Post #9.6, Thursday, June 11, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Saxony Shore of Gaul

         The priest continues, “I see your rags and bare feet but I see no children. If you want a crust of bread from me you will have to beg more truthfully.”

         “Truthfully then, I am not a beggar, I believe I have a patron who will supply my shoes and cloak when we find one another. And I am sure he is willing to share a crust of bread with me also. But what I am asking now, is of you. There are four small boys who were left orphaned by pirates when the harbor was burned.” He pales and turns his gaze to the floor.

         I hammer relentlessly.  “They saw and heard and memorized your words of burial for their parents and brother, and now they need to be baptized with the names they believe you have assigned to them. Those names would be St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John. And you have assigned them the task of educating their innocent and ignorant and unbaptized family in the teachings of Gospel. They need to hear from you the words that God loves them, and they need you to tell them that God is not a man with a gold cross on a chain, but is the Holy Deity omnipresent but invisible. I told them you speak for God but you are not God, and now they are waiting to hear you speak. They need to know that the true and invisible God who is love hears their prayers.”

         The priest speaks to me. “That was last fall when the harbor was burned.” And he speaks aloud to God. “Dear God, forgive me this terrible oversight.”

         He has no thought to argue the truthfulness of his own funeral words said back to him as blame. His concern seems to be for the children. I also speak my prayer aloud. “Dear God, thank you for sending these children a kind and caring priest. Amen.”

         “What else do the children need?” He asks.

         “Your Holiness, come with me to see them and you can decide. There is a creek for baptism, and they already know what it is to be dragged into the cold water for a simple cleaning. I think they will really appreciate a proper baptism.”

         “Are they cold and hungry?” he asks as he puts on his cassock and prepares to go with me.

         “They are needy in everything. But they are beautiful in their love and care for one another and we dare not loose sight of that goodness in our own human hollow and hurting empathy for them.”

(Come again Tuesday, June 16)

Post #9.5, Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Shore of Gaul

My habit of keeping night watch is still useful, as I’ve already slept this day and I’m easily prepared to keep this watch fire. These children can get the kind of night’s rest gifted to little ones in every other nest and den of every forest and house this night. Dear God, thank you for the peaceful night. And thank you for staying near. Amen.

         At dawn’s first light the children do, indeed, gather at the family graves for their ritual of priestly words recalling their names and their assignment to watch over the so-called, “lost” souls of their loved ones. Probably if it is a secret kept from the priest, I should also not intrude, so I go to the freshwater creek and return with two small fishes for a hot cooked breakfast. These children are accustomed to sharing small morsels so everyone has something. In fact it is St. Luke himself who notices that I am of a larger size, and may require a larger portion, but I do not. There seems to be a sigh of relief in discovering I am also aware of the need to share.

         After a snooze on the beach I follow that little used road inland, hoping to find the church where God wears the robes and the cross of a priest. The slope of the road rises nearly to the level of the high cliff where I suppose the fire would be lit to mark the harbor if there were any more keepers of the light.  And from this high place I look inland and see the town spread in the valley, with the walled garrison nearest the shore on this same hill. The road forks into choice of town or fort. Since the church tower is in the town I turn eastward into the valley of Constantia though I do wonder if Nic is waiting for me at the garrison which would be familiar to him already.

         Yes, the priest here does wear long robes, and his chain has a gold cross just the size and type as the one I saw inscribed in the sand only last night.

         “Father, I need to speak with you. There are some children in great need here in your parish.”

         “It is the season for great need. So are you able to make an offering?”

         “My own offering is meager.”

         “So, it is just as I supposed.  You are a beggar suggesting alms to you would really be for some invisible children in need.”

(Come again tomorrow)

Post #9.4, Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Shore of Gaul

         I’m listening to the story the children tell, quoting the words they heard spoken at the burial of their family.

         Pumpkin leads in speaking as the youngers mouth along but stumble over incomprehensible but now familiar syllables.

         “Prepare these who are unbaptized and ignorant of the holy. I pray for those who cannot speak for themselves that they will be attended by the four Apostles of the Gospels, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John who will teach them of your good works, guiding in goodness until these lost souls are set aright that they may enter into the Kingdom.

         “To Father, Son and Holy Spirit I pray for the release of these souls into your care once they are prepared. Amen.”

         Pudding footnotes, as we sit down, “So now you know what God named us. Pumpkin is St. Matthew, I am St. Mark and St. Luke is the-six-year old now, and St. John is Precious.”

         “Beloved.” I correct, knowing the story as I do.

         St. Mark continues the story, “So it is, first thing when the sun rises every morning, no matter what, we all go to the stone piles, and we say the words. And then there is a secret part that God doesn’t see. We tell our family how we are doing, and that we are good and safe anyway and that we love them still.”

         “Why is that a secret from God?”

