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Post #19.7, Thursday, April 15, 2021

Historical setting: Inside a daub and wattle sepulcher — 584 C.E.

         At this waking the new light of morning is splashing and surging in clear patterns of brightness throughout the whole weave of the wattle.

         Anatase is here with a cup of water again, and her flute.

         Dear God, thank you for this wonderful waking. 

         She tells me, “Daniel has returned from Poitiers with your  monk.” I sip the cool water and it feels so good that I can swallow it today. The child chatters on. “But the old monk is very frail now, so Daniel and Ezra are taking him to my teacher’s house. Then they will come and take you down there to see him.  I have to tell you a secret that the old monk told me when I first came here so many years ago.  It’s something only I know and that’s why it’s secret.  He didn’t want me to tell it. But this is what it is.  He feared he would be dead before your waking so he wrote some pages for you to hear.  I’m supposed to read them to you in case I’m still here when you wake, which I am. But then, he isn’t yet dead either so now I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with the pages.

         “I must say, you did much better at sipping water today. I will tell my teacher you have already learned sipping. She will be pleased. And she said I am allowed to play my flute for you today, unless I see you close your eyes. That will mean you don’t want to listen and I’m supposed to stop.”

         Now, I guess I must pray I don’t blink. I so love to hear the music. She’s getting more proficient at the little tune every day.  Now her fingers speed over the beats of the dance faster than any dancer’s heel can flurry. But now she has chosen to pick through her five notes for a new tune she doesn’t yet play. She’s collected the proper notes, but making a tune of it is a dreary repetition. I would sleep, but if I close my eyes the music will stop. So, this bliss of dreaming is inside out. The goodness and music are on the waking side of dream.

         “Sorry the music was not to your liking. I will leave now.”

(Continues Tuesday, April 20)

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Post #19.6, Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Historical setting: Inside a daub and wattle sepulcher — 584 C.E.

         “He looks to be a living man, dear Teacher. Shall we unwrap more of him?”

         “I don’t know what we should do. Maybe he would like to sip water.  Go, Anatase, and fetch a cup of cold water for him.”

         There is a scurry of leaving but Eve is still here.  I focus my eyes on her face. I see she has lost her sight.  I wonder if she knew of this blindness when I last saw her as a young woman only pretending to know reading and reluctant to marry.  But here she is a healer and now a teacher. How I wish I had strength to reach out my hand and touch her and I would tell her she is beloved. It’s her hand now that gropes for mine.

         “Papa, maybe you can hear me? Your hand is warm as living after all these years. You told us of your gift of life and life again, strange gift that it is. We only marveled in the wonder of it never thinking of the long waits through deaths and all the griefs you know in lifetimes of losses.

         “The God-things you taught me in childhood are my secret now, Papa.  People these times choose their quests for healings between the miracles of the Christian saints or the ancient pagan science. I know you would say God loves us all; it isn’t one or the other. But this world only knows choices, not fullness.  Since I’m not a saint so if I choose to be a healer I must be of the pagan variety and I have to keep my God prayers hidden. But I do pray to God and I very often thank God for staying close. I’ve prayed for my strength and life to last into this day, knowing nothing about how your waking would be except that it would come. And now I see by your frailty your healing will need to go on a bit longer before you are the full strong man we’ve waited to see walk from this tomb all aglow.”

         “Aglow” she says? Does Eve notice I’m smiling? Have I any smile at all to give? She doesn’t even seem to notice the clasp of my hand around hers. I’m sure I will one day move again but I don’t expect to be “glowing” ever.  I hear the child coming back.

         Eve offers, “Papa, would you like a sip of water?”

         The child tips the cup. “It is a cool sip of water.” She says. I can’t swallow. My chin and beard have a cool, fresh drenching.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #19.5, Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Historical setting: Inside a daub and wattle sepulcher — 584 C.E.

         At this waking I hear the voice of the child.

         “I see the wheel is over the opening again. But don’t worry, Teacher, I can roll it back easily. I always roll it off when I come here to practice my flute.”

         I hear them rustling. I feel someone very near.

         “Here, Teacher, you can touch the edge of the opening then crawl in through this space. Now Ma’am, if you reach out your hand you will touch the broken man. Don’t be afraid. He’s very gentle.”

         Gentle? She says I’m gentle? I can’t even move. But I feel the touch. The firm hand of a healer touches my head.

         My daughter Eve’s clear voice is as always, the deep whisper of calm, “It seems he’s wrapped in linens is he not, Anatase?”

         “Yes Ma’am he is all wrapped in ribbons and ribbons of linens. Only his hand is unwrapped and that doesn’t seem as broken as they say he is.”

         “The monk must have wrapped him like this when he made the sepulcher. We should unwrap the linens.  Oh, dear little Anatase. I hope it isn’t a frightful sight for you.”

         “How does that concern you Ma’am? I am a student of healing and I am your eyes, so do you think I would be fearful of seeing a death now? If I haven’t had to turn my eyes away from new birth then why would I not be able to see the face of death? And anyway, do you not feel his gentle living spirit with us now? Maybe he’s not in death at all just now.”

         “I do feel my father’s spirit near us. But that’s not unusual for one who grieves as I would have grieved had my father died forever dead. But Anatase, the deaths of this man are not usual deaths. And I‘ve never removed linens like this before. Even I don’t know what to expect.”

         The child explains, “The hand that has been unwrapped seems like a hand of living person. Here, reach your hand to touch it.”

         “Oh, yes, this hand has flesh and warmth and life. Let’s take the wrappings off his head.”

         My eyes see a blur of bright lights, sun pouring through the spaces in the rotted away daub on the wattle of this tomb, and here are two human faces a blur. It is Eve, sparkling and silver-haired now, and a child with long yellow braids.

        “Please, Anatase, what do you see of his face?”

        “He has a black beard and sparkling dark eyes. I think his eyes are like yours Ma’am. But I think his are eyes that see, because he was casting his gaze all around and now he is looking right at you and now at me.”

    

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #19.4, Thursday, April 8, 2021

Historical setting: Inside a daub and wattle sepulcher — 584 C.E.

         This is my son Ezra; now he is crouching in this small place next to me. I feel his spirit with me. Maybe he is lifting a candle. I feel the warmth of a pale light. He touches my hand with his own hand.

         “Papa, can you hear?” Yes! This is Ezra, he calls me “Papa” so surely the woman I heard was my granddaughter Celeste, a grown woman now.

         Ezra speaks to me,  “Have you a mind and a soul and a life after all these years of waiting in death?”

         I can’t answer.

         “Let me loose the rags that wrap your hand so I will know if your life warmth has returned.”

         My fingers are freed.

         “I’ll send Daniel for the monk who is waiting for you, Papa.”

         Ezra has never been much for talk so it is a shear blessing that he speaks to me now, though, I suppose he doesn’t expect that I can hear him. And I do have feeling and touch in my hand. He touches my hand with his. His hand feels dry and gnarled with age and hard work. Now he’s gone, and I’m alone again.

         I think of the day we went out to prune his grapevines and I was ready to burn all the old wood particularly the dry and gnarly vines seeming to be spent. Had he not stopped me it would’ve been a terrible destruction. These old stumps he told me, are the root that feed the new vines, not to be mistaken for the useless debris of last year’s harvest that we do mean to burn.

         Dear God, thank you for sending me a son who values keeping the ancient root around, anyway. Amen.

         If I could speak or move or even imagine that I had a being I would answer him, but he hears nothing from me, and now he is gone.

         Who is the monk who is waiting for me? It would be someone who would know my secret of life and life again. Only my family who is here knows of this, and of course my elder patron, retired soldier. My hope is that it could be Nic, maybe now a monk as he had hoped he could be. And surely he must be very old in this new time, a generation now passed.

 (Continues Tuesday, April 13)

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#19.3, Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Historical setting: Inside a daub and wattle sepulcher — 584 C.E.

         “Anatase, Anatase, you naughty child! You know you are not to go near that place! We’ve been looking for you everywhere. You have to tell your teacher when you leave the house. She was so worried when you weren’t in your bed.”

         Now the voices of woman and child are gone.

         Do I know the voice of this woman? When I hear the particular bend of the words I picture my son’s first daughter Celeste. But I believe Celeste is a child. She is the older of Ezra’s children and she is the bossy one of course. Possibly it happened that this voice of woman is Celeste and the years have passed by me in this death.

         And what of the wheel with its crosses, and the great stones shouting out for the Christ of us?  What of the unfinished wall rising for church? And how would there be a tomb made of wattle and daub? And where is the “here” that I am in this tomb that surrounds me?

         “Its alright Papa!”

         I hear that voice again, of a woman, Celeste shouting just outside this wall.  “I found her Papa, and I sent her back to her chores.”

         And a man answers, “Where was she?”

         This is surely the voice of Ezra my son.

         Celeste answers, “She was here in the graveyard, Papa. She was inside Gran’papa’s sepulcher.”

         “Why? What was she doing in there?”

          “She said she was playing her flute for the broken man.”

         “Why?”

         “She said he likes to hear it.”

         “Why does she think he can hear?”

         “Papa, are you going to send that naughty little Anatase back to her own people now?”

         “You know I can’t do that.”

         “Well, at least give her a good scolding?  And you know what Mama and I think you should do with her.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #19.2, Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Historical setting: Inside a cell of wattle and daub.
This earth has passed two decades since the crashing of the wheel.

         At this waking — darkness. Dear God, are you near? I know nothing of the sun or the season or the year or the place or even what kind of burial this is. There is no weight of earth.

         In a brief moment passing I hear a child’s breath across the openings in the clays of a flute.

         It is the music of breath over clay

          as was the first mention of human life –  first human

         Lifting musician’s fingers from openings

                  Breath of Spirit escaping through passages

         Release into music – a child’s tune.

It is five notes to make a sound or a song or strangely a dirge, over again and over, a low and breathy measure of sound, faster the tune to step or now dance, then a note lands wrong and the child stops to sigh and try again to find a better note, then song. Then silence, The child is gone but left the song in my head.

                  Clay of the pipe, daub of the wasp.

         Spring breath in breeze through the reed of the wattle

                  But no beams of morning seep into this tomb

         Music comes as breath of the Spirit, to life

                  A dark dirge it is into this pounding and breathing of life.

         Dear God are you near, or am I alone?

         I long to see the beams of a day. I thirst to hear the music again, then into sleep.

         If it weren’t for the dark it would be a new wakening. This early hour is the deepest dark holding its breath for new light – beams through the spaces, now blur of lightness through ribbons over my eyes.

         Near me the rustling, a sniffle, a breath, the melt of the frost from the wools that wrap around a child in the early morning freeze.

         Then here is this music again.

         And today I would take a breath to sing along…

         I have no voice … I can’t move even a finger or a thought of a toe to make it a dance. I am the silence, I am the still, but then I know there is life to this song.

         Thank you dear God for music and life,

          For wonders of darkness and longing for light.

         Thank you dear God, for hearing my silence.

         Music broken, even the silence without it shattered.

         “Anatase are you in there?”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #19.1, Thursday, April 1, 2021

Historical setting: A Building site in Bordeaux — 564 C.E.

         Now on this new morning August’s father and he are seated on the stone, and Shollo and Kairn are looking into the brightly risen sun to see what is on top of the wall. Maybe they pretend they have never seen a winch on a wall before. August nudges his father to take notice and he asks his father to be the one who orders brothers to use the better tools. Maybe the brothers know who put the winches there, but it needs to be the father who issues the order to make use of them.

         It is the full light of day and the workers have gathered at their places.  I am in the wheel waiting the arrival of the other treadman. The ground crew has the steering ropes in hand; Shollo and Kairn are minding the crank handles guiding the ropes high on the wall stretching from the crane arm through the pullys and onto these newly placed tools. The mortar is spread; the stone is still on the ground but firmly grasped in the claw.

