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#38.14, Weds., Nov. 30, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Cottage in the Vosges

         This brittle morning I find easy success in hunting a buck for our winter stews.  It falls so near our cottage that I can dress it right here, and don’t have to coax the donkey to drag it on a sledge back to the house.

         Colleen says Ana is required to stay in bed these weeks to make sure the baby is safe.  She says she has a concern. I’m glad we have Colleen because Ana has no experience with this, and I might not have a concern when concern is most needed. In other times I’ve had a wife with less fortitude than Ana and the babies have been born safely. So why would I have a concern now? I know this bed thing is frustrating for Ana. Brother Servant will be bringing some wool, that was gifted to Annegray, so that Ana can twist it to yarns. She’ll be glad to have her hands busy with that.

         Colleen is just finishing planting the herbs as best she can in the nearly frozen ground and now I see she’s going into the stable. Immediately she runs from the stable into the cottage flailing her arms, slamming the door as though something had frightened her.

         I don’t have to wonder what she saw there.  Now a monk is coming out of the stable brushing hay from his robe, looking around with apprehension for someone watching but he doesn’t notice me way out here in the pasture.  He walks off toward the monastery path, and stops just near the brink of the hill, as another monk comes out of the stable. He also glances around then slinks along with way more caution than would be needed if Colleen had just caught them in solemn prayer. He meets the first monk and they go off hand-in-hand down the hill.

          It’s obvious that in our absence this stable served to hide a tryst or maybe more. That explains the abundance of clean, soft straw in the stable loft, when everything else from the field and the garden was just dumped in the house for storage.

         Now we are home and have plenty. Thank you God, for all this goodness, and for this deer, for his good life in the beauty of nature and a good death of a deer that feeds our need just now. Guide me now, that in all this plenty I not loose sight of the sanctity of life. Amen. 

(Continues Thursday, December 1, 2022)

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#38.13, Tues., Nov. 29, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Cottage in the Vosges

         Brother Servant finds Colleen’s porridge delicious. But Ana suggests I do the cooking if Colleen doesn’t allow her out of bed to do it herself. I’m fine with that. Let’s let Ana rest. I think we can spare a turnip from the heap of roots, and Ana requests some. Oh, yes, and we still have the sacks of rooted herbs out in the cart. No one has to eat boring porridge.

         “So how is it that the cottage wasn’t used for the guests of Annegray?” I ask Brother Servant.

           “Guests and beasts alike made good use of the stable, which allowed us to keep the cottage clean and tidy for your return.”

         “Clean and tidy, you say it were?” Colleen asks with her way of blunt honesty.

         Brother Servant defends. “It is clean and tidy, except for the abundant harvest of natural things, leavings from the critters, and soil left by the rain.”

         I mean to bend Colleen’s accusation. “The whole farm is all such a wonderful surprise for us Brother Servant.  Thank you so much for taking care of it all, and especially for all the fine work on the stable!”

         Colleen nods her solicited approval. I think she’s really trying to understand that it is a different standard of clean and tidy among monks in a wilderness than a midwife would find encountering a well- maintained villa.

         I step outside with Brother Servant as he is leaving and we catch sight of a rampage of antlered bucks racing across the meadow. It would be a good time to hunt one, as the wolves also calculate opportunity in this season of the running of the deer. Tonight I will fletch an arrow or two, and we will soon have meat in our winter stews and no more talk about barely and turnips.

         Outside, here, I find that sack of herbs is still in the cart.  It’s damp so maybe the roots are still good for planting. In fact these sacks are dripping with gray water and clumps of clay. Maybe I only brought this filthy bag into the house to tease the tidy Colleen. My centuries haven’t let me go of my nature as a once pesky little brother. But it is true, we also need to make a plan to plant the herbs before the hard freeze of winter.

         Dear God may I be considerate of others with different tidiness standards.

(Continues Tomorrow)

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#38.12, Thurs., Nov. 24, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Cottage in the Vosges

         “So it will be longer walk for us to Luxovium.” I’m just thinking aloud to the Brother Servant. “We will have to go ten miles now.”

         “You’ve no idea where Luxeuil is, Ezra?  Your hill cottage is a stopping place on the way there. People going from one to the other will stop here for a rest.”

         “That will be wonderful!” answers Ana.

         Now inside it is cold and dark and here are heaps of grain bags and bundles of garden roots laying hither and thither. A rat runs and hides. The stable is wonderful, but the cottage is the storage barn for the harvest –ragged sacks of grain with chewed mouse holes, and heaps of carrots, beets and turnips with the sweet smell of a barn and the deep mossy fragrance of root cellar. The monks moved our hearthstone to the far wall to warm the stable side so the new roof I made was now opened for the smoke.  Snow has fallen through both the new and the old smoke holes, so I’ll have patching to do first off. 

         We set about starting the fire and moving things to make a suitable place for people. Ana would be laying fire logs, but Colleen objects to her doing anything at all; so I finish making the fire, while Colleen inspects the little backroom and finds the folded blanket and sheet set aside in a nearly dry place. She prepares the big bed for Ana to rest.  Brother Servant comes in from the stable to collect some oats and a bundle of thorny hay to please our cow and donkey. I have to roll the large caldron to the new hearth place. Checking outside I find the well is still fresh and deep.

         Now stoic Colleen seems a bundle of busy – sending Ana to bed with a warm stone from near the fire, at her feet– checking on Jack in the stable. Does she think Brother Servant wouldn’t know how to feed and water a donkey? And now she is creating a porridge for all of us with a meager cup of barley and some fresh milk, but no finer flavors of herbs. It’s just as poverty would demand.

         Dear God, thank you for this warm circle of home, this abundance and promise. Amen.

 (Continues Tuesday, November 29)

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#38.11, Weds., Nov 23, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. At home in the Vosges Mountains

         On this new day the earth is glittering pure and glazed in snow — a blank page for new beginnings.  This morning we will climb the hill to the cottage we left last summer as a still sleeping dream of a home. Brother Servant is anxious to come along with us promising that when we see it, we will be surprised. When we left in early summer I had just completed the roof on the house, but we had only a frame of the stable. And now, here we are bringing a cow and a donkey with us in the wintertime so a stable will be needed. The fields were turned over and planted last spring before we knew we wouldn’t be here for the harvest. So much was left undone.

         Colleen takes one look at the steep path up the hill and insists Ana ride in the cart. Ana argues that she has walked this path many times before.  Colleen insists, and Ana rides. I wonder if Colleen’s worries for Ana are more informed than my own. I suppose so.  Brother Servant thinks both women and the bird in the cage should ride, while he leads the donkey and I guide the cow. 

         Now I wish Ana wasn’t hidden in the cart cover so she could see what I see. The rising sun has spread light beams on this hilltop glistening the snow. First we see our wheat field, a smooth place in all this whiteness with a few yellow stalks of straw leftover from the harvest. But it is a well-groomed field at rest for winter.  Then, rising on the round of the hilltop, there is the cottage with the end a stable completed. It’s beautifully made with shaven boards and a fine thatched roof.  No wonder Brother Servant came with us glowing as a gifter.

         “It’s beautiful Brother! How is it monks can make such a fine stable for beasts, then make their own beds in a ruin under a string of tarps at Annegray?”

         Brother Servant glances to the ground, groping for the veil of humility to hide his joy in generosity.

         He tells us, “This cottage has served us all well throughout the summer, as hospitality calls for more than we can offer at Annegray. I know Father Columbanus is aware of our need for a better accommodation in order to have an actual monastery, not just a wilderness ruin. So our plan to move to Luxeuil will be a welcome improvement.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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#38.10, Tues., Nov. 22, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. the road home

         Months ago, Ana and I had journeyed so long on horseback following a different route to deliver messages to the Bishops of Austrasia. Now we have a more direct path and it seems we are already starting the climb into distant mountains.

         The infant in Ana’s womb is demanding smoother roads and more stops for rest. Ana chooses to walk much of the time, though I keep suggesting she might prefer to ride in the covered cart lying on  the warm fleeces. It seems she doesn’t find that comfortable. Colleen tells me I shouldn’t try to tell her how to be comfortable because I don’t know. We set this slow pace for everyone with a cow and a pregnant woman leading. Dear God, stay close.

         Despite our slow pace, the mountains that fringe the horizon now impose a larger shadow each morning we travel east, and now the path is steeper and the creek beds cut deeper. When we ask directions to Annegray the peasants here have heard of it and it seems everyone we ask points the same direction.

         It’s steadily snowing as we reach the ancient guard tower and these fallen walls of Annegray. We are in time to join in vespers. Ana’s woolen monk’s robe won’t reach around her belly anymore. So we are keeping no secret here, where some months ago the Father struggled to bless our union as a marriage because we likely would have no children.

         I’m assigned a guest room with the barbarians rather than the covered guest room where Ana and Colleen may stay. I’m glad Ana has Colleen with her now.

         By the dark hour of matins its just the four monks and I from our party who join with these brothers for the chanting of the Psalms. Even before sunrise, the monks with us delivered the gifts from King Guntrum to Father Columbanus.

         “So the king would have us take this whole community we have started here into another old place?” The father noted.

         “It’s thought to be a Roman remnant in better condition and more appropriate for a community.” Answered the monk speaking for King Guntram.

         “I know it well.  I’ve been there for my own prayers. And while I’ve prayed for guidance expecting God to send me into a deeper wilderness, now it is the opposite of that. How will we ever find our solace there?”

         “We assure him we’ve brought tools.”

 (Continues tomorrow)

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#38.9, Thurs., Nov. 17, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons to Luxeuil

The well is restored and now I’ve gotten myself out. The four barbarians are here with the people from the cottages and they are passing a flask of ale and celebrating the success of the well water I’m doused in. And here I am, shivering, unnoticed, uncelebrated. Dear God, have you also forgotten me here?  At least Ana would think me the hero of this. But the women and the monks aren’t here. I ask.

         The would-be psalm-burning barbarian answers with the slur of ale. “They’ve all gone to the fields to gather straw and glean the last of the grain.”

         I look beyond my little woes and see the donkey and the cart and some figures moving in the field far away. Right now I don’t know which I want most, Ana’s compassion or my warm fleece from that cart.

         Some of these people from the cottages come with more ale and a whole bale of fleeces they’ve bundled for trade, along with a deerskin, all for our payment for the restoration of the well. With only a few swallows of ale I am flat out on the heap of fleeces, waking to Ana telling me we also have sacks of grain, bundles of hay and straw enough to fill the wagon bed, covering over the tools and the ropes and the bell. We still have the Psalms and the velum sheets and inks.  The villagers have water. The barbarians have fleeces, the monks and the cow and the donkey and the mules and the women all have food and warmth… And I am on earth above, once again. Dear God, thank you. Amen.

         We stay another night as guests in the straw above our beasts. And now, today we set out again on our trek. The November sky, flat, veil of clay is above and a hardened colorless earth spreads out below leaving hardly a walking space between the layers of cold. But now we have supplies, and also, a true expectation that it is a journey.  Those who thought it would be an easy day’s walk don’t believe that anymore, and now all of us are prepared. It was a misunderstanding.

         But Ana and I who came from Annegray on horseback expect we will not see our cottage again at this pace until the Christ Mass or even the Solstice. May that also be a misunderstanding.

(Continues Tuesday, November 22)

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#38.8, Weds., Nov. 16, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons to Luxeuil

         Now, deep in the well, I can see the dot of sky above me and I am assured there is an earth above. Even the sky continues to be. It isn’t as cold here as I’d anticipated.  Though I find my looped and knotted rope wasn’t long enough to reach all the way down so I have a few feet of a drop at the end and I know I will be depending on others to draw me back up.

         And so, I begin the work of dumping out the new rocks in the pail, digging the mud out and filling the pail back again with mud for the hoist up. I give the pail rope a tug and it’s drawn up and emptied, then it comes down again filled with more rocks for me to lay to support the wall where the earthen clay is washed out.

