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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)

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#35.4, Tues., August 9, 2022

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

         I am graciously received by this king. As a messenger from Father Columbanus I am accustomed to greetings of disgruntlement from bishops. But here the king wishes to hear from me and he has lots of questions about Father Columbanus and the community at Annegray. Ana and I are assigned a posh guest room in the castle and I’m invited to dine at the king’s table in the great hall. Ana is seated with the royal ladies. And here we are also assigned a chamber servant who waits only on us — such luxury.

         A night as a guest in a king’s castle is an adjustment for us, having spent so many nights on the raw earth, or sleeping in the hay above the horses, or even worrying over the cost of pillows at an inn. Ana has never seen anything so elegant in all her few years.

         The king invited us to stay overnight because he wants me to meet in the morning with some of his advisors regarding his projects for new churches and monasteries within Burgundy.

         This new morning Ana is glad to spend her time in the library.

         At the meeting with King Guntram he is at the head of a long table with advisors all around. His first question is directed to me. “What am I hearing of rumors that the bishops surrounding Annegray are displeased with Father Columbanus?”

         “Your Majesty, the good father has addressed these complaints individually to the bishops. I’ve been delivering these messages.”

         “So what is the source of the rub?”

         “I believe the issues are the differences between the Benedictine Rule and the Celtic Monastic Rule. It’s about tonsure and calendar.”

         “Do you have personal knowledge of this conflict?”

         “In a way, I am aware, Your Majesty, Ana and I live very near the community of monks in a cottage which is associated with the ruin of the fort. But I’m not serving any bishop, and at this time I have no holy orders.  I was there as a layman.”

         “Good. So you have an unbiased opinion.”

         “Maybe not unbiased, because I have great regard for the Celtic Father and his following.”

         “As do I.” Answers the king.

         “And I also, Your Majesty.” Answers the young priest seated nearer the king at the table. And all around the table each man approves of the holy father regardless of having ever met him. Well, Father Felix has been there and knows of the Celtic Rule.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #35.3, Thurs., Aug. 4, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         This morning I deliver Father Columbanus’s message to Father Felix a bit hesitantly, asking him for whom it might have been intended. Even though it is addressed to “The Bishop of Châlons” he opens it and glances over the letter while we wait; then he explains to us that he knows Father Columbanus and he addressed it “Bishop” with a glimmer of humor. He showed me the letter. It begins “Greetings, Father Felix.” [Footnote 1] So now I see two church fathers who oversee monasteries subtly mocking the pomp of an elevated title.

          While we are here, also, Ana continues her relentless search. She asks the young priest if this building houses an ancient library. He suggests we ask about books at the King’s castle as the king has a number of recent acquisitions.  And he also affirms what we heard yesterday.  The king often stays in Châlons so I will be able to deliver that last message I have for the king directly to him while we are here.

         Now at the king’s castle the gatekeeper adds us to the list of visitors as ‘Envoy from Father Columbanus.’ I hand the gatekeeper the message I have brought from Tier without the same care I have for safe delivery of the father’s message to the king.

         Here Ana again asks about books. The King’s library, Ana discovers, is very much the same as King Chilperic’s. Actually Ana finds a whole section of volumes that King Chiperic once owned. We can only suppose that is because King Guntram inherited the books when his half-brother, Chilperic, was assassinated.

         King Guntram is the last surviving son of Clothar I who divided these lands of the Franks into the four kingdoms that now battle each other incessantly. The next generation of kings of Franks are yet very young and are ruling under regencies, whom it happens are the wives of Guntram’s brothers.[Footnote 2]

         One nephew of Guntram, Childebert II, rules Austrasia, the kingdom with all the disgruntled bishops we’ve been visiting on this journey. In the Vosges, Austrasia and Burgundy share a vague border. In some places the southern border of Austrasia is more clearly defined with Nuestra, which was Chilperic’s kingdom, and Nuestra also borders Burgundy.

         The books are not the only thing King Guntram has of Chilperic’s.  He also has his son. He adopted that nephew to be his heir, as he has no sons. Clothar II is a young child now, living in Orleans with his mother, who is currently the regent of Chilperic’s swath.

[Footnote 1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_of_Burgundy retrieved 12-1-2022. It is an enigma for historians, but a fiction writer’s ‘ah-ha’ that Châlons of Burgundy, while missing a bishop, did have a “Felix” who showed up several decades later in Britain, as a bishop, then a saint, related to St. Columbanus. He was called Felix of Burgundy. (The bishop’s portrait copied into the art of this blog is from St. Peter, Mancroft, Norwich. posted in this wikipedia article noted.)

[Footnote 2] Navigating the political scene of the Merovingian dynasty is easier with a genealogy chart. A good one is Appendix A, (p. 232-233) of Geary, Patrick J. Before France & Germany: the Creation & Transformation of the Merovingian World, New York: Oxford Press, 1988.

(Continues Tuesday, August 9, 2022)

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Post #35.2, Weds., Aug. 3, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         The stable master directs us to an inn with a private sleeping room for a man and woman together. I don’t think either of us will sleep until we settle this hurt between us. We talk in the dark, long into the night.

         We decided we will spend the coin and stay at this inn another night before we look for this priest so I can deliver to him the message addressed to the “Bishop of Châlons.” Today, all we will do is search for a knowledgeable shepherd.

         It turns out the stable master here knows exactly the person Ana is seeking. This is the one he calls on for wisdom with horse woes, and this fellow happens to be a shepherd. So this morning we find this wise man at the shearing shed in the countryside we had passed through yesterday when we were seeing all the sheep. He hears Ana’s need and they talk for several hours. He marks with charcoal on a freshly shorn sheep showing the location of the internal parts so that she can see the place on the sheep for a surgeon’s blade that could save both the lamb and the ewe. Ana studies it carefully and uses the charcoal to mark a flat stone with her own notes.

         As we mount our horses to go back to the city this elder shepherd takes me aside to tell me he understands her fear. “A young bride often fears for her life in birthing her first child.”

         He must think Ana is with child and asking this for herself. He has a firm warning to me that sheep are nothing at all like human beings. I would argue that she is a physician planning to help another woman. But really, we only have to thank him for his guidance whatever was Ana’s reason for learning this.

         This afternoon we find this church in Châlons. Everywhere it is bustling with activity. Monks are meeting with the builders working from a vast foundation of an ancient basilica still used as a church. Father Felix is with a messenger for the King and he isn’t available just now so we make a plan to return in the morning.

         Two nights now, we’ve paid a royal price for a private room in an inn. The public stable we found has no traveler’s loft, and the monastery isn’t built yet.

