its mystical haze and jump immediately to the reliability of tactile stuff of earth and read it as the separation between earth from spirit — a simplistic duality. Then the next part of a Gnostic view is judging one leg of the duality as good (that would be the spiritual) and the other, (creation) as evil.

         But clearly, this gospel doesn’t use earth metaphors to speak of evil, rather earthly metaphors are also the breath or pneuma of awe for God. It isn’t heresy because it believes in things unseen, but it is heresy because it denies God’s own edict for Creation: “It is good.” The poetry earth — light, life, and love – simply say it is “on earth as it is in heaven.” It is the opposite of dividing earth and heaven against each other.

         So John’s Gospel jumps right into a fearless journey through the thin places, and heaven and earth become one mingling of God through the atmospheres of mystics and the poetry of earth. And there are no heavenly powers separating the great universal love into three “persons” or demanding the artist show us two people and a bird. It is the all-inclusive singular — the everything of all. 

         So I ask the artists and the master of the scribes and the abbot, “What art are we intending for all this spacious parchment we are saving for art?”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #23.13, Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         Leave wide margins in John he says, so the artists will have plenty of space. And what will artists do with all that plenty? Will they simply make everything of God as three somethings?

         My sister Mary, a beloved first follower of Jesus never imagined the Gospel would be repurposed to create a humanly discernible God. If even the stars are countless one could never expect human imagination to grasp the fullness of God?  All of Creation is God’s imagination, from before there was a beginning and on forever and ever. With no human words to speak it, the Gospel begins with unspeakable space. We try to reduce the blank space to a manageable definition for the sake of translators, scribes and artists. Fill in the blank: “Logos” “Word.” But maybe she meant something more — the God for whom no spoken words can be complete.

         And always those of us humankinds who long for doctrine think there is a need to reinvent a god for Christians to ink. We long to know words and images beyond our own imagination for words and images. But God loves us, and knows our need to know more than we can know so it is all spread out before us anyway –the full universe of the Creation just to give us metaphor. God’s own poetry speaks what is beyond our tongue to say – as love, and life and light… And those who know God through awe and prayer, and reverence for all that is, know no word to say it.

         And those who don’t think they know God begged to have a simpler diagram.  The Alexandrians and Constantinoplians, and leftover Romans, and even some of the out-of-favor heretics from Jerusalem near Bethany all journeyed long through deserts and mountains; they argued and fought, and quoted books and even wrote new ones all to invent from one God too awesome for words — a working model of a Trinity.   

         Those newly moving over from paganism could agree that three things would definitely clarify the issue. So the clear notions from the times when gods were limited to words and form came up with all the flittings and peckings of a pictorial content: two men and a bird – A Holy Trinity.

         Those of us from the Bethany table who ate and drank with Jesus heard his metaphor of the vine.[John 15] We are one with God, though now it is God who seems to be three.

(Continued Wednesday, September 1, 2021)

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Post #23.12, Thursday, August 26, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         On this day I’m assigned a bench near the front of the scriptorium. So the work I do must be of fine quality as fewer monks are ahead of me to check my work. It’s a sign my accuracy is trusted. I’m also supplied with a monk’s robe and tonsure so not to disturb the appearance of unity. A tonsure isn’t just convenient hair, here it represents a sacred commitment. That feels like an outward symbol, as I am indeed committed to the love commandment of Jesus. But then I suppose, the outward show of this embedded nature of me really shouldn’t be needed. And in other places I wouldn’t be allowed this appearance without committing to the creed. But I can’t honestly speak the creed though I know the words. I still believe I know of Jesus as a human friend and I also believe in the wider holiness of all humankind. Yet here I am shorn.

         The elder monk tasked with insuring the quality of work comments they had no idea of Nic’s talent.  So, may my centuries of practice shine as a memorial to my dear friend Nic.

         Matthew, Mark and Luke are fully complete so now we are venturing into John. We are instructed to leave wide margins and to give the first letter a particularly wide width of frame in which many hours of art may be applied. Time is unlimited since we have no more assignments ahead. I don’t know why fewer books are needed in these times. Perhaps there are so few who can read, or maybe the kings and counts are sponsoring their books from scribes with more youthful errors now in the Benedictine scriptoria.

         Word is, King Chilperic wants to re-write the creed. Apparently, the Trinity thing is not to his liking either. [Footnote] But of course, his bishop, the Bishop of Tours is firmly opposed. Maybe the wealthy patrons are starting to have concerns that even the gospels are out-of-date in these new times.

         My prayer is silent as well it must be. Dear God, are you seeing this? Those assigned to be holy are clinging to the ancient human control, and those assigned their power by ancient human lineage are wondering about the holiness of it all. How wide must this circle be scribed to find the meeting place for all of these? As it is now and forever, Amen.

[Footnote] Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilperic_I, retrieved 4-13-21, mentions, “Gregory … objected to Chilperic’s attempts to teach a new doctrine of the Trinity.[2]” Referencing Gregory’s History of the Franks, Book V.

[artwork] John 1:1

(Continued Tuesday, August 31, 2021)

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Post #23.11, Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         Our guest, the wine merchant, leaves after breakfast. Odd it may be that this other guest of Ligugè, who I am, waiting for my assignment makes such a warm farewell of his leaving. I’m glad my family is so near that he may come here from time to time with his mules and wagon. Before he leaves I give him the book of remedies, and the page ends I have lettered ready for him to take along and return to the child. When Anatase finishes her project, adding the textures of the herbs to these labels it will be a most welcome gift for Eve I’m sure — such a kind thought for her teacher from a young child.

         Thank you God, for letting me have a part in this joyful moment of gifting. I can imagine Eve will cherish the child’s thoughtfulness.

         I’ve requested a hovel to be my cell since the guest room here seems to come with an obligation for leaving soon and I’m choosing to stay. It’s still the custom here that I may make my own solitary place beyond these walls then come into the community for the daily patterns of psalms and sacrament.  It doesn’t make me a deacon or even a true monk or does it give me any holy orders at all, except as issued by God. And I believe that I am, as God made each of us in her own Creator’s image, a simple flask for holy love. For me this release from titles is the benefit of living outside the walls of order.

