Post #33.1, Weds., June 1, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains

         The storm starts with distant thunder, the wind, and now curtains of rain are moving across the hilltop in the darkness. I hang a buckskin down from the canopy of thatch over my bed, but the rivulets of rain run between the thatch and the deer hide and have thoroughly soaked the straw mattress, the sheet, the pillow and even my clothing.  Every gust of wind jostles the edges of the hide and breezes into my refuge and chills this bed space. At a great bolt of lightning with a shattering boom of thunder I get up to check on the birds. 

         The nesting box we’ve set for them where a rafter would be, had we a roof, seems fine and nearly dry. The pair of young birds are nestled together in the straw. They seem to be sleeping or maybe so fear-filled they dare not poke their heads up. The bird from Annegray takes notice of me, but then nestles back again also.

           I catch sight of a light behind me, and turn expecting the flame is still on the hearth; but it’s a candle’s light in the room beyond the doorway – Ana’s room with the roof.

         And here is Ana, standing in the open doorway, beckoning me into that forbidden room.  It’s often my dream. But now that I am drenched in cold rain from head to toe I can’t possible be sleeping. We can hardly hear our own voices over the torrential storm. I go in, under the roof, and she draws the door closed. It muffles the storm. It’s dry in here. I wonder at the workmanship of this old roof.

         “I’m so glad you have a dry place to sleep, Ana.  I was worried about you and about the birds, too.         “

         “Are the birds okay?”

         “Yes, surprisingly so.”

         “They are birds you know. They have their own ways with storms.” She giggles, “But not so much the nature of man, I see. You seem very wet through and through.”

         “And I am probably getting everything wet in your little dry room as well.”

         She hands me a cloth of linen and tells me to put my wet clothes out the door. And so I do. This room is warm and sweet, scented in lavender like my best-honed dreams of it always are. And here I am trying with all my willpower to keep the promise never to touch Ana.        

(Continues Thursday, June 2)

Post #32.13, Tues., May 31, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains

         We are sitting here at the table after our meal, and Brother Servant tells us “Father Columbanus is dealing with the bishops of this land over the reports brought back to other abbeys by the Lenten pilgrims. It’s not just our Celtic tonsures they are complaining about; it’s our different day for Easter.  We use an older calendar that considers the Passover in the Jesus story, but here they call Easter the second Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox.  It seems random and Pagan to me.  Some of us don’t want to change our ways just because this wilderness was already peopled with these Christians who’ve invented their own rule, the Rule of Benedict.

         “And now we’ve heard a rumor the bishops are considering sending the father back to the island where he came from.”

         “I thought he was given permission to use Annegray by the king.”

         “Yes, but only by the king. The father didn’t even know of the bishops when he arrived here. He was expecting to find a barbarian wilderness. So when we arrived in this land he went to the king for permission and particularly asked for a place in the depths of wilderness.  The king graciously gave him the ruin of an old Roman fortress.”

         “There is a bit of irony finding Irish monks in a Roman ruin.” I have observed.

          “The irony of meeting the Christ in a gutted out Roman fortress didn’t escape either the father or the king but now these bishops appear to have sprouted up from the Roman root and they are complaining.”

         And just now our little ruin of a cottage with hardly a roof seems a beautiful refuge but it is looking more and more like rain today. The clouds scurry faster across the springtime skies as the servant monk takes the empty bird box when he leaves to return across the hills to Annegray hurrying off before the clouds let loose.

         I love both the wise and the beautiful natures of Ana though I know she would have me choose other words for her gifts so we stay here at the table talking until the rains start.  We talk about dreams for a hilltop farm, though we avoid the most important thing we both know. We cautiously say nothing at all about our dreams for our lives together. And we haven’t really considered out loud our frailties — my patience or her fears.

(Continues Tuesday, June 1)

Post #32.12, Thurs., May 26, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains

         We’ve released a bird so Brother Servant will know to come for our copying work and maybe bring Ana some baby birds for these boxes.

         Ana has been in the wood with her little sickle, and come back with bundles of greens.

         “Dandelions leaves” she announces so proudly. “Spring tonic for all of our creaking bones, and plenty to send on to Annegray. We’ll chop it fine and fry it in the oil with the fish you caught in the creek this morning!

         “Thank you God for all this good food for this season and for Ana who knew where to find fresh dandelions.”

         She’s preparing the noon supper early today because it appears we will have storms by afternoon and the servant monk has a bit of a trek back to Annegray. 

         Today, when he comes he has the bird that will return to Annegray and also a pair of squabs for Ana to nurture. So now she has the start of a roost of pigeons that will always find their ways home to this place. The servant offers a prayer for the birds that they may find comfort in one another and that they will hatch out many more little birds to come.

