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Post #10.1, Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., on the Western Shore of Gaul

Before we are in sight we can smell the fragrant cooking fires, the wafts of plenty along the pathways of these wharves. Everything that was taken from Constantia after the fire is relocated here in this place.  Ships of both navy and merchant are moored in the bay and on the quays merchants have their booths.

         I would’ve looked for someone to ask but Nic knows these landings on this edge of Gaul and he goes immediately to survey the wares and examine the heaps and roped bundles along one of the open wharves. He is looking for shipments that might be bound for Hispania; northern pelts and leathers, amphora and wood barrels of Gaulish wines and mead, things that are common here but valued more in warmer regions. He can guess by observing the cargo going we will find the ship to take us where we want to go. We do find the right cargo but there is no ship at this moment, so we’ll be watching for whatever merchant ship ties here and on-loads these heaps of goods. We will need to keep this place in our sight. Nic has the means now to pay for our stay at an inn with this view of the harbor. They have a sleeping floor in a loft for travelers. The main floor is an alehouse for any thirsty souls both traveled or stayed. Such are the comforts of plenty.

           From this distance at the Inn’s doorway Nic points out the merchant’s booth where trades happen with soldiers. In the display of wares hanging from the canopy over the bric-a-brac there are other worn and cast off military accoutrement. I know he has heard my prodding, and is imagining his own armor hanging there for sale — things his father wore after his tribe sided Roman; then for all the decades of his adult years these were the things that clad him also, with safety and identity. 

         Maybe I’m asking a large sacrifice of one simply willing to be my patron. I wonder if my anathema of every soldier is rooted in virtue? Am I driven by the cause of pacifism that Jesus taught, or am I simply rekindling my own warring prejudices against Rome?

         Dear God, Let me be thoughtful of this hard thing I may be asking of Nic — to give up his armor. Guide me, and lead me toward one day discovering wisdom. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #9.13, Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Saxony Shore of Gaul

I know people move from one age to the next in slow stages, maybe with the exception of birth and death that always seem to take us by surprise. Yet, I guess I had been expecting Nic to step off the dromon and immediately transform his useful life as a Roman soldier into an imaginary image of an old and wealthy benefactor sponsoring this heretic.

         Dear God, thank you for giving me a gentle thought of forgiveness for Nic’s need to wear armor. Amen.

         “I didn’t mean to sound so much opposed to your armor. I can get used to it.”

         “Not to worry Brother Lazarus. I can see that these scarlet plumes and cape of old Rome make you uncomfortable. And now I hardly require a legionnaire’s shield to hang on the shipside. When we reach the market where I found your sandals I can trade these Roman accoutrements. They trade with the soldiers all the time and they will be glad to take these things that mark me as a soldier. We can get you your own pack then.  The leather worker there does fine work for the soldier’s trade.”

         “That is thoughtful of you, Nic. I have to admit I was bothered by the Roman Soldier style, even though you surely wear it well. So many years ago I was witness to a horrific execution of a dear friend by Roman soldiers, but perhaps now, even if you choose to wear your armor I may be able to forgive in my heart and one day make peace with my hate, simply by having another good friend who wore that same uniform.  It’s a hard lesson to let go of my old bias of hate but I need to do that just to set my heart right with God who loves everyone.”

         “It’s okay.  I will trade off the Roman gear.  But Brother Lazarus, you need to know since I was a young man with nearly ever step I’ve taken on land I’ve been clothed in the colors of Rome and looking out at the world through the window of soldier’s helmet. I don’t even know who I am now as this old and worn man mingling into the civilian milieu as though I were no one special. So you must become my shining reason now.”

         Dear God, help us not to fail at all the forgivenesses needed for friendship. Amen.

(Continues Wednesday, July 1)

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Post #9.12, Thursday, June 25, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Saxony Shore of Gaul

         On this new day Nic and I are walking the seaside cliffs back the way he came just two days ago. We are going to a harbor that merchant ships frequent with the hope to find passage to Iberia.

         Nic provided me with leather sandals and a cloak of finely carded wool colored with a rich dyes. For as long as my memory reaches, which is really only back to the rescue in the woods by the River Loir, I have not had shoes or a cloak, so these fine things are a most welcome comfort.

         Nic still dresses in his tunic, heavy leather gambeson, shirt of mail, girdle with sword and dagger, wool bracca (britches) on his legs, laced over with the long tines of his Roman shoes. And he still has the Roman cloak of scarlet, the shield and the helmet. And now he carries a pack. Surely no arrows will pierce him, but it is a considerable weight for a man of age and I would guess a bit too warm even for summer in these northern reaches. What will he do in the sun’s heat in Hispania?

         I suggest. He argues. I accept my circumstance. My companion for this journey is an old soldier and so it is.  Or maybe he has someone waiting to receive this inheritance?

         “Have you a family, brothers perhaps, who may receive your father’s armor when you choose to pass it along?”

         “I was my father’s only child. My half brother wouldn’t care for my father’s gift.”

         “This cloak and shoes you have chosen for me are light and comfortable. Maybe when we find the marketplaces where the merchant ships land you will want to trade for new things for yourself as well.”

         “No.”

         “Very well.”

         It is a long and silent walk, and maybe I’m not even considering his comfort and well-being. Maybe I just don’t want to take a long journey by sea shoulder-to-shoulder with a Roman soldier of the exact variety that nailed Jesus to his death tree. But surely thinking of him, he isn’t safer this way. If he is thrown into the sea he will sink straight to the bottom in all this armor.

         Dear God, help me to be considerate of Nic’s need to dress as a soldier – whatever may be that need. Amen.

(Continues Tuesday, June 30 starting the next chapter, “The Soldier and the Jew”)

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Post #9.11, Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Saxony Shore of Gaul

         The guard at the garrison gate tells me the older soldier with the shirt of mail is staying here in the servant’s quarters of the officer’s barracks. He is not in his quarters just now. I can wait on this bench at the guard station.

         At this waking Nic has found me asleep on the bench. “Nic! My Brother, Nic, so sorry you caught me napping, I’m still in the habit of fourth watch. I meant to stay awake.”

         Time doesn’t mark our greeting hands, grins, this amazement from both that we could find one another again. Dear God, thank you.

         “I feared I would never see you again, Brother Lazarus! I wasn’t even sure you would get my message and know to come here; and then I learned the centurion was taking us on to a different port for my pay and exit because there was no more harbor here at Constantia. I had no idea how I would ever find you again.”

         “How did you come? I thought I was keeping careful watch at the old harbor.”

         “I came here by land. ‘tis a long walk on the cliffs above the beaches from the next town with a harbor.”

         “I’ll bet so.”

         Nic yammers on. “I got here yesterday and went straight to the church looking for the monk with a scrambled mind. But the priest said they had no monks at all, scrambled or sane, so I came back and slept on my worry. Then I realized God may be calling me to care for others, and I had so selfishly withdrawn the gift that the priest thought I was giving. So immediately, this morning I went to find the priest again, and give my true alms at the church. I waited what may have been an eternity at the church then the priest came up from the beach with a group of parishioners and orphans, singing and celebrating like they’d been to the next coming of Jesus! The priest said he recognized you, and sent you up here to find me.  Thank you Jesus!”

         So, this night our thanksgivings to God are aloud in antiphony. Nic is snoring before I even get to say, “And thank you for saving my feet for the new sandals I’ve been given this day. Amen.”

(So now what? Come again Thursday.)

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Post #9.10, Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Saxony Shore of Gaul

The priest might have met Nic last night, and it may be that Nic remembered his promise to be my sponsor, and that we would meet in Constantia. I asked Father Silas if he heard where the man was staying.

         “Funny, you ask how to find the man with the gift and not simply ask for the gift.” The priest is curious. “I realized after he left that you may actually be this Brother Lazarus he is seeking — ‘the monk with the scrambled mind.’ I simply hadn’t noticed you were a monk and that your mind was scrambled.”

         “When he met me I was tonsured as a monk. I was left by the roadside, naked and bleeding.  I still have memory only in glimpses. I don’t know what I had that was stolen and I have only moments of memory of a wife. There might be others who are waiting for me, but I don’t remember who they are or where they are. I think I was once in Iberia, so my hope is, if I return there I may remember more of this. Nic has offered to be my sponsor and take the journey with me. Did he happen to say where he could be found?”

         “He said he is staying at the garrison on the hill. But he was feeling doubtful he would find you because the ships of the fleet are no longer stopping here. He was going to continue his search so I don’t know how long he plans to wait here.”

         “Thank you Father Silas. Thank you so much!”

         Dear God, thank you.

         I guess my urgency to go to the garrison immediately was obvious. Father Silas told me to go on my way. He said there is already a plan to take the orphans to live with a family very soon and I need not worry for them.

         “Will they be able to come here to visit the graves?” I asked.

         “They will be no further than the church. Matthew is surely old enough to bring his brothers here, and of course, I will be glad to come with them if they ask.”

         “Of course.” Why would I worry over them? They have already spent a winter and trained the wild beasts to keep guard over them but we all know the ration of rotten roots is nearly gone and the children themselves will starve here. They have to go now.

         Dear God, stay close. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #9.9, Thursday, June 18, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Saxony Shore of Gaul

         Tentacles of light prod promise unto paths of bright day through treetops trumpeting the grand entrance of the sun.

         The children conclude their grief ritual as Father Silas leads six of his followers onto the beach. They come with baskets of bread and fishes, fruits, dried and fresh, and a block of cheese. They bring a skin of goat’s milk they say is for the “baby” but it is plenty for all. I know the children have had nothing like this for a very long time. One woman has an armload of little blankets and cloaks all knitted warm from wools.

         “She knits,” I’m told by Father Silas, “for her own lost children for whom she grieves. So giving her gift to others who grieve is a worthy bond.”

         I seem to be relegated cook for the group, so I start fanning embers to flame for the pot. The fire crackles to the music of the psalms sung at the shore. This is what the children practiced among themselves all through the night. They know this song. Dear God, let me savor this and truly, I do love you and yes, I will feed your lambs.  Amen.

         So we eat together and the talk is not of grief and poverty, but of the plenty, the love, the hopes and fearless prayer. Father Silas is clasping firmly onto every morsel of joy, smiling and wringing his hands together in unspoken but bold prayer of thanksgiving. He tells me of a man he met last night.

         “When I sent my gossip afloat into my parish to tell of the needs of these children people showed up with alms of plenty for these children. One man came who is a stranger to me, and when I saw his gift I thought surely this is the amazing and holy synchronicity of God at work, supplying even the need for a man’s sandals and cloak. I thought you would have these fine things given you in this celebration, but when I told him I knew of someone who could use his gifts, he withdrew them and told me his gift was only intended for a particular need. He said he was looking to give it to ‘a certain young monk with a scrambled mind.’ I told him we have no monks here at all. We are only a church with one priest assigned. So he took his gift and went away.”

         “Did he tell you where he was going?”

(Come back again, next Tuesday June 23)

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Post #9.8, Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Saxony Shore of Gaul

         I am aware of the scramble in the woods as we walk near the graves and the children take their posts at the arsenal of rotting roots.

Soon those ghost-gobbling boars will be upon us.  I call to the children.

         “St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John, please do not send out your wild boars; I’m only bringing you the priest who is also a friend and just as I had thought, I’ve learned he does speak for God. You will want to hear him.”

         And they do want to hear him, and touch him, and wonder over the cold golden cross hanging from the chain around his neck. His expectation of the children is simply that they are children and he is not put off by their curiosity. I am witness to the baptisms. It is he who stands in the cold water today. He doesn’t require sainthood of these little ones, so their names are simply: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They have so many questions for this man.

