#42.11, Thurs., March 23, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. On the road to Luxeuil

         Greg is agape studying every soldier in the line, noting every detail: the armor, the swords, the horses, the rich silks, the banner. This is not the banner of the queen. 

         “It’s not royalty at all under that banner.” I tell them, but my boys are absorbed in the pomp. The murmur through the crowd persists that it is Queen Brunechildis. And for twelve-year-olds hearing the crowd saying it is a queen it seems more trusted than their papa saying it is not.

         “Really, Greg, Gabe,” I insist. “if this were Brunechildis (Brunhilda) the banner would bleed purple. I don’t know who this is and the crowd doesn’t know either. I know something of the history of this error, and I can assure you she would not be coming on a holy pilgrimage to the baths of Luxeuil.”

         “Who is this Brunechildis?” asks Gabe. “Maybe she was a friend of King Guntram, and now that he is gone, here she came in his place.”

         “That would be a reasonable guess by one knowing nothing of it. Brunechildis was the widow of Guntram’s brother, Seigebert.  The four brothers, the sons of Clothar the elder, were four squirrely rascals always fighting among themselves. So when Chilperic saw Siegebert’s princess Brunechildis he put aside his own favorite princess, Fredegund, and sent for Brunechildis’s sister Galswintha. Then Siegebert was the first of the four brothers killed off, and Guntram, who had no heir of his own, sheltered Brunechildis and Siegebert’s little son Childebert II for a while. Brunhilda ruled Astrasia as the regent for Childebert II and by the time he was of age to rule Guntram’s protection was moot.  Meanwhile Galswintha was murdered in her bed, and Chilperic went back to Fredegund. So Brunechildis was raging and it didn’t help matters when later Guntram adopted Chilperic’s son to be his own heir with Fredegund, regent.  The story is a complicated tapestry. But it is a sure thing that Brunechildis is not likely to show up at an Irish monastery where the late King Guntram was benefactor. I’m just saying you can’t trust rumors that snake through a crowd if you want to know what is true.” [Footnote]

         Greg says it all, “The horses are splendid, anyway.”

         As the rich procession passes there has been a parting in the crowd exposing the people moving through these masses unseen, those who cannot stand, crawling toward the pools. It is likely this is the view of a crowd that caught the eye of Jesus most often.

[Footnote] Yes, this blogger revisited that Merovingean Genealogy—Apendix A of Patrick J.Geary’s Before France & Germany…

(Continues Tuesday, March 28, 2023)


#42.10, Weds., March 22, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. The Pilgrim’s path to Luxeuil

We are pressed together into an organic form of hundreds of us like a murmur of blackbirds. Deer and wild boars and even rodents flee the edges of the crowds — with animals escaping deeper into the woods behind us. All these people moving together is surely the reason the more unusual creatures like aurochs are on the move too, as though the forest is afire, every creature is exposed. We’ve seen no dragons or unicorns. Legend and truth still have their boundaries.

         The boys can’t even see to the front of the crowd unless they climb onto a rock to see over all the people. We are like an endless flock driven by a distant shepherd only here the smell isn’t wool and sheep dung, it’s the human odor – sharp, not sweet. Greg said when he could see over everyone he saw the great tower of the monastery just ahead.

         Some are near enough to hear the chants and they join their voices in the psalms passing the song back through all the people. And here also is the outer circle of vendors.  Every temple has its money changers.  We could buy fleeces and linens had we not come prepared for our nights sleeping out.  And here they sell pigeon feathers, as relics of the birds nesting in the sacred bell-free, and these “magical” feathers are touted as souvenirs of the famous Irish Father whose name means dove. I’ve not heard of any miracles attributed to the feathers though. The miracles these crowds come to receive are in the healing waters of the ancient baths.  And for a bit more money than the cost of a feather one can buy a dram of the magical waters of Luxeuil.

         Now enough of the sense of the destination wafts back that we can identify that the miasma of random chant becomes the actual singing of the hours. Gabe catches a familiar note and even his child’s voice is tuned to this chaotic sea of song. Greg also knows this psalm well but he is more cautious when plunging into something holy.

         A procession of soldiers on horses opens a crevasse in the crowd as they escort a royal litter moving through the masses at the fast walking speed of the men who are shouldering it.  Whispers pass through the crowds, “Is it a king?” “Is it the infamous queen herself, Brunhilda?”

(Continues tomorrow)


#42.9, Tues., March 21, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. The Pilgrim’s path to Luxeuil

         This is that Guntram story told, but not written, so by the standard my boys use for knowing truth it is merely on the brink of becoming true. The twins take turns layering one strange strand of story onto the next, until at last Guntram seems worthy of sainthood because he gifted a meager portion of a windfall treasure.

         Greg starts, “It happened by a mountain where water ran down.”

         “Could have been here. Guntram was hunting, and his trusted guard was with him.”

         “Saint Guntram suddenly became very tired so he decided to take a nap.”
         “He had his guard sit down to provide his lap as a pillow.”

         “Already it is a strange story.” I add.

         Greg picks it up, “While he was sleeping a little reptile like animal came out of his mouth.”

         Gabe continues, “And it crossed over a little stream on an iron bridge made of a sword.”

         “It went into a hole in the mountain a stayed for a little while.”

         “Then it came out and crossed back over on the sword, then went back into the mouth of the king.”

         “When the king awoke he said he had a wonderful vision.”

         “And he followed it over the sword and into the cave and there…”

         “He found a massive hoard of treasure and all that was missing was a dragon to guard it.” [footnote1]

            “Guntram claimed it for himself.”

         “So,” I ask, “How does that make him a saint?”

         The boys had no ready answer for this. But when at long last it will be put into writing and truth be known with this as the ending:

         “…also, the king set aside a great portion of the precious metals and gems to be donated to the Church. According to the tale, he had an ornate gold-and-gem-covered canopy crafted for the tomb of St. Marcellus in Châlon-Sur-Saone.” [footnote2]

         I know something of this elderly King’s support for monasteries — out of sight of the rumor mongering hagiographer Gregory who claimed friendship with the reptilian King of Burgundy. To me, the legend seems a pleasing allegory probably out of the mouth of the King himself to humble his gifting. Luxeuil is also such a place as a monastery in Châlon-Sur-Saone with that same king as benefactor.  And Gregory of Tours might not even know.

         Now the crowds along this path are increasing and the pulse of pilgrimage is all-absorbing as we move closer and closer to Luxeuil.

[footnote1]https://thehistorianshut.com/2021/02/01/the-bizarre-legend-of-king-guntram-being-led-to-a-treasure-by-a-dream-reptile/  retrieved 7-4-22

[footnote2]History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.

(Continues Tomorrow)

#legend, #Guntram strange tale,


#42.8, Thurs., March 16, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. On the path to Luxeuil

         As we walk toward Luxeuil, my boys are exploring the nature of rumor and the power of the written word. Gabe says a rumor isn’t true unless it’s written into a book.  So no wonder Gabe finds his voice by practicing letters on the wax tablet. It may empower him to make imaginings seem true.

         My years are no longer driven by a need to strut virtues for others to see; but these many years of life also give me empathy for life stages I’ve already passed through. So I understand twelve-year-olds are in a place where they are more needy of the opinions of others and practicing literacy gives them voice with peers.

         And what is it that sets the standard for peer acceptance among the barbarian hunters they befriend? Is their needy drive to impress others forged with intellect or might? Do they awe their friends with the power to kill an auroch or perhaps to confront an enemy soldier? Or do they see their virtues academically?  Both boys are strong in body and mind, yet they have compared themselves to one another and they share a secret between them that Gabe is the writer and Greg the bowman even though both are equally skilled.

         And now they are explaining to me what virtue can make a king into a saint. Apparently a dead king is called “saint” when some amazing goodness is attributed to him then written in a book in order to become ‘true.’

         So King Guntram turned saint when he died and a rumor was circulating that mere threads from his clothing healed a child of the plague. Gregory of Tours recorded this into Book IX of his History of the Franks. [Footnote] Now it seems this earthly king is a saint even though he did many bad things – like executing his own servant for killing an auroch on the royal hunting grounds.

         Greg asks if Bishop Gregory of Tours might show up in this pilgrimage to Luxeuil because the boys have heard even a “better story” of Guntram that still needs to be written to make it true.

         Bishop Gregory is Frankish, following the Roman order. His contemporary, Guntram the saint, may never have mentioned his royal support for these Celtic missionaries so I doubt we will see Bishop Gregory at Luxeuil. And I doubt the late earthly king could elicit a “better story” but my boys want to tell it anyway.

[Footnote] Gregory of Tours, A History of the Franks, Book IX, 21, Translated by Ernest Brehaut, reprint First Rate Publishers.

(Continues Tuesday, March 21, 2023)


#42.7, Weds., March 15, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. On the path to Luxeuil

         Gabe and Greg passed along stories from Charlie, our neighbor, who is now a hunter in these woods.  I had a guess these were the king’s hunting grounds, but in his old age I’d never known him to hunt here. Now my boys are calling Guntram “saint.” I didn’t even know the king was dead, and I surely never would have guessed the king was a saint. I ask.

         Greg tells, “He was fighting the war with the bishops against the heretics of Brittany.”

         “He was fighting a war with the bishops? Against the heretics…?”

         Greg wonders, “Papa, how was it that you once met the king?”

         “I delivered a message for Father Columbanus to King Guntram. It was the king who allowed the Father to use Annegray; and then, in learning of the popularity of the Celtic way he sent Columbanus on here to Luxeuil. But how is it possible Guntram is called a saint?”

         Gabe suggests, “Kings can be saints, can’t they?”

         “Guntram was very clear that his kingdom was the earthly swath of Burgundy, and bishops only held sway in heaven.  He raged at bishops of lesser noble birth than he for infringing on the earthly domain — building castles, keeping wealth, making earthly rules. He scoffed at Roman bishops who took issue with the Celtic Father’s hairstyle and dates for Easter. He felt these earthly rules were his to decide.  And that was the essence of the messages I was delivering. So it is odd you would call him a saint when Church rule says saints are of heaven.”

         The boys tell me, “Guntram was friends with the Bishop of Tours.”

         “I know, but Guntram’s relationship with churchmen was usually purposed with diplomacy. For Guntram “friendships” were strategic – in order to secure his temporal power over the bishops. For example he granted the land for the monasteries in order to maintain control over contested borders of what you have called his ‘hunting grounds.’ He supported one bishop over another to keep the Roman bishops from unifying power. This last son of Clothar the elder, used every earthly means to keep power. But the church rules demand heavenly miracles of saints. So how could Guntram be a saint?”

         Gabe tells something of miracles, “Maybe the miracles were only rumors but when Gregory of Tours wrote them in his book, they were transformed into God’s truth. Books are like that.”

(Continues tomorrow)


#42.6, Tues., March 14, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. On the way to Luxeuil

         Today we walk toward Luxeuil with nothing but our fleeces for bed and a loaf of bread and wedge of cheese for the sharing. We are barely halfway to Luxeuil when the boys suggest we stop and eat the bread and cheese because they are hungry, and with everyone fasting as I said we all would be, Greg and Gabe mention it would be rude to eat our food in front of the others. But I expected they would be fasting too and this little food we have would be for sharing at a Feast of the Resurrection. I fear they are missing the point of actually partaking in a pilgrimage not just observing from afar.

         When we stop along the way Greg again makes his plea, “Papa, if God wanted us to be hungry we wouldn’t have been supplied with cheese.”