         The problem is, in these times when humankind seems to long for Roman order all these older styled monasteries are falling from favor.  The only monks here are all very old and when they are gone there may be no more youths nurtured in this ancient way of private prayer.  I worry that the ways of the true ascetic, the ones who went into an actual, physical wilderness to be attended by the angels as was Jesus will no longer have a place in Christianity. I suppose I could travel toward the East where the Buddha still sits beneath the tree.

         Dear God, who will you speak to when the lone monks are all gone into groups and organizations? Amen.

         Of course, God is God and bigger than the universe and beyond human view. Why would I worry that people are needed to have this God? It is instead, that God is needed to have these people.

(Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #23.10, Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         We don’t have vineyards here at Ligugè now. There is an ancient and unattended sprawling of vines dangling in the wilderness trees among the cells of the monks, but here we purchase our wine. The wine seller is here and I’m disrupted from the inks to go and assist in the unloading of the barrels.

         Oh! This seller of wine is Ezra! I should have realized he brought these wines we drink from his vineyards. I’m so glad to see him.  We unload a barrel and I welcome him. He will be a guest here this night; I have some time to hear of any news of counts and kings, or maybe just my own dear family. So tonight the required silence is breached by whispers in this guest room.

         “How is Colleta? And are my grandchildren well?”

         “Yes, everyone is well, and Count Bertigan and the Lady Celeste are learning to flaunt their new privilege. Daniel is the scribe and teacher, and he provides a bit of strong muscle when actual work is needed. They will be moving from farmyard hovel to grand estate soon, sending servants and tenants into the vineyards to mind the chores.

         “Bert and Daniel, along with the cousin Thole are becoming excellent horsemen. Bert has ordered swords and shields from the smithy.”

         “So sorry to hear of that.  Maybe when the luster wears they will be hammered into more useful tools.

         “Papa, I know you hate the weapons for wars.”

          “How is your sister, Eve? Is her little apprentice still a cheerful child?”

         “It’s well with Eve and Anatase, Papa.”

         I should explain, “Here, I haven’t corrected the confusion, and I have allowed my friend, Brother August, to believe I am the son of Lazarus. Brother August was present with Nic at the disaster at the building site all those years ago and he saw my dead bones. Now I find out it is somewhat humiliating to be the son of Lazarus, Isn’t it, my son?”

         Ezra nearly laughs out loud. I put a finger to my lips to remind of silence. “I’m dealing with my pierced pride here because they assume it was Nic, and not more than five hundred years of practice that made me an able scribe.”

         In the gentle darkness we say our good nights into snores.

         Dear God, thank you for this son and family, thank you for this privilege of being Papa to them all.  Thank you.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #23.9, Thursday, August 19, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         Brother August is telling me about the double monastery now called the Abby of the Holy Cross.

         August explains, “While I was in the infirmary some of the nuns assigned to patient care were always whispering among themselves about how they were mistreated by the strict rule of the order. The Rule for Virgins, (Regula virginum (512), [Footnote] was designed by a man of power many years ago, Caesarius of Arles. He was thinking that Rule was to be followed by his own sister, Caesaria. Apparently she had worse sibling trouble than I did. You can imagine the structure of any Rule for Virgins designed by a man who also had a severe passion for order. It required the cloistering of the women. Once they were in the convent they could never leave. This rule defining all of their hours and days is infinitesimally explicit.”

         My observation,  “It’s like all of those rules made in the time when the Church clings to the last thread of imperial power dangling into the empty pit of warring barbarians. It seems a futile grasp at the waning Roman order.”

         Brother August adds, “These sisters serving there were definitely feeling stifled by the rule and apparently not the least bit spiritually inspired by it. I asked them how they could know God’s love under these circumstances. One told me she thought the only thing that brought her close to God was that they could be helpful in people’s healings.”        

         “And there you were, your life in their hands. Wouldn’t you just pray their answer would have to be some version of Christian compassion?”

         “Yes, of course. But I wasn’t expecting so much honesty. I mean, how would they know I wasn’t a God-spy, or an angel reporting their bad attitude directly to God. They can deny liking the Rule, but the ultimate evil would be denying the love of God.”

          My assessment, “It seems no matter how thick the walls of cloister and firm the orders of human judgment a smidge of holy empathy always seems to break through. I’m glad the nuns were there for you with kindness.”

         “Thanks, Brother Lazarus. So what of your scars, have you also found the blessings of healing?”

         “Healing, yes. But I choose not to make the story of my life about the scars.”

[Footnote] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarius_of_Arles (retrieved 4-1-2021)

 (Continued Tuesday August 24, 2021)

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Post #23.8, Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         Just before the silence Brother August was telling me of the women’s convent which I thought was named for St. Mary, Abbaye de Sainte-Marie, at Poitiers. He said it was renamed after a relic of the true cross that the abbess, Radigund, a queen, was able to acquire for the monastery. 

         Had I only known of the pagan ooze of belief in magical talisman that is seeping into Christianity in these times, I would have stuffed my travel bag with much more of the refuse of that earlier time. In my own grief for my friend and teacher I never gave a thought to chipping off a wedge of the bloody wood of that godless torture tool. Maybe the cup Jesus used when he shared the wine, simple pottery as it was, would have been a meaningful souvenir for me to keep. I mean, he did say, “remember me” when he shared the cup. And for a very long time I did have that washbasin from our house. As might be expected I used it as a washbasin never considering its significance as the relic of the washing of the disciple’s feet.

         The part I do keep deep and dear in my heart is Jesus. He is the resurrection, as I know it to be in spirit, and the life as I know it to be in spirit. Thank you God for the mystical bond I share with this forever friend and teacher.