(Continues tomorrow)


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Post #35.1, Tues., August 2, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         On this new morning we are riding toward Châlons. There are sheep grazing all around us by this road and Ana hasn’t forgotten my promise to take time to find a sober shepherd for her questions.  Somehow, what I intended as simply the point of view of drunken shepherds, that phrase “vexatious woman,” has come between us. Even though I clearly didn’t mean that was what I thought. I only meant the drunken shepherds might draw that generalization of all women. It was a misunderstanding. Our long ride is silent, except for her reminders of my promise.  I won’t try to twist it into an excuse, but I could mention that bishops perceive themselves as shepherds and right now we on our way to visit the Bishop of Châlons. But I think better of mentioning this thought of bishops as shepherds.  My jest wouldn’t lighten the mood, or even inform. I do know when not to speak.

         These silent hours of riding take us into the city. I ask a stranger to tell us where we might find the Bishop of Châlons. His answer is much more informative than a simple finger pointing to a direction.

         “There was once a Bishop of Châlons they say. St. Peter sent him here. These days we have a young priest minding the duties of the church.”

         “So there is no Bishop of Châlons?”

         “No. But Fr. Felix is a fine young priest.” He glances at Ana. “He will gladly hear your confessions.”

          “Which way is the church?”

         He takes a long look to the north, so I can guess it is north. Then he explains, “It’s under construction these days. The monks who oversee the work answer to the young priest as though he were an abbot or bishop. King Guntram has an interest in all the new ways of the church and he guides our young priest in the upbuilding of Châlons. The King assures us Burgundy doesn’t need the sour notes of an old bishop in these new times.”

         Then Ana asks, “…and has Châlons any knowledgeable shepherds?”

         He ignores her question, and points me toward a construction site to the north.

         “It’s like no one can hear me,” she laments.

         We could go on to the church, but the sun is already setting and Ana and I, and our horses too, are hungry and irritable and tired. We’d best find a common stable with an inn.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #34.12, Thurs., July 28, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. An inn on the road to Châlons

         Ana has serious questions about birthing sheep surgically, but these men aren’t at all interested in her need to learn. It might be my own wisdom of the ages, or just my gender, but I can see Ana’s persistence and fearlessness is how she finds her way into troubles. Doesn’t she notice that these drunken men aren’t safe instructors in midwifery?

         “Ana” I interrupt, “let’s find a teacher for you among the shepherds near Poitiers. We should get some sleep now. We have a long ride tomorrow.”

         Now alone with Ana in the loft of the inn she’s angry with me; blaming me for calling her away from her instructors.

         “Ana, those men were drunk. And they had no concern at all about your need to learn how to deliver a lamb. They were eyeing you as an object of vexatious womanhood. They weren’t trustworthy.”

         “Vexatious womanhood?” She says that slowly with her teeth clenched, and her glaring blue eyes icy cold and piercing me.

         “I didn’t mean that as it sounded.  I meant, they aren’t seeing you as the wise physician, but as their own idea of woman… But clearly they aren’t knowledgeable of women.”

         “’Vexatious’ is not a shepherd’s word. It’s your word Laz. First you soothe my fears of men, showing me only pirates and my own wayward imagining makes me afraid and now that I’ve learned to trust, you say I actually should fear men even when they know something I wish to learn. I think you are trying to control me.”

         “Control you? Ana, no one can control you. Not even me, your husband who only wants you to be safe!  Don’t you see how your fearlessness sets you in danger?”

         “In danger of what? Two drunken shepherds?”

         “Especially two drunken shepherds. They’re the worst kind of shepherds. I promise you Ana, we will search out some sober shepherds with all the lambing experience you wish to discuss, and you may meet with them in a way more suited to your gifts for learning.”

         “You have to promise we will take time out for that. I need to know this, Laz. I really need to know.”

         “I promise. Good night Ana. I love you.”

         Dear God, thank you for letting me be the safe arms for Ana while she learns what to fear. Amen. I can see fear is a necessary boundary she hasn’t yet learned to navigate.

(Continues Tuesday, August 3)

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Post #34.11, Weds., July 27, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. An inn on the road to Châlons

         Men gather on their way at the board of this inn where ale is served. It seems it may be unusual here to bring one’s young wife to this place, but they also serve a fine dish of porridge and we are both hungry after a day riding. Two shepherds snarl and glance at one another to assure us they see Ana as an intruder. And she’s not one to go to a women’s table with her porridge just to suit the norms of gender, and besides, I’m here.  She doesn’t fear men’s glances in this circumstance, so she makes it her intent to break the social rule by asking them more about their work than they offered.

         “Were all of the lambs born this year without the need of a midwife?”

         This elicits actual laughter; then one wipes the foamy drool from his lips, and notices she has a serious question. 

         “No, not this year.” Said that one. “Old Shlag had to come out to the pasture with his blade, and sliced the old ewe right in her belly and fetch out that twisted lamb.”

         “Really?” Ana is incredulous.

         “It were bloody.” announced the other shepherd.

         “Really? More bloody than a normal birthing?” Ana asked in all seriousness.

         Then the two shepherds argued among themselves about this comparison. They needed extra ale to figure this all out. One staggered back a bit to make the great pronouncement.

         “The lamb and the ewe both walked away from it live!”

         “Both the mother and the baby lived?” Ana asked.

         “It were the miracle of Shlag’s blade!”

         Now Ana’s questions have purpose. She wants to hear the details bloody or not.

         “Shlag is an old shepherd” said one.

         “Shepherd of shepherds” said the other.

         “Like a master of shepherds,” encourages Ana.

         “More like the king of shepherds,” says the first.

         “Kings are born of kings. Shepherds are born of shepherds, and they have the knowledge of the ages – Just like kings know saving the rule, shepherds also only know one thing — saving the sheep.”

         “So would you say this gift for surgery is something common that comes from ancient knowledge of shepherding?” asks Ana.

         “Shhh, yes’m.”

         “Is it common? Or is this the first anyone has seen it?”

         “It were a first for me, but Shlag says it happens.”

         “How did he know where to put his blade for the cut?” asked Ana.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #34.10, Tues., July 26, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. An island in a river

         Ana says she will be glad to spend these soft summer nights camping by the river washed in the beauty of earth. The river invites these mythical meanders in our imaginations. And we are under the the waxing moon that rises in the afternoon and sets Ana into what she calls, the rigors of woman. I happen to think the whining of it is the rigors of man. I have no experience as a base for my empathy. I’m not sure if it is just grief in knowing there is no baby growing toward birth this month or if it is a physical hurt. But we do take a slower pace these few days. And we make our camp on one of the secluded wooded islands between the river and the shallow fresh water creeks tatting the plain of this valley.

         So here we are, like first man and first woman, basking naked in the warm sun of this place; we are like the people of an Eden but here we are in the middle of a real world.  The horses dine on oats and beautiful grasses. They dip into the water, refreshed, as we are also. These waters are rich with écrevisses, as good as any lobster from the sea.  Add to that the gathering of fresh berries, and our own loaves of barelybread, and we could never think of our necessary tasks again.