         Beneath my feet is slushy now. I wedge the rocks back in place that had washed out near the dry clay at the bottom. I see now how the washout stifled the water source by filling in the depth, blocking the flow with mucky clay. The water is still here beneath this mud.

         This routine goes on and on. I’ve lost sense of time. Mostly I notice it’s harder to breath and every rock seems heavier than the last.  Now water is seeping in faster beneath my feet, pouring between the cracks in the lowest part of the wall I’ve laid. And, in fact, water is coming in all around. I tip the pail to fill it with water now, and tug the rope. It is drawn up filled. Still they send it back filled with rocks. I find I am a good distance down from my safety rope. So I climb out of the water onto the pail, and tug the rope to be drawn up. I shout for help and someone looks over the edge above. I signal I’m ready to be drawn up as though I’m simply a bucket of clay, which probably I am. I don’t trust the four I call barbarians to pull me up. My distrust is frothing to rage surging as strength. Is this pail rope well anchored now? I don’t know. I find that standing on the pail I can reach the end of my safety line, so I can climb out myself.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#38.7, Tues., Nov. 15, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons to Luxeuil

         In the dawn tranquility and the stagger of morning sleepiness, we make our way to the center of the cottages where there is this community well. Without words, we who will work today are unloading the wagon of ropes and pulleys and we’ve set a tri-pod of logs for a huge pulley. Now the plan is not just some sketch of a what-if, but it’s a true intention.

         I’ve been chosen for the drop into darkness. Maybe because my name is unknown to them, I seem the most expendable person, the one whose loss could cause less grief because I’m unknown.  Only my wife would care, and they don’t know her either. And just now I needn’t worry her with my own little terrors of the dark pit.

           I drop a climbing rope into the well with all its knots and loops that I’ve secured above ground and tied it firmly to a long-standing tree.

         “We don’t need two ropes down there,” says the fellow who would burn the Psalms and trade the bell. “Just ride the pail rope down to test it for weight.”

         “I’d rather let a load of rock fail that test,” I answer back.

         “It won’t fail. Are you afraid we don’t know what we’re doing?”

         “Possibly.”

         We can’t even see to the bottom of this hole. We’re told it’s dry. We drop a flaming torch down. The torch lays on the dry bottom until the flame dwindles in the thinness. We saw how the rocks laid to support the sides at the bottom have fallen into a wash of mud, but the walls above the washout seem in place so maybe the rock wall is holding these depths by shear strength of circle.

         Dear God, stay close – you know how I fear a deep dark hole. Amen. Maybe I’m uniquely phobic because I’ve actually climbed back into life from death a few times, or maybe dark depths are dreaded by anyone.  I don’t know how to compare my own fears to those of another.  But I do dread. I take the rope in hand, as I step over the side of the well, locking the climbing rope between my feet in order to let myself down as slowly as I possibly can. I watch the pail of rock on the central rope pass me by. Why don’t they wait at least until I have my footing?        

(Continues tomorrow)

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#38.6, Thurs., Nov. 10, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons to Luxeuil

         It’s dusk and we’ve stopped at a cottage in a cluster amid these fields and vineyards. These people are hospitable to our cow, donkey and mules, but they haven’t much concern for the eleven of us humankinds. They won’t hear a word of our plan to trade food for tools because they fear for their own winter stores so early in the season.  All they really want are some small sturdy pails for hauling water the distance from the creek because their common well has gone dry. And what is worse the creek will soon freeze over.

         “The well never froze,” they complain.

         Now the snarliest of our four barbarians steps forward. He’s the guy who wants to burn the Psalms, and dump the bell so we can trade the mules.

         “I have a plan!” he announces.

         I listen with trepidation.

         “These farmers have that huge well-pail they can’t carry back from creek. We will drop that into the dry well with a man in it who will dig out their well. Here is this fellow who walks the cow and travels with women.” Yes, that would be me. “He will go down and dig, then with our ropes and pulleys and our sweat we will heft up the bucket to remove the clogging earth and send it down over and over again with rocks to line the wall — until the well is deep enough and flows with water, then we will take our pay for the day’s work in food and fleeces. You’ll have water, we’ll have supplies; everyone is happy, right?

         “First thing in the morning.”

         The plan is made.  We all sleep this night in the haymows over the stables, sheltered and warm.  But I can’t sleep tonight thinking of that terrible task. Why me? But also I should ask, why not me? Someone has to do it.

         Dear God, you gave me this strange way of life and life again.  I know you gave it to me as an earthly sign of spiritual life. But before there is ever-new life there is always a cold darkness –a cave, a dark burial, a time under the earth. So let this plunge into darkness be a blessing for this whole thirsty village. Dear God, stay close, you know I’m afraid. Amen.

         This morning the peasants in the cottages have provided hot porridge for us as we prepare for sinking a deeper well.

(Continues Tuesday, November 15)

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#38.5, Weds., Nov. 9, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons to Luxeuil

         Stuck in the mud as we are, we unhitch the team and lead the mules back to solid ground by the creek. The wagon is unloaded so we can lift it out of the mud. Here are chains and pulleys lots of heavy rope, a sledge hammer and chisels, and buried under everything else, what is this? Maybe it’s a huge iron cooking pot. No. It’s a church bell!  It’s a bell like the one mounted in the tower of the new church in Châlons.  It’s a fine and valuable gift from the King to Father Columbanus. With five strong men, and four monks of questionable durability we lift the wagon from the mud and set it back on firmer ground at the creek road, then haul all that stuff back to the wagon.

         Selling off the stuff seems a wonderful plan for our hungry stomachs right now. But have we abandoned our mission to deliver a proper, well-intentioned gift from the king? Lifting the bell out of the wagon, and then back into the wagon is one of those projects that surely gives holy purpose to brute strength. And by now, the November sun is pretending to warm this noontide though it is actually veiled in winter sky and we are all simply cold and hungry and tired and annoyed. 

         The barley and straw we’ve brought in the donkey cart could see us all through another supper and another night camping, but then that will all be gone too, so we really need to trade for supplies. Now I’m the one who won’t hear of selling the church bell and that means we can’t trade away the mules who can pull it, so all we have to trade are the tools.

         We follow the donkey cart along the creek bed until we come to a fording dip.  Ana and Colleen don’t even ask, they just turn onto a rocky path of a road and we who are walking and those with the hand-cart and the workers with the mule wagon simply follow after without a word.

         Now we find people! They live in a small cluster of cottages. We soon learn they are concerned only for their own need to keep their stash of winter food and fuel and they have no use for tools in this season.  They also have one gargantuan problem right now and trading away their own winter stores isn’t going to solve it.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#38.4, Tues., Nov. 8, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons to Luxeuil

         I know of three ways to plunge ill-prepared into a journey on the wilderness edge of winter: brut ignorance and suffering strength; clever schemes using sparse resources; or we could simply trust the grace of God. Based on my long years of forever I suggest we first rely on the grace of God. God will undoubtedly assign us to care for one another and that will utilize all of our other resources. So we begin.

         The four monks offer ceaseless prayers with calls quoting Psalms and responses that seem to come as grunts and snores from the barbarian hoard with the mules.

          I suggest we place that book of Psalms in the donkey cart. Then the waxed cloth over the monks’ hand-cart can be spread on the ground under the wagon so these men can all crowd together finding warmth for sleeping. We hang the buckskin down the windward edge of the wagon for extra shelter underneath. No one argues. There seems no better option.

         Does useful suggestion make me the leader? Maybe.

         I proclaim, “Tomorrow we will leave the creek path and go in search of supplies for the trade of these tools and chains that weigh the wagon down. Surely replacements of this can be found when they are needed. I know the iron merchant visits the Vosges often.”

         Assuming I am the leader whatever I suggest is simply accepted just because I say it. Of course in my mind my logical plan is to head straight across the fields to find people to trade our tools for food and shelter. And of course when everyone just accepts my plan without question there can be no other idea considered. Ana has suggested we follow the creek to find a crossroad that will lead to people, but our plan is my way.

         Sleep is good and now on this new morning we set out to find the farmers of these fields by driving the mules and the wagon straight across the barren field. We turn the mules and the wagon off the creek path and up the embankment onto the fresh turned earth. But the field isn’t frozen and immediately we are deep in the mud and the mules only sink down with every step.  How can everyone just do whatever I say, even when it’s obviously an ignorant plan? Only Ana had argued. She said we should follow the creek until we met with a roadway. Yet the men all listened to me.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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#38.3, Thurs., Nov. 3, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons to Luxeuil

         Now I’ve learned this band of men who were supposed to have a leader were sent to help turn the ruin called Luxovium into a substantial refuge for the Irish father and his monks. These pilgrims and workers thought it would be only eight miles to Luxeuil. That was a misunderstanding.  Eight miles is the distance between Annegray and Luxovium so here they are on this long journey unprepared.

         The four who absconded with the purse were King’s soldiers sent to lead the others. Of the eight left, four are monks on a pilgrimage sent by the Father Felix to help establish a scriptorium. They brought the handcart well supplied for the work of copying scriptures. And they each have the small traveler’s bags as monks carry on a pilgrimage. The other four are powerful men who, when set on a task for pay will probably do a good day’s work. But they have nothing with them. I think they too would turn back if they could, but now we are a whole day into this trek and here we are on a cold night in November with eight men and two mules with no source of food or shelter or even enough resources to walk back to Châlons. Hungry and angry and tired they could become a fearsome danger to the four monks and also to Ana and Colleen and probably me too, and of course to little Jack the donkey, and maybe the cow would get eaten.

         Dear God take care of us here. My prayer echoes back that ever familiar holy answer: “Don’t be afraid; don’t let these men starve; care for them; never forget they are beloved too.”

         The nine of us men gather at this fire and pass around the pot of porridge the women have provided. The food is thinned out enough that everyone can dip a cup. The monks then consider the story they’ve heard of the feeding of the multitudes from the Gospel of John. That is unlike the other gospel’s stories of miraculous feedings by Jesus. In John, a child steps forward and offers his own little lunch, three loaves and two fishes, and somehow, by the holy sign of God’s love for all people, sharing makes the little become plenty. The sign is in the sharing. [John 6:1-14] Blessing the bread the monks have brought, and passing it, there is enough for everyone.

(Continues Tuesday, November 8)

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#38.2, Weds., Nov. 2, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons to Luxeuil

         I’ve seen merchant caravans purposed with selling and armies driven by power of a hope for victory. I’ve been on pilgrimages, and I’ve been in a band of refugees — Jews leaving Jerusalem for Ephesus — but I’ve never known an entourage to travel with no known purpose but to obey some abandoning leaders and a distant king. Maybe we can have better clarity for this journey once we are fed and warmed by a fire.

         As we search firewood I ask one worker what supplies they have with them in the cart and the wagon.

         “The wagon is for the building; the handcart is covered over with a tarp because it has the message scroll from the king to Columbanus. The king also sends a copy of the Psalms and some of that other stuff monks use with inks.”

         Another straightens himself after a struggled contortion to bend for a burnable stick. “But we could use that cart stuff for kindling now that the king’s men have left.”

         I fear his suggestion was serious.

         “We have enough kindling right here without burning any pages of writing.” I offer, “But have you any barley or beans for food? Have you a cooking pot? Did you bring fleeces or mats for sleeping and food for the mules?”

         “We brought a biscuit for the walk, and the four brother monks from the abbey brought stuff for a stay-over at the Roman ruin where they haven’t even a roof we hear; but none of us thought it would be an overnight journey just getting there.”

         While the men gather around their fire I walk back to Ana and Colleen to explain the predicament. They’ve been waiting for me with a pot of porridge ready. We have plenty so I can take the pot and the bowls back to the men who have nothing.

         “Tomorrow we will need to stock up on supplies for all of you, because it’s a long journey to Annegray, and you were told correctly, much of it has no roof. I don’t know if the build at Luxovium will start with ready accommodations, but we should be prepared for winter if it also has no roof.

         “Did the king send a purse with you to pay for this journey?”