         Thank you God, for your servant who speaks our own prayer to birds. He also takes notice that the guest bed in this house is still made up as a “guest” bed. He notices our chastity yet he doesn’t judge us either good or bad for this.

         The servant update’s Ana. “Brother Gilden, to whom you always send the cures and the herbs is doing quite well these days.  Since he is never one to worry us with pointless complaints just to plot himself an extra day of rest, Father Columbanus listens to his woes with deep concern. So when it comes to the wellbeing of that frail monk we always ask your advice.”

         “I’m glad to learn Brother Gilden is better. And how is the cow doing?”

         “We’ll, I have to say, we were able to find an abundance of that ivy you sent just growing wild all around, so we’ve been adding more and more of that to her fodder.  Her milk is abundant now, and delicious. The now we’ve found another use for the minty little ivy so the ale we serve is also well-flavored.”

(Continues Tuesday, May 31)

Post #32.11, Weds., May 25, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains

         We have many more things to talk about than chastity and lust, so the wise Ana can capture my imagination in a way that the beautiful Ana is immune. Now we were talking about doctrine.

         Ana adds, “Daniel said I’d best stick with what I’ve been taught and not make a stir.”

         “Sure that’s what he’d likely tell you having Colletta as his mother with most of the Christianity he was raised more on creed than gospel.”

         “So Laz, you mean you don’t think creed and gospel converge?”

         I look at Ana, and there is a glint of tease in her blue eyes — hardly the sparkle of angel.

         “You already know my mind, don’t you Ana.”

         “I know you will always speak of Jesus, as teacher and friend, and that Jesus was Jewish, with only one God who is of a spiritual substance.”

         “Ana you read my heart and my mind. Jesus was Jewish and he followed the rising cults of Jewish mystics in his time. He had no thought of separating God into a triune god like the Celtic pagan god Bridget.”

         Ana adds, “Bridget are Christian now, you know. They’ve come over from the Pagans. So they are Saint Bridget now. [footnote] I’ve heard the Irish monks praying to saints on their way here. So, Laz, why did those early church fathers making creeds bend the gospel to meet Augustine, instead of simply following the Jewish Jesus law to love God and one another?”

         “I’ve thought about that a lot in these times when it seems the polity shapes the teachings instead of the gospel of love shaping the polity as we once believed could happen. Maybe it got backwards for too simple a reason; the gospels were still in Greek when the world was already speaking Latin. And the bible is laid out like a collection of scrolls, each with its own telling. So in a time of books with pages only one right answer seems to appear on the page instead of a continuing thread of questions and answers as dialogue. One right from among the many wrongs — a singular creed fit Roman order better than it fit the many-faceted dialogues of Greek or Hebrew scholarship.

         “And also, I think it’s an amazing holy miracle that God continues to empower priests and bishops with love, so the Jesus love seeps through anyway, regardless of the politics, at least now and then.” Thank you God.

[footnote] Depending on the source, Bridgid is either Pagan or saint. Stoestedt, Marie-Louis Celtic Gods and Heroes, Dover, 2000. p. 21, but Bridgid of Kildare is more thoroughly discussed by Cahill, Thomas How the Irish Saved Civilization New York: Doubleday, 1995, pp. 172-179.

(Continues Tomorrow)

Post #32.10, Tues., May 24, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains

         Were we monks working side-by-side at the benches in a monastery we would ink the approved words copying manuscripts in silence and we would never know one another’s hopes or fears. Here we can talk freely to each other while the Rule of Columbanus is copied, not to serve any rich patron, but simply for a utilitarian need. We are using scraps and sanded off practice pages, so maybe a few extra errors caused by conversation are not a serious problem.

         But I’m curious about Ana’s access to the king’s library, and I do mean to find us a different topic for conversation, “So, Ana, how was it Daniel was allowed to take you, a woman and a commoner, along with him to the castle library?”

         Ana tells me, “While Chilperic lived Count Bertigan was called to the king’s castle to report the accounts. Not only did Daniel always go along, the Count took a whole entourage of young riders in order to impress the king.”

         “I can imagine the count doing that.”
          “Of course, and since Daniel had always included me with his nephews and nieces in riding lessons I was also included in the full processions of horses and riders.”

         “While the king met with the counts and their secretaries, the sons of the counts and royals were instructed in letters, and the daughters learned needlework. The needlework lessons required rich thread and silks for which I had no sponsor so Daniel suggested I wait in the library.  It was such a wonder! The king had all of the gospels and some of the epistles. He had the ancient scriptures, everything!  And there were some books said to be by the early fathers of the Church. That is where I read the work of Augustine.”