         Now the moon has waxed to gibbous rising in the daylight, and setting softly brushed in the summer breeze. The last thing Ana said tonight with words were, “let’s just stay here for ever and ever.” The good things said with no words fill the whole of this night. Thank you God. 

         In the morning we will cross the river and go on our way back to our appointed tasks.

         Our clothes are clean in the cold creek and fresh in the sun, and the horses are rested and fed.  We are ready for the rocky ruins, the mud paths, and arguing bishops of the tangible world as we cross over the river toward Châlons.

         We find an inn this night, and here there is a dining board where they serve ale. Two shepherds imbibe, preparing to go off to the pastures tomorrow with the new lambs of last spring, old enough now to join the flocks for their first taste of summer grasses. We try to seem interested then Ana asks them what may seem a prying question. 

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #34.9, Thurs., July 21, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Reims to Châlons

         I know Bishop Gregory is not one to use his high ecclesiastical office to make political accusations, but in his secular writings, like the “History of the Franks” for example, he might float rumors supporting his own grudges. All these twisty tales of kings and bishops settling with the dusts of Gaul in the ruins of Rome could be completely ignored by an Irish father, a foreigner to these shores. Columbanus came here for his wilderness pilgrimage. He was seeking desolation and solitude. But, unknown to the father, Columbanus’s journey might have turned political when he and his followers stopped to ask permission from King Guntram to establish an isolated community for his little band of Irish monks. Now it is obvious this so-called, “wilderness” that seemed to belong to no one is really the heartland of Gaul with roads and bridges, rivers and cities and overlapping boundaries of three kingdoms of the Merovingians. Here boundaries are usually settled by annihilating warfare, assassinations and atrocity. 

         I can see here what happened. The humble, but well-spoken father from the Celtic islands took his request to the King, and Guntram graciously offered him the Roman Ruin of a fort in the Vosges mountains. The desert father saw it as a wilderness. The king saw it as a far away, hard to reach borderland he wished to secure because it pushes into the kingdom of Austrasia. So here I am delivering the father’s kind letters to a bevy of power hungry bishops in the midst of it all trying to reconcile details of tonsure style and the choice for an Easter date.

         Our Journey to Reims has nothing for Ana’s quest, and my simple task of handing a letter to the bishop was hardly successful either. But we’ve learned a bit more about the nature of this place.

         We are heading to the last stop on the iron seller’s map, Châlons. 

         From there we will go on as best as we can find our way with no map. From Sens we will be but a day’s ride to the headwaters of the Loire.

         This leg of our journey will take us a few days and will have less of the aristocratic accommodations like city inns, so we prepare by purchasing some oats and several loaves of barley bread to accompany our foraging through an ironically well-populated “wilderness.”

 (Continues Tuesday, July 26)

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Post #34.8, Weds., July 20, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Reims

         The edges of kingdoms that meet in this vague land we travel may explain Reims. Like the aristocratic heritage of bishops, this city itself is steeped in ancient politics. It’s the legendary place of baptism and coronation of Clovis and Kings of the Franks to follow.  Now the bishop is Egidius. But he isn’t here today to receive this messenger in person. So I must trust his assistant to pass the father’s letter along to him. The assistant tells me the bishop is off with an envoy of dukes and royals visiting kings, not with words of peace in the name of God, but with rumors and accusations. Apparently Egidius has far worse issues with the kings and bishops of these lands than does Father Columbanus.

         The assistant doesn’t tell me this.  But Ana learns of it in her inquiries about medical books and women practitioners. She doesn’t find what she is looking for here, but rumors run rampant through huddles of women who aren’t stopped from gossip-mongering by any rules of silence or by the decorum of royal politics.

         Ana said it is rumored that Bishop Egidius had been touting a close friendship with the late King Chilperic. That’s the king, of course, who made the commoner Bertigan into a count and gave him land. It was not unusual for Chilperic to give away lands, so part of this rumor could have merit. But I know Bishop Gregory of Tours considered himself to be that King’s bishop because Chilperic was King of Nuestria. Then, of course, he and Chilperic had that little tiff over the essence of Trinity. But I’m certain Gregory wouldn’t want to hear that this other bishop, the Bishop of Reims claimed to be good friends of Chilperic. And now Childebert’s kingdom of Austrasia is trying to lay claim to villas that once had belonged to Chilperic as the dead king’s riches are divvied up. It is discovered that Bishop Egidius claims some of these valuable estates were gifted to him. He even seems to have the personal papers from Chilperic that support this. So the kings and even Gregory Bishop of Tours are all wondering how it happens that Egidius’s folio is so fattened by gifts from a king too dead to speak for himself. There seems to be a question of signatures. [footnote]  

         In these times kings and bishops are both ruling aristocracy. Kings wage wars with atrocities. Bishops wage wars with rumor.

[footnote] In 599 Egidius was defrocked and exhiled to the city now known as Strasbourg, found guilty of conspiracy to assassinate King Guntram’s heir. The notion that Egidius had forged Chilperic’s signature on the documents proving the gifting of the villas has not been substantiated by any source but the “History of the Franks” by Bishop Gregory of Tours and he had some skin in that game. Information for this note is from Gregory of Tours: the Merovingians, edited and translated by Alexander Callander Murray, Broadview Press, 2006. Page 227

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #34.7, Tues., July 19, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E., Laon

         We’ve made a long trek to deliver the message to the Bishop of Loan. While kings who are earthly brothers have wars among themselves, I wonder, do bishops who are spiritual brothers make a better peace? I’m discovering competition among these noblemen of the high church office. In their outward display of civility, dissension is cloaked in undercurrents of unrest.

         We’ve reached the farthest bishopric for messages, and I find this bishop was probably not one who was complaining. Yet the father particularly wanted his message delivered here to encourage this fellow.

         While I go my way to deliver the message, Ana continues her quest asking always to find the midwives and women physicians.

         Now Ana has found some devout laywomen here with an interest in medicine especially considering women’s needs. She came here to learn but they are the ones asking her questions. They’re as young as Ana but without the medical training or opportunities for observation that make Ana such a fine physician. One of these young women invites us and the others to her home where they ask questions of Ana long into the night. I can only sit on the side and be amazed by her gifts as a teacher.

         While Eve’s, now Ana’s, teaching in ways of nature can be an enigma to Roman Christians because it seems pagan to them, here there is an openness more like Irish Christianity. I think they consider themselves nuns in search of a community. Ana defers that question to me, and I can assure them not all monasteries follow the strict rules of the Rule for Virgins as the nuns in Poitiers follow, or the male specific Benedictine Rule. Before I can even mention the work of Father Columbanus one said they were already aware of the Celtic Rule. So now we learn that these young women are hoping Father Columbanus will consider opening a double monastery, one that has a community of men and another community for women all under one abbot and rule. [Footnote] I will mention that when I return.

