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Post #15.3, Thursday, December 3, 2020

Historical setting: 6th Century C.E. Somewhere in the Pyrenees

         Nic knows my silent prayers are anxious prayers. He assures us both that all the shepherds and all the sheep have only happiness before them by the grace of God. And he mentions also, that our donkey will be in the care of the big white dog and the donkey will serve even these neighbors trotting the wares to market for all the rest of his donkey days. It is happy endings all around. But we both also know the adage of the sour grapes.

         We ask this neighbor for his knowledge of the trail before us. Will our mountain crossing soon bring us to Gaul? Are there villages or farms ahead of us? What is the best route for our winter travel?

         The farmer’s mate and his eldest daughter come near with an abundance of garden roots in a bag for carrying — a gift for our journey. We’re grateful. Nic takes out coins to pay them but the father says they have no use for Roman coins; they only trade in goods. So even amid Nic’s riches we must receive this as a gift.

         “Thank you.”

         “You’re welcome to share in our plenty. But until you reach the Frankish Roman villages of Gaul you will have to trade in goods, not coin. Furs are valued in this season so should you happen upon a fox with a worthy pelt to be traded take it with your blade carefully, not to damage the fur.

         “Now the highest of the mountains are behind you with the cliffs and high edges.”

         We hear that to be good news. With horses we’ve had to seek longer winding paths around such obstacles.

         The farmer continues, “But these seemingly more gentle slopes are also high hills and they will seem to stretch forever to the north, deep into Gaul. This time of the year some of the shepherds with flocks that graze the high pastures in the summer are already at their houses in the valleys and lower reaches so I would suggest if you’re looking for the traveled route where people are, follow the middle or lower paths. The weather may even favor a journey following the river beds.”

         “Thank you, friend. This is helpful.”

         The horses seem ready to move on now, out of the sheep pastures and on to grasses that are not so sheep-gnawed and more for a horse’s liking. Now as we continue on our way our only day’s destination is a leeward flat place for our tarp and fleeces. But of course, all sorts of hopes and mysteries still may be wintering ahead.

(Continues Tuesday, December 8)

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Post #15.2, Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Historical setting: 6th Century C.E. Somewhere in the Pyrenees

         This elder farmer speculates, “I suppose that boy is always in danger of hurt. His own father bittered and turned. That father turned a pain in his tooth to rage, then over and again douses his rage in sweet honey nectar only to wake and rage again.”

         “You seem to know him well.”

         “We were friends, then we were neighbors, now we are strangers living near one another. The boy, Boda, is nearly the same in age as my eldest, Gret. When the boy’s mother was living with them up there our children were always together. We fathers talked of betrothing them – Boda and Gret. But then Boda’s father turned to fits of rage. The wife’s father came and took her away, but the boy was left with that angry man and no mother to make it a worthy nest of it. Sometimes we creep into their pantry cache and refill the bag of gruel so the boy could find food where his father only kept mead. And sometimes Gret says she looks to the hill that divides us and catches a glimpse of Boda watching from behind the rocks. A hill never makes a good hiding place. We fear for the boy, but when we go calling the father accuses me of using the betrothal as a ploy to steal away his flocks. So Boda and Gret are barred from seeing one another.”

         “Well, we’ve come with news of the father.” Nic begins. And so we tell this man what we know of the father’s death and the son’s angry grief and desperate loneliness.

         “What will Boda do now, all alone up there?” This farmer, father to daughters and owner of goats seems to be a wellspring of hurt-binding, healing compassion.

         Thank you God, for stringing us humankinds together like beads on a jeweled chain, naming the next near one – a stranger first, then a neighbor then an essential friend. Amen. We are always in some state of belonging to one another.

          Now Nic and I don’t need to return to the shepherd to quill our consciences. We are assured now and can continue our journey without abandoning another’s need. But we know rivers of rage when dried in one season return to follow the same beds in another.

         Dear God, please intrude in these cycles of rage, so that Boda and Gret and all these people and sheep and goats and even me and Nic too may choose to see that fear and its senseless anger really have no power. Thank you for shining ever on us the surprises of creative grace. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #15.1, Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Historical setting: 6th Century C.E. Somewhere in the Pyrenees

         We’re not hiding on this hill even though the shepherd told us it was a good hill for hiding. We are clearly in view from below — two men on horseback. We must be a strange sight for these two shepherds looking up at us, no doubt these are two of the daughters of this neighbor. Nic waves a peaceful greeting to break their gawking stares. One of the girls runs back toward the house either to summons help or hospitality. The other girl, a long slender stalk of a young woman, is just starring up at us offering no gesture of greeting or any sign at all. On our horses with careful steps, we ride down the hill toward her.

         “Greetings.” Nic says.        

         “My sister has gone for our parents.”

         “No need to fear us we are just passing by here. But it would be helpful for us to speak to your mother or your father regarding your neighbor.”

         “Boda?” She questions. The shepherd has a name.  We wait a few minutes in awkward silence until the younger shepherd returns with her father.

         “They said they’re travelers passing by, but that they have word of Boda, Father.”

         “So you have seen our neighbors?”

         “Indeed, we have news.”  The father sends the girls back to their task and we follow him, leading our horses. He takes us outside the gate from the pasture so that he alone may be the one to hear whatever news we bring. Now we are in sight of the house and we can see it is a busy farmyard. And yes there are several more daughters here and goats too. The wind brings a whiff of wood smoke from their hearth and the scent of freshly turned goat cheese ripening, souring to flavor. And even the distant silhouette of the woman of the house affirms every rumor we’ve heard of this neighbor. The abundance of daughters continues even into the days ahead.

         “So what news have you heard from our neighbor?”

         “There is a shepherd up there with eighty-seven sheep and a big white dog.” And Nic adds, “And now that young man rides on our donkey because his ankle was recently injured and he can’t walk very well.”

         (Continued Tomorrow)

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Post #14.12, Thursday, November 26, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Century

         Nic and I finally make a plan not to make any plan until we see if this neighbor has compassion for this shepherd. Maybe our consciences will bind us here to care for him; or we might find we can continue our journey knowing that the shepherd and all his sheep will be looked after by a caring neighbor. Surely we can’t avoid winter anymore. It is coming now with every breath of wind colder than the last. The black tinge of the hoarey frosts marks the lost growing season, now turned to the bleak and timeless season for waiting.

         We leave the donkey and a few supplies that the shepherd will need here in the upper pasture shelter and we pack our remaining supplies and fleeces behind us on our horses as we head north. The young shepherd barely acknowledges our departure. He doesn’t even ask where we are going or even if we will return.

         “Nic, did your old tribal priest tell you of the ancient Hebrew adage that ‘the father has eaten sour grapes, and the son’s teeth are set on edge’?”

         “I’ve heard that. For all that poor fellow’s fighting words he must have been incapable of standing up to his father’s senseless beatings. No wonder he wanted the leathers from my saddle bindings to make himself a whip.”

         “That’s the same thought I had. He wept with his longing for the beatings he will miss.  In all his grief and sorrow he yearns for thrashings because, he said, he would know his father ‘noticed him.’

         “I imagine only the love of God can loosen this bondage of hurt and lead him beyond the cycle it is.”

         “How will he ever notice God’s love? He hasn’t even a notion of a parent’s love.”

         Dear God, Are there any simple miracles of love waiting to be scattered down on earth from heaven?  Please let the snows of grace fall on this grieving shepherd and his sheep. Amen.

         This hilltop I was told is within sight of the neighbors, and here we find the longest view. Directly below us is a small pasture area, with a flock of about twenty sheep being tended by two who are surely these neighbor’s daughters.  Not much further to the north is that spiral of hearth-smoke rising from behind a knoll, undoubtedly the home-fires of these neighbors.

(Beyond that… continues Tuesday, December 1)

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Post #14.11, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Century

“From that hilltop” the young shepherd explains,  “You can see the smoke where the hearth-fire burns for the house of the neighbors.

There are some good hiding places on that hill so you can watch the daughters a long time and no one will see you.”

         “I’m pretty sure we don’t need to hide from them. In fact Nic and I may actually want to speak to them. Do the daughters have parents, or who should we find to talk with?”

         “Why would you do that?  Are you going to tell them about my hiding places on the hill?”

         “Is that important for them to know?”

         “It’s my secret! If my father found out he would thrash me good. You know, my father has leather strips like the braids the soldier’s horse wears. Even when he is so sick my father can still thrash me.”

         “But now he is dead and his body is buried; don’t you suppose your father is with the angels in heaven? And from what I’ve heard there’s not a lot of thrashing going on there. Now it’s up to you to decide these things for yourself.”

         I’ve returned the shepherd to his sheep so Nic and I together offer him the simple logic of right choices.

         I was saying,  “If you think something you choose to do deserves a good thrashing, then you just know not to do it.  But if you are thinking of doing something that makes things good and better, like finding good grasses for your flocks, or sharing your shelter with visitors then the choices you make, even without your father’s judgments and punishments are probably good choices.”

         Nic adds,  “You don’t need thrashing anymore to know what to do and what not to do.  You are the man now, and can decide things for yourself.”

         He argues. “Yea, so you say. But sometimes I just need a good whipping so I can know my father notices me.” And here is another verse of the young man’s loud and wailing cries of grief. Is he grieving for the whippings he will be missing?

         He interrupts his own weeping and gnashing to recall details of the neighbors, “They have both a man and a woman that are a papa and moma there.  My father said if that papa didn’t keep that woman he wouldn’t have gotten so overrun with daughters.”

         “Yes, I would suppose there is some truth in that.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #14.10, Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Century

We are somewhere in mountains on the edge of winter and we find ourselves face-to-face with a grieving young shepherd. It was my thought that there must be a community of shepherds or farmers in this area or how could this farm sell its mutton and wool?  The young shepherd’s idea for finding help seems to be, as he said, “capturing slaves.” If he is thinking of shackling these two of us he will surely find we make worse slaves than we do volunteer shepherds.  We have horses and supplies. We could just leave as we are already planning to do before winter takes a firm hold; but it seems so heartless to leave him here alone and so needy.

         “So I was wondering,” I ask the youth, “are there others who keep flocks in this area? And where is it you go to trade your wool?”

         “I am not allowed to go there.” He answers.

         “Where?”

         “Over the hills to the neighbors.”

         “You have neighbors?”

         “Yes, but my father said their flock is few, and that neighbor has only daughters so I am not allowed to go there.”

         “Oh, I see. How might we find this neighbor?”

         “I know where they are, but I can’t go.”

         “Maybe if you tell me the direction Nic and I can ride over and see what the situation is there while you are taking the next watch of the sheep.”

         “The soldier said not to walk on my sore foot.”

         “You have a crutch now, and I’ll just walk you back on the donkey whenever you are ready to go.”

         After a brief lesson on using a crutch the shepherd mounts the donkey and I take the lead line, and we trudge back to the pasture.  The sleepy white dog follows a few yards behind us.

         The shepherd offers lots of chatter about the neighbors, especially considering that has been a forbidden world to him.

          “My father said they not only have daughters, but they also have goats. I tried to go see that too, but from the hill where I hide to watch them I only see the sheep and the daughters. They must keep the goats hidden.”

         “No doubt. From what I’ve heard, goats don’t flock well.”

         As we climbed the ridge onto the path to the pasture, the young shepherd points to a hilltop behind us to the north. “From that hill you can see the neighbor’s pasture and sheep.”

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #14.9, Thurs., November 19, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Century

         “So what will we do now?”

         The father is buried. The sheep have no shepherd. The shepherd is grieving. The dog and the donkey are consoling. The winter is creeping down on us all from the north. We need to use these days for travel while we can.

         Nic speaks it aloud, “Dear God, what should we do now?”

         “You know Nic, God doesn’t always answer in the season of our need.”

         “I know, Brother Laz, so we will need to make a human choice. Since you are so good at grief you should go to the house where the shepherd is.”

         “’Good at grief?’ No one is good at grief. But I will take a turn to walk over the ridge to the house and even if I can do nothing to comfort the shepherd at least I can bring back the dog to help us guard the sheep tonight.”

         “So you think we will stay another night?” Nic calls as I am leaving.

          “I counted eighty-seven sheep last night, Nic, just so you’ll know; in case you decide to count them again.”

