#44.7, Tues., May 16, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. The road in the valley

         My gifted power is healing. Anyone’s healing is one of those unimaginable events of life like birthing, growing, aging, experiencing. It changes us from our physical being right through our hopes and fears. The healed and the caregivers alike are never the same. But the Creator of this amazement seems to leave it up to each of us to find purpose in this drastic turning.

         As for me, it’s tempting to heap everything I know from all my lives into a mountain of authority where I can stand and shout ancient truths. If they would only listen I would shout to my apparently nonsensical children and tell them what righteousness really is. I find it frustrating just now, to hear my sons considering if it is better to return me to my loving wife as a dead man, or a suffering, but still living man.

         Healing is as much about those who witness it as it is about the wounded. When Jesus healed the man who was blind from birth [John 9] the real story wasn’t about spit and mud but about the wonder of those who witnessed it. Whose sin caused the blindness? The story of the healing of the paralytic [Mark 2:1-12 and synoptics] was about faith of the man’s friends who dug the hole in the roof and lowered the man down. It was the caregivers’ faith that elicited Jesus forgiving the sins of the man. And it was all that forgiving that troubled the authorities. Then Jesus simply asked the man to get up and walk and that made it notable as a healing. It was called a miracle, but it was healing.

         Healing changes everyone — caregiver, roof cutter, mat corner rope holder, witness, healed person, all. Healing encompasses grief and empathy, fear and suffering, amazement and creative awe. Healing turns everyone. So it is painfully true that the long-suffering—the one named for the hurt like the paralytic — has the new identity as the healed person, or perhaps now he has a name. Healing is even a resetting of relationship for both the abused and the abuser.

         Dear God, this morning the bishops’ guards surely found the shallow grave they made for me, abandoned. Stay near them also, in this repentance, this turning, as you stay near my sons, and me. Thank you. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)

#44.6, Thurs., May 11, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. A Woods in Gaul

         The guards argue for a moment over who should use the polearm, and they assure one another the spear tip is firmly in place. Now I feel the pain of it, and breath is…

         At this waking I am gasping for breath under a heap of last week’s barn straw. I was expecting forest loam as I knit together a memory of what happened last.

         Oh, this is a terrible pain. I seem to be on the floor of a wagon under this filthy straw and just now we are moving. I mean to speak or howl or cry out. I don’t think I can make a sound, but now the wagon stops.

         “What are you stopping for, Gabe? It’s still my turn to ride the horse you know. Let’s just keep going now!”

         “I thought I heard something in the wagon.”

         “You didn’t. Let’s get on our way – tonight we’ll be home before dark.”

         “It sounded like Papa howling just as I started forward.”

         “We aren’t wee little babies anymore who believe the stories we ourselves make.”

         “I heard something, I’m sure.  I wasn’t even thinking of that Lazarus story.  Really we should look.”

         “Maybe it’s just Papa’s ghost, leaving him… Okay we will take a peek at it but I still get to ride the horse for the last part.”

         I probably look as gory as they fear.  It requires this long silence from them to muster the courage to move this straw from my face. I stay still, Dear God may I not frighten my children just now. In this terrified silence they touch me.

         “He is warm, and … What should we do, Gabe? It was already the worst thing to tell Momma.  I thought we would just bring her a chance to grieve and bury him in the flower place, but now, our dead papa will be hanging around us forever, howling and growling, needy and bleeding and making us always sorry we didn’t fight for him when we could.”

         “He told us to do like Peter, you know. We were supposed to deny him until the rooster crowed. We did as we were told.”

         “We’re so near where Charlie lives, I’ll just take the horse and ride over there and ask Charlie what we should do.”

         “You can’t leave me alone here with him.  Let’s unhitch the wagon and take both horses.”

         Now I’m alone.

