#39.8, Tues., Dec. 20, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         I prefer the scent of Ana’s room and the comfortable smell of wool with all her spinning on-and-on. The bags of combed and washed wools, donated to the monastery were delivered to Ana for spinning and now, she has wound all the yarns into skeins. The threads are probably not as tight as experienced hands would do.

         A bow of the dark colored thread tied to the leg of a bird lets Brother Servant know Ana has sorted the dark yarns from the white. She is ready to return the dark wools to the monks to be woven for fabric for monk’s robes. Maybe Brother Servant will bring more bags of wool for Ana’s busy fingers when he comes to get this yarn.

         Besides the carving of the very long cradle, there are lots of little tasks. Logs heaped for burning are sorted from the logs set aside for me to cut and carve and plane into the things Colleen thinks we need now as owners of a cow. She especially says she needs an oaken slat bucket and a churn. She found the rope bits I twisted up last summer while I was sorting thatch for the roof. Her plan is that I will plane oak slats with edges perfectly angled to fit together with a wrap of rope to make a solid bucket for milking.  I can only promise lots of leaks. I’m not a cooper and I’m not using iron banding. She’s been stirring cream to butter in a bowl but she would prefer a churn, even a leaky one.

         It’s easy to go numb to the sour smells of creams and curds for Colleen’s various milk projects. I gather pine bows and fragrant woods for the fire so Brother Servant will have a less odorous visit when he arrives. I’m anxious to hear the news of Annegray and especially to learn when Father Columbanus plans to move.

         Brother Servant arrives with two other Irish monks. He said he needed help to carry the bags of wool, but they also brought a skin of wine and an empty bowl. I think Colleen expected the bowl was a gift. She needs more bowls for all her little projects with the extra milk. But really, they expect to take some cheese back with them when they return. It feels magical, like feast days now, either Christmas or Solstice.

         Thank you God, for friends and food, for gifting and sharing. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)

#39.7, Thurs., Dec. 15, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Luxeuil

         The workers at the new monastery are hanging the bell in the belfry even as the support is being constructed. I have one of the guidelines in hand ready to help steer what the mules will heft. The tower craftsmen are up top, ready to harness the weight of the bell into a place above the oratorio, which incidentally, does have a roof. In breathless silence we ease the huge iron piece into its place with no sound at all. It’s only a plan, not a fulfillment of a bell until it is rung. The carpenters are still building a place where the rope will dangle from the clapper.  A tower room will be below the bell so a monk can pull the cord and ring the hour.  Everyone is anxious to hear the sound but maybe it won’t be rung until the Christ Mass.

         That would be a welcome use of a newly cast bell – to celebrate another who was newly cast — the infant Jesus.  It seems the gods of other beliefs are already of age when they are known. Even Diana, whose birth is storied, jumped from the womb fully able to help deliver her twin brother. But for Christians, we celebrate all the stages of a holy life and, for us, even the precarious stage of helpless infancy seems significant.  The Christian hum is love, not power, so wouldn’t an infant teach that best? In all my own ages newness always seems ahead of me as the unknown.

         I spend tonight in these chambers and tomorrow at first light I will follow my own tracks back into the Vosges to our cottage. 

         The walk back this morning takes only a few hours even with the snow. When I left I had prepared everything as though I would be gone a month not knowing then where I was going or for how long. Now I realize it’s barely a half-day’s walk, and it’s an easy walk along the creek. It’s no surprise then that my arrival back at the cottage was nothing very significant. The waft of inside air from the cottage is the sour scent of the abundance of milk.  Having a cow means that we have milk enough for soups and sipping, and now Colleen is experimenting with cheese.  It does smell a bit like an Irish barn here.

            At least Ana is glad to see me.

(Continues Tuesday, December 20)

#39.6 Weds., Dec. 14, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Luxeuil

         The old Roman baths at Luxeuil, like the well I found behind our cottage, had been nearly hidden in overgrown vines and scrubby trees sprouting on tiny stems between the immovable Roman stones. Stems of saplings, fed by the sun above and the waters of earth became an untended grove of trees inside these walls. Here woods of ash and the yew broke through the cracks and shushed this place to sacred. Maybe once the Pagans came where spirits still dance; but now, by Christian order, the trees are being felled and the vines loosened from the roots to make these halls seem Roman again.

         In my search for the warming fire I find something else. Where I expected to find the oratorio there is a blue lake within the walls under nothing but sky. The water is misting into the cold air making a fog over the waters. Some who see earth stuff as evil might curse this interface with warmth rising up from the underworld, seeing it as proof that the core of earth is Hell. But in my opinion, as a constant witness to the beauty of Creation, I simply say thank you God; it’s beautiful and warm.

         Near mid-winter I bask naked now in these ancient baths. My aching foot is soothed.  What a worksite this must be? Mid-way through the hard work of moving the walls comes this – a soft warm drift on briny, healing waters. The workers also seem to take a long mid-day break I see. 