         The fellow who suggested burning the Psalms explains, “Our leader who left with the King’s guard had the purse. We were supposed to be paid when our work was done at Luxeuil.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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#38.1, Tues., Nov. 1, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons to Luxeuil

         Winter is already showing up in this land. It’s a cold morning.  The women are glad to wear wool monk’s robes today. Jack is feisty in all this icy morning clarity so the donkey cart moves right along but now the cow can’t keep up tied to the cart. So I will just walk her in the front to set a slower pace. That entourage of monks and workmen is well behind us.  The monks are hauling a hand-cart and the others have a mule-team with a wagonload of pulleys and tools so this isn’t anything like a liturgical procession. Any holy chants aren’t intended as prayer. Every rut along this river path catches a wheel of the workers’ wagon creating a constant whine of woes sounding like a wagon-load of baby goats back there.

         Our first day on the road will soon be our first night. The winter wind sweeps from the north in gusts and swirls on the path that follows the frosty edges of creek beds. The streams and creeks are ever-forking eastward widening at every bend.

         By dusk and nearly dark the caravan of monks and workers is far behind us as we stop for night. So while the women prepare to make camp in the cart drawn up under the shelter of a steep embankment, I walk back to find the leader of these men.

         Now I learn that leader along with the small contingency on horseback had already given up and turned back. These workers are left here with a wagon-load of tools and only a frail loyalty to the king who sent them, or maybe they come just for the promise of a purse. And now they are more disgruntled than ever.

         Four are monks loyal to God, but there is a gaping span between a pilgrimage and a band of men chosen only for their rock moving heft. And now with their leader gone I suggest a stopping place where they can circle up and make a fire, and we’ll figure this out. I can already see smoke rising ahead where Ana and Colleen have made camp. The women will eat hot porridge and sleep warm and safe with blankets and fleeces in the tarp-covered cart.

         For now I help these fellows gather the wood and start the fire, and maybe hear them tell me their thoughts of this project they find they have been bound to.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#37.12, Thurs., Oct 27, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         I learn that the King was expecting me to take a message on to Father Columbanus to tell him everything will change.  In fact we will be leading the construction crew — the same workers who already know how to build a monastery as they have done here in Châlons and they will restore another ruin to become a new monastery at Luxovium.

          Also, Ana heard that the envoy from the Bishop of Rome brought the news of a death of that bishop. Now the bells will toll everywhere that has bells. And the tolling of Châlons’ newly cast bell is heard throughout this city voicing a shared sorrow that falls on everyone with a deep dirge regardless of one’s awareness that Rome had a bishop. It is a grief born in the fear of plague even if the Bishop of Rome was of no importance to these people. In Rome, as in Tours, the autumn rains filled the rivers over their banks so the Tiber flooded the city and spread plague.

         Ana, a woman of science, tells me it is a natural cause and effect. “The floods swam with the rats, and the rats swam from building to house with plague, and the plague struck down Pope Pallagius.”

         Dear God, I know you share grief with the whole of humankind now. The prayers we speak aloud with others are for a named bishop, but I know you also care for each of us, even the cow and the donkey, not just kings and popes. Amen.

         Some ask, “How is it that Rome disobeyed the will of God so these plagues would fall upon that city – the floods, the rats, the death of the bishop?” The Christian magic of these dark times so long after Jesus, only sees God’s judgment in this.

          Some Christians fear the curses of a distant and angry human-like God. Pagans with many gods can see it as a power play by one talisman or charm over another visiting humankind in magic and signs. As for myself, and maybe Ana too, we are affected by these patterns of death and life, but also we swim in the love so vast it envelopes every person and all of nature whether or not one notices that it is God’s love that is with us. Simply, God is, and God is love.

         We need to know that just now.

(Continues Tuesday, November 1, 2022)

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#37.11, Weds., Oct. 26, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         Father Felix is telling me about King Guntram’s plan to move Father Columbanus from Annegray to Luxovium. Columbanus has not yet heard of this plan but already preparations have begun to send the workers who are completing this project on to begin another similar build in the foothills of the Vosges.

         “It is the King’s plan to move the Irish monks to a new location.”

         “So the Romans planted another rock heap in those mountains?“

         Father Felix explains, “It would seem the Roman emphasis up there was on baths and strategic outposts. So ruins are in places without cities. And now, we find the wildernesses have fine ruins that the king thinks would be places where monks would thrive. Maybe he  doesn’t understand that the Holy Spirit is flexible and can show up anywhere.”

         “Yes, I guess a king would suppose monks can only thrive in a sparse land. But, Brother Felix, the ways of the Irish are different than that of the Franks. In Ireland, where there were no cities in Patrick’s time they made their monasteries into full communities where people eventually gathered for farming and trade followed.  So in Ireland, the monasteries become the cities; in Gaul the cities add the monasteries to places that are already known for their saints and churches.”

         Felix points out, “But the pilgrims to Annegray are mostly monks; they aren’t the common people who will build their homes all around there.”

         “Then here we are, Ana and I making our home in that wilderness place which may soon to become even more obscure than it seems right now if the monastery moves. I was kind of expecting we would find ourselves in an Irish-like town very soon.”

         Father Felix means to offer assurance. “Well, it could happen in the Irish way. And if they had a holy relic or two, then who knows how people would flock there.”

         This thought of an economic purpose for relics answers the question I’ve had for years. Maybe relics are kept to make a place into a popular destination for superstitious visitors so that the wealthy donations will follow. It’s not the suffering wilderness that is the economic boon for a holy place. Rather it’s the rumors of earthly miracles. So here I am, a sign of the spiritual resurrection of life, when what people are really looking for is just rumors of magic said to inhabit old bones of saints.

         “Dear Friend Jesus would you ever have guessed it?”

(Continues tomorrow)

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#37.10, Tues., Oct. 25, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Traveling to Châlons

         So now we are a great procession of cow, donkey and cart, followed by four fully armored servants of the Bishop of Rome on fine horses, all laden with swords and shields and horse covers of rich silks, prepared to deliver a message to the king of Burgundy and all those other holy bishops along the way. I’ve noticed, when someone approaches us on the road from another direction, these four horsemen fall much further back behind us so not to be mistaken for our guards. Colleen believes God sent them to guard us. After-all, on this road there could be robbers lurking to empty a well-laden cart and take our cow. And what-if some father of a starving family did rob us and capture our cow and bag of oats? What treasure is ours that can allow us to thrive in this narrow circumstance between enough and excess?

         Thank you God for enough and for safe journey. We’ve reached Châlons, well-guarded, or maybe just followed after.

         I point the envoy to the palace where the king resides and we go on to the basilica.  In just these few months the workers have built very discernible walls and roof for a monastery.

         “Father Felix, good to see you again; this building project is coming along so well!  You’ve had a busy summer.”

         And Father Felix looks at the donkey cart at the rail and the cow, and now two women, not just one, and Ana has loosened her tunic sash a bit.

         He answers, “And you have also had a busy summer, I see. Many things change.”

         “When we were here before the king was preparing a message for us to take on to Father Columbanus. So we’ve come to learn if we are still needed for this task.”

         “Yes, that message from the king to the father has taken a form that is more than you alone can deliver. Guntram thought Father Columbanus would make good use of a more intact Roman ruin in the King’s hunting grounds; it’s in the foothills of the Vosges called Luxovium. Do you know of it?”

         “No, not at all.”

         “It is said to be an easy day’s walk from Annegray. He wants the father to move to a better accommodation for his community maybe so he won’t be getting all these complaints.  He was going to make a plan and send you with the simple message of that idea, but now…”

(Continues tomorrow)

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#37.9, Thurs., Oct. 20, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Along the Loire from Tours to Orleans

       Preparing for our journey we have bent willow reeds over the bed of the cart to make the tarp into a roof and we’ve filled the cart with fleeces and wools and bags of grains along with the herbs we gathered where Eve’s cottage had been.

         In this season of shortening days we often are in the autumn drear, but today a bright golden sunshine is sparking the trees to brilliance as the green canopy of summer has already fallen away. Great stalks of sunshine beam through the newly barren limbs all the way to earth where we go so humbly to start our journey this morning.

         Colleen is a proper donkey master. She expects obedience, and offers consistency and kindness — never the whip. This donkey, with no other name than Jack which means boy donkey learns his commands in the Irish dialect from a human named simply, girl.

         We pass by Tours, outside the wall to follow the river on toward Orleans. This donkey has a good trotting gait so we might easily reach Orleans in two or three days except the cow is not as quick.

         Eventually we do reach the Burgundy city where there is a suitable stall for a cow in the public stable, but the frisky little Jack donkey isn’t a very welcome guest among the stately steeds. He is relegated to a shed behind the public stables. Colleen worries, but he seems fine here just to get in out of the howling winds for a good night’s rest.

         Here at an inn in Orleans we learn the see of Rome has sent an envoy to bring some kind of important news from Rome to all the kings and bishops of this land. They are here seeking Guntram; but we already know he’s not here. He can be found in Châlons.

         “Is Châlons found by following this river?” one asks me.

         “It won’t take you all the way there. You will need to find another path when you reach the city of Sens.” I can answer, because Ana and I have been all of these places now. “And we are on our way to Châlons.” I nearly offer to be their guide, but then I realize it would be humbling for a bishop’s envoy to have to find their way to the king by following after a donkey cart and a cow.

         Ana’s kindness isn’t curtailed by petty social norms. She invites them to follow us, and they are grateful.

(Continues Tuesday, October 25, 2022)

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#37.8, Weds., Oct. 19, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Bertigan’s Estate near Tours

         Tonight we are guests of the Count’s where the people are my own family. Here, my son Ezra is now the elder patriarch. Everyone calls him “Papa” and they help him from the chair. When he speaks they listen. When they speak I wonder if he even hears them. He sits in a soft chair with a view of the whole hall and he finds pleasure in watching the children at their games. It’s my family, but by my odd circumstance of life and life again my son is the patriarch.

         If I told this to someone just arriving, like Colleen, I might explain that in the year 543 my family was taken by plague, except Ezra and Eve who were discovered as abandoned orphans. They were taken to a pagan practitioner of healing. When they regained their health, Ezra was adopted out to learn the vintner’s trade. He returned to our abandoned farm and planted it in vineyards.

          All those years ago Ezra married a Christian woman, Colletta, and they had children; the two who are still living are Daniel and Celeste. Celeste married Count Bertigan. Daniel is his secretary and recently married. Daniel and his wife have a small child I am told.

         When Eve was an orphaned child she learned the art of healing. Eve recovered from the pox but lost her sight. Ezra provided her a cottage on our family land where she had gardens of herbs and was a known practitioner of healing. She always had the help of child apprentices. Ana was an apprentice to Eve. And before Ana, the guide for Eve’s blindness was Thole. His father Jesse is the Count’s stable master here. As is well known now, Thole chose to follow the Pagans because they listen for individual ancestral spirits and Thole grieves for his own mother and for Eve who was like a mother for him. He feels their closeness in being with the pagans.

         For the newly born into a nature of changing seasons this ever-new of life must seem amazing. Or not. Does finding who we are require the long look of generations to find ourselves in time? And in not knowing our histories are we all just floundering strangers in the guest rooms of pompous little counts in a foreign land as Colleen must see all of this. She longs for community.

         Dear God, Thank you. I’ve noticed all these ways you bring us into belonging to one another. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#37.7, Tues., Oct. 18, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. A Pagan village near Tours

         The custom of Largin’s tribe is to give gifts even for little things. They show joy by giving. Maybe we all do, but this practice actually marks who these people are. So midwives who arrive on time surely are gifted.

         It would complicate our journey were we to be gifted a herd of these sacred white bulls they keep here. I think of Jacob driving his vast herds ahead of him as he returns to his brother. [Genesis 31] So I’m grateful they only offer one fresh cow. One peaceful cow can cross on the ferry with us and will walk nicely behind the donkey cart.

         Ana and Colleen want to start back immediately to Annegray. We don’t have to visit far-flung bishops now, so surely a shorter route will be long enough. The women tell me these months into winter would be the best time for Ana to travel.