         I lectured, “God expects we will put the needs of others ahead of our own. Food is for sharing.”

         And suddenly the earth rumbles with the weight of hoofs in a wild stampede and crashing through the thicket only a few yards from us is a huge bull auroch as tall at the shoulder as my full height standing.  I’ve never seen this before. This enormous horned bovine is as surprised to see us as we are him. He stops for a moment, and lowers his head, and paws the earth, as another beast breaks through the forest edge behind him, then he turns away, and they race off together.

         For a moment we are speechless and staring off at the dust cloud.

         Greg says, “Papa, we should have brought bows!  This was surely a sign that God wants us to eat on this journey.”

         Gabe argues, “That was an auroch and it is forbidden to hunt them.”

         These boys know something I’ve not been privy too.  I’ve never even seen an animal this large with such massive horns, much less considered hunting it.

         Gabe explains it as he has heard it from Charlie.

         “Our forests here are the hunting grounds for the kings. It was said that when St. Guntram hunted these forests the auroch was considered a rare prize, so when one of his own hunting party killed one of them Guntram had the man executed for it. It is always the kings’ rule that only kings may hunt an auroch.”  [Footnote]

         Such strange things my children know — I ask, “St. Guntram?”

[Footnote] this legend attesting to the cruelty of Guntram is recorded in O’Hara’s findings: Said to have been recorded in the history by Gregory of Tours.” though this blogger didn’t find that in the edited English translation available.

(Continues tomorrow)


#42.5, Thurs., March 9, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. The Cottage a few miles from Luxeuil

         Ana answers the boy’s query for stories of their mother’s adventures with royalty by asking them to imagine a king’s library and name some books.  Naming books they’ve never seen? Impossible.

         She hints. “The Lord is my shepherd.”

         Gabe announces, “Psalm 23!”

         Greg adds, “A Psalm isn’t a book it’s a chant.”

         Ana affirms, “It is a chant from a book of scripture, and Gabe was right to name the book and the chapter: Psalm, 23.”

         So she has turned her amazing adventures riding through Gaul to visit kings and bishops into a lesson. Even though we live in a world of great oral recitations of legendary saints and royals, actual literacy and real books are rare outside of monasteries. Ana and I still demand these academic lessons for our children. My obstinacy about this is probably an anachronism she blames on my oddity of life and life again. But I’ve seen in other generations that literacy is how commoners become secretaries for counts, and how a woman raised as a pagan healer is privy to a king’s library. Literacy is how my children will always be safe from the fetters of autocrats – be it the rule by bishops or by kings.

         And maybe I’m caught out of step with time, but my own yearning to visit the temple at Passover seems sated in joining with the pilgrims that visit Luxeuil each Lenten season. Now we are in that season and Simon and Hannah are old enough to take on the chores and help Ana if I wish to take Greg and Gabe with me to Luxeuil.  It is an easy walk, only part of a day, hardly an actual pilgrimage by distance. But they would have a chance to see that great wonder of all the pilgrims wandering there from far places simply to join their voices in the mighty chants, to feel the common prayers moving through the crowds and be at one in the scents and the silences of worship.  I’ve long imagined this day when my sons could share in this. Dear God, stay close.

         The boys find packing for a pilgrimage very different from packing for a hunt. Christian Pilgrims share in a unity of poverty, while hunters are burdened with the dream of carrying more on their backs than they might need. Both find hunger, then by the grace of a loving Creator, are fed.

(Continues Tuesday, March 14, 2023)


#42.4, Weds., March 8, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Cottage in the Vosges

         I’m watching ten-year-old Simon trying to teach his little four-year-old-brother Haberd to stack stones into a cairn.  Haberd teases him by collecting misshapen, nearly unstackable stones, then he makes the tower tumble.  Simon chooses another flat rock and little Haberd finds a big round pebble and sets it on top. Simon puts another flat one on top of that and Haberd knocks it all over with his next weighty orb of stone. Haberd laughs his silly teasing laugh as Simon worries Haberd will never learn a thing.

         Simon understands lessons gone array entirely too well. He is one who is overwhelmed with making sense of letters on the wax tablets.  It is his empathy and his patience that make him a good teacher but maybe not a witty intellect. And his cleaver little brother basks in the empathy and tries the patience of Simon.

         The two youngest of our children are two-year-old Brandell, another little boy child, and now, at Ana’s breast is dark-haired baby girl named for the beautiful night when she was born just five months ago, Laylah.  I’ve added a wide sleeping loft to our cottage now.  

         Though all of these babies were baptized at the little church I still visit Luxeuil often.  Ana still finds her spiritual welcome more amid the earthy fragrances of the altars of the secular church so it is there where our family worships. 

         Our neighbor boy, Charlie, at sixteen years old is a hunter now. But when they were small children Greg and Gabe and Charlie and Charlie’s younger brother would wander the woods with their pretend bows and come back with wondrous tales of adventures of royal hunts. Greg is enamored with horses and royalty. When he learned that the mother of our mule was a horse that his own mother once rode he pressed Ana for stories of the days when she would ride through the hills of Gaul, windswept as a legend.

         “Momma, have you ever met a real King or a Prince?”

         Ana answered, “I’ve read the books from King Chilperic’s own library. So it is a good thing to learn to read even if our ‘books’ are only on papyrus scraps.”

         These boys never have success at diverting Ana’s attention from their lessons.

         “So,” she asks them, “what books do you suppose a King would keep in his library?”

(Continues tomorrow)


#42.3, Tues., March 7, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Cottage in the Vosges

         The pagan-like secular church has become a true sanctuary for our worship through these years. The shrine in this place of worship in the woods is made of forest things. A twig, in front of the candle flame on the Christian altar spreads a fully embracing shadow of a tree, overwhelming the sanctuary in the forest pattern of branches across the ceiling all from shadow in the flickering light.

         It is the nature of humankind to respond to the astonishment of the grandeur of Creation with an unquenchable thirst to create, in a human way, a touch or a voice or a god, to look beyond a small self for a god to worship. It is the creative response to Creator. It comes in patterns, ritual, redundant celebration, holy gesture to thirst for God.  She has the unspeakable name, and yet we name God: Diana, Artemis, Mother Nature, Thor, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Yahweh, Lord, King, god, God.

         Sometimes we create an image with our little fingered hands. And sometimes we create music with a range of tone so sparse even the creatures of the sea and woods know the wider songs. And sometimes we create a love of it, and God who is God answers our tiny personal creation of question and captures us completely in an unbounded, unsorted universe of love – tumbling us into so many facets of joy we had never even imagined. The human longing is to own this, to tether it to us, but when it is contained for keeping it seems to vanish, though really, it has become all there is. 

         So after the armies leave, and the church rulers rule, and song is a music lesson, the old gods are set in the niches with new names to fit the new times — then we are at worship.  The people come and go welcomed, forgiven, restored, amazed, beloved – there aren’t words to say it. Worship is silent. 

         And Ana and I still hide our grief from all our other children who live. 

         Dear God, thank you for these children.

         Just now I’m watching that ten-year-old Simon, the twin who survived, as he is watching over his four-year-old brother Haberd. We wait for the older boys to come in from the new planting so I can tend to the mule while they get to their lessons with Ana.

(Continues tomorrow)


#42.2, Thurs., March 2, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Cottage in the Vosges

         Always changing, always new is the constant of a farm. Thole brought us a mule the summer after the twins were born, the foal of Ana’s Teardrop and Colleen’s donkey, Jack.  With a mule for the hard work of it and a cow for the milk and cheese, and the tiny little donkey taking us where we want to go in a little cart we’ve always been able to keep the farm and its people and critters strong and fed. What else is there to say about a good life, but thank you, Dear God.

         Ana is still straight and strong and wise though by now her childish ways have turned to ageless grace.

         Strange as it may seem to have two sets of twins, after Gabe and Greg another pair was born. That was a difficult birthing and Ana blames herself for not taking the same care with these twins that Colleen had required for her with the first twins. But how could she spend all those weeks sitting in bed spinning yarn while we had two toddlers to keep watch over?  I alone couldn’t do everything for the two babies and for the farm chores as well. So maybe it was my fault more than hers that she couldn’t take the rest that was needed.

         We named that twin who lived after my father, Simon*. The other child named Samuel, is buried with a raw stone for a marker in the beautiful place behind the well where only flowers may grow. Ana chooses to hide her grief from the children. But we still grieve for him. It was two years before we dared take a chance on setting another child into life. Then, after the boys, a girl was born to us. I thought she was a baby Ana.  She was blue-eyed and fair — always aware of faces — early with words. She was always naming things and searching out reasons. But Ana chose her name despite my wishes. So we know she is Hannah – Hannah beautiful and wise. Ana nurtured that little Hannah baby thinking always of how long she waited for the girl child and how often she sang Hannah’s song for justice. [I Samuel 2] 

       We often take our laments and our grieving, along with so much gratitude to the altars of the little secular church in the woods.

*A note to followers — Simon’s story is also a novella which mirrors the April through July blog posts this year. This blogger hopes to make that available, either in an e-book format or as a pdf to be a free gift to followers of this blog. (More info. to come in April.)

(Continues Tuesday, March 7)


#42.1, Weds., March 1, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Cottage in the Vosges

         Change is the nature of things that grow and things that heal and living things we come to know. Twelve years have passed. We know how it was, and how it is and there is a big difference between the “was” and the “is” but these deep changes happened in God’s time, barely noticed by Ana and me. Yet all this growing new and healing is significant and in fact, world-changing.  Poets call it the “fullness” of time, or maybe in everyday human terms it seems the absence of time.

         Ana is seasoned now, having born our eight children, and seven of them have lived into their childhoods. Well, Gabe and Greg don’t think they are yet children. They believe they are fully men, even though Ana and I know them for who they are. They look at one another and are assured they are simply small-statured, barefaced men. They push themselves to be the wonders of humankind they believe they already are.  If I do say so, as the father of these “men,” they are exceptionally brilliant in their studies and each has his own beautiful gifts in music and rhetoric.

         Yes, we did have those two babies baptized soon after I last wrote in this journal. We took them to the “secular” church where Mater Doe gave them a proper Christian sprinkling. So we have been off to that church in the hills above Annegray for all these holy days since. At special times, as with the Mass for the Blessing of the Hunt and the Christ Mass, we take Colleen’s donkey, Jack, who lives in our stable now, towing the cart with Ana and the littlest children while the rest of us walk over the hills and into the forest for worship.

         We share in the breaking of the bread with the family of hunters we met so many years ago when Colleen was with us, just before the births of the twins.

    Colleen is living as a nun now, at Luxeuil, but our nearer neighbors still stop off at our cottage on their trek back from church to their woodland home.  We dry shoes of all sizes on the hearth and we still share the porridge or possets according to the seasons.

         The child with the wet boot we first dried at our hearth is named Charlie. Now he is an older friend, like a big brother, to our boys.

(Continues tomorrow)


Catching up with the plot


NOTE TO FOLLOWERS OF THIS SERIAL STORY — Thank you for following. If you are human, and lose track of the story from time to time, the “catching up with the story line” is posted monthly on the home page. This month begins a whole new century skipping a few years. So it is a new start for all.

The February Chapter (and before) concludes the 6th century part of this saga and sets the scene for Ana and Lazarus to enter a new era. The magical wonders of tribal Paganism and the Celtic influence on Christianity continue to exist into the 7th century and even today, but are less evolving having been etched in stone as tradition. Symbols of Christmas, popular adherence to Creed, liturgical practices and structure have become the foundation stones of a religion.

