October Recap

OCTOBER RECAP – Chapter 1, “Scars.” launched this continuing story.

         To recap, in 561 C.E. (or as one reader reminded they would surely have called it “A.D.”) nineteen years after plague devastated his family, Lazarus returns to find his adult daughter Eve living as a recluse “hag” (calling herself Enola) providing herbs and medical remedies from her garden on the River Liger (Loire). He finds his now grown son Ezra is at work burying the dead of another outbreak of plague. As this chapter ends Lazarus means to reveal his unique nature of extreme healing to his son and restore the bonds of family, but there is no instant warm welcome home for this papa. His son wants nothing to do with this strangeness.

Last summer, way before the blog started, I submitted two of the October posts to the “Night Gallery” art show at BayArts to provoke inspiration for art. Rob Hartshorn, a known and prolific artist of the Cleveland area took on the concept of Plague Pit and created this amazing piece of art now on display. It is much better as art than photo. See it before November 8 if you are in the Bay Villiage, Ohio area.

         Please come again to this blog, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in November when the spooky pagan season of Samhian lightens from its haunts onto the hearthstone of home. In the November chapter on the long cart ride from Poitiers Ezra tells of his family and his own story of finding his lost sister in the November chapter “Finding Eve.”

(10-31-19 post 1.9) October Chapter – “Scars” Set in 561 C.E. Gaul

Surely it is hard for my son to understand my strange circumstances of healing even though it would seem a good thing to find one another again after we each expected the other’s death. But of course, it isn’t as sweet and simple as it would seem. 

         All of us living people seem to nurture a sense of ordinary in an extraordinary world.  From our first breath we cry. From our first glimpse of light we hide our eyes. From our first touch or taste or sound we seek a source with explanation. Maybe it is a safety we all need. Maybe we need to meet amazement on our own terms or we would simply become stifled by so much awe. The patterns of Creation would surely overwhelm our senses with miracle if we weren’t able to name some things “ordinary.” 

         The whole of Creation has way more beauty than is needed to function. Creatures, smallness, largeness, wind, water, grandeur, sand for miles, sky forever, breath, breathless, lightness, darkness these are all everyday things of life yet overwhelming by extraordinary proportion. So each in our own way learns to accustom senses to the pervasive miracles. Each of us in our own way must simply name wonder as normal. 

         Healing – even when it hurts — is always amazing. When it surprises us it is miraculous or terrifying. It is a very short step from what we call the “normal healing” of each of us to this mythical kind Jesus bestowed upon me, that brings me from death to life at each of my deaths.  I know this oddity was to give all people a sign or a metaphor for the spiritual healing of new life — the resurrection to which we all belong. I am simply the physical art piece of a Holy Sign, like an urn of water turned to wine – a word of poem — a metaphor for the invisible spiritual nature.

         What can I say to my son? “I never told you about this oddness of me before because it is a hard thing to accept especially when it is your own father who is sitting here next to you on this hill of graves after so many years of grief. Might I give you more time for thoughts of this? I will leave word with Eve how I may be found if you would decide you want to see me again. I will go now to speak to her however she will have me — through bee veils or maybe just shouting through her door.”

(Next Chapter “Finding Eve” starts Tues. 11-5-19)

(10-30-19 post 1.8) October Chapter – “Scars” Set in 561 C.E. Gaul

I have to tell him now.

         “I am no mystical apparition from Eve’s spiritual wonderment. I’m simply a living person.”

         He is not asking.

         He is telling me. “She calls herself Enola now — always Alone. It’s not fitting that she told you she was ‘Eve.’ That was the name our papa wanted for her because, he said, she was the first woman born to our family and it was the name of ‘first woman created by God.’ But every Christian knows it is ‘by one woman that sin came on earth.’ So her namesake is responsible for all of original sin and maybe it is because of Eve that we have these punishments of plagues and deaths.”

         “Actually, I blame the scholars of Latin theology for winding Paul’s words into a doctrine called Original Sin. God’s creation is life and goodness not a natural infusion of sin. Dear little Eve was always such a friendly and happy child. Being alone, that doesn’t suit her. I’m so sorry to learn of that.”

          “How was it that you knew her as a child?” He has a halting caution in his question.

         “Now I sit here with you on this hill of graves talking with you as though we were strangers together newly making one another’s acquaintance. You have asked why I would come here when I have no scars of plague.

         “I came in hopes I would find you here. I did have scars. They healed. I did tuck you into bed and kiss you goodbye, my son, and I did have a terrible death from plague and a long and morose healing from death and from sickness. By a strange gift of Jesus again and again I am alive and well yet always healing from death, from scars, from wearing old.  And I still remember our joy as family together and so I still grieve. My long years of grief are for our family — your mother and your sisters and brothers – my grief never heals. I still long for you and all those I love. I only hope you can share with me in my joy of finding you strong and well and as I see a man of great goodness. I am so proud to be your papa.”