         My comment, “So that’s how you got yourself doused in the roots of doctrine. I doubt churchmen in these times even know the difference between doctrine and gospel.”

         “Daniel did mention the dangers of reading those books. He said it set the king arguing doctrine with the bishop and we know that ended badly for the king.”

         “Maybe so. I don’t follow the politics of nobility very closely but that was the rumor at Ligugè.” I mean to offer that as “maybe.” My opinion is the politics too easily trump the love of God, even when it is the bishop serving up the political meat.

 (Continues tomorrow)

Post #32.9, Thurs., May 19, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains

         Ana tells of her meeting with Father Columbanus. “The intended healing from my fears had been a dismal failure. All the ancient legends of woman and snake would make me the obvious perpetrator of evil in this. So I’m pretty sure the young monk used the notion of woman as temptress as his defense and yet he was sent away into the custody of a Benedictine abbey more accustomed to training the very young. The father told me this to assure me he had not taken the side of the youth and he was opened to hearing me state an allegation against the young monk. But I only said that he was very young and his intention was to do a good deed. 

         “The father argued with what I thought was my kindness to not lay blame, and told me that by excusing his lust I was denying the youth his responsibility and in that way I was condoning it. He added that, had my fears been quelled, we would have shared in our delighting in the error and we both would have sinned.

         “I didn’t resist making my confession.  But what to do with me then was at issue. A women’s community would expect a virgin so the rape by the pirates alone would be a discredit, though my training as a physician would probably be a more favorable recommendation, but maybe my training in pagan medicine would be against me. And I don’t know if being literate would have carried any sway either way. In the end the father weighed all the options and offered these walls on these back hills of Annegray. The eunuch, Brother Servant, was assigned.

         “Now I find that this isolation does indeed fulfill the curse of the pirates, that I would never be a wife or mother. So here I am distanced from any possibility of family and have only my fears to haunt me.”

         We work at the inks for a while in silence because there is no better answer to Ana’s story than my silence. Dear God help me silence my thoughts that I could better cure her fears than could a young monk. But of course any prayer to ask not to think of something is only answered by thinking more of that thing. So I am thinking, I could have done so much better than a young monk at this task because I already know well the value of patience over lust. But my mind right now is the battlefield between lust and patience.

(Continues Tuesday, May 24)

Post #32.8, Weds., May 18, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains

         Ana is telling me a terrible story, I would try not to listen if I could. She has been released from the hold of a young monk, by the flailing of her knee.  She tells me she was surprised he released her, as he fell. I can understand what she doesn’t know.

         She continues. “He fell to one side taking the robe that covered us, so there I was naked and unhidden looking skyward and into the faces of a circle of silent monks who probably heard my screams and were standing all around us looking on.

         “The young monk was terrified and burst into tears. Through his anguish he was sobbing that he was sorry, until he got his wits about himself then he just blamed me. He said it was my sin alone. I had tempted him. The monks said nothing at all. They simply wrapped him in his robe and took him off to see Father Columbanus. One covered me with a piece of my dress as they were leaving.

         “I drew the robe up from the ground and pulled it over my shoulders, and I just sat there for a very long time. At first I was sobbing until clarity came over me like a wayward splash of sunlight. Then for a very long time I whispered psalms I knew, then I said a prayer, over and over again, ‘Dear God what can I do?’ It went from plea to curse and then back into a plea, then I felt someone near me. I turned, expecting to see the farmer of this meadow, or maybe the gardener on whose land I was sitting. It was the servant monk, and he had a proper linen woman’s tunic for me to wear when I went to answer for my sins before Father Columbanus.”

         “Did you meet Father Columbanus in person then?” I asked.

         “Yes. I found him to be very thoughtful and kind though I am sure the story I told made no sense to him. Both the young monk and I were given the privacy to make a confession only to the father, as the Irish Rule allows. And apparently what I told him, and what the young monk had said was the same thing. Neither of us told a better tale. But which of us sinned wasn’t at all clear.”

(Continues tomorrow)

Post #32.7 Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains

Please take care. This post was not written for children to read, even for good readers.

         Ana is telling me a story I don’t even want to hear.

         She continues, “I hadn’t known there was ever a physical sign that would tell of the virginity of a man so I guess he needed to tell it for it to be known. What he really meant by telling me that, was he was offering his purity to me as a sacrifice of himself for the Christian sake of my rescue.”

         I know Ana is looking at me for a reasonable opinion. I mean, I’ve been a man nearly a century longer than the Christian religion ever was, so surely I would know about this.  I turn back toward our worktable to repress my grimace. What can I say?