         The March Chapter “Passing Time” begins twelve years after the February chapter ended, and now it is 602 C.E., with Laz and Ana’s boys, Gabriel and Gregory, twelve-year-olds, nearly adults in that time. Now there are seven children in all. Going forward this family of farmers picks a pathway through new power structures rising from the dank tunnels and dungeons called, by some, the ‘dark ages.’


#41.11, Thurs., Feb. 23, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         “Bringing a new bird now.” That was the message that arrived today on the leg of one of our birds.  We had sent a message to Annegray that the boys arrived safely but we had not heard back, nor had we received the visitors we were expecting.  Apparently Colleen is the only one concerned about baptism immediately. So now we hear that Brother Servant is coming today.

         Our guest with the new bird doesn’t arrive until this afternoon. He has just come all the way from Luxeuil.  He tells us this grayish feathered bird he brings was fledged at Luxeuil and that is where any messages should be sent from now on. We expect our message of the news of our family landed unread at the dovecote of Annegray, as no one is there anymore but the pigeons.

         Brother Servant has barely laid his winter cloak aside when Sister Paula and Colleen have already provided him with hot tea and biscuits.

         “So you’ve moved on to Luxeuil?” I ask Brother Servant.

         “Indeed.  And it all seems a deliberate temptation to threaten our vows. Where is our poverty when we bask like emperors in the soothing waters? How can we be obedient when vast corridors keep the Father at such a distance we can’t even hear his voice. And our obedience to God is challenged by the awe of so much ancient pagan beauty.”

         “You’ll surely make it your home soon, with lots of endless psalm singing. I imagine those old Roman halls will chant the new songs of Christians any day now. And you have a church bell to announce the hour.”

         Brother Servant argues, “When all the sisters arrive even the chastity of some of the brothers may be at stake.”

         Colleen finds a place with us at the table, as Sister Paula goes to the other room to let Ana know of our guest.

         Colleen assures Brother Servant the vow of chastity is not entrusted to the monks alone. “Surely the women of Luxeuil will mind those vows most solemnly.” And she asks, “Brother Servant, just what is required by Father Columbanus for a woman to belong to that community?”

         The Irish monk raises his eyebrows and looks straight at Colleen. There is an excellent teacher already there so you can practice reading and writing when you are there. So whenever your spirit is ready you will be received.

(Continues Tuesday, February 28)


#41.10, Weds., Feb. 22, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Sister Marcella always keeps her eye on the hour, and she is expecting the babies will be waking just now.  Ana sits with the first son in the chair, and opens her tunic.  Sister Marcella checks on Gabriel, still sleeping soundly.

         “His name is Gabriel” I whisper to her.

         “You’ve named them already?”

         “Yes.” Ana answers.

         “And who is this fine fellow?” Sister Marcella asks.

         I answer, “We are still waiting for his name to be revealed.”

         “Well,” answers Sister Marcella, “You had better name him something more down to earth than Gabriel.  God knows we have enough flitting angels already, and the saints are way too heavenly for this strong boy.  Name him for the new pope why not?”

         “Gregory?” Ana considers it.

         I can say, “We don’t even know the new pope.  Maybe he isn’t one we would want to remember in this way.”

         Ana argues, “I like the way it sounds though. Gregory seems a noble name, and it is so popular now, every churchman it seems is naming himself for a Gregory.”

         I add, “I happen to know Gregory, Bishop of Tours took his name from one of his own noble relatives.  In his youth he was called George.”

         “Well we certainly won’t name this little fellow George,” announces Ana.  “But saints and nobles aside, Gregory is a popular name, so it could mean any good Gregory, now-a-days, and he could make a name for himself of it.  And when you realize that all we know of Pope Gregory we’ve learned from messengers on fine horses all dressed up so pretty in silks, surely Gregory is a worthy name for this child.”

         So we name both our boys for well-dressed messengers, one with feathered wings and the other on horses – the horses that bring the news.  It seems right enough, since these boys were conceived on our journey when we were messengers for Father Columbanus. And that Father is named for the birds that carry the messages to and from the monastery. Or, was it that the birds were named for him? Names after names both honor and confuse.

         Ana affirms, “with a pope by the name Gregory there will be lots of Gregorys; so he will become known for who he is, not who he is named for.”

         “Very well” I agree, “So be it, Gregory is this first born.”

(Continues tomorrow)


#41.9, Tues., Feb 21, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Both babies are well today. The three nuns-to-be and I use a little flask with a spoon top to feed one of them while Ana has the other.  It is a very nice thing to hold a baby and to nurture his strength with milk while his bright eyes stare into the parent face linking soul to sound, so of course I sing. “Lu, lu,” and the baby shapes his lips to “oooo.” Of course my little man can sing! As long as the song is this one note and syllable of his own choosing. These Sisters think I’m silly. Wait until my hands are free and I will build a harp. Then they will recognize the baby sound as singing. It is all about the imagination and the accompaniment.

         I carry in the bundles of wood to keep both fires, and we have two caldrons of water aways filled: one for washing and the other for cooking. Ana is strong and able to tend to the babies, and she helps  with the ceaseless washing of the linens. So in this quiet moment when the women are in cooking, and the babies are sleeping, Ana and I launder the endless baby clothes, rinsing and washing, rinsing again and wringing, hanging them on the lines by the fire in the bedroom. It is in this moment we can talk.

         “What should we name them?”

         “Is it too soon to give them names?”

         “Ana, how could it be too soon for names? We would surely grieve for them were they not to be. Our grief would need a name, but so too does our gratitude for their little beings, their sounds and songs and cries… we already know them. So what names should we call them by?”

         “I already call the second one Gabriel. He shows me courage through the most questionable darkness, and through his trust and perseverance he speaks the incessant angel message, ‘don’t be afraid.’ In his baby grapple for message he speaks of God’s relentless love.”

         “Gabriel, he is. Did we name him, or just discover his name?“

         The first boy stirs in the cradle, and Ana goes over and picks him up, even before he cries. She asks him his name. He stares into her face still wondering at the meaning of any words at all.

         Sister Marcella taps on the door.

         (Continues tomorrow)


#41.8, Thurs., Feb. 16, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Ana is concerned about the smaller baby fearing he isn’t well. Colleen and the sisters don’t find this unusual. Being born is always dangerous, and these two infants have just come through that most terrifying journey into life. 

         But Ana is especially concerned and so we all are. She takes great care to keep him warm and when he seems warm she fears a fever. He does seem fussy and not as enthusiastic about the breast as his brother, but maybe the babies are just different from one another.

         Colleen says we need to have them baptized immediately. And Ana wants to give the babies baths with or without the blessings so she asks Colleen to prepare the large earthen bowl with tepid water. I’m sure that isn’t what Colleen meant by baptism.

         Once in a time before Jesus was even famous, my sister followed one of the charismatic leaders of new theologies arising within Judaism. Mary followed John. And Jesus also followed him. John was preaching near our home in Bethany making the bathing in the Jordan into a holy cleansing – offering repentance – a turning around – a change.

         As I am reminded seeing the Roman ruins in Luxovium and Metz, bathing was a popular social gathering back then. So all of us, in our little clusters of Christians following the changing ways of Judaism, were seeing all things of daily life as ritual “on earth as it is in heaven.” By the blessings of John, bathing became a sacrament. And by the blessings of Jesus feasting became a sacrament. [Footnote]

         I’ve seen it myself. First the baths and the feasts were social gatherings, then they were symbol, then sacrament, then sacrament became a single order by holy proclamation and sacrament and creed became an organized religion. Now, by symbol of bathing both body and spirit become new. This Christian ritual seems a fine thing to me, after-all, I was presented at the temple for the briss when I was only eight days old. I don’t remember that at all but surely it was a way bigger physical commitment than simply cooling the fevers of birth with a sprinkling.

         So if Ana wants to bathe the little fellow, wash him, restore the comfort of well-being to the tiny little body, it seems a good plan. Call it what you will.


[Footnote] If history were only about old stuff it wouldn’t be as interesting. The cultural importance of bathing in Jesus time is considered in a full chapter in The Westar Christianity Seminar takes a new look at an old time in A Historical exploration of the first two centuries of Jesus movement after Jesus and before Christianity, Erin Vearncombe, Brandon Scott, and Hal Taussig: Harper One, 2021, Part II, Chapter 12.

Photo credit: Rev. Christopher Marlin-Warfield, “From the bridge at Knoff Family Reservation”

(Continues Tuesday, February 21)


#41.7, Weds., Feb. 15, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         When two babies sleep the mother sleeps, the midwives get their rest, and so many thoughts and notions, remembrances and dreams race through my imagination just now. I can be the one who is awake to rock the cradle.

         I can remember lullabies. It’s been a very long time since I’ve sung an actual song other than chanting psalms. At this moment I can sort of understand how lullabies get such strange lyrics. They are a low hum of music forced into breath in a fog of new birth, crazy world of light and life, mother screaming for life, father fainting for helplessness, and now the stillness of fatigue and need and hunger plunging more humans into the earthly world of need.  What is there to eat? Send the little red bird off to find a seed, a bug, a twisting little worm — things only a famished dad would think of. There are no lullabies in my head that have any sense of reality. Whose imagination do they quill — baby’s or the father’s?

         “All night long, we’ve worked so hard to keep these human babies safe, and now you can only sing of birds?”

         Ana is awake and grinning at me across her pillow.

         “Shhh they’re both sleeping now.”

         “Well, don’t stop singing just because they’re sleeping.”

         To Ana I sing,

         “Laz, wake up.  You can’t sleep when you are the one keeping watch.”

         A baby is crying, and Ana caught me sleeping. Now Sister Paula has already come in with a clean wrap for the baby.

(Continues tomorrow)


#41.6, Tues., Feb. 14, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         It was a very long night. And now this disheveled morning is dizzy with sleeplessness. I add more wood to the fires. In our minds this is the good ending we were praying for. In our hearts we are not so sure. Actually, Ana and I prayed that we could find our way through this however it turned out. The idea of perfect little humans, smiling with fluffy pink checks, babies seeing us all with Ana’s eyes, for all the wonder, we really hadn’t spoken that prayer aloud. The one we did say was the “‘not my will but yours’ dear God.” And by grace, Ana is exhausted, but Colleen says she is well, and here are two little boys, red and scrawny, with round eyes like turtle’s eyes, or maybe little hatchling sparrows fallen from the nest without feathers. Ana knows they are both very delicate and tiny. She worries that she didn’t spend enough time waiting for them in the stillness of the bed. She begs me to tell her she didn’t accidentally hurry them too fast. I promised her she did her very best, and they have the best possible mother.

         Colleen has more encouraging words than I’ve ever heard from her. She tells Ana she is doing well and the babies are perfect. She has prepared something of a thinned posset to give them nourishment if they can’t figure out Ana’s offering of her breast, but the first, the first born, has already discovered how to do this thing and now he is sleeping soundly, and the second is making his try. This must be very tiring for Ana but she is so hopeful to try this and she isn’t even thinking of herself right now. It all did take more time and worry than we were really prepared for. So three midwives a new father and a new mother are all-in just now.

         Now this restacking wood to bring the woodpiles inside seems a peaceful reprieve. I actually find myself hoping the women will assign me more useful tasks.

         The first baby has had a taste of his mother’s milk, and now the second has figured out the technique.  As far as the women are concerned this is complete success. The babies are sleeping in their huge woolen buntings, tiny little promises of new life in the long carved cradle intended for two much larger-sized babies to be rocked so efficiently both at one time.