         August’s brothers say nothing of these new devices. I’m sure they know who placed them here but since they had no bad words to say of it they said nothing. The gratitude is unspoken but August knows.

         Now the other treadman has arrived and we start the trudge in the wheel, ever climbing to the next rung, but never climbing higher, always the same place near the ground, yet the harder we climb, the faster the wheel, and the higher the stone creaking from every taut rope hold. Step-by-step the stone rises on the beam nearly as high as the top pulleys until it is hovering next to the wall for this highest layer, perfectly positioned, guided by the ropes on the winches when the whole arm beam gives way, cracking into two parts one falling quickly toward my team mate who has immediately fled. I have no way to flee. The high end of the beam is now tumbling with the stone in slow time is plunging straight down, onto…

(Continues Tuesday, April 6)

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Post #18.14, Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux

         With sun high this site is finally ready for work.  In the middle of it all is the crane-master who is spewing orders and counting the ropes for the day’s work. He gladly hires me to walk the tread-wheel. But now August is at his heels barking instructions for using the newly placed pullys and winches.

         When the family came here with the wheel they also brought the iron pieces, the lifting claw and the ancient pulleys of oak and iron. August’s father was supposed to be the crane-master here. But he was stricken with an illness of age and not able to oversee the work. He was given a voice in hiring this new crane-master. So this little fellow is like a hollow copy of August, missing only the soul and the mind and a deep and hidden love for these brothers.

         Shollo and Kairn are assigned the task of working the top of the wall because their father requested that; and now August is given orders by the annoyed, current crane-master to sit with the father and remain quiet. The brothers on top of the wall are cheering on the reprimand.  I take my place on the treads inside the crane-wheel, while we await the other tread-man. Walking the treads doesn’t require construction skills so much as strength, so I would suppose at the end of the day when we receive our coins this treadman will receive the least. Maybe that is why the other treadman doesn’t mind keeping us all waiting here.

         Now, seeing this crane from the inside, clearly it is a beautiful piece of carpentry finished even on the inside, as though it were to be a part of the building itself. It surely came from a different time and place.  Any wheel is significant. It is a form that Romans and even some of the pagan tribes in these lands consider a sacred symbol of the turning of the seasons. So how is such an obvious pagan artifact also the essential tool used in building a place for Christian worship? Here four prongs of Pagan symbol are also the apses and aisles of the basilica itself. It is of course, also the sign of the cross. The Christians have used the wheel and they, or we, as I am one too, reconsidered it to become a Christian symbol. [footnote] And of course I’m one who sees the four prongs as the Roman torture tool on which my friend and teacher was crucified.

[footnote] Storl, Wolf D. The Untold History of Healing is a comprehensive patchwork of ancient remedies, religions, herbs, symbol, incantations…the use of the circle surrounding the cross as a pre-Christian symbol is explored on Page 54.

(Continues Thursday, April 1)

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Post #18.13, Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux

         The brothers were right. No one shows up at this worksite at first light except Shollo and Kairn and their father. Today, August is here too. I watch from this place at the crane as the brothers recognize August now in monk’s garb. 

         Shollo speaks first, “August, or should I call you ‘Brother’ August! Father told us you are here and hidden in the dark wools of a churchman.”

         August flips his hood back to reveal his face, clenched jaw revealing hurt more than identity. “Don’t worry Shollo, I won’t pester your work with my righteous ways. I’ll be going on to Ligugé as soon as Brother Joel is able to travel.”

          The large hand of Shollo clutches the shoulder of August in a condescending gesture maybe intended as a greeting.

         Kairn speaks for both brothers, “We’ve all missed you here August. Anna’s death left a terrible emptiness, especially when you were gone also. I think, in a way, we all needed to see you again.”

         Shollo adds, “That’s probably so. It was needed.”

         August answers, “I just wanted to see our father once more. I hadn’t heard about Anna or I would have come sooner.”

         The father orders, “So now it’s time for the three of you to make amends.”

         “Very well,” Shollo begins, “August is the oldest. He should apologize first. Tell us how you wish you hadn’t always spoken to us with distain as though you were looking down on us from your little short man’s vantage point.”

         August answers, “Shollo, it seems you have already spoken first and spoken for me. So yes, I wish I had been a more thoughtful brother and never mentioned your sloppy work. In my thoughtfulness. I would have just allowed the simple consequence of shoddy preparation and a great stone might have crushed you. Because of my good plan you are still alive to speak for yourself. So tell me now of your gratitude for my thoughtfulness.”

         Shollo answers, “Do you mean as a, ‘thoughtful God-man Brother’, or thoughtful real brother?”

         Old ropes and knots binding ancient wrath are long endured in tangles. The well-placed winches may save lives, so perhaps that extra earth-time can nurture this dearth into love.

         Dear God, I can see this family has a long unwinding ahead of them. Is that why the journey between Egypt and Canaan required all those forty years, for all the healings of the hates? …

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #18.12, Thursday, March 25, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux        

         It seems the wheel itself is the fine workmanship of a knowledgeable carpenter. Anyone can see that. August witnessed its construction as a child watching and learning amid the building project in the north where their family had been located. Their father and mother and the two younger sons, along with August’s twin, Anna, came to this place, bringing with them this very wheel which August knows so well. They brought it in sections and reconstructed it on this site. So August is in deep dismay at its shoddy miss-use here. The anchors and the arm are of newer, less dense wood and it is not as solid as the woods used in the wheel itself wrought from the deep northern forests of the sacred trees of the druids now gone by the Christian ax.

         August has discovered the heaps of extra ropes and pullies that were brought along with the crane wheel left as refuse in a heap behind the outbuildings here. He says he has a plan that doesn’t call for any more negotiation.

         August says he only worries that his parents will grieve were his brothers to suffer the consequences of this inadequate structure. But I think he also fears for the safety of his brothers, as tomorrow they will start on the highest tier of stone and the weaknesses of the crane will surely be tried. He talks in detail about the hazard of the stone swinging too high for the strength of the crane arm, and with the lifted stone out of control it’s huge weight will be out of reach for his brothers on top of the wall, waiting their to snag it into place, and maneuver it into the bed of mortar. When they try to navigate it into place, it will fall, and pull them with it, off the wall.

         It is a clandestine task this night for which August has asked the help of Nic and I.  August wants to mount two winches on top of the wall to aid in guiding the great stones. With three of us using ladders and strength we are able to secure the pulleys and winches to give better tools to those working up-top. It could be that little mounted cranks and ropes may only offend the brawny sensibilities of the brothers. And offending Shollo and Kairn is what August seems to do so well even though his intention may be saving their lives.

(Continues Tuesday, March 30)

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Post #18.11, Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux

         I didn’t notice when August left his family’s house. When I return to the hearthside of the guesthouse he is already here crouching by the fireside, smothered in his wools, not speaking to anyone but perhaps to God.  At least I know he didn’t encounter his brothers. I dish some broth for him and a dish for me and I sit on the hearthstone to ask.

         “Did you have a chance to see your parents?”

         August looks at me in near tears, “They are so much older now. My father knew more of me than I knew of him and my mother thought I was my twin sister returned from the dead. My sister Anna died while I was gone.”

         “Your mother thought you were your sister even though you’re tonsured as a monk?”

         “Yes, she thought that is how angels are shorn; so she was only more certain I was my sister returned from heaven on this night.

         “My father still has his sharp mind, though he angers more easily; and my mother is still sweet and kind but she doesn’t know why. I’ve missed so much. And Kairn plans to move out. He will take a wife soon. He plans to live in a city house already built and he will pay a landlord for its use. My father fears Kairn will always be a poor man in debt to the rich. As though a monk like me isn’t always in poverty.

         “What of the paying work on the basilica? Is Kairn going to continue building?”

         “That is all any of us know to do. Of course he will build, and when it is done,… how many years will that be? 

         “The treadwheel is the same one they brought down here from the last build they were working when I was still helping at that site.  So my father blames me for the scanty rigging they have here. He says if I were here it would all be fine.  As it is now, he watches everyday and won’t let Shollo or Kairn go near the crane because of the danger that it might not carry the weight onto the wall as it is.”

         “I think he isn’t blaming you, so much as missing you.”

         “He was angry.”

         I suggest, “Maybe they just need another man to walk the treadwheel. The lift will be easier and safer with more of us working.”

         “More of us?”

         “I didn’t mean you.” I tell August.  “I meant, I already offered. I’ll meet the new crane-master in the morning.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #18.10, Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux

         It is one of the brothers who answers the door. I ask that they come out with me to the construction site. August slips by into the house unnoticed as we are leaving.

         “We met earlier” I remind them, “I’m a fellow traveler of Nic who owns the statue. We’re traveling with the two monks taking the art on to Ligugé.”

         “Yes, I know. You’re the one they call Laz.”

         “It’s Lazarus. I was looking over the site earlier and I wanted to ask you something. Surely it isn’t just the two of you — this is a massive project.”

         Shollo laughs, “It’s not just us. There is a large crew for this. We just live right here, so we are first to start work and the last to leave. Our father likes to think of himself as the building master ready to give instruction; but he is along in his years, so he just wraps himself in wools and finds a perch on the stones-in-waiting to watch over the work.”

         “I did see you have this large treadwheel. I supposed you had a larger crew or else a great need of a crew.  And apparently we will be staying here a while waiting for a healing. I’ve done this kind of work in years past so I was hoping I could be of use, if not for my skills, at least to walk the treadwheel.”

         Kairn asks, “What project have you worked?”

         “At the time I was in the area of Jerusalem, on the Eastern end of the Great Sea. Do you know that area?”

         Kairn answers, “No. Is it near Aux?”

         Shollo interrupts, “Whatever, I’m sure our wheel master can put you to good use.”

         Kairn adds, “We always need brawn.”

         “And whenever you go to raise up a Christian edifice like this the project seems to incite the hoards of frail-bodied holymen.” Shollo continues in a near rant. “What I’m talking about is those churchmen…

         Kairn explains, “What Shollo means is it is a rare day someone steps up who can actually do the work especially with a humble willingness to walk the treadwheel.”

         “I’m willing. So where do I find this wheel master?”

         “Come back in the fullness of the day tomorrow. If you show up at first light, you won’t find him here. The new master is not as driven as our father was once.”         

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #18.9, Thursday, March 18, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux

         “Please trust me, August. As the stranger that I am I see only the edges of your family and can only guess at the hidden longings and losses. But this reunion isn’t about the hurts. Since you’ve been gone your good gift to make beautiful things with your hands has only become greater with the grace of God. And your closeness with God has granted you another gift as well. Even though your brothers fear your return, it is now in your power to make beautiful things with the love and understanding as God has untangled for you. The great commandment is to love all people even your own family who are sometimes the hardest to love. When you meet your family again, they will see you are a new person. Don’t be afraid.”

         He argues, “Or maybe it is like you told us, when the brothers made peace with their brother Joseph who ruled Egypt, so many of their generations became slaves in Egypt until Moses set them free many years later.”

         “Indeed they were chipping and stacking stones until Moses rescued them to be farmers again.  But August, you are making excuses for missing the hard peace you need to create.”

          “You know, Lazarus, you are only a layman and here you are lecturing me who has holy orders.”

         He’s right. I offer no defense. In this pause August offers another thought. Now he slumps in penitence, “I need to untangle all this in prayer before we go to my parent’s door, don’t I?”

         “Yes, of course. I’ll go tell Nic and Brother Joel not to wait supper on us.”