         While they talk the theology of a loving God I choose not to intrude my centuries of thoughts into this matter so I come to the seashore for the ebb tide when I can pick through the pools and puddles for edible shellfish. We are all groaning for a feast. I kindle the cooking pot for a seafood stew, and shell and debone my catch to suit children’s tastes. The good father seems to be enjoying the children as much as they are him. He knows songs with interesting words and makes them into calls and responses that give voice to every person of these.  Tiny John the beloved has fallen asleep in Matthew’s arms. Luke wants me to come and learn the songs too.

         We share the meal, and Father Silas announces he will come tomorrow at dawn with some of the faithful from his church for the prayers and psalms of morning matins.

         He also promises they will bring the food for the picnic on the beach. I already know of early morning beach parties with Jesus. I long for the remembrance.

         Thank you God, for this nighttime to keep the watch fire while the children nestle together with new songs and earthly hopes, chattering and repeating the new songs in calls and responses so late into this night. Amen.

(Come tomorrow)

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Post #9.7, Tuesday, June 16,2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Saxony Shore of Gaul

As the priest walks with me he is pouring out a verbose string of happenstance that allowed four orphans to struggle unknown for a whole winter in a Christian claimed wood. He unwinds a twine of guilt and caring, and also a great tangle of hurt and beauty.

         “The merchant ship came up the shore with its winter stores of wines and other libations. The ship was at quay emptied of its wares, rich with the remittance. Everyone was enjoying the bounty. The whole town and the garrison and the ship’s crew were at a great celebration of harvest riches and the abundance money buys. Then, we saw the flames up from the harbor. The soldiers and the ship’s crew returned to their posts but it was too late. Even the quay and the pilings were in ash. The three bodies of the keepers of the light were found near the woods. The pirates slashed their throats as the three tried to run from the fight and the flames. They are buried where they fell. I was summonsed to speak the last words.  I never saw these people in the church, so I assumed they were pagan or godless. I had never reached out to them. I had no thought they had other children there hiding in the woods and watching all of this unfold. I offered a message to benefit of the soldiers at that burial, so that they would hear the importance of the Christian requirements particularly baptism. Yet I also know the loving God doesn’t always fit the requirements of Church, so in my message I tried to make up something of a loophole in the required damnation for the unbaptized. I spoke those words as an excuse for judgment, rather than the proper rule of theology in which I have been trained.”

         “So apparently, our Creator God, who is the completeness of love used your words to bring hope and purpose to the small, grieving children.”

         “And you don’t know what your are talking about either, do you young man. I violated conscience on one hand and Church on the other. I have confessed it and begged forgiveness even before I knew of the children.”

         I answer, “Had you properly pronounced their parents’ souls bound for Hell, the children would have followed them to Hell.”

         We pick our way through the sticks and branches across the old road, and come upon the still abandoned beach.

(Continued tomorrow)

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Post #9.6, Thursday, June 11, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Saxony Shore of Gaul

         The priest continues, “I see your rags and bare feet but I see no children. If you want a crust of bread from me you will have to beg more truthfully.”

         “Truthfully then, I am not a beggar, I believe I have a patron who will supply my shoes and cloak when we find one another. And I am sure he is willing to share a crust of bread with me also. But what I am asking now, is of you. There are four small boys who were left orphaned by pirates when the harbor was burned.” He pales and turns his gaze to the floor.

         I hammer relentlessly.  “They saw and heard and memorized your words of burial for their parents and brother, and now they need to be baptized with the names they believe you have assigned to them. Those names would be St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John. And you have assigned them the task of educating their innocent and ignorant and unbaptized family in the teachings of Gospel. They need to hear from you the words that God loves them, and they need you to tell them that God is not a man with a gold cross on a chain, but is the Holy Deity omnipresent but invisible. I told them you speak for God but you are not God, and now they are waiting to hear you speak. They need to know that the true and invisible God who is love hears their prayers.”

         The priest speaks to me. “That was last fall when the harbor was burned.” And he speaks aloud to God. “Dear God, forgive me this terrible oversight.”

         He has no thought to argue the truthfulness of his own funeral words said back to him as blame. His concern seems to be for the children. I also speak my prayer aloud. “Dear God, thank you for sending these children a kind and caring priest. Amen.”

         “What else do the children need?” He asks.

         “Your Holiness, come with me to see them and you can decide. There is a creek for baptism, and they already know what it is to be dragged into the cold water for a simple cleaning. I think they will really appreciate a proper baptism.”

         “Are they cold and hungry?” he asks as he puts on his cassock and prepares to go with me.

         “They are needy in everything. But they are beautiful in their love and care for one another and we dare not loose sight of that goodness in our own human hollow and hurting empathy for them.”

(Come again Tuesday, June 16)

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Post #9.5, Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Shore of Gaul

My habit of keeping night watch is still useful, as I’ve already slept this day and I’m easily prepared to keep this watch fire. These children can get the kind of night’s rest gifted to little ones in every other nest and den of every forest and house this night. Dear God, thank you for the peaceful night. And thank you for staying near. Amen.

         At dawn’s first light the children do, indeed, gather at the family graves for their ritual of priestly words recalling their names and their assignment to watch over the so-called, “lost” souls of their loved ones. Probably if it is a secret kept from the priest, I should also not intrude, so I go to the freshwater creek and return with two small fishes for a hot cooked breakfast. These children are accustomed to sharing small morsels so everyone has something. In fact it is St. Luke himself who notices that I am of a larger size, and may require a larger portion, but I do not. There seems to be a sigh of relief in discovering I am also aware of the need to share.

         After a snooze on the beach I follow that little used road inland, hoping to find the church where God wears the robes and the cross of a priest. The slope of the road rises nearly to the level of the high cliff where I suppose the fire would be lit to mark the harbor if there were any more keepers of the light.  And from this high place I look inland and see the town spread in the valley, with the walled garrison nearest the shore on this same hill. The road forks into choice of town or fort. Since the church tower is in the town I turn eastward into the valley of Constantia though I do wonder if Nic is waiting for me at the garrison which would be familiar to him already.

         Yes, the priest here does wear long robes, and his chain has a gold cross just the size and type as the one I saw inscribed in the sand only last night.

         “Father, I need to speak with you. There are some children in great need here in your parish.”

         “It is the season for great need. So are you able to make an offering?”

         “My own offering is meager.”

         “So, it is just as I supposed.  You are a beggar suggesting alms to you would really be for some invisible children in need.”

(Come again tomorrow)

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Post #9.4, Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Shore of Gaul

         I’m listening to the story the children tell, quoting the words they heard spoken at the burial of their family.

         Pumpkin leads in speaking as the youngers mouth along but stumble over incomprehensible but now familiar syllables.

         “Prepare these who are unbaptized and ignorant of the holy. I pray for those who cannot speak for themselves that they will be attended by the four Apostles of the Gospels, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John who will teach them of your good works, guiding in goodness until these lost souls are set aright that they may enter into the Kingdom.

         “To Father, Son and Holy Spirit I pray for the release of these souls into your care once they are prepared. Amen.”

         Pudding footnotes, as we sit down, “So now you know what God named us. Pumpkin is St. Matthew, I am St. Mark and St. Luke is the-six-year old now, and St. John is Precious.”

         “Beloved.” I correct, knowing the story as I do.

         St. Mark continues the story, “So it is, first thing when the sun rises every morning, no matter what, we all go to the stone piles, and we say the words. And then there is a secret part that God doesn’t see. We tell our family how we are doing, and that we are good and safe anyway and that we love them still.”

         “Why is that a secret from God?”

         “God might see us crying, and we are pretty sure Apostles of the Gospels are not supposed to cry.”

         I answer, “I’ll bet God also hides her longing tears from us.”

         “Do you think God cries?” Pumpkin, I mean, St. Matthew, asks half accusing me of heresy and half in wonder.

         “I think God’s person who comes here as a man is the priest from the church and he is only assigned to speak for God. The man comes when a human person is needed; but God is always here with you and already knows your tears. Like a mother or Holy Spirit, God is with you when you are happy and shares your joy. And God knows the sorrow of loosing a family. So, yes, I do know that God cries.

         “Tomorrow I will follow the road to find the church where the priest is, and I will ask if he could come and see you again, now that you have your God names. I believe he speaks for God.”

(Come again tomorrow.)

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Post #9.3, Thursday, June 4, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Shore of Gaul

         I’ve asked these children to tell me their story. The storyteller for the group is the one called “Pudding,” a precocious child about eight years old.

         “Our father and oldest brother were the keepers of the harbor light. They climbed the cliff when the waters darkened and made a bright fire on top of the rock to guide ships to the harbor and away from the rocks. We lived in a house by the sea, and the other house was a guardhouse for soldiers from the garrison. They guarded the harbor, and helped with ships landing; but they weren’t at their post when the pirates came.  Mom sent us all up here to the garden so she could help our father and brother fight them, but the pirates had swords and torches and they won the fight and burned the houses. We hid our eyes and only Pumpkin watched, and he won’t say what he saw. But the flames twisted up high as the cliff and the soldiers saw it and came down and chased the pirates back into the sea. Then the soldiers put out the fires and worried over the sunken merchant ship and the pilings and quay all burned up now. Our house was burned too. Two of the soldiers dug pits in the sand by the woods and they buried our father and mother and brother. Another soldier of them came down the road with God and he showed God the stone piles where our family is buried.”

         “Are you sure it was God?”

         Pumpkin intercepts my rude question. “Of course we know it was God. He had long robes and a gold medal hanging from his neck.” Pumpkin drew a cross in the sand. “And he gave us our names, just as our mother said he would when we were baptized.”

         “So you talked to him?”

         “No we hid here, but he must have known we were here because he gave us our real names and told our mother what we are to do now.”

         “What did he say?”

         All four of the children stand up together and prepare to repeat the exact words and actions of the priest, now seared by grief as ritual onto their longing hearts. I stand also for the sacred.

         “Father, Son and Holy Spirit…”

         Pudding fills me in, “God knew they were, ‘Father and Son,’ but he didn’t say ‘Mother.’ To her stone pile, he said, ‘Holy Spirit.’ So now we know that our mother’s God name is ‘Holy Spirit’.”

         “Of course.”

(And what of the other names? Come again, Tuesday, June 9.)

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Post #9.2, Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Shore of Gaul

         A waft of sea breeze doesn’t even ease the stench. Is it the swine, the rotting turnips or the children themselves? Four tiny faces, maybe the oldest no older than ten, and the youngest a toddler, all with round shinning eyes, all starring into me with these large, still, pools of blue jasper, peering from starving faces.

         My instruction is the order of the evening and we all go to the fresh water creek cascading toward the sea off the rocks nearby. Cold with the memory of ice is this water; I stand in the middle of the creek taking one child at a time, scrubbing each boy and his clothing also, free of stench and soil. I’m sure they will thank me for it, once we all stop our shivers. I think they will forgive my need to clean them all in the icy water when they find I also bring them a hot broth of kelpweed.

         I find that these children have been clever salvaging the ironware and remaining supplies from the burned out cottages, so here they have well-maintained fires: one for cooking, one for warding off predators and one for keeping the coals to secure the next fires — with all the grates and hooks and iron kettles of a household. Their shelter is branches covering over a dug-out hole against an inside corner of the garden wall lined with a thick layer of dried oak leaves for bedding. Any mother squirrel would be proud.

         “I am called Lazarus, what are your names?”

         The second to the oldest speaks for them all, “I’m Pudding, and my big brother is Pumpkin, and this little one is Piggy, and the baby is Precious but he doesn’t speak in words.”

         I repeat their names with a questioning voice noticed by Pumpkin.

         “Those were just our baby names. We have real names now I think. Mother said God would give us our names at baptism, but the pirates came here first. After that God gave us our real names anyway.”

         As we sit around the fire now, warm and fed I ask for the story.

