#36.6, Weds., Sept. 14, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Poitiers

         Ana and I have found a cozy quietude in the haymow of this villa stable. I asked her if Colleen, the midwife/servant-slave here is a good teacher.

         “Teacher, no. She’s more like me as an eight-year-old than she is like my teacher. Lady Elise is due any day now, — a good reason for me to be here — so Colleen and I have been preparing the tools and going over the procedures. Colleen’s blade and needle were thoroughly rusted. We could use mine from my kit if we need to use a blade immediately, but I thought it best to teach her to clean her tools and polish them bright.

         “Clean, clean clean, Eve always told me. Before every birth, or any kind of procedure in fact, I needed to prepare three wash basins with warm water and cleansing herbs for the prayers. With the first prayer wash hands and tools in the first basin as preparation and if we are in a Christian home, we say ‘Dear Father, guide us.’ When we know what we are going to do to help, we wash in the second bowl and we say ‘Dear Christ stay near us,’ and at the third bowl, when all is done that can be done, wash everything clean and ask the breath of Spirit to continue. Even though Colleen is Christian all the time, and Eve only when it was needed, Colleen had never heard of this Christian washing Trinity.

         “Eve told me that even though it sounds superstitious it really seems to work for healing. Whenever she used the three cleansing prayers she saw faster healing and less infection.

         “So there we were sanding and polishing Colleen’s tools by candlelight, deep into the darkness of last night. But now everything is ready.”

         This afternoon Ana and Colleen plan to examine Lady Elise so Ana thinks she will have a better idea of when that birth might be, though she adds, it’s always in God’s time so no one really knows. I suggest Ana take a ride when she has time and we can see if the hay is as soft in the mow at Ligugè, as it is here. Hay always seems as fine as eiderdown when it is shared.

         Thank you God, for Ana, for the hay, for the beasts beneath us, so patient and gentle. Thank you for more beauty than we can even speak when we are in love.  Thank you God.

(Continues tomorrow)

#36.5, Tues., Sept. 13, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Poitiers at a noble villa

         I asked for Ana at the gate of the convent and I was given the name of a noble household where she was sent. Finding that place was easy. It’s a villa on the riverbank overlooking the city. It is the residence of an earl.

         Ana sees me coming and meets me in the stable. She looks like a splash of sunshine on a gray morning cloud.

         “So you find me wherever I hide.”

         “The nuns told me where you were, but nothing about why you came here.”

         “This place is known because the earl has had several wives who  died in childbirth but the baby boys always seemed to survive. I was asking about rescuing both mother and baby so they sent me here to shadow the midwife because the earl has a new wife due to give birth very soon.”

         “And how is this place for you? Do you have food and good sleeping quarters?”

         “Probably as fine as yours at a monastery that’s on the wane. I’m staying in servant’s quarters. So I think our beautiful moments together are only likely in the hayloft of this stable.”

         “Ligugè has a fine stable also you know, but probably not enough regard over there for women.”

         “This stable is quiet and secluded.”  And Ana goes on, “My sleeping mat in the servant’s quarters may not be better than a guest room at a monastery but at least sins are less original here. I’m assigned to the young midwife, so when you want to find me ask the servant at the gate for the midwife Colleen’s assistant.”

         “Colleen, that sounds Celtic.”

          “Yes, it’s Irish as is she. It means girl.”

         “Just girl; so her parents couldn’t think of a name?”

         “I thought that too. I’m not even sure if she’s a slave or a paid servant. The mother of the earl’s new wife gave Colleen to her daughter as a wedding gift, knowing of the gossip about this villa.”

         “Which is?”

          “That every wife of this earl dies in childbirth and when the child is born alive the blame is laid on the midwives, so when Lady Elise was first betrothed to the earl her mother searched the markets for an able helper, and thus gifted Colleen as the new midwife.”

         “Is Colleen a good teacher for you?”

         “I think it will be an opportunity to learn what I need to know.”