         I return, and August is still kneeling in prayer, nearly hidden behind the ox cart. His icy sharp edge of self-defense is slightly melted to slush.

         Now amidst all his gratitude he even thanks me, for allotting him time for prayer.

         “I needed that moment of solitude.”

         “I don’t need to hear about your private God-chat, Brother August.  It is only you who is judging you.”

         “And” he adds, “Shollo and Kairn, of course.”

         “As you have also been measuring them. Pull your hood up.  I’ll knock on the door and ask for your brothers. Wait until we are away before you pull your hood back and greet your parents.”

         So I knock.

 (Continues Tuesday, March 23)

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Post #18.8, Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux

         “Laz, I have to tell you, knowing my brothers as I do, they aren’t that analytical, especially when it comes to their own jealousy and their own flaws.”

         “Who is?”

         August continues,  “It sounds to me like you are ready to pass judgment on me but not on the brutes. They are only looking to damage my family’s opinion of me. They have no wish at all for brotherly bonds.”

         “But Brother August maybe this burden you feel to impress your father with your amazing gifts is something like the fear they also imagine is you against them. They see your beautiful work and they feel you threaten their value in your father’s sight. Your ridicule of this workmanship won’t fix this project anymore than their objections to your perfectionism can make you sloppier in your art. And attributing more wrongs to your brothers won’t make your mother and father love you any more than they already do.

         “Never, at least since the story of Jacob who had sons with two different wives, have I heard of a parent whose love for his children could be diminished by the dazzling giftedness of another son. Maybe it’s a common fear among siblings, that a parent’s love is unjustly offered to some superior son but finding perfect equality in a parent’s love it is like trying to find symmetry in God’s grace. Grace falls unevenly on humankind, more by chance or need than by human virtue. A parent’s love, like God’s free gifts, flows unevenly among those who are beloved. Yet love is vastly abundant, all encompassing, never ending, so an uneven distribution shouldn’t matter. Love doesn’t require perfect symmetry. I don’t imagine you will make your father love your brothers less just because you are so good at carving stone, even now that you have turned your life over to God and God herself is inspiring your work.”

         I give August no time to answer with a defense. I just keep talking.

         “I have a thought. Let me go with you to your family now. When someone comes to the door keep your hood up so they see you only as a monk. Then I will ask Shollo and Kairn to come out with me to this worksite so that I may ask them about the work, and maybe talk about my own usefulness as a builder.”

         August is hesitant.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #18.7, Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux

         Darkness impedes our tour of the work on the basilica, and August is anxious to go on to see his family. I’m looking for a way to be the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag who helps the reunion become something joyful and not a tirade of remembrances of envy and guilt.

         “August” I stop him from going directly to the house. “There is something to consider here before you go to that door.”

         “What?”

         “I met your brothers Shollo and Kairn.”

         “You met them?”

         “They were looking at the sculpture, and they recognized who the artist is.”

         “Oh yes!  Did they admit to its wonder?”

         “August, you told us your art is your prayer. So was the prayer in your heart, ‘Dear God, let me teach my brothers I’m really good after all?’ or was it, ‘Dear God, Let my hammer and chisel take away the stone that hides the family love’?”

         “Lazarus, You’ve met my brothers, but you don’t know them.”

         Again, August rubs his hand along the new wood of the crane arm. “I believe my brothers are the exact people who are complicit in this construction atrocity. If it wasn’t them who set this thing here, they’ve found others with no standard of workmanship either, and they are all just basking here in the ease of shoddy work.”

         “I hear what you are saying, August. But I have to tell you I heard something else this evening when Nic and I were putting the animals in for the night and Shollo and Kairn were looking at the sculpture. Yes, it was as you say, they did take careful notice of the skill and perfection and they recognized your hand in the art. It could be maybe they were humiliated by its quality as you wish them to be. But I heard them recalling their brother August as a sour memory and a hurt to them. They defended themselves with a criticism that your work lacks symmetry. They may have a valid criticism.”

         “Of course it is not perfect symmetry! It’s inspired by God! The Greeks and the Pagans have symmetry! Creation is mysteriously random.  It is my gift to see that and to show that with the image of a mother and child having no symmetry!”

         “Their criticism is not really of the art. But, like your own argument, it is wrought in envy which is the fear of loosing yours and their father’s respect.”

         “You don’t know, Laz. You don’t know what it’s like.”

         (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #18.6, Thursday, March 11, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux

         Brother Joel and Brother August are in the guesthouse let to Nic by the stable master.  And I know we will have to tell them Brother August’s family was asking about the artist who carves so perfectly in sandstone. Surely we can’t keep Brother August hidden from them, especially since he is anxious to see his parents again. Maybe I should go talk with August so that the revelation of finding one another will not become an unwelcome surprise.

         Now I understand the Joseph story and that mysterious reason for hiding the precious cup in the grain bag of Benjamin as though Benjamin had stolen it.  In that way the jealous brothers would come with humility bringing their father to the grain officer of Egypt still not realizing that royal assistant is Joseph who is preparing to surprise them with his reveal. In the bible story it makes such a happy reunion Joseph is said to have wept. But I fear we aren’t going to see any tears of joy in this reunion. [Genesis 44]

         With the darkness, all the workers have left the site for the day and I know August must be anxious to go to his family. Of course I’m not so sure if he longs to see his brothers again. I know they don’t yearn for his return.

         Nic is preparing our evening meal in the little guesthouse that has a fireplace with cooking pots and grates and all the luxuries of an indoor place in the wintertime. I ask August to come with me to the construction site so we can consider the work that is being done.

         I explain my interest, “I was apprenticed in construction as a youth before I took up the work of scribe and Christian messenger. This subtle, limy whiff of fresh mortar nudges my recollections and I was thinking while we are here waiting for the healing of Brother Joel, I could make good use of myself walking a tread-wheel or chipping stone.”

         “Yes, if my brothers have anything to say about hiring they will welcome more brawn.” August runs his hand along the wood supports for the crane’s tread-wheel. “Obviously they have no use for skill and precision. Even the carpentry is rough.”

         My observation, “They probably thought it was temporary while the build is going on. You have to admit they have stacked a substantial stone wall here so far.”

         “Is that the standard? ‘substantial’?” August asks, still critical of the workmanship.

(Continues Tuesday, March 16)

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Post #18.5, Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux

         We’ve overheard two brothers of August taking notice of the statue in the cart just outside this stable. Nic went down to confront these art critics.  I’m not sure if Nic means to defend the art or the artist, but now his demeanor is more of camaraderie, as is Nic’s nature.

         Shollo tries to justify his and Kairn’s dislike for August. “We who had to put up with all his bossing believe we work better in his absence. He was always measuring our work by his own superhuman standard of perfection.”

         Kairn adds, “And whatever way we tried to do something he always had a better plan, but since he was a little fellow who didn’t do the heavy lifting himself the real work of it was always on us.”

         Shollo gives up any thought he might have had of defending August, “He just told us how to do it and our father thought August could do no wrong and since we were always wrong we were required to listen to him.

         Kairn adds, “And what irked me was he was always setting aside sandstone blocks to add little carvings and do-dads to our great constructions, and now, seeing this thing we are feeling the creep of his work has chased us down again.”

         Nic affirms, “And you worry that your father has found him and now your brother is back to take over your work and make your lives miserable?”

         “You’ve got it!  So you must have a smart-ass older brother also.”

         Again, Nic answers with his relentless understanding. “I wasn’t born with any brothers, but believe me, I’ve had a long lifetime of smart-ass officers and bosses. I know just how you feel. Nothing is ever perfect until the guy in charge can take credit for it.”

         As I make my way down to meet the brothers, Shollo has an arm around Nic, in a gesture of greeting old friend.

         “Laz, these men were working on this new basilica, and they took notice of the sculpture I’ve purchased. They think the artist is their brother.”

         “And so it is a strange coincidence it is that we would stop here in Bordeaux for shelter while Brother Joel is mending.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #18.4, Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Historical setting: Sixth Century Bordeaux

         Nic and I are spreading our fleeces in the stable loft near the construction of a new basilica in Bordeaux and from here we can overhear the conversation between two of the workers who are looking over the stone sculpture still in the cart just outside.

         “Do you know, Kairn, I just had a terrible thought. Look at that thing closely for the chisel marks. Go ahead, examine it, even search the hidden places.”

         “It lacks symmetry. But there are no chisel marks. It’s perfect workmanship.”

         “Exactly. And don’t we already know the hand of this artisan?”

         “Oh, your not thinking its…”

         “… he’s back to taunt us, the small but mighty, August! Do you suppose Papa found him and ordered this work?”

         “Did you see who brought it here?”

         “It was two monks leading the ox with the two horsemen riding guard as though there were great value in a piece of stone.”

         At this point, Nic has strapped on his sword and gone down the ladder from the loft to encounter these art critics.

         “Hello fellows. I was in right here at the stable and I heard you talking about this art. I’m the patron who purchased it.”

         “We just wanted to know who the artist was.”

          “Yes, I heard you talking about it. To answer your concern, it was purchased from a marketplace for sacred Pagan and Christian works of art. And you will surely be pleased to know it isn’t intended for this basilica. It is meant to be a gift to inspire the scribes and artists working in the inks who have vowed poverty as seen in the face of this woman. It’s being transported to a monastery near Poitiers where the literate monks will appreciate this most as they are busy copying scriptures.”

         The one of these two called Kairn asks, “So who made this?”

         “Why do you ask?”

         “We had a brother who is gone now. Our parents grieve for him.”

         The other brother adds, “We aren’t grieving though.”

         Kairn interrupts, “I know it’s against God to speak ill of ones brother. So what Shollo means is…”

         Shollo adds his own words, “What I’m saying is we are much better off now that he is gone. And we hope he stays gone.”

          “What Shollo means is our father put that older brother in charge and he was a hard taskmaster.”

         “What Kairn means is that August, your artist here, was a very smart…shall I say, donkey. And we really don’t miss him.”

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #18.3, Thursday, March 4, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. Building site in Bordeaux

         Nic and I are looking for sleeping quarters in Bordeaux for the two monks and for ourselves, and we’ve stopped to ask at the thatched house near the construction of the basilica that August told us would be his family’s home. The woman of this house, who must surely be August’s mother, suggests a stable with a sleeping loft only a short distance away. She graciously offers that we may share the sleeping quarters of her sons if the stable owner doesn’t oblige.

         So now we find the stable is accommodating for our horses and ox, and Nic and I can sleep in the loft. And what’s more, the stable owner is happy to meet all of our needs because Nic has paid him well. He even has another little house of thatch where the two monks can stay, since Brother Joel cannot climb the ladder into the stable loft at this stage in his healing.

         We return to our wilderness camp with this place procured.  I told August of the helpful woman in the house adjacent to the construction, and he found delight in learning she was still wearing a tattered green tunic with a cincture and apron, but her hair has silvered. As much as he claims to be rid of family, I think August looks forward to seeing them again.

         We start on the short jaunt to Bordeaux at first morning light because ox-speed turns it into a day’s journey. We arrive late in the afternoon. Brothers August and Joel settle in at the little thatched guesthouse, while Nic and I tend to the animals.  The cart with the sculpture of stone is parked outside the stable in view of the construction project and it attracts the attention of two of the workers as they are wrapping up their day’s project. We are in the loft of the stables and can hear them talking about the artwork.

         “Lifelike, yes. But why would the artisan choose to set in stone the life of a poor woman with an infant?  A true artist could have made it anything, so why a poor woman?  An emperor or a god would at least have better symmetry.”

         “Worry not, my brother, it’s only sandstone so it won’t last.”

         “I wonder if the two monks we saw bring it here intend to add it to our work on the basilica?”