         I walk toward the smoke rising on this crispy autumn morning considering every possibility my imagination can muster except the one that says Nic and I can winter in a sheep’s pasture with no one but an angry, grieving shepherd to bring us our daily gruel. The choices seem either we leave the shepherd alone and needy or we spend the winter in a pasture lean-to.

         The house was easy to find, not just by the smoke but by the worn footpath. And it’s surely been a long night of wailing here. Even the donkey and the dog are, or were, asleep out here near the door. At the sound of my step the dog is barking furiously and the shepherd has come to the door of the little house.

         “I came down to offer my sympathy and see how you are doing.”

         “So the soldier told you I need a Christian?”

         “No, I just came while Nic is taking a turn watching the sheep. We aren’t sure if they need to be watched every minute or if you leave them up there sometimes on their own. We’ve not had much experience shepherding.”

         “Yea, I was thinking you two aren’t much use, but now I’m so alone.” Tears of grief well in his voice. “So I will need to capture some slaves to help me.”

         “Surely you need help, but …”

(Continues Tuesday, November 24)

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Post #14.8, Weds., November 18, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Century

         The winter of last night posed a mere warning that the season is turning. All day a southern breeze breeches the ridge from the valley. It would have been a good day to continue our journey.

         Alone, I was able to move the sheep into the night pasture where the horses graze. I’ve spent this day inspecting each sheep and gathering a sack of dung to make a watch fire for this night. I wonder if I’ve been forgotten here, if my patron has found a more needy man to care for? Surely someone will remember these sheep — I imagine.

         This new morning I’m still at the tasks feeding and watering the horses, and setting the sheep to pasture when here is Nic, walking alone on the ridge. I shout. He turns toward me, not speaking until he is near.

         “The shepherd has no more raging; he just cries loud and long and inconsolably. The dog and the donkey are more comfort for him than I.”

         “What happened?” I asked. “Where did you go?”

         “Look beyond those hilltops.  Do you see the smoke rising?”

         “It looks like someone has a home and hearth over there.”

         “Yes. When we first came the shepherd was dealing with his worst fear, that the smoke of his family home was no longer rising where he could see it above the hills. Two days before, he left his father in a fit of rage, and admits he was running away when he injured his foot so couldn’t walk back to make amends. He watched for the smoke to be the sign that everything was all right. But he saw no smoke. We showed up amid his worry and even in the cold storm there was still no smoke. His fear was that his father’s powerless raging was, in truth, his last gasp of life.

         And it was just as the shepherd feared. When we arrived at the house his father was dead, probably a few days before, maybe even as the shepherd was running away. I buried the shepherd’s father in the best grave I could cut into the mountain, but it was a shallow grave, so the shepherd and the donkey gathered stones. All that while, and all night long and maybe even now, the shepherd wails his goodbyes to his only family. I am so little comfort for him so I came back up here.”

(Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #14.7, Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Century C.E.

One mystery of courage is that it wears many faces rarely as we expect — the human moment between panic and training when the proper response comes forth and a crisis is averted. But doesn’t courage also come in the stoic intensity of a donkey’s stubbornness or the fury of the dog barking away an intruder?

         While Nic ran back up to rescue the donkey from a beating, the big white dog awakened from his daily snooze and now has hurried over to side with his fellow critter. From where I stand amid the sheep I see Nic carries the shepherd’s crutch and he is leading the donkey while the shepherd rides on it and the big white dog follows close.  As they are walking away the shepherd shouts back instructions to move the sheep to the night pasture at sunset.

         “Where’re you g…” My question went unheard and now I’m alone with this many sheep. I know I should know the number of them. Are they one hundred? And should one be missing would I leave them all to search for the one, or is that only a parable describing the Holy?

         Dear God, Thank you for taking notice of each critter of us. When it’s you who counts us do you count sheep and donkeys and horses as the same worth as people?  Yes, of course, I would suppose so. I mean we’re all part of the fullness of life, though I would suppose the prayers of the donkey have easier answers than my own, or maybe not. Thank you, Dear God, for listening to my complicated human wonders and to my woes as well. Amen.

         A large bird circles above and now there are more dark birds. How do they know this shepherd who I am has no gift for this work? It could be there is a needy lamb in this flock and the birds see a frailty I’m overlooking. I try to walk through the flock taking a careful look at each grazing lamb. They do each have their differences, but I see no injury or impairment that would interest an ominous seeker of carrion. By the time I look again at the sky, after counting and inspecting the sun is a bit further across the blue altitude of day and the birds are circling another place across the hills. It could be, they were just flying over.  But now I know there are eighty-seven sheep.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #14.6, Thursday, November 12, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Cent. C.E.

         It is Nic’s nature to persevere in kindness. It’s how I have a faithful patron after all my ways of disappointing him. It is who he is. So why would I expect anything other than his kindness when the shepherd asks us to stay on help?  We both know the winter is coming on and our supplies will grow thin with a third person helping himself to all of it. And neither of us knows how much longer it will take to cross these mountains or even to find a village or farm that can set our supplies right again. Yet Nic agrees to stay on without giving it one little selfish thought.

         Dear God, thank you for this example of selfless mercy. Amen.

         The shepherd is a demanding master. His “duty instructions” are replete with detail.  It’s not just, “watch the sheep.” It is more like: “The two of you will stay far apart, one on one side of the sheep, and the other on the other. There will be no talking with one another when you are on duty.”

         It’s not like we are hired men who are paid. And we’re not the irresponsible sorts who would neglect the sheep simply to indulge in chatter; though there is a conversation Nic and I need to have without the watchful eye of the shepherd.

         Just now the shepherd appears again at the hillcrest. This time he is sitting on our donkey with his crutch in one hand so that he can wallop the stationary beast into motion. But it is a donkey. Once it is stopped no amount of beating is going to get it moving. It is stilled by fear. We can see this thing is likely to go badly for the donkey as the shepherd dismounts and prepares to flail the beast. Nic is the closer of us. He calls to him.

         “Stop! Brother Shepherd! If you wish to ride the donkey you will need to know something about donkeys!” Nic is hurrying to the top of the hill.  If you beat the donkey it won’t go. Wait! I’ll show you!”

         Nic reaches the man and the donkey before any harm is done. He takes the lead line in hand then takes the crutch from the shepherd and gives the lame man a leg up. Nic leads as the donkey takes a cautious step forward.

(Continues Tuesday, November 17)

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Post #14.5, Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Cent, C.E.

         While Nic has provided the shepherd with a proper wrap for his foot, I turned the stick he carries into a finely crafted crutch but apparently he preferred the rough-hewn rod. I defend, “I thought you would need a crutch to help you walk until your foot heals.”

         Now he is flinging the crutch at me. I move quickly enough to avoid the first whack, and he is slow enough gathering himself to his feet (or foot) and recovering his crutch that I can easily avoid the beating. Then Nic steps up behind him and disarms him of his “weapon.”

         “Tell Brother Lazarus ‘thank you’ for making the crutch because  you will need it. He provided you a kindness.”

         The youth pleads with Nic, “But that was my rod! I need that rod for the fight! You need to teach me to fight with the rod!”

         “Sticks grow on trees my friend. You can get another. You will find this crutch is more useful in your healing.”

         The first howl of winter flings its ice crystals at this mountain ridge long into the night as though the morning light would sparkle winter. But it is barely November. On this new day the ice is melting moist into earth. Some of the crystals cling to the sheep’s long wools, and shine slick on north sides of rocks and posts, but otherwise the storm is gone.

         Before the light of day fully wakened us the shepherd has opened our sacks of grain, and he is now sharing a morning meal with the donkey and the big white dog. The Rose is taking notice of this as he usually eats first. Nic awakens with great concern and immediately checks the supply of oats, relieved to find that only the sack of our food has been tapped.

         As we tend the horses the well-fed donkey goes for a happy little romp in the pasture enclosure.  The big white dog is close by him. Who would have thought, in all our tenuous whinnies and stranger welcomes it would be the donkey and the dog that would find the bond?

         The shepherd counts every sheep and reports his amazement that none are missing. It is true. We didn’t steal a single sheep in the middle of the stormy night as only the shepherd would imagine. Today we are preparing to travel as soon as the sun melts the icy patches from the rocks. But the shepherd pleads for us to stay.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #14.4, Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Cent. C.E.

         The shepherd is enamored by great possibilities that Nic will teach him courage and the fighting prowess of a mighty warrior. His chatter lets us see he wishes to attain personal power through becoming a fearsome danger to everyone around him.

         Nic is prepared to begin the lessons in owning the power by offering his wondrous animal training technique.  “So, when I got The Rose, my first horse, everyone was telling me ‘to train a spirited animal like this first you need to show him who is boss.’ Having been in the military for so many years I do know this is an important first step — training rank.  So I said to The Rose, ‘You need to know who is boss, and I will tell you: When it is a man thing like entering into buildings, or walking on two legs and speaking, then I am the boss; but when it’s a horse thing, you are the horse so you are the boss.’ So we’ve agreed to that, and it seems to be working out well. I’ve needed no leather thongs for flailing, only braids for holding the saddle onto his back so he can do all the trots and gallops and leaps and dances horses tend to do and I’ll stay astride. We’ve worked it out as though we were a captain and his mate.” The Rose standing at the critter end of the lean-to, twitches an ear and offers a snort of agreement.

         “So you can see, I can’t loan these leathers to you for flailing of an animal. They belong to The Rose and he won’t share them for that purpose. He always sides with the critters.”

         I have crafted a fine crutch from the Shepherd’s rod, and Nic offers his medical common sense advising the shepherd not to step down hard on that foot until it has healed.

         “But how will I follow the sheep?” he rails. “And when your food runs out I have to walk back to my father’s farm for more supplies.”

         We had kind of hoped to be in Gaul when our food runs out. And the crutch I’ve crafted will hardly meet his need in carrying a pack of food supplies. But I present my handiwork.

         “What have you done to my fine stout rod? How will I do my battles with this short padded stick?”

         He doesn’t seem pleased with my fine craftsmanship.

(Continued tomorrow)

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Post #14.3, Thursday, November 5, 2020

Art Footnote: This is what happens when a pacifist artist illustrates a lesson in martial arts.

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Century

         The shepherd, our belligerent host, defends his story. “I told you, I was injured by the rod and the lashes when I was fighting. I wasn’t running from my father!  I am a fighter, not a runner!”

         His persistence threatens his credibility.

         I explain, “It doesn’t really matter what caused it. Nic can wrap it for you for a better healing.  He’s had lots of soldier training in first aid. Healing takes time. But it will heal.”

         It seems no comfort at all for him to receive affirmation from this pacifist who I am.  I mean what do I know of fighting or of healing from a soldier’s wounds? But my mention of Nic as a soldier has assigned Nic the persona of fighting hero in the eyes of this man who is so anxious to be known also as a fighter.

         “You are a real soldier, Sir?”

         “Retired from the Roman Navy.”

         “So you are truly a fighter and not a runner?”

          “Depends on the need.” Nic answers with simple logic. “Mostly I was a rower.”

         The shepherd rants. “My grandfather was a soldier just like you. He had a sword and a dagger! And just like you he was so fearsome he didn’t even carry a shield! He was always far away fighting in the wars killing off the Franks and Goths and the Romans by the wagon load, except when he came back and then his raging riles flailed a fierce rod on all of us. Everyone cleared far out of his way except my father stayed. He’s not a runner. So I came out here to mind the sheep until I learn to be a fighter too.”

         “And you will learn that here?” Nic asks.

         “I will if you teach me. And if you would hand me the leather thongs I can practice flailing when I train my dog to come when I call him.”

         “So you mean you wish to train your dog to run from you as he already does so well?”

         “No! I want him to do whatever I tell him to do.[Footnote: another dog training tip for the real world] I want to be the master of the dog, like you are the master of your horse. I want to be powerful like you.”

         Meanwhile, I’m quietly at work carving and lashing his rod into a proper and useful crutch so he will be able to move around while his ankle heals; but I whisper under my breath, “Be careful what you wish for, young shepherd.”

         Both men turn their eyes on me – the shepherd heeding my warning — Nic only slightly amused.

         So Nic will need to explain his unique horse “training” technique himself.