(Continues tomorrow)


#41.5, Thurs., Feb. 9, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         After our midday meal Brother Servant is on his way taking a bird, and leaving the two nuns here with Colleen and Ana.  I find that this is a good time to work alone in the stable to hone my winter projects, the cradle for two, and an oaken churn. I’ve already completed the bucket for milking, and Colleen has been using it for a few weeks now. And I happened to find a fallen forked branch about that time also that I shaved and shaped into a fine one-legged milking stool for her.  So at least Colleen finds me useful as a carpenter.

         Thank you dear Jesus, for teaching me to plane the edges of wood that they tighten together to make a good churn; and thank you dear friend for teaching me to hone the jagged edges among people that I can recognize the beautiful gift of a house full of people enjoying one another’s company. Amen.

         I hear the women chattering like birds filling the high limbs of trees at an autumn flocking. It feels like a welcoming nest for the babies we are waiting to take into our arms very soon. Dear God, stay close. Amen.

         And so it is, only a day after the women arrive, I am in the stable ever smoothing the inside of the two-baby cradle when Sister Marcella comes to tell me to bring some water from the well. I understand what this means. They are finding me a task so I won’t be in the way of the women’s gift.  But I fully intend to be with Ana at this time. It isn’t enough for me to hear news, whatever the news may be, from one of these chaste sisters who vows never to understand this bond of marriage. Yes, I know that isn’t a fair assumption.  Each of us has our lives and different ways of knowing others with all sorts of variations on working together for a purpose. And didn’t I just ask Jesus to smooth the rough edges of having so many guests at this most intimate time? I asked that we may make a useful bond like the slats of a bucket despite our differences. There is no sense for me to go into that women’s room already resentful of taking orders from women who aren’t Ana. So I need to prepare myself with humility and forgiveness. 

(Continues Tuesday, February 14)


#41.4, Weds., Feb. 8, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Colleen’s prayer aloud this morning was a bit of a surprise to Ana and me. We learned that Colleen has been worrying that she would be helping Ana deliver twins with no one to help but me. And now, she is bursting with gratitude to God for sending two women to stay with us while Luxeuil can be made ready for them. Ana said she assured Colleen I would be an able helper. But Colleen doesn’t know of my strange gift of life and life again which has led me to be present for births of my children in other times; and unlike Thole, becoming a father for the first time, I have had experience being allowed to help. I already know of ways I can be useful.  I really don’t think they will need to send me off for water in order to get me out of the way. But apparently, Colleen’s prayer to God asking for some knowledgeable women to come and help has been answered boldly and on time. 

         Thank you God, Amen.

         At noon Brother Servant arrives with the two young women and  we already have a place prepared for them to sleep these nights with fleeces and straw near the hearth. They have chosen the names of chaste women who were saints, Sister Paula and Sister Marcella.

         I greet them at the door and Sister Marcella remembers who I am.

         “I saw you last summer.  Are you still a follower of the wise teacher, Ana?” Turning to Sister Paula, she adds, “Don’t you recall this fellow? He is the same man who was following Ana when she visited us in Laon.”

         “Oh, yes, now I remember the teacher Ana did have a man with her when she visited us.”

         “I’m her husband.”

         “Follower, husband, whatever…”

         I have to admit, I’m not accustomed to being known as a ‘follower’ of Ana. Husband has never seemed so humbling before.  I glance at Brother Servant who perfectly understands the humility of title.  He is grinning at my fluster. And here he is leaving me with this bevy of chaste women who seem to have no use at all for a man. It’s a strange twist I may have to become accustomed to.

         Colleen scurries around in her bliss of guests, preparing a fine tasting broth that she even seasoned for this special occasion, perfect for dipping the oven-hardened biscuits.

(Continues tomorrow)


#41.3, Tues., Feb. 7, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         A message arrived on a bird’s leg simply mentioning “the nuns of Laon.”

         “Laon has no nuns, or convent or monastery. We were there this summer on our journey looking for nuns.” I can attest.

         But Ana knows what this means and she’s delighted.

         “Laz, do you remember when we stopped there when I was looking for medical knowledge and the young women we met were longing for any learning; they were even listening to me?”

         “Yes, I remember that stop Ana, you were the teacher for them.  I remember how we met at a house and you answered their questions long into the night.”

         “They wanted a Christian community for women and we both talked with them about what we knew of monastic rule and vows. They were already followers of Father Columbanus, which is probably why he sent us to Laon with a message in the first place.”

         Ana goes on explaining to Colleen, “And we hadn’t imagined then anything about Luxeuil. We surely had no thought that there would ever be a double monastery in the Irish Rule with Father Columbanus as founder and abbot.”

         Colleen wasn’t with us then. But now she realizes the news of these women is also about her own dreams and hopes.

         “Does this mean that women are already arriving to enter the community at Luxeuil?” she asks.

         “I think that is what these few little words on a bird’s leg could mean.” I can only guess, “So Colleen, we should prepare for these guests to stay in the main room with you. Luxeuil isn’t ready for them yet, and it’s too cold for them in the stable these nights. I’ll send a message back to Brother Servant to let him know they are welcome here.”

         Colleen asks if she may say the blessing for our morning gruel.

         “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Thank you for answering the desperate prayer of this simple midwife who I am, Colleen of the Irish! And even though Brother Laz tells me over and over again, God’s time is different than our time, you are sending me the helpers I’ve been praying for at exactly the right time!  Thank you God, for helping me be prepared to deliver the twins for Ana. You must have noticed that I was feeling so helpless. Thank you.  Amen, oh, and also bless this food, amen.”

(Continues tomorrow)


#41.2, Thurs., Feb. 2, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         When I mentioned our child yet unnamed Ana smiled with her beautiful whole face beaming far beyond that recent dinge of worry. Together we touched her round belly. We’ve been in the shadow of this thing Colleen calls “circumstance” for what seems a very long time. Alone with Ana, I ask if she’s afraid.

         “Not really afraid, Laz, since I’ve never birthed a child I have no idea what to expect so I don’t really have fear, so much as anticipation and maybe a hope. I do worry for the child and if our child is two babies, I will worry twice as much forever and now. How can I be a mom for two at once?”

          “Imagine, Ana, what it will be for us with new empathy, to see everything in our world through the brand new innocent eyes of an infant. How will our faces look starting from our chins then our noses as a baby sees us?”

         Ana giggles. “Before we even have our new names, ’Momma and Papa’ you will be the soft beard, and I will be a breast. We already are the first people ever to be seen by her or him or them. What is there to worry? Whatever we say it is, so it is.”

         “I was giving the little person a bit more leeway to think for herself. I’ve known babies before and, I have to say, try as we may to create their world for them, they always have their own minds.  I don’t mean to worry you, Ana.  It’s just an interesting thing to consider.”

         I share my prayer aloud. “Dear God let us lay our fears out as opened strands that you may lay threads of love among them, so we place one piece of worry over a cord of holy love then allow a winding strand of simple trust, and in that way let us become the full braid of everything this child may need. Amen.”

         We talk late into the night before we are both sleeping as though there were never any worries at all.

         This new morning I wake to hear Colleen about the morning chores. She must know we needed this time together; she doesn’t just come in, she taps on the door.  I answer.

         She has a little thread of parchment from the leg of a bird.

         It says, “Nuns of Laon here.” She asks what this means.

(Continues Tuesday, February 7)


#41.1, Weds., Feb. 1, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Remembering something from a very ancient time, I tell Ana, “It was after the execution of Jesus most followers believed we had come to the farthest edge of time – the end times. We waited for a sign expecting a physical Jesus to return and God to rule as a human sort of king. There were stories and hints at this. As the years passed, it didn’t happen, at least in a physical sense, as we first expected. 

         “Instead there was an escalation of violence between the Romans and the Jews. Human brutality fulfilled rumors of prophecies and all varieties of the persecuted fled Roman rule. Some fled into wilderness places or east into gentile cities.

         “We, who first followed John the Baptist then Jesus, including my sister and I, gathered together in our grief. We fled to Ephesus. Other groups were there also, I know, but each group of Christians stayed with our own people, like a “club.” [Footnote]

         “In Ephesus, in the Greek way, all around us were images of the goddess of Ephesus – she was that many breasted version of Artemis. But the difference between the Greek and Roman statuary of Diana spoke of the Roman way with only a single righteousness, not a synchronicity. So today, when I was thinking of many breasts and I remembered when Christians came with many kinds of spiritual thirst, that statue of someone else’s goddess spoke of God’s love for all Creation even including humankind.”

         Ana considers, “It seems it would be confusing to see a goddess with thirty breasts.”

         “When God is invisible and all encompassing is it any wonder these little works by human hands, all answering the breath of awe, can appear confusing? But here was a way to imagine the vast wideness of God’s love.

         “While we were close family in one group in Ephesus, other groups were less Jewish than we, some even Romanish. I feared that the Roman executioners were calling themselves Christian and tromping glosses of exclusions across our simple Jesus memories. What I heard from Jesus of a narrow gate, the Roman gloss spoke of an exclusive way.[Luke 13:24] What I saw of a Roman execution, the Roman gloss revised it to say the executioners were the Jews themselves. But if I pictured God with thirty breasts our little club of Jewish, John followers, were twin siblings of those Roman Christians, all of us nourished together by one God’s love. Knowing Romans as our twins it becomes harder to love these enemies, and yet, more possible.” 

[Footnote] Westar Christianity Seminar – Erin K. Vearncombe, Bernard Brandon Scott, Hal Taussig – After Jesus Before Christianity: A historical Exploration of the First Two Centuries of Jesus Movements Harper One, 2021. Chapter 11.

(Continues tomorrow)


#40.13, Tues., Jan. 31, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Maybe it is true that I was enjoying a respite from confinement and limitation. Ana has no such freedom. I just wandered off. I was immersed in a religious milieu, a clutter of all sorts of obediences and solitary ways melding over one another’s rules, bending straight edges to God into life forms of flow and curves as God herself would create.

         Ana and I are still pondering “better excuses” for my tardiness.

         “Actually Ana, I was looking at a statue of a goddess with thirty breasts.”

         “Yes! I just knew that’s what you were doing!”

         The tension melted into the full release of giggles and hugs.

         “So you were already assuming I was pondering a goddess?”

         “Yes, exactly.”

         “One made up of woodsy stuff with acorns for breasts?”

         “Is that what captivated you so completely you lost track of time?”

         I look into the blue waters of Ana’s gaze, her flushed checks, and the softness of a woman with her breasts longing to nurture.

         “Ana, this is what I saw today. Colleen is best in the other room when I tell this because it was from other lifetimes I’ve known. She would only be confused or frightened by it. But the little church is one of ‘syncretism.’ [Footnote]


         “It’s the taboo that sent Moses into a rage at seeing the Hebrew people melting down their earthly gold into a statue of Baal. It was the first commandment broken. It would seem to be breaking of the rule to love the one God, the God of Abraham, above all others. But now it is known that there is only one God. And syncretism is simply a mixing together of images and traditions from different religions. But does one God require one creed?.”

         Ana notices, “One creed, but a threesome of a God?”

          “Yea, that would have sent Moses back up the mountain for sure. The one God who spoke to Abraham of countless stars and an eternity of grains of sand probably doesn’t really quake mountains in fear of statues made by human hands. But all this so-called Christian use of relics and amulets to elicit miraculous behavior probably still does separate people from knowing the God who even loves their enemies the same as them. That one God apparently doesn’t take orders from people, rather listens to our prayers with compassion.”