         “Do you know what this makes me think of?” One of the brothers asks the other.         

(Continues Tuesday, March 9)

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Post #18.2, Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. The road into Bordeaux

         On this ride to Bordeaux I am telling Nic what I remember of my life before I was found robbed and beaten.

         “I was walking back to my family’s home from Tours when I was attacked.”

         “So how was your wealth worthy of a robber if you were living the poverty of a monk?”

         “I remember this all now.  I will tell you, Nic, why I had a treasure with me that day. I hope you find the humor in it.

         “There was this fellow, George who was supposed to teach me all the trimmings of a superstitious belief system which is searing a mark from a pagan root unto Christianity. He was writing a history of the Franks, a hagiography, and had his sights on becoming Bishop of Tours. He dreamed up his name to be, ‘Gregory of Tours.’

         “His assignment for my lesson was to claim an ancient saint as my patron. But I can tell you this Nic; a living breathing patron is much better company than a dead saint, even if the living guy is an old soldier.”

         “Again,” Nic mentions, “You know, Brother Joel would differ as to the value of a spiritual presence over the worth of a skin and bones man.”

         “Yes, Nic, but you notice Joel is back in camp. His spirit may wander, but it is his physical infirmity that is holding him back.”

         “So, tell me your patron saint provided you with a treasure they robbed from you on the road?”

          “As a matter of fact, he did. It was kind of a joke that I made a relic of my own to fulfill the instruction. So I was carrying a fray of my own whiskers in a walnut shell as a reliquary. That was the ‘true whiskers of Saint Lazarus’ a fourth century Christian martyr. He was no doubt, a heretic who still believed in a tangible human Jesus, but that seemed not to matter to young George.”

         Nic laughs. “Oh, so it is ‘Saint’ Lazarus now. But I’ll just probably keep on calling you Laz.”

         “I’m only telling you this because it explains the so-called ‘treasure’ that was robbed along with my clothing. It seems a pilgrim awaiting healing at the tomb of St. Martin saw my relic when I was pretending to calm the waters for our river crossing. The coincidence of the calming apparently gave credence to my ruse, and made it seem my walnut shell was a thing of value.”

         Bordeaux is just as August told us.

(Continues tomorrow)

 

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Post #18.1, Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. The road into Bordeaux

          “That was two deaths ago.” I’m telling Nic what I was reminded of in my search for a doctor. I now have that memory of wife, Susanna and that foggy image of the family we sought in vain.

          “I can recall I buried Susanna before my own death from plague. After that rising I learned the two children who survived were taken to a pagan hag of healing and when they had recovered from plague my son was taken from her to be trained in the tending of vineyards and my daughter stayed and was apprenticed in the pagan art of healing. When the old woman died Eve inherited her book of remedies, and she herself, then filled the need for the healer in that place along the River Loire. When I returned and found them, Eve and Ezra were adults already living their own lives. Now they know about my oddity of life and life again since I reunited with them only a few years ago.

         “My son was the one assigned the task to bury the dead when a recent round of plague hit a nearby village, since he, himself bore the scars and the plague’s withered limb – signs that he would be safe from it.

         “After we reunited I thought I would be useful to my children in their daily work but then I realized I was really just a misfit to their families, and a tax burden so I decided to find my place in the scriptorium of Marmountier close enough to my family that I could return and help in the seasons when help is most needed.”

         Nic interrupts, “If Brother Joel heard you speaking like this, making things only about their earthly purposes — farming and taxes and the like — he would surely remind you that the spiritual oneness is more than a person’s measure of physical benefits.  I’m just saying what the wise elder would want said.”

         I know the ‘shoulds’ of faith, but I argue, “Regardless of holy virtue, I still keep looking for purpose in my tangible being. So I went to Tours to be useful in copying scriptures. And you know of the need and the dearth of writings. Even with no holy orders I was welcomed to work in the inks. I was tonsured as a monk, and I was being instructed in the growing Christian ways of saints and relic worship, a pagan ooze of superstition ever seeping into the Jesus way.”

(Continues tomorrow)

#Remembrances, #Scars of plague, #Finding purpose, #Value in life, #6th Century illiteracy,

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Post #17.12, Thursday, February 25, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. The Gaul Side of the Pyrenees

         I’m anxious to let Nic know of my recent clarity of memory. It’s all come back to me now, not as grief but as hope. I have a breathing reality in knowing where I will find my children and grandchildren.  I suggest Nic and I ride on into Bordeaux and look for an inn where we can safely take Brother Joel and wait out the healing into spring. The ride will give us time for me to talk with Nic.

         So we are riding north. The horses’ easy gait makes a brief jaunt of this, but it is time enough to tell Nic of the revelation of memory.

         “There was a reminder when I asked in Bordeaux and I was told there was no surgeon. There was a known healer who owned an ancient book of remedies. Then it came to me — an ancient book of remedies. It was held in the hand of my daughter, Eve. She was pretending it was filled with Pagan stories, really from her own imagination intended to entertain my grandchildren, Daniel and Celeste, and the baby Margey who was asleep in Eve’s arms. They are my son Ezra’s children. Eve was caring for them while Ezra and his wife, Colleta, were away in Tours.

         “Now all the webs of forgotten life are unwound and strung together as my true memories of this family. They live on the River Liger, or in these times called Loire.”

         Nic interrupts. “That’s where we found you, beaten and left for dead. Do you mean that road was so near your home?”

         “My wife, Susanna is buried on the hill near that bend in the river, and my son has the vineyard there.”

         “There is a known healer right near that place. We would have taken you to her instead of to Nantes, but we were hurried along by the rotting condition of our ship, and by the fact that we thought you a Christian because you wore a monk’s tonsure and she is known to be Pagan.”

         “Maybe she is Pagan. It’s how she’s thought of. My son and his family are Christian. Eve and Ezra were orphaned in the first wave of the Justinian plague delivered to us in 543 by the Roman soldiers who traveled on the river.”

         “Yes.” Nic adds his comprehension, “I joined the Roman Navy to fill the gap left by that first round of the plague. What else do you remember of that?”

(Continues Tuesday, March 2, 2021)

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Post #17.11, Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. The Gaul Side of the Pyrenees

         August is telling of his becoming a hermit monk. “I wandered alone until I found a quarry for my stonework and I made my cave near that place, so my prayers could be my artwork.  Yet, even now I think often of my father and wonder if he is searching for me.”

         Brother Joel again, reaches to touch the hand of Brother August. “So here it is on earth, the same as it is in heaven. You don’t know if the longing you have for family is your own yearning for them, or if it is your father’s; just as you wondered if your solitude was for you, or for God’s sake. All this wonder about whose need it is you are answering is found in listening to the Spirit. When we are one in the Spirit the question of ‘whose obligation do I answer?’ is moot. Like the creek flowing out of its banks these structures of duty that separate us from the flow of God’s love are washed aside, and all that we have is the love of God, and we were taught to pray ‘as it is in heaven, it is on earth.’”

         August’s hidden hope is exposed. “I think of Joseph in Egypt, how by dreams and wonders he came from the pit to become a governor distributing grain in famine. I imagine myself like that, giving nurture to my brothers in their suffering a spiritual famine. If only they would realize they are starving I could offer them the Good News of Christ.”

         I feel like the rub of the brothers’ distain is August’s imposition of virtue. I offer my opinion, “In the Joseph story he didn’t force the grain sacks on the brothers. They had to feel their own hunger then they came begging.”

         Nic amends,  “Imposing a valuable cup, yes, but Joseph didn’t force the grain on them.”

          “I hear what you are saying.” August answers, “My family is surely not begging for a spiritual rescue.”

         And my own Jewish inheritance of the Joseph story doesn’t even end in such sweet resolution. I hear it as the scroll that explains how the Israelites got themselves into slavery in Egypt in the first place.

         I speak my so-called wisdom. “The story is as it is. The meaning of it depends on where one chooses to end it. Is it an amazing synchronicity, or the root of brotherly enslavement?”

(Continued tomorrow)

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Post #17.10, Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. The Gaul Side of the Pyrenees

         So, Nic asks August, recalling the story of Joseph, “It was like your brothers plotted to take you from your father, strip you of your fine coat with long sleeves then leave you in a wilderness pit?” [Genesis 37:20-24]

         August answers, “Yes, I lived that story. But they didn’t take me to the pit; I found the wilderness cave with the help of God. I thought of the cave as that mystical pit for dreaming, the place where Joseph was discarded, stripped of his fine garment and left for dead as I am dead to them now. But making my choices, I left to go my own way just before the project was started in Bordeaux when we were repairing the rubble of a burn near Tours. I added some carvings in sandstone, flourishes and flowers for the lentil shelf over the doorway so when the bishop with his priests came to assess the construction they hardly noticed the huge stones perfectly set in place to be the walls. They stood in the doorway marveling at the carvings.

         “When they left, my brothers heaped their jealous rage onto all Christians. They jeered at the mystery of ethereal Spirit, sourcing psalms and prayers and taking these “vulnerable” Christians into “imaginary” worlds claiming an invisible God, instead of caring for the more tangible and useful things of earth like the solid walls. They called the worship of God a dream gone array leading ignorant followers into the cult of the pit.

         “But all of us, my parents and my brothers alike had spent our lives building these great halls for Christian worship. How could they do that work and never even see the purpose of it?  I was angry, maybe for my own hurt, but I thought it was for the sake of God. I believed my own rage was holy anger seeking justice for God, so I left my human family for the solitude of a cave. I confess often, wondering if my reason for seeking tranquility was for my benefit or was truly for God’s sake.”

         Brother Joel reaches his hand out to Brother August and whispers. “You are God’s child, would you not be honoring God by seeking your own peace? The sins that devour us are the ones that separate us from God, not the ones that bring us closer.”

         “Thank you Brother Joel.” Brother August surely finds comfort in the simple wisdom of this elder.

         “So what brought you down here from Tours?”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #17.9, Thursday, February 18, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. The Gaul Side of the Pyrenees

         So the decision is made. We make camp between yonder and nowhere for whatever time Brother Joel needs.

         Severing a foot is an agonizing cure but Brother Joel has accepted it as boldly as could anyone. And it’s clear Nic has a skill with the blade that it is tempered with empathy. Thank you God. He is, as he told us, one who has the soul of a monk and only the appearance of a soldier.

         August asks me about the worksite at Bordeaux and I realize he sent me to that place in particular because it matters to him. He asked who was the worker I talked to.

         “I have no idea. I was simply asking for information about a surgeon.”

         “What did the worker look like? Was he dark or fair?”

         Now I look at August’s face and I see the face of that same worker and I understand.

         “August, he did look to me that he could be your brother.”

         “Yes, I thought that might be. My family is working there. He probably tipped up a brow to scowl at your interruption.”

          August’s own tipped brow is grin-worthy. “It was your brother. Are you hoping to see your family soon?”

         “Not at all. I think it would only be my father who would wait for me, and by now he must imagine I’ve completely left my old life, as I suppose I have. My brothers and my sister Anna probably fill my place in my mother’s thoughts. I imagine she is still sitting there amid all the dust of a worksite, grinding the grain for the meal, pretending she has a home in some odd and temporary thatched hovel. We were always living our lives butted up against a construction project and she was always dealing with any kind of shelter they built for sleeping always pretending she had a home.

         “Do you miss them?”

         “No, anyway, they won’t recognize me now. Last I saw them we were rebuilding a burnt out sanctuary. Since I’m not endowed with great muscular prowess I used my wit to position the crane and ropes for lifting the stones with less heft. My father required my brothers to learn from me. But they didn’t receive my instruction graciously. They saw me as a threat to their only gift — brut strength.”