(Continues Tuesday, May 16)

#44.5, Weds., May 10, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Woods near Chalôns

         Through darkness, I’m prodded on by the bishops’ guards. It seems one of those ancient skews of justice in response to an unwelcome message is to kill the messenger. Ancient people did it. It was probably born in the wilds before the human imagination could fathom reason. It satisfies a longing for righteousness like the poison hemlock satisfies hunger.

         Another sharp jolt of pain between my shoulder blades — I wonder why people would ever need to inflict hurt on another for a message, or an idea, or simply some contrary thought inked onto a scrap of parchment.

         We seem to be in a place with trees and underbrush and one of these guards must have a shovel in hand and is digging in the fresh spring earth.  It smells mossy and ready for planting, but I fear they are digging a grave for me. They discuss possibilities for brutality and decide torture wouldn’t be worth the trouble since the Celtic Father wouldn’t feel the hurt. It’s decided that, at least, I should be made to dig my own grave. But no one dares loose the rope on my hands or remove the blindfold. Giving me a shovel might make me dangerous. Apparently it is their own guilt that rattles their fears. I’m not fighting them. The lone man with the shovel continues to jab apart roots and sever this earth.

         One reports seeing a stable boy watching from a distance.

         “He’s the fellow who said he wanted to be a soldier. Just let him watch us and learn.”

         So my sons have followed and are seeing all of this and possibly they are considering attacking these guards to rescue me.

         I shout a message to them, “John 18:25 – What Peter believed was his sin actually left him with a voice!”

         With a hard jab of spear tip at my back the guard answered my message “Shouting scripture!? You’re nothing like a Jesus, man.  You don’t even have a sword!”

         Dear God, please guide Greg and Gabe to stay safe.

         Slammed face down onto the damp earth — this is a softer bed than the stone steps of the great hall where first I tripped blindfolded.  But I find this ditch hardly deep enough for a grave.  I guess my vaguely coded message to my sons goaded the guards to hurry. No one wants a preaching victim even when the message is obtuse.

(Continues tomorrow)

#44.4, Tues., May 9, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Chalôns

         Rage ignites these bishops – a flicker of wrath poofs to flaming venom!  Father Columbanus’ suggestion for improving the use of a bishops’ council rings of insolence to these gathered. I assume I will be carrying an angry response back to the Father after they take a cooler moment to put words to their wrath. This message I carried here, no doubt, will bring a hostel rebuttal.

         One bishop rises from the huddle and signals a guard. But they aren’t asking the guards for inks to reply. Instead the guard gathers the others and … Now some come up close around me with swords drawn. One, still at the door, reports that the Baro Dithrum fled into the night.

         Were I the warrior-hero my ever-watching sons wish of their Papa, I would just bolt from this room turning sword on sword creating mayhem to cover a daring escape. But my heroic power is only what I was taught by my friend, Jesus.  I learned neither stealth nor violence, I only know the simply, ever-healing, love. That’s hard to wield just now. May my every-watching sons notice courage in my silence.

         Dear God, I’m afraid. Let me find you near.

         My hands are drawn behind my back — tied together at the wrists. The one who is near for this “capture” stands at my back, out of my sight tying a blindfold. Now I hear the slither of swords into sheaths.  Apparently, what they fear of me can be managed by capturing only my hands and my eyes. No swords are needed just now.

         In the center of my back I feel the sharp point of the spear-tip mounted on one of the polearms they carry. Of course a polearm is needed now, since the intimacy of the sword is distasteful; All these pokes and jabs are drawn up from fears. They must think I’m some kind of horned aurouch that can turn on them any moment.

         I hear the doors open and feel a rush of the night winds as I’m prodded forward by the spear tip. Without my hands to stop the fall I miss the first step out the door and fall on my face. If Greg and Gabe are watching all of this, it must be embarrassing for them to see their papa bound and helpless and now lifted back to standing by hostile soldiers.