         “How can three months into winter ever be the best for travel?” I ask, still naïve to the ways of women after all these years.

         “If we wait for spring,” Colleen confides, “it will be too hard for Ana to travel because the baby will be due. Then if it is born here, where we must stay, we will have to wait for the mother and baby to have strength to travel, and then we might be taking the journey in the summer heat always worrying over the baby. No, Sir, this is the best time to go.”

         “I think it could be that the Count will let us stay as guests here for a year or more. I can find some way to make myself useful.”

         Ana speaks for Colleen, “Laz, she is not just coming with us for our own need. She has a deep longing to be with people from her own homeland.”

         “The Irish of Annegray are monks, Ana. It’s a men’s monastery.”

         Ana argues, “Colleen says the monasteries in Ireland are not places for withdrawing, but are communities where monks may have solitary ways, but all around people gather as a village. She has that hope and a longing to be in that kind of place.”

         “Maybe all three of us yearn for community. I fear Colleen will be disappointed by the loneliness of our cottage.”

         But here we are now, returning home in this season of transitions, leaves on the hardwoods flaming farewells, baring limbs to embrace winds of winter to come.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#37.6 Thurs., Oct. 13, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. A house in the Pagan village

         Thole and Largin caught up in wonder argue incessantly over taking turns to hold the baby. Both father and grandfather have acquired that skill overnight.  Tilp is doing well, Ana says. Colleen recites instructions in monotone. I’ve known some who are Irish ceaselessly yammer – and I expect from that brogue poetry, song, and great passions of words. But Colleen is the quiet listener. If Ana weren’t cheerful this morning we would think this had been a tragic end. But now it’s a time of unspeakable joy. Villagers are outside with gifts, wreaths and bouquets, little precious pieces of linen they have kept in safe places waiting for a moment to be invited in and see this wonder that artists only wish to capture in stone – the mother and baby.

         This new morning now, I take a walk by the River to speak my thanksgivings to God alone. The river is flowing within its banks today, and the week’s flood is remembered in the debris along the banks. It seems there is a gathering of monks and other Christians from Tours on this side of the river between this path and the ferry landing. Closer, I can see that they are gathered, but standing a distance from a twisted form of human flesh tangled in the debris. Closer yet, I am warned it may be plague.

         The rites and chants over this death are from a distance. No one dare go near the dead. Only a person who has lived beyond plague can go near. And so I go.  It’s one of the ferrymen drowned. He was dead for a few days perhaps. Maybe it happened on that same day when we came seeking passage across the river.

         I climb down the bank to him. When I turn him onto the bank everyone steps back a further distance, and the other two ferrymen are keening for the man. Maybe the howls are grief, but surely the shock and sorrow is also fear of plague. I can assure everyone he has no buboes of plague. No one else would touch him so they only have my word that this is a drowning. At least now we can bring the body from the water, and a proper burial can be given.

(Continues Tuesday, October 18, 2022)

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#37.5, Weds., Oct. 12, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Pagan Village near the Loire

         Thankfully, the assignment we are given is hard work and takes us until nightfall. Whenever we are near the cottage we hear sounds through the thatch, sometimes, murmurs and conversation, sometimes the cry of a woman in birth. Yet there is never that terrible empty silence of death. Even Thole can accept the possibility that everything will be alright. Please Dear God, see us all through this.

         By dusk now, this outdoor fire is raging. We’ve filled six large barrels emptied of ale, clear to the brims with this strained and boiled purifying water.  And here we have gathered plenty of extra wood to keep the fires burning. Two of the women, Ana calls students, bring us out a pot of broth and cups for our supper.  How could they think of us at a time like this? We hear a loud howling cry from Tilp, and Thole pushes passed to go in. The women instruct him to be very quiet and gentle.

         Largin and I follow and are told we must wash our hands in the trinity of bowls by the door. Thole goes immediately to Tilp, and Ana asks him to wash his wife’s face with a clean linen cloth. Now he has a more significant task than preparing six large barrels of bath water for a yet imagined baby.

         Is there ever such a thing as a normal birth?  I can’t imagine that, but it is what Colleen says, as she gathers the tiny infant from the billows of wormwood prepared for just this moment. It is indeed a baby boy, slippery and red, but with all the baby parts amazingly tiny and perfect. He cries. She wraps him in a blanket and Thole is immediately a new man — a father he is now — no longer a crazed uncontrolled youth. He is the father of a son. Tilp is glad to take the baby from his arms, and put him to her breast. How can “normal” be so amazing?

         Dear God, thank you for this beautiful thing — gnarly, slimy, bloody, messy, howling, sweating, crying – the way of entrance into life, big and grand, overwhelming and intimate. — Crinkly eyes fixed on the mother’s face. Thank you for this strange design of passage. Amen.

         Only Colleen, straight and slender at the washbasins can speak this unbelievable thing in her simple, unfettered style.

         “It were a normal birth, after all.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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#37.4, Tues., Oct. 11, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The river crossing near Tours

         We all have secret fears of plague, and now the sumptuous accommodations of Bertigan Hall don’t soften worry that Tilp must be very near her time. There are worries. We learn that Thole is in a state of panic. The cooper crossed over with a boat this morning to find help for the birthing. So Ana and Colleen and I go with him crossing back through the turbulance in his little boat.

         It’s a hard row, The cooper and I are barely able to manage the oars.  We have a distance to row upstream because when he crossed alone, without weight in the boat, and without two of us on the oars the current took him ashore way downstream. Now it takes the full strength two men to steady the boat at the edge so the women can climb out.

         We go as quickly as the women can run drawing up their soaking long tunics; and breathless, we arrive at the village with two large sacks of supplies for birthing.

         Thole is in a state of complete, incoherent panic, and Largin is shouting in loud repetitions for Thole to calm down. Tilp is trying to take control of the frantic howling and whining of the men. “Listen to my father now, Thole!” She commands her husband with a firm, and steady strength. 

         And here are the old women of this village gathered also. They’ve witnessed birthing, but cattle births and human may not be the same. Yet here they wait to be of use. I see them as a crowd in the way. Ana calls them students. After all, if this goes well, Tilp may become a mother again on another day, and someone here will need to know this.

         Colleen prepares to examine Tilp, and Ana tells me to get Thole and Largin out of here, and so I do.  Now we are outside of the little thatched house, and there is quiet all around inside and out.

         Ana comes out only moments into the quiet and tells Thole that the Tilp is doing well, and there is likely time to prepare properly for this birth. She sends us for water – “the cleanest water we can harvest, strained through a linen cloth, then boiled over the fire and cooled again, before it can be brought in and used to wash a baby when it comes.”

         Thole shouts mindlessly, “Wash the baby! Wash the baby!”

         What could possibly go wrong?

(Continues tomorrow)

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#37.3, Thurs., Oct. 6, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. On the south side of the Loire

         The rain seems powerless now for dampening spirit. The little donkey bounds the full circumference of the pasture fence, bucking and leaping, dancing his finest moves to please the stolid mares looking on.

         Jesse stands akimbo by the gate watching the romp, and the rain doesn’t stop.

         “Yes sir, Ezra where you see a tiny little critter to tow a cart, I see a fine mule in the making. You know, you’ll not get that jackass across the Loire with the floods so high. You’ll have to leave him here for a while.”

         It’s Colleen’s donkey. She knows nothing of donkeys but we can all see it would be a good idea not to try to drive a donkey and cart across in this tempest. Jesse has his mind set on keeping the donkey with some mares while we travel on to deliver Tilp and Thole’s baby. We’ll go on foot.

         We pack the herbs into oat sacks. Leaving one sack in the cart for us to take with us when we set off on our return to Annegray, and I have a huge bundle of wormwood over my shoulder as we walk to the ferry.

         The ferry landing is closed down. No one is here and the toll shed is surrounded by rising water. Things of land flow by – pieces of houses, bundles of crops, a sheep bloated and drowned. A battalion of rats swim with noses barely above the surface. Ana steps back with a message of horror in an old rhyme.

         “A river of rats,

          A dearth of cats,

          Death follows plague

          Soon after that.”

         And today there is no chance of crossing in this storm, so we turn back to await the cresting of the river to be followed with a wide calm.

         Count Bertigan’s estate has guest rooms, and banquets of plenty. While we wait for the Loire to settle back we stay in luxury.

         I can’t help remembering in 543, then the Roman ship came up the river and soon after the Justinian plague covered all of Roman Christianity. It left my children dead or orphans. When my own life was restored as it is, I found only Ezra and Eve had survived and both, in their own ways, became the guides to deliver others from plague the next time it came. And it came.

(Continues Tuesday, October 11, 2022)

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#37.2, Weds., Oct. 5, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The river crossing near Tours

         In this little fringe of a wood I watch a vixen eluding me, giving up her own hiding so I won’t notice her kits.

         It seems when I am in love the whole world is in love, and when my mind is only on keeping an infant safe, the whole world is a parent protecting family. I wish that were all I had to say of this contagion of spirit. But it is also true that fear makes the world look dangerous, and hate and hurt make the all of everything seem evil. I wonder if it is only an anticipation of things that could go wrong that makes us fear. And if we offer ourselves as the sufferers of hurt and pain can we overcome our fears of imagined losses?  Is that why monks try so hard to feel hurt? Do all those suffering Christians use pain to take control of the possibility of hurt that is actually beyond their control? And now I wonder about that thing, the birthing pain. The woman I love and the child I have yet to meet must share the anticipation of that pain into life. Every living being enters into earthly life through a gateway of pain? So how is this holy plan for birthing a metaphor of Spirit?

         Eve’s cottage is gone yet the herbs of the garden still wander wild on wayward roots.  The women see them as random hidden treasures waiting for their harvest so now the bed of the cart is filled with straggly wet roots and bundles of herbs topped off with pillows and pillows of wormwood. All this wet fresh fragrance would probably overwhelm us, but for the wafting scents of the wet wools of monks robes.

         On our way, by afternoon we reach the turn in the road toward Count Bertigan’s estate where Jesse still tends the count’s stables. Teardrop comes to the pasture gate to greet Ana, and Jesse comes out surprised to see we have acquired a cart, a donkey and another woman on my brief walk back to Poitiers.  I was just here yesterday, and I told Jesse it would just be Ana and I who would come back this way on foot.

         Jesse immediately takes notice that the donkey is a jack, and the little fellow already has his sights set on Ana’s dapple gray mare. He suggests we see what happens if we just let the donkey into the pasture with the mares.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#37.1, Tues., Oct. 4, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The river crossing near Tours

         This cold October rain is relentless. Rivulets of gray water run in the ruts merging into the full river of roadway. The little donkey shakes his head to clear his eyes. I lead him walking, while the women spread the tarp over the cart for a bit of shelter for themselves.

         Ana affirms my wondering, “Before the spring planting we will be glad to have Colleen with us. She is a skilled and able midwife.”

         It’s been hinted. And I’ve had my thoughts, maybe they were thoughts but they felt more like dreams or random hopes. But now it is said in words complete with an earthly measurement of time. “Before the spring planting.”

         We arrive at the place that was once Eve’s cottage and garden. Ana wants to take time here to grieve. The graves of Eve and Eve’s mother, and the others of my family are on high enough ground not to be washed out by the floods. Colleen follows Ana, listening to each memory she shares of her days when this flattened spot of mud was a home and she was a child yet innocent of deep loss.

         I look out at the lands that were once my fields, then Ezra’s vineyards, and now here is a community of poor farms. The forests have been drawn back to nothing more than a fringe along the riverbank.  And the river roils high and fast just now, so I gaze toward a more peaceful source of contemplation starring only into the fringy wood that remains.