(Continues Tuesday, November 10)

[Footnote: another dog training story from Sandy] “I have never been very successful in teaching mine (Great Pyrenees) to COME for no reason.  It was a hoot when I took Blizzard to formal obedience classes and had to call him from across the yard – he checked every blade of grass, the kids on the porch, the trees, and finally got around to me where I was – calling him and jumping up and down. The trainer joked about him all the while. The border collies and golden retrievers all bounded across the yard straight to their owners who would hide around corners or up in a tree.  It was funny and embarrassing, and annoying, for me.”  

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Post #14.2, Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Century C.E.

         This pasture is not just a random field; it’s the designated place the shepherd comes each night with these same sheep. Here, at the far end of the night pasture is a lean-to for shelter and he invites us under this thatch with room enough even for our animals to be safe from the storm; having them in here brings more warmth. The sheep cluster themselves against the wall of rock forming one barrier of this enclosure. Apparently the big white dog chooses to nestle in with the sheep rather than risk finding warmth with the man who has the rod.  The shepherd explains the dog prefers the company of the sheep and the dog will stay awake all night and watch so even if the shepherd himself should fall asleep, the dog will bark if we were to steal a sheep and run off with it. In fact, we learn the dog will bark regardless.

         “Really, my friend, we will not steal a sheep.”

         We unpack our fleeces and prepare to be warm for this night’s rest. Our supplies are plenty so we easily share some food with this fellow. The wind with the storm is coming at us with the full force of the spawning of winter from the north and the west.  Now, our whimsy to be helpful to the shepherd is looking like more of a benefit for us. Where would we have found a shelter had we not stopped to help with the sheep? Ahead of us would likely only be more peaks and valleys and open spaces for the wind to press sleet onto our faces.

           “We are just grateful to have the warmth of this shelter.” I try to console this fellow who is obviously uncomfortable both in imagining our potential to steal a sheep, and from the pain in his damaged foot. Nic takes compassion.

         “May I see what’s wrong with your foot?” Nic offers.

Nic moves over to the man, and moves the young man’s cloak back from his ankle to reveal his ankle is badly swollen. “It seems a recent injury. How did this happen?”

         “It’s not what you think! I wasn’t running! I was fighting!”

         Nic is simply blunt though his intention was not to challenge him, “It looks more like a bad twist of the ankle and not so much a bruise from a beating.”

(Come again tomorrow)

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Post #14.1, Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Historical setting: Along the ridges of the Pyrenees, 6th Century C.E.

So I asked a simple question, “What is courage?”

         Nic apologizes for my apparent goading argument. “My friend here, Lazarus, is a Christian pacifist so he is probably going to tell us meaningless things about courage.”

         The young shepherd backs away from me. He asks, “A Christian, what?”

         “He’s a pacifist. He doesn’t love the fight. In fact he doesn’t even fight at all.”

         Again, the shepherd takes a long gander at me — a slow gaze from my feet to the top of my head, and down again before he speaks, “So, you are very fast at running.”

         This fellow doesn’t seem to jest. And now Nic feels the explanation of pacifism has exposed my vulnerability so he places his hand on the hilt of his sword.

         “I neither run nor fight, I have a horse.” It’s established now; I’m defenseless and my pride is of no consequence either. It’s a good time to change the subject back to the sheep issue. This shepherd is exhausted after his attempt to limp up this hill; and now the sheep are off in all directions. Gathering them back will be a huge task for a man with a lame foot.

         “May we help you gather your sheep? After-all, it was our horses that caused them to scatter.”

         He is suspicious of us and worries if we help and he doesn’t pay us we will demand a sheep as our pay. “If you take a sheep my father will come for you.”

         “Let us just be helpful because you seem to need our help.”  Nic added, “We don’t need to be paid. Really we are simply offering to help.”

         The task here is guiding the sheep to a night pasture on the east side of the ridge. We aren’t shepherds and the sheep surely have no obligation to encourage our attempt; so the best we can do is bring the sheep up passed the ridge in small clumps of two or three at a time. It is slow work and the horses have no sense for it either so we put our beasts to pasture and do our so-called shepherding on foot.

         This seems to take a very long time and the longer night of winter is already upon us. The glinting light of November sun is lost under a storm cloud from Gaul. We will need to find shelter, and now the shepherd considers a kindness for us.

(Continued Tomorrow)

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Post #13.13, Thursday, October 29, 2020

Historical setting: Crossing the Pyrenees in the 6th Century C.E.

         The shepherd nears this ridge as the scattered sheep have forgotten their hurry away from mayhem and are distracted by grazing. The shepherd is a ragged young man in fleece, hobbling with a clumsily wrapped foot.  He seems reluctant to accept our offer to help him gather his sheep back, and at the same time seems as awed by our horses as was his dog. He just stares intently at the leather braids that tether Nic’s saddle to The Rose.

         “I need those leathers.” He finally speaks. These few words are barely Roman. He has mastered the Latin “I need” but mostly he uses gestures.

         “What do you mean?” Nic asks.

         Pointing again to the leathers Nic has tied onto the horse – “I need those.”

         “They keep the saddle on my horse so I can’t lend them to you just now.  But we have a twist of hemp rope; perhaps you can use a rope?”

          “Leather thongs would be better than a rod for training my dog. [note] Before I can strike with the rod and he runs off. If I had a whip of leathers I could…” he gestures rolling a whip in his hand. “I could whip him into finer courage.” He speaks that word clearly in the Roman vernacular, ”Courage.”

         “Courage?” I have to ask. “How can a whipping bring courage?”

         “It’s how I got my courage. Whenever my father sees me cowering or trying to run he gives me a good lashing. Now when I think I’m afraid I tighten my jaw and fight back. Before I got trained to courage I was a fast runner but a very bad fighter.”

         “And now,” I wonder looking at his broken body, “you are a good fighter?”

         “Better at fighting than running.”

          “I don’t think my friend Laz gets it.” Nic offers.  “I never knew my father, but I’ll bet he would’ve also been teaching the courage that comes with blades and fangs and lashes of leather.”

         The pasture grasses lean over in the new easterly breeze with a calm as a storm gathers in the north. The horses have forgotten their terror of a dog, and the dog is soft at the side of the donkey. The donkey isn’t braying just now. And the three human beings make a circle of conversation. So in the calm of the moment I ask, “What is courage?”

(The story continues Tuesday, November 3)

[Note (Thank you, Sandy for sharing your information on training a Great Pyrenees.)] “A Great Pyrenees would probably not show fear except by barking even more fiercely, though it might back away somewhat.  He would not give up his dignity and control (in his mind)… The shepherd needs to know that you cannot train a Great Pyrenees to do much except for food and praise.  They are very independent and focused on the needs of the herd.  The dog might run away if the shepherd uses leather straps to try to train him, as this would belie all the good in their relationship.  I have had enough foster dogs that were mistreated earlier in their lives – it does permanent damage.  They do not forget and never trust humans again.” 

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Post #13.12, Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Historical setting: Crossing the Pyrenees in the 6th Century C.E.

         “It’s no surprise then, when Jesus was born the same year as I, our families were already close and Jesus and I were together whenever his family was in Jerusalem. Even when Joseph wasn’t working nearby they still made that journey at least once a year because they too were devout Jews.”

         “So,” Nic adds, “You are telling me Jesus was always there from the beginning and forever, as far as you’re concerned?”

         “I guess so. If Jesus the human person is a true but earthly metaphor for that which the hair-splits of the Orthodox Trinitarians call the ‘Christ,’ then I would say, yes. He was with the world before I was born so I can’t say otherwise.

         Our peaceful ride across the ridges of the Pyrenees allowed me this meander far from the story I started to tell of seeing flocks of sheep moving in patterns like murmurs of birds in the skies or schools of fish in the sea.

         “So Nic, I was going to tell you about the time when Jesus and I went out and found the shepherds in hills outside of Bethlehem.”

         Just now, our ride is taking us very near a flock of sheep that are on the move up the hillside toward us on this ridge. The shepherd seems a distance off.

         Oh!  Right from the midst of the sheep a large white dog[Blogger’s note] rises up barking furiously at our horses!  The Rose rears up! Nic seems a skilled horseman as he stays in the saddle like a statue of a Roman Emperor rearing on a pedestal. Umber whinnies and shies away but at least all fours stay on the ground. The commotion gets the donkey’s sweet song of terror started, and the dog turns his ferocious clamor toward the donkey. All the noise and plunder send the sheep asunder back down the hillside.  I slide down with the reign in my left, and my right hand reaching out hoping to calm the dog, or get bitten, whatever would be the nature of this critter. Under all his bark and fluff the dog turns his incessant barks from stranger warning into a friendly fugue of loud voiced greetings for the donkey.

         With the sheep scattering, the dog barking pointlessly, the horses abating, the donkey confused, only the men are left to their shrieks and hollers.

         The shepherd is still a long way off hobbling toward us waving his rod over his head and shouting curses in a language neither of us knows, but surely it is curses.

(Continues tomorrow)

[Blogger’s note] This blogger’s dog-life with collies has never included Great Pyrenees a herd guarding breed so I sought help for dog training possibilities from a cousin and friend in Texas who works with SPIN Rescue.org. Look for her tips on training these magnificent dogs in the notes used with tomorrow’s blog.  

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Post #13.11, Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Historical setting: Remembering the First Century, Jerusalem

         Nic is probably getting impatient with my explanation of First Century Temple politics. But in order to hear a whole story it’s important to start where the story starts. So my friendship with Jesus has to begin with my father and with his friendship with Joseph. Besides, all we have to do right now is ride across these mountains and yammer our stories away.

         “As I was saying, my father had an instinct for taking notice of the skills of a good teacher. He saw Joseph at work and recognized this man was gifted, not only in the craft of construction, but also with special skills for guiding his apprentices. Joseph brought empathy when working with others, not simply edicts of righteousness for the less-skilled workers assigned to help him. In fact it was Joseph who made Jesus into such an excellent …”

         “…teacher?” Nic asks.

         “…carpenter.” I answer.

         “In those days King Herod planned major renovations to the Temple in Jerusalem. Joseph came down from Nazareth hoping to work on the project, but like everything else the Sadducees touched, work on the Temple was assigned according to politics. The Sadducees claimed that because the Holy of Holy’s could only be approached by Priests and Levites no other artisans were allowed to work on the Temple.  Thus Joseph, a Pharisee, wasn’t ‘qualified’ to do the work – but — he could be a teacher of the necessary skill.

         “My father really enjoyed making jest of the inability of priests and Levites to build anything, much less the Temple. His chatter was one snide bit of political sarcasm after another. He would say things like – ‘look at these mountain peaks? According to the rod and plumb line of the Temple priests these peaks are declared level!’ Of course truth is elsewhere. Any guests or family gathered at our table would be expected to share their political agreement in a good guffaw. Maybe a Pharisee doesn’t meet the priestly requirements for reconstructing the Holy of Holy’s but a Pharisee can be a fine teacher.  So there was Joseph chosen to teach construction to the fumbling and useless Sadducees.

         “Though Joseph had an uncle not far from us in Bethlehem that elder lived in a tiny room, sparse even for one man. So while the work was being done Joseph was a welcome guest at our villa. That was how my father and Joseph became good friends.”

(Continued tomorrow)

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Post #13.10, Thursday, October 22, 2020

Historical setting: Remembering the First Century, Jerusalem

         Nic is still listening to my ancient family story. And I am still telling it.

         “While my father, known as Simon, worked in the marketplace at the Temple porticos he contracted an illness, probably a pox, spreading among the foreign merchants in those days. He called that ‘God’s blessing,’ also, if you know what I mean.

         “He followed the Law and he went away from family to stay outside the walls of the city to await the end of the illness either by healing or by death. He didn’t die. He became strong and well but marked with pox.

         “As a wealthy Pharisee he always felt he was in a power struggle with the Sadducees who controlled the Temple. He railed against them all his years because he believed they only followed the politically expedient laws of Torah not the proper details of the Law. He believed the Sadducees divided their loyalty to God with obedience to the little Roman assigned ‘King of the Jews’ – Herod. 