         It’s easy for me to see the brothers’ point of view as I also sometimes notice August has a rub of righteousness.

(Continues next Tuesday)

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Post #17.8, Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Historical setting:  6th Century Bordeaux

         The city of Bordeaux is barely rising from the ruin of the old Roman civitas of Burdigala. It’s been battered in wars again and again ever since the Romans saw the strategic location and protected it with a wall; but in these times it’s just another example of the lost Roman glory. The larger the city with its ancient grandeur the larger is the ruin of it. And Bordeaux is a magnificent ruin indeed. Here the amphitheater for thousands is a hollow chasm grieving for the long passed whoops of crowd. 

         August mentioned the reconstruction of a basilica so I follow the flattened roadway cleared by the dragging of large stones. Some builders are working among the stone heaps still formless on the brink of new creation.

         August mentioned the Frankish Christians are considering Bordeaux to become an important see, maybe for an archbishop. And this construction is founded in that hope. I inquire of a surgeon but this worker only knows of one who can read who has an old book of remedies. That won’t due. We need a surgeon’s experience. Now it’s clear to me Nic will have to use his blade. I return immediately so they can stop jostling Brother Joel over the rough path with vacant hope.

         My ride back echoes thoughts of one who is a physician because he “has an old book of remedies.” But the image in this thought is not of a nameless healer reading from Galen’s book; but now I recall a particular physician I knew well– a foggy image who now rests in my thoughts as a beautiful memory. This woman I seem to have known once is not the wife of my grief, but she is our daughter. When last I saw her she was a young woman trained in healing by a pagan hag who raised her after the plague made her an orphan. She is marked with the pox that took her pagan teacher’s life. In my thought of her she is reading from the medical book the old hag left for her. If it weren’t a hurry to return I would just saunter in these wonderful memories now returned.

         At a gallop I meet back with the oxcart still moving slowly northward toward the place where the creek meets the river. I have the news that the city is just as August said but they have no surgeon with any better recommendation than Nic’s own blade.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #17.7, Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. The Gaul Side of the Pyrenees

         We are trying to decide if we should take Brother Joel on a day long ride in an ox cart to find a city with a surgeon, or if Nic should just apply his blade and skill and take this man’s agonizing dead foot from him right here and now.

         Brother Joel answers,  “I am willing to try both things you’ve offered. Your kindness has let me know I‘m ready to leave this solitude here for a time of physical healing.  So let me try to manage the ride to Bordeaux and if I cannot endure the journey, I will beg the cut of your blade, Brother Nic.”

         So we set out on a day’s journey to Bordeaux now with August and the ox first and Nic walking, leading The Rose behind the ox cart in order to keep a watchful eye on Brother Joel who is lying next to the cool stone of the statue of the mother in the cart.

         I’m left to be the scout, escouter, for our direction ahead so I gather instructions from August to follow this creek then turn west at a larger river and follow that river into the city.

         Umber seems grateful for a faster pace so our ride alone has a welcome freedom though my heart and my prayers are with the others. There is always that tug between solitude and belonging with people and it isn’t just for the ascetic monks living as hermits in wilderness places. I seem trapped in the paradox of longing for the tranquility of isolation then when I’m alone, I yearn for the company of others.

         I’ve only followed the larger river a few miles to the west when I come upon an ancient Roman bridge spanning this widening meander in this otherwise empty place in sight of an ancient city wall. This crumbling bridge has endured centuries of wars no doubt. Surely any booming civitas has shrunken away from this edge of city wall as the roaring numbers of urban humans has been shrinking over the years with each war or round of plague.

         I take the dare and test the strength of the bridge, first on foot, then on horseback.  I’m sure this bridge can maintain the weight of the ox cart in case I would find no other bridge to take us across to Bordeaux.  And now I see there isn’t another bridge so this is where we will cross.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #17.6, Thursday, February 11, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. The Gaul Side of the Pyrenees

         On this new morning even the most magnificent beams of dawn can’t pale the long darkness we’ve spent. The elder monk lay the whole night in the place August prepared for him in the bed of the cart, driven, as he has been, back from death into life by raging fever. August sat with him, Nic and I prayed quietly with whispers yet our prayers were heard easily because God’s Holy Spirit hovers close by, and now the elder monk has set his face this morning toward the continuation of his tangible, physical life. The elder desert father has more clarity than fever this morning.

         Thank you God.        

         He tells us he is called “Brother Joel.” We can see that if he would choose to continue on his humble walk with God he will surely have only one physical foot to walk upon. He tells us what we feared we would need to tell him, that he may loose his foot along this way.

         August knows of an ancient Roman city on the path before us. “It was once a Roman city and now the Franks are rebuilding it and calling it Bordeaux. The Frankish kingdom is asking the church to name a bishop so that it may become the whole archdiocese of the Frankish kingdom.”

         I know something of this land. “I doubt a Frankish archdiocese could ever find root in an earthly city like Bordeaux when the great power of the dead Saint’s relic are ever beckoning Christians to Tours.”

          “I’m just saying,” August explains, “Surely in a city we will find a proper surgeon who can see to the needs of Brother Joel. We could be there before nightfall. I know this path we are on and that city is very near.”

         Nic draws his dagger. “If a day’s jostle in the bed of an oxcart  doesn’t kill him, surely a stranger’s blade would. I have a soldier’s training and years of observance of these things; and Brother Lazarus has proven himself an adequate craftsman at making a crutch from a stick of wood. If we did this here and now, he can heal in his own familiar cave. We will stay with him until he is able to fetch water for himself.”

         So I ask the subject of this debate, “What do you say, Brother Joel?”

         “I think with your kindness and the grace of God I shall have it both ways.”

         (Come again Tuesday, February 16)

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Post #17.5, Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Historical setting: 6th Century Gaul

         The monk we have found in his cave near death whispers to us of “thin places.” What does this mean? Explanations of thin places are only spoken through whispers as poetry.

         One preaches of the thin places she noticed in a story of Elijah. She said, “Sometime you might hear the mystics talk about the thin places. Thin places are where the boundary between the spiritual realm and the physical realm is so thin it practically disintegrates. Thin places … [are] the marshy edge that runs along the shoreline between the beach and the sea. … In the thin places, earth spills into heaven, and heaven spills into earth. In our own lives, the thin places make us tremble with their beauty. But watch out! These are the very regions that harbor the precariousness between, between life and death, so there’s nothing safe about them. It’s no wonder they make us tremble!” [footnote]

         Nic lays this withered ancient man over his outstretched arms like a precious child found sleeping in a place where people are to busy for quiet, and he brings him down the hillside to a soft fleece laid into the narrow space left in the oxcart right against the stone mother and her child. Nic looks across the cart, passed the monk and the stone mother and her child toward the stone carver and he asks August if he has ever known of thin places.

         “That’s what I was seeking when I left the cities with all their constructions of churches made of thick stones of earth. I left my family and people to find the edge between earth and spirit. It was something I thought was always somewhere I wasn’t. So I went away into the clay cave seeking solitude.” August asks for his own answer. “Is a cave what you would think was this thin place the old monk mentioned?”

         Nic is thoughtful in his answer too.  “So it is something you would look for somewhere else from where you are?”

         “Yes, I would say when I was looking for it, yes. It always wasn’t where I was. Until, it was all there was. So I made tools of iron and the hardest rock and went back to my craft of chipping away at earth stone until it was spirit, too. As an artist, a sculptor, I don’t know if the art is holding on to the tangible, or letting go of the rock that hides the Spirit.”

         The old monk spoke again. “It is the wonder between.”

(Continues tomorrow)

[footnote] The preacher? Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield from a sermon delivered to the “Church of Peace U.C.C.” on November 1, 2020. This blogger is celebrating the beautiful, trembling, thin place of that preacher’s birth on this date in 1980. Thank you, Dear God, for all this time I have to see Mariah grow from infant to woman.

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Post #17.4, Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. The Gaul Side of the Pyrenees

         August investigates the deeper of the caves in the steep bank of the river. He takes a lit lamp and the alms the villager gave. Now Nic and I have been waiting here, and August emerges with only an empty earthen water jar.

         “Brother Lazarus” August reports, “Those shoes you made are too small. The monk’s feet are already darkened from the freeze though all the rest of him is the pale of death. His body is sparse and thin but still the shoes would not cover his feet and he needs warm shoes. At first sight I was sure his soul had long fled the bones so I covered what was left of him in the wool. I thought I was wrapping his body for a burial, but then he stirred and then he shivered. He was sleeping nearly breathlessly as in a deep trance of prayer. So when he awoke I offered him a sip of water from a cup I found nearly empty. He was grateful, and said his feet could no longer take him down to the creek and he asked that we fill his jar before we travel on.”

         August adds that he thinks we need to bring him out of the cave and take him on with us to the monastery where he can get proper care for his damaged feet.

         “Is that what he is asking?” I wonder. “He might be one who seeks spiritual perfection in abandoning the physical world, so placing him in a oxcart for a long journey to find physical healing would only intrude on his spiritual journey even if it takes him beyond this earthly life.”

         “What are you saying Laz?” Nic argues, “that we leave him here to die alone simply because he can’t walk to the creek for water?”

         “We need to ask him.” August offers that pragmatism and goes back into the cave with Nic following close behind and now I choose to follow also.

         While we are deciding his need the monk has pulled himself closer to the front of the cave, so when we find him again he is hiding his eyes from the glare of sunlight beaming into the entrance. Having heard our conversation he is ready with his answer. Now I can see I was quite wrong to suggest he would choose to abandon his bones to nurture spirit alone. He spoke of the thin places but not of death or even of a heaven without earth.

(Continued tomorrow)

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Post #17.3, Thursday, February 4, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. The Gaul Side of the Pyrenees

         We’ve walked all day in search of a particular cave said to be dug into the bank near this creek. Nic scouted out the river bank  ahead of us and said he did locate some caves a few miles ahead but they seem uninhabited. At least we know we have a way to go yet. So we choose to pitch our tarp and make the night fire now rather than go on. There is still a bit of daylight and a ruby sunset with a promise of a good day tomorrow.

         The promise is kept by the old adage of red sky at night. It is indeed a beautiful morning to continue our journey to Ligugé, and more immediately our search for a monk in need of the alms the villager has provided.

         It is still morning when we reach the abandoned caves Nic told us were here. Here we stop to investigate for signs of a monk. There is a pale silence about this clay bank. Three caves are dug into the hillside. One of the caves has rubble and rocks pushed across the entrance, a common way a cave is sealed at the discovery of a monk who has passed away. We approach the second cave with reverence and trepidation. It’s a shallow dig, containing nothing, probably the source of the rubble in the first cave.

         The third cave is deeper, and investigation of it requires someone to enter with a lamp. August wants to go in alone in case a monk is present and deep in prayer. Brother August goes down the hillside to fetch the alms and flame in the lamp from the embers we carry. Nic and I wait outside. The cave sends out only the fragrance of damp deep earth. There is no smell of death here, and the life smells are only our own, so we guess Brother August surely won’t find a needy monk here or would he find anyone here at all. Even our prayers are silent as we wait. Then whispers echo from the gaping dark hole – sounds in the voice of eunuch or angel or August.

         Brother August emerges from the darkness alone without even the beam from the flame.

(Continues Tuesday, February 9)

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Post #17.2, Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. Village on the Gaul Side of the Pyrenees

         Last night we slept in comfort in the loft of the stable. We learn we are now in Gaul.

         I was telling Nic and Brother August of the priest’s message to the villagers who thought the statue was Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of salt in the desert. August enjoyed the twist of story; Nic wonders if we should turn the statue to face front. But it survived mountains and flood why change it? And besides, the villagers needed the Father’s message of Christian duty to care for outcast rather than judge them. If the villagers assumed the stone woman was dauntlessly holy, like the Virgin mother of Christ no one would have mentioned it. It would seem sanctified and out of touch requiring a holy and silent distance.