         “So it took you a whole afternoon to figure this out?”

[Footnote] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syncretism – retrieved, May 26, 2022

(Continues Wednesday, February 1)


#40.12, Thurs., Jan. 26, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         “So what happened? Why did it take you a whole day to walk the horses back to Annegray?” Ana asked. But Colleen apparently didn’t want to hear excuses and my “sorrys” so she took her cheese and biscuit and went back into the main room to eat alone.

         I think Ana is waiting for some amazing adventure story – maybe I was battling wolves and bears, or I had to free myself from robbers, or I was sinking in a bog until a bevy of angels swooped down to draw me up. These would all be good stories to explain my tardiness. And the bog and the angels could have been an honest allegory.  But I know if I tell her about the church and the statues and Mater Doe that wouldn’t be a bond for Ana’s broken heart. It is true that we could visit that church sometime. Possibly when the monks are gone and we are taking a toddler walking we can go into that wooded place and find the tranquility of forever. And Ana will find it holy as I do.

         My best explanation, “I was distracted from my walk back when I saw that church on the hillside above Annegray. I left the path and went there though it was a little longer walk than I’d guessed. I must have already let go of my sense of time and obligation.” 

         “How could you possibly loose your sense of time?!  Time is everything.  I’m just sitting here through yarn skeins of time.  Every little moment and second is waiting time –waiting to meet these babies face-to-face and see that they are healthy. Time names chores, the milking and the planting. Time is already too slow and then you go off and loose your sense of it!”

         Colleen pulled the door more tightly closed.

         Ana rails on, “Time is all that fastens us to earth and now you say you lost your sense of time?”

         “I’m so sorry Ana.  What can I say? There was a solitude there — a peacefulness that didn’t have demands.”

         “You do solitude all the time and you never loose your sense of time.  You chant with monks! What could be more timeless than that!  And yet you come home.”

         “Monks keep hours with chants and prayer.” 

         This moment of silence tells me she is not asking for a rational explanation of monastic scheduling.

         “What can I say Ana, but I’m sorry.”        

(Continues Tuesday, January 31)


#40.11, Weds., Jan. 25, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Colleen is just coming in from evening chores as I am returning.  I hope Ana has a warmer greeting for me. Colleen is clearly annoyed. She said they were going to send a bird with a message to send the monks to look for me. I apologize to Colleen.

         “You’ll have to explain yourself to Ana.” She says that as a threat.

         “Of course I will. Is Ana alright?”

         “You gave her extra worry. She already has to concern herself with keeping her family safe and can do nothing else all alone to make everything fine.”

         “I’m so sorry.”

         “Don’t apologize to me!  Tell it to your wife!”

         And so I go immediately to Ana’s bedside.  In her face I see the whole of the sky, clouds clearing from rain, and now the sun is beaming brighter than ever. I wipe her tear and take her close to me. She is a full bundle of softness and I realize she has released her strong iron rod of personal fortitude in order to share our tender marriage. I shouldn’t have taken all day for such a brief morning errand. I can tell her I’m sorry to be so late as I am sorry.  I know “sorry” with God and with a wife is nothing when it’s only a word. So I make the sorry as a promise.

         “I won’t ever linger away from home when you can’t come along too.”

         “Don’t say ever,” she answers. “You can’t promise me an ever, just promise to think of your family first.”

         Dear God, You and I both know I can defend myself here, and say that my first commitment is to you, and I was off at a church. She’ll understand. But you are the very nature of love and every little earthly, tangible display of love on earth, in all the chants and icons of religions and in all the obligations of marriage. All loves share in your love so wide and all-covering that everything of earth fits safely under the your vast wing.  Forgive my thoughtlessness.  Guide my obligation for belonging. Let my promise of ever be honest even in my own heart. Amen.

         “Ana, I do promise you the whole of ever.”

         Colleen prepared cheese and biscuit but no one seems hungry. “I’ll tell her to bring it in here and we can all eat together.”

         I suppose Colleen shouldn’t have to eat alone either.

(Continues tomorrow)


#40.10, Tues., Jan. 24, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         My feet crunch through the crust of snow as I walk toward our cottage at sunset. My thoughts still wander the nature of the all encompassing God I know as Love.

         And how is it that Roman Diana was the Greek Artimas, and then the Ephesians’ Artimas was so very different? The Artimas I remember from Ephesus was more like an ancient goddess of India with many parts to do many tasks. And sometimes Diana is the very ancient Cybel — old as earth itself — at least as old as motherhood. In Ephesus she had many breasts to feed all of the animals of Creation regardless of the human purpose for the creatures.[Footnote 1] Or maybe the Artimas of Ephesus was just decorated with acorns, not breasts, at all. She is clothed in the likenesses of many critters and surrounded by more of the forest creatures. Yet Diana has a bow and quiver, goddess of the hunt. It seems an odd juxtaposition to create one image of the mother of Creation as the same goddess who is also the hunter. But as a sometimes hunter I kind of understand this. Each time my arrow stops a beating heart of a partridge or a doe I ache for this paradox – the caring for the creatures and the feasting on the creatures is the same prayer of thanksgiving.

         In Ephesus, when I worshiped with the Christians who named themselves for John, Christian worship was always shared as a feast in remembrance of Jesus. Christianities were many things then but there was always a feast. [Footnote2]

         Maybe it took enemies of an earthly empire to make impervious boundaries between the various names and ways people have for finding God. Jesus didn’t quibble over the variety of followers. But somewhere in the centuries, what was once all varieties of sanctuaries, and all ways of worship, got sorted into human identities with fortress walls and watch towers guarding against strangers and foreigners and people who believe differently, and people who know different songs, or who sing the ones we love in strange languages. God’s inclusive love becomes religions’ exclusive clubs.

         Now I am in view of our cottage and I see Colleen is going in from the stable with the pail of milk having already done the evening’s chores.  I’ll have to explain my tardiness, I’m sure.

[Footnote1] Clayton, Peter, Great Figures of Mythology, ©1990 Brompton Books, New York: Crescent book edition. “Diana” p. 68-69

[Footnote2 E. Vearncome, B. Scott, H. Taussig for The Westar Christianity Seminar After Jesus Before Christianity Harper One, 2021, pp 180-190.]

(Continues Tuesday, January 24)


#40.9, Thurs., Jan. 19, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. The church in the woods

         The sun suddenly seems to be sinking over the hills to the west, though I know full well the sun doesn’t suddenly do anything. The movements of the sun and the earth and the stars are always so predictably paced that they measure time itself. But the day did slip away from me. I was caught up in a conversation with the holy.  It wasn’t Mater Doe who was listening, she can’t even hear me when I speak aloud. No, there, in that place, where so many for so long have come with prayers is a warm spirit present and I had in my heart an eternal thanksgiving. I needed to have that stillness to recall so many good things of life beyond the petty milieu of human judgment.        

         It’s an odd paradox that the secular church is named for the saint who was known as the slayer of sacred Pagan trees. If St. Martin sees this church named for him, is he raging and roaring through the heavens at all this mixing of Pagan goddesses gathered here under his name; or are the stories of his wrath against other gods mere legend? 

         I know there are Christians in these times who apply the superstitions of old Pagan ways to the Christian saints so that they would look for signs and omen sent by Martin to curse the Pagan use of his name here.

         There is something in Christianity that keeps the ancient human root wanting a god that can be controlled by human behavior. Christian hunters still want to make a favorable plea to a statue or a heap of pinecones or whatever in order to send the beasts hurling themselves at their arrows. I get that. We who are human always seem to be wishful and wanting to buy good fortune.  We pay dues to a god and expect a good return. It is about human control as sure as any monastic rule for order is about human control.

And the need to sort one righteous god from the mix of Pagan possibility is clearly stated in Commandment Number I [Exodus 20:3] brought down by Moses from the smoking mountain. So the story of God’s people is a very long saga that wanders on and on listening always for that still small voice. The stories in the holy books are a journey made of many infinitesimal human glimpses of a God, way larger than any one person’s imagination.

(Continues Tuesday, January 24)


#40.8, Weds., Jan. 18, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. The church in the woods

         Mater Doe watches me explore this sanctuary with the same eye she watches over the birds searching seeds outside the window.

         I see this Roman statue of Diana looking very much like the goddess of the hunt our visitors mentioned. This is a deeply carved marble image, a youthful girl in a walking stride, wearing a short tunic with a bow and quiver. This seems an artist’s rendition more than an idol awaiting sacrifices. I always think the Greek and Roman deities are simply art shown as gods never present with people, off doing their own godly things.

         Mater Doe asks, “So you wish prayers to Artemis.”

         “Artemis? I see her here as the Roman Diana.”

         “Another altar to Artemis is on that wall.”

         I look at the opposite wall, and there is an altar ready as the flaming platform for a hunter’s kill. It features a collection of nature things undoubtedly honoring Mother Nature.

         My mind wanders to another time and place where an actual carving of Artemis is a goddess with many breasts – maybe one for each species of Creation.

         Mater Doe offers, “She has many names. Some just call her Mother Nature. Is that where you wish to offer your prayers?”

         “I just came to look today.”

         “Take your time, Lazarus my boy, sometimes the voice of God isn’t in the winter winds, nor the flaming altar, but in the silence.”

         I choose not to shout my affirmation of Elijah’s mention of the “the sheer silence.” [I Kings 19:12] But I do notice the solitude, and my prayer is heard also in the stillness here.

         Dear God, I hear you in the silence among the many ways we know you are touching us with love too vast for the simplicity of two human breasts. Yet we have this little echo, a tiny spark of the great Creative nurture of love and we can do nothing less than create with our little human hands: we sing, we dance, we celebrate the gracious outpouring. Thank you — for life and love. Thank you.

         By the time the tranquility of Spirit opens again to earth I find the sun is beaming through the windows on the west side of the church and Mater Doe has added wood to the warming fire.

         “I have to be on my way now.  But I will come again.”

(Continues tomorrow)


#40.7, Tues., Jan. 17, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. The church in the woods

         I’ve found my way to a little place on the mountainside overlooking the ruin of Annegray. Here the only words the priest can hear from another human is whatever that person chooses to shout to her.  I assume she hears much more of Creation than I allow myself to hear in the milieu of everyday life with mostly people speaking to me.

         I mean to explain my visit.

         “Pastor, there were some hunters who stopped by our cottage, not more than an hour’s walk from here, and they told us they came here for the Christ Mass.”

         “Yes, lots of people came this year. I assumed our numbers would always dwindle, with the Catholic Christians below us gathering so many followers. I’m Mater Doe; when my husband was yet living many hunters came here. Still my own expectations are far less than the grace of God. I have no thought or guess as to who is the church in the Mind of God. But here I am. And so it is.”

         “And so it is.”

         “Excuse me,” She says, “I don’t hear people when they are speaking softly.”

         In a stronger voice I answer, “And so it is.”

         She clearly hears the voice of the bird outside the window. She turns and looks when it stops pecking at the seeds for a moment to coo its subtle song. She throws another handful of seed to the dove.

         “The Irish Father is named for such a bird as that.  Have you met him?” I shout.

         “I have no need to visit that place. The hunters who come for blessings tell me of them.”

         “The monks will be moving soon, I hear. The King has already granted permission for Father Columbanus to gather his followers at the baths of Luxeuil; so you will be alone here.”