         He puts his hands over his ears and turns away from me.

         “No!  You are telling me something terrible that can’t even true! My papa is gone and I have already visited the stones outside the church walls and I have smothered him under flowers for forgetting. Leave me alone!”

(Story continues tomorrow, 10-31-19)

(10-29-19 post 1.7) October Chapter – “Scars” Set in 561 C.E. Gaul

“Before the silence kept for those grieving you asked who sent me, and you asked my name.  Your sister sent me and I am called Ezra.” I told him I am Ezra because I still need to keep my secret a bit longer.

         “Ezra? I am Ezra also! And you say my sister sent you?”

         “She said I would find you here.”

         “Oh, that is very strange indeed.  My sister sees no one and speaks to no one. When someone comes with a need she calls through the door and sends them down the road to my cottage and if I am not there my wife treks up to her garden with the message. But my sister receives no one.”

         “I thought she was wearing the bee netting because she was particularly afraid of me.”

         “No, my man she hides from everyone. But I do have a thought why she didn’t hide herself from you. I think she got a glimpse of you and maybe thought you were the very ghost of our father. You do look and talk like him at the age he was when he died. And she is one to believe in spirits of the dead flitting in and out among the living.”

          I asked, “So for her father’s spirit she put on the bee veils and came out and spoke to me in person?”

         “Apparently so. I wouldn’t have thought it of her. As recluse as she is from living people surely she would also hide from a ghost.”

         I should change the subject. “So why were you named Ezra? Is that a family name?”

         “No. I wasn’t named Ezra. I was named Lazarus after my father. I liked my name because it reminded me of him. But the keeper of the lone boys told me it was the name of a dead man and I would be better named for the living.”

         I had to argue. “Apparently the keeper of lone boys didn’t read to the end of that story. Lazarus was not a dead man for very long. Jesus raised him back to life.

         “So what of your sister? Does she still call herself Eve?”

         He pales before me and stares at me — hollow and cold as though he has seen what his little sister doesn’t seem to fear – a ghost. He gathers his wits to ask.

         “How do you know her? Did she tell you that was once her name? How would you even know that?”

(Story continues tomorrow, 10-30-19)

(10-24-19 post 1.6) 561 C.E. Gaul – October Chapter – “Scars”

I can’t let him go on alone to gather the dead. His leg is withered as one weakened by plague. It would be hard work even for a strong man to dig the graves and to bring the bodies of the dead to the hill for the burials. I demand to help.

         The flat winter sky is laid above as a cold wall ‘round heaven and below us the haze over the valley is of lingering flat gray smoke pretending sky over the village.  We descend into that band of chimney ash wafting noxious with stench of plague and failed rosemary down on into the valley of Saumur.  Bodies enough to fill the cart are laid out on the street under the watch of the village priest and the few still live for grieving.  He is signing the cross with gesture and praying the souls off to whatever place has room for more souls this particular afternoon.

         I could see the bag for remedies I had brought to him earlier is empty now, folded and tucked into his cincture.

         No word is spoken among the mourners as death is best kept in silence. The other of us who digs the grave and I place the bodies one by one onto the cart and we start a slow trudge back up the hill.  The few who follow after us are the dark silhouettes of nameless grief. Silently they follow. So too must we be silent now.

         This is the particular allotment of time the world gives each person for grief – this momentary stand by the naked hole of grave. But we all know grief is much wider and longer and louder and further reaching than these few quiet sobs offered up from the living in place of the familiar touches and caresses of everyday good-byes. They come. They go. We replace the soil and it is done. The huge hole pierced into earth is hardly seen now because we have done this work well. We can all pretend to forget.

         The man whom I believe I know well tells me again he fears for me because I have no scars but he also mentions he is grateful for my help.

         “So who would send you up here like this when you have no scars from plague?”  And one more thing he asks. “And my man, by what name are your called?”

(Story continues Tuesday, October 29)

(10-23-19 post 1.5) 561 C.E. Gaul – October Chapter – “Scars”

I asked if help came. I want to hear his answer.        
         “A monk came down alone and plucked me and my sister out of the deathbed of our brothers and baby sister. He said he was with my father when his spirit too, was tugged and towed away by the angels. I know he meant he died and his bones would be in the plague pit outside the church walls. My brothers and the baby were all put into that grave my father dug for himself next to our mother. I was young and it were such a big hurt so I clung hard to the angel story believing surely my father was not really in that forbidden hole just beyond the church.