         “Tell me about the time when God came and told you your names.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #9.1, Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Shore of Gaul

         This footpath leading into the wood from the ruin by the seashore is an easy path kept clean by someone. It is carefully cleared of brush and briars and branches. It appears to be used often — this path into a graveyard. It tells of the living whose grief is fresh. And in this direction out, it must be for the trudge back into the other world, the world of living, but of the particular living ones who must now walk into unknown days of constant grief.

         It ends at a piled stonewall marking the border between the what was, perhaps last season’s garden or a farmyard and this relentless, unkempt new growth of underbrush.  I hear children’s voices or squirrels’ chatter…

         Oh, now I’m being pelted with rotten roots – turnips left too long in the earth, rutabaga by another name. Big ones, stinky ones, old black cabbage root, flying in oozing hurls from behind the stone stacks!

         “Wait! I come in peace!”

         A courageous and raggedy child stands up behind the wall, “Go away soldier-ghost or we will send legions of wild boars to eat you up!”

         Yes indeed, I do hear the snorting and groveling of wild pigs behind me, and I look. They’re coming from the woods foraging for these missiles of parsnips and turnips.

         “I’m not a soldier ghost, I’m just a human living man with a meager white tunic, which maybe makes me appear ghostly. You don’t need to be afraid of me! I step carefully to avoid the feeding frenzy nearing my human and likely to appear meaty feet. More large round roots are hurled toward me, and the wild beasts again, come near to snatch the earthy morsels. “Please, couldn’t you feed the pigs in another direction? I really mean you no harm.”

         The courageous child ducks again behind the wall and conspires with another, or perhaps several more children all a-chatter with very young voices.

         He stands and speaks again. “Very well, you can come in and tell us why you are here, but if you walk through the wall we will know you are a ghost and surely the pigs will eat you up.”

         Wild boars eat ghosts? I guess I’ve never heard that story.

         I don’t even choose to climb over the wall; I walk around from the back where there is no wall. There, in a heap against the front wall fortress is a huddle of four children.

(continues tomorrow)

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Post #8.12, Thursday, May 28, 2020

Historical setting: A Dark Age

The third day of rowing in the calm we come around rocks to see a small cove with charred pilings marking a one-time quay and now abandoned shore. At a deep distance we drop anchor and the officer tells me this is the harbor of Constantia.

         “Are you an able swimmer or must we all risk the rocks to take you ashore?”

         “I am able, thank you.”

         The water is still winter cold and I choose to wear my tunic in order to keep it with me. So with slow strokes stretching on the water I make my way to shore. Thank you God for strength and assurance. Amen.

         The sun has been high heating this sand beach for several hours, so my clothing is quickly dried and my shivers forgotten. Alone, I choose to simply bask in the quiet and warmth catching a day’s rest while nights have been spent on guard duty. With such a noble name as Constantia I was expecting a busy port city not a vacant beach. Only the gulls notice this stranger here.

         I wake rested, and find the tide is out, so I can ease these hunger pangs with an abundance of gifts of the sea. I dine on oysters. I don’t wish to be caught unprepared again, so I also gather arms full of deep and fresh varieties of kelp from this beach, and rinse it free of sand and crumbs of land twigs gone awash at sea; and I spread the salty leaves out on the sun-warmed rocks to dry. I don’t remember when I first learned to sip the deep dark broth made from boiling these dried sea ribbons but the opportunity to prepare in this way for another hunger answers my hollow hope with possibility. I find I’m nourished in optimism. Thank you God.

         Now I need to explore and find where this great city is thriving. It was named as though it were Constantine’s own child.

         Walking back through the saplings sprouting in the char I soon realize the silence hides a lost battlefield. Under the thickets are outlines of cottages seared unto earth. Just beyond these burnt dwellings are graves.

         Someone must have survived to bury these dead.  The road to this place is lost under the same underbrush that obscures the ruin, but there is a fresh footpath leading inland from these graves so I follow into a younger wood.

(Continues Tuesday, June 2, Chapter 9 “Keepers of the Light”)

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Post #8.11, Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Historical setting: Said to be 6th Century on the channel near Gaul

This night’s port is one of the wilderness places added to the Gaul side of the patrol after the Saxons parted from Rome. The officer gives me no favors now so I’m assigned the forth watch from darkness to dawn. He reminds me we are shorthanded so my watch is alone. A fire is essential here, to mark a place of warmth and light, letting any night prowlers see that this beach is already occupied by thirty sleeping soldiers. The fog numbs the dawning light but my watch ends as the others rise and we prepare for the day at sea.

         I hope Constantia is soon at hand.

         The deep fog still muffs the day so we have a slow start and no wind. This promises to be a long row into the hollow of mist.

         No more is the officer watchful of my needs; and my lack of preparation for this voyage leaves me with no personal supply of foodstuffs. Now I must beg bread crusts and apple cores from those better prepared for this expected scarcity. 

         The fog continues so nothing is visible in any direction now that the shore is obscured. We have no way to know where we are. Without our bearings the officer chooses to anchor out here in the middle of the mist. A torch is posted so we can be seen were another ship passing by. But what ship would be passing us in this fog? I would think if a port like, say maybe, Constantia were near and the rest of the fleet was also landing at that port we would’ve seen the other ships going by us; or at least we would hear the sounds of them breaking through this stillness. It sets me to wonder if I will have my twenty-six years of this obligation filled before I meet Nic again.

         By midday the mist dissolves into light. Now visible is the shadow of shoreline so we set into a hard-row for the long hours of the lengthening day until the rocky shores we follow are nearly lost in the dark of night.

         This night we are at anchor as there seems to be no harbor or even a beach. Sleep is a crowd of snores from the benches. I would suppose the seabirds are fluffed by the noisy intrusion of our awkward human stir.

         Dear God, thank you for letting me keep hopes whispered on my imagination for finding again, my brother in Christ. Amen.

(Come again tomorrow)

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Post #8.10, Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Historical setting: A forgotten time, on the Saxony Shore

The officer tucks the stone Nic gave him under his personal bag in the bow.

         I know I am breaking protocol, but I have to ask. “What is that stone Nic gave you, Sir?”

         The officer is honest. “He said he wanted you to have a message from him so he marked a stone. Who would have thought he could write? Surely he means to apologize for selfishly holding onto his armor. And we are all sorry you won’t get his beautiful shirt of mail. I guess it was in his family and he doesn’t want to sell it off.”

         I really just want his written message but it seems it is not forthcoming. “It’s okay, about the armor, Sir. But didn’t you say he wrote a message for me?”

         “I don’t expect it can be read, even if one of us were literate. It looks like pretend scribbles not real writing.  I don’t think he can read or write either. Maybe he just wanted to apologize.”

         “May I see it?”  He trudges to the bow and back with the rock. It is marked with letters. Nic may not pass a bishop’s penmanship standard on parchment, but on rock, it is clearly legible. I suppose the illiterate one is the head officer. In an exotic scrawl are the letters “C-o-n-s-t-a-n-t-i-a.”

         The officer is waiting for my opinion of the rock. So I answer,  “His letters wander, but I think he means for me to pay the due on my indenture when we reach Constantia. Is that one of our ports-of-call?”

         “Without Nik we are already shorthanded. Surely you will stay until we find replacements. And, my boy, whatever would you do in Constantia? You didn’t even know it was once one of our ports? You will surely be a stranger there.”

         “As I am also a stranger here.  And yet you have taken me in. I hope I will find Constantia hospitable to a stranger.”

         No more niceties. The officer turns on his heel and orders the coxswain to set us out to sea.

         We are immediately untethered from the quay and turned seaward at a fast pace. We slip lithely passed the other ships of our fleet as though we are racing on a mission for a win though it is really more an officer’s momentary rage. Once beyond sight of Granonna the rhythm of the oars sighs back to normal.

(Continued tomorrow)

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Post #8.9, Thursday, May 21, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

         The stationed militia sends two guards for the next watch. I probably won’t sleep tonight. My thoughts and hopes are racing in a great cacophony of thanksgivings. My need and Nic’s longing is a beautiful synchronicity beyond my own mind’s ability to unscramble. It is good this moment to find myself basking in the Holy Spirit of God. I’m grateful for finding Spirit shared with another person.

         Dear God, thank you for opening this gift for me this night. Thank you for this new brother, Nic. Amen. I have no need to sleep for better dreams tonight.

         Our next port of call is Grannona, and our meeting place with the two other ancient and limping dromon of the old Saxony Shore Fleet. The centurion who oversees this fleet comes aboard and inspects our ship. Our officer brags on the find of me. He particularly mentions my strength and my youthfulness and a possibility that weapons and armor might be purchased from an older rower who has fulfilled his duty. The cost of these items could be billed onto my indenture. To me, all of this sounds horrifically thoughtful. But Nic steps forward to speak privately with the officers. Their circle of secret is intruded with a glance or two toward me, until the centurion instructs Nic to accompany him to discuss this more privately on the quay. Our ship’s officer tells Nic to leave his things here and he follows them onto the dock.

         We sit here waiting at the oars ready for what seems a very long time. I imagine we are waiting for Nic to offer to pay my due so he will officially become my patron. But of course, he has not yet received his wage.

         When our ship’s officer returns alone he removes Nic’s gear from the hook.

         “Sorry, Boy, I thought we would have a fine suit for you. Turns out Old Nik doesn’t want to sell it. I don’t know what use he has for a shirt of mail. He’s just being cantankerous. He’s trying to pay your price too. I think he wants a slave now that he’s a rich man.” With  Nic’s armor in hand he goes back to the enclave on the quay with Nic and the centurion. The officer exchanges the armor with Nic for a large flat stone that Nic picked up on the quay and marked. Again, the officer returns to our ship alone, while Nic and the centurion board the centurion’s ship with no more word.

(Continues Tuesday, May 26)

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Post #8.8, Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

I break the silence with a comfortable question of fact.  “Did you speak to the bishop at the monastery when you were turned away, Brother Nic?”

         “Oh yes, certainly I did. It was bishop himself who sent me away.”

         “Did he offer a reason?”

         “He said my penmanship was weak. But then I learned that even if I practiced, the only ones they were taking were from noble families or those with wealthy patrons. Now that I will receive my wage I will be wealthy so I shall be the patron.”

         “What does a wealthy patron do?”

         “Well, surely I can gift a monastery to make them take you in anyway, even if your penmanship is weak and your mind is scrambled.”

         “Thank you Nic, but it’s not my penmanship that is my weakness. I am one who is known as a heretic in these times.”

         “That’s okay, Brother Lazarus. I have a sword. I’ll keep you safe.”

         “Do you think God wants you to use your father’s sword to save a heretic?”

         “Brother Lazarus, God knows me well and yet God sent you to me.”

         “Do you receive me as a blessing or a curse, Nic? Have you no worry that God would judge you harshly for sponsoring a heretic?”

         “Brother Lazarus, you may think me a heretic also, but the god who judges heresies is not the Creator God of love I knew as a child. I met God before our tribe knew that Christians of Creed owned God. This is my secret. I keep it buried, because if others know I might have to draw my sword. These things might make me sound damnable to some other Christians.

         “I met God in the forest, when we had a forest. It was before we knew of the Creed. The priest of our tribe was Arian and chose not to adjust to the rule of Trinity. He knew well Genesis and Psalms and the gospel stories and he believed that God created the whole world and everything in it, even the sacred trees of the pagans. It was our secret together that the real God is bigger than kingdoms or earth or even the heavens, and that no matter what people say, God loves the whole Creation. I keep this secret close to my heart, and it feels so good, like some kind of sin or something. So I suppose I’m also a heretic.”

         Dear God, thank you for Nic. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #8.7, Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

         I, the newest recruit at the oars, am serving guard duty with one who has completed his full obligation. He seems to be contemplating his life and the opportunities before him.