         “I’m really not alone.”

         “Of course, I just meant all the activity there will cease.”

         “I probably won’t miss that.”

         As I explore the niches for various gods I ask, “Are all that worship here in this time Christian? Or do the followers of these other gods also come here on their feast days?”

         “I don’t ask the why of theology of worshippers here. I don’t indoctrinate so there’s no need to pry.  Here we eat together, I say blessings, sometimes there is dancing, sometimes there is quiet prayer. Here we just worship.”

         I find a place to sit near enough that she can hear my questions when I shout.

(Continues tomorrow)


#40.6, Thurs., Jan. 12, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. The church in the woods

         Horses delivered and I start home, but this little church on the hillside captures my imagination. Now I find myself picking through a hunter’s path in the thickets. It’s in disrepair, more in the style of a Roman Pagan temple than either a Christian Basilica, or a Celtic Druid fire pit. Inside, I find the priest is present – a snowy-haired elder — a woman in a ragged white alb. She is sitting, watching a winter bird through the open space in the wall. I see the bird outside the window has found the seeds on the ground, no doubt, tossed from inside this place.

         She didn’t hear me come in.  “Pastor” I announce myself.

She can’t hear me. I speak it louder, and she is startled to find she isn’t alone.

         In an uncomfortably loud voice I introduce myself, “I am Lazarus but the Christians of the monastery call me Ezra.”

         “Lazarus” she looks right into my face. “You are Lazarus, friend of Jesus.”

         “You know the story of my namesake?”

         “I know you.”

         With her sparkling obsidian eyes she looks deeply at me. Maybe she does know me, or maybe she is a bit off. Who am I to judge?

         “You are the Christian priest here?” I assume.

         “Yes, we keep the Christian worship here and the feast.”

         She means mass, I’m sure.

         All around the smoldering altar, central in this sanctuary, are special niches for worship.  A many tiered Jerusalem cross is central, but also is statuary – Roman Gods and goddesses, little giftings of particular things of nature: an oaken burl, and some seeds and husks from trees gathered in a season of abundance. And here is a wreath carved and decorated in acorns and pinecones. I can see I have come upon something of a Ka’ba [Footnote] – a place I had known in the desert in centuries past where wanderers from all ways of knowing God, nomads, Zoroastrians, Arabs of all varieties, found a place for worship.  My thoughts go to that Arab place I saw so long ago when a Persian Empire allowed Christians and Jews to practice their religions, until Rome claimed Christian as an arm of its empire. Then we were purged, persecuted, ravaged, so I’m here now in the fringes of wilderness.

         It was the ancient Roman practice to build a Roman temple on the place of the temple of conquered subjects. So did Christians build over a Roman temple in this place, or are these icons still worshiped here?

[Footnote]Ka’ba or in English ‘the Cube’ is described by Reza Aslan in pages 2-5 of his book no god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and future of Islam (updated ed.) (2011, New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks) Blogger’s note, this book is well worth the read for an outsider’s introduction to the Islamic branch of the shared Abrahamic root.

(Continues Tuesday, January 17)


#40.5, Weds., Jan. 11, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. The path back to Annegray

         Now we are discussing the possibilities that a new bishop of Rome will impose Roman rule on these outlands like Frankish Gaul. The monastic Rule of Benedict echoes Roman order and the Irish Rule has subtle distinctions that, in practice, make a big difference.

         I know this Roman kind of rule too well because so many centuries past I was a son of a Pharisee living in Bethany, a Judean settlement under the Imperial Roman rule. It was the heavy hand of empire that nailed Jesus to a cross. And now even these Christian monks are worrying over how they will be judged under an old Roman uniformity of order.

         Any measure rumored to be “perfection” is likely a human invention. First God said of all Creation “it is good.” So a hierarchy of humanity surely isn’t a God thing, even if rank and structure seem useful. God pronounced goodness but it took human minds to standardize and sort a perfection of it. It becomes a power play of one person over another.

         At Annegray now, I look up across the wooded hills, and sure enough, I see a building not quite hidden in the bare branches of winter. I ask if that is a church.

         Brother Servant affirms that it is a “barbarian church,” as he calls it. It is said to be “secular,” because it is not under a bishop or an abbot so the assigned priest is local. I ask him, maybe rhetorically, if barbarian Christians worshiping where the priest was not assigned by the strictures of the church are less than perfect Christians. “Are they flawed, being as they are, outside of the episcopal structures of Christianity?”

         “I don’t know. Father Columbanus has walked by that place and prayed only that God will sort it all out when it needs to be dealt with.”

         “See what I mean, Brother Servant?  Having a leader who looks first to God rather than speaking as God matters a lot. It matters to us, but also to other people going to a priest at that place, and yet they receive their baptisms and their spoken blessings from God even though it may seem to have no rule.”

         “You don’t know, Brother Ezra.  What if the priest there brings his followers false teachings?  I sometimes worry over the things the father leaves for God to decide.”

         Dear God, this question seems yours alone to answer. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)


#40.4, Tues., Jan. 10, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. The path back to Annegray

         As we walk the horses back we are discussing the plans for the new monastery. We’ve heard it would be a double monastery with both men and women.

         Brother Servant explains, “I’ve asked Father Columbanus about this because of my particular circumstance.” Brother Servant, it’s been noted before, is a eunuch. 

         He continues, “It’s well-known even by the Romans that men are men and women are distinctly different. But as for me, I was changed by the blade. So how will the Father decide who will live in the women’s community and who will live among the men?”

         “Brother Servant, surely you will be assigned to the men’s monastery, because you already live in a men’s community.” Of course, I can only guess.

          “But what of the one who now lives among us born as woman, but who lives as a man? We have such a monk so this isn’t just a theoretical question.”

          “Surely the father will consider everyone individually.” I feel confident that Father Columbanus won’t abandon his thoughtfulness of these monks. “I can offer this assurance because The Celtic rule begins with obedience to God, not to an abbot or bishop speaking for God. When God speaks for God, the Father can make decisions based on his own human care for his followers so he isn’t required to guess at some kind of holy judgment as though he had special knowledge.”

         The other monk gropes for clarity, but completely misses the point. “So Ezra, you think God would find the abbot’s answers contrary since the Father doesn’t speak for God?”

          “No, no, no.” How can I explain it?  “The Father’s authority doesn’t come from speaking the mind of God, but from his own love of God. He isn’t bound by old Roman ways where rule was once by human authority and authority was given only to men of proper lineage. Under that Roman rule women, children, slaves and servants and all non-Romans had a lesser place. So if one in authority intends to speak the mind of God but finds the love rule hard, he could be tempted to speak instead from the authority of traditions and old hierarchies. By pretending human authority is the same as God’s judgment, dichotomies of petty righteousness intrude and eschatological endings are punitive. But Father Columbanus, speaking only for himself, grapples with God’s love rule as a human being.

         Brother Servant fears, “What if the new Bishop of Rome doesn’t allow Father Columbanus’ rule?”

 (Continues tomorrow)


#40.3, Thurs., Jan. 5, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. The path to Annegray

         On this very cold morning Brother Servant and another monk and I put the silks back on the four imperial horses and walk them back to Annegray. The ice on the creek is solid enough today even for the horses the walk over. 

         “It’s a good thing the messengers had a night to spend with Father Columbanus,” observes Brother Servant. “This envoy will be able to deliver a letter from the Irish father back to the new pope. It will help in our acceptance with the bishops to have the pope behind us.”

         My hope, “Maybe Father Columbanus will send along a scroll with the Irish rule.”

         “Why does the particular rule matter so much to you Brother Ezra?  You don’t even live by it here in your little cottage on the hill. And there is nothing in either of the rules about the proper tonsure or the correct date for Easter which seems to be the issue.”

         The other monk chimes in, “I can’t see how approving of a Rule would solve anything among the bishops.“

         “The distinctions between rules are subtle.” I defend. But when lived out the distinction is huge. Columbanus expects the required obedience to be to God, while Benedict’s rule directs the obedience to the bishop or abbot.”

         “But of course,” adds the monk “In one way or another that becomes the same thing because the one who oversees the activities of the monastery is doing so in God’s name while God is way off in heaven somewhere.”

          “Father Columbanus spends his hours in prayer begging the nearness of God and if God is present with us why would we need the father or some bishop in charge to stand in for God?” Brother Servant speaks my own mind on this and he asks,  “Is that what you were thinking Brother Ezra?”

         “Exactly, I only hope the new pope takes notice of that little nuance.”

         To change to a more agreeable topic I ask if the others have visited Luxeuil yet. “Have you heard it could be a double monastery when they are done?  With baths?”

         “Yes! I’d heard that” answers the second monk.

         “When our midwife spoke with the father he mentioned that they would have both a men’s monastery and a women’s, and I’ve seen the baths there for myself.”

         Brother Servant explains, “They are building separations and planning the divisions for everything but worship.”

 (Continues Tuesday, January 10)


#40.2, Weds., Jan. 4, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         No sooner has the family of visitors left than here again are  monks from Annegray returning up the hill-path, this time leading four horses adorned in silk. We’ve seen this decoration on horses before. 

         “So the dead bishop of Rome sends another envoy and this time he remembered Annegray, I see.”

         “Brother Ezra, these horses bring a far better message than the death of the Bishop of Rome!” answers the Brother Servant.

          “The church of St. Peter in Rome sends word through the lands that God has appointed a new bishop as heir to St. Peter!”

         We walk the horses to the stable to bed them down for the night. We are told the Pope’s envoy will stay at the guest quarters of Annegray.

         “Though the Roman Empire fades,” I observe, “It’s so very Roman of a pope to dispatch messengers on imperial steeds. The face of Rome still shines through the Christian order.”

         “Indeed, Brother Ezra, Christians have a new papa now. He’s a Gregory who hasn’t forgotten to take all his little chicks under wide wings even here in Burgundy.”

         “Maybe, especially here,” I add. “It seems so Roman to consider the whole world near and far. In Rome they must think we are all just waiting to hear news of a new bishop rising.”

         Brother Servant catches my note of sarcasm. “Maybe you weren’t waiting Brother Ezra, but we were. We hope the new Bishop of Rome will put a rein on those troublesome bishops of Gaul.”

         The second monk adds, “as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wing…” [Luke 13:34]

         Brother Servant amends, “But a pope would be more like a father hen.”

         “A father ‘hen’? Is that even possible?  Don’t you see how this might turn, Brother? It may be only a matter of time before every monastery will be under a single Benedictine Rule.”

         “Not to worry,” says the second monk. “Pope Gregory has armies of heretics and a plague waiting at his door, and with no Roman Army left to save Rome he won’t have any time to spread rules and check on distant obedience.”

         The horses will stay for the night and the monks will stay as well, so we’ve the stable full tonight.  We put the horses’ silks aside and give them common woolen horse-blankets for the cold winter’s night. Colleen stretches the pot of porridge for these added guests.  So much hospitality makes a very thin soup.

(Continues tomorrow)


#40.1, Tues., Jan. 3, 2023

Historical setting: 590 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Maybe they are neighbors. A family of hunters found our doorstep on their way home from somewhere they say is a church named after St. Martin said to be hidden in the woods behind the monastery. It seems legends of Christian saints left a sour taste with these neighbors even though they claim to be Christian.

         Colleen was the one of us most wanting neighbors, but now that they’ve heard her Irish twist of words they see her as a foreigner and assume she is here to object to their Pagan glint.        