         A fox is sneaking a look at me.  I see her for a moment peaking around a tree that is much too thin to hide her head and tail all at one time. She probably thinks if her eyes are hidden I can’t see her.  But I do see her and now I see why she is so near and so concerned with a person in her wood. She is between me and a row of three little kit faces, climbing on their baby fox legs to see over the same fallen log I seemed to be approaching. It might be just the right breadth for carving into a cradle, but now I understand it was already serving that purpose. The brave mother fox was giving herself up as a distraction from her babies.  I know she could outrun me were I to pursue. She is egging on the chase to save her kits.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#36.13, Thurs., Sept. 29, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. near Poitiers

         The moon set, leaving us in a long darkness, but not at all for sleeping and already we are gathering for morning prayers. Ana and Colleen are draped in huge woolen robes hidden completely in hoods and sleeves. There are no secrets in this hall though nothing is spoken.

         I’ve always known the stable master is chatty and a hub for gossip. And this morning when I go to check on the horses he already has a story I didn’t know.

         “The earl’s guardsmen are searching everywhere for two young women on a dapple gray.

         “So Brother Lazarus, this morning there is a dapple gray right here, who seems quite accustomed to sharing a stall with the bay you ride.”

         “And so it is. The abbot is well aware of this.”

         “You will have to hide this horse better. The guards will be back.”

         I know what must be done. I will ride back to the Loire today, and deliver both of our horses to their proper stable at Jesse’s farm. Tomorrow I will walk back down this long road, and when it is safe for the women to travel the open roadway again we will make a pilgrimage to the pagan village where the Druid Largin is planning for an heir.

         A constant autumn rain washes every good plan over with a dull drudge but the horses were returned, and now I’m making my way walking along the muddy road to Poitiers when I meet with a donkey cart driven by two sopping wet “monks.”

         My gracious hugs are for Ana, and I hear their story.

         “When I told Lady Elise’s family what had happened the magistrate was alerted, so the earl’s guards are no longer looking for us so it is safe for us to travel. The earl has to answer for his crimes. Lady’s mum was so grateful she showered Colleen with this donkey and cart, and supplies for our journey, though maybe that was also because Colleen was let go for lack of need for a midwife. She was given a small purse of coins and some supplies as we go on this mission together to attend the birth of Tilp’s and Thole’s baby.

         “And Laz, by spring it will be us needing a midwife. I will be glad it is Colleen we have with us.”

         Thank you God.

(Continues Tuesday, October 4, 2022)

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#36.12, Weds., Sept. 28, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. near Poitiers

         Ana is telling me of her fears of the earl’s guardsmen.

         “I rode as fast as I could ride in the dim moonlight by the river, but I knew that right behind me were the earl’s guardsmen. They had seen me in the earl’s stable readying my horse. So I only took time to tell her mother where Elise was, but not to tell all the details. I took the city road into Poitiers so I wouldn’t pass the guards on the river road. When I got to the monastery of the Holy Cross Colleen was waiting and said Lady Elise had become conscious, and the nuns were only concerned for the cutting and stitching we had done. That was good. I know we both did our work well. So we left without that worry, then both of us came down to this monastery sure that no one will look for us here.”

         “You are right about that. Only men can stay here.”

         We brush down Ana’s horse, and now I meet Colleen.

         Colleen is dark haired, a simple and serious Irish girl with a mere ribbon of a form as one with a lifetime of fasting. Her brogue echoed the monks of our home in the Vosges. I asked her if she ever knew of these terrors of Gaul when she left her homeland.

         She looked away to smile at my question.

         “I knew nothing of anything then, except babies. The father of our family died, and a widow needs no midwife so I sold myself for a purse to care for my mother and the others. Here the lady’s mum sent a servant to find one like me, and now here I am hiding like a thief in another man’s hay.”

         I smile straight at the girl, “You’re very brave.”

         The abbot is standing in the man-door with a stern scowl, and folded arms.

         “These women are seeking sanctuary here, Good Father. They have had a harrowing night saving a woman and her infant and escaping the guards of a murdering husband.”

         I can well understand what he is seeing here as the abbot of a monastery. A wayward guest is found to be chatting with two young women in the hay of the stable, and now this fellow is asking for shelter for them? 

         His answer is simple. Provide them with a cell and give them monk’s robes that they may join with less notice for prayers and the meal.

(Continues tomorrow)


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#36.11, Tues., Sept. 27, 2022

Historical setting: 589 near Poitiers

         Ana is telling me of finding Lady Elise.

         “She was neither blue nor gray. Her skin was pale but not dead. I thought she may actually only be unconscious but seemed not dead at all. Immediately I had to allow this dangerous man a story to save himself.

         “I said, ‘she obviously had a terrible spill down the stairs. Oh, you poor man. It must have been a terrible shock for you to find her like this. And then, to carry her all the way up the tower stairs and place her so lovingly in this bed… you poor man.’

         “He devoured my pity like a starving dog with a heap of spoiling meat.

         “And just then Colleen delivered the child. At first Colleen was miffed at my kindness to the father, then she realized the purpose and she took on the same demeanor in handing him the baby and escorting them both from the room so I could work.

         “My first task was to remove the sac, as one would do in a normal birth, something surely not done if a mother is dead. Then I set about to suture the incision. Even though I was prepared and practiced this seemed to take a very long time just to be sure I had completely mended every tear. I heard someone at the door as I was preparing to tend to the woman’s facial wounds. I realized she very certainly was living. Colleen came in and held the door closed.

         “She told me to hurry, the earl was on a tirade giving orders to have the body removed immediately. The undertakers were already scrambling up the stairs. And immediately they were here at the door. They came bustling in with a board to remove the body. I realized then I had seen one of these men at the gate at Lady Elise’s family estate and that was a great relief. I asked if he worked for her family, and he affirmed they were taking her body on to her own family. But I begged him to take Colleen and Lady Elise to the Monastery of the Holy Cross where she can get the care she needs because she is yet living; and there, also, the earl’s guards won’t go looking for her. I told them I would ride to the parent’s estate to tell her parents what had happened and where to find her.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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#36.10, Thurs., Sept. 22, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Poitiers

         Dear God let us feel your presence. And stay close to Ana. Amen.

         This afternoon I return to the work of helping Brother August and his apprentice. With three of us working, we have revealed the shoulders of the mother and the head of the infant is now emerging from the stone. Shall we set this child gazing at his mother, or does his face look out at the whole world of other human faces?

         “The infant eyes seek only purity and love of a mother.” Brother August listens to his apprentice’s input. And they decide on a tender Jesus, seeing only his mother while the rest of humankind may be mired in all these loveless sins of our own making, carving Jesus to be a mini-king, not a human savior.

         It’s that very brief sliver of darkness a monastery allows for sleep between evening prayers and the dark waking for morning prayers when those of us in the guest room by the stable are awakened by a fast horse arriving in the night. I look out on the courtyard, and there is Ana and another woman both on Teardrop. Ana sees me now, looking from the window and she gestures for me to come quickly.

         Her horse needs to be walked. So the young woman with her, Colleen, waits for us in the stable while Ana and I walk and she tells me of the danger they are in.        

         “There was no waiting for morning, Laz.

         “Colleen and I were called to the Lady’s chamber but were told Lady Elise had died, yet if we came quickly enough we would be able to deliver the baby. We went, and it was just as the journal had described. The mother was wrapped tight around the head and shoulders in a linen sheet that was spotted with blood. Colleen went to work immediately making her careful cut just as we had prepared, though I noticed their was more blood than I thought from a corpse. I didn’t mention that because I didn’t want to make Colleen feel she was doing anything wrong. Meanwhile, the earl was standing by wailing and crying, sobbing convulsively but with no tears. It was a disturbing distraction. At first I brought him a basin, thinking he was puking, but then I realized he is really only trying to pretend he is in shock. I lifted the sheet from the face of the dead woman and saw she had been beaten badly.”

(Continues Tuesday, September 27, 2022)

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#36.9, Weds., Sept. 21, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Poitiers

         Ana is telling me that she and Colleen turned the previous midwife’s journal over to Lady Elise’s mother.

         “It affirmed the family’s worst fears. These childbirth deaths may not have been the natural consequences of difficult births, but something more sinister. The earl is one who seems the needy child, given to little fits of rage and grand displays in tears of sorrow. Of course that would be expected with his three wives passing. So he finds a new wife — one marriage happens after another always finding a young woman’s pity for him where marital love would be the better bond.”

         I asked Ana, with my thoughts absent of wealth and status, “What motive would a man have were this some nefarious pattern? It seems like he must be hateful of women.”

         Ana explains a whole insidious plot.

         “Caring or not caring has little to do with it Laz. Lady Elise’s mother quickly identified a familiar motive. She thought the earl was collecting this nursery in order to take over the inheritances of these children’s deceased, but noble-born mothers. So the wealth of several important families from whom this fellow reaps his wives will all end up at his estate. And ‘wealth is power,’ this very powerful elder woman told us.  Colleen was surprised by her cold calculations. Here we are, completely focused on the well-being of a young woman, and her own mother is seeing her child in terms of family fortune. Maybe it’s just the strange calculating nature of the aristocracy. 

          “Then there was something more we hadn’t thought of.  What happens after the mother is dead and the baby is safe?  Apparently the midwife is sent away so abruptly as to leave behind her personal things. And where does the midwife go? The wife’s body is taken away for burial in the midst of all the coming and going. Lady Elise’s mother was very concerned about the earl’s guards and servants. And who were these coroners? Who cared for the bodies? 

         “So first thing tomorrow Lady Elise’s parents will be sending their own guards to bring their daughter home to this estate for the birthing.”

         To me this seems like a good idea under the circumstances, but Ana and the midwife Colleen don’t know where that will leave them to stay.

         Our parting as usual is a warm embrace and words of encouragement and love.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#36.8, Tues., Sept. 20, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The road to Ligugé

         Today I meet Ana for our ride and ask her if she and Colleen have a plan if they find the same circumstance as described in the midwife’s journal.

         Ana tells me, “It’s very helpful to know what happened in that instance, though it doesn’t offer any medical information we can use. Now we’ve decided that when we are called to the chamber if we find Lady Elise partly wrapped for burial I will follow Colleen as a student would, letting her deliver the child alone with a blade in the center of the abdomen where the baby is usually most easily heard to be living. We’ve been pretending a practice of this with an oat bag as the mom. She will use the smallest cut she can to remove the baby, and as soon as the baby is delivered she will turn her attention completely to the father and the living baby for the purpose of letting me work alone on the corpse. She will have him focus all of his attention on the good fortune of a living son; but also, hopefully she can take him from the room, while I stay with the body. I will have a chance then to examine the remains and learn what I need to know of a woman’s anatomy.

         “But Lady Elise seems so healthy and well-prepared for this, and with two midwives, we hardly can imagine there would be any need to make this my opportunity for a lesson. We are prepared to meet this either in a normal way with no deaths at all, but also, if Lady Elise is found to have died as described in the journal, I will be able to learn from it. Whatever happens, at least something good can come of it.”

         Ana continues, “Lady Elise’s family is prominent in Poitiers, and her family’s estate is also on the river near the earl’s villa. We knew that Elise’s mother knew the tragic history of young brides coming to death in childbirth at the earl’s villa, and she feared for her daughter’s safety. That was why she chose a midwife carefully and gifted Colleen to Elise. So, on finding the journal, Colleen and I took a walk up to Elise’s family with our concern.  Her mother was outraged.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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#36.7, Thurs., Sept. 15, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Poitiers

         While I stay as a guest at Ligugè I appreciate the hours for prayer and psalms with these few elder brothers.  I help some with the work on the statue that Brother August and his young apprentice are doing. And as close as we are, with Ana at the villa, and me here, nearly everyday Ana rides down here and she and I go riding together.

         Ana discovered that one of the recent midwives who lived in the servant’s quarters of the villa was literate. She left a journal among with her personal belongings when she was hastily sent away after the last wife of this earl died in childbirth. At this villa the nursery raises this nobleman’s three sons of various ages. There is no mention of daughters, but through all these years the cemetery fills with women, and the bed in the earl’s marriage chamber is rarely shared. Ana is hoping to find the cause of so many mysterious deaths of first time mothers; they happen so consistently it hardly seems normal. Of course it’s true that women often die in birthing children, especially when it’s the woman’s first child. Mothers who birth several children just have some mysterious gift of their good natures that allows for both lives to be safe. But even considering that, these deaths seem unusual. The nuns at the convent want nothing to do with the goings on at the villa.