         This morning one of those who saw our procession and heard the sermon returns with gifts for the “needy desert father walking with the ox.” Along with a small sack of grain the kindly woman brings a cut of black wool said to be a better size than the larger hooded garb the monk is wearing.

         As the villager leaves Brother August complains, “Why is it people are always trying to dress me up in clothes that don’t suit me?”

         I know he is also bemoaning the required shoes. But I’m still glad we are demanding shoes on this icy journey. 

         The priest suggests we take these gifts on with us, and that we look for a particular ascetic, Brother Joel, who is known to live in a cave along the river where we will be traveling. He said a monk came this way recently and mentioned that this desert father in that cave is aged and frail and he may be in need of a warm wool and a supply of food soon. So maybe these gifts have the synchronicity of miracle that was intended by the villager who brought them.

         After our morning prayers and the feast to break the night’s fast we set out on our journey to find that particular cave. Following the river, moving only at an ox’s pace we are not likely to pass by a cave without taking notice but Nic rides ahead to scout it out anyway. By this time when he returns the sun is already sending tall shadows, anticipating dark. He brings news that there are some caves dug into a hillside, but they don’t appear to be occupied.

(Continued tomorrow)

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Post #17.1, Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. A Small Village in Southeastern Gaul

         Stopping at a small village church, the stone woman in the oxcart captures the imaginations of villagers who are now demanding the priest retell the Genesis story they’ve heard before – the one where Lot’s wife turned back while running from the mayhem. Maybe it is that we placed the statue in the cart with the mother facing backwards, or maybe it’s just that people like to hear stories of smashing, flaming, punitive, holy justice instead of a promise of a simple mother’s love.

         The priest begins his sermon likening the Genesis dialogue with God and Abraham to the Matthew visitation of an angel to Joseph. How is it a worthy comparison?

         He explains, “Like that Genesis story this begins when God comes, as God does come as an angel or a dream to speak of love beyond justice. In the Matthew story God sends Gabriel in a dream to the carpenter, descendant of that Genesis man Abraham.”

         “No. Tell us the other story! The one where the mob begs to rape the angels!”

         “Tell the story where Lot offers the raging men his own daughters!”

         “Tell us again, how God’s judgment came down on Sodom and Gomorrah as molten rock and ashes crashing down from heaven!”

         “Tell us how Lot’s family ran away but Lot’s wife looked backwards to her old life burning behind her and she was turned to a pillar of salt.”

         The priest answers, “This story begins where God speaks to the earthly father with possibility for reconciliation for those whom the human measure would judge as evil. The human voice of judgment calls for Joseph to break his betrothal to Mary, because she is already pregnant. But God’s question is the same one God asked of Abraham. ‘Who is worthy of rescue’? We remember in this that God loves even the outcast.” The villagers know they have heard a sermon.

         Besides the small size of the oratory space inside the church, the other unusual feature of this place was the very large and accommodating stable welcoming travelers more than it is a display holy artifacts as in a wealthy city’s basilica.

         Nic and August missed this sermon because they were in the stable behind the church putting the animals in for the night. But I was listening.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #16.12, Thursday, January 28, 2021

Historical setting: 564 C.E. A Small Village in Southeastern Gaul

         The villagers argue:

         “This is no statue, Father!”

         “A statue is an image of an emperor or a hero!”

         “A statue is like a pagan god trapped in the stillness of stone!”

         “Of course we have seen statues, and this is not a statue!

         “This is a common woman!” 

         “See for yourself! This is Lot’s wife, solid salt, always looking backwards.”

         And that is the spirit of the mob now gathering around the carved stone on the cart near the front of the church.

         The father preaches, “Really, my friends, this is not that woman from the story in Genesis! This is a Christian statue cut into solid earthen rock by the humble hands of a desert father! It was made as a prayerful act. But never was it a real woman; it was always stone and now it is art!

         “Listen, now, dear sheep of this parish! You know well Christians don’t worship statues of emperors or idols of pagan gods. We don’t worship tangible gods! Christian art is creative works by human hands though sometimes driven by the intangible and invisible God through inspiration.” The priest’s complexity of sermon seems to pass by their ears, favoring what their eyes see. 

         He continues, “This art is like the songs sung by ancient shepherds that inspire all of us in wars and peace to give us courage and lead us to thanksgivings before the true Creator of earth and heaven. We sing songs and share in poetry with our human voices, our fears, our humor, our imagination, always reflecting our human being as image of Creator. So why wouldn’t an artist share the Creative Spirit with the work of his hands carving stone?”

         One of the mob shouts, “Songs are never of salt or stone, they are like whispers of wind that fade away!”

          “Please, all I am saying is that stone images do not replace the Creator. They inspire us to notice the invisible. And so this image of a poor mother caring for her child inspires our human knowledge that like children we are beloved by God.”

         The crowd still calls for the other story, “So tell us the true story of the woman driven from her home by the angry God. We want to hear of the justice where the fire and ash reigned down from heaven and destroyed the wicked city.”

         “Always you want to hear of the ruin.”

(Continues Tuesday February 2)

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Post #16.11, Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Historical setting: 6th Century A Small Village in Southeastern Gaul

         We’ve stopped in this small village to for the night’s. The priest recognizes August even with the hood that covers his face. Their warm greeting includes the introduction of us fellow travelers. Then the priest takes a long ponder in awe at the stone woman and her baby in the oxcart ignoring the curious on-lookers of villagers who gather.

         “So this is what you do for so many months in the mountain cave?” The priest asks.

         “It is what my hands are doing while my heart and my voice are in prayer.” August answers.

         This church building is barely a stone heap topped with thatch, hardly more than a dessert cave. It has two rooms, one for worship and prayer if the community at worship is no more than four, and the other is the priest’s sleeping quarters. He has no fire center inside so in the back is a wide opening with a covering tarp as a tent would be, and the fire circle is outside.

         I’m tending the fire while Nic and August take our beasts to the large stable prepared for guests and their animals. I can hear the voices of villagers who are now a larger group in front of the church discussing the stone statue.

         Apparently, the people were rallied by rumor that this is not a carving, but the actual woman turned to salt in the desert. I can overhear a mottled piecing of the Genesis 19 story after Abraham and God negotiated the rescue of Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In recalling the story the villagers have hobbled together their account of the likely sins that wrought this horrific judgment on the towns, but I hear no mention of the part where Lot offers the unruly mob his own daughters in place of his visitors. Its odd the things people remember most. Surely the Genesis story was history told by the ones who lived to tell it without mention of their own sins. So was Lot’s goodness the reason why the wrath of this punitive, judgmental God left Lot’s family living? Were they really more righteous than those who died? When I hear these old stories of the God of vengeance people love to imagine, making the world more just by distributing disasters, mostly they point out some non-descript virtue of the survivors who live to tell.

          The priest shouts above the ruckus. “This is not a woman turned to salt! Has no one seen a statue before?”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #16.10, Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.

         Nic is arguing with August over August’s commitment to walk this winter journey barefooted.

         Nic tries another plea. “Possibly you believe that God will see your suffering as a way in which you are superior to your fellow travelers. But because your own frosting toes are not hidden from us it becomes our suffering too by way of our empathy. So you have no virtue in denying us our kindness born in empathy. You must wear shoes on this journey.”

         I try to ease the demand. “You may remove the ermine tails if you wish not to make a display of wealth.” And so he tears the tails from the shoes as he defiantly puts the leathers onto his feet like a two-year-old, disappointed with an authoritative parent overriding his “no”.

         I’m sure he sees our demands as patronizing. It’s a sensitive issue.

         “At least you look to have a man’s feet now.” Nic adds this last word as August stares down at the furs now separating his human flesh from the beloved cold breast of earth – cold earth that would undoubtedly devour his toes in frostbite.

         The winter is hardening as we set our faces again toward the north. The monk and the oxcart with the stone mother of Jesus are in front, and me and my brown horse at the rear. Nic and The Rose stretch to varieties of trots and cantors back and forth often going far ahead of us.

         It is early afternoon when Nic brings news of a small cluster of farms ahead. Here we are finding August already knows this path. He tells us just beyond the farms is a small community that holds a town fair in the summertime. They have a church and the priest of that parish is known to keep traveling monks informed of the well-being of Christian ascetics in this region. So we choose to pass by the farms and go on to the small root of a village.

         The dark of the winter’s afternoon draws us closer together on the road as we come into the village apparently appearing as something of a parade. Villagers come out of their houses to watch us pass by. August is mostly interested in hearing news of others of the lone ascetic monks and is going straight to the church ignoring the attention of the villagers toward the woman in his cart.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #16.9, Thursday, January 21, 2021

Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.

         This icy freeze was late in coming this year, but the flood that washed out the creek we followed sent the three of us wet and shivering, waiting for our wools to dry and giving us time to scrape the leathers and mend the fabrics. The various small furs we have gathered along the way are cleaned and patched together to give extra warmth to our clothing. I stitched a pair of shoes for August with ermine tails for trims. But of course I suppose such luxury is an offense to August’s holy commitment to poverty and personal suffering.

         I can understand fasting as a spiritual practice. I do practice the fast at times when I feel sated in earth’s abundance and numbing to the spiritual. It’s a natural suffering that when done prayerfully encourages empathy for the poor and enriches my prayers of gratitude even for small portions. But when it becomes a display of unction in order that I may stand apart as superior to the community of Christians sacrifice separates me from true prayers to God and honest love of neighbor. I was blessed to see Jesus’ example of this, personally. [Luke 5:16 for example] And I know there is only a slender thread between true spiritual practice and an outward display of righteousness. Yet this narrow edge is always visible to God even when it is hard for human eyes to see. And surely, no human can be a worthy judge of the motives of another’s spiritual practice. So who am I to say that God doesn’t love the bare feet of August walking in the winter snows? Perhaps the freezing of the feet is a true sacrifice and it’s possible it brings August into the divine presence in a way Nic or I could never know. While I am cobbling together an analytical acceptance of the bare feet, Nic just issues an order.

         “August, you are not alone with God in your cave just now. You are part of a journey of the three of us so you are in community with others who are also bound by the love commandment. Lazarus has stitched for you some warm shoes. You must wear them.”

         “My bare feet are not for you to judge. It is something between me and my God.”

         Nic argues, “My God is the same God you are calling your God and that God calls us to care for the suffering of others.”

(Continues Tuesday January 26)

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Post #16.8, Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.

         This campsite we made in the haste of rising water will serve us well for a few days while the wools dry and the small furs we have gathered can be soaked in herbs and scraped and pounded clean for use or trade. A newly formed spread of the creek into small ponds is now filled with some large fish trapped in the flood so we feast on fish.

         Nic offers August his suggestions for remaking the robe. It’s obvious August feels misunderstood. August takes a pause before responding to Nic and leans in towards the campfire poking at the flame with a twig.

         “If it’s suitable for a man, it’s suitable for me,” August says. 

         Nic misses the point completely and offers a naïve soldier’s thoughts on remaking the robe into a garment he explains as “more suitable for a woman.”  He lays out the fabric on the ground with a cinctured waist and strangely bold pockets for some imaginary gigantic breasts between the arms as only a chaste soldier could imagine a woman. 

         My loud laugh at Nic’s idea of woman is clearly inappropriate as neither Nic, nor August thought a strangely breasted monk’s robe was funny. My guffaw, and August’s silence and clenched jaw lead Nic to offer his defense.

          “But you’re a woman!” Nic is clearly confused.