         At the next tower turn on the wall with this man who calls himself Nic or Nik I choose to call him Nic. I’m thinking of Jesus, meeting in the dark of night to listen to the plea of Nicodemus, a wealthy Pharisee. [John 3] He asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” For Jesus that was no harder a concern than this man Nic seems to worry over now. For Jesus the answer was easy, “You must be born from above.” For me, I can only think of scoffs and clichés. “You’re never too old to sign on again,” or “you just never know what lies ahead,” or maybe that great old unknowable therefore untruthful response: “God has a plan for you.”

         Dear God, guide my listening. Amen.

         I finally speak, “I will choose to call you Nic, not Nik.”

         “Thank you, Thank you, Brother Lazarus! I too am thinking of Nicodemus in the Gospel story. But my father, who seemed my namesake, was named Nikolas. So you surely must know what I’m asking. And if you were Jesus you would say simply, ‘become born of the spirit.’ Isn’t that right Brother Lazarus?”

         “Easier said…”

         “You, my brother in Christ, Lazarus, are surely the answer to my prayers.  I’ve begged God in every prayer every day, ‘how may I serve you with nothing to give but my father’s iron shirt and sword?’ And now has come this day when I am newly rich! And what would a newly rich man do with a wage of twenty-six years, and a shirt of mail and a sword and a dagger? I know!  He can be the patron and the guard of a holy monk with a scrambled mind! You, my friend, are my holy purpose!”

         “I see.”

         Dear God, what can I say? He surely has a good intention. Please guide my scrambled mind. Amen.

         We walk the next two turns in silence, but I can feel his creative sense of joy rising. No more is our silence born of nothing to say; now he has all his years of longing to share his deep Holy Spirit with one who also knows of this kind of joy.

(continues tomorrow)

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Post #8.6, Thursday, May 14, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

With God thought to be on a distant shore we light the watch-fires on the fortress towers. Maybe any passing pirates will see our torches and fires and the moored dromon and know that this is a night for rest not war. There is a serene darkness over these waters that yearns peace.

         Looking for small talk I pick up the conversation. “Wouldn’t you suppose they would have more use for Roman ships in the waters near Constantinople now that Justinian has made a place over there to please God?”

         “I don’t seek God in the glorious buildings.”

         Maybe it’s my haircut, but I seem to emit some kind of holy judgment, so I try to ease acceptance for Nic’s likely pagan leaning, “So are you one who goes looking for God, or would you prefer avoiding the watchful eye?”

         He offers his silence. Perhaps I shouldn’t coax our chat to politics or religion. We walk without words all the way to the corner tower before we turn to the right for the next wall’s length. 

         He answers now. “Brother Lazarus, all those years ago I wanted to enter a monastery, be tonsured as a monk and speak the vows aloud that are in my heart. I was naïve then. I believed promises to God were sacred as my childhood prayers. Then I learned about the politics of it all, so I followed my mother’s wishes for me. I took up arms — the very arms my father left for me.

         “Before I was born he fought for our tribe, then our chieftain yielded and joined with Frankish-Christians we knew as enemy. In war both the winners and the losers die. This same shirt of mail I wear hardly saved my father when he was wounded. It did let him live long enough that he could return to my mother and die in her arms. Soon after I was born and his name, his armor, his sword, his helmet, even the Frankish Roman shield and cloak were all mine. But I never saw soldiering as my dream. I never even tried on this iron shirt until the day I was turned away at the monastery of the Saint. Then I dressed for war and left.

         “I hoped for a fatal wound, but what I got was twenty-six years at the oars. And now that I’m too old to sign on for another tour, I will soon be released with my wage.”

 (Continues Tuesday, May 19)

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Post #8.5, Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age along the channel off Gaul

         We’re landing at Aletum near a rumored haven for pirates. Two of us are assigned the night watch, I, in my hemp tunic, and he in his leather gambeson, tunic of chain mail, fine plumed helmet, scarlet cloak, shield and a clean, sharpened broadsword. He also hides a dagger. His Roman shoes lace to his knees over his britches. I don’t envy the fashion, but as we step onto the stones in the tide-wash I wish most for a pair of sandals.

         The others go to the shelter with their gear while this guard and I report to the garrison.  These ports of call are mostly left from older times and now many have local militia stationed, so my fears of being sent to the pirates alone and nearly naked, an unarmed pacifist, are greatly eased by the simple reality. Not only that, I find that this fully armed older man I seem to be partnered tonight is not, as I imagined, infuriated to be stuck with the least useful of us. He tells me he actually requested this assignment.

         “I’m called Nic, or Nik. (The difference is Nic has a more gutteral ‘c.’) And I guess you’ve already heard the names they call you – Godman, but sometimes, sounding a bit like Goddamn.”

         I hadn’t heard. But I’m not surprised.  I’ve enough life-sense to know that a tonsured pacifist isn’t a likely hero among the troops. Not only am I useless in war, they might suppose I’m measuring them all for some kind of holy judgment.

         “I’m called Lazarus.” In the awkward silence of ‘so what?’ I start, “So, I hear we’re in it for twenty-six years.”

         “Not I. This is my last run.”

         “You’ve been patrolling the sea for twenty-six years?”

         “I signed on when Justinian was promising to rebuild the empire. We had hopes. Apparently he put all the power and the glory forever and ever in the east, building the grandest of all churches in the rubble of Constantine’s dream.”

         “Really?” I’m trying to recall. Surely I would know of such a thing.

         “They call it the Holy Wisdom, the mind of God.”

         “Hagia Sophia?”

         “Yes, that’s what it’s called in Greek. It is said to be shining bright as heaven, but it is all the way across the seas on another shore.”

         “How do you know these things?”

         “When they were finished gathering the materials needing so many ships, sailors were sent on to other duty. Some came here.”  

(continues tomorrow)

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Post #8.4, Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age along the Channel off Gaul

         Seated as I am, the last rower of this facing, my forward view is of the shoulders of thirty-one other men all moving evenly in the dance tempo of the row.  Each man has his shield facing the sea above his oarlock, and on the interior hook above his place dangles his full gear.  Those that have the conscription raw fiber tunic like mine also seem to have the leather garb or gambeson, to wear under armor. Some of the men have actual pieces of armor hanging aside on the personal hook. A few have shirts of mail, which are very expensive as they are finely hammered chains linked together as fabric. Nearly every hook also has the helmet and the scarlet cloak of the Imperial army.  I have nothing for a fight, or even the march and I probably won’t be purchasing armor with sword and shield, so my hook simply keeps my plain, rough-spun hemp tunic aloft, above the ever-damp hull.

         We are a somewhat smaller galley than the large warships of old, with only our sixteen oarsmen on a side and only one level of rowers.

         The smaller make-due ports along the western coast of Gaul are spaced apart by a normal days’ row and are fit out with a sleeping floor or possibly an actual barracks. [footnote]

            These are not the times of epic sea battles where thousands drown as heroes into the Great Sea between Rome and Greece.  Here, in these colder waters a little ship on patrol easily out-sizes and out-mans the pirate ships, usually made over from captured merchant vessels. And on this run we do make port at Aletum.  This is near the island that seems set in the channel just for the haunts of pirates like an old dead tree stands above the forest, simply to be a snag for the vultures and other raptors to peruse their prey.

         Preparing to go ashore here requires the silent intensity of donning armor. We slide the dromon between the pilings leftover from an ancient slip torn from the shore by storms long ago. The officer assigns two of us to the night watch duty while the others will be sleeping in the shelter.

(continues tomorrow.)

[footnote]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_navy  — retrieved 12-21-19

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Post #8.3, Thursday, May 7, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age along the Saxony Shore of Gaul

         It is the dance. “II, I, Pull,” over and again in 3/8 time, the Hora, it is without the full circle of the wedding. We’re all aligned facing back. “II, I, Pull, II, I, Pull,” shoulder-to-shoulder together in the drumbeat of the dance. It seems I’m bound to pull this oar for twenty-six years?

         My memory seems idled with Rome somewhere in the fifth century, but my shipmates tell me it is now 562 A.D. That’s why the bright stone-works and solid beams of Roman progress now appear mossy and rotting.

         My strange circumstance of so many healings back into life, living as an earthly man into one century after another would only confuse them; so I keep my gift of life and life again to myself. They do see I was once shorn as a monk, and they remember my rescue from the woods on the bank of the River Liger which brought me into their midst before the latest repair of the hull.

         Maybe this is history. Maybe it is our shared, universal memory. Maybe it is a cycle, and so what has been is what will be and history is its own prediction.

         The Empire crumbles as so many tribes of Goths from the northern reaches have had to find new lands on the southern side of the Danube. Maybe it is because they are simply heathen barbarians looking to rile wars. Or maybe it is because of the rising water, soaking the lowlands where food was once grown. I haven’t noticed it happening in my lifetime even though my life is forever long. The blessing is that the earth changes happen slowly in God’s time, not human hurry. (May it ever be so.) So the warming has been happening over thousands of years — the ice age with its bergs and mammoths, white bears and ermine in winter white fit for kings — is receding to the north. The omen of change is melting ice and rising seas.

         One last freeze-over of the boundary river allowed the tribes to cross over to make their homes in these lands already being coveted by Roman expansion. And so the wars are stirred.  The desperation of need for safety and food honed the thuggish fighting skills of these tribes of refugees we call barbarians: Visagoths, Ostragoths, and tribes and tribes of Franks, and of course the Anglos, the Lombards and the Saxons, the Salvadorians, the Polynesians and Indonesians, the Californians and Australians and those at the tip of the Long Island just beyond the Hamptons.

         Hasten slowly.

(Continues Tuesday, May 12)

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Post #8.2, Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

While I was off in quietude knitting odds and ends of the yarns of memory into some kind of fabric of facts or dreams, the good doctor was visiting the shipyard where the old hull of the dromon is being stitched back to purpose. He is reporting to me on his meeting with the officer.

         “I think the officer is hoping you will join them as they will soon be back patrolling the Saxony Shore with the rest of the fleet. He said he hopes to impress his superior with, not only an old ship still afloat, but with at least one new and younger rower on the benches. Any little good news these days will surely buoy the wider hopes for Roman restoration.”

         “Maybe I can row to my old home again. I hope to journey to Iberia.”

         “You probably won’t row your way to Iberia on that old dromon. The ports on your ship’s patrol are all to the northeast, up the coast of Gaul on what used to be the Saxony Shore. But Saxony is no longer under the Roman order; only the Gaul side of the channel is patrolled.”

         “So, you are saying we won’t be going to Hispania? Possibly I can arrange a wage for my work then buy a passage on a merchant ship to Iberia.”

         “Yes indeed. The navy pays a substantial wage. A loyal navy rower signs on for twenty-six years and at the end of the completed service the wage is issued.”

         “You mean for twenty-six years I will sit in the hull of a warship, and every waking hour draw an oar in perfect rhythm with the thirty-one others – all those men doing the same labor together ever day for twenty-six years?”

         “Well it won’t be as dull as it sounds. Of course, a patrol may encounter pirates or raiders along the way and the dangers will need to be rebuffed. Or maybe Rome will become empowered to fight wars again. That’s why they require only loyal Roman troops for the work. Slaves really don’t fight well.”

         “I don’t fight at all, loyalty or not. They would surely be disappointed.”

         “You are already indentured to the officer for your rescue and your care. I think you will have to make a payment or do the work.”

         “Sounds daunting.”

(Come again tomorrow.)

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Post #8.1, Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Saxony Shore of Gaul

         God knows I’m thankful for glimpses into memory of a wife and for the gentle thoughts of touches — the warmth of earthly breath and fragrance — all these remembrances of love shared. I know earth’s metaphors speak a truth of so many kinds of human love revealing a nature of God who is love.