         Silence lifts and Brother August continues telling me about the queen who established that monastery.  “She and her brother,  Thuringian princess and prince, were kidnapped by the Franks when she was only a young child. All of the others of her tribe were annihilated by this atrocity at the hands of the Frankish King. When Radigund was of age the king killed her brother to extinguish any possible Thuringian heir to the lands; and King Cloitaire married Radigund. That’s how she became queen and how she acquired the portion of land she gave for a holy purpose. [Footnote 1]

         August explains it, “Respected as queen, she herself took the responsibility as abbess. She requires literacy for the women, and is, herself, a poet. It is said that after the death of her brother she wept with a poet’s tears — words, naming the atrocities of King Cloitaire. In her eulogy for her brother and her people she writes, “Each one had her own tears: I alone have them all.” (Line 33, The Thuringian War, Translated by JoAnn McNamara[Footnote 2])

[Footnote 1] Armstrong, Dorsey, “The Medieval World” Lecture #6 (The Great Courses, © the teaching company, 2009.)

[Footnote 2]) (Following is a brief excerpt from “The Thuringian War”

https://epistolac.ctl.columbia.edu/letter/947.html retrieved 4-2-21)

For her brother she wrote,

“As your father’s blush plays prettily on your face.
Kinsman, believe, you are not gone while a word remains:
Send a speaking page to act as a brother to me.
Some have every gift while I lack even tears for solace,
Oh cruel fate that the more I love, the less I have!”

                                                                        Translator, JoAnn McNamara

Historical context: 

This poem was published among Fortunatus’ poems, on the assumption that he had written it for and in the voice of his friend Radegund. Translators of the poem, JoAnn McNamara, Marcelle Thiebaux (The Writings of Medieval Women [New York: Garland, 1987]), accept Radegund’s authorship, as do Charles Nisard, Fortunatus, Opera Poetica (Paris: Nisard, 1887) and Karen Cherewatuk, Dear Sister, Medieval Women and the Epistolary Genre, ed. Cherewatuk and Ulrike Wiethaus (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1993). Since Fortunatus himself speaks of the poems she has written and sent to him, and Gregory of Tours cites a letter written by her in his History of the Franks, 9.42, I [McNamara] see no reason to deny her authorship. The translation presented here is by JoAnn McNamara, …

(Continues tomorrow)


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Post #23.7, Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         As Brother August and I prepare to set the supper he chooses to speak to me about the whispers of the master of the scribes today in the scriptorium. He was asking of my training. Brother August, thinking I am my son, assumes I was taught to read and use the inks by Brother Nic. Of course that is one possible reason why a young man of humble heritage would have the skill of an ancient scribe.

         And I can set my pride aside to conform to a simpler normal. “Nic was a kind teacher.”

         “He was an excellent teacher,” Brother August asserts. “So I’m thinking you’ll be asked to put your own project aside and work with the rest of us on the gospel. I believe the abbot will assign you a bench near the front tomorrow.”

         In truth, neither blame nor recognition goes to a teacher. The teacher only offers the rudiments of craft.  True art comes in the instant of creative inspiration then the hours and hours of pondering and practice.  And here I am with all those hidden centuries of life and life again for so much time to practice.

         And apparently my ages of skill as a scribe stirred the curiosity about me. Now he chooses to ask about that which we agreed not to speak – scars. But to speak of these scars, still healing, would only confirm the rumor of a forever Lazarus, and that would separate me from the community here rather than strengthen our bonds.        

         He offers, “I apologize for making a mystery of my scars this morning. I have no shame in telling and I have no reason for hiding. I had a need of surgery and when I learned the abbess of the convent of Poitiers is known as a healer [Footnote] our abbot permitted me to go there and have the surgery which has left a recent scar.”

         I mean to change the subject. “I’ve heard rumors of that monastery which is known to be a double monastery – part just for women and the other part for men. I’ve heard rumors that say the abbess there is really the queen.”

         “Yes, Radigund, she is the last of the Thuringians, a tribe of people beaten in war long ago by King Clotaire of the Franks. Clotaire was the father of the Kings of the Franks who rule now.”

         Before August can ask me of my scars, I mention the others are gathering at the boards. “This is a time for silence.” 

[Footnote] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radegund  Retrieved 6-1-2021.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #23.6, Thursday, August 12, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         The monks are seated at the boards spread for the meal in the oratory this morning. Some are here with hidden scars, some with pale echoes of “Gloria” still lingering, passing the basket of bread from one to another as we all are one great omelet of God’s love.

         These years later I find that Brother August has come into this community appreciating the spiritual union with others. I seem to be received here as my own son, which apparently only confuses me. But it is a good time for finding new beginnings here.

         The abbot assigns me a bench in the scriptorium where I may work at my own little project of copying Anatase’s marked passages in the remedies book.  He is being very generous with the materials and a place to do this work as he seems not to remember me at all. And he is assuming I am the young man I appear to be, having had no practice and perhaps no skill at all.  But if anyone did remember me here I would probably be expected to work with of all the monks as they seem so steeped in a major project today lettering a gospel. I would have to do the useful work for the good of the community and then, only if there was not other work to be done, I would be allowed to work on the little project I brought. I feel like a pickle in the omelet as I begin my own project while the monks all work as one.

         The master of the scribes, the one who oversees the quality of the work in the scriptorium passes through the room with the silence of a ghost, looking over each shoulder unseen or ignored, constantly measuring the quality of the work. I feel he is standing over me, though the abbot didn’t assign this project and the quality of it isn’t for assessment by this master. The master of the scribes now goes immediately over to August, and there are whispers. 

         Brother August is at a larger raised desk made for standing and adding artwork; he’s all the way across the room working on the little art pieces, illuminations of letters and trimmings painted into the margins in order to inform the illiterate and to capture the imaginations of us all. There are whispers between them.

(Continued Tuesday August 17, 2021)

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Post #23.5, Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         “We don’t have to hurry,” August explains, “the bread is rising, and the meal is eggs which will cook quickly as everyone is gathering at the boards.”

         We break each egg and beat it into the froth as Brother August shares another bit of Brother Joel’s wisdom.

         “He always said, ‘As it is in heaven, it is on earth.’”

         “So you think Brother Joel is serving eggs in heaven?”