         With no roof this seems nothing like the dark old Roman baths of Metz where the halls and stairways of the building are dank, where Graoully and the monsters of myth still linger in the mosses. Maybe there are times when no roof is needed and walls alone are just fine. I wonder about the plan to make this all into a Christian place for suffering monks and howling nuns. I wish they could never lay a roof over this. Of course, no one is asking me.

         Now I’m called to help with the raising of the bell to the tower. I dress back into my winter fleeces with one wet boot on my left foot.

         The work project is already webbed in the ropes and pulleys. The mules are yoked to take the full weight, so the men of us are guiding the bell’s ascent with lead lines.

(Continues tomorrow)

#39.5, Tues., Dec. 13, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. the path to Luxeuil

         Wearing winter fleeces now, I make my way down the hill coaxing the mules through the drifts of snow on the zig-zag path, down, down to the hard-frozen creek bed. The wind is nearly at my back, sending snow dancing in swirls and twirls of out ahead into the golden light of the morning sun. Even the blank page of winter has its beauty. Thank you God.

         Never having been to Luxeuil, with my only instruction to follow the creek, I have no idea if this day will be fraught with hazards.  I don’t know what lies under this snow.  Ana and I followed the creek the other way into the mountains last summer; but in this direction I have no idea if there are chasms or waterfalls hidden under these drifts. The mules make fresh tracks just trusting me to know.

         Stay close, Dear God.

         It’s a long morning walking on numbing feet.  The higher hills of the Vosges are nearly behind us as the creek widens into a flatland and the ice is a thin coating over the muddy waters spreading into a shallow fan.  I know it is shallow and moving swiftly because my foot falls through the ice and my left boot and woolen sock cling to my foot throbbing with cold.  But just as I’m wondering where to go, I see before me great walls of stone, glistening in the snowy sunlight. Little twists of mist rise up here and there from the flat ice near the river before this place, that is the full poetry, the romance between earth and heaven. The weighty clays of earth-stuff reach deep into the blue firmament as if the earth itself rises in the midst of Creation. Father Columbanus must find this sacred, and it surely seems a place for his Christian community to thrive.

         These workers waiting for the mules are those same fellows who would leave me at the bottom of a well while they celebrated. Today they’ve reached upward; they are at an apex of the tower that will hold the bell and now they need the mules to tow the weight of it onto the supports readied above.  I already know the hospitality these fellows have to offer and I know I will have to fend for myself. I ask them if there is a warm place near the fire for the wools and my boot to dry. No one will say.

(Continues tomorrow)

#39.4, Thurs., Dec. 8, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Colleen asked. So I bring out the little cradle I’ve been carving to make a gift for Ana and the baby; but now Colleen flatly rejects it. She says it will never serve under the circumstances. I needed to carve it from a much longer log. I choose not argue so I simply ignore her criticism. I know very well this is a fine cradle. This is something I’ve done before in all my years, but sometimes, I know silencing my own pride to protect tranquility is a worthy choice.

         Colleen, the trained and experienced midwife, thinks that Ana’s very large size is an unusual “circumstance” which causes Ana to have to stay in bed until the baby is born.  Accommodating this concern of Colleen’s has been troublesome but, Ana is trusting in Colleen’s advice, so I will also.  But does Colleen possibly think this baby will be twice the size of a normal baby? Why would a baby need a four-foot long cradle? Are we expecting a Goliath, or is Colleen just giving me a hard time? And why is it the buntings they are knotting are for a normal sized baby? 

         Oh, just a thought.  I might know of a so-called, “circumstance,” they haven’t yet said aloud. But it would be a very good thing if two babies are delivered safely. Just now I’m so grateful we have Colleen with us for this birth that may become more complicated.

         I drag the longer end of that ash log into the stable and ask Colleen if I should carve a place for a baby at each end of the log.

         Stoic Colleen nearly smiles and answers “Make sure it won’t roll over.”

         The snowstorm hardly subsides when the bird returns with a thin strand of parchment on its leg. The message is simply a line showing the creek below us, widening to a particular place where I expect they want the mules delivered. 

         The storm left a wake of winter so I have to put the cradle project aside and cut an abundance of firewood. The hearth fire has to be tended night and day; and Colleen and I have decided to open a smoke hole in the roof of Ana’s room for second hearth. The donkey and I dragged a large stone from the ruin for that.

         I’m leaving so much for Colleen to do while I’m gone. But I hope to return soon.