(Continues tomorrow)

#44.3, Thurs., May 4, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Chalôns

The bishops are meeting in this place. Greg and Gabe are caught up in the pomp of the nobility and are no doubt peeking through any crack or hole they can find in these walls.  The baro paces outside the door, while I enter with the bag containing the scroll Father Columbanus sends to politely inform them that he only listens to a higher authority. The various contingencies of bishops’ guards muddle around outside and inside the large doors to this hall. They are keeping watch to manage all entrances and exits. Maybe bishops born noble need armed guards to save them from their fears relentlessly tangling every mitered word and deed of power-strife among themselves. I pass by the guards, as they announce, “Messenger from the Foreign Abbot of Luxeuil”.

    I see the bishops have tried to arrange themselves as equals, with no one at the head on a throne as a king of bishops; rather they are seated together, as they would be around a table — with no bread or wine, no feast, no sacrament, no table, just an arrangement. In this way the first bishop I approach is the one with his back to the entrance way. I have to reach over his shoulder to hand him the scroll; then I turn to leave without speaking. Now the guards have drawn their swords and I am directed to turn back toward the bishops and humbly beg to be dismissed. But the bishops demand I stay while the message is read.

    Even in his refusal to appear here in person, Father Columbanus is eloquent. It is that higher authority that seems to empower him to frustrate these men so pointedly. The very nature of the Father that I see as his deep and personal commitment to God alone, as he best perceives the Source of Love, shows up here before the bishops as arrogance suggesting that they hold their councils more often.

    Then the father’s plea lands dull and heavy, in the middle of the circle, as a kind of ill-fitting humility.

    “I am not the author of this divergence. I came as a poor stranger into these parts for the cause of Christ, our Savior. One thing alone I ask of you, holy Fathers, permit me to live in silence in these forests, near the bones of seventeen of my brethren now dead.”[Footnote]

[Footnote]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbanus#Conflict_with_Frankish_bishops  retrieved 8-31-22 Smith, Sir William; Wace, Henry (2012). A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines. Charleston: Nabu Press. P. 201

(Continues Tuesday, May 9)

#44.2, Weds., May 3, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E., Chalôns

When we were last in Chalôns, Ana and I were delivering messages from the Father to these bishops of Burgundy and Austrasia. Here, again, I am in Chalôns but across the city from the church of Father Felix, a follower of the Abbot. I am very sure no supporters of Columbanus will be present in this council.

Father Columbanus only has support from some nobility, Arnulf the noble Bishop of Metz, the Mayor of Metz, a dux, Baro Dithrum, maybe a few others, along with some churchmen like Felix.

But these noblemen of Frankish Gaul see power as a tenuous tower where every lust for importance is defined by a title that has to be incessantly defended with swords and soldiers. All these little violent skirmishes for power may seem insignificant except they leave in their wake violence and death.

Within this hall, this smattering of the noble-born, calling themselves a council, take on the duty of maintaining Roman order and consistency in the monasteries. With King Guntram gone, Father Columbanus is no longer sheltered from these bishops by a king’s power.

Now I’m here to deliver the scroll with the message from the Father that he will not be coming in person to stand before them to receive their reprimand. Their complaint, of course, is simply over the differences of the Celtic Christian rule and style. It’s not about something important like the nature of God.

Greg and Gabe are with the boys who tend the stables where they practice playing guardsmen with swordplay and archery. The talk among stable boys is always of wars.

Here I watch my sons looking, for all the world, like perfect physical men, strong and beautiful, excellent horsemen and marksman, yet so innocent. My prayers are pangs of dread for them. They’ve never known grief. They’ve not yet searched the depths of courage and the expanse of empathy to hurdle over the hates and find that sacred place where love dwells. How is it anything but an elder’s fumbles when I say to them that it is love that casts out fear, not swords or arrows?

Now we’ve journeyed all this way so they can see their father deliver a message that no one wants to hear. This council of power- thirsty bishops is festering for fight. In the Father’s message no evil bishops are conquered and no bearer of Christ is elevated. Maybe it’s pointless.