         “No. He meant, things of earth are here for us to see as symbols of the unseen things of the Spirit. So he showed me the lesson of the omelet. Do you see how each egg is here in the basket before we break into these shells? Each is good in its own tangible way, some with speckles, some in pale shades of tans and whites. Good and fine they are separate, but eggs are neither food for people nor hatchlings for the flock until the shell is broken. When the eggs spread together on the griddle each only stays a separate egg for moment with its own yolk and white, then it spreads into another and another until the whole omelet is one great creation like a psalm sung in unison.

         “Brother Joel gave me this lesson because I was one who believed the individuality of my shell-self was how I was beloved. My self was my protection against, against what? Was I waiting for my chicken-self to hatch and flap off into a flock? Was I shielding myself, saving this deepest being from bonding into the great spiritual omelet of God’s love? It’s a simple lesson. Jesus tried to say it in so many different ways – the vine and the vine tenders — the washing of the feet – in so many ways he was walloping the shells of us against the iron skillet and pouring our all into the omelet of one another. Brother Joel said our spirits within us join with Spirit until we are all the one great and holy omelet of God’s love.”

         Jesus had a prayer for that. John 17:21-23 …”that they may all be one. As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, … I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #23.4, Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         As a guest at Ligugè I’m assigned to visitor’s quarters in a small room in the villa while the monks are outside the walls in caves and hovels. In my last life here as a monk my cell was made of a few stones but mostly of sticks and branches and I feel it was much too easy to burn down.

         Since the abbot saw Brother August and I talking together, he assigned him to be my mentor for chores and for learning the Rule of Ligugè. And this week we are tasked with serving the meals. Preparing to break the fast is a good way to start life in a new place.

         I come into this day in deepest darkness with the echoes of the chants of night haunting these matins and I am at the cooking hearth and ready to begin. Brother August hasn’t yet arrived so I just go ahead and lay the cutlery on the boards and put some wood on the fire, but I don’t know what else to do to prepare. I see bread is rising here. I need to find Brother August to learn the plan he has in mind for this. I know his cell was near the graveyard because he was at his cell when he saw me there yesterday. The early light is already in the east, so maybe I should just go tap on his door to wake him.

         Of course Brother August assumes I’m my own son and that keeps our past journey a secret. And here I find Brother August is taking in his washed clothing left to dry last night spread out on a bush. I’m a bit surprised to see him unclothed because he no longer has the breasts of a woman but his chest is marked with a surgeon’s blade. He sees me and quickly covers himself with his scapular as though a man’s bare chest were a secret.

         “Excuse me,” I offer, “I didn’t mean to surprise you; I just didn’t know when we needed to start the meal preparation. I really didn’t mean to impose.”

         August answers, “And I didn’t mean to hide myself so abruptly. It’s just that I have a scar I choose not to explain.”

         “Of course. I also have scars I don’t wish to explain.”

         So it’s agreed. I won’t mention the wounds still healing so that everyone can just go on pretending it was my father who was crushed to death in Bordeaux.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #23.3, Thursday, August 5, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         The abbot is allowing me to stay here and work in the scriptorium to copy from Eve’s book as long as I follow the rule of this abbey. Having been here before I know the daily patterns they keep. But the abbot doesn’t remember me.        

         He argues, “No, you know nothing of the Rule of Ligugè. We don’t use The Rule of Benedict here. We follow older patterns for prayer. You must observe and learn, then obey.”

         Here they follow the old way in which the monk’s live in individual cells and private prayer is respected. But also, in the emerging patterns of communal life there are times when all of the monks and visitors gather for meals and worship. As a community we each take our turns to share in the earthly chores of preparing meals and tidying and scouring and working in the gardens.

         Our songs are psalms sung in the tradition of call and response, and our prayers are long and heartfelt – some from repetitions in unison, some in silence, some spoken anew both in times together as community and also alone in our cells.

         The rigors of communal order are not as firm as would need to be in a place where teens are also being trained and when the guidance of community as family is needed. Here the rule has naturally sprung from needs of community. It surely wasn’t laid down upon the gathered with the purpose to put some earthly person in charge and empowered to control the others. It’s said this place was established by St. Martin himself respectful of the ascetic hermit life as a church together not an earthly kingdom. May there continue to be this distinction I value.

         Brother August surmised that Benedict never understood the value of hermitage when he made his rule. So I sought out available reading from the books here as I await my task assignment. I learn that Saint Benedict was himself among the desert fathers of an earlier time. [Footnote] Knowing that of him gives me a better appreciation for The Rule. He must have known personally of the temptations of the lone ascetics for wandering from purpose. It must have been from his own self-knowledge he made his criticism; then he surely was overwhelmed as a bishop seeing all of the chaos of transforming a bevy of young boys into monks. So this Rule suited a need.

Footnote– St. Benedict spent three years as a hermit living in a cave. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benedict_of_Nursia retrieved, 6-2-21.

(Continued Tuesday August 10, 2021)

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Post #23.2, Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         Brother August and I are here where the old, earthly bones of the monks are buried. This sculptor’s image of a soaring bird incised on the stone marks this heap of earth for Brother Joel in the most fitting way. “As it is on earth it is in Heaven,” was a favorite phrase of Brother Joel’s.

         “I will let the abbot know you are our guest with us today.” August leaves me here in this bone garden considering the immortal natures of us all.

         Dear God, thank you for these brushes with life we are granted between our earthly births and deaths. Amen.

         The abbot here is an ancient man. He seems more kindly now, and doesn’t remember me at all. But he is the same one who, so many years ago, sent me fleeing into the dark of night because my son came for me with the cart and donkey that were known to collect the dead of plague. He feared that all my coming and going as a messenger had given me the plague and now this gravedigger had come to take me. So the last time I saw this abbot he was raging with the fear of death, chasing me off and burning down my cell behind me.

         “So glad to meet you Father. Brother Nic was a dear friend of our family, and I have come to visit his grave. But I have another matter I ask you to consider. Nic was teaching a child to read and write with a particular ancient book of herbs and remedies we’ve had in our family. That child was hoping to have some descriptions from this book copied onto a trimmed end of parchment.”