         After such fine hospitality, this morning we are turning south for a long day’s ride to Reims. 

         This is the land where three warring kingdoms draw their vague boundaries. It is possible King Guntram of Burgundy, Columbanus’s sponsor has a keen eye on these frayed edges of kingdoms.

[Footnote] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_monastery Retrieved March 12, 2022. It is noted in this article that Father Columbanus did establish a double monastery at Luxeuil.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #34.6, Thurs., July 14, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Trier

         In Trier we’ve been granted permission for Ana to visit the storage of old writings.  We asked about a library, but it seems what they call a library is damp cellar room stacked with books and old manuscripts. I’d call it a dungeon, but the only crime punished here is that of writing in unspoken languages. I remember Hebrew. I remember Greek, and I even have a recollection of five hundred-year-old Latin. While my very brilliant wife seems lost in a moldy mire of strangely twisted lettering, I can be of assistance in her search. I’ve located some ancient medical books in Greek. It appears that in a far, by-gone time scholars writing in Greek performed autopsies on cadavers and came up with some maps of human anatomy. [footnote]  Ana poured over these papyrus pages always turning to the next hoping, hoping to see the thing she needs to see most: the anatomy of a pregnant woman. Where is the baby kept? How is it placed among the vital organs of the mother? The one source we did find had only sketches of men. Several of the ancients mapped the anatomy of animals, but Ana has a very specific question.

         As we bid our departure to our hosts here in Trier the bishop’s assistant asks if I may take a message from this bishop on to the King of Burgundy. That would be Columbanus’s benefactor, King Guntram.

         “Yes, we will be going on to Orleans. That’ll be our last stop to see the king before we go on our own way to the vineyards on the Loire. So surely we can deliver another message to the king.” Apparently this bishop has chosen to make his argument directly to the king, rather than simply read the letter making little asides to this messenger.

         It will be a two-day journey parting from the riverside, and following a horse path through the forests to Laon.

         We are riding north, and it’s such a distance I’m wondering if the bishops of the north are also making complaints to Father Columbanus based on reports from their own pilgrims, or if the argument against the Celtic Rule is simply based on rumors among bishops.  It’s a puzzlement to me, because I think each of these churchmen considers himself a sovereign. His authority would not be swayed by opinions of distant bishops.

[footnote] This was not a likely find because, as explained in a document: retrieved by this author on 11-21-21, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2589595/ Yale J Biol Med. 1992 May-Jun”;65(3): 223-241. “The discovery of the body: human dissection and its cultural contexts in Ancient Greece” by H. von Staden,  an idea of the connection between body and soul prohibited such investigation even in ancient Greece. If fictional Ana had found any trace of this she would have seen the work of Herophilus of Chalcedon and Erasistratus of Ceos.

(Continues Tuesday, July 19)

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Post #34.5, Weds., July 13, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. from Metz to Trier

         The bishop queries. “So let me understand. You are a mere messenger for the foreign abbot and your wife is a woman of higher stature than yourself — a literate woman of medicine.”

         “That seems to be so, Father.”

         “I know well how you suffer my son. May God be with you.”

         It seems the abbess, Dode, listened to Ana’s request for information with her particular concern for childbirth procedures. Ana learns they have no ancient Greek or Roman books here, and they know nothing of the studies from Alexandria; though the care they give the sick follows deep ruts of Roman order. So if a woman in labor doesn’t proceed as prescribed — if she deviates from the usual order — she will find no help here. And the rule is that a baby may only be taken with surgery from a mother who has died. That practice is clear and simple. It is as Eve had done in the time of Thole’s birth. It allows for a baby to be rescued to life, but there is no thought given to saving the mother. Ana is looking for an alternative.

         This afternoon we continue our journey following the river according to the map given us by the iron merchant. We reach the stopping place marked by nightfall but we are the last of the travelers to arrive. In this place the guests sleep in a loft over a stable and tonight it is shared with a band of men. So here my wife must play a silent monk tucked in under the eaves at the end of this sleeping loft. The other guests probably know she is not a tiny, silent monk, but I am her guardian sleeping next to her to be a solid wall between her and the other men who are filling this haymow with their snorts and snores.

         In the morning we ride along the river to the village of Trier. This is also a bishop’s see, so the scrolled letter for this man finds its place in the largest most central building in the village.

         It is a bit of a surprise to find that this is the place that houses the libraries of Austrasia so the ancient writings that we didn’t find in Metz might be stored here.  We’ve decided to spend an extra day as guests of this parish in order for Ana to peruse the books.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #34.4, Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Metz

         Sweet fragrance of vineyards hums a placid summer’s gloss over any purpose for this journey. As we leave the vintner’s wife tells us we are seeking a dark old Roman basilica with baths. It will be dreary and damp, seeping with the laments chanted by women.

         In Metz our expectation is fulfilled. [Footnote]   The leftovers of Romans, then Graoully and other snakes still cast shadows on the stern gray walls here. And this city owns both king and bishop of Austrasia. We are out of the reach now of Father Columbanus’s friend, King Guntram.  And so royal boundaries may be one reason for the politics of complaint in the messages the father answers. Here in a far corner of this basilica we find the Bishop of this see who keeps his own political stature. Ana is given audience with the abbess, the wife of the bishop, whom it is well-known, is of a more noble lineage than even the bishop. Awe abounds.

         In times such as this religious communities are numerous and rich yet seemingly bleak and dreary with collections of nuns and monks and relics speaking for them of appropriate suffering. Here Christians are sent to find Jesus among the poor and the sick and the imprisoned so the aristocracy clothes themselves in poverty and suffering to encourage laity of Christian duty when the poor make their tithes.

         I deliver the scroll to Bishop Agilulf, himself, who is seated on a carved throne in a small room. Proper protocols in place, I genuflect for his cross, not for his person. I’ve not broken the seal on these scrolls I carry, so I haven’t read the letter Columbanus sends with me. The bishop reads it and speaks to its content.

         “So this ruffian from a far distant island, barely Christianized, considers that he has now come into a ‘wilderness’ for his spiritual withdrawal. Yet he thinks the disruption he brings with his haphazard tonsure and random, uncensored calendar of Christian ritual should be excused in the name of Christ. And you have come here with this message for me, and you have also brought us a ruffian woman you expect us to tame?”

         “No, your holiness. The woman who is with me is my wife, and she herself is a literate scholar in the medical arts. She is seeking a library with the writings of the ancients so that she may better her learning and her skills. Have you such a library?”

Footnote:  https://www.spottinghistory.com/view/5314/basilica-of-saint-pierre-aux-nonnains/ retrieved 1-18-22.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #34.3, Thursday, July 7, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. An inn by the River Moselle

         Ana has learned she was born only a day’s ride from here.