         Of course, I know that’s not what is taught. I know it is my heresy, not theirs, that lets me see these thoughts of love as a holy window on grace rather than the Original Sin they say it is. One thing is certain, if I am a monk, I’m surely not one who is chaste.

         Thank you God for these glimpses of love given to people in earthly ways and spoken through my human understanding in tangible metaphor. Amen.

         The sun is a full ball of orange sinking quickly. I’ve got to keep my appointment with the gentle doctor or the whole Roman infantry will be sent to find me. I see he is still waiting for me.

         “Dr. Neifus, thank you for meeting me here. I’m not sure I could find my way all the way to the infirmary, but I can assure you my clarity of mind is returning. And as you promised, it’s coming to me in doses I can manage.”

         “So have you a memory of your own lifetime and not just grandmother stories, now?”

         “I’d like to say I do, but I’m still only gathering it in glimpses.  At least all those blinks of remembering are not beating me with logs.  I did recall a happier time and I am anxious now to pursue that.”

         The doctor also made good use of an afternoon to himself. He explains, “I took a wander over to the shipyard to learn of any news of progress in the repairs on that old Roman galley, a dromon. And, I have to say, my real purpose was to brag a bit on my ancient skills as a healer.  I told the ship’s head officer that your healing was progressing very well. And now, I hope that’s still true.”

         “It is true indeed, Doctor. You are a fine and dedicated healer.  If the officer were to test my rowing endurance I’m sure I would do well. And I’m anxious to pursue my remembrances now that they are not simply revealed to me as terrors. Did the officer talk with you of any plans to set sail?”

(Come again tomorrow)

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Post #7.14, Thursday, April 30, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

Dear God, guide my feet, my heart, my remembering. Thank you for strength and healing. And thank you also for Dr. Neifus, though not understanding, at least he is respectful of my need for this solitude. Thank you for staying near.

         I ponder the glimpses of memory. In flashes I can see the damp logs flinging toward me wielded by desperate men and nearby the pale woman on the bed, never smiling, coveting my relic. Why had I a relic? I find no reason in the jumble of it all to understand why I would have a relic. I know who I am, and I’m not of pagan root that worships remnants of the dead and rotting saints. [Footnote] 

         This dell is young. This stand of willows grows up from a boggy floor of a once deep woods. The ancient forest was surely felled of its beech and ash and oaks to squelch the need for sturdy beams so that the building of city could stretch to new edges beyond the old Roman walls. Such were the earthly dreams of greatness that drove us then. But when was that? I’m trying to remember when city walls turned mossy and pitted. May it come back to me, may it come.

         A yellow flower blooms here by the riverbank. I remember her beautiful golden hair. I remember it perfectly well this moment. We laid together as husband and wife. Is she wondering where I am now? Did I leave her somewhere by the river’s edge? Where was it I was going when I last waited here at this riverside port in Nantes? I have a thought of Iberia.  Perhaps my home is in Iberia and I only returned here to Nantes of Gaul to follow the river Liger to the Civitas Toronorum in order to pray in solitude in the caves of the saints. Why did I leave Iberia? I feel an urgency to go to Hispania. I’m not sure where I belong but when I see it, I think I will remember it.

         Dear God, thank you for the tender veil of green willow leaves today. Help my dimmed memories come to me in portions I can manage. Amen.

(Come back Tuesday, May 5)

[Footnote]

AM Klevnas  Girton College, University of Cambridge submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.  This academic paper explores an archeological mystery of Europe during the Merovingian Period in which graves of probable respected community members are disturbed within a short time of the burials. One hypothesis he explores is this: “Early Christians featured close physical interactions with the remains of the dead, practices which are almost unrecognizable in today’s Christianity.  Exhumation of remains and translation to a higher status burial place was a key rite in the creation of an early medieval saint.”

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Post #7.13, Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul, probably 462 C.E.

         I beg the doctor. “Please let me go alone for my prayers.”

         “Lazarus, my boy, you know the dangers of walking alone into the woods.”

         “So you think Nantes has its woods filled with robbers wielding dead tree stalks for clubs, waiting to attack and rob me of this assigned conscription infirmary tunic? Or maybe they are waiting to rob me of these bandages you have provided? What use would I be to robbers now?”

         “So you have a memory of the weapon used against you?”

         Yes, he is right. I did have a glimpse of remembering. They had rotted limbs fallen from trees older than that stand of greenwood in which the robbers hid. The fat woman was on a bed and she wanted my relic. 

         “Doctor, really, I’m safe. I have no treasure or relic.”

         “So you do remember the attack. Tell me what of it you recall now.”

         I can’t tell him about the fat woman and the relic. Surely he would think my brain is fluff then. “I just remember they were swinging heavy, rotted logs. The two men attacking me were hardly fit with strength enough to wield such woods. Surely they weren’t professional robbers. In fact they seemed silly and weak, needy they were of both weapons and strength. It was odd they would go up against my strength when I hadn’t even any riches. Yet they did. I’m sure I had nothing to rob.”

         “If you go alone into the wood, how can I trust you will take care not to climb onto rocks or try to move more quickly than you are able? Perhaps I should keep watch from a distance so you can have your private prayers but with assured safety.”

         “You are an excellent doctor. My healing is remarkable. But you have to admit, I’m quite well enough to take myself for a walk in a gentle wood.”

         “Very well then. I see I can’t stop you.  I will meet you right here before the sun sets.”

         “Thank you Doctor.”

(continues tomorrow)

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Post #7.12, Tuesday, April 28,2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul, some say 562 C.E.

“I remember the Roman galley which I can see right now from this place where I sit on the harbor wall. And it is still hanging from the ropes for repairs.  I would guess my healing is coming better than the repairs of rot to the ancient ship’s hull.”

         Dr. Neifus answers, “That would be a good guess. Brother Lazarus, I always figure our Creator God works amazing wonders with things like healing; so we need not worry, even our memories can sometimes heal. Our minds, when cleared of devils and demons, can work for the good of us speaking in dreams and remembrances in the exact and appropriate doses of truth to match our endurance for such truths.  In my days as a battlefield surgeon I saw many soldiers suffering from terrors of battle, sometimes in hidden ways. I’ve noticed that some recollections are better kept hidden in bandages. But in time you may find your memory is closer to reality where others of us live.”

         “So it is your prognosis that I’m not living in reality?”

         “I hear you talking about times in generations long past as though it were your own life. What would you call that?”

         “Doctor, I don’t mean to be unappreciative of your fine care but I need to take some time to untangle my thoughts. Surely my monk’s trim says that I’m one to spend my hours in quiet prayer. Perhaps my memory would find creative renewal in nature. I just wish to spend some time alone now.”

         “Very well, if you don’t want me to watch so closely I will turn my face away and watch the river.”

          “Doctor, I’m asking that I may walk on alone and follow that path that lays next to the river and leads into that dell. I’ll return before nightfall. We can meet right here. I can assure you I will be in a better state of mind.”

         Time alone for prayer is a strangely valuable commodity. I remember well, Jesus begging my little sister to give him some time alone. Even the disciples were sent off in their boat while he wandered the hills. Then when he returned to them he was in a strange and holy state of calm. He seemed to them a ghost, walking above the turmoil of the frothing sea-waters. Why is quietude so hard to find? It seems so abundant in places with no people.

         (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #7.11, Thursday, April 23, 2020

Historical setting: 562 C.E. Gaul, but Lazarus is remembering Clovis in 495

“Why do I remember bits of times that make an argument with the kind doctor?  I want to refute these politics that Dr. Neifus doesn’t even think belong in this generation. I defend.

         “That King, Clovis, has no respect for the faith.”

         “Brother Lazarus how can you think the first baptised Christian King of the Franks didn’t respect the Church? He is a saint you know.”

         I should keep these thoughts to myself. I can hardly imagine Clovis a saint. Clovis is always blundering into sacramental things in a most unholy way. Some of us see his antics as heresy; others excuse power plays as signs of greatness. We have to wonder if it is by pagan superstition or by holy miracle that he declared himself Christian in the first place. He claims to have made his raucous style of negotiation directly with Christ.

         — [His prayer] If You grant me victory over these enemies, and if I experience the power people dedicated to Your name claim… then I shall believe in You… — [Footnote 1]

          He assumes God is like any other crowned head and is soon going to pay him écuage to keep the peace; which of course Clovis doesn’t keep. He only sells his promise then breaks it and executes his victim. He hasn’t the slightest thought of Jesus’s pacifism. He plays God like a chess piece.  Dear God, surely you must already know this, and yet…

         Now the doctor is questioning my knowledge of the King’s commitment. “How can you say the first Christian King of the Franks didn’t respect the Church?”

         I’m sure I saw this myself when I was working at the inks. The king’s guards came into the monastery where we were working. I can only try to explain to the doctor what I saw.

         “The King’s guards brought Clovis’s captives into the monastery.  Chararic and Chararic’s son were said to be disloyal to the king. Clovis demanded they both be shaven and shorn with the monk’s tonsure. Then the king demanded Chararic be ordained as a priest and his son as a deacon. Doctor, how holy could be those Christian orders? Clovis only wanted to humiliate Chararic before their executions. It was nothing like a king respectful of Christianity. Really Doctor, I do remember some things.”[Footnote 2]

         “Lazarus, my boy, you need to give yourself time to heal. Let not the ancient times bother you now.”

(Come back Tuesday, April 28)

Footnote 1   Gregory of Tours: The Merovignians edited and translated by Murray, Alexander Callander, series edited by Paul E. Dutton, “Readings in medieval Civilization and Cultures: X, Petersborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2006. p. 10.

Footnote 2 Ibid. p. 20.

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Post #7.10, Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Historical setting: 562 C.E. Gaul, remembering 497 C.E.

I argue what I remember with the doctor. “I do remember Nantes when it was an important Roman shipyard and a thriving port.”        

         “It’s the Emperor’s dream that even here in Gaul the Empire will again be Roman.  The wish is called the ‘Justinian recovery.’ Perhaps you heard this from an old great-grandmother who would tell you tales of the magnificent Roman cities of times past.”

         “Doctor, I’m sure what I saw was Nantes. Seeing it now, I can clearly recall.”

           “Old stories abound. Before Clovis won the wars for the Franks, all along the Saxony Shore every Roman port had a thriving civitas with roads and bridges.  My grandparents talked often of the old Roman times when they were young. You have, no doubt, heard stories.”

          I know the reason for this rot and disrepair. It is Clovis himself. Clovis, the King of the Franks plunders everything for his own selfish gain. But I try to stay far away from the politics and wars in the writing room of the monestary. How can I explain?

         “You know Doctor, Clovis uses every sort of treachery and one-by-one subdues each king even of other Frankish tribes. Some pay him tribute. Regardless, in the end, they’re all assassinated or executed.”

         The doctor argues. “Clovis the King was of another time?  [Footnote]  Brother Lazarus, I’m telling you, these tales of the first king bringing the Franks together as one winning people are just stories.  If they happened ever, it was long before you or I were born.”

         He says I’m confused yet he tells me nothing of a time that is now if it isn’t then. And I so wish to weave together enough of remembering that I may find my way back to the familiar places and people.  The new bandages around my head now allow me to see clearly, and they leave enough space that I can touch my head and find that, indeed, my hair is tonsured as a monk’s. The doctor notices my hand exploring my tonsure.

         “Don’t touch the wound.” He must be watching me every minute just so he can worry over the wraps that he, himself wove from the nest of gauze.

         “I wasn’t touching the wound. I was just touching to notice that my hair and beard are indeed tonsured, and only slightly growing back. The bare part is fuzzy now.  So I am trying to think of a monastery to set my memory right.”