         “Oh, that isn’t done here. Scribes are rare in these times, and our commitment here is to the gospel.”

         “Have you inks and edges of parchment? I myself, am an able scribe and I will do the work of it.”

         He has to consider this long and hard before he can answer.

         “Brother Nic came and made his poverty here. He endowed us well, and perhaps his lessons for this child will one day yield another  worthy scribe; so I shall allow you to stay with us as long as you are obedient to the rule of this abbey.”

         “I am familiar with the rule.”

         “Here we do not adhere to The Rule of St. Benedict.” So you may only think you know.”

(Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #23.1, Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         Brother Joel is with us in soaring spirit, though maybe never really walked on earth at all. He is surely still present with Brother August and I in his ancient strand of wisdom.

         I affirm, “Yes, a suit of armor called ‘pride’ would impede love for others, and if it is forged from our personal fears and self-loathing it can obscure love for self. Jesus’ command to love makes love of self the pre-requisite to love of neighbor.”

         August wonders at Brother Joel’s nuance.  “But isn’t ‘love of self’ exactly what pride is?”

         “What did Joel say? Did you ask him?”

         “When Brother Joel pointed out that my iron suit of protection may be the flaw that separates me from love for my siblings I felt the pain of truth pierce that armor. First I wanted to argue then to hold back my tears from Brother Joel who knew my heart too well. Then he said, ‘God knows you and loves you right through your armor. God made you, and you are God’s.’ So my tears flowed freely and my armor of pride rusted away.        

         “Brother Joel stripped me naked of pride right while we were still in Bordeaux awaiting Nic’s return with the cart. At first I felt vulnerable, but then my prayers echoed around in the hollow with the answer in the old man’s voice and God’s love for me became adequate love to carry me through the moment between loosing my pride and allowing the kind of humility that lets me love of others. It’s nothing like the humility that others might see on me outwardly. An external, observable, pretend display of humility is all that is asked in The Rule. But stripping the safety of outward pride is raw. I thank God for the wisdom of Brother Joel, and that I was granted time to remove the war-irons before we left Bordeaux. I made amends with my brothers then.”

         Dear God, thank you for letting me find Brother August anew, repentant as he is, without that rub that has even kept me from seeing him in the way you see him. Amen.

         So here I find my own pride shields me from August’s assumption that I am my own son, and he thinks it was Nic who taught me to read. Why does this bother me? Am I the sort that believes a son is lower than a father? Or don’t I trust Nic to be my teacher?

(Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #22.13, Thursday, July 29, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         Brother August explains, “Brother Joel gave so much guidance to take me through a sin which to others might have been considered personal pride. I’d so easily learned the spiritual moments of true prayer as art in carving stone. But Brother Joel noticed my tethers of pride were to be found, not in the sales, but in the presentation I made of my art to others whom I wished to have in my circle of love.”

         “And pride is sin?” I ask, inviting a nuance I’ve considered for centuries.

         “Of course. Everyone knows it is sin. Paul said so. And Rule #57 of Benedict saw the pride in the pricing of the art because throughout The Rule the measure is always based on how something is observed by the earthly witness who would be the abbot or the bishop. So a monetary price on something in a symbolic way defines worth, but The Rule doesn’t really address the bond between Creator God and creative artist. And placing a value in coin was nothing about my issue with pride.”

         I affirm, “I’ve read enough of The Rule to notice it has so much more to say about the opinions, judgments and punishments of earthly observers than it has to say about the ever-present love of God. So I would assume the rule would speak only in observable symbols of pride, such as wealth, rather than a deep in the heart kind of pride or humility.”

         August affirms, “Yes, I wanted to use my art to gain the appreciation by others, though not in the form of money. In fact, my need for this affirmation from others was beyond even my human-to-God prayer. It was something that stroked and tantalized my sense of pride, as much as any kind of lust could do. And Brother Joel pointed out, the problem with nurturing personal pride isn’t the money part or the lusty part; it is, he said, that my pride fitted over me like a coat of armor, shinning my whole form into something others notice, but also keeping me from actually connecting with others in the way of God’s love. Brother Joel noticed it was my pride that separated me from my earthly brothers. I so much wanted them to be amazed by my art, not because I believed myself superior in a prideful way, but because my strong armor of pride was protecting me from humiliation by them. Pride and humility are both the sides of the same coin.”

(Continues Tuesday, August 3)

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Post #22.12, Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè        

         Changing the subject, I just asked Brother August if The Rule made allowances for an artist who cuts stone.

         He answers, “At Ligugè we don’t concern ourselves with The Rule yet the abbot here has been generous in allowing me to continue my prayers with a hammer and chisel in hand.” 

         “That’s good.  I can imagine there would be no room for an artist in all that order and routine of The Rule.”

         “Oddly enough, Benedict’s Rule Number 57 [Footnote] would allow for a craftsman to do such work. But The Rule of Benedict isn’t about the works of art, so much as the sin of pride an artist may have. And indeed, pride was my own burden of sin. But The Rule doesn’t address ‘pride’ as something that would intrude into my love for brother with the striving and envy I had been practicing. Rather Benedict’s measure of sinful pride by a craftsman comes in the selling of the art. Apparently, for Benedict, value is only measured outwardly, according to the monetary worth of something. So the artist is not to receive money for the work or The Rule assumes that may lead to pride. In the instance of selling one of my works which Nic purchased from a dealer to bring as a gift to this place, I received nothing for the work but I benefited from the opportunity for a long walk here with Nic and your father. So by The Rule I showed no sin of pride because I received no money.

         “Ligugè has been a good home for me all these years, and for Nic also; We added Brother Joel to our numbers but lost your father along the way. Brother Joel was truly a spiritual guide for me in considering my actual sin of pride. Thankfully Joel lived a very long life and his bones are only recently in this graveyard.”

         Brother August shows me a marker he made for Brother Joel. On this, Brother August has carved a bird in flight — soaring. It is a perfect image of this elder monk, since Brother Joel’s spirit was always gliding and soaring as a bird. But chiseled into a weighty earthen stone I can also recognize Brother Joel’s awkward paradox of earth and spirit.  