         “Ana, don’t you want to go there and see what you remember? The church that gave you to the pagans might have written your baptism in their book.  We could go and see.”

         The vintner’s wife encourages the venture. “It is only a day away. Surely you want to see your family.”

         “No, no. My family is my husband now. I was given over to the church, and the priest gave me to a tribe of pagans before my teacher took me in and that was the only way I came to have any family at all.”

         Later when we are alone I ask her again,  “Do you want to find your mother?”

         “No Laz, they are not people who love me. My mother named me for a rock miners sought. Maybe my father was a miner? I think they really just wanted a hard cold treasure from the earth when they named me Anatase.  And now people know me as Ana, and it reminds me of Hannah, the mother of a priest, Samuel. That story was that the dream of having her child had to wait. Yet Hannah’s prayers were answered. [I Samuel 2:1-10] No, Laz, Let’s just go on our way as we’ve been directed.”

         The chatty wife of the vintner greets us with the morning.

         “So, a new day, a new path, will you follow the River Moselle to Metz, or wander a bit east toward this dear woman’s roots?”

         Ana answers, “We have a message to take to the bishop in Metz, so we’ll just go on as we’ve planned.  Do you know of that place, Metz?”

         “Of course. It isn’t far. I can tell you there is an old Roman basilica. I think it was once a Roman bath. It has little high windows and the aisles under the arches along the sides.  I have to say, it is a very dreary place for the nuns.”

         “So there is a convent there?” Ana asks with a note of hope that she will find the knowledge of women.

         “It’s a few nuns, and they practice medicine I believe. Their abbess is the wife of the Bishop Agilulf, [Footnote:] and both the bishop and the nun are born of aristocracy. They are quite proud.” With this she flicks her fat peasant fingers to frill her words with a dab of classest disdain.

Footnote: Blogger’s note—Most often, comparing sources reveals a variety of spellings for one name, but here is one name for two men of nearly the same decade and geographical area, Agilulf Bishop of Metz, and Agilulf a Thuringian King, whom Jonas, hagiographer of Columbanus called King of Nuestra.

(Continues Tuesday, July 12)

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Post #34.2, Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Beginning a journey in the Vosgas Mts.

         Ana and I were delivered two fine horses from the count’s stable. Then Thole and Daniel leave as promptly as they arrived.

         Father Columbanus has his letters ready in response to the complaining bishops and he’s also given us a messenger’s purse. The iron merchant gave us a map with lots notes to guide us.

         We are sent on one mission by the father, to deliver his letters. But our purpose is also for Ana to learn whatever may be needed to save the life of Tilp. Tilp is tiny and frail so childbirth, which is always a danger could be tragic for her and those who love her.

         Immediately we set out toward Metz a significant bishop’s see in the kingdom of Austrasia. The map uses the Moselle River as a starting place nearly at our doorstep. When the valley rises to a level place, we are told, we will see vineyards on the west bank of the river and we should watch along there for a cottage that serves travelers. It has three barrels, one rolled onto two at the horse gate to mark the welcome to this place where the food is good, the bed is soft and wine is plentiful.

         We do find this and it is a wooden house made of shaven boards mounted onto sturdy beams cut straight out of the forest. It is a simple but gracious home with a single guest room that is shared with any travelers coming along.  On this night the guests are just Ana and me. The vintner’s wife is brimming with chatter. She must be lonely here, but Ana enjoys her company. Ana seems in awe of the darkened walls, smoky stains, all aged as an empty wine barrel.

         The smell of the wood walls and the fire, the huge cut stones that make the hearth, a little round bubble of glass for a window — Ana says it reminds her of the village where she was born.

         “You remember where you were born?” I ask her.

         “I remember the smells, and a few other things. There must have been a river named Oos near there.”

         “Of course!” The vintner’s wife knows, “You are from Baden Baden. That’s only a day’s ride to the east! Is that where your family is?”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #34.1 Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Near Annegray in the Vosges Mts.

Ana and I have a journey before us and we’ve barely finished preparing. A bird arrives with the message that Thole is waiting at the monastery with our horses. So on this fine summer’s day we take up our traveler’s bags and our bird in the box and we walk to the monastery. On our way we meet Brother Servant, with another bird in a box and his bag as he plans to tend the gardens while we are away. He mentioned it again, two men with horses are waiting for us.

Two men? It’s both Thole and Daniel and it’s good to see Daniel again. The last time I saw him was at the count’s “victory feast” and his mother was touting him as a dragon slayer. I think it was to assure him a smidge of fame so that he could marry into aristocracy – a fine move for a commoner, though dragon slayers seem in abundance in these times.

The journey that was mapped for us starts with Metz, a city with the legendary St. Clement the first bishop who slew the dragon Graoully, [Footnote] and chased the snakes from the Roman amphitheater that was already in ruin when the Christians arrived. But in our own time we have Daniel as the rumored dragon slayer.

“Daniel! So good to see you again.”

His gaze is riveted on Ana. He seems bedazzled to see her again, older now and looking so well. The stories of her struggles no doubt, have been rumored all around.

Daniel knows, “They call you Ana now, I hear.”

“Ana, I am, and wife to this man I still call Lazarus, but everyone here calls him Ezra.”

  I add, “When last I heard, Daniel, you also had marriage in mind or at least your mother was fixing up the necessary gossip to make that so.”

“Yes, indeed. I have a wife and soon we will fill the Count’s castle with little children again. Bert’s and Celeste’s children are grown up already.”

“Tell me how they are, and what they are doing now.” Ana asks,

“I’ve thought of my old friends so often, especially when I was so alone. And look here! You’ve brought that blue speckled mare, Teardrop, I always used to ride her at the Count’s stable.”

“I think she thinks she’s your horse, Anatase. Everyone missed you and worried for you, even Teardrop.”

[Footnote] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clement_of_Metz, retrieved 2-9-22.

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #33.14, Thurs., June 30, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Ana’s cottage in the Vosges Mts.

         The Lenten pilgrims reported to their bishops that Father Columbanus, while true to the creed, allows, and in fact, supports some contrary practices. The complaints seem not about spiritual practices, but more about external details. The Irish tonsure, shaven clean across the top of the head from ear to ear, with no specific rule about the hair in the back of the shaven line. This appears to those with Roman orders, meaningless, and in fact “paganish”. The Roman Catholic tonsure is a circle akin to a crown of thorns. Meanwhile, the Kings of the Merovingians who rule now have their own dictates for hairstyle. The Roman tonsure is allowed, but the Celtic tonsure must be trimmed short in back because only kings are allowed to have long hair. In this land King Guntram is one among those royal Merovingian brothers called “long-haired kings.” They are of the superstition that their uncut locks allow them a supernatural power that only a king may have. So length of hair matters.