(Continues tomorrow)

#36.4, Thurs., Sept. 8, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Poitiers

         Brother August has already dealt with my obstinate little heresies, nitpicking substance of Trinity and plundering creed, calling it a human appeasement and not the true nature of God.  And now I’ve added a wife to my list of sins.

         From this monk’s point of view it’s only a gracious yield to the practical, that marriage of man and woman can exist at all. The virtuous sexuality is no sex at all — chastity. So if a man can’t really be chaste, then, the rules say, he can be married to one, and only one woman and The Church seems to let him call that “chastity” also. But by this doctrine we are all born in Original Sin, no exceptions, well except for Jesus. Sex is the one big necessary evil. Augustine agreed with Origen on that one.  Even though Origen was dismissed as a heretic for his extreme Gnostic actions, Augustine took one thread of O. Sin and knitted it back into the Latin dogma. So it is that people who read rules more and listen less for the Jesus love come to the conclusion that patriarchs define what virtue is; while tempting, menstruating and birthing women are the sin source. In short: men-good, women-bad. So of course Jesus born of Virgin explains why he was so good after-all. [Footnote] Apparently all that hard to do love your enemy thing, and God loves universally, all those things Jesus taught and died saying are easily dismissed as too hard for humankind to do because Jesus was just born different.

         So what of my little thought that God, Spirit, Creator of all Creation, gave human kinds and maybe other creatures too, sex as a physical metaphor for spiritual love? In Roman Christian order it sounds pantheistic — another Pagan heresy.

         Dear God thank you for your continuous shower of love on me and all of us. Please help me through my human ways — be they virtue or heresy — to follow the one commandment of love you have laid before us. And stay close to Ana also. Amen.

         So today, by hammer and chisel, the face of the Virgin emerges from stone. The artists chip a nose like a nose on familiar barbarians, and they polish the gazing eyes to holy until earthly people can reach into her embrace and find Heaven.

         Tomorrow I will take the short ride into Poitiers to find out what Ana has learned of women.

 [Footnote] (Erickson, Carolly The Medieval Vision:Essays in History and Perception New York: Oxford Unisversity Press 1976) This author offers a clear overview of the history of this Medieval view of women. (Chapter 9 The Vision of Women pp181—212)

(Continues Tuesday, September 13, 2022)

#36.3, Weds., Sept. 7, 2022

         This morning after prayers and prayers again I find Brother August and his new apprentice at work on the great stone of marble.  It’s in this state of creation where a halo is emerging from the center at the top, and it seems affixed to a head that is bowed. Already I can see Brother August’s artist’s eye has wandered from the standard. Art in a world where rule is rule and everything is either right or wrong there would be no nuance for a Virgin with a bowed head. In these times when original sin is sex which implies that sin pervades every birth except that of Jesus (and a Caesar or two claimed to have been birthed by virgins), it would seem to be the rule that such an otherworldly Virgin would have a gaze fixed on anything but the child.

         “Brother August, my friend, I’m so glad to see this new art as it emerges.”

         “Brother Lazarus! So good to see you again. Did your family win that war against Pagans?”

         “I suppose you would say we won. We had a victory feast. But mostly we learned it wasn’t the Pagan tribe that came onto our land killing and burning. It was pirates.”

         “Then did you battle the pirates?”

         “No. The young woman they captured escaped on her own. So I can continue with pacifism as my truest virtue.”

         “Pacifism, a virtue?  What about celibacy?”

         “No, not so much of that.  I’m married now. And I see the Virgin of your art still bows her head so her’s will still be a humble prayer also.”

         “Change the subject if you wish. But I want to know what woman could woo you from your holy commitment.”

         “She’s one who knows she is loved by God and yet she allows me my heresies.”

         The young apprentice looks shocked at my mention of heresy.

         “Brother August knows of my obstinate resistance to Trinity and creed.”

         “No wonder you have fallen under temptation by a woman,” assesses this youth.