         “The priest took us two who still lived off to the hag of healing. She said if we lived through the plague we would be safe from it forever. She was right. She told us only those with scars on our necks or legs from the lanced buboes could live after. And we would be the only ones who could care for the dying and dead ever to come. Others came to that old woman’s door again and again for remedies and herbs. There were more outbreaks of illness all around but my sister and I seemed safe, though I’ve a lame leg since.

         “When I was mostly well another man came and took me to the place for lone boys where I was taught to work.  I heard rumor that the hag of healing was taken with the pox and she was buried with the pagans. I asked for news of my sister.  No one had any knowledge of any child staying with the hag and the keeper of lone boys told me not to think of it. It would only be sadness.

         “But every time there is a sign of contagion I’m the one they summons for the dead.  There is so little I can do for the sick, except tell them some do survive and maybe healing can come to them too.”

         “It must be a comfort. You are surely a good man.”

         He leaned back resting on the shovel handle, “We have dug enough so I can go to the village and gather the dead of them up here. When I return stay far away. This is not a task for one with no scars.”

         “No. I’ve come to help you with this work.”

(Continued tomorrow)

(10-22-19 post 1.4) 561 C.E. Gaul – October Chapter – “Scars”

It takes a heavy foot on the spade to pierce this rock and dry clay. A good rain before the frost would do us well. But no sweet smell of change – the winter is already breathing down on us from the north.

         “How come they sent you up here, my man? I thought they only asked us with the scars.”

         His deep brown eyes are for me, a journey into the long cavern of time.

          “They didn’t send me. I came up here because my family once lived near this valley before the plague. I have scars too. I came because I grieve, still.”

         His playful eyes dance a most beautiful remembrance in my heart. Even his raggedy brows rise and dip for the dance with a wisdom that seems to relish in the knowing.

         “It’s been neigh on twenty years since the plague visited this valley.” He continues to argue my presence here.  “So you had to be a child then if you even had the scars. I don’t see your scars so I don’t think you should be up here.”

         “Nineteen years ago you yourself must have been a child my friend.” He didn’t answer me.

         “How deep must we dig?” I ask.

         “When the dead are brought up it won’t matter how deep these graves, death will pour out of this earth and chase down any who didn’t already live beyond the plague in another time.

         “When the horror came down on us those years passed I was barely ten years old and then I was nearly left alone.”

         “So you lost your whole family to the contagion?”

         “Brothers and parents gone in the whisper of an angel and a demon’s moan. First it lit on the neighbors who took in soldiers. My mother was gone off to help until she took the fever and the buboes were at her throat. My papa saw her spirit off to heaven with his prayers then took her in his arms and buried her bones himself on the hill above our farm. He dug himself a grave by her side and came back down and tucked in each child of us. His own fevered tears fell onto our faces before he left us to go for help. Only one sister and I still lingered in that stench frothing up from Hell.

         I had to ask him, “Did someone ever come down from Civitas Turonorum to help you?”

(Continues tomorrow)

(10-17-19 Post 1.3)

561 C.E. Gaul — October Chapter — “Scars”

“My brother has already gone to them to dig the graves. You will find him there on the hill with the donkey cart.”

         I follow the road to the village of Saumur with the bag of remedies and a particular whisper goading my imagination.

         Why would she mention her brother? Does she think I would  know him?         Now I am letting my idle wishes stir a dream of hopeful sillies. How would I know any person here? It was nineteen years ago and I was the last to leave that place alive.

         Dear God, help me keep my thoughts on purpose for this mission and not to wonder the wishes and dreams that should be kept tucked-in under my tears hiding deep in my grief. Amen.

         The bag I have flung over my shoulder is filled with whatever we may call remedies. But it seems too light for the need.  What is there that can answer plague after these two decades of knowing? The doctors of the ancient sciences, Hippocrates and Galen — they knew nothing of this plague. They would have had an answer for us had it happened in the older times for knowing all things of science. Yet now it comes on us like raiding hordes landing in their monster-eyed ships sneaking into our homes in the night to steal not just the children and the weak but even the strongest of us. Outbreaks are here and there and they just keep on snatching up whole families moaning and raving in fits of fever then into death. One reaches to help and she too is ravaged. What use can there be in these fragrant salves and herbs but to nurture empty hopes?

         I arrive in Saumur with the precious sack of possible “amens” all handed on to the priest.

(Story continues Tuesday, October 22)

561 C.E. Gaul. October Chapter “Scars” (10-16-19 post 1.2)

[Note: The quotation used in this artwork is from Storl, W.D. (2017) The Untold History of Healing: Plant lore and medicinal magic from the stone age to present. Berkley: North Atlantic Books.]