          The older woman rages, “You think you are the righteous Christian who comes from far away sneering at Mother Nature and claiming only the cross of Christ can bring victory in the war between gods no one wants to fight!  Some monks from the south come with Christ but no Jesus, and some from a western island have a Jesus and a Christ but no Diana. They would all just smash our treasured gods of the forest and give us only the Christian icon of a bleeding man.  When the ancient goddess takes to the realm of the skies, they say, that proves she is evil because only witches fly.  And yet, Spirit is a god in Christian.  It makes no sense.” She abruptly concludes, “There I’ve said my piece.”

         I have to ask it, “Does the priest at the Christian church practice the veneration of the goddess Diana?”

         The visitors talk among themselves in the barbarian language of Pagan hunters. They decide to go on their way peacefully, and never to return here. This “peaceful exit” will take a little while though, because each of the children needs to be bundled back into boots and firs.

         In Ana’s room where the children have gathered Ana is in her bliss, with children all around. The whole wide-eyed brood is captivated by her stories. And now Colleen has a warm pot of gruel and biscuits ready to share, even with the scowling adults.

         The younger of the men takes me aside to ask of my variety of Christian which allows me two wives.

         “No really I have only one wife, Ana, and she is with child so..”

         “I understand, no need to tell me more, my friend.”

         “Really, Colleen is the midwife; I have only one wife.”

         “No need to apologize to me; I’m no priest. But it is a very resourceful plan.”

         “No, it’s not what you think…”

(Continues tomorrow)


#39.13, Thurs., Dec. 29, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         I can understand our visiting neighbors are not favorable to Christian Saints and foreign missionaries murdering sacred trees of Pagan worship. And it doesn’t take very much chatter to discover our guests are not the variety of Christians who would make a pilgrimage to a monastery. They’ve just explained that there is another church, the bishops of Gaul would call “secular,” but it is a Christian church with a local priest rather than an assigned abbot or bishop. And I learn that these hunters have simply added Christianity onto their own pantheon of Pagan gods. Clearly they aren’t of a mind to accept the kind of exclusive Christianity that conjures sainthood from chopping down the sacred oak. It’s a strange warp of irony that the church in the woods is named for Saint Martin who was said to have put the ax to the most attributed of the Pagan sacred trees.

         The older man who speaks for the group affirms my guesses. “We aren’t Pagans. The children are all baptized Christian. But sometimes Christian comes with fires smoldering into ashes to the old gods.  If someone would tell the monks something is sacred immediately Christians call it a Pagan idol and it is gets a Christian curse. It’s never a good thing. We hide the charms we keep from saints and monks who are glad to eat the meat we offer, but they would never let us pray to Diana for the bountiful hunt.”

         The younger of the men abruptly asks the yet unspoken question. “You aren’t Christian here, are you?” Then he answers my telling silence.  “I mean, we aren’t talking about all Christians. Only those from far away places. They come here with their foreign monks to change us from our old ways.”

         Colleen is listening to all of this neighborly talk then speaks in her relentless brogue, “But you don’t mean the Irish Christians surely? The Irish Christians surely wouldn’t smash and curse Pagan idols.”

         The silent glances and the scowls make it clear these new neighbors don’t much like Colleen’s ruffling of the shared language.

         “Did you come here with those monks, Girl?”

         Colleen is obviously distraught and excuses herself to go check on Ana and the children.

         So let me intervene for her.  “Colleen isn’t with the monks of Annegray she is of our household. That monastery has only men. I think she was hoping to find neighbors who would be accepting of her.”

(Continues Tuesday, January 3, 2023)


#39.12, Weds., Dec. 28, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage Between Annegray and Luxeuil

         No sooner were the monks on their way down the hill than a group of people, several children, some women, an old man and a younger man, trudged up the hill through the snow and stopped at our door.

         “Good morning Friends, have you lost your way?”

         Man answers man. “We were walking home in the snow when we came upon these fresh tracks that led us up this hill. We thought it would be a shorter way home except the tracks seem to stop here.”

         “You must be neighbors to us then?”

         “Our house is in the forest near the bogs. It’s a good hour’s walk to the church following the creek.  But maybe it’s shorter crossing over the hills. Do you know of a path?”

         “I know of very little beyond our door.” I notice, “That child seems to have a very wet boot. Did he slip into the creek?”

         The man answers, “I told him his foot won’t freeze up if he just keeps on walking.”

          “You should all come in by the fire, get his foot warm and let his boot dry a bit before you go on your way.”

         There is no argument or hurry among them; they come in. I suggest the children go on into Ana’s room by the warming fire there where this little one can dry his sock and boot. And I know Ana would welcome a visit from children.

         Colleen is especially pleased to learn we have a family of neighbors. She scurries around to prepare a soup from the broth in the cooking pot after the monks left.

         These neighbors are dressed in the furs of the forests not in the fleeces of farmers, so they seem to me to be hunters. They said they’d been to church so I assumed they’d been at Annegray for the Christmas; but that was wrong.  Now we learn there is a Christian church in the hills hidden in the wood not far from Annegray, but apparently I never noticed it for all the trees.[footnote] I’m sure Brother Servant and Father Columbanus know of it as they often wander the forests for their solitude.

         “Has that church a priest?” I ask.

         “Yes of course, but not one of those dreary monks all walled up with their wrath ready to curse the ways of the wood and murder our trees.”

[footnote] Bloggers notes, and sources.  It is the opinion of this blogger that the firm lines drawn between one religion and another are kept by edicts and edits which is how we know history; while the reality of the lives of people would probably reflect fuzzier lines between one religion and another. Irish scholar Alexander O’Hara documented the notes of an 18th Century archeological find of statuettes of Diana and Mercury at this secular church overlooking Annegray. The reference to these tangible artifacts is documented but the purpose for them can only be guessed at. O’Hara, Alexander, Columbanus ad Locum: The Establishment of the Monastic Foundations Perita 26 (2015) © Medieval Academy of Ireland & Brepols Publishers                    

(Continues tomorrow)


#39.11, Tues., Dec. 27, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         We’ve been contemplating the Christmas story with our guests.

         Colleen seems miffed by the ignorance of her own countrymen with their thought that a virgin who could give birth would not then be able to produce milk for the baby.

         “How is it possible that you could be human without knowing the gift of a mother’s milk is from God and not caused by the sinful intercourse with a human? Of course the Virgin, Mother of Jesus, fed him with her milk.”

         One monk asks her then, “So why is there a cow in the story?”

         “There is no cow in the story!” I can attest as one who is actually familiar with the gospel. I know it feels like there should be a cow in the story. And what would be the use of saying Mary lay the child in a manger if there was no cow in the stable to offer a humble gift by sharing the manger with a human or with God?

         Brother Servant mentions, “Whatever happened then, we’re just glad you also have a cow here. Your stable seems so much nicer with a cow even if it isn’t needed to complete the story.”

         Ana offers reason. “Our cow was a gift from a Pagan village. Some Pagans raise these white cattle for gifts and sacrifice.”

         A posset of wine and warm curdled milk is passed around among us all once again. With our cups filled, now we have Christmas with gratitude for a cow even though we aren’t sure why. Some gifts are just like that. Thank you God.

         Our three guests step out into the glistening stillness of this winter’s morning and though we’ve never actually heard this, we all know it is a silence now. In these hills there is no bell to announce the Christ mass.  But at Luxovium the bell will ring these same monks to prayers very soon.  I wonder if we will hear it too in this far distance up the valley.

         Colleen longs for neighbors. I think she finds our little cottage a lonely place even though Ana and I are always here. Having this little visit from the three monks with her same pattern of speech brightened this place into a celebration. She did say she is hoping to find Luxeuil like the monasteries of her homeland where a whole community of people settle around it.

(Continues tomorrow)



#39.10, Thurs., Dec. 22, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         The stories that seem to go array in the worst ways are those that are most often told. So here we are, three Irish monks, Colleen and Ana and I, gathered around the hearth in Ana’s little room.

         Colleen savors the brogue of her native land so it doesn’t matter to her whatever the monks may say. And I wasn’t present for the birth of Jesus so who am I to correct the story they are telling, but it already seems they’ve let go of gospel just to nurture traditions and old, old stories that never even made it past the patriarchs of cannon.

         Ana finds the donkey legend added to the story very disturbing.

         “She rides into town on a donkey when she is going to give birth nearly immediately?” Ana complains, “Now my same kind of guessing that tells me John was written by a woman is a sure bet that these miraculous birth stories were invented by men. What woman would make poor Mary ride on a donkey?”

         We can all concur, surely, a woman in her last month of pregnancy would choose to walk rather than take a long donkey ride. But these stories of a birth are all told in symbols, not sense, and maybe not even fact, though they do keep the truth of it.

         Brother Servant offers sense. “That donkey is there to remind us of Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem in his last week when he rode on the back of the donkey instead of a horse while the children shouted Hosanna.”

         The frustration comes from too much sorting out of detail while groping for truth. Maybe it was the monk’s long night in the stable that gave them such a partiality to the presence of a donkey and of course there also seems to have been a cow.

         “So, what about the cow?” asks the same monk who couldn’t let go of the idea of a donkey. “Surely they would have had a cow there.”

         “There was no cow mentioned.”

         “Mary needed a cow to provide milk for the baby.”

         “Milk for the baby,” answers Colleen “would, of course be provided in the very nature of the mother.”

         The monk argues, “But Mary was a virgin.”

         Everyone looks to Colleen, the experienced midwife among us, to answer the burning theological question just posed.

         “Can the mother provide milk in the case of a virgin birth?”

(Continues Tuesday, December 27)

#cow, #Virgin birth issues, #donkey, #Christmas stories,


#39.9, Weds., Dec. 21, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Maybe Pagan magic was left in the fragrant wood I’ve gathered for our fire here, or maybe it is the warm spirit that is a Christian thing about this season. But today, celebration seems overwhelmed with the Creative Spirit of love. The only words that can speak of it are already worn soft-edged and sticky sweet. It seems almost wonderful to share our fire with these three dower monks. And wonderful too, is this gift of a wineskin they’ve brought and now poured through the kettle of hot milk to curdle a posset [footnote1] for the joyful celebration of the Christ Mass. And we have nuts and fruits, sour in the summer, but dried to sweetness in this season. The large pot has the venison stew all flavored with herbs. We have plenty in our stores this winter so our guests can stay this night in our stable loft and dream all night in the long, warm, sleep of wine.

         Thank you God, for friends, for all the people gathered here. Amen.

         Christmas morning, after the chores, Colleen thinks they have brought the empty bowl to fill up with cheese to take back and share with the others.  Maybe she’s right, but the cheese she started isn’t hardened yet.  Surely they must know these things would take time. When the three guests come in from prayers for the breakfast they seem to have left the proper silences of matins at the monastery. They are babbling on and on. We gather at the hearth in Ana’s room. They are going on incessantly about the wonders of the mysterious night when they were privy to a stay in the stable with a cow and a donkey just as it was in the bible story.

         “So what bible would that be?” I ask.

         “The Christian gospels of course!”

         “Don’t you know that story Brother Ezra?” One monk who doesn’t know me well asks. And then he goes on to tell it exactly like it isn’t written in Luke.

         “Joseph was a very old man and Mary nearly a child so of course she was a virgin.” [footnote2]

         “But not just any virgin,” adds another. “A virgin herself born sinless of immaculate conception.”

         “She was with child so Joseph got her a donkey for the journey.”

         Ana has heard enough of this story. “Laz, tell them how it really was.”