         “God might see us crying, and we are pretty sure Apostles of the Gospels are not supposed to cry.”

         I answer, “I’ll bet God also hides her longing tears from us.”

         “Do you think God cries?” Pumpkin, I mean, St. Matthew, asks half accusing me of heresy and half in wonder.

         “I think God’s person who comes here as a man is the priest from the church and he is only assigned to speak for God. The man comes when a human person is needed; but God is always here with you and already knows your tears. Like a mother or Holy Spirit, God is with you when you are happy and shares your joy. And God knows the sorrow of loosing a family. So, yes, I do know that God cries.

         “Tomorrow I will follow the road to find the church where the priest is, and I will ask if he could come and see you again, now that you have your God names. I believe he speaks for God.”

(Come again tomorrow.)

Post #9.3, Thursday, June 4, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Shore of Gaul

         I’ve asked these children to tell me their story. The storyteller for the group is the one called “Pudding,” a precocious child about eight years old.

         “Our father and oldest brother were the keepers of the harbor light. They climbed the cliff when the waters darkened and made a bright fire on top of the rock to guide ships to the harbor and away from the rocks. We lived in a house by the sea, and the other house was a guardhouse for soldiers from the garrison. They guarded the harbor, and helped with ships landing; but they weren’t at their post when the pirates came.  Mom sent us all up here to the garden so she could help our father and brother fight them, but the pirates had swords and torches and they won the fight and burned the houses. We hid our eyes and only Pumpkin watched, and he won’t say what he saw. But the flames twisted up high as the cliff and the soldiers saw it and came down and chased the pirates back into the sea. Then the soldiers put out the fires and worried over the sunken merchant ship and the pilings and quay all burned up now. Our house was burned too. Two of the soldiers dug pits in the sand by the woods and they buried our father and mother and brother. Another soldier of them came down the road with God and he showed God the stone piles where our family is buried.”

         “Are you sure it was God?”

         Pumpkin intercepts my rude question. “Of course we know it was God. He had long robes and a gold medal hanging from his neck.” Pumpkin drew a cross in the sand. “And he gave us our names, just as our mother said he would when we were baptized.”

         “So you talked to him?”

         “No we hid here, but he must have known we were here because he gave us our real names and told our mother what we are to do now.”

         “What did he say?”

         All four of the children stand up together and prepare to repeat the exact words and actions of the priest, now seared by grief as ritual onto their longing hearts. I stand also for the sacred.

         “Father, Son and Holy Spirit…”

         Pudding fills me in, “God knew they were, ‘Father and Son,’ but he didn’t say ‘Mother.’ To her stone pile, he said, ‘Holy Spirit.’ So now we know that our mother’s God name is ‘Holy Spirit’.”

         “Of course.”

(And what of the other names? Come again, Tuesday, June 9.)

Post #9.2, Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Shore of Gaul

         A waft of sea breeze doesn’t even ease the stench. Is it the swine, the rotting turnips or the children themselves? Four tiny faces, maybe the oldest no older than ten, and the youngest a toddler, all with round shinning eyes, all starring into me with these large, still, pools of blue jasper, peering from starving faces.

         My instruction is the order of the evening and we all go to the fresh water creek cascading toward the sea off the rocks nearby. Cold with the memory of ice is this water; I stand in the middle of the creek taking one child at a time, scrubbing each boy and his clothing also, free of stench and soil. I’m sure they will thank me for it, once we all stop our shivers. I think they will forgive my need to clean them all in the icy water when they find I also bring them a hot broth of kelpweed.

         I find that these children have been clever salvaging the ironware and remaining supplies from the burned out cottages, so here they have well-maintained fires: one for cooking, one for warding off predators and one for keeping the coals to secure the next fires — with all the grates and hooks and iron kettles of a household. Their shelter is branches covering over a dug-out hole against an inside corner of the garden wall lined with a thick layer of dried oak leaves for bedding. Any mother squirrel would be proud.

         “I am called Lazarus, what are your names?”

         The second to the oldest speaks for them all, “I’m Pudding, and my big brother is Pumpkin, and this little one is Piggy, and the baby is Precious but he doesn’t speak in words.”

         I repeat their names with a questioning voice noticed by Pumpkin.

         “Those were just our baby names. We have real names now I think. Mother said God would give us our names at baptism, but the pirates came here first. After that God gave us our real names anyway.”

         As we sit around the fire now, warm and fed I ask for the story.

         “Tell me about the time when God came and told you your names.”

(Continues tomorrow)

Post #9.1, Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age on the Shore of Gaul

         This footpath leading into the wood from the ruin by the seashore is an easy path kept clean by someone. It is carefully cleared of brush and briars and branches. It appears to be used often — this path into a graveyard. It tells of the living whose grief is fresh. And in this direction out, it must be for the trudge back into the other world, the world of living, but of the particular living ones who must now walk into unknown days of constant grief.