(continues tomorrow)

[footnote]  Gregory of Tours, Bishop of Tours, bshp. 571-595 wrote the “History of the Franks” c 594 CE. [(under a different title) Translated by Ernest Brehaut in reprint for First Rate Publishers.] The Christian conversion of Clovis was significant to the Christian history of Europe. Gregory’s history is clearly flavored with his own superstitions and biases. Most interesting to this blogger is that Gregory included the deceit and power-plays Clovis used while also presenting this first king as a worthy Christian saint.

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Post #7.9, Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

The doctor doubts my memory. But there are some things I know. “I know I am Lazarus, friend of Jesus, and I think I might work as a scribe and I remember that I’m often the one to take the gospels to the Christian fringe.”

         Through the dim shadows of gauze I see he gestures the “cross” on himself; but as I see so often, it is only a so-called “cross” of shoulders, head and gut – nothing of the Jesus pain or the laborer’s usefulness like the pierced hands and feet.

         He says, “So perhaps in a symbolic way you are saying that Jesus is your friend.” He is trying to offer me a comfortable escape from my admitted heresy of making Jesus sound human.

         This chat is no longer about who I am, but about what has become of Christianity in these times of excessive Trinity with its creeds and persecutions; it’s about heresy. I suggest we take a walk outside in case there is a better clarity among the things of earth.

         The split of my head is mending nicely and the seasonal re-leafing of greens seems to bring healing to all of the earth. A warm breeze wafts from the south and nuzzles the mist resting on nothing over the river like a levitating magic carpet ready to fly off into another ancient myth. With no wars or pirates to bruise the troops of Roman Navy the medic of the ranks has no one but me to mend, so he follows closely on my springtime stroll along the riverbank.

         “So, Dr. Neifus, I feel I have a recollection of Nantes from another time.  Once I sat here on this short wall waiting for a merchant’s ship to take me to my mission in Iberia.”

         “Give yourself time, Lazarus, my boy. Ports tend to look alike, one to the next. The merchant ships mostly use the port at St. Nazaire, so I doubt you are remembering Nantes.”

         Really, as I see now, it is quite the same only the shipyard seems more poorly maintained worn and out-of-use. And even the city wall shows the wear of time. I wonder when it was once, and when it is now.  But if I ask the doctor he will surely think my mind is fluffed. I do know who I am but apparently he has no imagination for that.

         (continues tomorrow)

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Post #7.8, Thursday, April 16, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

         At this waking there is no river or soaking hull and I can see dimly through a loose weave of gauze. The ceiling is beam and stucco and the house is very small. Someone is here with me, and as I move he takes notice and comes near.

         “You must lie very still. And no more rowing, young fellow, until your wound is healed.”

         He must believe he is aged and I am not.

         “I am Dr. Neifus surgeon with the navy serving the Saxony Shore fleet, what there is of it anymore. I expect you will be here in my infirmary all the while your ship is in the ropes for repairs at the shipyard.”

         “I am Lazarus, friend of Jesus, but I don’t know how I came to be at the oars of a Roman Galley. Surely I’m not a soldier.”

         “You are tonsured as a monk. Perhaps your orders are holy?”

         “Possibly. And I heard mention that my robes and jewels were stolen, so perhaps I am a wealthy churchman.”

         “Possibly, but doubtful. You bear the muscle and sunscald of a farmer or a laborer.”

         “Of course. Jesus is also a builder. I too am probably a laborer. I have no memory of it, but it makes sense. My father was wealthy but my sisters and I choose to live in empathy for the poor. As a monk I must have been clothed in poverty. I’m just sure I wasn’t robbed of jewels or robes. Probably my robber was someone more needy even than this poor monk.”

         “So you also are supposing yourself a monk.”

         “I do have some thoughts and maybe they are memory. I’m sure that I am Lazarus, friend of Jesus.”

         “You probably don’t mean to say Jesus was a human friend of the physical substance of humanity.”

         “Doctor, I know you know human substance well. And Jesus was indeed my own flesh and blood friend, killed by the Romans on the executioner’s cross.”

         “Surely your mind is clouded. Perhaps Lazarus is the name of the saint you have chosen to emulate as you follow the great works of the Holy Son of the Three in One. You need to take your time in remembering.”

(Come back Tuesday, April 21)

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Post #7.7, Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

         At this waking I’m lying in the soaking hull, but now I can see a pale of light through strips of bandages.  That brings a promise of healing and an assurance of again having sight.

         “The hull is taking on water faster than men can pump the bilge, so you will have to move to the empty bench astern or you will be the first to drown. I will help you, Man.”

         He seems to be talking to me. I’m more surprised than anyone that I can be pulled up to standing and dropped again, seated on a rower’s bench.

         “Don’t mind the oar here. We won’t ask you to row today.”

         That assurance to me seems to draw a roar of laughter or maybe it’s just taunts from the others. Perhaps, in the eyes of the men at the oars I look so broken it would only be in jest that I could ever be useful to them.

         Seated on this bench I find resting my sore head on the ship’s hard rib-bone is nearly debilitating. And the dirge of the coxswain drum and the draw of the oars skews a sour dissidence with the pounding in my head. So I sit here upright and I choose to let the pounding head find the newer, better tempo. Possibly no one will notice if I should try dipping the oar that is here across my knees. Possibly I can help row. But in an instant the rage of river snatches the handle from my grip and it flies past, and snaps through the lock as another man has grabbed it fast and recaptured it, bringing it back in place before it would be torn away and lost in the river.  So much for my subtle attempt to help; all I can do now is apologize.

         “I’m sorry I tried the oar. I was hoping I could be useful.”

         I feel another next to me like a warm lion after a weasel kill shoulder-to-shoulder with me.

         “You want to row Lazarus, Man? Put your hands this way on the oar while it is flat inside.” He places my hands as though he were shaping the straw of a lifeless scarecrow in a field to make it appear alive and fool the crows. He seems surprised I actually have a grip on it. “Now, Man, when you are ready we can dip the oar, and immediately the instant it touches the froth, together we will draw it back with our full strength.” His hands are doing the work. My hands are pretending. It is indeed humiliating and…

(Continued Tomorrow)

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Post #7.6, Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

         At this waking I hear the sounds of the oars and the groaning in effort against wind driven current. I can feel the pulse of the river rills moving under my shoulders, as I lay here on the boards of hull, spine to spine with ship. Fresh bandages cover my eyes so at least there is cause for the incessant darkness.

         A cold dampness is rising inside this ship’s hull as if it were the tide breaching onto dry beach. Two rowers are summoned from the stern-most bench to man the bilges and those left at the oars are heaving and drawing at peak tempo with the plan to reach Nantes before the leaking hull drowns us all.

         I hear the officer and his assistant deciding what to do with me as I am in such a useless state. “Sir, I’ve heard that at the next bend in the river, where the shelf of rock juts out near a vineyard is the place where the gardens of remedies grow. We could just leave him there in the care of the pagan hag.”

         “But he may be a loyal Christian, and besides we need to move quickly to the shipyard or we will all be floundering in the river.”

         “And of course, Sir, he may also be fair at the oars when he has healed a bit.”

         “Good man. You share my thoughts. If we could add a loyal rower to our numbers as we rejoin our fleet the centurion will surely be impressed. In these times, adding one, even a bandaged one, would seem a hopeful sign of renewal. I say we decide what to do with him later. By the time the ship is repaired we will surely know of his possibility.”

         I have no recollection at all of ever having been in a warrior’s galley. My pounding head offers no glimpses of any goodness from this. I know Jesus is my friend and he will never find me here if I’m all armored and aligned in Roman battalions. But I do remember who I am. I know who I am; thank you God, for this clarity.        

         “You are awake now, Friend?”

         One is speaking to me. I answer, “I can hear you.”

         “We believe you were robbed and beaten. Do you remember what happened?”

         “I don’t remember, but I do know who I am.”

         “And who are you?”

         “I am Lazarus, friend of Jesus.”

         “Let’s give him more time. He may have lost his mind but surely he’s a Christian.”

(Continues tomorrow)        

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Good Friday, Post #7.5.1, Friday, 4-10-2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

         The relentless love of God for all Creation riles the prayerless who fear the power of forgiveness.  The Romans feared. The persecutors of the Jews feared. …  Fear guises as power and commits executions.

            Jesus, I’m remembering you in this darkness. I hear the Roman guard coming close. The high Imperial officer asks who you are. How can I tell him? I am silent as they mock your kingship with thorns. I should get on my feet now and speak for you. What can I say? Pilate would be confused if I mention that your kingdom is not of this earth. Could I offer the truth that wealth and power and treasure are pointless? I should tell Pilate that his mighty rule is nothing. The Kingdom Jesus speaks of is not about a prize. Winning the power wars, leading loyal masses in a perfect lockstep parade, wreaking vengeance, paying homage – it doesn’t even matter to Jesus. Lifting up the poor, forgiving the cruelties, caring for sick and the imprisoned and the lonely, welcoming the stranger – Jesus doesn’t even play on a different game board. He has no game just human kindness.

         I remember now. Jesus was at the feast when we passed the cup to each of us and talked of the vineyard, drinking life from the single solid root, blooming, setting fruit. It’s not the season now for fruit. The sounds of heavy feet and Roman armor are all around. The anguish, I hear the gasps and the struggle.

         I remember dear friend! And still I fail you.  The darkness is a blindness and not a truth.  How can I come to you now?

         “This cross of Jesus — these nails, I’m failing him!”

         “Yes, he is a true Christian. He clings to the cross!

         “I told you he is a loyal Roman.”

         They don’t know!

(Come back after Easter – Tuesday, April 14)

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Maunday Thursday, Post #7.5, April,9, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

         The wait is long. I remember in glimpses. We are pouring the wine – there is plenty yet we share. We are passing the wine and the bread. We have songs – the old psalms – the running over cup – the table spread before our enemies. Some are missing from the table. We have new songs and a shared grief for the earth things. There is no sign or sense of it at all except that there must be some sort of an earthy truth in it. The game they play by people’s rules of might and power are easily won by emperors and Roman political appointees guised in the robes of Chief Priest. They make the rules. They would write the rules and the story if writing were needed. They play for blood. They win.

         Jesus my dear friend, I can’t even remember that imperial name now — the one who ordered a tree to be cut and pounded full of iron nails. Maybe it is Clovis or Chilperic or Pilate or Sigibert by now. They look to your Kingdom for the omen of winning wars.

         I hear the jingling of the Roman chain-mail and the rustling of leathers at the knees of the soldiers…

         “See, there is a man here, through the wood over there and nearer the road. We suppose he was robbed and beaten. Except for his wound he would seem an able rower.”

         “He was flailing and talking for a moment. I think he was saying he is a loyal Roman.”

         No! How can Jesus think I would be Roman?

         “You don’t remember me now Jesus? Remember me? I’m your friend, brother to Martha, son of Simon?”

         “See what I mean? He speaks only of Jesus but offers us no words of Creed, no prayer of Trinity, no sign of Cross, so I’m not sure of his loyalty. He may be a heretic.”

         “David, you go back to the ship and bring some medical wraps. And Nik, you stay here. Right now it doesn’t matter his loyalties. We will see to his wounds and if he heals to wellness we can consider his purpose for us then.”

         He spreads over me his cloak. He is surely the saint.

         (Continues tomorrow briefly, and oddly for Good Friday.)

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Post #7.4, Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

         Jesus is here with so many followers even before our table servants are here. Martha is still in the kitchen instructing the cooks and probably arranging and rearranging the olives and bay leaves onto the platters for the still roasting meats. Martha does obsess over details. While Mary — of course is primping — oiling her beautiful flow of hair and shinning lightness from her checks with powders and fragrance as though she were a corpse and needed the look of a painted awakening.

         We’ve not even filled the ewers. The river runs by – I hear the river and yet I do nothing to fill the ewers. Our guests are too early or our servants are too late for the washing of these traveler’s feet. Jesus himself takes the basin and drapes the towel over his own arm then he kneels on our floor to wash the feet of every guest. I should argue this protocol and do our servant’s task myself but I can’t get up.