Yet, I know Greg and Gabe watch closely.

(Continues tomorrow)

#44.1, Tues., May 2, 2023

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

Each night of this week on the journey to Chalôns we stop in a town and the boys go to do a task for the baro. They take on the role of royal guardsmen and proclaim Baro Dithrum’s visit at any random house that appears to be important in each village in our path. They knock on a door and when someone answers they step to the side and announce, “The Baro Dithrum! Of Metz.” As the master of the house shows the baro to guest quarters Gabe and Greg come back to these public stables to spend the night in the hayloft. With the stable boys they brush down the horses and pass around the gossip while I look for an inn or a generous household that will sell a pot of porridge and a biscuit I can carry back for my boys to share.

The conversations of stable boys are sometimes about horses, and sometimes this chatter morphs to the topic of men who ride horses. Was the rider of this horse cruel or kindly? And when the stable boys notice a rider is cruel they learn something about the nature of hurt.

Gabe observes, “Those who feel the dearth of power and are most unsure of themselves are the ones who use the stiffer whip.”

Greg clarifies, “That would be Baro Dithrum.”

It seems a simple lesson about humankind or maybe human-unkind, that my boys learn things from the treatment of horses. Sometimes cruelty is a flimsy replacement for authority. It is what scholars and soldiers struggle in vain to understand because it would seem violence and cruelty would display power, not fear. But these who brush down the horses can see that violent lashings are really a sign of powerlessness.

There is, of course, lots of talk of violence in these gentle stables; maybe that’s due to the age of stable boys. This stage of nearly teen sees the awesome future of themselves replete with possibilities; yet dreams are haunted with the fearsome realities and responsibilities of adulthood. They glimpse power sourced in swords and arrows, and a hard kick to the ribs of a fast horse. They grieve for their babyhoods, yet, in secret they search the rumors of love for the most brutal side of sex.

Dear God, how do you still love humankind, when we so consistently repeat loathsome patterns of the power-thirsty generation after generation? I will await your answer.

(Continues tomorrow)

#43.12, Thurs., April 27, 2023

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

This night in the straw I hear the boys talking to one another, sorting out the things they’ve seen and heard. They must assume I am asleep or that I’m not even here with them to listen to this.

Gabe speaks first, “I’m glad Papa doesn’t shave his chin.”

Greg answers, “I think Baro Dithrum shaves his chin bare like that with the fangs of his mustache hanging down to make him look like a soldier.”

“Well, he doesn’t look at all ferocious; he just looks silly with that round little knob of chin held way up high so he can hardly see over his own nose.”

“I guess he thinks it makes him look important.”

There is a moment for giggles and now I’m the subject of their whispers.

Greg starts, “Do you know why Momma calls Papa, ‘Laz?’”

Gabe knows, “It’s short for Lazarus.”

“So, why does she call him Lazarus, when everyone else calls him Ezra?”

“Because Lazarus is a weird name?”

“No, Gabe, I think it is because the monks found him dead, and when they took him to Momma she healed him so she thinks he is like the bible story Lazarus.”

In this time when no one but monks and noblemen learn to read it is good to hear them remembering the pages Ana scribed for them to learn reading even when it was a remote story about some bible guy.

Now the boys yammer on pondering the nature of death and life, and they even consider life again when their childish imaginations bring them to the odd little question – so when did Lazarus really die dead?

“Maybe he dies and just never stays dead?”

“Maybe Papa really is Lazarus.”

And they giggle themselves off to sleep and off to their children’s dreams. While I have to know that one day I will be the one who grieves for them, longing forever to have one more night with them to overhear their childish chatter. It is my strange circumstance of life and life again that leaves me always the one left grieving.

Dear God, thank you for the imaginations and dreams of the children, and for the signs and wonders that always tell us we are simply born in the image of love. Thank you for this tangible life – glimpse of love intangible, spirit of unfathomable wonder. Amen.