         It ends at a piled stonewall marking the border between the what was, perhaps last season’s garden or a farmyard and this relentless, unkempt new growth of underbrush.  I hear children’s voices or squirrels’ chatter…

         Oh, now I’m being pelted with rotten roots – turnips left too long in the earth, rutabaga by another name. Big ones, stinky ones, old black cabbage root, flying in oozing hurls from behind the stone stacks!

         “Wait! I come in peace!”

         A courageous and raggedy child stands up behind the wall, “Go away soldier-ghost or we will send legions of wild boars to eat you up!”

         Yes indeed, I do hear the snorting and groveling of wild pigs behind me, and I look. They’re coming from the woods foraging for these missiles of parsnips and turnips.

         “I’m not a soldier ghost, I’m just a human living man with a meager white tunic, which maybe makes me appear ghostly. You don’t need to be afraid of me! I step carefully to avoid the feeding frenzy nearing my human and likely to appear meaty feet. More large round roots are hurled toward me, and the wild beasts again, come near to snatch the earthy morsels. “Please, couldn’t you feed the pigs in another direction? I really mean you no harm.”

         The courageous child ducks again behind the wall and conspires with another, or perhaps several more children all a-chatter with very young voices.

         He stands and speaks again. “Very well, you can come in and tell us why you are here, but if you walk through the wall we will know you are a ghost and surely the pigs will eat you up.”

         Wild boars eat ghosts? I guess I’ve never heard that story.

         I don’t even choose to climb over the wall; I walk around from the back where there is no wall. There, in a heap against the front wall fortress is a huddle of four children.

(continues tomorrow)

Post #8.12, Thursday, May 28, 2020

Historical setting: A Dark Age

The third day of rowing in the calm we come around rocks to see a small cove with charred pilings marking a one-time quay and now abandoned shore. At a deep distance we drop anchor and the officer tells me this is the harbor of Constantia.

         “Are you an able swimmer or must we all risk the rocks to take you ashore?”

         “I am able, thank you.”

         The water is still winter cold and I choose to wear my tunic in order to keep it with me. So with slow strokes stretching on the water I make my way to shore. Thank you God for strength and assurance. Amen.

         The sun has been high heating this sand beach for several hours, so my clothing is quickly dried and my shivers forgotten. Alone, I choose to simply bask in the quiet and warmth catching a day’s rest while nights have been spent on guard duty. With such a noble name as Constantia I was expecting a busy port city not a vacant beach. Only the gulls notice this stranger here.

         I wake rested, and find the tide is out, so I can ease these hunger pangs with an abundance of gifts of the sea. I dine on oysters. I don’t wish to be caught unprepared again, so I also gather arms full of deep and fresh varieties of kelp from this beach, and rinse it free of sand and crumbs of land twigs gone awash at sea; and I spread the salty leaves out on the sun-warmed rocks to dry. I don’t remember when I first learned to sip the deep dark broth made from boiling these dried sea ribbons but the opportunity to prepare in this way for another hunger answers my hollow hope with possibility. I find I’m nourished in optimism. Thank you God.

         Now I need to explore and find where this great city is thriving. It was named as though it were Constantine’s own child.

         Walking back through the saplings sprouting in the char I soon realize the silence hides a lost battlefield. Under the thickets are outlines of cottages seared unto earth. Just beyond these burnt dwellings are graves.

         Someone must have survived to bury these dead.  The road to this place is lost under the same underbrush that obscures the ruin, but there is a fresh footpath leading inland from these graves so I follow into a younger wood.

(Continues Tuesday, June 2, Chapter 9 “Keepers of the Light”)

Post #8.11, Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Historical setting: Said to be 6th Century on the channel near Gaul

This night’s port is one of the wilderness places added to the Gaul side of the patrol after the Saxons parted from Rome. The officer gives me no favors now so I’m assigned the forth watch from darkness to dawn. He reminds me we are shorthanded so my watch is alone. A fire is essential here, to mark a place of warmth and light, letting any night prowlers see that this beach is already occupied by thirty sleeping soldiers. The fog numbs the dawning light but my watch ends as the others rise and we prepare for the day at sea.

         I hope Constantia is soon at hand.

         The deep fog still muffs the day so we have a slow start and no wind. This promises to be a long row into the hollow of mist.

         No more is the officer watchful of my needs; and my lack of preparation for this voyage leaves me with no personal supply of foodstuffs. Now I must beg bread crusts and apple cores from those better prepared for this expected scarcity. 

         The fog continues so nothing is visible in any direction now that the shore is obscured. We have no way to know where we are. Without our bearings the officer chooses to anchor out here in the middle of the mist. A torch is posted so we can be seen were another ship passing by. But what ship would be passing us in this fog? I would think if a port like, say maybe, Constantia were near and the rest of the fleet was also landing at that port we would’ve seen the other ships going by us; or at least we would hear the sounds of them breaking through this stillness. It sets me to wonder if I will have my twenty-six years of this obligation filled before I meet Nic again.