         August answers with empathy for Nic having encountered this kind of ignorance before and maybe even with less accepting company. “Only my body is of a woman. I’ve been living a man’s life since I was a child and have always been more comfortable this way. Tailoring my robe into a woman’s garment would make others see me as how I am physically defined, not who I am as a person and how I see myself. Aside from the complications of living a monastic life as a woman, people would treat me much differently if they perceived me as such. That is not what I want. Regardless of my body, my soul is a man’s, and I give grace to God each day when I affirm that.” [footnote]

         Nic offers his pensive awareness. “I surely know what it is to have the soul of a monk clad in the armor of a soldier. I just never thought of the soul of a man, a stone carver, a monk with the physical person of a woman. But clearly it is so, Brother August.”

[footnote] Thank you Vic Heitzman, for writing August’s words into this conversation.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #16.7, Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.

         This morning the creek is slowed, the flood withdrawing, but we will have to wait a little longer to scour the tangles left after the washout before we can search for August’s wools.

         Waiting here by the fire August tells of his life.

         He was set free to be who he is by a fearless and loving family who would surely need to receive news if he were washed away in a flood. The monk tells us of a childhood, always at one building site or another as his father was an itinerate craftsman — a carpenter who helped set up the crane for lifting huge stones. In these times, the stones being laid are the walls of churches and monasteries.

         August says he has a twin sister, nothing like him. But he was the first born accepted as a son into his family of mostly. As firstborn, August believed his father was particularly proud of him. He went with his father to the work sites and watched the various craftsmen at their tasks. He tells us as a youth he observed creative human hands working with stone and wood. And at the same time, these work places were the holy places where the voices of the monks echoed the psalms and prayers of ancient worship. As he explains it, his childhood was “fully blessed with the magnificent mingle of earth-stuff and Spirit.” This creative bond – earth and Spirit  — became his longing in life. And so he became an artist in stone as he committed his life to holy purpose.

         The receding creek waters reveal a great unraveling of land debris and water’s dregs twisted together in muddy dams now re-shaping the diminished flow of the creek. We walk creek-side, downstream in search of the robe. Nic has his sword drawn and is using it to turn over debris bundles in the murk. He retrieves the carcass of a marmot to rescue the fur; then he sets free a rat still tangled in debris. August goes ahead of us and reports a glimpse of the robe attached to a tendriled root stuck mid-stream. Wading into the creek Nic is able to retrieve slathers of waterlogged wool. It appears August will be borrowing my cloak for a few more days. Meanwhile I’m warding off the shivers with the fleeces we pack along. Maybe marmots have warm fur also. We’ll learn of that soon.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #16.6, Thursday, January 14, 2021

Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.

         Add a deluge of rain to our tendril of a creek and now it foams and roars. It is well out of the banks, and surely it is a very deep river even as the storm lets up.  We decide to set our camp on higher ground in case the water rises further; then we can go in search of Augusta’s monk’s robe whenever it happens that the water recedes back into its banks. We make our night fire, even though it is early yet. We have a pot of porridge for our meal. Now that she is known to be a woman, Augusta joins us for this.

         I mention that I have known of women ascetics before, often hiding gender and identity in men’s clothing in order to escape a brutal father or a wrong marriage. I ask Augusta if she is in fear of being hunted by her family. We really need to know if there is danger now that Nic and I know her secret.

         And she says she also knows of some of the desert ammas who dress in men’s clothing to hide their identities in order to start life anew.  She said her own spiritual guide was a woman who wanted to live in the caves of Tours in order to be near the Shrine of the Saint, but her father found her and returned her to her family near Chartres. Eventually she escaped and once again returned to Tours. [Footnote]

         Augusta explains she isn’t one who must run away from her family. It’s more like she is walking toward the life she is called to. And she asks us to call her “August.” So we will. August says he dresses in a man’s robe because that is what he believes is his holy calling. Of course all three of us can easily imagine the inconvenience of visiting Antton’s quarry as a woman who cuts stone. His banter would be relentless. But August wants us to know who he is. And now that we can accept August, with a woman’s voice, our vesper psalms have three parts. Our music certainly pleases heaven this night.

(Continues Tuesday January 19)

[Footnote] The Forgotten Desert Mothers, Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women by Laura Swan, Paulist Press, New York/Mahwah. N.J. Copyright © 2001 Saint Placid Priory is a collection of  histories of women from whom this fictional character was drawn.

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Post #16.5, Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.

         Caught in the current, the little monk, with all his strength is able to stop himself from the pull of raging river by grabbing onto a low tree branch rooted to the opposite bank. The ribbons he was wrapped in flow loose and twist and coil on with the fury. But the pale naked human form is clinging to the tree limb with quivering strength. I leave my cloak and horse and discover the icy water with the relentless power of current. The little monk has courage and fortitude enough to trust me and let go of the limb allowing me to take him with an arm around his neck to keep his head up, and together we float downstream as I can only make slow progress with swimming for the two of us in the raging water to reach the bank. Umber wanders near to where we land with my cloak still lain across his back.

         I wrap the shivering monk in my rain soaked wool but now I have seen the naked breasts that the ribbons were meant to bind. And now, I hear her prayer aloud, thanking God with the clear and strong voice of a woman. “Thank you God, that the ox is in the care of a good man. And now, Dear God, may my rescue back to life be of service to you alone. Amen.”

         August, or I guess I should call her Augusta, still has strength enough to sit astride my horse as I walk them back upstream to Nic and the oxcart. Nic is rinsing thick mud from the knees and belly of the grateful ox. I see our rope of hemp is tied to one horn of the soldier’s saddle on The Rose, and Augusta and I both can see that Nic is indeed a very good man and he does have knowledge of oxen. Nic and The Rose were able to free the ox from the deep mud and offer it the comfort and assurance Augusta entrusted to Nic in her prayer aloud of thanksgiving.

         The little monk pulls the hood of my cloak over her head to hide her face from Nic, but Nic has already had a glimpse.

         Nic greets the shivering wools with his amazement. “So that is why we never see your tonsured head!  You are so young yet and you haven’t even a hair of a beard!  I see now this August, our desert ‘father’ is but a child!”

         I am the one to say it, “Our desert ‘father’ is a desert mother, an amma.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #16.4, Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.

         For a few days into this journey now, we’ve been following a slender twig of a creek taking us on a flattened plain northward ever inching toward Gaul. The still of winter has a clarity allowed to go unnoticed by those who wish to curl in fleeces and wools and cluster by ember as we do each night on our way. Well, Nic and I stay near the fire at night.  August still chooses to stay in his cart with the watchful mother in stone set onto the oxcart still crated in wood with handles for lifting and moving.

         In the morning, the last coil of smoke of the dying embers wends its way skyward, tickling the fat belly of rolling grey clouds, an impending winter’s rainstorm. Our tarp and fleeces are barely strapped onto the horses when the storm lets loose a deluge. It is the long cleansing and soaking rain Nic mentioned in his hopes for companions with better fragrance.

         But in the torrents we find we are on the wrong side of the creek, and the swift flowing turbulence seems to worsen by the moment.  So we choose to cross over while we can. The horses prance in two giant leaps, getting only our feet into the froth, but the ox and the cart are not so nimble. The ox is nearly mired in mud and the cart and the statue are caught in the turbulence pulling at the ox’s yoke.  Quickly, August releases the yoke pins freeing the ox from the load, and leaving the three of us with all our strength to roll the cart onto the dry bank. Nic, then turns his attention to the panicked and bellowing ox sinking into the mud as August is swept away in this instant into the deepening flow midstream.

         An air pocket has made his huge wool a fast floating bubble, but surely it will soak through and pull the little monk as quickly underwater as he is now floating downstream. I mount Umber and follow the floating father downstream until the heavy wool sinks away.  And now, spinning on the current is a slender pale being apparently wrapped up with ribbons wound around his chest.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #16.3, Thursday, January 7, 2021

Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.

         We are crossing through the hills beyond the mountains into  Gaul — two men on horseback and a lone monk with an oxcart — moving at the speed of one man walking beside his ox. From time to time Nic and The Rose go ahead of us and scout out the next grassy lee or a quiet creek for a stopping place. The little monk has chosen to take this winter’s walk without shoes. It is a monkish sort of thing to do, I know, and gratefully, the earth is not yet frozen solid. I also notice, whenever we stop for rest he quickly wraps his tiny pale feet up in his wools. We all know frozen toes could cause a long healing.

         We find the foothills of the mountains have many more fine places to pitch our camp than the steeper climbs of the range we’ve already crossed. So this night the tarp is slung and the fire built in a near perfect setting. Tonight for our vesper prayers August has withdrawn to the privacy of his cart for his own prayers. But Nic and I choose to sing a psalm we both know as a call and response.

         I shout the first phrase, “Praise the Lord!”

         Nic sings his answers from Psalm 147, “How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.” …

         “God determines the number of stars…” I shout.

         Answers Nic, “God gives to all of them their names.” …

         Our joyful song of psalm goes on blessing all of Creation, the snow, “like wool” and frost “like ashes” and even the hail reminds the psalmist of manna from heaven.

         It is Nic’s echo, “who can stand against his cold?”

         And I sing “He sends out his word, and melts them”

         Nic’s voice sings the psalmist’s response, “he makes the wind blow, and the waters flow.”

          Maybe we have a secret hope that August will find a blessing in hearing others at worship. I wonder if he may be so concerned maintaining his Christian piety that he hasn’t noticed it is something he shares with us also. And of course, we may be so concerned about showing off Christian piety to him that we ignore his need for solitude. So be it.

         The night is beautiful, but crisp with winter. Thank you, God.

(Continues Tuesday January 12)

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Post #16.2, Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.

We are on our journey, two horses a good distance behind the ox cart with the pace set by the little desert father and the ox. We are sent on our way most rudely this morning by the seller of Gallo-Roman stone gods and goddesses because we rejected Antton’s invitation to stay for his party. But surely our own dedication to a teacher who celebrates with the poor and outcast would have made us unfit guests for Antton’s festival of the Solar New Year. I do hope he finds some guests. It’s a bleak beginning to a year with having the very dregs of possible guests turn you down.

         Nic mentions, “I hope August didn’t hear that awful language. I mean in some ways the truth of it just made it so much worse. I too notice the stench of that little fellow but that’s not a reason to use such filthy slurs.”

         “As I said Nic, I’ve spent many long and peaceful times in prayer alone in wilderness places, and sometimes I’ve been with others of these ascetics and I know that baths and sweet scented oils are the stuff of personal wealth and vanity. So desert fathers are known to separate themselves from worldly bliss by making a deliberate effort to show devotion in this way.”

         “You mean you are saying August accepts that he stinks?”

         “Yes. In fact he may see it as a sign of his pious commitment to his life of prayer. And, after-all, it is us, asking the favor of him that he give up his cave and solitude and take this journey with us. I mean, alone in a cave with his ox and with God, who probably loves all smells of Creation, he surely doesn’t require the ancient Nicodemus’s hundred pounds of fragrant herbs to enhance a cave. He is who he is.”

         Nic adds a wayward hope. “But if the heavens took pity on these two fellow travelers who are riding with him, perhaps the clouds would let loose a great torrent of cleansing rain and we would all just smell of  clean wet wool together.”

         Today, the sky is gleaming cobalt for a new, unblemished year marked by the sun’s journey.

         Dear God, the beauty of this new morning seems a gift way beyond any intentions of humility.  The paradox of poverty in a beautiful world is the gracious gift of Creation we all share.  Thank you God, Amen.  And may it ever be so.  

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #16.1, Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.