         “So when he recovered from his illness he went to show himself to the priests at the Temple as the law requires for cleansing after healing. (The priests were of course, Sadducees.) But the Chief Priest labeled his scars ‘leprosy’ and my father was permanently evicted from the Temple.

         My father was shrewd. So he challenged the expectations of the sentence he was given.  Instead of endlessly begging outside the gates of the city as was the usual plight of lepers, he simply moved my mother and sister into a beautiful villa, an easy walk from Jerusalem, into the town of Bethany. He was in a good place to receive merchants and trades from all the four corners of the winds. So in a way he turned his difficult circumstance into a true blessing. He simply continued to follow the ancient Law of our people as though he were among the scattered as he felt he was. He practiced his faith and nurtured us, his children in wisdom and strength and love for God above all else.”

         Nic interrupts my reminiscence, “So, how did he become friends with Joseph and is that how you meet Jesus?”

         “Oh, yes, that’s what you were asking isn’t it. And I was just getting to that part.  My father was one who saw education of his children as a significant and holy responsibility. He valued good teachers in all subject matter.”

         Nic inserts his guess. “And Jesus was a teacher?”

         “No, no, Nic. This all happened before Jesus or I were even born.”

(Continued Tuesday, October 27)

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Post #13.9, Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Historical setting: Remembering the First Century, Bethany

         I mentioned the Gospel of Luke used our family as characters in stories, but that author didn’t even know us.

          Nic says, “I did notice there was that part in Luke where your sisters squabbled and Jesus got in the middle of it. And of course one of your sisters, Mary, was a prostitute.”

         “What? That’s not true!  Not even Luke says that!”

         “Okay, Laz, don’t get riled, I was only kidding, sort of. It must have been a different Mary.” 

         “Please Nic, I really want to tell you about my father, because fathers matter to everyone’s life stories.”

         “Except that my father was dead before I was born.” Nic reminds me.

         “… And yet you bore his name and wore his armor, and marched in step with his fellow soldiers for all those years of your adult life.”

         “He marched, I rowed.”

         “Whatever. As I was saying, my father was a Pharisee. He was a Jew who followed the letter of the Law. He became wealthy making his lucrative trade with all sorts of visitors to Jerusalem. Some of these were devout pilgrims, others gentiles visiting Jerusalem because Jerusalem was a hub of business in that day. Every day he was in the porticos of the Temple selling and trading – making his deals. The gift for his success was his ability to respect and listen to all varieties of languages and ethnicities and to know people for who they were, not just for the social stereotypes.”

         Nic wonders, “I always thought Pharisees were aloof and just sort of stayed with their own ultra-righteous kinds.”

         “Some were like that I suppose. For my father though, his constant and mindful obedience to the Law allowed him an assurance of righteousness that couldn’t be shaken or flawed in dealings with pagans and all varieties of gentiles.  In a certain way, his narrow faith allowed him open-mindedness in dealing with so many peoples of foreign lands and so many languages of trade. It was his sharp mind and his ability to know people well that made him so successful. He called his flow of wealth ‘God’s blessing.’  But then, the blessing soured as will blessings measured by material wealth.”

         “What happened?”

(Continued Tomorrow)

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Post #13.8, Tuesday, October 20, 2020*

Historical setting: Remembering the First Century

(*Looking for this post on Tuesday? Saving words digitally is clearly not as reliable as was once an ancient clay pot with papyrus scrolls stashed in a cave. Lazarus-Ink will be back on schedule this week.)

         Nic and I have set the conversation between us on my childhood  memories of Jesus.

         “Did he seem mysterious at the time you knew him?” he asked.

“Like, was he encased in a radiant aura, and was his voice distant, like thunder across the valleys?”

         “You’re kidding Nic.”

         “I’m just saying what I’ve heard.”

         “There was nothing weird about him. And at that time, there was nothing weird about me either. We were just like any other normal Jewish kids growing up in ancient Israel.  Can I tell you about our nighttime adventure when we sneaked off to party with the shepherds?”

         “How old were you then?”

         “We were maybe ten or eleven; an age of childhood that seemed to us complete, but apparently, the shepherds thought we were children and they sent us home.”

         “I really want to know about the very first time you met Jesus.” 

         “I don’t think we actually met. He was just always there as long as I can remember. We were both nearly the same age. Our fathers were good friends with one another already at the time we were born.”

         “Do you mean your father was friends with God or with Joseph?”

         “My father was a devout Pharisee so of course he was well-acquainted with God – the Law, the Word, the Creator of heaven and earth, but I was thinking of Jesus’s skin and bones father, Joseph. Of course Joseph was also a Pharisee. It seems now, looking back, it was an unlikely friendship. My family was wealthy and Joseph was more from the laborer’s class.”

         Nic assumes, “So it is as they say, he was poor?”

         “Not really poor, unless we were only seeing from my perch of privilege; I think his family was somewhere in the middle, able to live and also to give, at least while Joseph was living and when Jesus was learning the carpenter’s trade.”

         “So, how did your father and Joseph grow to be friends?”

         “Joseph, was working as an itinerate craftsman traveling often from his home in one of the villages in Galilee. You know, some of this is written in the gospels, so maybe I don’t need to repeat it. But I do want to tell you about my father because I feel our own family was maligned in misunderstanding by the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts.”

         “I didn’t even know any of the Gospels but John had anything at all of your family.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #13.7, Thursday, October 15, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. Ascending into the Pyrenees

         Cloud shadows on the mountains seem to make the ever-still earth forms of rock rise and fall like the waves on a sea. We thought finding our way through this range would be the simple part going up to the mountain top then down into Gaul, but now we see it is necessary to think always of the risings and settings of sun to keep our direction toward the north. The ridges of this range undulate in angles and tilts of all directions.  We choose the ridges to follow because they are most level and we can also see off in all directions and keep our bearings with fewer ascents and descents to tire us with climbs.

         With all these pastures in every valley it is no wonder we see flocks of sheep – or are those simply flocks of boulders set into the mountains at a distance? We’ve ridden above several valleys of these rock statues, remembrances of sheep, and now we come upon what are surely living flocks. Yes, these are indeed sheep. They are moving across the hillsides in ever-morphing forms like murmurs of starlings in an evening sky. We stop on our horses to take a moment to wonder at these patterns.

         “When I was a kid in my teens my best friend and I would sneak off at dusk to watch these ever forming shapes of moving sheep, and once we followed them so far we discovered the distant shepherds making their night fire.”

         Nic asks, “So Laz, Did you have your forever life then, before Jesus?”

         “There was never a ‘before Jesus’ in my knowing. But before my healing from first death, I was an ordinary kid. ‘Nothing strange about me at all, except, I might mention that this best friend leading me into these dares of childhood was Jesus.”

         “Do you mean Jesus the human person or Jesus the ethereal substance of invisible presence – the Christ?”

         “You jest. You know who I mean Nic. You and I share that same heresy.”

         We come to a creek so we dismount and we lead the horses and the donkey to water and take a bit of a rest before we cross over the icy flow to climb to a higher ridge.

         “I meant to ask an honest question. Was Jesus already holy when you met him?”

         “Of course.  We are all the Holy Creation of God, are we not?”

         “You know what I mean. Did he seem, you know,  ‘different’?”

(Continued Tuesday, October 20)

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Post #13.6, Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. Ascending into the Pyrenees

         The fog clears. No words. Awe is a word too small. Dear God, was it your intention that human eyes would be given privilege to see so wide? Have we taken a step too far and now we see all of earth from a holy place? How is it that you can find any one of our human kinds in such a vast lay and yet you even know us each by name?

         Nic offers words, “This flask is a fine infusion of olive oil and Rosemary. We should use it now to rub the beasts.  The horses and the donkey have come this whole climb with us so far.”

         Psalm 8 speaks here in every language, and in the silence too.

         The garden fragrance of the oil seems earthy and soft rubbed onto the warm skins of our animals. And here are the rocks and the ridge of a mountaintop. But, also here is a spread of grasses sloping down both sides of this level ridge like a cloth lain onto a rough-hewn table.  We set the beasts to graze and the donkey’s burden is laid out on the rocks to dry in the sunlight. It is a moment to nap on our fleeces setting our faces toward the silent promenade of cloud forms and fantasies in all their billows across the heavens.

         “Laz, do you suppose the sky is so much bigger when we are on a mountain top just to remind us that even the great mountain we just conquered is but a tiny wrinkle in the fullness of Creation?”

         “Yes, I suppose.”

         “I mean think about it.  The eyes of our animals are set on their noses, casting their gaze at the grasses as they eat.  But our eyes are set on our faces looking out from the earth.  Do you suppose the Creator wants to be sure these human kinds of us see the whole panorama – where we are going — where we have been, and mostly the vastness of it all and maybe even the smallness of us ourselves?”

         “Yes, I suppose.” Thank you God for giving us perspective and not requiring any reality from our self-imagined excessive size of us. Amen.

         Tomorrow we will ride this ridge until another path to the north is before us.  This is a day to rest.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #13.5, Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Historical setting:563 C.E. Foothills of the Pyrenees

         This new morning we are ready for the climb but an early rain dampens every leaf and twig and greases rocks for slipping. Horses, left to their own ideas would zig and zag upwards through this woods and so we learn from them how to ascend on all of our pairs of feet. It isn’t just the branches reaching all around us to snag us from our mounts, we choose this mode of walking and leading the horses so that each horse and man can get firm footing on this slippery slope and no one will come up lame.  The donkey doesn’t seem to mind the climb even though we have done nothing to lighten his burden. The climbs are slow but steady, first to the gee then to the haw, up and up through the wood in a path of Zetas. 

        Each time we reach what we thought was nearly the mountaintop the next turn only reveals a higher mountain. 

         Dear God, help us see that this ascent is doable. Amen.

         So now the fog has snuffed the long view and we can only see our journey one step at a time. I suppose this has relieved the anxiety caused by our attempts to look ahead for an end to this slope.  I should say “Thank you God for making our ascent seem doable” but I was hoping more for a holy answer in the form of a miraculous summit. The fog definitely focuses our aspirations onto only one single footfall at a time.  Stopping for a mid-day meal is fine on the slant, but for our night’s rest we will surely need something level.

         Now we are able to find a particular flatness of rocks wide enough for two men, two horses and a donkey. And we are near a grassy shallow for grazing. But we start this new day still smothered in fog.  One fine thing about a mountain is we don’t need to see where we are to gather our directions.  Up is up and down is down, and we have our minds set on going up at least until the earth under our feet gives us no other choice but down; and then we know we are at the top.  So does that mean that much talked about exhilaration of reaching the apex is simply a down-pointing position of the foot?

         Oh, wait a minute. Now I see.

(Continued tomorrow)

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Post #13.4, Thursday, October 8, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. Foothills of the Pyrenees

When is it ever that preparing for a long journey into winter is as joyful as this moment seems?

         Dear God, thank you!

         Here we are able to fit ourselves for a journey with substantial provisions. Nic has even purchased a donkey to take on the extra weight of these winter supplies. So we can take along The Rose’s favorite mix of oats and warm wools and fleeces for winter.

         The slopes we see to the north and east are wide and gentle before the torn silhouette of mountains edge onto the sky.

         “Have you gone this way before?” Nic asks.

         “No, I’ve only come to Hispania by sea.”

         “How will we find our way across the mountains?”

         “I would suppose we would just go up, and look across the valleys for the easy paths, then when we have gone up as far as we can go up, we should just go down. Isn’t that always the way with crossing mountains?”

         “Maybe so, Brother Laz, but I’ve never crossed mountains without an officer leading as though he knows the way.”

         “And yet, two of us are twice as brilliant as any one officer.  If we keep the sun on our right shoulder in the mornings, and our left before dusk, we will surely reach Gaul someday.”

         So it is this morning we begin a single journey that settles both of our wishes.

         The abbott and the monks offer prayers and advice.

         “Go with God, brothers, via con Dios.”

         This first day of the journey the mountains are a ragged line of shadow somewhere else, always seeming beyond us like the horizon itself but a ragged edge of particular peaks and places. I’m sure even the horses notice that this earth leads into mountains with every step a bit higher than the last — anticipation of a slow rising. The rivers run swiftly, and our campsite has a tilt to it that rolls us always on a downhill in our sleeps, a tilt we never even noticed when sitting by the fire.