(Continues Tuesday, December 13)

#39.3, Weds., Dec. 7, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         The skies threaten a winter storm so the Luxeuil workers who travel the creek path with the mules come up here now to find shelter for the mules. Here our stable is a perfect place for… well, not just for hiding the lust of monks, but for sheltering mules and, of course, a donkey and a cow, keeping all these critters safe from the fierce winds that ravage this hilltop. With no pasture walls stacked yet the animals have to be tethered or hobbled to feed on the stubby winter grasses of seasonal pastures. Wolves would find them easy prey. Inside the stable the hay and oats served in this manger will just have to stretch.

         The workers take one of our birds so I can receive their orders to deliver the mules after the storm.  Ana worries these barbarians won’t keep her little pigeon safe.  She reminds them not to release it into the storm and she sends along extra suet and wraps the bird box in the wools she’s been winding.

         She’s already spun a few skeins of yarns fine enough for weaving. But having no loom, and assigned to this bed, she couldn’t weave if we did have a loom because weaving involves walking the shuttle back and forth. If Ana isn’t allowed to walk to the hearth for her meals surely she can’t tend a loom. So it is that Colleen, while she was once waiting for a birth at a wealthy home, learned of a way of knotting a single thread of wool into a piece of fabric.  It is a way to make small clothing pieces like a little bunting or a sock.  Colleen demonstrates this craft that is very much like the ancient work of mending of fishnets, only infinitesimally smaller knots. Ana can use her fingers and the wool yarns to make little hats and blankets for the baby.

         Colleen instructs, more like “orders” me to get on with the work of making a cradle. And now I can show her the secret gift I’ve been working on all along. I’ve been carving a fine two-foot section of a fallen ash log into a sweet little cradle with foot stops to keep it from toppling when rocked. I’ve done this before.  I know this cradle is well made, won’t roll over with the baby and it can serve until the baby is climbing and creeping.

(Continues tomorrow)

#39.2, Tues., Dec. 6, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. a cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         Colleen returned from meeting Father Columbanus in a far better state than when she left.  He has that gift.  She, who is usually stoic and unrattled by circumstances, seems nearly cheerful.

         Ana asks if the worry over sin is settled. Colleen won’t yield that issue yet, but tells us that Father Columbanus spoke of the “sins of lust” as something people could oppose. Even in her own explanation of this it isn’t a judgment from God.

         Love in a sexual relationship between two men or two women can have the goodness of relationship – trust, commitment, love – on earth as it is in heaven. But I can imagine monastic decorum needs earthly rule; with all these who are so young entering monasteries everywhere being overseen by an elder bishop, sometimes brings forth the ancient ways of the Roman law still dangling in those ruins. Rome condoned a kind of abusive power in sexual encounters between men and boys so maybe that tradition does have to be honed by monastic rule.  [Footnote] Maybe bishops and abbots called these “sins of lust” to make a rule for maintaining chastity in a community of only men.

         Colleen told of her meeting with the father. “He said he knew which two were absent from prayer this morning and they would be allowed their individual confessions. Then he asked me about my own fright in seeing such a thing. He listened to me, and he heard my confession even though I am a woman. And then this is what he told me. The new monastery they are building will be a double monastery.  Women will live there and he will be our abbot too. I will need to learn to read and write and sing the psalms, but I can become a nun! I can continue my work, called on as needed to deliver babies for the women of the countryside and then, he said, he knows God loves me as I am.”

         Dear God thank you for sending each our own source of joy, different as we all may be from one from the other.

         The work at Luxeuil has begun even as we are in the winter season.  A path is beaten alongside the creek at the bottom of the hill. It is easier for the mules to haul stone and tools now on the ice hardened banks of the creek.

[Footnote] https://en.wikipedia.org/wii/Homosexuality_in_ancient_Rome (Retrieved 04-02-2022) In Rome the law was honed to say it should only be young beardless boys and those who were slaves, not citizens of Rome, who could serve the lust of Roman citizens in homosexual encounters. Did the early monk’s vow of chastity simply harden this rule?

(Continues tomorrow)

#39.1, Thurs., Dec. 1, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Cottage between Annegray and Luxeuil

         I set a fire in the pasture for smoking the deer and I took some portions to the cold cellar dug under the wall of the cottage, where now I can hear Ana and Colleen inside arguing. I’ve never known them to disagree, much less, have I heard them shouting like this.  Now Colleen flees the cottage, sobbing.

         I call her and ask where she’s going.

         She stops for a moment and answers me through her tears, “It were a terrible sin I saw with my own eyes!  God knows it were a terrible sin! I have to tell the Father!”

         “Don’t go alone. I’ll send a pigeon to fetch Brother Servant to go with you.”

         She turns and continues on the path alone.  I release a bird so Brother Servant will come for her.

         Inside, Ana is sobbing, “Colleen and I had a terrible argument. She said it’s a far worse sin for two men to lie together as lovers than for a man to rape a woman. That’s wrong isn’t it Laz?  Jesus surely said rape is worse than two who are lovers together.”