         Jesus I hear you so near, yet I don’t seem to rise up and help you. I hear your steps drawing nearer; I feel the ground quaking at your march. But the voices are of strangers.

         “Come look here! Just through the wood, a man is here with a bleeding head.”

         “…So near the road he appears to have been beaten and robbed.”

         “Even with that wound he seems to be flailing to get to his feet!”

         “Go and tell the officer. He might find him useful at the oars when he is able.”

         One of them is gone; the other is still here.

         “So, my man, our ship’s officer will be here soon and he surely will want to know your loyalty. Are you Barbarian or Christian?”

         “Jesus” I find I can speak now. “I’m a friend to Jesus.”

         “You are Christian then?”

         “I serve only the one God of Abraham and Jesus. Jesus is waiting for me to fill the ewers before the feast.”

         “Maybe our ship’s master will know about that. But you sound as though you be a Christian.  We can only use that loyalty. So if you aren’t a Roman Christian, best not to tell our officer or he won’t take you on.”

 (Remembrances continue tomorrow)

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Post #7.3, Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

The cold night wind comes down through this dark. I can hear the sounds of night terrors – the scream of a weasel loosing the life battle with a lion. This night is filled with beasts. I hear the ravages, licking and tugging at the meats. The winning beast is feasting. Now he is filled and nearing me on quiet paws…to touch me with a breath through cold nose. He circles near me, and he drops for rest beside me here, nearly touching me, as though human person were a harmless yet meatless find. His well-fed spine presses gently against my own ribs – soft and warm he is. And safe I am now from the cold clam of night.

         Thank you, for weasel’s loss, and this well-fed warmth. Is it a plan or a happenstance, Dear God?

         The lion runs away at a sound of oars and coxswain beat on the river. There must be moonlight enough for a warship sliding through the darkness on the river tonight.

         But we haven’t filled the ewers yet and Jesus and the others are already nearby in Jerusalem for Passover. I should go home now and help get ready for our guests. I can’t make myself get up but I have to go now. My head hurts. I should go now.

         The drums of the imperial parade won’t leave my head. For Jesus it was a strange parade. Hail the king. But Jesus had no pomp of percussion, only songs. Why this? The golden Imperial Roman, Pilate, infuses the Jewish celebration with all Pagan pomp through the wide gate on the regal stallion, descending the golden stairway of city into the Jewish holiday midst. Rome expects the largest crowd ever in Jerusalem. But then, here is Jesus sucking up the Imperial pomp flaunting his own example of a whole different pax. The crowds come for Jesus. They spread their cloaks for the feet of the borrowed donkey just outside the common gate. It’s a Jesus lesson to show his kingdom is not of riches and winning wars and prizes. His is the promise of the kingdom to come –whatever that promise means anymore.

         Why do the powerful fear Jesus? Yet earthly fears are heaped to edifice with tangible treasure – bricks of gold and weapons for wars for winning – and winnings measured only by other’s losses. Why would the powerful fear Jesus? Yet they seem so afraid.

         Jesus will be at our door soon, and I haven’t even filled the ewers.

(Come again tomorrow)

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Post #7.2, Thursday, April 2, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

         More voices stir around in the darkness.

         “Look, it seems to be a man here who was stripped and beaten and yet this horror is all so close to this busy road.”

         “Has no one passed this way yet and taken notice?”

         “Why doesn’t someone do something?”

         “Did you ever hear the story of the Saint?”

         “Of course I hear stories of saints every day, and in fact twice a day at Matens and at Vespers. Every message is of saints.”

         “I mean the story of St. Martin himself offering charity to a poor man who had no cloak. Even though he was well off and a soldier he used his sword to sever his own cloak into two parts then he leaned down from his horse and gave the poor man half his cloak.”

         “I could never damage my cloak. Such faith he had!”

         “Such charity! No wonder he was a saint.”

         “And then, of course, his torn cloak was miraculously restored with no damage done. God must have known he was a saint all along.”

         “If only I were a saint I could show charity for this man …”

         They seem to have walked on.

         Thank you dear God for staying near. Thank you for this infernal darkness where I can hide. But it is very cold so if you have any extra saints about with abundant cloaks might you send one on this road today? Amen.

         I have somewhere in my pounding head some small glimpses of remembering.  I hear the river running near here. Maybe my little sister is close-by. I know she comes here sometimes to wait by the river. She has her little infatuations and she is so taken with Jesus. Sometimes he is all she talks about. Yes, I think I hear her chatter… or maybe it’s just the little settling sounds of birds nesting and feeding. It is incessant.

         Mary only chatters on about Jesus. “Jesus noticed the trees coming into season with buds.” “Jesus mentioned the beautiful morning.” “Jesus noticed that Martha and I brought fresh flowers for the table board.”

         Whenever Jesus is near Bethany, or even if Jesus is just expected to come near the river with his friends for lessons or baptisms, Mary wanders over to wait by the river to be sure not to miss him. Sometimes my little sister’s sillies get annoying. But right now, I would be so happy to know that is her voice I’m hearing.

         But really it seems to be only evening songs of birds smothered so deep in this darkness? Is it really evening now? Was there a daytime and I missed it?

(Come back Tuesday, April 7, for Holy Week)

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Post #7.1, Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

It seems it isn’t death because death doesn’t have touch or taste or an ache in the head. Perhaps this dark is night or maybe I seem to have forgotten how to open my eyes… or move… or make a sound to call for … I’ve forgotten who can come. Perhaps I’ve fallen into a deep abyss of nothing. Maybe this dark isn’t even mine alone. Maybe it is the whole of earth that has turned dark.

         Dear God, are you near?

         I hear voices of people. Or is it nothing I hear?

         There are sounds but my own sounds seem not to be heard.

         “A monk, he is. ‘Neith the wound I can see he were shorn a monk!”

         “He must have had rich robes that thieves would strip him of everything.”

         “I don’t pity him. The rich should know better than travel this road alone. Surely he deserves what he got.”

         “Maybe if we report this at the basilica we will be rewarded.”

         “You fool! If we tell of this they will think it was us who robbed him. I say we just go before we are seen here.”

         Remembering… maybe I’m remembering that I am a wealthy monk … in expensive robes… walking alone on a dangerous road. Maybe it’s the road to Jericho. We walk this way often. Yes. I know this road. I’m sure I know this road… Was I walking here with Jesus? What happened to Jesus?

         Dear God, I fear something has happened to my friend Jesus. Please keep watch, dear God. Please watch …

         Jesus. Jesus you wanted me to lighten my load of wealth. Why, on this day was I wearing robes of wealth? I thought my sisters gave our father’s riches away to the poor. I can’t remember. Why was I  walking this road dressed as a wealthy monk?

(continues tomorrow)

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Post #6.13, Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Historical setting: 562 C.E. Gaul

         Now I set out on my walk as George returns to his cell in the monastery to await his horsemen with their weapons. He tells me when I see him next he will be Gregory, Bishop of Tours. Gregory will be his new priestly name and his aspiration is to be bishop here one day. Bishop Eufronius is already aged.

         I answer.  “And you, my friend, may find me at the vineyard of Ezra on the Loire if I am not in the scriptorium of the monastery.”

         The shrine and the basilica are nearly the western edge of the civitas, so my journey west from Tours is less than when I came.

         I pass the old untended farms and vineyards abundant on the north side of the road toward the river and they are overgrown with vines and small dells of saplings now tinged in greens and yellows of the new season blossoming out. Perhaps we will never see again the great forests of Gaul but the springtime enlivens even the scrub.

         I see ahead of me, on the side of the road near one of these small woods that same woman again, still having found no help or healing, still lying on her pallet. Here she is alone yet never smiling. I expect her sons have gone back through the wood to find the river crossing that was once near this place now hidden in the thickets.

         Now I see they are here, and they have with them heavy limbs of fallen trees held firmly as though they were axes for warriors…

         “Stop! My friends! Why do you hit me? I’m no danger! Why are you afraid of me? I mean you no harm. Have you a need…”

         My arms ache from sheltering my head from the blows, and my head…

(Continued Wednesday, April Fools, April 1, 2020)

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Post #6.12, Thursday, March 26, 2020

Historical setting: 562 C.E. Gaul

As when I arrived here, I’m granted audience with the bishop. He greets George with a familial hug and to me, he nods politely. This time the abundance of robes filling the throne seems buoyed by our presence. And I see it is because of George.

         “So my dear cousin George, have you made proud the scholars of Latin with your fine use of words?”

         “I hope I have, Your Excellency. But also, I would like to gain your respect not only as a writer and a scholar but as a candidate for ordination as a priest. I think you will find I have been able to completely cleanse Lazarus here of heresy. Would that not qualify me?”

         I feel I must answer for myself as I will surely fail any heresy test. “Your Excellency the technique young George used for my instruction was devised to set my prayers toward a saint with the use of a relic.”

         The bishop seems impressed and does not quiz me further on my thoughts of a three-headed god. He doesn’t even ask that my relic produce a miracle so Georgius Florentius Gregorius will indeed be assigned to the seminary to be educated as a priest. A messenger is sent on a fast horse to George’s family requesting they dispatch four horsemen to accompany him on this journey to assure his safety. 

         The bishop now turns to me to explain that the departing Roman army has left the wealthy aristocracy vulnerable to attacks by highwaymen so horsemen and weapons are needed for those certain few. Had I a longer tunic or a golden chain for my relic surely I would already know well of this terrible fate of privilage.

         He now addresses my request and assures me I have a place at a scribes bench with the inks going forward.

         “That is a kind and generous offer Your Excellency, and I do wish to make good use of the scriptorium in the summer season. But now it is time for plowing and planting and I have to go to help my family at the farm and vineyard.”

         “That seems a menial pastime when your abilities are with the inks.”

         “It is my humble choice, Your Excellency.”

         “Of course.”

         So George and I have both succeeded yet neither seems to have changed the other and the ancient church is still in ashes.

(Continued Tuesday, March 31, 2020)

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Post #6.11, Wednesday, March, 25, 2020

Historical setting: 562 C.E. Gaul

The Shrine of St. Martin is a hub of activity. The basilica also here is the see of the Bishop of Tours, Eufronius. The longest line is of pilgrims awaiting the blessings and their touch of the Saint’s relics. Certainly each is seeking a personal miracle. From my ancient view barely bent by pagan tradition it is hard for me to see a use in the rotting physical remnant of saint as a source of great wonders of fearlessness when all around us are the wonders of Creation itself. Yet, here they pray loud and long and in proper form and gesture that they no longer fear pain and sickness. And so may spiritual woes once bestowed upon them by devils and demons be turned toward hope –empty hopes or fulfilled — all hopes are of the same substance.

         This is the trading floor where humankind come as wads of damp clay to bargain for a tad-bit more of life. The woman with her sons whom I had noticed on the river crossing is waiting here to touch something of a dead saint. The expectation is from ancient religion that winning favor with deity yields an outcome of personal benefit: fertile fields, many children, strength and health, healing… whatever.

         I personally don’t think that God makes choices of who would be healed and who would be passed over to come again. In my opinion God just journeys with each of us through our happenstance. But who am I to know?  All any of us knows is our own experiences and whatever we learn from empathy.

         I do wonder will either the hurts or the healings ever turn anyone from old patterns of fear? Are we required to suffer for goodness sake? And who here will take notice of their own healings? Aren’t we all in a continuance of healing? How will we find the complete grace in the everyday beauty that surrounds us all in the breath of God like the very air we all breath together? Are the only true miracles those that are specified in human prayers, or does God’s grace get noticed too?