(Continued Tuesday, October 13)

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Post #13.3, Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. Villa turned Monastery

         It was Nic meeting with the abbot while I was waiting. Could it be that this is another amazing synchronicity? It seems likely Nic has already chosen to stay here and he is speaking with the abbot about that now.

         Now my turn. “Father, I just want you to know I can testify for Nic if he should need a recommendation from someone who knows him well. And I too, can see that he belongs here so now I must prepare to go on alone.”

         “Where will you go, Brother Lazarus?”

         “I’m looking to join a monastery with a scriptorium and I plan to cross the mountains before winter sets in to go on to Ligugé, near Poitiers.”

         “So you are finding Nic to be a burden and you would prefer to go on alone?”

         “No, not at all. Nic is a dear friend and fine companion. He has been my patron all this way. But all we’ve done is chase my dreams and meet my own needs. Now it’s time for him to have his own good life and I can see he’s happy here. I will miss him, but what must be is what must be.”

         “Is this what Nic wants?”

         “I’ll talk with him when I’m sure there is a place for him here.”

         “And you have already brought this plan to God in prayer?”

         “Of course.”

         “So what answer did you receive?”

         “Maybe God has answered with the synchronicity of this also being Nic’s wish?”

         “So God did not answer your prayer.”

         “God sometimes takes a while to answer but I don’t want to wait too long, or the winter will be in Gaul and make it hard traveling for one alone.”

         “Sometimes God’s answer is found in a letting go of our own manipulation of things — just letting things happen. I was just speaking with Nic.”

         “Yes, I saw.”

          “He told me he was noticing you seem happier here than he has ever seen you. He asked if he might sponsor you here, while he goes on alone across the mountains to Gaul where there is a monastery that has a scriptorium near Poitiers and they may take an elder novice such as Nic. If each of you wishes to cross over the mountains alone – there is plenty of room out there. But I think I’ve heard God’s synchronicity in both your wishes and neither of you welcomes a lonely parting.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #13.2, Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Historical setting: 563 CE, the old villa, as a monastery

         The table is set with plenty. Monasteries often consider hospitality to strangers as their mission. This one, particularly, is one on a path with many a wandering stranger seeking hospitality. The gardens and livestock are here to serve mostly guests as these monks would, when left with no guests, practice the fast.

         Nic has filled a hearty plate for himself and his comfortable grace and ease of language with these Gothic monks gives me the thought that he belongs here. Several of these monks are older men also. It is clear that Nic fits here and I know I don’t.

          The rule of silence begins after the meal so I can’t speak with Nic about my thought but it seems clear to me; this is where he has found a home.

         My prayer attempts seem to tilt epic. I’m telling my whole plan to God as though God were mindless. So I begin it again.

         Dear God, I know it is our human nature that prods our impatience and allows us to think we can read a plan you may have …

         No, surely that’s not a good prayer-start. If what I have to say is truly God’s plan, I should just stick with “Thy will be done.”

         Dear God, please consider Nic’s happiness if it is your will. Amen.

         Should I act on this? I know Nic belongs here so I can’t just expect him to go along with me on my journey across the mountains? What if God hasn’t yet told Nic or the abbot of the plan? Perhaps I should share my concern for Nic’s happiness with the abbot after prayers in the morning. I’m sure the abbot will be pleased to welcome this older man here to be a novice among these monks.

         When the silence is broken in the morning I wait to speak to the abbot. I can vouch for the goodness of Nic staying here, while I go on across the mountains into Gaul on to the monastery near Poitiers. When I was there before, I could copy scriptures in the scriptorium and yet keep a horse and serve as a messenger. I know I can be useful there and Nic seems to belong here. But I need to start my journey right away before winter comes down on the north side of the Pyrenees.

         So this morning I wait here on the bench outside the abbot’s cubical because the abbot is already meeting with someone.

(continues tomorrow)

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Post #13.1, Thursday, October 1, 2020

Historical setting: 563 CE, at the family cemetery of the old villa

         “Brother Lazarus, her name was not Susannah; her name was Minerva.”

         The familiar sound of Nic’s voice plundered my moment of reverence as I knelt at the grave to place the flowers I had gathered. What does he know of my error in memory? Where has he been these days?

         I rise to my feet, and there he is with his same piercing and intended stare as when he found he had to accept that the recipient of his patronage was a Jew like Jesus. And now he has had to face a very strange dimension of identity of me, this person he has committed too. The last we saw each other he learned that I was indeed, as I had tried to tell him, the same man Lazarus who was Jesus’ own childhood friend.  All these years I have lived with so many deaths and resurrections and clearly, I’m not the young monk he promised to support.  I know the shock and disappointment sent him longing to soldier again.  What can I say?  What, even, can he say?

         We are locked in our stare that I wish were a simple hand-clasp or pat on the back — any kind of welcome gesture to accept that it is what it is.

         It’s not an easy resolution.

         My gaze on his elder face must speak of my longing for his acceptance, because his eyes soften to empathy then he looks away.

         I ask, “Do you mean I even remembered her with a wrong name?”

         He answers, “I’ve heard the hero stories of that war, not just in Bragda, but here, at the monastery. And yes, she was known as Minerva. But I have to tell you Brother Lazarus, I’ve pondered the notion that your grief has many names and I expect when we find Susannah, she will have a golden braid of hair also.”

         Dear God, thank you for such a friend as this. You must know my need for a friend.  Amen.

         Nic has given this his deepest thought. “Brother Lazarus, I wondered if my call was to be as Nicodemus, so that I would one day bring a heavy abundance of herbs and spices to a grave in grief for a younger man and spiritual guide, but now I understand it will be you who is left to grieve for me.”

         “May it be many years my friend, may it be a long time we have for this friendship.”

(Continued Tuesday, October 6)

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Post #12.14, Wednesday, September 30, ’20

Historical setting: 563 C.E. remembering the villa

         I learned from the bishop what had become of the villa under the Goths. Besides the actual gold and jewels and riches of the Suebi family, the Goths took, as their war booty, the cult members who were still living. They sanctified the asceticism and declared a sacred burial place in the courtyard of the villa where they buried the dead of the cultists. 

         When these Goths, once pagan hoards, swept through Hispania a near century ago they were already Christianized with the Arian heresy. But like the Franks, they brought with them from their Pagan root the sanctification of the rotting remnants of sufferings. They were making the cultists into their saints.   

         I suppose, in the superstitious minds, the warrior Goths viewed their easy victory over the villa as the great and magical work of the Christian God. I mean, after all, they easily conquered the elderly Suebi don swinging at them with his one dull and tarnished sword.

         So, when I arrive at the villa tomorrow I can expect to see it is now a Gothic monastery as the bishop said it had become. And in the courtyard will be the burial places for monks and nuns and saints who have gone before. But I wonder if the family burial place will still be where I found it – at a traditional Roman distance from the villa. If I find it again, I will place flowers on the grave where I buried her with her family. That alone, seems to give purpose to this long ride.

         Dear God, Do you relish in the paradox? Is there ever an earthly place for your healing peace and forgiveness? Thank you God, for my own years of healing. May I never loose my vision of your relentless forgiveness and love even for those we humankinds may name as heretics and enemies. Amen.

         At sunset I find that pasture is still here where Umber may graze, and I may sleep in this autumn wither of grasses beside the still waters.

(Continues Thursday, October 1)

[A note about the order of this blog:  This continuing story posts three times a week, about 400 words at a time, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in “Chapters” by the month. The “Home” page features an introduction to the new month’s Chapter and a recap of the necessary plot line to help followers keep their bearings. May our followers simply enjoy this on-going meander through ancient Christian history.]

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Post #12.13, Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., the Inn at Bragda

         Back at the inn now, and it’s the disappointment I’d feared.  The Rose is not in the stall. Nic’s things are already gone from the loft. The innkeeper says he paid ahead for me and my horse for this night and he will pay more if I need to stay longer. He left no message for me at all. But Nic’s kindness was nearly said to this innkeeper with the same words as in the story Jesus told of the stranger who was rescued by an eternal enemy-Samaritan-“neighbor” whom tradition has renamed as “good.”

         With Nic gone from the loft and no other travelers here to offer their peaceful chorus of snores this night is too silent for sleep. The sharp spear of moonlight jabs a path between the loose tiles of the roof and I know I won’t sleep at all.

         Dear God, stay near to Nic wherever he has gone. Forgive my wanderings. Amen.

         The rising on this new day is muffled by my own sleepless fatigue. There is nothing to drive me to journey except the nothingness of here. I mount my gelding named for the dull color he is, but in that simplicity he offers a wideness of solace; so we set our faces East to follow the river, Umber and I.

         I remember this path by the river. It is easily a two-day journey to the villa, but along the way, after the place where all those years ago I passed through the Suebi army on my way back to Bracara with the warning, I found a place where the river slowed and spread to soften the earth for a pasture land of tender grasses. That was where I rested then.

           In the days after the raid I followed this trail along the rivers as I am now, to return to the villa, the tabula rasa of a war field.

         After that raid when I came back to the ruin I found the full silence of devastation. The gardens were ashes, and the outbuildings gone with wafts of smoke still rising. That last wagon in the flight had no one left to drive it and no beast to pull it. Both the horse and the driver were still in their places stricken by arrows. I buried Susannah, then I buried her father along with his sword in what seemed to me the family burial ground outside the villa. But the woman of the cult Susannah was trying to rescue was not amid the ruins of the wagon. And the villa itself was nearly unscathed.

         In the bishop’s telling of the story I learned what I didn’t know then.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #12.12, Thursday, September 24, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., Bragda

After I met with the bishop, after my mind was clear of wishes, and my memories were of grief, now I find Nic is not where I expected to find him: just outside, practicing his horsemanship. He is nowhere to be seen. He left an apple for my horse.  What can I do but ride back to the inn?

         It seems a longer ride alone. Thinking of Nic, remembering Nic. I had asked that this pure and chaste man still harboring his own wish for holy orders help me find my mythical wife with a yellow braid of hair. Then, like the Samaritan saving the beaten stranger on the road to Jericho, he learned that this victim he rescued was his own enemy, The Jew. He shed prayers begging strength to forgive like the sweat pouring off his scalding skin on the ship’s deck adrift in the hot still waters of summertime on the bay. He forgave his enemy. He offered me his friendship.

         Dear God, help me to forgive his soldier ways, if he should ever agree that we meet again. Amen.

         But now, I’ve laid on him tangible proof of my strange nature– my odd gift of physical life after life.  There’s no intricate theology to be spun from the miracle to say it is every person’s fate in resurrection. There are no others of my kind peopling this earth. And I offer no excuse from earthly mortality. I’m just a strange sign to make a physical metaphor of a spiritual truth. No wonder he chose to leave.

         My secret wish as I go back to the inn for one last night before I  gather my things and ride on to the villa, is that when I take Umber into the stall, there, also will be The Rose. Then I will go quietly into our space in the loft and I will tell him I understand I have made it all so hard for him. What can either of us say? Maybe he will speak or maybe he will just quietly get up and leave then. Over and again I have put him into hard places.

         The ride back is a tangle of strange dialogues in my head.  What can I say? What has been said? What is known now that was hidden before?

(Continues Tuesday, September 29, 2020)

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Post #12.11, Wednesday, September 23 ’20

Historical setting: 563 C.E., Bragda

         Here in these Holy halls where even bishops tip-toe on marble floors to soften the echoes, I have found a quiet place to take a moment to mesh the stories the bishop told with the fragments of memory and now I seem to know too well the things I have not allowed into my waking thought before this.

         As the bishop told it to me today, it was the story of an imaginary hero, a missionary who saved the people and the gospel too. I know it was no missionary hero but an ever-grieving servant, a Christian pacifist who chooses no sides in these wars. My wound healed more quickly than my grief.

         Now I leave the basilica expecting to find Nic who excused himself from our meeting with the bishop to practice with his horse.

         What will I tell Nic now of my true remembrances? Should I tell him about Susannah, who saved numbers of the people from the war, and was the very one in the first place who demanded the bishop send a missionary to dispel the cult? Should I tell him that my remembrance of marriage to the woman with the golden hair was nothing more than my twisted grief for Susannah beyond the tragedy of her death? It was my own pretending that allowed me to be spared the reality of grief.