         “So what did Brother Joel have to say of pride?”

[Footnote 1] White, Carolinne, Translator,The Rule of Benedict, London: Penguin Books, 2008. page 84.

 (Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #22.11, Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         Here I am at the monastery visiting the place where Nic is buried. Brother August came over when he saw me here. Now Brother August remembers me from twenty years ago but even though he has heard about it, he doesn’t believe the story of my very odd gift of ever healing, even from death to life in a never-ending sameness of age. So Brother August assumes I must be someone else.

         “Really, you look just like Nic’s friend, Lazarus.”

         “So I have been told. And I’m named Lazarus.”

         So he assumes I must be my own son. It could be a bit creepy for me to try to make a correction of that, since I suppose the shock of seeing my bloodied dead bones is seared forever onto the minds of the on-lookers of the Bordeaux tragedy.

         “I’m Brother August. I journeyed with Old Nic and your father, so many years ago. I had no idea Lazarus had a child. Your father’s death was such a tragedy for all of us who knew him.  I know Brother Nic visited your family’s vineyard often whenever he could. So you’ve probably known Nic since childhood.”

         “I knew Old Nic well.”

          Brother August yammers on in eulogy, “I know Old Nic loved children. He probably taught you to read, didn’t he? He was always taking lessons along for the children of your family.”

         It’s hard for me to be silent in this wrong assumption Brother August is making especially when he assumes it was Nic who taught me to read. I catch myself weaving into all my generations a deep vein of personal pride. I learned to read and write ages ago in order to become a man in a Hebrew speaking family and in a Greek reading world. For this moment a monastery is a good place to practice silence.

         I answer, “I know of his reading lessons. He was a dear friend. And I know that you are the artist who prepared this stone marker.”

         “Nic told you everything didn’t he.”

         “Only up to a point. He mentioned monasteries are now minding The Rule of Benedict.”

         “Well, here at Ligugè we are aware, but this is a very old community so we already have our patterns. We borrowed a copy then sent it on.”

         “That’s good, because what I have heard of the Rule from Brother Nic, it would probably allow no place for an artist.”

         “I guess you didn’t hear everything then.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #22.10, Thursday, July 22, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè

         As night creeps over I see ahead of me the hulking peak of an old villa roof.  I’m coming upon the monastery that was a Roman villa centuries ago. In a time long ago St. Martin repurposed this rich gift of a grand Roman edifice for use as a spiritual refuge for monks coming in from the wilderness to be in community. I know this place as it is now with a sunny atrium for the scribes and an oratorio for worship and dining. The cells for the monks are dug into the clay beyond the walls or built of thatch and rock scattered around the back areas of this land.

         If I knock on the door tonight I will only intrude on the silence after the vespers. So tonight I’ll sleep in hayloft of the stable. Tomorrow I’ll meet the abbot and beg a guest room or a cell. I might not mention I once had a cell of thatch that was burned up by the abbot who feared I brought plague to this place. All these years later I’ll only confuse people I’ve known in a long ago time with my incessant look of youth. My circumstance requires me to pretend I know nothing of the past. Always, it seems, history is most comfortably spoken from the present so the out of style and unpopular truths it keeps can be edited out.

         Sun rising now, silvering the morning mist and I walk through the open place of the wall of stacked stone surrounding the graveyard for monks. Here is the newly made grave with some stones already gathered. I’m sure this is the burial place of my friend. Already there is a marker — a partly carved sandstone with an artist’s bas relief showing an ox head. Yes! I know this artist was one of us who knew of Nic’s love for such simple beasts. I already know the one who placed this blessing here for those of us who knew Nic well.

         Dear God, thank you for nurturing this hope I have of meeting Brother August once again and for this celebration of Nic’s gentle nature.

         “Hello Mister. Did you know Old Nic?”

         I turn around and there is Brother August with a snowy tonsure like a great halo of heaven crowning his brow.

         He continues, “Oh, excuse my surprise, but you look just like the brother’s old friend Lazarus.”

 (Continues Tuesday, July 27, 2021)

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Post #22.9, Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. the road to Ligugè

         I’ve walked this road to Ligugè before. But all these years later so much has changed from human neglect. When inattention defines our spaces the buildings don’t just sit still and empty. There come first the little creatures, the insects, mosses and mushrooms, then the grasses come with spiders and mice, then birds. Squirrels make their homes in rafters, and the roof beams become saturated with rain-dampened thatch sagging and caving until only a few stones and a flat place once a foundation are left to mark a house.

         I imagine the God’s-eye view of this isn’t really of sorrow and loss. Maybe where we see decay God sees all things new. Where once there was a house filled with the chatter of people now a whole new nature sways in the creeping of unkempt vines.  How many times do we assume our ways are the same as God’s ways, with all our branches trimmed back neatly into tidy straight edges? Yet God forgives our shorns and trims and blesses us with life in all these eternal lands anyway.

         Along this road a small group of guardsmen pass by on horseback with a banner identifying their belonging. I can step aside for them because the simplicity of walking gives me that humble choice. I had a horse in a prideful time. And Christians have another story of walking humbly that speaks of crossing social mores for the sake of love of neighbor.  [Acts 8:26-39] There is a story of an Ethiopian Eunice riding in a chariot while reading from a scroll named for a Hebrew prophet. The basic love of God is not complicated theology. In all the Holy teachings there is a simple repetition — the rudiments of ancient Hebrew law. Love God above all else, and your neighbor as yourself. [Leviticus 19:18] Here is this wealthy person of rank from wise Africa, whom we pale Christians of the north hold in awe. Dark is the shade of early wise men and saints, the early Church Fathers and Augustine, … Story goes, while walking on the road Philip steps aside for this very important Eunich. Yet the aristocrat humbled himself for the sake of a broader wisdom and he invited Philip onto the chariot to explain the scroll. In this telling of it, Philip baptizes this Ethiopian Eunich. It’s a story of looking beyond the tribal prides and social prejudices, putting aside isolating barriers of “othering” and stretching ourselves into the broader unbounded nature of love for all people and creatures.