         I asked Ana if the journal is helpful. She said no one else even knows of this. So few servants are literate and it was stuck away in the servant’s quarters so no one has given it any attention. But it might be very helpful as she and Colleen are making a plan.

          Apparently the mother described in this journal died before the labor even began. The journaling midwife wasn’t called until the mother was already mostly wrapped in linen grave cloth. The husband was grieving at her side, and the only urgency seemed to be to rescue the infant who was alive, but not yet delivered. So of course, the midwife immediately used her blade and rescued the infant.

         As I return to the stable at the monastery I can attest to the fact that it is much easier to deliver a mother and child from a block of marble, than into life itself.

(Continues Tuesday, September 20, 2022)

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#36.6, Weds., Sept. 14, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Poitiers

         Ana and I have found a cozy quietude in the haymow of this villa stable. I asked her if Colleen, the midwife/servant-slave here is a good teacher.

         “Teacher, no. She’s more like me as an eight-year-old than she is like my teacher. Lady Elise is due any day now, — a good reason for me to be here — so Colleen and I have been preparing the tools and going over the procedures. Colleen’s blade and needle were thoroughly rusted. We could use mine from my kit if we need to use a blade immediately, but I thought it best to teach her to clean her tools and polish them bright.

         “Clean, clean clean, Eve always told me. Before every birth, or any kind of procedure in fact, I needed to prepare three wash basins with warm water and cleansing herbs for the prayers. With the first prayer wash hands and tools in the first basin as preparation and if we are in a Christian home, we say ‘Dear Father, guide us.’ When we know what we are going to do to help, we wash in the second bowl and we say ‘Dear Christ stay near us,’ and at the third bowl, when all is done that can be done, wash everything clean and ask the breath of Spirit to continue. Even though Colleen is Christian all the time, and Eve only when it was needed, Colleen had never heard of this Christian washing Trinity.

         “Eve told me that even though it sounds superstitious it really seems to work for healing. Whenever she used the three cleansing prayers she saw faster healing and less infection.

         “So there we were sanding and polishing Colleen’s tools by candlelight, deep into the darkness of last night. But now everything is ready.”

         This afternoon Ana and Colleen plan to examine Lady Elise so Ana thinks she will have a better idea of when that birth might be, though she adds, it’s always in God’s time so no one really knows. I suggest Ana take a ride when she has time and we can see if the hay is as soft in the mow at Ligugè, as it is here. Hay always seems as fine as eiderdown when it is shared.

         Thank you God, for Ana, for the hay, for the beasts beneath us, so patient and gentle. Thank you for more beauty than we can even speak when we are in love.  Thank you God.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#36.5, Tues., Sept. 13, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Poitiers at a noble villa

         I asked for Ana at the gate of the convent and I was given the name of a noble household where she was sent. Finding that place was easy. It’s a villa on the riverbank overlooking the city. It is the residence of an earl.

         Ana sees me coming and meets me in the stable. She looks like a splash of sunshine on a gray morning cloud.

         “So you find me wherever I hide.”

         “The nuns told me where you were, but nothing about why you came here.”

         “This place is known because the earl has had several wives who  died in childbirth but the baby boys always seemed to survive. I was asking about rescuing both mother and baby so they sent me here to shadow the midwife because the earl has a new wife due to give birth very soon.”

         “And how is this place for you? Do you have food and good sleeping quarters?”

         “Probably as fine as yours at a monastery that’s on the wane. I’m staying in servant’s quarters. So I think our beautiful moments together are only likely in the hayloft of this stable.”

         “Ligugè has a fine stable also you know, but probably not enough regard over there for women.”

         “This stable is quiet and secluded.”  And Ana goes on, “My sleeping mat in the servant’s quarters may not be better than a guest room at a monastery but at least sins are less original here. I’m assigned to the young midwife, so when you want to find me ask the servant at the gate for the midwife Colleen’s assistant.”

         “Colleen, that sounds Celtic.”


          “Yes, it’s Irish as is she. It means girl.”

         “Just girl; so her parents couldn’t think of a name?”

         “I thought that too. I’m not even sure if she’s a slave or a paid servant. The mother of the earl’s new wife gave Colleen to her daughter as a wedding gift, knowing of the gossip about this villa.”

         “Which is?”

          “That every wife of this earl dies in childbirth and when the child is born alive the blame is laid on the midwives, so when Lady Elise was first betrothed to the earl her mother searched the markets for an able helper, and thus gifted Colleen as the new midwife.”

         “Is Colleen a good teacher for you?”

         “I think it will be an opportunity to learn what I need to know.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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#36.4, Thurs., Sept. 8, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Poitiers

         Brother August has already dealt with my obstinate little heresies, nitpicking substance of Trinity and plundering creed, calling it a human appeasement and not the true nature of God.  And now I’ve added a wife to my list of sins.

         From this monk’s point of view it’s only a gracious yield to the practical, that marriage of man and woman can exist at all. The virtuous sexuality is no sex at all — chastity. So if a man can’t really be chaste, then, the rules say, he can be married to one, and only one woman and The Church seems to let him call that “chastity” also. But by this doctrine we are all born in Original Sin, no exceptions, well except for Jesus. Sex is the one big necessary evil. Augustine agreed with Origen on that one.  Even though Origen was dismissed as a heretic for his extreme Gnostic actions, Augustine took one thread of O. Sin and knitted it back into the Latin dogma. So it is that people who read rules more and listen less for the Jesus love come to the conclusion that patriarchs define what virtue is; while tempting, menstruating and birthing women are the sin source. In short: men-good, women-bad. So of course Jesus born of Virgin explains why he was so good after-all. [Footnote] Apparently all that hard to do love your enemy thing, and God loves universally, all those things Jesus taught and died saying are easily dismissed as too hard for humankind to do because Jesus was just born different.

         So what of my little thought that God, Spirit, Creator of all Creation, gave human kinds and maybe other creatures too, sex as a physical metaphor for spiritual love? In Roman Christian order it sounds pantheistic — another Pagan heresy.

         Dear God thank you for your continuous shower of love on me and all of us. Please help me through my human ways — be they virtue or heresy — to follow the one commandment of love you have laid before us. And stay close to Ana also. Amen.

         So today, by hammer and chisel, the face of the Virgin emerges from stone. The artists chip a nose like a nose on familiar barbarians, and they polish the gazing eyes to holy until earthly people can reach into her embrace and find Heaven.

         Tomorrow I will take the short ride into Poitiers to find out what Ana has learned of women.

 [Footnote] (Erickson, Carolly The Medieval Vision:Essays in History and Perception New York: Oxford Unisversity Press 1976) This author offers a clear overview of the history of this Medieval view of women. (Chapter 9 The Vision of Women pp181—212)

(Continues Tuesday, September 13, 2022)

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#36.3, Weds., Sept. 7, 2022

         This morning after prayers and prayers again I find Brother August and his new apprentice at work on the great stone of marble.  It’s in this state of creation where a halo is emerging from the center at the top, and it seems affixed to a head that is bowed. Already I can see Brother August’s artist’s eye has wandered from the standard. Art in a world where rule is rule and everything is either right or wrong there would be no nuance for a Virgin with a bowed head. In these times when original sin is sex which implies that sin pervades every birth except that of Jesus (and a Caesar or two claimed to have been birthed by virgins), it would seem to be the rule that such an otherworldly Virgin would have a gaze fixed on anything but the child.

         “Brother August, my friend, I’m so glad to see this new art as it emerges.”

         “Brother Lazarus! So good to see you again. Did your family win that war against Pagans?”

         “I suppose you would say we won. We had a victory feast. But mostly we learned it wasn’t the Pagan tribe that came onto our land killing and burning. It was pirates.”

         “Then did you battle the pirates?”

         “No. The young woman they captured escaped on her own. So I can continue with pacifism as my truest virtue.”

         “Pacifism, a virtue?  What about celibacy?”

         “No, not so much of that.  I’m married now. And I see the Virgin of your art still bows her head so her’s will still be a humble prayer also.”

         “Change the subject if you wish. But I want to know what woman could woo you from your holy commitment.”

         “She’s one who knows she is loved by God and yet she allows me my heresies.”

         The young apprentice looks shocked at my mention of heresy.

         “Brother August knows of my obstinate resistance to Trinity and creed.”

         “No wonder you have fallen under temptation by a woman,” assesses this youth.

         I choose not to argue sin and redemption with a novice.  I’ve seen it myself; the innocent parental-love of God for all of Creation has been unspooled and wound into a complicated web of sin and salvation by men. I would say “by humans,” but really it was a patriarchal thing. It was an obstacle course set out by men to make a journey to God into a trial. I don’t have to answer to the youth.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#36.2, Tues., Sept. 6, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Ligugè near Poitiers

         It’s nearly dark when I reach Ligugè after getting Ana settled in as a guest with the nuns. I arrive for vespers and stand in the back near the door. It is only the abbot and few monks here now.  The abbot sees me immediately and at first his surprise shows as a smile, then he finds his composure and turns toward the altar to continue the blessing of the host.

         Tonight I share the guest room with a very young layman who wears a laborer’s simple tunic; but he seems refined, not as a worker.  So I ask. He says he was assigned by his own father to work on the commissioned piece of art.

         “I’ve always wanted to be an artist. My father hopes I will become a monk. Here I can taste life both ways.”

         “So you are working with Brother August?”

         “You know Brother August?”

         “I was here once, all tonsured and ruled. But I believe I had a holy purpose with family, so I left with the abbot’s blessing. How about you? Are you seeking holy orders?”
          The boy answers, “Even the abbot doesn’t think Ligugè is a good fit for me. It has so few monks now and they are all so old. He suggested I would fit another community. But I fear the boys would just pick over me for my frailties.”

         “Everyone has frailties. Maybe some will be kind. Caring for one another is always the rule in a Christian community.”

         “Did my father send you here to sway my intentions?”

         “No, no. I have no sway at all, with anyone’s father. Believe me.”

           “My father is the one who commissioned the work in marble for our own courtyard. He thought owning a statue would satisfy my longing for art. But having art and doing art are not always of the same spirit.”

         “Is Brother August a good master?”

         “He’s a very good master. He allows me to step back with him and consider the possibility for the whole large work.”

         “That makes him a good master?”

         “My first teacher would just tell me where to lay the chisel, and how hard to tap. But Brother August talks with me and allows me to recognize the purpose of each cut. Here I can learn to discern the art, not just do it.”

         Someone outside the door reminds us of the required silence.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#36.1, Thurs., Sept. 1, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Toward the Monastery of the Holy Cross

         We ride in silence for some hours, I, on a familiar road, Ana, always in wonder of the new places.  It’s been a few generations for me, and some deaths since I attuned myself to the patterns of woman. As the pure pale haze of a moon rises in the late day blue we near Poitiers, I suggest we stop before we arrive there.

         “Ana, I need to know if I am being thoughtless of your needs.”

         “What are you saying? Are you looking for an argument that we aren’t having? I just don’t need to talk all the time. Quiet is good.”

         “No, no. I’m not being critical of all this quiet. I just don’t want to be ignorant of your needs and oblivious to something important.”

         “Whatever are you talking about?”

         “I’ve noticed you are not eating a morning meal these days, and now the gibbous moon is rising and we’ve barely stopped.”

         She laughs. She laughs at me for asking. Then she looks away toward the moon in the daytime sky. Then she looks at me.

         “Oh, so you suppose something. But you don’t know. One of the rules of all women is you can’t make a certain plan by phases of the moon. Early is one worry and late another.”

         She puts another silence between us and changes her demeanor toward me.

         “Laz, I really don’t know. You are right this is different. I don’t want to let myself hope. And were I pregnant just now what a messy plan it would make for us so far from home.”

         “We will just take it as it comes, Ana. Whatever it is, long waiting or messy plan it will come to us and we will meet it with the help of God.”  Dear God stay close, Amen.