          “So, by your silence I guess you know what happened.” My silence agrees, and she continues.  “We removed our robes, mine a blanket on the cold ground, his a blanket on his back. He tore away the loose pieces left of my dress on me, so we were both naked between the wools. The young monk, pure and virgin poured his eyes over me like I was some creature he had never seen before. And that affirmed to me he was indeed a virgin. He told me again it was his holy mission to risk his own virtue to save me from my sin.”

          “So there I was, laid out on a borrowed monk’s robe, naked and waiting for the white snake of the druid blessing to go seeking the snake’s den of legend. If I could only be fearless I could be helping this young monk become my savior. But as he proceeded to find a tempo for his flushing checks to brighten I could see nothing but the reddened laughing faces of the pirates. In my mind’s eye he was, himself, transfigured into the very pirates I wanted most to be rid of, so I fought and screamed!  I was frantic, but he cupped his hand over my mouth so no one would hear my screams. I could hardly breath. He groped my body for a place to put that tall virgin phallus he seemed to have acquired so suddenly. I squirmed and fought to free myself, but he pressed my shoulders tighter to the ground so only my legs could move freely, and my thrashing knee gave me a power I didn’t know I had. He crumpled into a writhing ball, releasing me.”

(Continues Tomorrow)

Post #32.6, Thurs., May 12, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains

         Ana continues her story. “Before this rape happened I could see a man’s good health and physical being as a thing of great beauty. I always considered human beings to be wonders of Creation. But then, after the curse I could see nothing but a filthy disgrace of the beauty of life. I thought I would always have to be alone until I saw the procession of chaste monks to follow.

         “The young monk listened to me with a great intensity. Then he offered a prayer asking God to rescue me from the curse of sin. I hadn’t thought of it as a sin, because a sin seems like it would be a choice for me to avoid a temptation and I had no choice. I was captured. But maybe he meant the pirates’ sins. Whatever, I thought. Yes, I would want God to release me from my fear. Amen.

         “He said we should meet again, and talk some more. Perhaps we could find a place distant from the others so no one would notice and have a bad thought about us together.  I wondered how there could be a bad thought about a holy monk talking with a needy woman.

         “We were already reaching the hills near Annegray when the young monk took me with a strong grip around my wrist and led me to a place in the wilderness he called a ‘secret place.’ He said as a child he was afraid of many things, but his father taught him that the true cure for fear was to face the fear and do that which fears you most; do it until you no longer fear. Does this make sense to you?” She asks me.

         I answer, “Some fears protect us from danger. So I guess it isn’t a recommended cure for fear. It could be dangerous. Usually in my own fearful times I ask God’s guidance, and it reliably comes to me in the familiar words. ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’ [I John 4:18a]. But in this case that kind of easy scripture answer seems ill advised. So maybe God answers these things without words but from the depths of our most intimate consciences. How did it come to you?”

         “It was indeed, very intimate. The monk told me he was a virgin.”

(Continues Tuesday, May 17)

Post #32.5, Weds., May 11, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. In the Vosges Mountains

         Ana continues her story, “I wrapped a swelling ankle for a young monk and he set about befriending me, Christian-to-Christian he would say, and we talked about our faith in God. But you know how those conversations can turn. Pretty soon he was telling me of his childhood and his calling to follow Jesus into the wilderness. He considered it a testament to his moral character. I didn’t remind him that even the disciples Jesus picked out for himself weren’t really that upstanding.”

         I laugh, but wonder how she knows this. She must be doing a close reading of the gospels on her own.

         “Ana,” I ask her, “How did an apprentice to a pagan healer learn so many things of the disciples and also the doctrines of the church?”

         “Of course I learned from our reading lessons, but then, when you were gone for those years Daniel often took me with him when he and Count Bertigan had work to do at the King’s castle. King Chilperic had a library of books – the gospels, and other writings, Augustine and those bishops from Alexandria and the far away places.”

         “Really? No wonder Gregory of Tours and King Chilperic debated the need for Trinity. He was reading books. So go on. What were you telling me of the band of monks from the island of St. Patrick?”
         Ana continues, “I told that young monk with the swelling ankle way too many things. I told him I had been stolen by pirates from my home, and when I escaped they raped me and beat me so that I would, as they said, ‘never be a proper wife to any man.’ I thought it was a threat that my body would never heal from the rape, but I easily recovered physically and I was soon relieved from the fear that I would birth a baby pirate. What I didn’t know about then was that the pirates had put me under an evil curse of fear. It was a terror of the phallus, and a fear that even my own physical obligation to receive the phallus had been skewed from love to fear. I realized they were right. I was cursed with their evil, never to be a wife or a mother of a loving family. Now I can’t even imagine lying with a man without the faces of the pirates coming to my mind. Their horrible laughs and lust haunt me even in my night terrors.”

(Continues tomorrow)