         I choose not to argue sin and redemption with a novice.  I’ve seen it myself; the innocent parental-love of God for all of Creation has been unspooled and wound into a complicated web of sin and salvation by men. I would say “by humans,” but really it was a patriarchal thing. It was an obstacle course set out by men to make a journey to God into a trial. I don’t have to answer to the youth.

(Continues tomorrow)

#36.2, Tues., Sept. 6, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Ligugè near Poitiers

         It’s nearly dark when I reach Ligugè after getting Ana settled in as a guest with the nuns. I arrive for vespers and stand in the back near the door. It is only the abbot and few monks here now.  The abbot sees me immediately and at first his surprise shows as a smile, then he finds his composure and turns toward the altar to continue the blessing of the host.

         Tonight I share the guest room with a very young layman who wears a laborer’s simple tunic; but he seems refined, not as a worker.  So I ask. He says he was assigned by his own father to work on the commissioned piece of art.

         “I’ve always wanted to be an artist. My father hopes I will become a monk. Here I can taste life both ways.”

         “So you are working with Brother August?”

         “You know Brother August?”

         “I was here once, all tonsured and ruled. But I believe I had a holy purpose with family, so I left with the abbot’s blessing. How about you? Are you seeking holy orders?”
          The boy answers, “Even the abbot doesn’t think Ligugè is a good fit for me. It has so few monks now and they are all so old. He suggested I would fit another community. But I fear the boys would just pick over me for my frailties.”

         “Everyone has frailties. Maybe some will be kind. Caring for one another is always the rule in a Christian community.”

         “Did my father send you here to sway my intentions?”

         “No, no. I have no sway at all, with anyone’s father. Believe me.”

           “My father is the one who commissioned the work in marble for our own courtyard. He thought owning a statue would satisfy my longing for art. But having art and doing art are not always of the same spirit.”

         “Is Brother August a good master?”

         “He’s a very good master. He allows me to step back with him and consider the possibility for the whole large work.”

         “That makes him a good master?”

         “My first teacher would just tell me where to lay the chisel, and how hard to tap. But Brother August talks with me and allows me to recognize the purpose of each cut. Here I can learn to discern the art, not just do it.”

         Someone outside the door reminds us of the required silence.

(Continues tomorrow)

#36.1, Thurs., Sept. 1, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Toward the Monastery of the Holy Cross

         We ride in silence for some hours, I, on a familiar road, Ana, always in wonder of the new places.  It’s been a few generations for me, and some deaths since I attuned myself to the patterns of woman. As the pure pale haze of a moon rises in the late day blue we near Poitiers, I suggest we stop before we arrive there.

         “Ana, I need to know if I am being thoughtless of your needs.”

         “What are you saying? Are you looking for an argument that we aren’t having? I just don’t need to talk all the time. Quiet is good.”

         “No, no. I’m not being critical of all this quiet. I just don’t want to be ignorant of your needs and oblivious to something important.”

         “Whatever are you talking about?”

         “I’ve noticed you are not eating a morning meal these days, and now the gibbous moon is rising and we’ve barely stopped.”

         She laughs. She laughs at me for asking. Then she looks away toward the moon in the daytime sky. Then she looks at me.

         “Oh, so you suppose something. But you don’t know. One of the rules of all women is you can’t make a certain plan by phases of the moon. Early is one worry and late another.”

         She puts another silence between us and changes her demeanor toward me.

         “Laz, I really don’t know. You are right this is different. I don’t want to let myself hope. And were I pregnant just now what a messy plan it would make for us so far from home.”

         “We will just take it as it comes, Ana. Whatever it is, long waiting or messy plan it will come to us and we will meet it with the help of God.”  Dear God stay close, Amen.

         We do need to have this moment to embrace before we come to the cloister without those thousand eyes living under the Rule for Virgins, watching us.

         So this late afternoon we arrive at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Poitiers where Ana hopes to be taken in as a guest. Here she can read any books about birthing babies that were ever written, and she can ask questions of midwives regarding possible options and hopes for Thole’s and Tilp’s baby. 