 (Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #22.8, Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Leaving the vineyard

         I’m preparing to leave at dawn to walk to Ligugè. My bag is a bit weighty. But Anatase has something more. It’s a secret. She has the book of remedies with flower stems marking pages and she asks a favor.  Could I copy these pages onto a parchment end so she can attach dried herbs onto the written descriptions. She wants her teacher to receive a gift that has smell and touch so Eve will know what the words say. 

         “That’s a very thoughtful gift, Anatase. I will take great care of the book. But what if it’s needed before I return?”

         “It won’t be needed forever while I‘m here. I worried that it would be lost so as soon as I could read I learned it all by memory just in case.”

         “Of course you did. Why would I wonder?”

         The rumor of my leaving has spread, and now Celeste and her children are coming with river rocks, marked by each great-grandchild in charcoal for me to remember them by. I can promise I will remember, but I choose not to add rocks to my pack. So we stack them into a cairn for all of our remembering as Jacob stacked stones for the Mizpah with Laban. [Genesis 31:51]

         My strength is nearly complete so I needn’t borrow a horse or wait to ride a cart. And with a pale haze of summer morning ousting dark this promises to be a fine day for a journey. Thank you God. 

         Yesterday set my mind on this as we were reading about humility. Nic’s humor applied to the paradox of being proud of humility came to me with all the demands of grief. I have so many memories of Nic I need to share with others who knew him. The story I was telling Anatase yesterday, which tradition calls “The Good Samaritan,” recognizes the human penchant for taking pride in hatred. Pride in hate is prejudice. People, who are fearful of being cast out of their tribe create exclusions of others in order to form a bond of hatred. The Roman military bonded over hatred of Jews. But of course, this tribal pride is antithetical to the Jesus message of love of neighbor. So it was that by Nic’s most humble nature he forfeited his fellowship with the Roman anti-Semitism simply to befriend me, a stranger who was born a Jew.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #22.7, Thursday, July 15, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Eve’s Garden on the Loire

         Anatase is politely listening to me as I tell a Jesus story she may have already heard.  But I wanted to tell it again, thinking of Nic, and his way of abandoning his well-earned pride in order to enact the humility of the “love of neighbor” command. I was telling the story in Luke 10. The respected and proud people who passed by the suffering man were too busy or too important to stop and help. Then along came a guy who was from an outcast neighborhood, a Samaritan, or it might have been a Christian heretic. Or in Nic’s case, the story was a Roman soldier, a navy rower who found a Christian pacifist beaten and left for dead by the side of the road who turned out to be born Jewish. This neighbor is the kind who is very hard to love. We think of him more as the “other” rather than a neighbor. But Nic not only took the time to help the man, he paid all his money from his years at the oars to be this man’s patron. And to do all of this kindness he had to give up his own plume of glory — his well-earned affirmations of prejudice – he had to yield his own tradition and his pride in maintaining popular warring hates simply to follow the love command. That is what Jesus meant by ‘love your neighbor’.”

         Thinking of Nic in this way I feel an urgency to go to Ligugè to visit Nic’s grave.        

         At a good pace a man of my newly returned strength can start at sunrise and arrive at the monastery just as summer’s darkness swallows up all traces of the road ahead, so I prepare to leave at dawn.

         Eve and Anatase are filling my traveler’s sack with every imaginable weighty object to remind me of their cares. It will be good to have a cloak and a biscuit and a boiled egg, and of course, flowers for the grave I plan to visit. Eve asks me to take a gift with me for the monastery. She is searching for something – may it not be a stone statue I must carry on my back.  Thankfully, she has only several of her beeswax candles she keeps to light a room for others who don’t know the darkness as she does. Surely I have every imaginable thing to carry on this journey. What more can there be?

 (Continues Tuesday, July 20, 2021)

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Post #22.6, Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E.

         Nic’s pages continue to argue the rule of God’s love against a rule to manage sprouting monks, and now Nic takes issue with flaunting humility. It’s a paradox that doesn’t slip by Nic easily.

          Anatase reads on, “The old monk wrote, ’There are twelve steps and yet not much of true humility. Humility is what comes in awe of stars, or discovering one’s small place in the fullness of God’s love that speaks of the grandeur of all of Creation, even the grand value of you and me. But this written humility rule is driven by horrors, threats of angels reporting pride back to God and flat out fear of Hell. And just to be sure the exemplary righteous and ruly monk should appear humble he should ‘tip his head downward and look only at the ground.’ [Footnote ] But in doing so, I would expect he might see a true worm. Yet that very worm is a critter of nature beautiful in its own way and purpose. So how is pretending to be loathsome ever a display of humility? I ask you, dear friend Laz, please burry me with the worms before I accomplish this rule’.”

         “Anatase, I’m certain the old monk Nic needed no rule to be humble in the sight of God; so any nosey angels watching to report back to God surely found no shred of inflated pridefullness in him to tell of. After all, he gave up his soldier’s plume of glory just to be my friend. Humble kindnesses came naturally to him simply because he was close to God whom he knew as love. In fact, for me, born a Jew, he gave up the hardest pride of all simply to practice love for neighbor in the same way Jesus taught. He gave up his well-honed personal prejudices — a big sacrifice that is. Did you ever hear the story Jesus told to explain what a neighbor is?”

         “Maybe I already heard it; but you can tell me.”

         “In this story Jesus was answering a lawyer’s question. He had to get the answer right, because this fellow knew every single little rule and he followed the law to the letter. So when Jesus said ‘love your neighbor’ the lawyer said, ‘and who would that be?’

         “Jesus had a story for that. He said ‘A man was attacked by robbers and left for dead by the side of the road in a bad neighborhood. The man was a Jew, like Jesus and also like the lawyer asking the question.’”

[Footnote] White, Carolinne, Translator,The Rule of Benedict, London: Penguin Books, 2008. pages 22-26.

(Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #22.5, Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E.

         “Maybe we have done enough reading for the day, Anatase. Do you wish to take a rest from this? I could just borrow these pages if you would let me, and read them ahead myself. And I promise to save any that are interesting for you to read aloud.”