(Continues Tuesday, May 2, 2023)

#43.11, Weds., April 26, 2023

istorical setting: 602 C.E. Beginning the journey to Châlons

The mayor’s guard leaves with all but four of the horses: the baro’s very tall black stallion, a bay gilding for me, and the boys had horses which the baro explained were for “experienced mule riders requiring that special touch.”

Greg and Gabe took that as a complement affirming their long years of equine experience in managing our farm mule. After all they have known of mules, and particularly our mule, for nearly their whole lifetimes. The same understanding of teens that the baro used for manipulating me also worked to fit these boys with appropriately gentle horses. And now they are very proud of their equine assignments. Gabe got the gentle gray, and Greg the “longer horse” –though sagging a bit – that is said to be a horse “of many heroes in white.” I agreed with the baro, for once, that these were good choices for my boys. These horses are followers going wherever the baro goes on his stallion. So in our grand procession with Baro Dithrum leading on his great black horse, followed by the swayback mare, then the gray, and the last is this bay with me and the all-important message bag, and an extra box for the bird to return to Luxeuil.

At this traveling pace it will take us a week or so to reach Châlons. That will bring us into the council of bishops after they’ve been assembled for a few days and are awaiting the arrival of Father Columbanus, probably expecting he will fall before them repentant or at least defensive. He is not coming. He has chosen to respond to their summons with this message I carry in the bag.

Our stops along this way are many. The young boys and the elder horses they ride need frequent rests.

At each town where we stop for a night the baro finds the finest house, assuming that to be the mayor or the magistrate. He sends one of the boys to the door to summons the master of the house, and then it is either Gabe or Greg who announces in a loud clear preaching voice, “The Baro Dithrum of Metz.” Then the baro is welcomed into the home as a guest, while we go on to the stable to care for the beasts and sleep in the straw. It is different traveling with nobility than was my journey with Ana.

(Continues tomorrow)

43.10, Tues., April 25, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Luxeuil

Our packs are weightier than they were for the pilgrimage. My boys set a fast pace walking as they imagine they will soon be horsemen. They still muddle in the fantasies of children, sharing the chatter of dreams between them. I seem no longer included in their world.

Today we arrive at Luxeuil, a very different place with the pilgrims mostly gone and now, desolate are the areas where we were all gathered in the camp and the courtyards for visitors. The chanting of the nuns continues in the halls and behind the walls assuming always, God stayed to listen. Or maybe, it is the voice of God herself in this psalm. Today our prayers are for a safe journey.

The boys go on to the stable while I wait here at the gate for Brother Servant to come out and give us our assignment.

I’m relieved to know we won’t be crossing the mountains or riding to Rome. He said the bishops are meeting in Châlons as the place most central for the nobility. It’s a city Ana and I visited on our journey some years ago. So I release the bird to Ana with the message of our destination, now known.

We soon learn our sponsor, the mayor of Metz, Dux Waldalenus, intends the message from the Father to be delivered by an entourage of prancing horses. But Father Columbanus discusses an approach to the bishops that is less ostentatious since the purpose of the message is to excuse himself from appearing before the authority of that council. The Father insists on no swords, and no more than four on horseback so not to appear as warriors.

As Brother Servant calls out the abbot’s orders, “All we need are the two young boys and their humble, unarmed father, Ezra.” And again he reminds us, “Father Columbanus chooses not to give any appearance of an army prepared for war.”

Baro Dithrum, like any good soldier, puts those orders above his personal wish to present a strong show of force. The band of royal swordsmen are sent back to Metz. Deep in my heart I celebrate the little paradox that the least of us, the most humble and ill-prepared, are chosen for this important task so that it not be considered a military challenge to the bishops.

The baro and my sons are disappointed this isn’t going to be a sword slashing event. There was a fantasy in their minds.

(Continues tomorrow)