         Furthermore those of Roman order howl at these Celtic monks that Easter is celebrated on the wrong day. This issue has truly riled the rule of the all-powerful bishops.

         Since the power of the bishops is scattered among many, there is no one bishop to whom Father Columbanus answers. So for a lesser abbot from a foreign land it would be unheard of to call a council of bishops. And like the kings, each bishop is powerful in his own see. So each message of complaint must be answered individually.

         Father Coumbanus himself confides to me, “A messenger on horseback is needed.”

         The father has a gift for eloquent rebuttal so I’m sure his responses will be gracious and will offer ways forward in Christian peace. I would be glad to deliver such news. But I also suppose they wouldn’t see Father Columbanus as a threat if he weren’t so popular. Father Columbanus gives us a messenger’s purse for our needs as we travel.

         And I will need directions to these cities. Since the father himself has never traveled throughout the lands he has asked the iron merchant for help in drawing a map for us. This itinerate merchant has lots of helpful information about roads and travel seasons and locations for inns and hospitality for two people on horseback.

         Dear God, thank you for calling both Ana and I to purpose. May we always consider our first calling to serve Holy Love in all that we do. Amen.

(Continues Tuesday, July 5, 2022)

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Post #33.13, Weds., June 29, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Ana’s cottage in the Vosges Mts.

         Thole is grateful for Ana’s promise. Before Tilp and Thole’s baby is due Ana wants to search out the resources from the ancient times when medicine was a science and things she needs to know now had been written down. We make a plan to visit to the nuns of the Holy Cross Abbey in Poitiers. As well-endowed and famous as that place is they will surely have ancient books of medicine. And maybe she will be able to observe the latest that is known among women of medicine dealing with a possible difficult birth.

         Thole will arrange for us to use horses so Ana and I can travel more efficiently to the places where she can learn what is needed. And he suggests a path for our journey back to the Loire through more Christian places. I’m definitely pleased that I won’t have to encounter those hunters again; neither of us wants to leave here the ways we came.

         Thole goes on as we sort out the necessary preparations and make a completely new plan for the summer season now here.  I’ll be finished with the roof in a day or two, but now more than ever I see the need for some kind of stable or shelter for beasts. Also we need to speak to Brother Servant to arrange for our gardens and the crop of grain to be harvested and used while we are away.

         With all these new plans we’re making this cottage can become useful to the monastery as a place for travelers to spend a night, as we put aside our own hopes.

         When the servant monk hears of our plan to travel to other monasteries on horseback he tells us of a particular need of Father Columbanus.

         “The iron merchant is at Annegray today and he has delivered to Father Columbanus messages from bishops in cities all around us. It seems the pilgrims visiting from distant monasteries are complaining about our community. It seems it is not enough we are all Christians together, with the same God, the same Creed, the same Trinity and the Psalms. They want to see the same hair cut. A messenger on horseback is needed now take letters of response to these complaints the father has been receiving.”

         Brother Servant says I need to go and meet with the father and hear more of his need for a messenger. So now I may also have a purpose for our journey.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #33.12, Tues., June 28, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Ana’s cottage in the Vosges Mts.

         The anticipation that fills this house just now is the complete terror of hope. No one ever speaks aloud of hope being terror, but we all know. Hopes and joys and promises always appear as blessings, but hopes are hidden fear.  Awful possibility haunts as a shadow behind every dangerous journey. It lurks in the darkness of the minds of sailors and travelers preparing for voyages packing a travel bag with a flute in case there is dancing on deck, but also with the leaves of hyssop to ward off the odors of death. And like any journey, birth into life is wrought with fear. Hope and fear are always close traveling companions.

         Dear God, give us the fearless wisdom to nurture hope.

         Thole stayed the night. Ana lay awake all night considering what to tell Thole, whispering to me her thoughts and plans.

         “Perhaps a monastery with women in medicine would have books about dangerous births or at least the midwives there could share advice with me. Do you know of a convent such as this, Laz?”

         “I do know of just such a place, but it’s such a long way to Poitiers from here. I’ll go with you Ana, but how could we leave here now, with our own gardens planted and all our own hopes and dreams just starting?”

         “You pray about it, Laz. God will surely offer you the clarity of purpose: is it more important to watch the oats and beans grow, or to care for one who is in need?”

         “Of course, Ana.  I should know I can’t be husband to God’s own angel without my first thought being to care for others also.”

         “You can put off the work of this place, Laz. Thole will bring horses so we can travel those distances quickly, and I will see all the monasteries that have the knowledge of these things tucked away with secrets. I can search the writings of the Romans and Greeks who knew medicine so well. Then we can find the knowledgeable women so that when Tilp’s baby comes, I will know better than anyone but God what can be done to save both mother and child. Just think of that wonder. I have time to learn it well! God answers our hopes and prayers that I may truly be of value in the work to let generations continue.”

         Dear God, Thank you. I see you are all about saving the ever after. Amen.

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #33.11, Thursday, June 23, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Ana’s cottage in the Vosges Mts.

         Thole led the horse, as we made the heavy trudge up the hill on foot. And Ana is delighted to see another familiar person from her childhood on the Loire.  She hung the water pot on the hearth and spread the biscuit dough rising to make two into three.

         “Thole came looking for you to ask your advice on finding someone to help with the birth of the baby he and his wife are planning for.”

         “Actually,” Thole corrects, “We are in need of a midwife to stay with her through the months. I mean, it would be too long a journey for you to go just when needed. So you would be welcome to stay in our village.”

         We have barely a cottage here, with only a half a roof, and not even enough hay for his horse. In among the ruin of this place was a stone cut for a watering trough, so we can water a visiting horse, but we have no stable and barely any oats now in this season between the planting and the harvest. I leave them to talk offering to tend to the horse. All I can do is loosen his lead and tie him out where there is pasture grass for this night’s visit.

         When I return to the house Ana is sitting on the hearthstone, and Thole on the frame of the guest bed and they are talking softly and seriously over a pot of tea.

         “Laz, Thole has told me of many great strengths and also of the brokenness of his wife, Tilp. I’ve never witnessed such a birth as this might be, but I have heard of it before. In the ancient times Julius Caesar, the Roman Emperor, was birthed by cutting the mother.”

         “No, no. You can’t do anything that would hurt Tilp.” Thole interrupts.

          Ana goes on, “I don’t know if it is something that could be used to save both the mother and child. My teacher said only to do this if the mother had died, and then it could possibly save the baby.  I believe you, yourself, Thole, was one she saved in this way.”

         “No.” Thole protests, “we don’t want the baby without Tilp. I know what that was for my father to endure.”

          Ana offers, “I’ve heard it said that Caesar’s mother didn’t die. I just have to learn more about it. If I could find the ancient Roman writings I could prepare myself with a better understanding.” [footnote]

[footnote] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarean_section Let me take a moment to warn readers and followers– this blog is most definitely an unreliable source for modern medical information even when Wikipedia is noted.