         “No. I can keep on, now that I know The Rose he was talking about was his horse. When first I read it I thought he was trying to practice giving orders to the flowers, bossing them around, expecting they would obey his slightest whim. Knowing it was his horse makes a lot of difference.

         “He wrote, ‘I’ve always thought there were two reasons for obedience, one was my soldier duty to the officer, and the other was something I do simply because God is God and my love for God makes me delighted to follow. Holy obedience is like the difference between following a military officer and training The Rose. Everyone said to teach obedience to The Rose I needed to teach him rank and show him I was the boss. But what actually worked was when I said to The Rose, ‘I am Nic, and you are The Rose and we belong to one another each in our own way.’ So that is also how I am obedient to God.

         “’The Rule of St. Benedict says, ‘As soon as the superior gives an order, they carry it out as promptly as if the order came from God, either because of the holy service they have promised to perform, or because they are afraid of hell, or for the sake of the glory of eternal life.’” [Footnote 1]

         “’It seems to me,’ the Old Monk writes, ‘obedience driven by threat or gift is not actually obedience at all. It is simply a fear or a lust greater than the respect for the master giving the order.’

         “’And the emphasis on humility is even a more disagreeable pretend of virtue. Clearly the paradox is that one who claims ‘to reach the highest peak of humility’ would not actually be humble. There are twelve steps and not one of them is of the true humility of discovering one’s own small place in the awesome love of God that speaks of the goodness of all of Creation, even the goodness of me.”

[Footnote 1] White, Carolinne, Translator,The Rule of Benedict, London: Penguin Books, 2008. page 19.

[Footnote 2] Ibid. pages 22-26.         

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #22.4, Thursday, July 8, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E. Eve’s garden bench

         The pages Nic left for Anatase to read aloud describe this world I’ve awakened into. Nic must have known I soon would be seeking a place in a monastery scribing the gospels. He knew me well, and he understood my calling to keep my friend Jesus always in sight of us who are of earth. So of course I will be heading back into the inks. He tells me that all around us are these powerful bishops, overseers like shepherds for an earth of mindless sheep. Here we walk the crumbling roads of an empire gone, following the flickering torches of imperialism into the deeper darkness.

         Here these shepherds no longer trust the patterns of nature or the direction of stars and phases of moon. Things of Creation that once served as psalm for all varieties of worship are sorted from Christian and declared Pagan. Yet Christian holds tight to the magic and manipulations always looking for omen but rarely for metaphor. And like the Pagan Romans the daily journey of the sun is even numbered by hours. Now the routine of each day for a monk is set down in a rule of old paganism. It is the abbot who decides the waking and the sleeping, the times for prayers and the times for song. And it is the voice of a distant bishop that declares a silence despite the chirping cricket under the door.

         I know Nic gave Anatase and I these pages affirming the Roman yen for order so that an ever-curious little girl may learn of the ways used now for educating young boys so often in the hallowed halls of a monastery. The Rule of Benedict seems mostly to be a method for managing aristocratic youth who have been sent from their homes to learn the vows of poverty, humility and obedience. But as we explore this, it seems outward practice may supersede spiritual poverty and humility along with obedience to God alone. With The Rule, a human authority, the bishop or abbot as fine as he may be, becomes the one to whom obedience is given. God seems only an assumption.

         Anatase has looked ahead and says these upcoming pages are truly “dull.” Yet I’m curious to hear Nic’s voice in this to know if it matters to Nic if the orders come from a bishop or the Creator of the Universe and ever present Spirit of love with us always? Does Nic agree that all this detailed instruction is simply intrusion in individual personal prayer?

(Continues Tuesday, July 13)

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Post #22.3, Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Historical setting: 584 C.E.  Eve’s garden bench

         Anatase chooses to continue picking through the hard words on “Page 5, The Rule

          “‘First off,’ he writes,  ‘The Rule tells of four kinds of monks and only the one who lives to obey the earthly offices of the church, the coenobites are the good ones.’”

         “I see what you mean about the hard words in this. You’re doing well with your reading.”

         “I shall continue. ‘Then there are anchorites, hermits who ‘lost their fervor for monastic life’ and now must ‘fight the devil on their own.’ [footnote 1] Upon hearing this Brother August decided this surely was written by one who had never actually ventured into the wilderness where the angels still linger. And upon hearing this Brother Joel’s deep longing for thin places and the nearness of God sent him grieving to return to the wilderness. Even an old and lame fellow would rather meet God without the hurdles of these human judgments as good a man as Joel is.’”

         Anatase interrupts Nic’s explanation, “Doesn’t God love all kinds of monks?”

         “I would have thought so but maybe that’s only my view as a Jesus-following heretic. I tend to think God made us and we are God’s people, even us heretics. So surely God loves the monks.”

         “Oh.” She resolves, “Then the old monk goes on to tell about the other two kinds of monks. Do you want to hear that part too?”

         “Sure.”

         Anatase reads on, stumbling into more strange verbiage, probably intended to put the fear of God’s bishops into young boys who were given over to the church. “He writes, ‘Then we have those untested sarabites, ‘most detestable’ who wander from the sheepfold to gather in groups of two or three or even one alone ‘calling every whim holy’ and everything they don’t want to do ‘unlawful.’ [footnote 2]”  

         Anatase adds, “The old monk says that is who he and you were. Do you think that’s so?”

         “I suppose that is why Nic included it here, unless the fourth variety is even worse. You know, Anatase, Nic was very humble – and honest to God — even if an honest look was a hurt for himself.”

         Anatase already knows what else he says, “But there is an even worse kind of monk. He writes, ‘Then there are those gyrovagues [footnote 3] the worst of the worst, wandering around from one monastery to the next…’ “

         “Well, that wouldn’t be Nic; but that would be me.”

[footnote 1] White, Carolinne, Translator,The Rule of Benedict, London: Penguin Books, 2008. Page 11

[footnote 2] Ibid.

[footnote 3] Ibid.

(Continues Tomorrow)