         Maybe it is like the doctor told me in Nance, some memories are better kept forgotten in the bandages.

         Now I shall see if my old soldier-friend Nic has learned to vault into the saddle yet.

         Nearly blinded by the glare of autumn sun I find Umber still tethered, but a bit more loosely than when I left him so now he is able to reach down and gnaw at an apple carefully lain at his feet. I have no guess where Nic and The Rose may have gone. I don’t blame him for leaving though. I must be a terrible disappointment to his onetime dream of sponsoring a monk who would be copying scriptures quietly and uneventfully. He meant to be the mighty protector fending off all ravages of evil outside the sacred wall of the monastery, guarding the sanctity of the written and copied word within. He meant, at least, to be a very good man, even if some bishop of old would not see him into the inks as a true God-man.

(Come again tomorrow)

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Post #12.10, Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., remembering a villa in 462

Remembering 462 C.E., A very earthly enemy invasion was coming down on us from the eastern coast of Hispania. The first arrow arced through the vines of portico into the midst of our meeting. The next seemed to take an eternity to arrive, though it was only a few seconds. It was the stop of time we needed to realize we were under siege. Everyone, the family, the cult worshipers, the servants, all the able-bodied people who were neither guards nor soldiers crowded into the few wagons and carts available at the stables. As I prepared to ride ahead with the warning of the invasion, the elderly don, with his own sword already in hand, stopped me to hand me the gospel to take it back with me to Bracara for “safe keeping.” Then right behind him was Susannah begging me, before I left, to help get those who were too weak from hunger into the wagons for safety. Arrows were landing all around us like sleet in an oddly-seasoned storm, and we knew in another instant there would be spears and swords and cavalry. We must have already been in their sights, because the arrows were finding marks. Susannah was felled as we were lifting a starving ascetic onto the wagon bed; Susannah died there to save the life of one who had already chosen heaven over earth. I laid both women onto the wagon before an arrow came into my own shoulder.

         I only stumbled for a moment and then was able to mount my horse and go at full gallop toward the west to warn the others, but even then the rumors of war were spreading ahead of me like a torch dropped onto a parched summer’s field, so by the time I neared Bracara I was riding into the mighty storm of dust at the hooves of the Suebi fighters plundering into their newest war which was, for that moment, behind me.

         How I wish, at this remembrance, that the ancient truth wasn’t of her heroic death, but that Susannah with the yellow braid was … What have I done? Have I chased an empty, imagined romantic whim from another century only to be reminded that the single shred of reality left of it all is my own grief? And is this instant of grief what we have come all this way in search of?

         What can I say to Nic?

(Continued tomorrow)

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Post #12.9, Thursday, September 17, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., remembering villa near Zaragosa in 462

Here is a quiet place to collect my thoughts as I now have the one thing I was seeking – my clarity of mind. The bishop laid out details of a time in the missing century. And now my own remembrances have become horrifically clear. This is why I’ve kept these things hidden in this smog of forgotten time. I recall the villa and its ancient heretical cult festering like a plague, feeding on fears and longings for an unknown and unknowable abusive god. The God of love and life was unreachable by these cultists expecting, as they did, only sacrifice and punishments.

         I remember we were meeting together on the villa’s warm and breezy portico. Susannah led us in a familiar hymn as though we were all of a single mind and one voice. Then a young cultist asked that we may speak our separate prayers aloud. We heard, buried in each prayer of unctuous words a statement of judgment of earth things and a promise to pay for the “sins of earth” with holy suffering. How is it that God can even hear such a chaos of jangling sacrifice and useless human pain and not send down angels to set it right again?

         I pretended then, my prayer aloud; or maybe it was a sermon for earth in the guise of prayer but it forced onto them the Genesis thought – “After each day of Creation God said ‘it is good’. Thank you God for all these beloved people and for this whole beautiful Creation you have named ‘good.’”

         One shouted out, “So how do you know the mind of God?”

         As I was opening that Gospel of John to the first page, I started to say, “it is written… expecting I would read the part that begins, ‘In the beginning was the …”

         Susannah answered, “Just listen to him!  This man brings us the true Gospel!”

          I had indeed come as a stranger among them and a messenger of the Word assigned the task of freeing them from so much self inflicted suffering, but were I sent down to them on wings from heaven I would truly be a failed angel. Every message of every angel begins, “don’t be afraid” yet there is no edict I could think to announce an honest dissolution of fear. And at that very moment the fear of ethereal awe was immediately changed to an earthbound and tangible fear – an arrow landed in our midst — the unspoken terror was of an earthly war.

(Come again Tuesday, Sept. 22.)

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Post #12.8, Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. Bragda

         I meet with the bishop alone, because Nic doesn’t want to hear about my unusual circumstance of having lived in other times. And now he has seen my transcription of The Gospel of John and now he knows it’s true. Nic can’t dismiss my personal weirdness with the possibility that my story is simply a product of a scrambled mind. Yet at this time he has only imagination enough to accept me as a normal human friend. But isn’t that also the whole problem of Christian resurrection?  Was it only Jesus and one other man, Jesus’ Bethany friend, raised from the dead, or is every living person taken by the hand from death by Jesus? Where are the boundaries of sign and symbol in an earth of flesh and stone? I choose not to ask these questions of the bishop. [Blogger’s note]

         “Thank you, Your Excellency, for meeting with me. My friend and patron Nic has chosen to stay with the horses and give us this meeting in private.”

         “I was told you have an interest in the particular copy of the Gospel of John in our collection?”

         “I was wondering about the source of that old codex. My patron and I are searching the history of the Suebi Christian faith, as it was a century ago.”

         The bishop answers, “Apparently that is soon to be a history of little consequence, as the Visigoths seem always to encroach deeper and deeper into Galleacia. We were fortunate to save that gospel from the invasion in 462. We had newly acquired the codex, and it was still in the hands of the missionary who brought it here when the wars first ignited. It was told he was preaching against the heresy at a villa near Zaragosa, the hub of Priscillianism at that time.  We still suffer the ravages of the heresy, though I hope now, since the Council met we have enough structure in place that we won’t be celebrating anymore religious suicides by starvation then mistaking suicide for martyrdom.”

         I have to ask, “Is that villa still the possession of the Suebi family who owned it at the time?”

          “I would have thought that was the stone of history you were turning first and the very thing that brought you here to find the gospel. Have you not visited it yet?”

         “I was only certain of where we would find the Gospel of John. We are still seeking the villa.”

(Come back tomorrow.)

[Blogger’s note] This is a fictional blog – not intending to probe the depths of actual scholarly studies but I have a recommendation. One of my favorite bible scholars (and possibly the whole world’s favorite) does take these questions head-on in the art history book Resurrecting Easter: How the West lost and the East kept the original Easter vision. By John Dominic Crossan & Sarah Sexton Crossan, Harper One, 2018.

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Post #12.7, Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. Bragda

         There is a sense of apprehension in Nic as I have asked the Bragda librarian to turn to a particular passage in this one hundred year old copy of the Gospel of John. My own sense of its source was confirmed when I first saw it, but Nic is hoping not to see proof that it was, in fact, the gospel I delivered here myself nearly one hundred years ago. We can all see it is very old.

         I’m particularly interested to observe the lettering used in the places where “The Jews” was really referring to the Sadducees rather than the whole community of Jews. I ask to see John 1:19.  Nic and I can only watch as the assigned monk turns the pages for us. The monk seems surprised.

         “This is the testimony given by John when THE JEWS sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’”

         “That’s odd. I’ve never noticed that before. The lettering for the words ‘the Jews’ seems different.”

          The monk flips through the pages and finds it again and again. “I guess I just haven’t noticed that before. Perhaps the bishop will know what this means.”

         The monk assures us we can ask about it ourselves. We have an appointment with the bishop already scheduled. But Nic excuses himself. I know he doesn’t want to hear a declaration that this is the exact book I brought here 100 years ago. He says he wants to go outside and practice with The Rose, mounting and dismounting from the soldier’s saddle.  I know he has a yearning to be a soldier again. I understand.

         I think I was here before I returned to Portiers … to Portiers? Oh, yes. Now I remember, I was sent from Portiers to the port of Arles on the Great Sea to deliver one gospel, and then I went on by ship to Hispania. I didn’t arrive here at first.  I was shipwrecked, and I arrived many months late – after a long healing and repairing the damage of the sea to the gospel. It took finding a scriptorium and then many months of re-inking of the gospel. I was two years late. There was a different bishop then, but the same need.  I can recall these things now. I’m sure I was not here for any recent Council of Bragda in 561.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #12.6, Thursday, September 10, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. Bragda

Nic sees no need to question my remembrances any further. He is sure I am recalling the Council of Bragda in 561. But I fear my glimpses of remembering may be reaching back one hundred years. I will know if there is any truth to this concern when I see if the very old copy of this gospel they have here is the same codex I repaired after the shipwreck and delivered to them in whatever year I was here before.”

         Nic questions my search. “Why would you think any old gospel would be one you brought here?”

         “I will surely know it when I see it, Nic. Each letter of it was by my own hand. And furthermore, all those details I happen to know that were twisted into the Roman gloss, fixing the ancient words to speak a popular second century propaganda — I wrote those letters smaller, and in caps so that they would look exactly like the patchwork of changes that they are. Subtle, I was, but no less intentional than probably was that second century Roman editor of John.”

         Again this morning we sign-in on the visitor’s list and we are escorted amid the eternal forest of marble pillars back to the apse where books are kept. The keeper of the books meets us for our appointment to view the Gospel of John. And we are told the bishop might be available later to meet with us to answer my questions about the particular villa I visited when I was here before. The Gospel of John is already out on the table.  “This is the volume you asked to see, is it not?”

         It still has the same cover. “Yes, thank you Brother, it is indeed the gospel we are seeking.”

         He explains it to us in more detail, “You will see it is in Latin, but it is very old and it might represent a translation from the Greek before the work of St. Jerome was completed. It is St. Jerome’s translation that is approved to become the orthodox translation. Every translator will make slight differences. Since this is the only copy of this gospel we have we will just have to make due.”

         “Of course.” I wonder if I need to apologize for my translation or should I pretend the flaws were by another hand. I ask specifically to see John 1:19.

(What will they see in John 1:19? Continues Tuesday, Sept. 15.)

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Post #12.5, Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Historical setting: 563 CE, Bragda

While we await the keeper of the books to make our appointment with the gospel, Nic is questioning the doorkeeper about every detail of the recent Council of Bragda in 561. He seems so delighted in the assurance that my lost memory might have lapsed only one year and a few months.

         “Hey Laz, you should hear this!  It all makes sense now. It’s like you say, the Priscillianists keep reemerging even in these new times. And the heresy is just as you explained it. You were right. The people who joined that cult were meeting in secret, and they were starving themselves to death in the name of God.  So the Council ruled against changes in the liturgy that could be seen as secret language for belonging. They outlawed meatless meals, in order to rescue the starving victims. And to keep these ascetics from being venerated as martyrs it was ruled that suicides were to be buried outside the churchyard.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Braga. Retrieved,9-23-2019]

         Nic holds onto the high hopes that this rescued monk to whom he has pledged his patronage and friendship can be easily returned to “normal” and our lives can go on simply and usefully all for God.

         On this next morning the ride from the inn with the excellent stable to the basilica is becoming familiar. Two days ago the observations of this jaunt were of distances, elevations and road surfaces.  Now this ride is more about the things that would go unnoticed in our hurry. This morning we feel the gentle rhythm of the horses’ gait, the sounds and smells of a new morning rising in the mist. It is a moment to notice what was lost in our first ride this way.

         Dear God, thank you…

         Nic interrupts my prayer – or is it our gratitude together at this moment. “You know, Laz, when we started on this, the horse thing was a real obstacle for me. Now I’m actually glad we got horses. I mean, listening to his hooves hitting the ground, sorting the rhythm from the taps of the woodpeckers, leaves rustling up to flurry in the breeze, livening the stillness of a hot day to come… I’m learning to like the feel of the horse moving beneath me.” [Author’s note]

         “That’s a good thing Nic, as I fear we will be doing much more of this now. I’m afraid we haven’t really found the easy solve to my scrambled mind yet.”