         This evening I plan to continue on to Ligugè to visit where I once lived as a monk.

(Continues Tuesday, September 6, 2022)

#35.14, Weds., Aug. 31, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The Celtic Pagan village of Largin

         Ana has a clearer picture now of the challenges and possibilities and believes her mission, to save both mother and child might be doable. When Thole and I are privy to the “secret” it is that Tilp differs from her husband on priorities. Thole is only focused on saving her. But she told Ana she already loves this baby. And that was her secret. She wants this baby to be safe no matter how it is born, as it was when she was born and her own mother and Largin chose not to put her out for the wolves afterall, even when they saw she was bent and frail. We learn that Ana believes the baby is due in about two months. There will be no waiting for the Yule.

         We stay this night in the house of Thole and Tilp, and in the morning we will ride to Poitiers where Ana hopes to meet with sisters who are accustomed to caring for the sick and have undoubtedly read everything known about birthing babies. She thinks it possible that Tilp may be able to birth this baby without her own death imminent, as everyone else seems to fear.  But Ana plans to be prepared to save Tilp even if the baby must be birthed by the blade.

         She knows that the story of Julius Caesar’s birth is said to be a myth, since his mother reportedly did not die. So now it is thought that the blade may only be used to save a baby if the mother has died. Ana also knows that ewes can be saved when the lamb is delivered surgically. She believes there is yet a secret for saving the life of a human mother when the delivery is surgical. What Ana most wants is to see under the skin of a pregnant woman but that is a sacred journey, morally prohibited from view.

         Last month we were traveling when the moon was in this gibbous phase rising in an afternoon. Ana and I camped alone on a river island, as she wished to follow the pattern of women. I expect she will be glad this month to be in a convent with other women for this phase. In a tender moment, so I don’t sound like I am blaming her for being ill-tempered, I will ask her about that calendar, and not in the morning, as she is especially out of sorts these mornings… Oh.

 (Continues Thursday September 1, 2022)

#35.13, Tues., Aug. 30, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The Celtic Pagan village of Largin

         We’ve arrived at the village where Thole worries while Tilp naps. Ana is waiting to examine Tilp, and in the meantime Thole is explaining her pregnancy to Ana.

         “We are planning that winter would be a good time for this, near the solstice, because we weren’t sure how quickly you could get here.  But now that you’re here we could do this anytime.”

         “The baby will be born in God’s time Thole. You don’t get to decide when that will be.”

          “Yes, but here we don’t have to worry about God’s time. We aren’t even Christian you know.”

         “I have a question for you that you actually can answer. How long after the last Yule season did she first have morning sickness?”

         “That was in February, by the Roman tally of months. But she didn’t start to get pregnant until well into spring. That’s when I went searching for you. When I returned she already had that terrible belly.”

         “That belly is where your baby lives, Thole. It is the good order of the Creator, or Mother Nature, that the baby has room to grow.”

         This chat is interrupted as Tilp, herself, waddles from the thatched house to the log circle. She seems a tiny mouse hauling away a huge oak gall. Her lame foot is less bent now, nearly flat on the ground with the extra weight of the baby she carries. Ana is delighted to see her.

         “Tilp, from all the fears and worries I’ve been hearing I didn’t expect to see such a strong and healthy mother as you seem. I am Ana, who has come at Thole’s request to see you through this time.”

         “Ana, I’ve heard you are the good fairy come to save me.”

         “My task is to care for you. Your job now and forever is to keep the baby safe.”

         “Come into our house with me. I have a secret I don’t want Thole to know.”

         Now Thole and I are alone and Thole is frantic over this “secret” the women are sharing between themselves. I suggest we brush down the horses, and put them to pasture. It’s always good to answer worries with caring for the critters and the earth.