         The elfin monk wanders pensively among the Roman statues as we had done at first, seemingly lost in a maze of promised pagan fixes. He is gazing into the laughing face of the fertility goddess with her huge bowl of too much grain. Maybe he too is wondering what the prayers to such a goddess would sound like. Or is he simply studying the workmanship of another sculptor’s hand? We know he is wondering what has become of the Christian subject by his own hand.

         Nic offers answer, “We’ve moved the Christian sculpture into a more sacred space. She is in the oxen shed.”

         The hood and robe of August return a nod of gratitude and he follows Nic to the shed. He looks on it as a stranger as though he has never seen his own work before, but isn’t that the experience of every artist – step back for moment — see it with empathy with the eyes of the stranger seeing it for the first time. First there is a moment of surprise, then the search for the flaw. It’s a persistent dialogue of the artist to himself, “how does it look to others?” “If only I had …”

         I interrupt his wonder, “She is beautiful, isn’t she; just like the author of Luke must have seen her in his thoughts, a woman of poverty and simplicity yet she is holding the richest gift ever given to humankind.”

         The shoulders of the wool robe melt in a human moment, then the little monk brushes off my assessment, a compliment, adroitly skipping over any appearance of a prideful sin, bowing silently and prayerfully.

         We lift the statue onto the ox cart and prepare to start the slow walk to Ligugé, when host Antton comes along, not to wish us well on our journey, but to insist we are rude for leaving before his great festival of the New Year. Apparently his Gallo-Roman guest list has failed him.  Nic offers our most well-mannered rejection but rejection is rejection, and Antton handles it with a heap of flaming language following us out his lane and onto the public path. His words surely include the complete thesaurus listing for Hell.  It ends with “… and furthermore the little priest smells like a cur in heat!” Maybe August is already walking the ox far enough ahead of us and didn’t hear it, or maybe he just turned away and let the jeering roll off his back.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #15.15, Thursday, December 31, 2020

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

         In these days of waiting for the oxcart and driver, Nic and I decide to take a morning ride to give the horses a stretch and explore the various paths going out from this place possibly to find our direction on toward the north.

         The river we were following cuts deep into a valley with sandstone cliffs which is apparently the quarry being used to source the stone for the carvings.  Now, around a bend we come upon another thing, the monk with the oxcart waiting here these same days that we have been waiting at the thatched houses. Of course! This is the meeting place he knew of when making his transactions with Antton. Surely this would be the meeting place.

         “Good Morning Brother August! We’ve been waiting for you in the wrong place! Come along, follow us to the houses.”

         The messenger was right. He doesn’t speak. He’s a little fellow, in too-large a hooded monk’s robe made of rough wool. The hood is pulled over his head and covers his face completely.  The very long robe is drawn up with a sash at the waist so that his very small and pale bare feet are nearly completely exposed. Since he is a stoneworker it is something of a wonder how such a tiny creature would manage large pieces of stone. But now we see the cart is constructed with winch and ropes along with an extra layer of flooring that can be let down and bolted to the cart as a ramp.

         He easily slips the single yoke over one side of the ox’s head, then the other, then drops the pin in place to hitch the cart. Nic is offering to help, dismounting and leaving me to hold the rein of The Rose. He did tell me once he was more comfortable with oxen than horses.

         Nic offers. August holds the hood of his robe at the chin to get a peak out at Nic, then shakes his head, rejecting the help, gesturing the scar on Nic’s cheek.

         “No, no” Nic answers, “I am really accustomed to oxen. My scar is from a knife fight, not from an ox horn. Really I can be helpful.”

         But he is shooed back to his horse with a kind of grandfatherly back of the hand gesture as one would use to send children off to play.

(Continues Tuesday, January 5, 2021)

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Post #15.14, Weds., December 30, 2020

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

         We are here for a few days at this place where sandstone is sculpted into statuary, awaiting transportation for the sculpture of Mary and her baby. Nic paid a healthy sum to this man, Antton, to take this Christian work as a gift to the monastery near Poitiers where we are going.

         A messenger who was sent to find an oxcart with a driver willing to make a long journey into Gaul has returned alone.  It seems an oxcart makes slow any journey and the driver who is willing to help us seems not to acknowledge timeliness. The messenger on horseback was impatient and rode ahead leaving the cart and driver alone on the slow path into these foothills.

         The messenger warns us we will be completely bored with this fellow August. “He never even speaks and he and the ox drudge onward only slow or slower.”

         Nic assures the messenger we won’t suffer from the silence. “Laz can talk on enough for the three of us.”

         “Thanks Nic. I thought you liked all my stories.”

         But it is true I am never short of story. Now memories of pilgrimages into wildernesses inform my extended chatter.

         “I have to tell you Nic, I’ve followed this lifestyle at times myself. For me, I’ve gone alone into desolate places in order to have uncountable days for healing both physically and spiritually.”

         Nic’s thought, “As for me, I think I would get lonely if it were just God and me forever, but then you probably wouldn’t be one to feel so alone; you would just keep on spinning your stories even if no human brother were listening and you would never notice that empty moment when even God seems far off.”

         I give Nic my most sympathetic moment of silence right here before I answer. I know he is one who thrives in community. It is his gift.

          Nic breaks the silence, “Maybe it has to be a personal thing.”

         “Yes, maybe it is personal and that’s how it is so different from the cults.  I find it is a commitment woven from many individual experiences of awakenings. And I know from talking to some of these desert fathers their reasons differ. Some go into the wilderness looking for penance while others are following the hints and flashes they have already seen of mystical illumination.  I also know of others who become lone pilgrims in order to enter into a lifestyle of God’s loving acceptance when the world around them seems so smudged in fears and hates.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #15.13, Tuesday, December 29, 2020

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

         We’re guests at this place where statuary is carved from the quarried sandstone. Most of these works are icons for pagan ritual. But here amid the cacophony of Roman talisman is also a carving in a Christian theme of a common woman of Galilee with a beloved baby in her arms. Nic made a deal in gold to take this Christian statue to be a gift to the monastery near Poitiers. The arrangement includes the purchase of grain to fill our sacks and a payment to send a messenger into the wilderness to find the sculptor who has an ox cart and may be willing to help in transporting it to the monastery. Antton thinks the artist may have enough of an interest in seeing this work off to a Christian place that he would be willing to take on such a journey. We are told he is what is called a “Desert Father.”

         “Desert Fathers” I explain to Nic, “are ascetics who choose to devote their lives, or at least some years of their lives, to long hours of daily prayer and other spiritual practice.”

         “Spiritual practice?” Nic asks.

          “Some people find spiritual practice in fasting and ritual or maybe in mentoring others. Some are artists, writers and scribes, or keepers of books. Some simply pray for many long hours. One I knew was a carpenter. In these times they might choose a solitary life in a wilderness area like Egypt, hence the term ‘desert.’ Some live in caves or small huts often alone and isolated. Even though we knew Jesus to be a sociable sort, always showing up for the party this solitary practice was actually modeled after Jesus. Jesus often went alone into wilderness places for his own personal fasting and prayer and his most intimate hours with God. I knew that of him and it is written in the gospels as well.”

         Nic asks, “How is this extreme asceticism different from the cults of the heretics the councils of Hispania had opposed?”

         The answers are obvious. “It isn’t a cult. A cult functions with rules set down by the deceit of a charismatic leader making hoax of known truths, and it eventually it leads the followers to their deaths. The desert fathers practice an individual faith journey with promises  between God and that ascetic; it’s not about loyalty to a human leader based on lies and fear. True spiritual practice is often a twisting path but it leads to spiritual renewal and to life. It is not deadly.”

         The messenger returns without the desert father or the oxcart.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #15.12, Thursday, December 24, 2020

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

         Nic and I carried the statue of the mother and child into the adjacent ox shed and away from the pagan statuary so we could have a better look at the work. My thought, this would make a wonderful gift to bring with us to the monastery of Ligugé where we will be seeking our callings. Nic worries about paying a pagan price for Christian art, and anyway how would we carry it?

         But here we find ourselves in an ox shed on the Eve of the Christ Mass when the whole Christian universe is hearing this same story from Luke 2. The song of Hannah becomes the lyric of Mary to turn the world upside-down, to lift up the poor and send the pompous power mongers meekly groveling in the streets. Will this kind of justice ever be so? Is the Jesus love intended for the whole world, or just for one heart at a time?

         I knew nothing of that birth. I don’t know if Luke was just spinning a story to speak of the simplicity of holy justice. I can’t verify the tangible details of manger and angels. The truth of it, I can verify. Undoubtedly the gospel writer crafted it from tender metaphor of barn animals and wet and messy human birth in order to tell the universal truth of a simple and just God. This God is a mother’s love that cannot be shaken by any acts of her beloved Creation. It would be hard to offer up a story of the Creator of the wholeness that is love, life and spirit, the unspeakable unnamed God, without using the simple metaphor of a mother and a child. And I do know Jesus was born, somewhere, some way and lived as a child who learned a trade in order to create things with his own hands. And in my strange circumstance of life I did also know his mother. She was Jewish. Her riches were her children and her faith.  Well, faith is not a thing one keeps as a treasure. It is said to be more like a song; it lives as it is sung, and when it is not being sung it doesn’t exist. [footnote]  But Mary, his mother was always singing.

         We, Nic, the ox and I, are together here in the silence of our prayers for however long. The ox was at first, standing. When we came into its place the ox stepped back in apprehension of a huge load of stone it would need to drag somewhere. It was accompanied by these two human intruders who are us. Now the ox has folded his knees with us for his own peaceful night’s rest.

         … and to all a good night.

footnote – Pastor, the Reverend Doctor Kelly Brill of Avon Lake U.C.C., spoke this beautiful metaphor for faith like a song in a message on Matthew 14.  She said she is not the first to use that metaphor which makes faith nearly into a verb, and not a thing one can keep and own. Thanks Pastor Kelly.

(Continues Tuesday, December 29)

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Post #15.11, Wed., December 23, 2020

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

         We asked the one who markets stone carvings what artist created this sculpture of the baby Jesus and his mother.

         Antton explains, “We were at the quarry we use to cut the stone for this winter’s work when we discovered another man using our source. We thought we had our own place. But there were three of us and only one of him and he was of a diminutive stature, so we could’ve bruised him and sent him on his way but of course, I have a better sense for marketing than that and I happen to know raw stone is of no value to anyone but a sculptor. So I offered to allow him to use our stone pit if I could sell his works for a slight profit. We made a deal to trade stone for statue. The next time he arrived at our quarry he had this statue in his oxcart.”

         “So who is it who carved this?”

         “Maybe you would want to be asking what the price of this is. Christians seem to cling to poverty over wealth. So I think you will find I can sell it to you at a very low price and still glean my profit.”

         Now it seems Nic is negotiating for this thing he doesn’t even like.

         “Lazarus and I’ve looked upon this woman and her infant with my Christian eyes which tend to see things in ways different from Antton. So here we find a strange paradox, the very face of empathetic poverty from a gospel story we know well, here for sale amid all these pagan idols purposed for marketing hollow wishes and empty dreams of wealth and prosperity. I fear this lady is not a work that should be sold for gold or silver, but obviously she was created as a sacrificial gift by an artist whose work was an act of worship celebrating the Creator. I believe this should be gifted, and not sold for coin.”

         The seller of statues named a price anyway. Nic baulked. I suggested we move the mother and child away from the clutter of the other statuary so that Nic and I could see it more clearly for what it is.

         She is still in the wood base used for moving statuary and it isn’t hard for two men to carry her into the adjacent ox shed so that we can better see her in simplicity. And I think Nic will understand my affinity for this work as it is in a proper setting.

         But of course, the problem remains, what would two traveling Christians do with a statue?

(Continues tomorrow – On Christmas Eve)