It’s the full morning light when I wake and my mission to take remedies to the sick in Saumur is no less urgent.

         The woman working in this garden sees me briefly then scurries into the cottage. I knock at the closed door and call after her that I need to gather some remedies for plague.

         “Wait in the garden. I will get what is needed in a bit.”

         “Very well. But there is an urgency and I have already spent a night.”

         She is probably afraid of me because she saw me and knows I’m shorn as a monk or a Christian mourner on these days while my work has me at the scriptorium at Poitiers and likely she is not a Christian. In these times when Barbarian Pagans and Roman Christians are barely touching toes with one another starring into same faces to assess differences, each is accusing the other of false faith and superstition though both are so much alike. A hag is called upon when Christian prayers seem too ethereal for earthy things like plague. Concoctions of herbs and egg and feathery creature seem to be of earth. But then so was Jesus of earth. Christians and Pagans alike are earthbound creatures as surely plague reminds us. Like all the beauty of this garden and like all the people of earth we are also of the Holy Creation. 

         Thank you God for beauty.

         In silence she walks in the garden passing by me as though I’m invisible. She is wearing a broad hat and covered head to toe in bee netting. There are skeps for hives here. I’m sure she keeps bees. But I also think she chooses to hide herself.

         She is not what I would expect of one called a “hag.” Lean and straight, agile in the form of a younger woman who has neither birthed nor suckled children. In veils and silence she bears the mystery of a virgin and none of a hag’s wear of age.

         She gathers bundles of herbs filling a large sack. Then with the same intention she applies to rosemary stems she comes close to me, face-to-netting, to deliver the bag with instructions. Her voice is gentle, clear with purpose and I understand the instructions for the remedies.

         “Do you know the direction to the village?” she offers.

         “I know this road as well.”

         “My brother has already gone to them to dig the graves. You will find him there on the hill with the donkey cart.”

(Continues tomorrow)

Devotional Stories told as Historical Fiction

561 C.E. Gaul — October Chapter — “Scars” (10-15-19 post 1.1)

            “…because it was not the season for figs…”  The nib is dry; the ink is spent. The sharp edges of afternoon shadows steal the light. There is longer darkness reaching into each day and now in dimming light the abbot brings news from the village of Saumur. The priest of them sent word so many deaths there are of plague. Someone must go now to the hag of healing to collect what remedies there may be to take to them. If I leave now a good part of my ride will be in the dark but I’m familiar with the way and I can reach the garden of remedies by dawn.

         I know this road well. Nineteen years ago in the time when Justinian was Emperor and these shadows were muffed in optimism and glittering hopes for Rome to endure, the first plague came up with the soldiers and visited this valley. So many died. I had to leave my own children untended in their sickbed when I could do nothing more because I myself had become ill.  I spent my waning breath walking the road from our farm to Civitas Turonorum to find help for them. When I was healing from the death and plague I went back hoping for a sign of them. There was nothing and no one. The graves I dug were not marked. The house was gone and the place was covered over in grass.

         Still when I am nearby I place flowers where I buried my wife even though unkempt grasses try to smother memory of it.

         Blessing or curse this strange variety of healing once bestowed on me by my dear friend Jesus allows my times of healing to continue always — even after death. So it is that from that death of plague my earthen self has healed. My spiritual self just is as it is always and forever in love with the invisible Creator God and always and forever collecting so many griefs for each earthen person I love with touch and senses. So many are gone.

         These directions put this garden of remedies on the very land as once was mine. Here is a new clay cottage with a shed attached at one end, and a garden with lots of varieties of herbs.

         These hours of darkness left before the sun and after the moon would be best spent in sleep. I nap in the mow of the shed before I wake the hag to gather remedies to take to the sick.

Premise of these tales told by Lazarus the Bible Guy

         Was it blessing or curse that Jesus bestowed onto me, his Bethany best friend? Either way I was intended as a sign. I am the poetry on parchment, the physical metaphor of the spiritual resurrection. (John 11) So take me now as myth or message, I am simply an ever thirty-something-year-old man born into a first century Jewish family then bestowed with an odd physical condition of always healing into life even from death, into the perfection of earthbound human form.

         My memory is the fullness of these 561 years of griefs and creative whims, of loves and wives and children, of prayers and joys and friendships, songs and always new dances —- and I am still showing up for the wedding party where the water turns to wine. Come with me my new friend, clogging, slogging, blogging in your own joyful mornings.

         These days I’m in Gaul mostly occupied by Rome. And the faith of my friend and teacher is also, mostly occupied by Rome in these days; but I know I am not alone in knowing Jesus and the teachings despite the order and organization of religion. Please come along with me into an on-going story.