(Continues tomorrow)

[Author’s note] For information about horses for this writing I asked a friend, Gail Salco, who cares for horses to guide my characterizations of horses, and in one of her e-mails she described a morning ride. I gave her own words to Nic in this place.

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Post #12.4, Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. remembering a different time

         I know I wasn’t part of a procession of bishops. We are at the visitor’s desk at the basilica of Bracara, called Bragda now. Nic is urging that we study the visitor’s list from a Council held here only twenty months ago in 561. I know my name will not be on that list. But when I was here, I brought a gospel so I asked the monk if they owned a Gospel of St. John.

         “Indeed, we have such a book. But it’s very old. To lay eyes on it you will need to make an appointment with the one who keeps the books.”

         “Please, then, help us make that appointment.”

         Nic is already assured that I had only lost a year or two of remembering, and we would soon find my wife named Susannah with the yellow hair, and maybe a family longing to greet me and meet him, my newest friend. And he would also feel assured to know that the strange story I confided to him of my life as an earthly friend of Jesus, forever being healed back into life, was simply the product of a once scrambled mind.

         But this encounter at the visitor’s station doesn’t leave me nearly so sure. So few things are as I remember them, and those that I do recall are worn and old, or newly refurbished to hide their oldness. Surely I was here once, but I fear it was in the century of 400’s, and I know this is the year 563. Everyone says so.  No one else even wonders about that. In every language in every place it is the middle of the 6th Century in the year of Our Lord.

         While we wait to make an appointment with the monk who oversees the library, Nic plys the doorkeeper for details. I just wander the Christian marble pillars pretending Rome emulating Greece in Galleacia where now the Suebi rule. Such a mix is the world these days.

         Dear God, it is no wonder my sense of belonging is scrambled. Help me to see your way, and thank you again, for Nic. Amen.

         Nic is anxious to learn all he can about this recent “Council of Bragda” assured, he supposes, that the more we know of it the more my memory will be jogged back into normal time and my weird nature of resurrection can be dismissed with my mind’s scramble.

(Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #12.3, Thursday, September 3, 2020

Historical setting: Bragda, Galleacia, 563 C.E.

         Mountains and valleys make long rides of short views. The huge central edifice for Christian worship and bishop business is the largest building in the city spread in this valley, but it is nearly an hour’s ride zig-zagging down the hill from the inn onto these old city’s streets. We tie the horses and are greeted at the grand doors by a doorkeeper, the monk with the visitor’s list. It is that very list of the bishop’s visitors that we came to find.

         “I was here once before on a mission to bring a gospel. Do you keep these records? Maybe I can find my name here on a past list.”

         The welcomer answers, “We have heaps and mountains of records all the way back. Every bishop thinks history needs those things, though all the stacks could be better used to warm this place on a chilly night. If you can tell me the year and month I’ll pull the record.”

         “I’m not sure of the date.  I was called here as a messenger, as they were dealing with the heresy of Priscillianism.”

         “Oh, of course! That would have been the Council of Bragda just two years back. Eight bishops came with all their soldiers, messengers and servants, eight full processions from all four corners of the winds.”

         The monk is animated telling the story of his moment here in glory right at this visitor’s desk. Nic is taking it all in offering a near all-knowing smile — an ah-ha for the righteousness of the stories I had been telling him. The problem is, my recollection of coming here had no processions of famous bishops. There was nothing at all like an invited “Council of Bishops.”  There was only a rumor that years before some ancient saints considered the issue. When I was here these glorious stories were not of recent bishops, but of the great and bygone saints: St. Ambrose, St. Martin of Tours, and even the bishop assigned to this see late in the Fourth Century who went off to the East to write important papers with St. Augustine. That was the long past memory of bishops when I was here. And no one was calling it Bragda then. The only Council I was hearing stories of was in Zaragosa in 380, not in 561.

         Nic interrupted my thoughts, “See Laz? Take a look at the visitor’s lists from the time of the Council.  I’ll bet we’ll find your name.”

         (Continues Tuesday, September 8)

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Post #12.2, Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Historical setting: Bragda, Galleacia, 563 C.E.

         While Nic and the other boarders in this loft seem a chorus of bullfrogs in peaceful snores, I spend this darkness sorting thoughts and what-if’s; memories in glimpses; time in centuries not months, and I try to retrieve any lingering thoughts I have of a wife with a yellow braid of hair. That garish fresco at the villa has come into my thought — that nonsensical collage of rough Suebi portraits laid over the bodies of Roman gods and goddesses.

         She was Susannah; now I have a name for her. How is it I have a name and a braid of hair in my mind but no face? How is it that I could have a wife and have no ancient thoughts of our lives together? And how ancient are these memories? Is she still here in Hispania waiting for me? How many years has it been?

         My wishes are for inscribing that name of Susannah onto my memory in the golden ink of moonlight pouring through the gap between roof tiles of this loft. Surely, if I could sleep this Susannah would show herself in my dream. I only wish to recall a glimpse: her voice, her eyes, her touch. So fine it would be to know she is real and of earth and yet to be found at a familiar home place.

          Do we have a home at that villa now? And when I was away in Gaul, why was I there, and how long had it been? Is her father, the don, still alive? Do we have our own children’s portraits on those walls now? Do our children have yellow braids of hair or is it simply black like mine? Surely it was Susannah who begged the bishop to dismiss the cult. Surely the villa is no longer threatened by the heresy. But I have no memory of anything more than the cult and the heresy.

         I find myself spinning so many dreams and fantasies of a life I only wish I could remember. These are wishes not memories, Maybe they are only meanders of a scrambled mind dashed with hopes and longings.

         Dear God, thank you for this friend Nic, who is helping me to retrieve my lost years. Give me the strength and wisdom to accept reality, whatever it may be. And thank you for this beautiful moonlight, the sunsets and horses, and the clear waters, and the comforts and plenty that surround us now. Amen.

(Continued tomorrow)

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Post #12.1, Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., Galleacia

         At this waking our minds, our hopes, our plans for a new day are fully in-tact; but every bone and joint has only one position without hurt and that is the one position remembered from the long trots and strides of yesterday’s many hours of riding. I hear Nic’s mindless groans, the knocks of changing an old oarsman into a rider. I pretend my own groaning is silent. The horses are ready. Do they have no memory of the long day yesterday carrying these two of us weighty men? The Rose remembers his best behavior and accepts the saddle with all its ties. Umber makes no opinion known at all. He is indeed a well-tempered gelding.

         Today we follow the river toward the west, though I know the villa I nearly recall in this land is far to the east. Today The Rose and Nic find an easier and faster gait, and Umber follows, so we are making better time journeying toward the bishop’s see of Bracara Augusta.

         I’m glad to find the few people we are encountering today at these watering places speaking the Suebi tongue, and some even use the Roman vernacular. I had a hidden worry that the Visagoths had taken over Iberia while I was away – however long that may have been.  My forgotten absence is a sore topic Nic and I try to avoid.

         The sun is low in the West when we finally we lay eyes on the city, so now we are seeking an inn with a meal served and a stable to accommodate our patient beasts.  Here again, our Roman language is acceptable, yet the spoken tongue is more as I had expected – a derivation of the Suebi.

         The inn with the adequate stable edges the valley of the civitas. The old basilica of the see is the centerpiece of the city that spreads below us.  It is the most obvious building in the valley amid the houses and markets. We plan to go to that basilica in the morning. Tonight we will rest.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #11.12, Thursday, August 27, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., somewhere near in Galleacia

A slow start this morning then a pace unhurried. We are still a distance from the turn to follow the river to Bracara. Nic asks someone at this watering place where travelers may spend a night. Again, it seems everyone is speaking the language of the Visigoth’s and not the Suebi.

         I have secret doubts as to when I remember, but Nic is starting to question my memory of who and what.

          “You say it was the Suebi Bishop who summonsed you to Gallacia?  So, when we arrive in Bracara we will seek the see of the bishop and he will be your old friend who will fill in all the missing information – dates, places, people – all of that?”

         “That’s my intention, although if the bishop I met when I was last here is not the bishop now, they will surely have the record of my summons. Whoever is there can offer direction to the villa where I went. And they may still have that copy of the Gospel of John I brought. I remember in bits and glimpses. The don was an old Suebi soldier. He was awarded the Roman villa as a spoil of the war. And every one of his children had that yellow hair. His family all wore their long braids twisted and knotted in Suebi fashion. It’s very distinctive.

         “When we find that villa, Nic, I’ll show you something very odd that speaks of the times. Roman frescos originally filled the walls of the large atrium. The Roman artwork depicted a heavenly orgy of mythical gods and goddesses. But in the Suebi hands the garish painting was simply ignored and overhung with family portraits.

         “Piecing my glimpses of memory, I think my wife was the eldest daughter, Susannah. Her portrait is there. She was the one who recognized the tragedy in the cult and who took her concerns to the bishop who then summonsed me.”

         “So you remember her summons but not your life together?”

         “That’s strange isn’t it, which details stay in the mind. Maybe the heresy still lingers with me denying my own earthly reality. But really I don’t think a mystical moment could poison a memory of a wife.”

         “So that rumored promise of a purely mystical after-glow is what we are seeking?” Nic is kidding. I hope.

           “Really Nic, I’m only hoping that earthly villa will be familiar.”

         This night we have not yet reached the turn at the river.

         (Arriving in Bracara Augusta, September 1)

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Post #11.11, Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Historical setting: Remembering a time, maybe 452 C.E.?

The heat of the day is upon us so we find a cool flowing creek to water the horses.

         Nic asks why they needed the Gospel of John brought all these years after the cult leader was executed. He does say, “all these years after” as though my other visit here was recent. But I’m starting to wonder if I’ve simply forgotten a vast swath of years.

         “In 384 only the instigator and a few of his henchmen were gone. The theology lingered. Cults popped up here and there. The newly appointed Suebi Bishop at the see of Bracara called for the Gospel to settle once and for all the loose ends of this heresy.”

         “When would you say that was?” Nic asks, goading me for remembering a date.

         “Somewhere near mid-century, I think.” Clearly a failing answer in not naming a century.

         “You don’t know, do you Laz. Your mind is still scrambled. So if you don’t even know when, how is it possible you could know how? How could the Gospel of John ever be considered a talisman against heresy? If starvation and execution didn’t exterminate it how could a gospel do it? In fact, compared to the other gospels, from what I know, I would think John would be the cult book supporting Gnosticism.”

         “Oh, Brother Nic. Just the opposite. It only seems to use the language of the heresy because it was finally edited and given that Roman gloss in a time and place when mysticism was spreading and metaphor sounded earthly. The gospel co-mingles the tangible with the spiritual, using symbols of light and life as a bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds not as a rejection of the earthly things. So it isn’t Gnostic but sounds similar. And what seems a cultish narrowing to our ears, where we still know of pagans and Zoroastrians and Jews, when John (July Chapter 10) says that we must enter God’s Kingdom through Christ alone, that was actually heard in that time of Roman fixes as a statement of widening the entrance, not a Gnostic exclusion; it was expounding the universal (catholic) acceptance into Christianity.”

          Nic argues “Calling Christianity ‘universal’ is really only said in the most narrow sense. It seems confusing.”

         “Paradoxical.”

         “Maybe I just had to be there as you say. Or maybe your scrambled mind just won’t let go of the nonsense. Which is it Lazarus? Which is it?”

(Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #11.10, Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Historical setting: A Dark Age On the Road in Iberia

“So, Brother Lazarus, you haven’t yet explained how the ‘Gospel of John’ cures the Iberian heresy. If the sin is dualism, or judging everything either good or bad, a Gospel hardly seems a cure.”

         “The worry over that heresy started when a cult was observed. A young aristocrat, Priscillian [Footnote 1] gathered followers based on divisiveness and exclusion. I think it was around the year 380 when Priscillian was actively writing and gathering the original cult following. That was, of course, way before I was called here.”

         I won’t mention that having a scrambled mind I’m still not really sure when it was that I was called on. Was it in the 5th century, or the 6th? I’ll continue my explanation as though my mind is clear.

         “This dangerous cult leader was looking for personal power. At first he had his own churches but the bishops closed them so the followers met in private villas which is what continued long after he was gone.