         Dear God, thank you for the needs that keep us useful. Guide Ana to see them through this. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)

#35.12 Thurs., Aug. 25, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Druid Largin’s village on the Loire

         Ana is most anxious to meet Tilp and examine her. She wants to assess the limits of her skills against the likely problems with this birth.  As we speak in whispers not to wake her, Thole tells Ana of his worsening fears for Tilp’s well-being.

         “She sleeps in the daytime now.”

         Ana answers, “That isn’t unusual for an expectant mother, Thole. It’s not a worry.”

         “I have to tell you Ana, she is growing very large in the middle of her. Perhaps it is a boil that will need to be pierced before the baby can be born. They try to tell me this is normal. But she was always so much smaller than the mom’s you see with fat bellies.”

         “That would also be normal. You probably don’t need to worry over that.  You would want to have her bigger in the middle when there is a baby there.  You’ve surely seen pregnant horses.”

         “But she isn’t a horse or a ewe or any of those other kinds of mothers who naturally grow large in pregnancy. She is human.”

         “Thole when I see her I will tell you if it’s a worry. From the things you tell me it hardly would seem unusual.”

         “No, Anatase! It is all very unusual!  You’ve got to believe me.”

         “How is she feeling?”

         “She says she is fine, but she would never tell.  She tells me she is fine even when she is vomiting.  How can I believe her?”

         “Is she still vomiting in the mornings?”

         “Why did you guess it was in the mornings? Do you know of this sickness already?”

         “Really, Thole, it isn’t unusual at all. Lots of women get morning sickness the first few months.”

         “No, this was not about the pregnancy. She was sick every morning before we even made this plan.”

          “Is she better now? Lots of times it gets better as the months go on. But it’s not a deadly worry.  After I see her and examine her I will tell you what is usual and what is not. If something would be amiss I will know what to ask about when I visit the monastery at Poitiers where the sisters are surely the most knowledgeable. By the grace of God we will see her through this.  Now, you mentioned that she would be due around your own birthday in December, is that right?”

(Continues Tuesday, August 30, 2022)

#35.11, Weds. Aug. 24, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Marmoutier on the Loire

         Saint Martin’s monastery here on the banks of the Loire, called Marmoutier, (That’s Martin’s monastery in French) is firmly grounded in the Benedictine Rule now. So this night we will stay here in a guest room with Ana wrapped in a monk’s wools so we won’t have to explain our marriage to an abbot, and surely not to the bishop here who is Gregory himself. That Gregory ponders all the little details of things that happen in this region and writes it as history. And I do suppose a personal diary of a noble bishop can become the history of the Franks when you are a Frankish nobleman and Bishop of Tours. It is interesting that he has no complaints about the Celtic Christians now mingling with the Franks.  And it could be that Father Columbanus is King Guntram’s little secret. We bring no letter for this bishop. Maybe Gregory doesn’t even know about this Irish Father.

         Now on this new morning we go on from Marmoutier into the Pagan lands where Druid Largin worries over his tribe.  Ana was last here when she was a small child and Daniel made a deal with Largin to take her to be apprenticed in healing then to be returned to them. So here she is now, coming back to them as a practitioner of healing for the purpose of saving the one heir of the tribe that could promise its continuance.

         We’ve ridden most of the morning passed Tours, passed the ferry landing. On to the woodlands where the cooper makes barrels from the once sacred oaks now to fill with wine and ale. We walk the horses on the path into the woods to the village.

         Druid Largin is first to greet us.

         “So Ezra, you have finally brought us the child your people borrowed.” He’s probably making a joke of it. It’s hard to know.

         “She is no child, and now she is my wife. You must know, your son-in-law, Thole wants her to attend to your daughter for the birth of your heir. When that’s done we will return to our home.”

         “I understand it’s not exactly the deal made with Daniel, but I know how these things get skewed in the hands of all our unwitting gods.”

         Here is Thole now.  He warmly greets the horses he’s loaned us. Then he goes to Ana, speechless and humbled with gratitude that she has come in time.

         “Tilp is resting.” He tells us.

(Continues tomorrow)