         The large but frail matriarch with the sons notices my stare. I smile toward her. She recoils our gaze, not returning at all a smile for mine, but alerting her sons that we have seen one another before. Who am I to be feared by them? Surely they recall I was the one with the so-called “miraculous walnut” on the crossing, was I not? I avert my gaze to ease the moment.

         George and I are in a lesser line here – we are simply waiting for a moment with the bishop.

         (Continues tomorrow.)

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Post #6.10, Tuesday, March, 24, 2020

Historical setting: 562 C.E. Gaul

         This river — the Liger or Loire as it is known — marks the tangible edge of old Roman power. The abundance of massive constructions with its bridges and aqueducts gave Tours a wall and roads but failed to cross this river here with a bridge. So for crossing back from the monastery to the shrine or the city we must sail the river on the currents of springtime.

         Our boat is filled with a crew and all varieties of passengers. Some may have business in the city and others surely are on their way to the shrine in hopes of healing. George and I were nearest a large but frail woman being carried by her two adult sons on a pallet stretched onto frame with handles.

         Now, the winds of the ragged divide between the seasons leave our sails luffing then billowing at every wind-shift; and the rudder seeks a path of swift spring flood water rather than minding the choice of the sailor’s hand on the tiller. An anxious heel toward the starboard sets all our superstitious mouths to prayer.

         George clutches the chains about his neck and he demands that I retrieve my walnut from my bag and make a bold prayer to my patron martyr also. “It is nearing his feast day – March 27 — and surely St. Lazarus will be listening.”

         My prayer is silent though the people on this craft anxiously watch my raised walnut and study my face for moving lips of prayer.

         Dear God, let my prayer be heard, not by selfish fears and sufferings but by the loving hand of your care for all people. But only if it is your will. Thank you. Amen.

         As spring winds will do, after each gasp of winter’s rage comes a new gentler breeze of southern air. And timed to my gesture of drawing forth my walnut, all on board this frail craft believe we just saw the calming of the Sea of Galilee as Jesus himself is awakened from his rest.

         “Your relic has brought us a miracle Brother Lazarus, as though the saint himself had risen up from the grave to guide our ship!”

         Even the pagan sailors and heathen passengers took notice of my wondrous possession. I tucked it back into the pouch and we landed safely on the south bank as I supposed we would have done safely with or without relics. Thank you God.

(Come again tomorrow)

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Post #6.9, Thursday, March 19, 2020

Historical setting: 562 C.E. Gaul

         The writings of young George seem to me filled with notions of an awkward triangular god-head working in pagan magic. In his naïve drafts I read an old legend of an ancestor to Merovech born of a tryst between monster and human. Perhaps maturity will bring him edits of believable fact.  While this young author so astutely names ecclesiastical dates for saints, he seems not at all concerned about placing the whole history of the Franks within the time frame of Roman Christianity. Yet the patriarch Clovis, a brutal warrior, was baptized Christian with not the slightest nod to love of neighbor. Apparently, whatever god wins his war is the one who earns his allegiance. [Footnote] Dear God, did you know about his contest? Was it your purpose to win? Probably this is not for me to know. Amen.

         I fear with so much reading of this I’m falling into Barbarian rhythms of story and my assignment to Romanize the spellings and manage the tenses may be letting go of the flavor of story.

         George argues that thought as well.  He has demanded that I not mark the actual parchments anymore but only note his errors separately because there may be some of these strange usages he wishes to keep as they are.

         “Why would you deliberately leave errors in your writing?”

         “I write not for the eyes of scholars but for the reader who be Frankish and cares not for tense. When I write for my own family who are of the most noble of the Franks, we sit very close to one another because we are family and we read best our own comfortable words. But I promise I will always try to speak to you and other heathen with my best pluperfect.”

         His writing clearly goes faster without so much scraping. So believing my work should go no further as also is George’s task to align my prayers with creed, we plan to report our successes to the bishop. We both hope to be released from our obligations to change the other.

         As we are nearing the equinox that marks spring planting I hope to take a leave from inks and ash and return to help Ezra plow and plant his fields.

         So tomorrow George and I sail back across the river to meet with the bishop at the basilica of the Shrine.

 (Continued Tuesday, March 24, 2020)

[Footnote]

Gregory of Tours, Origins of the Merovingian Kingdom (Book II). (ed and Trans. By Alexander Callander Murray) “If  You grant me victory over these enemies, and if I experience the power that people dedicated to Your name claim to have proven in Yours, then I shall believe in You and be baptized in Your name.” excerpt from a prayer of Clovis to “Jesus Christ” (II 30) from Readings in medieval civilizations and cultures: X  series editor: Dutton, Paul E. Broadview Press, Ontario, 2000.

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Post #6.8, Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Historical setting: 562 C.E. Gaul

George is determined to beat the life from Christianity and sanctify the deaths as he foists upon me the necessity for rotting saints. “I can assure you Heretic Lazarus, St. Lazarus was a true martyr for Christ.”

         I rebut. “They only died because the emperor of Persia feared Rome.”        

          “Your mistake, my friend in err, is in ignoring the sacrifice. The cause of veneration of saints is not of earth but of miracles. Consider the wonders in such things as the dust you claim to own. The very life energy of the suffering martyr is present within that walnut casket. The power is in everything the saint touches so even the mere hem of a saint’s garment can bring a great miracle.”

         He mentions the touching of a garment’s hem and I recall the Jesus story of such a healing. But in the Jesus story the spiritual energy in that moment was not some magic that can be mined from a corpse as it rots. It is the energy of love and life itself. [Luke 8:46] And surely it is not a tangible substance or a commodity to be swept up after a beard shave or a burning. That same energy I claim as Holy Spirit moved among the crowds when Peter preached on Pentecost. [Acts 2] No relic was needed; it can move like a breath of life among people. It is always with us, and moves away from death toward life and away from fear toward love.

         He badgers me on, “Ask your saint to show you a miracle with your relic. Hold it up in the face of danger and pray to your saint.”

         His instruction seems as meaningless as an empty shell. But that moving Spirit, breath of life, has for me, a voice of empathy for his plea so I hold my walnut of whiskers up.

           “Now doesn’t the dust of that suffering bring a great and holy miracle?”

         I see behind my elevated walnut the anxious face of a youth wishing upon me a moment of miracle. I see in his gaze at my relic his inheritance of an ancient, innocent faith rooted only in the material things of earth. It is no wonder God’s loving Spirit demands my empathy and openness, not an ah-ha of righteous win. He sees the wonder in my face as I see the anticipation in his and we are both awed by God’s beauty as we see it in the other.

         “So you have seen the power of the miracle now.”

         Dear God, how can I win this when you only fit me with empathy? Amen.

(Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #6.7, Tuesday, March 17, 2020 (St. Patrick’s Day)

Historical setting: Remembering 5th Century Ireland

         Today, I venture again into young George’s crumbs of Latin, and I’m reminded of another Christian of awkward tenses whom I only caught in a glimpse about a century ago.[Author’s footnote] He cut a deep swath of Jesus’ love through the middle of the once pagan Ireland. But his sainthood is not because he died a martyr. He didn’t. He died as an old man among the friends he had gathered along his way. Yet it is very clear to me why he is called a saint.

         The story is told that Patrichus was captured by an Irish raiding party and taken from his life of privilege, his family and his home in Celtic Brittany, when he was a teen. He was sold as a slave. In his rare bits of writings he portrays this captivity as a time of cold and suffering, isolation and days-on-days of thankless work tending herds. He allowed himself to listen to God’s relentless presence and was driven by a voice of promise: first the promise to leave that place; then, some years later, forgiveness transforming his hurt and loss into the yearning to return to the people of Ireland as their faith leader. He brought the simplicity of the ever-present, loving God of Creation.

         He guided peacemaking among leaders in a warring land. He established and rekindled Christian monasteries into communities of caring for people.

         His magical or, call it miraculous power to bring Jesus’ love to the pagan world came through his gift of empathy — not by ecclesiastical councils or by winning arguments or wars. He brought order and guidance through caring and spiritual presence – not by rule and punishments.

          The trail he left was of love for all people and sacred appreciation for Creation. It’s still there, planted deep in that land forever. The music and the art of the people are never stifled by punitive order, rather the creative chaos is simply turned so people can see it clear and shining from the face of our one Creator, parent of love and life.

         I suppose, with the help of God, I do know of saints, so I ask young George “What do you know of St. Patrick?”        

         “Were he Roman or Frank?”

         “They say he was Celtic.”

         He asked, “Do you want to know how God made the Franks beat the Goths?”

         “Will I have to edit your grammar in that chapter too?”

         “Sooner or later I’ll write it all down.  It will be significant.”

(Come again tomorrow)

         [Author’s personal note] Before I started this blog, my spiritual journey into Christian history took me more deeply into 5th Century Ireland. I wrote a book After Ever, about the poem attributed to St. Patrick, “Breastplate.” I have no plan to market that book so it is a little read manuscript, never even run through the printer on my desk. But in 2018 and ‘19 I did a lot of research about ancient Ireland and set my Lazarus character there. Some of the things in this day’s blog (the basic facts) I learned from that research, and some conclusions are drawn from inferences of changes in Irish Christianity after Patrick.  

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Post #6.6, Thursday, March 12, 2020

Art Note: This paper-cut-collage w/ink was inspired by a photo of an ancient bas-relief retrieved from Wikipedia, (and licensed for common use)  File: Nowruz Zoroastrian.jpg.  The English translation explaining – “the lion-bull combat in Persepolis” – has been variously interpreted, including as the symbol of the Nowruz (the Persian New Year’s Day) – the day of  spring equinox power — eternally fighting bull (earth) and a lion (sun) are equal.

Historical setting: 562 C.E. Gaul

         I’ve had this lingering question all these years. I ask George, “When I first learned of these persecutions I didn’t hear what happened after the deaths. I know that two other Christians visited the nine monks on the night before the executions and they were surprised to find the monks had been tortured. They brought comfort. I‘m sure they also witnessed the executions. But I wondered if there was any record of what happened next to those two?”

         “You mean St. Jonas and St. Barachius?”

         “You call them ‘saints.’ Were they martyred also?”

         “Of course you fool. How could you know only part of the story?

Two days later they were also tortured and executed.”

         “Oh no, I feared that. They were true martyrs while the others were just a happenstance of the politics of the day. Jonas and Barachius came to the jail because they were acting on their Christian duty to share God’s love.”

         “How can you say the first nine didn’t die for their Christian duty? And what of the thousands more Christians persecuted by the Persians?”

         “There were so many?”

         “The named saints were only the first. Obviously they were martyred for Christ not for any kind of politics.”

         “So George, I imagine for all you know of this you would also know the date of this execution.”

         “Of course, it were March 27, 326 A.D.”

         “You are very knowledgeable, young George.”

         “Yes, I am. And that were the same year as the Creed be born in the same council that declared Arius a heretic.”

         “Indeed Brother George. The sameness of that year is the matter of importance in knowing the reason they were not martyrs for Christ but simply victims of earthly power plays. I’ve long pondered this, and there was nothing holy in these deaths. It happened when Shapur II, the Persian emperor heard of Constantine’s declaration to make Rome Christian. He believed a Christian Rome was a trick by Rome to takeover the Persian territories. So he broke the long tolerance the Zoroastrians had for Christians. The executions were a political move against Rome. Would you also not say this was strangely ironic? The reason these Christian refugees fled into Syria was because they shared the same enemy with the Persians — Rome. They weren’t killed because they professed Christianity but because Christianity became Roman. T’was a very strange paradox don’t you think? They shared a peaceful fear of the same enemy until it became one of them. How does that make them saints?”

         “Of Course, Heretic Lazarus, this is not about earthly politics. They clearly died as Christian martyrs. They died for their faith.”

         “No. Actually, George, they died for Rome.”

 (Continued Tuesday, March 17, 2020, a brief thought of St. Patrick)