 (Continues Tuesday, June 28, 2022)

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Post #33.10, Weds., June 22, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. At the monastery at Annegray

         Thole came here because hunters brought rumors that a healer once owed to the pagans is here.

         “So” I ask, “what is this urgent need the pagans have to find Anatase?”

         “You’ve seen her then?”

         “Why are you looking for her now? You, yourself, paid the debt.”

         “You know, Ezra, Tilp, my wife, is tiny and frail but she is sweet and beloved.”

         “I know. I was at your marriage ritual last winter.”

         “We are planning that she will birth our child sometime in winter around the time of my own birth when my mother died. And you know that was because my father couldn’t find anyone to attend the birth. He found Auntie Eve but it was too late. She could only save me.”

         “So you are afraid for the birth now, is that right, Thole?”

         “Yes, of course, everyone is afraid. There’s been no baby born to our tribe in a whole generation, ever since Tilp was born. And that was a difficult birth. And they had help then. We have no midwife among us, and there are terrible dangers of having no one with the knowledge. Anatase had the very best training ever. Even as a child, blind Eve took her to be the eyes for so many births. So, Ezra, have you any idea what has become of Anatase?”

         “I do know, Thole. She isn’t here at Annegray. And she escaped the pirates who kidnapped her. Then when they saw she was one bent on escape and they couldn’t sell her they raped her and beat her.”

         “Where is she, Ezra?”

         “She’s married now. She belongs with a husband and not to Largin’s Pagan tribe any longer. She is old enough to choose her family.”

         “Well, let me find her husband then and beg him to let her come.”

         “Her husband doesn’t own her. She has her own mind as you would know. You knew her. So finding her husband is pointless… as you can see clearly as you are speaking to him just now.”

         “Ezra, are you saying you married Anatase?”

         “It was just a blessing by the father here, and she calls herself Ana now. Come along with me to our cottage.  I’m sure Ana will be surprised to see you as I was also.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #33.9, Tues., June 21, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The path to the cottage in the Vosges

         It wasn’t exactly the ritual we were seeking, but now I do have a clearer understanding of Ana’s hopes and dreams.  I share the hope in the possibility that we could one day have children. It seems so common, but it is also such a shimmering dare.

         With or without a proper blessing, I continue the project of thatching the uncovered part of the cottage and we share these beautiful nights lying under the older roof of this cottage.

         On this new day the first crop of the garden is ready; today it is the chard.  A bird arrives this morning summonsing me alone, to the monastery so Ana stays to fetch the water and boil the chard for supper when I return.

         At Annegray I’m told someone has arrived from a pagan tribe on the Loire, and he is asking for “Anatase.” Now here it is Thole, come on horseback all this way from the village on the Loire where he still lives with the tribe who follows Druid Largin.

         “Ezra? I had heard from some hunters you were killed in an accident hunting.“

         “And Thole you know my oddity with death. And here you are also, looking surprisingly well, and you have a horse, I see!”

         “It’s borrowed from the count’s stable so I rode here after the rumor that Anatase is living among these Christians.”

         “I thought you and your little bride would satisfy the pagan need to continue the lineage. Are they still asking for the return of the borrowed child, Anatase, after all these years?”

         “Well, yes, but my father-in-law, Largin, has accepted that Tilp and I may keep the lineage.”

         I mean to change the subject, “Do you ever see your father, Jesse, anymore?”

           “Yes. We’ve made amends. The widow of Saumur left him. She quickly learned he was married to his grief. It’s a very sad house he’s made for himself there.”

         “I think Eve knew that too. She said Jesse always thought his sorrows would vanish if he could marry again. The utility of a woman comes and goes but grief is never replaced with new.”

         Thole knows a lot about grief. He finds comfort in pagan ways of knowing ancestors. Maybe that is the comfort that Christians find in saints. I, myself, find it in the shared Spirit of love — thank you God for staying close.

 (Continues Tomorrow)

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Post #33.8, Thurs., June 16, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Annegray

         Ana and Brother Servant are waiting outside the door here. Ana is sparkling as I tell her the Father will bless us.

         “So we will officially be married by a father!”

         “Not really, Ana. It is to be a blessing of our common bond of friendship – like the blessing he gives a whole community of chaste monks. There will be no mention of children.”

         “Blessings for prayers and dreams are good too, aren’t they Laz?”

         “Very good.” Thank you God.

         The servant monk is called to meet with the father just now, so Ana and I can sort through all the hopes and promises that can be blessed.

         We are invited back in to stand before the father with Brother Servant as witness.

         Our promises are spoken in earth things, a garden and a well, a hearthstone and a table and the father blesses our belonging to one another in holy poverty and obedience. The holy chastity vow was graciously not spoken.

         “Ana, I promise you a shelter with a roof and a window.”

         “Ezra, whom I call Laz, I promise I will take the shutter from the window and open the door to sweep out the rain, and let the sunshine pour in anyway, even if we have an actual roof someday.”

         We started back up the high climb with the next bird in the cage. And Ana stops. 

         “Laz, I think we made that blessing too easy for the father to dismiss our dream of having children one day. Let’s go back there, and ask for something more.”

         “Don’t worry Ana, if we would have children one day, they will still be blessed by God. What we have is what was blessed.”

         Let’s go back, and this time you say, “I promise to build us a stable with a hayloft, and a grain bin, and stalls for a donkey and donkey colts and cows and calves and hens and roosters and baby chicks! That manger we will have will be long to serve everything that comes to partake of our finest oats.”

         “Very well, if it would please you.”

         And so we go back, and Brother Servant and the father are yet meeting together, so I say it just as Ana told me to promise it.  “…And I promise you the stable will be large and the pastures vast.”        

         The father looks with sorrow on Ana and simply says, “Go with God.”

 (Continues Tuesday, June 21, 2022)

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Post #33.7, Weds., June 15, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The monastery at Annegray

         The father tells me that the promises Ana and I are making with one another can’t be blessed as a marriage because he assumes Ana can’t bear children; and apparently in these times marriage must be about procreation or it isn’t marriage. Of course that is how it is celebrated among the Celtic Pagans with their druid priests and maybe it always is; whether Pagan or Christian, Celtic or Roman, or just a legal contract, it is commonly assumed that marriage is a commitment for the generations.

         But then isn’t every human being already a part of generations past and generations to come. We are all the unison of humanity as surely as people are before us and people are after us. It can’t just be about children. We share in God’s spirit of love and when we join our hearts and minds and strength in this flowing river of spiritual life each is complete. We are one in the Spirit. This eternal flow of creative love makes us part of all generations regardless of the tangible spawn of humanity. Birthing children is just one metaphor for life continuing. And a possibility of birthing our own children is just one way to celebrate the gracious gift of all Creation. There are many signs in nature pointing to a truth beyond now toward evermore. And we aren’t asking for eternity, just a sign that evermore is the nature of God.