         “The version of Gnosticism he was teaching was already deemed to be heresy. With all things of earth evil, even taking food and water was considered sin. So the deadly side of this full-on devotion led to starvation of the body.  And worse yet, the withering of one’s body was viewed as a virtue by followers.

         “In 380 twelve bishops had a Synod in Zaragoza to deal with this. Priscillian didn’t go, but he sent them a tract defending his theology. Of course his argument couldn’t hold up to orthodox theological scrutiny, since he was basing his argument on a heretical Gnostic, apocryphal text. But strangely, the Synod, possibly intimidated by his intellectual prowess, or simply confused by the theology chose to deal only with the political issues. They forbad things like calling oneself, ‘doctor’; making clerics into monks and requiring women to be forty years old before the title of “virgin” was given. [Footnote 2] When he was excommunicated, Priscillian, being a self-invested power fiend, simply doubled-down and took the title of Bishop — Bishop of Avila. [Footnote 3]

         Both sides of the controversy sought affirmation from church leaders of the time: St. Ambrose, St. Martin of Tours, and even a pope.  Then, in 384 it all morphed political and Priscillian was tried for magic in a secular court and was executed.

         Nic asks, “So why are they still bothered all these centuries later and why did they send for the gospel?”

(Continues tomorrow)

[Footnote 1] Priscillian (died c.385) was a wealthy nobleman of Roman Hispania who promoted a strict form of Christian asceticism. Certain practices of his followers (such as meeting at country villas instead of attending church) were denounced at the Council of Zaragoza in 380. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priscillian  Retrieved 5-16-2019.

[Footnote 2] In or about 380 a council of Spanish and Aquitanian bishops adopted at Saragossa eight canons bearing more or less directly on the prevalent heresy of Priscillianism. https://theodora.com/encyclopedia/s/councils_of_saragossa.html Retrieved 9-26-2019

[Footnote 3] He became bishop of Ávila in 380. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priscillian  Retrieved 5-16-2019.

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Post #11.9, Thursday, August 20, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. On the Road in Galeacia

“If it wasn’t sex and it wasn’t disobedience what was it that went wrong in the garden that eventually led to the deadly heresy that took the full ‘Gospel of John’ to dispel?” Nic asks, nudging more holy yammer.

         And I fall right in. “Well, that forbidden knowledge of good and evil made the assignment Adam originally had of naming everything, seem irrelevant. The story goes they started separating everything into two heaps of judgment without even a nod to God’s eternal last words of Creation: ‘It is good.’ And maybe all the rest of the bible is simply God clarifying, ‘It is good; I love you and I forgive you all dear creatures of earth’.

         “But by accepting this stolen judgment, this original sin – the duality of the knowledge of good and evil – this perception becomes the essence of ‘falling from grace.’ It’s not an accidental trip and stumble; it’s a complete, full gallop into the pit in the opposite direction of God’s free gifts. No wonder the blessing of growing a garden seems like punishing work, or the amazing moment of birth is remembered for the pain. No wonder snakes crawl and Eden has sand dunes.”

         “Yes, Laz, but if we’re empowered to choose between good and evil, and the world is, in God’s view, ‘good’ why do people keep yearning for the evil?”

         “How would I know? Maybe it’s the human passion for rivalry that looks to set one above another. The creature lust of dominance comes easily in the ability to declare badness and to know which child in the play yard is chosen for the bad name and the shunning. It’s all just a godless power play.

         “Just a thought Nic, you might give The Rose a nudge, and let him know to pick up the pace a bit.  We can walk to Bracara faster than this ride will take us.”

         “He’s keeping me on his back so nicely, I don’t want to be critical of his gait.”

         “Here’s what to do. Press your knees tight against the saddle so you will stay on and he won’t have to balance you there, then just nudge him with your heel to let him know it’s alright to try a trot.”

         Nic grabs onto the saddle horns as the horse lurches forward. At first the trot seems like frenzy but we all quickly settle into a rhythm with both horses trotting and both of us still astride.

         Dear God, even though I’m human, I still notice it is good. Thank you. Amen.

(Continues Tuesday, August 25)

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Post #11.8, Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., Iberia

         We are preparing our horses for the day’s ride. The Great Rose has already tossed his saddle once and now Nic, the least horse experienced of the three of us has taken on the project. Nic proceeds first to be sure I am holding the rein close to the bit. Then he puts his leather shirt back on and struts it in front of The Rose. With the scent of leather on himself he picks up the saddle so the horse may see it as he prepares to lay it on the horse’s back. The boy cautiously steps back. Apparently The Rose has no objection to the saddle now, so the boy comes up and fastens the straps with a braid of leather both front and back. Even a rearing horse can’t loose the saddle. We all hope for no more rearing horse. Nic may be a horse owner but he’s hardly a rider. As for Umber and me I use only a rein and a girth strap, so Nic doesn’t have to pay for another saddle. I haul myself unto Umber.

         Nic’s plan is to mount by standing on the gate rail, explaining that Calvary soldiers are taught to vault into the saddle. But he acknowledges he has had no training in that – yet.

         We start down the road like two heroes bound for adventure. I think it’s The Rose who’s setting the pace.  It’s a slow walk, probably good for balancing an upright human, stiffly perched on a strange new saddle. Nic knows I’m ready to jump in and offer a riding lesson so he provokes a talking point on another subject.

         “So tell me about that forbidden fruit in the Garden, Lazarus.”

         “Yea, last night it bored you right into snoring.”

         “I forgot what you said the sin was. You said it isn’t disobedience after-all but what is it? Oh, never mind, I think I know. Original Sin is sex, is it not?”

         “Nic, if I’d said that you’d have laid awake all night with your mind wandering. You know that notion of Original Sin is one of those inventions that comes with reading epistles with a punitive eye. It has no grounding in God’s love. I mean what kind of world would we live in if sex were a sin?”

         “A very chaste one, I would suppose, wouldn’t you think that Lazarus?”

         “A very bleak one, with either all sinners, or no children.”

         “Given the choice, I guess I’d prefer a world full of both sinners and children.”

(Come again tomorrow)

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Post #11.7, Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., a stable in La Coruña

The stable boy arrives with the rising sun this morning and shows us things about feeding these horses.  The gray is a bit picky about the proper distribution of oats and my horse just takes whatever is in the trough. Umber trusts me to get it right. The Rose is questioning. Nic understands the boy’s barbarian gothic so it is Nic who receives the instruction, as it should be.

         As Nic puts on his leather to keep the iron shirt from his skin the boy has a new thought. He brings out a leather saddle and sells it to Nic for some coins. It’s well padded for the horse’s back and has a seat for a man on the topside, with four horns posted – two in front of the rider and two in back to steady any Roman soldier who might be using a weapon. Nic is very pleased that The Rose will have some leather protecting him from the iron shirt as well.

         The boy throws the saddle onto the back of The Rose but immediately the horse rears tossing the child aside as the saddle slides off down his back. I take hold of the horse’s rein near the bit and he accepts my calming pats as Nic gathers the child to his feet. But The Rose is not without empathy.  He takes notice of the boy, and also of Nic’s gentle nature toward the child. Then Nic turns his attention back to the horse.

         I suggest Nic show him who is in charge. My thought and The Rose’s instinct would be that the horse will receive a brutal reprimand. So Nic’s tone is scolding as he picks up the saddle though I’m not sure if his cursing is toward The Rose or for me. I just assume Nic will toss the saddle back onto the horse and let the mighty Rose know a horse has no say in this.  But that is neither the way of Nic, nor the way of The Rose.

         Nic lays the saddle in the straw where the horse can see it and investigate this strange new thing. Now Nic removes his chain shirt, revealing his own leather gambeson, then he removes this leather padding he wears and lays it in the straw next to the saddle. The Rose takes notice.

         What is this strange dialogue between man and horse? Do neither of them know of the traditions of master and beast?

(Come again tomorrow)

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Post #11.6, Thursday, August 13, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., on a beach in La Coruña

         We walk the horses back to curry them and bed them down for the night.  We’re told that Nic’s horse is named “The Rose” because the dapple looks like dew on rose petals, and mine is “Umber” because it is brown.

         Nic is as excited as a child with a new horse of his own. He really doesn’t want to leave the stable so here we are spreading our cloaks in the straw. Now the horses must think humans have strange murmurs into the night.

         Nic starts the chatter, “So what is the heresy that threatens the lands of Iberia and called you here to rescue them by delivering the Gospel of John?”

           “Don’t worry Nic. I was just yammering on. Goodnight.”

         “How can I sleep when you started talking about a deadly heresy and you don’t give me a clue how to stay safe from it? What is the mortal hazard of mysticism?”

          “It’s not mysticism that makes the Gnosticism of the Manichean heresies like Priscillianism dangerous; it’s the problem of denying the goodness of Creation.  Beyond believing in the spiritual nature of God they were taught that the whole Creation is not Holy. They spread a lie that the things of earth are not the work of God, but are of an evil power. This heresy longs for the Spirit yet denies the sacred nature of earth and sky and trees and all the creatures of the earth, ignoring all the signs of beauty that draw me and you into our thanksgivings so easily.”

         Again the wisdom is in Nic’s simple logic. “If the Gnostic is attuned to the Holy Spirit would she not hear the Creator God speaking ‘it is good’ at the end of each day of Creation in Genesis?”

         “This particular cult didn’t even acknowledge Genesis as a part of the bible. They simply denied the goodness.” [Footnote]

         “Whatever would draw someone to that?”

         “You know, Nic, there are two Creation stories in Genesis. The second one has Eve and Adam eating from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

         “I know. They erred by disobeying and eating forbidden fruit.”

         “But Nic, what if the error were not so much the disobedience but was in the fruit itself? What if things went wrong when humankind started making judgments based on this stolen gnosis of good and evil which they took from God when they stole the fruit?”

         Nic is already snoring.  “Goodnight Nic.”

(Continues Tuesday, August 18)

[Footnote]

These doctrines [Priscillianism] could be harmonized with the teaching of Scripture only by a complex system of exegesis, rejecting conventional interpretations and relying on personal inspiration. The Priscillians respected most of the Old Testament but rejected the Creation story. They believed that several of the apocryphal Scriptures were genuine and inspired. Because the Priscillians believe that matter and nature were evil, they became ascetics and fasted on Sundays and Christmas Day. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priscillianism#Writings_and_rediscovery 

Retrieved September 20, 2019.

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Post #11.5, Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., maybe, a beach in La Coruña

Just now there is a rhythm of hoofs, galloping, pounding as though it were coming up from under the sand! There in the distance on the edge of the water are four horses at full gallop. Nic and I step back as they go right by us. Two of the horses have riders and the other two are led but seem to be fighting lead-lines made for tamer footings and a slower pace. They slow to trot after they pass, then turn back to this place. A young woman slides off the dapple gelding in the lead and her great and glowing smile assures us that with the appropriate exchange of coins we, too, may gallop this seashore.

         I suggest we walk the horses a bit to cool them as we talk this over. The boy who rode away on the sag-backed mare slides down from one of the bays, and it is clear we were not delivered the gentle ox Nic requested. The boy hands the lead of one of the horses to Nic, and he doesn’t seem the least bit skittish – neither Nic nor the horse seems skittish. But the huge dapple-gray senses Nic’s apprehensions and arches his neck and rolls his eyes, stepping sideways to get a good look at this man who is so kind and yet awkward in his horsey greetings. The young woman tightens her hold on the gray’s lead, and he pulls back clearly disproving of her defiant hold. She offers me the choice of another fine bay or this feisty gray for our cooling down walk around. I choose the gray. Maybe I’m just strutting my feathers for the girl – it’s an instinct or a bad habit. But I went straight for the challenge.

         It’s a beautiful horse, and Nic is very aware of this and believes that I’m choosing this one for the purchase. But Nic is the one who is buying the horses. It’s his money. He should have the finest of the two horses we choose; so for safety sake I suggest we stick with two of the brown ones. He invites me, then, to pick the brown one I want and I choose one of a good spirit, but a bit less stately than the more elder and gentle bay Nic is walking. I thought Nic would make the safest choice and take the most gentle bay for himself; but the deal made, we had the brown horse I chose for me, and the feisty dapple gray for him.

(Continues Tomorrow)