         By midday the mist dissolves into light. Now visible is the shadow of shoreline so we set into a hard-row for the long hours of the lengthening day until the rocky shores we follow are nearly lost in the dark of night.

         This night we are at anchor as there seems to be no harbor or even a beach. Sleep is a crowd of snores from the benches. I would suppose the seabirds are fluffed by the noisy intrusion of our awkward human stir.

         Dear God, thank you for letting me keep hopes whispered on my imagination for finding again, my brother in Christ. Amen.

(Come again tomorrow)

Post #8.10, Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Historical setting: A forgotten time, on the Saxony Shore

The officer tucks the stone Nic gave him under his personal bag in the bow.

         I know I am breaking protocol, but I have to ask. “What is that stone Nic gave you, Sir?”

         The officer is honest. “He said he wanted you to have a message from him so he marked a stone. Who would have thought he could write? Surely he means to apologize for selfishly holding onto his armor. And we are all sorry you won’t get his beautiful shirt of mail. I guess it was in his family and he doesn’t want to sell it off.”

         I really just want his written message but it seems it is not forthcoming. “It’s okay, about the armor, Sir. But didn’t you say he wrote a message for me?”

         “I don’t expect it can be read, even if one of us were literate. It looks like pretend scribbles not real writing.  I don’t think he can read or write either. Maybe he just wanted to apologize.”

         “May I see it?”  He trudges to the bow and back with the rock. It is marked with letters. Nic may not pass a bishop’s penmanship standard on parchment, but on rock, it is clearly legible. I suppose the illiterate one is the head officer. In an exotic scrawl are the letters “C-o-n-s-t-a-n-t-i-a.”

         The officer is waiting for my opinion of the rock. So I answer,  “His letters wander, but I think he means for me to pay the due on my indenture when we reach Constantia. Is that one of our ports-of-call?”

         “Without Nik we are already shorthanded. Surely you will stay until we find replacements. And, my boy, whatever would you do in Constantia? You didn’t even know it was once one of our ports? You will surely be a stranger there.”

         “As I am also a stranger here.  And yet you have taken me in. I hope I will find Constantia hospitable to a stranger.”

         No more niceties. The officer turns on his heel and orders the coxswain to set us out to sea.

         We are immediately untethered from the quay and turned seaward at a fast pace. We slip lithely passed the other ships of our fleet as though we are racing on a mission for a win though it is really more an officer’s momentary rage. Once beyond sight of Granonna the rhythm of the oars sighs back to normal.

(Continued tomorrow)

Post #8.9, Thursday, May 21, 2020

Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul

         The stationed militia sends two guards for the next watch. I probably won’t sleep tonight. My thoughts and hopes are racing in a great cacophony of thanksgivings. My need and Nic’s longing is a beautiful synchronicity beyond my own mind’s ability to unscramble. It is good this moment to find myself basking in the Holy Spirit of God. I’m grateful for finding Spirit shared with another person.

         Dear God, thank you for opening this gift for me this night. Thank you for this new brother, Nic. Amen. I have no need to sleep for better dreams tonight.

         Our next port of call is Grannona, and our meeting place with the two other ancient and limping dromon of the old Saxony Shore Fleet. The centurion who oversees this fleet comes aboard and inspects our ship. Our officer brags on the find of me. He particularly mentions my strength and my youthfulness and a possibility that weapons and armor might be purchased from an older rower who has fulfilled his duty. The cost of these items could be billed onto my indenture. To me, all of this sounds horrifically thoughtful. But Nic steps forward to speak privately with the officers. Their circle of secret is intruded with a glance or two toward me, until the centurion instructs Nic to accompany him to discuss this more privately on the quay. Our ship’s officer tells Nic to leave his things here and he follows them onto the dock.

         We sit here waiting at the oars ready for what seems a very long time. I imagine we are waiting for Nic to offer to pay my due so he will officially become my patron. But of course, he has not yet received his wage.

         When our ship’s officer returns alone he removes Nic’s gear from the hook.

         “Sorry, Boy, I thought we would have a fine suit for you. Turns out Old Nik doesn’t want to sell it. I don’t know what use he has for a shirt of mail. He’s just being cantankerous. He’s trying to pay your price too. I think he wants a slave now that he’s a rich man.” With  Nic’s armor in hand he goes back to the enclave on the quay with Nic and the centurion. The officer exchanges the armor with Nic for a large flat stone that Nic picked up on the quay and marked. Again, the officer returns to our ship alone, while Nic and the centurion board the centurion’s ship with no more word.

(Continues Tuesday, May 26)