         “I never heard Jesus say anything at all about men laying together as lovers. His message of love had nothing to say about love as sin. But rape isn’t even about love. It’s a show of power.”

         She melts in my arms as though my words were more gently heard than had been spoken. “Ana, when someone replaces the love intended for a most beloved with only a fulfillment of personal power as in rape, it is an affront to the nature of love itself. And Jesus did teach us, more than anything else, we should love one another.”

         “Yes! I told Colleen rape is a worse sin.” Her tone is victorious.

         I answer, “But maybe Colleen believes that two men lying together is also an abuse of love. Maybe she has a longing that she herself thinks is an evil temptation.”

         “It’s not even about her!  She is judging what she saw others do. She doesn’t even know!”

         “Ana, one thing of this sexual love between two men or two women, is that for some, it is only about someone else’s passions. But maybe others know it as their own temptation and they’ve been given to think it is sin. The judgment she passes on others is a judgment she levels on herself.” [Luke 6:37]

         “Love is personal and immeasurable by others.”  

(Continues Tuesday, December 6)

#38.14, Weds., Nov. 30, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Cottage in the Vosges

         This brittle morning I find easy success in hunting a buck for our winter stews.  It falls so near our cottage that I can dress it right here, and don’t have to coax the donkey to drag it on a sledge back to the house.

         Colleen says Ana is required to stay in bed these weeks to make sure the baby is safe.  She says she has a concern. I’m glad we have Colleen because Ana has no experience with this, and I might not have a concern when concern is most needed. In other times I’ve had a wife with less fortitude than Ana and the babies have been born safely. So why would I have a concern now? I know this bed thing is frustrating for Ana. Brother Servant will be bringing some wool, that was gifted to Annegray, so that Ana can twist it to yarns. She’ll be glad to have her hands busy with that.

         Colleen is just finishing planting the herbs as best she can in the nearly frozen ground and now I see she’s going into the stable. Immediately she runs from the stable into the cottage flailing her arms, slamming the door as though something had frightened her.

         I don’t have to wonder what she saw there.  Now a monk is coming out of the stable brushing hay from his robe, looking around with apprehension for someone watching but he doesn’t notice me way out here in the pasture.  He walks off toward the monastery path, and stops just near the brink of the hill, as another monk comes out of the stable. He also glances around then slinks along with way more caution than would be needed if Colleen had just caught them in solemn prayer. He meets the first monk and they go off hand-in-hand down the hill.

          It’s obvious that in our absence this stable served to hide a tryst or maybe more. That explains the abundance of clean, soft straw in the stable loft, when everything else from the field and the garden was just dumped in the house for storage.

         Now we are home and have plenty. Thank you God, for all this goodness, and for this deer, for his good life in the beauty of nature and a good death of a deer that feeds our need just now. Guide me now, that in all this plenty I not loose sight of the sanctity of life. Amen. 

(Continues Thursday, December 1, 2022)

#38.13, Tues., Nov. 29, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Cottage in the Vosges

         Brother Servant finds Colleen’s porridge delicious. But Ana suggests I do the cooking if Colleen doesn’t allow her out of bed to do it herself. I’m fine with that. Let’s let Ana rest. I think we can spare a turnip from the heap of roots, and Ana requests some. Oh, yes, and we still have the sacks of rooted herbs out in the cart. No one has to eat boring porridge.

         “So how is it that the cottage wasn’t used for the guests of Annegray?” I ask Brother Servant.

           “Guests and beasts alike made good use of the stable, which allowed us to keep the cottage clean and tidy for your return.”

         “Clean and tidy, you say it were?” Colleen asks with her way of blunt honesty.

         Brother Servant defends. “It is clean and tidy, except for the abundant harvest of natural things, leavings from the critters, and soil left by the rain.”

         I mean to bend Colleen’s accusation. “The whole farm is all such a wonderful surprise for us Brother Servant.  Thank you so much for taking care of it all, and especially for all the fine work on the stable!”

         Colleen nods her solicited approval. I think she’s really trying to understand that it is a different standard of clean and tidy among monks in a wilderness than a midwife would find encountering a well- maintained villa.

         I step outside with Brother Servant as he is leaving and we catch sight of a rampage of antlered bucks racing across the meadow. It would be a good time to hunt one, as the wolves also calculate opportunity in this season of the running of the deer. Tonight I will fletch an arrow or two, and we will soon have meat in our winter stews and no more talk about barely and turnips.

         Outside, here, I find that sack of herbs is still in the cart.  It’s damp so maybe the roots are still good for planting. In fact these sacks are dripping with gray water and clumps of clay. Maybe I only brought this filthy bag into the house to tease the tidy Colleen. My centuries haven’t let me go of my nature as a once pesky little brother. But it is true, we also need to make a plan to plant the herbs before the hard freeze of winter.

         Dear God may I be considerate of others with different tidiness standards.

(Continues Tomorrow)