         We do need to have this moment to embrace before we come to the cloister without those thousand eyes living under the Rule for Virgins, watching us.

         So this late afternoon we arrive at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Poitiers where Ana hopes to be taken in as a guest. Here she can read any books about birthing babies that were ever written, and she can ask questions of midwives regarding possible options and hopes for Thole’s and Tilp’s baby. 

         This evening I plan to continue on to Ligugè to visit where I once lived as a monk.

(Continues Tuesday, September 6, 2022)

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#35.14, Weds., Aug. 31, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The Celtic Pagan village of Largin

         Ana has a clearer picture now of the challenges and possibilities and believes her mission, to save both mother and child might be doable. When Thole and I are privy to the “secret” it is that Tilp differs from her husband on priorities. Thole is only focused on saving her. But she told Ana she already loves this baby. And that was her secret. She wants this baby to be safe no matter how it is born, as it was when she was born and her own mother and Largin chose not to put her out for the wolves afterall, even when they saw she was bent and frail. We learn that Ana believes the baby is due in about two months. There will be no waiting for the Yule.

         We stay this night in the house of Thole and Tilp, and in the morning we will ride to Poitiers where Ana hopes to meet with sisters who are accustomed to caring for the sick and have undoubtedly read everything known about birthing babies. She thinks it possible that Tilp may be able to birth this baby without her own death imminent, as everyone else seems to fear.  But Ana plans to be prepared to save Tilp even if the baby must be birthed by the blade.

         She knows that the story of Julius Caesar’s birth is said to be a myth, since his mother reportedly did not die. So now it is thought that the blade may only be used to save a baby if the mother has died. Ana also knows that ewes can be saved when the lamb is delivered surgically. She believes there is yet a secret for saving the life of a human mother when the delivery is surgical. What Ana most wants is to see under the skin of a pregnant woman but that is a sacred journey, morally prohibited from view.

         Last month we were traveling when the moon was in this gibbous phase rising in an afternoon. Ana and I camped alone on a river island, as she wished to follow the pattern of women. I expect she will be glad this month to be in a convent with other women for this phase. In a tender moment, so I don’t sound like I am blaming her for being ill-tempered, I will ask her about that calendar, and not in the morning, as she is especially out of sorts these mornings… Oh.

 (Continues Thursday September 1, 2022)

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#35.13, Tues., Aug. 30, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The Celtic Pagan village of Largin

         We’ve arrived at the village where Thole worries while Tilp naps. Ana is waiting to examine Tilp, and in the meantime Thole is explaining her pregnancy to Ana.

         “We are planning that winter would be a good time for this, near the solstice, because we weren’t sure how quickly you could get here.  But now that you’re here we could do this anytime.”

         “The baby will be born in God’s time Thole. You don’t get to decide when that will be.”

          “Yes, but here we don’t have to worry about God’s time. We aren’t even Christian you know.”

         “I have a question for you that you actually can answer. How long after the last Yule season did she first have morning sickness?”

         “That was in February, by the Roman tally of months. But she didn’t start to get pregnant until well into spring. That’s when I went searching for you. When I returned she already had that terrible belly.”

         “That belly is where your baby lives, Thole. It is the good order of the Creator, or Mother Nature, that the baby has room to grow.”

         This chat is interrupted as Tilp, herself, waddles from the thatched house to the log circle. She seems a tiny mouse hauling away a huge oak gall. Her lame foot is less bent now, nearly flat on the ground with the extra weight of the baby she carries. Ana is delighted to see her.

         “Tilp, from all the fears and worries I’ve been hearing I didn’t expect to see such a strong and healthy mother as you seem. I am Ana, who has come at Thole’s request to see you through this time.”

         “Ana, I’ve heard you are the good fairy come to save me.”

         “My task is to care for you. Your job now and forever is to keep the baby safe.”

         “Come into our house with me. I have a secret I don’t want Thole to know.”

         Now Thole and I are alone and Thole is frantic over this “secret” the women are sharing between themselves. I suggest we brush down the horses, and put them to pasture. It’s always good to answer worries with caring for the critters and the earth.

         Dear God, thank you for the needs that keep us useful. Guide Ana to see them through this. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#35.12 Thurs., Aug. 25, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Druid Largin’s village on the Loire

         Ana is most anxious to meet Tilp and examine her. She wants to assess the limits of her skills against the likely problems with this birth.  As we speak in whispers not to wake her, Thole tells Ana of his worsening fears for Tilp’s well-being.

         “She sleeps in the daytime now.”

         Ana answers, “That isn’t unusual for an expectant mother, Thole. It’s not a worry.”

         “I have to tell you Ana, she is growing very large in the middle of her. Perhaps it is a boil that will need to be pierced before the baby can be born. They try to tell me this is normal. But she was always so much smaller than the mom’s you see with fat bellies.”

         “That would also be normal. You probably don’t need to worry over that.  You would want to have her bigger in the middle when there is a baby there.  You’ve surely seen pregnant horses.”

         “But she isn’t a horse or a ewe or any of those other kinds of mothers who naturally grow large in pregnancy. She is human.”

         “Thole when I see her I will tell you if it’s a worry. From the things you tell me it hardly would seem unusual.”

         “No, Anatase! It is all very unusual!  You’ve got to believe me.”

         “How is she feeling?”

         “She says she is fine, but she would never tell.  She tells me she is fine even when she is vomiting.  How can I believe her?”

         “Is she still vomiting in the mornings?”

         “Why did you guess it was in the mornings? Do you know of this sickness already?”

         “Really, Thole, it isn’t unusual at all. Lots of women get morning sickness the first few months.”

         “No, this was not about the pregnancy. She was sick every morning before we even made this plan.”

          “Is she better now? Lots of times it gets better as the months go on. But it’s not a deadly worry.  After I see her and examine her I will tell you what is usual and what is not. If something would be amiss I will know what to ask about when I visit the monastery at Poitiers where the sisters are surely the most knowledgeable. By the grace of God we will see her through this.  Now, you mentioned that she would be due around your own birthday in December, is that right?”

(Continues Tuesday, August 30, 2022)

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#35.11, Weds. Aug. 24, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Marmoutier on the Loire

         Saint Martin’s monastery here on the banks of the Loire, called Marmoutier, (That’s Martin’s monastery in French) is firmly grounded in the Benedictine Rule now. So this night we will stay here in a guest room with Ana wrapped in a monk’s wools so we won’t have to explain our marriage to an abbot, and surely not to the bishop here who is Gregory himself. That Gregory ponders all the little details of things that happen in this region and writes it as history. And I do suppose a personal diary of a noble bishop can become the history of the Franks when you are a Frankish nobleman and Bishop of Tours. It is interesting that he has no complaints about the Celtic Christians now mingling with the Franks.  And it could be that Father Columbanus is King Guntram’s little secret. We bring no letter for this bishop. Maybe Gregory doesn’t even know about this Irish Father.

         Now on this new morning we go on from Marmoutier into the Pagan lands where Druid Largin worries over his tribe.  Ana was last here when she was a small child and Daniel made a deal with Largin to take her to be apprenticed in healing then to be returned to them. So here she is now, coming back to them as a practitioner of healing for the purpose of saving the one heir of the tribe that could promise its continuance.

         We’ve ridden most of the morning passed Tours, passed the ferry landing. On to the woodlands where the cooper makes barrels from the once sacred oaks now to fill with wine and ale. We walk the horses on the path into the woods to the village.

         Druid Largin is first to greet us.

         “So Ezra, you have finally brought us the child your people borrowed.” He’s probably making a joke of it. It’s hard to know.

         “She is no child, and now she is my wife. You must know, your son-in-law, Thole wants her to attend to your daughter for the birth of your heir. When that’s done we will return to our home.”

         “I understand it’s not exactly the deal made with Daniel, but I know how these things get skewed in the hands of all our unwitting gods.”

         Here is Thole now.  He warmly greets the horses he’s loaned us. Then he goes to Ana, speechless and humbled with gratitude that she has come in time.

         “Tilp is resting.” He tells us.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#35.10 Tues. Aug. 23, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Following the Loire

         On these days we are riding on the north side of the Loire.  These riverbanks had caves where Christian ascetics found solitude. I was among them while St. Martin was living with the monks near Poitiers. Ana listens to my incessant reminiscing.

         “When I first came here I dug a so-called ‘desert’ cave in this bank. It’s hard to believe this was the farthest, most distant wilderness on earth and now its farmlands.”

         “Where did you come from then?”

         “At the passing of my elderly sister in Ephesus I went on to Persia to keep a distance from the Romans. Then when the politics between empires in 326 caused new insecurities it turned to be the Sassanid Empire that persecuted Christians. I was among the first of the many killed so I dared not spend my healing time in a place where my name was known. Barely able to travel, I had to make my way by sea in search of the farthest river. Like the Romans on their quests to conquer distant lands, like the Huns sweeping across the farthest reaches of civilization from the east, and like Father Columbanus seeking the most remote place, I also came to Gaul.”

         Ana notices, “Coming as we are this afternoon, from far away, it seems more like we are returning home than finding a wilderness.”

         “Yes, that’s a great irony in wilderness seeking. The ancient Hebrew people journeyed through wilderness to their homeland where they could be close to God. But it seems God left them out there in no man’s land for forty years until they finally learned to listen to God speaking. [the Exodus story] So, of course when Jesus wanted to listen to God he went straight into the wilderness. [Mark 1:12-13] In these times all the wildernesses are already brimming with saints listening for the still small voice Elijah could hear. [I Kings 19:11-18] The irony is we keep wandering into wildernesses to find God.”

         “Why is there irony in that?”

         “From the human place God is always paradox –Creator deep within all Creation – God is love within each person yet far beyond all people. Her poem is all that is – in all the wildernesses, in solitude or crowd, here God is. So in the end those who wander to find God are in the same places as those that wander to escape God.”

         “Wilderness is an eternal pattern of lostness and foundness.”

 (Continues tomorrow)

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#35.9, Thurs., Aug., 18, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Journey toward the Loire

         This new day we set out to follow the rivers to reach the Loire.  At our pace it takes barely more than a day to come into sight of Sens, a city that keeps its Celtish ways even after the Romans came and built a wall and left.  The city itself remembers its deep love of nature and all Creation and it is a great power seat for the bishop, but I have no message to deliver here.  This night we stay in an inn adjacent to a stable for travelers on horseback. Tomorrow we will start a longer trek to Orleans. We have come to the end of the map given us by the iron merchant.

         Following the patterns of rivers and creeks I wonder if we would be more efficient reaching the Loire by boat. But just now we need to cross over the waters at a rocky and shallow place with rapids and falls and I am reassured horses offer the best passage.  The view of Orleans has a long welcome from this approach into the civitas.  The king’s castle rises high above the city like a shadow fortress to the fabled gates of heaven. I wonder aloud to Ana why King Guntram would choose to live so far from his city. 

         She reminds me, “His son is here, Clothar II, of course that would be a reason for him to come here and stay; but also, here is his sister-in-law Ferdigund, the child’s mother and regent and the widow of Chilperic.”

         Yes, that would surely make an awkward homecoming. No wonder he spent weeks traveling to get here with the Bishop of Tours and his whole entourage.

         But this thought I share with Ana, “Guntram didn’t think twice about taking in Siegebert’s widow, Brunhilda, and that young king for  whom she was the regent.”

         “Yeah, Laz, You’re thinking like a guy. Underneath all the King’s warring things, the swords and arrows and fast horses there are tangles of women with long tentacles of hate twisting deep into the histories. You’re forgetting that it was Brunhilda’s own sister who fell victim to Ferdigund’s jealousy. And Brunhilda is now the regent of another child, ruler of a land that just meets with Guntram’s lands in the Vosges.”

         “How do you think of these things? I expect we won’t be getting any royal invitations to breakfast at this castle.”

         “Yes,” Ana agrees, “We’d best choose our accommodations for this night among the commoners.”

[Missing footnote? This history is a recap from an earlier blog where it was noted. The story is indeed an interesting chapter or Wikipedia find.]