         The father breaks into my thoughts, “Son, by your silence you must have been assuming a marriage could be proclaimed without a promise of children.”

         “I was thinking that through, yes, Father.”

         “Of course, I understand.”

         I can agree with the father that it wouldn’t be appropriate to invite this community of monks to a big feast. But… 

         And so I answer, “We can respect the solemnity in the simple. In fact I believe we would both welcome a simple blessing. But just because there is an unknown possibility of children couldn’t our vows to one another and to God be opened to a wider ‘maybe’ as are all marriages I would suppose? I mean, Jesus didn’t speak of the wedding ritual, except to offer a sign of abundance at a wedding where there had been a dearth of wine. Abundance comes many ways not just children. So when the wine ran out Jesus simply asked for water and with a blessing it became more than anyone could imagine. It was good.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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Post #33.6, Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The monastery at Annegray

         Ana expected we were called here for a medical need. I was prepared with an accounting of the cottage. But the father’s concern is not about the uses the monastery has for us. His only care is that Ana is safe and living in a fearless circumstance close to God and nurtured in Christian love. Her answers were apparently satisfactory to allow me to continue to be a part of her life up there. So he has asked me specifically what of our plans – dreams – hopes, whatever it is to account for our continuing together.

         “Yes,” I answer, “It would be marriage, surely.”

         “Marriage? Ana said that too, and that you were thinking I would bless a marriage between you.”  He sounds skeptical.

         “That is surely a good piece of our hopes and dreams.”

         My mind is racing through centuries of marriage ceremonies, the dance, the wine gone to soon worrying his mother so Jesus gave us a sign of the nature of abundance turning water to wine. [John 2:1-11] And the latest wedding I’ve witnessed, the Pagan event rich with symbol of fertility along with hours into the night drinking ale and women dancing with a white snake passing among them all.

         “Yes, Father.” I answer, “A ceremony of marriage with you presiding would be a blessing and an honor.”

         “Oh no. There can’t be an actual marriage ceremony of course. We can’t have the monks thinking a marriage is possible after they themselves laid their eyes on Ana in an unfortunate incident.”

         “She told me of the incident. I understand. A simple private blessing of marriage would be very fine.”
         He explains,  “You and Ana may speak your promises of friendship to one another, and I will offer a simple prayer of blessing.  The servant monk will be the witness.”

         “We are just promising friendship to one another? You mean in a way that brothers in a community are brothers and friends living together?”

         “Exactly. It will be promising a forever of chaste belonging.”

         “So our promises to one another should not be about children?”

         “Surely you must know, Ana suffered injuries that may keep her from bearing children so I can bless your chastity together but surely I can’t bless any promise of children. It is no judgment on Ana. I’ve blessed others who are chaste in friendship without procreation.”

         He answers my silent pause, “Surely Ezra, you aren’t anticipating an actual marriage to that woman?”

 (Continues tomorrow)

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Post #33.5, Thurs., June 9, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The Monastery at Annegray

         Ana and I have been called before Father Columbanus for some kind of accounting. On our walk we are both thinking up possible reasons he’s called for us.  Ana suspects someone has a medical need and I wonder if he wants to assign me to stay there and help with the construction of a scriptorium. I can see he would need my help in making the old fortress ruin into a suitable shelter with windows to allow light for the work in the inks.  It’s obvious that Annegray will be better suited to compete with the Roman monasteries already producing manuscripts if these monks can establish a practice of copying scriptures.

          But really, we both expect he just wants some kind of accounting. They endured the storm as we did. And the cottage by the well is part of the ruin he was granted by Guntram, the king. It is the father’s responsibility to care for the properties.

         Arriving the servant monk greets us, and takes the bird we’ve brought so that the messaging to and from the cottage can continue. As I supposed, the father first wants to speak to Ana alone and she is told she doesn’t need to take her medical kit. I wait on a wooden bench. The servant monk paces before me without speaking, as though I am still, in his mind, a captured pirate awaiting interrogation.  When it is my turn to meet with the father Ana sits on the bench and the monk seems much more at ease.

         The father tells me he has spoken with Ana and he asked her about my continuing presence at her cottage. He seems to be expecting me to wonder what she might have answered when she was asked. I don’t have to guess.

         “We share a dream.” I answer.

         He smiles and sits back in his chair, touching the tips of his fingers together leaving the space of his hands opened for thought but not at all closed together in as in prayer. He seems to be waiting for me to say more. So I offer an accounting of the cottage.

         “We found a well, back in the underbrush. It is spring fed and very accessible to the cottage. I’ve been adding a thatched roof to the opened room. We have a garden started, and a field plowed ready for grain.”

         “Ana also said you both share a dream, but wasn’t specific. Just exactly what did she mean by that?”

(Continues Tuesday, June 14, 2022)

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Post #33.4, Weds., June 8, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Ana’s cottage in the Vosges Mts.

         So here we are blest on this new morning of forever having the consummation of the promise borrowed from the dream, beautiful and new with terrors fading, fears washed nearly away in bright morning light and the ever-flowing cool of the mountain spring always filling the well.

         Thank you God.

         I mention it. “We could have a marriage of our union now, with promises and blessings and all.”

         She answers, smiling, “That surely could shatter a pirate curse, In fact it already has. So, Laz, if we make a marriage of our promises aloud, I would promise you the sun and all the stars.”

         “You can promise that? I was only thinking I could promise you a roof.”

         “A roof? I promise you all the wonders of creation, and you only promise to lay a heap of thatch over my head?”

         “Well, Ana, I would promise you the endless heavens where the sun and the stars dangle so playfully these days, but you already have that– you are that — the full canopy of love, the all of heaven.”

         “Of course, Laz, That is what love is. And we are talking about love are we not?”

         “We are.”

         “Well then make sure you tell God it is about more than a roof.”

         “Dear God, thank you for this blessing of forever love.”

         One of the birds fledged here on top of the wall was carried back to Annegray by the servant monk; and now here it is, returning again to its mate. There is a message attached.

         “Fr. C. requests you both.”  And so we will go.

         Ana supposes someone has a medical need. She prepares her kit with fresh herbs and cleans and sharpens the little blades we were using to scrape the inks.

         As for me, I suppose the father will take Ana aside and ask her if she is well as he no doubt wonders if I am an intrusion in her solace. His plan may be that I stay at Annegray, particularly if Ana says she doesn’t want me here.  But I also know they have need of someone to help with building a scriptorium from the part of the ruin where they gather.

         So we go with medical kit and a bird in a cage, and the saw I borrowed from the tools at the monastery.”

(Continues tomorrow)