[footnote] The definition from “Oxford languages” for posset is “a drink made of hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other alcoholic liquor and typically flavored with spices, drunk as a delicacy or as a remedy for colds.”

[footnote2] Apocryphal books circulating in the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E. are not in the cannon of Gospels but continue into religious legend detailing the life stories of Mary and Joseph and Mary’s mother. Does Christianity have Midrash?

(Continues tomorrow)


#39.8, Tues., Dec. 20, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         I prefer the scent of Ana’s room and the comfortable smell of wool with all her spinning on-and-on. The bags of combed and washed wools, donated to the monastery were delivered to Ana for spinning and now, she has wound all the yarns into skeins. The threads are probably not as tight as experienced hands would do.

         A bow of the dark colored thread tied to the leg of a bird lets Brother Servant know Ana has sorted the dark yarns from the white. She is ready to return the dark wools to the monks to be woven for fabric for monk’s robes. Maybe Brother Servant will bring more bags of wool for Ana’s busy fingers when he comes to get this yarn.

         Besides the carving of the very long cradle, there are lots of little tasks. Logs heaped for burning are sorted from the logs set aside for me to cut and carve and plane into the things Colleen thinks we need now as owners of a cow. She especially says she needs an oaken slat bucket and a churn. She found the rope bits I twisted up last summer while I was sorting thatch for the roof. Her plan is that I will plane oak slats with edges perfectly angled to fit together with a wrap of rope to make a solid bucket for milking.  I can only promise lots of leaks. I’m not a cooper and I’m not using iron banding. She’s been stirring cream to butter in a bowl but she would prefer a churn, even a leaky one.

         It’s easy to go numb to the sour smells of creams and curds for Colleen’s various milk projects. I gather pine bows and fragrant woods for the fire so Brother Servant will have a less odorous visit when he arrives. I’m anxious to hear the news of Annegray and especially to learn when Father Columbanus plans to move.

         Brother Servant arrives with two other Irish monks. He said he needed help to carry the bags of wool, but they also brought a skin of wine and an empty bowl. I think Colleen expected the bowl was a gift. She needs more bowls for all her little projects with the extra milk. But really, they expect to take some cheese back with them when they return. It feels magical, like feast days now, either Christmas or Solstice.

         Thank you God, for friends and food, for gifting and sharing. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)


#39.7, Thurs., Dec. 15, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Luxeuil

         The workers at the new monastery are hanging the bell in the belfry even as the support is being constructed. I have one of the guidelines in hand ready to help steer what the mules will heft. The tower craftsmen are up top, ready to harness the weight of the bell into a place above the oratorio, which incidentally, does have a roof. In breathless silence we ease the huge iron piece into its place with no sound at all. It’s only a plan, not a fulfillment of a bell until it is rung. The carpenters are still building a place where the rope will dangle from the clapper.  A tower room will be below the bell so a monk can pull the cord and ring the hour.  Everyone is anxious to hear the sound but maybe it won’t be rung until the Christ Mass.

         That would be a welcome use of a newly cast bell – to celebrate another who was newly cast — the infant Jesus.  It seems the gods of other beliefs are already of age when they are known. Even Diana, whose birth is storied, jumped from the womb fully able to help deliver her twin brother. But for Christians, we celebrate all the stages of a holy life and, for us, even the precarious stage of helpless infancy seems significant.  The Christian hum is love, not power, so wouldn’t an infant teach that best? In all my own ages newness always seems ahead of me as the unknown.

         I spend tonight in these chambers and tomorrow at first light I will follow my own tracks back into the Vosges to our cottage. 

         The walk back this morning takes only a few hours even with the snow. When I left I had prepared everything as though I would be gone a month not knowing then where I was going or for how long. Now I realize it’s barely a half-day’s walk, and it’s an easy walk along the creek. It’s no surprise then that my arrival back at the cottage was nothing very significant. The waft of inside air from the cottage is the sour scent of the abundance of milk.  Having a cow means that we have milk enough for soups and sipping, and now Colleen is experimenting with cheese.  It does smell a bit like an Irish barn here.

            At least Ana is glad to see me.

(Continues Tuesday, December 20)


#39.6 Weds., Dec. 14, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Luxeuil

         The old Roman baths at Luxeuil, like the well I found behind our cottage, had been nearly hidden in overgrown vines and scrubby trees sprouting on tiny stems between the immovable Roman stones. Stems of saplings, fed by the sun above and the waters of earth became an untended grove of trees inside these walls. Here woods of ash and the yew broke through the cracks and shushed this place to sacred. Maybe once the Pagans came where spirits still dance; but now, by Christian order, the trees are being felled and the vines loosened from the roots to make these halls seem Roman again.

         In my search for the warming fire I find something else. Where I expected to find the oratorio there is a blue lake within the walls under nothing but sky. The water is misting into the cold air making a fog over the waters. Some who see earth stuff as evil might curse this interface with warmth rising up from the underworld, seeing it as proof that the core of earth is Hell. But in my opinion, as a constant witness to the beauty of Creation, I simply say thank you God; it’s beautiful and warm.

         Near mid-winter I bask naked now in these ancient baths. My aching foot is soothed.  What a worksite this must be? Mid-way through the hard work of moving the walls comes this – a soft warm drift on briny, healing waters. The workers also seem to take a long mid-day break I see. 

         With no roof this seems nothing like the dark old Roman baths of Metz where the halls and stairways of the building are dank, where Graoully and the monsters of myth still linger in the mosses. Maybe there are times when no roof is needed and walls alone are just fine. I wonder about the plan to make this all into a Christian place for suffering monks and howling nuns. I wish they could never lay a roof over this. Of course, no one is asking me.

         Now I’m called to help with the raising of the bell to the tower. I dress back into my winter fleeces with one wet boot on my left foot.

         The work project is already webbed in the ropes and pulleys. The mules are yoked to take the full weight, so the men of us are guiding the bell’s ascent with lead lines.

(Continues tomorrow)


#39.5, Tues., Dec. 13, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. the path to Luxeuil

         Wearing winter fleeces now, I make my way down the hill coaxing the mules through the drifts of snow on the zig-zag path, down, down to the hard-frozen creek bed. The wind is nearly at my back, sending snow dancing in swirls and twirls of out ahead into the golden light of the morning sun. Even the blank page of winter has its beauty. Thank you God.

         Never having been to Luxeuil, with my only instruction to follow the creek, I have no idea if this day will be fraught with hazards.  I don’t know what lies under this snow.  Ana and I followed the creek the other way into the mountains last summer; but in this direction I have no idea if there are chasms or waterfalls hidden under these drifts. The mules make fresh tracks just trusting me to know.

         Stay close, Dear God.

         It’s a long morning walking on numbing feet.  The higher hills of the Vosges are nearly behind us as the creek widens into a flatland and the ice is a thin coating over the muddy waters spreading into a shallow fan.  I know it is shallow and moving swiftly because my foot falls through the ice and my left boot and woolen sock cling to my foot throbbing with cold.  But just as I’m wondering where to go, I see before me great walls of stone, glistening in the snowy sunlight. Little twists of mist rise up here and there from the flat ice near the river before this place, that is the full poetry, the romance between earth and heaven. The weighty clays of earth-stuff reach deep into the blue firmament as if the earth itself rises in the midst of Creation. Father Columbanus must find this sacred, and it surely seems a place for his Christian community to thrive.

         These workers waiting for the mules are those same fellows who would leave me at the bottom of a well while they celebrated. Today they’ve reached upward; they are at an apex of the tower that will hold the bell and now they need the mules to tow the weight of it onto the supports readied above.  I already know the hospitality these fellows have to offer and I know I will have to fend for myself. I ask them if there is a warm place near the fire for the wools and my boot to dry. No one will say.

(Continues tomorrow)


#39.4, Thurs., Dec. 8, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Colleen asked. So I bring out the little cradle I’ve been carving to make a gift for Ana and the baby; but now Colleen flatly rejects it. She says it will never serve under the circumstances. I needed to carve it from a much longer log. I choose not argue so I simply ignore her criticism. I know very well this is a fine cradle. This is something I’ve done before in all my years, but sometimes, I know silencing my own pride to protect tranquility is a worthy choice.

         Colleen, the trained and experienced midwife, thinks that Ana’s very large size is an unusual “circumstance” which causes Ana to have to stay in bed until the baby is born.  Accommodating this concern of Colleen’s has been troublesome but, Ana is trusting in Colleen’s advice, so I will also.  But does Colleen possibly think this baby will be twice the size of a normal baby? Why would a baby need a four-foot long cradle? Are we expecting a Goliath, or is Colleen just giving me a hard time? And why is it the buntings they are knotting are for a normal sized baby? 

         Oh, just a thought.  I might know of a so-called, “circumstance,” they haven’t yet said aloud. But it would be a very good thing if two babies are delivered safely. Just now I’m so grateful we have Colleen with us for this birth that may become more complicated.

         I drag the longer end of that ash log into the stable and ask Colleen if I should carve a place for a baby at each end of the log.

         Stoic Colleen nearly smiles and answers “Make sure it won’t roll over.”

         The snowstorm hardly subsides when the bird returns with a thin strand of parchment on its leg. The message is simply a line showing the creek below us, widening to a particular place where I expect they want the mules delivered. 

         The storm left a wake of winter so I have to put the cradle project aside and cut an abundance of firewood. The hearth fire has to be tended night and day; and Colleen and I have decided to open a smoke hole in the roof of Ana’s room for second hearth. The donkey and I dragged a large stone from the ruin for that.

         I’m leaving so much for Colleen to do while I’m gone. But I hope to return soon.

(Continues Tuesday, December 13)


#39.3, Weds., Dec. 7, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         The skies threaten a winter storm so the Luxeuil workers who travel the creek path with the mules come up here now to find shelter for the mules. Here our stable is a perfect place for… well, not just for hiding the lust of monks, but for sheltering mules and, of course, a donkey and a cow, keeping all these critters safe from the fierce winds that ravage this hilltop. With no pasture walls stacked yet the animals have to be tethered or hobbled to feed on the stubby winter grasses of seasonal pastures. Wolves would find them easy prey. Inside the stable the hay and oats served in this manger will just have to stretch.

         The workers take one of our birds so I can receive their orders to deliver the mules after the storm.  Ana worries these barbarians won’t keep her little pigeon safe.  She reminds them not to release it into the storm and she sends along extra suet and wraps the bird box in the wools she’s been winding.

         She’s already spun a few skeins of yarns fine enough for weaving. But having no loom, and assigned to this bed, she couldn’t weave if we did have a loom because weaving involves walking the shuttle back and forth. If Ana isn’t allowed to walk to the hearth for her meals surely she can’t tend a loom. So it is that Colleen, while she was once waiting for a birth at a wealthy home, learned of a way of knotting a single thread of wool into a piece of fabric.  It is a way to make small clothing pieces like a little bunting or a sock.  Colleen demonstrates this craft that is very much like the ancient work of mending of fishnets, only infinitesimally smaller knots. Ana can use her fingers and the wool yarns to make little hats and blankets for the baby.

         Colleen instructs, more like “orders” me to get on with the work of making a cradle. And now I can show her the secret gift I’ve been working on all along. I’ve been carving a fine two-foot section of a fallen ash log into a sweet little cradle with foot stops to keep it from toppling when rocked. I’ve done this before.  I know this cradle is well made, won’t roll over with the baby and it can serve until the baby is climbing and creeping.

(Continues tomorrow)