(Continues Tuesday, August 23, 2022

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#35.8, Weds., Aug., 17, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         “So, Laz, right there in the middle of the Gospel of John was that personal telling of your death and all the grief. With those details given of the funeral arrangements and all the people keening, it was surely a first-hand story by the ‘beloved disciple’ of Jesus. So were you the writer of the Gospel who called himself the ‘beloved disciple’?”  [John 21:24]

         “Me? The writer? Of course not. I was dead for most of that story about me.”

         “So you must know who that mysterious writer was. Why didn’t he just say this was written by John, son of Zebedee, or sign the last page with his name instead of a mystery?”

         “Well, it wasn’t written by John the disciple. Knowing what I know of the title, “John” wasn’t the author but the dedication to the spirit of John the Baptist, by a follower.”

         “Do you know who I really think wrote it, Laz?”

         “No, who do you think?”

         “I think it was written by a woman. It has the hand of a woman all through it! It’s obvious. I think it was written by your wife.”

         “What wife?”

         “It must have been a woman who loved you and Jesus both, maybe a follower of John the Baptist, but surely it was someone you cared about also because you allowed her to keep her secret all these years.” 

         What can I say? “Ana, I won’t tell anyone who it was. Not even you, my own beloved wife. Knowing who inked the first writing of it would only make it about an old woman’s memory of her own little teen-aged infatuations – a childish fantasy. It would impair the mystique of the gospel.  It wouldn’t fix the flawed edits made to please Gentiles by making the evil of the Sadducees seem it was the full nature of all Judaens. It wouldn’t give those who read it a gift of mysticism unless the readers were already mystics. Telling would only make it seem human where now it holds revelations. So I see no reason for me to expose what is indeed beloved just to make it mundane.” [This blogger’s notes ]

         “Yes, I think I understand what you mean Laz; it would be like knowing it was a pet goose whose feathers fill this pillow.”

         “In all this softness, Ana, these chores of love seem bliss.”

         It is a warm and gentle drifting off. Thank you God, for this beloved Ana who sleeps here in my arms this night.

[This blogger’s notes ] Bible study is like a stream of fresh water always flowing new, though it has been known to be dammed for holding onto one a piece of river, capturing corners of the waters into stagnant pools of dependable sameness.  But in these times we are fortunate that the kind of understanding that rides the current, and drinks always from new waters is recognized as scholarship, so that what Diana Butler Bass calls “new eyes” on the ancient texts is not discarded as wrong but allowed to change the readings for all of us going forward.  Bass gave a speech that went viral, if bible study ever could do that, https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/mary-the-tower

            Her talk was based on a new find in reading an ancient Greek text and a beginning scholar named Elizabeth Schrader noticed something different from later versions which changed one Mary, sister to Lazarus into a Mary and Martha. This rewrites John so that Lazarus has one sister who might also have been called Mary “The Tower” (or Magdala), in the same way Peter had the nickname “The Rock.” This welcomes the idea of Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany being one in the same .

            This blogger’s favorite “go-to” scholar on John, John Shelby Spong, writing, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic published by Harper One in 2013 reveals some of these finds that Bass speaks of: the nickname, “The Tower” and the geographical detail of Mary Magdalene for example. Before Schrader found the proof of it in the ancient document Spong wrote his own mystical prophecy. On page 176 of this book Spong says of the two Mary’s being one person, it is  ”an idea that opens up some possibilities that, while interesting, are beyond the scope of this book.” And he also notes his own earlier book Born of a Woman.

(Continues tomorrow)

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#35.7, Tues., Aug., 16, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         The servant folds down the sumptuous linens and our ewer is replenished and now Ana and I are alone.

         I ask Ana what she discovered of a woman’s anatomy in the books.

         “I’ve learned more from the shepherd. The only medical book was the Roman book from which my teacher’s own medical book was copied. I memorized it as a child. And here it is from some Roman scribe! It was interesting to see, but not helpful.” [Footnote 1]

         “Did you read more of Augustine?”

         “No. Actually, I spent the time in the volumes of bible. The servant helped me handle the great works, so I could look at all those stories and Psalms which I’ve only heard in chants and sermons.  I found the Gospel of John, Chapter Eleven is of particular interest.” [John 11 That’s the Lazarus story]

         “Oh you did? You probably noticed you don’t really need a clay flute to waken this dead man, just a shout from Jesus does the trick.”

         “It was more of a plea from a weeping Jesus.” She argues.

         “The ‘beloved disciple’ telling the story knew one thing well. The loudest weeping is when grief is mingled with guilt. It’s one hurt for the loss but also maybe Jesus was feeling remorse for his own tardiness; don’t you suppose?”

         Ana brightens, reminded of a meaty piece of royal gossip she’s heard. “It was like finding the King in Châlons when Orleans is the royal city of Burgundy. I heard the gossip about King Guntram’s recent journey to Orleans. He only went because Chilperic’s son whom he adopted was gravely ill. It took a messenger on a fast horse only a day to deliver the news, but Guntram took weeks to travel that same path.  His whole entourage of guards and servants, and even the holy man for the child’s kingdom, Gregory, Bishop of Tours, went at the King’s slow speed, dawdling the whole way.” [Footnote 2]

         I can envision it, “Guntram who doesn’t much enjoy the company of aristocratic bishops slow-walking all the way…”

         “It was like Jesus with no hurry to save your family the expense of that funeral, according to the writings by that beloved disciple. Apparently Jesus dawdled along the way too.”

         “Guntram probably didn’t want to face his sister-in-law, Ferdigund, but he would have had a terrible grief had the child died.”

         Ana points out the obvious, “His adopted son, Clothar didn’t die. Guntram found him well.”

[Footnote 1] She could have found it interesting. Galen, Roman physician was notably inaccurate but came close to recognizing the uterus as different from an internal version of male genitalia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galen Retrieved 5-14-22

[footnote 2] Gregory of Tours who was along on the journey told of his own impatience with the old man who was King. This is found in book X of The History of the Franks.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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#35.6, Thurs., August 11, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. King Guntram’s castle in Châlons

Father Felix is working hand-in-hand with the King’s men to build a monastery here in Châlons.

         I’m starting to understand the pieces of power here, so maybe I should congratulate young Felix for elevation to a would-be bishop if the king could only give that advancement.

         I mention, “With only a parish priest assigned here by the powers of Rome it was probably no joke at all for Father Columbanus to address you as ‘Bishop’ of Châlons.”

         The beardless young face of the priest shows off a bigger grin, “Yes, you’ve noticed.”

         “So, Father Felix, I suspect the new monastery will use the Celtic Rule, not the Benedictine.”

         I can guess a disturbing power play behind all of this. The simple purity of Father Columbanus settled him into the midst of a political mire which may have seemed, in a way, a wilderness. And those Celtic Christians did find what they were seeking — mountains and forests replete with nature fulfilled by Creator. It is a place for ceaseless prayer and psalms as love letters to Love’s Source as Columbanus considers a ruin to be a gracious place for his community. And maybe he has no idea that boundaries, and in fact kingdoms are being manipulated by his land grant. I think Guntram finds this gentle Celtic father is one more tool to empower him to reach over the heads of the bishops of Austrasia.

         Ana spent all this time in the book collection of this king and his late brother.  These would be the very same books that Chilperic read that led him to conclude that the Trinity was not biblical and maybe not even ordained by God, but was simply a contrivance of human compromise. The Trinity and the creed itself were born in a theological, philosophical academic puzzle devised to produce humanly discernable proof for a three-headed Christian God that could be fully explained by men of power who had been rooted in paganism rather than monotheistic Judaism.

         I told her Guntram probably won’t read all of those volumes and take his holy insights to the bishops as his brother did. That gained Chilperic nothing but the wrath of his own bishop, Gregory of Tours. Here Guntram is maintaining an intentional separation between the holy and the political from the vantage point of earthly control alone. He is always cautious not to tread anywhere near the gates of heaven, as Chilperic had attempted.           

         And again tonight Ana and I are guests in this royal luxury.

(Continues Tuesday, August 16, 2022)

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#35.5, Weds., August 10, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. King Guntram’s castle in Châlons

         At the King’s meeting we are discussing the complaints from bishops regarding Father Columbanus.

         Apparently Fr. Felix, the Priest of Châlons, is a defender and follower of Columbanus. I can see that if kings chose bishops, Felix would definitely be the bishop who is missing from this city.

         The King wants to discuss differences of Celtic and Roman order, “Are there more than just surface differences?” He asks. “Is there something in the depths of the faith, some secret of theology, or immaculate tidbit of wisdom that only holy men could know?”

         I shake my head, and glance at Father Felix, who is also not able to think of anything. Yet everyone is looking to me for an answer.

         “Your Majesty, the bible is the same, even the language of the bible is the same regardless of variations in spoken dialects. The creed is the same. The rule differs only a little. Father Columbanus requires more hours chanting psalms and confession is private while the Benedictine rule hears personal sins in the gathered group. But the sins are the same.”

         “I’ve heard enough then,” and the king abruptly stands and leaves the meeting followed by his entourage, leaving me and the priest and priest’s own following of monks to figure this out. 

         “I’m not sure what I said that the king found so disturbing.”

         Fr. Felix guesses, “You affirmed the king’s notions of those bishops. Guntram wants it to be known he is the temporal king, and things such as hair-styles and calendars are not of heaven but are of earth. It is Guntram who rules the earthly kingdom. I think, Brother Lazarus, the King would have the bishops concern themselves only with the heavenly kingdom and he thinks the bishops are over-reaching to worry over calendars and hair styles.”

         “I can affirm that. The bishops do seem to wield an unfettered share of earthly power, at least that is my opinion having been on a journey with messages of rebuttal.”

          Fr. Felix observes, “There’s a lot to it. This king spins webs with nuance. He surely didn’t need to hear anymore to know Father Columbanus meets his own political needs very well. Now the king is undoubtedly scheming a power play that only an earthly sovereign can wield.”

         The King’s servant has a request from the King that when we return to Annegray we will stop again here because the king wants us to take a message on to Father Columbanus. Apparently the King has a plan.

(Continues tomorrow)

#38.12, Thurs., Nov. 24, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Cottage in the Vosges

         “So it will be longer walk for us to Luxovium.” I’m just thinking aloud to the Brother Servant. “We will have to go ten miles now.”

         “You’ve no idea where Luxeuil is, Ezra?  Your hill cottage is a stopping place on the way there. People going from one to the other will stop here for a rest.”

         “That will be wonderful!” answers Ana.

         Now inside it is cold and dark and here are heaps of grain bags and bundles of garden roots laying hither and thither. A rat runs and hides. The stable is wonderful, but the cottage is the storage barn for the harvest –ragged sacks of grain with chewed mouse holes, and heaps of carrots, beets and turnips with the sweet smell of a barn and the deep mossy fragrance of root cellar. The monks moved our hearthstone to the far wall to warm the stable side so the new roof I made was now opened for the smoke.  Snow has fallen through both the new and the old smoke holes, so I’ll have patching to do first off. 

         We set about starting the fire and moving things to make a suitable place for people. Ana would be laying fire logs, but Colleen objects to her doing anything at all; so I finish making the fire, while Colleen inspects the little backroom and finds the folded blanket and sheet set aside in a nearly dry place. She prepares the big bed for Ana to rest.  Brother Servant comes in from the stable to collect some oats and a bundle of thorny hay to please our cow and donkey. I have to roll the large caldron to the new hearth place. Checking outside I find the well is still fresh and deep.

         Now stoic Colleen seems a bundle of busy – sending Ana to bed with a warm stone from near the fire, at her feet– checking on Jack in the stable. Does she think Brother Servant wouldn’t know how to feed and water a donkey? And now she is creating a porridge for all of us with a meager cup of barley and some fresh milk, but no finer flavors of herbs. It’s just as our old days of poverty would demand.

         Dear God, thank you for this warm circle of home, this abundance and promise. Amen.

 (Continues Tuesday, November 29)