Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.
Add a deluge of rain to our tendril of a creek and now it foams and roars. It is well out of the banks, and surely it is a very deep river even as the storm lets up. We decide to set our camp on higher ground in case the water rises further; then we can go in search of Augusta’s monk’s robe whenever it happens that the water recedes back into its banks. We make our night fire, even though it is early yet. We have a pot of porridge for our meal. Now that she is known to be a woman, Augusta joins us for this.
I mention that I have known of women ascetics before, often hiding gender and identity in men’s clothing in order to escape a brutal father or a wrong marriage. I ask Augusta if she is in fear of being hunted by her family. We really need to know if there is danger now that Nic and I know her secret.
And she says she also knows of some of the desert ammas who dress in men’s clothing to hide their identities in order to start life anew. She said her own spiritual guide was a woman who wanted to live in the caves of Tours in order to be near the Shrine of the Saint, but her father found her and returned her to her family near Chartres. Eventually she escaped and once again returned to Tours. [Footnote]
Augusta explains she isn’t one who must run away from her family. It’s more like she is walking toward the life she is called to. And she asks us to call her “August.” So we will. August says he dresses in a man’s robe because that is what he believes is his holy calling. Of course all three of us can easily imagine the inconvenience of visiting Antton’s quarry as a woman who cuts stone. His banter would be relentless. But August wants us to know who he is. And now that we can accept August, with a woman’s voice, our vesper psalms have three parts. Our music certainly pleases heaven this night.
(Continues Tuesday January 19)
[Footnote] The Forgotten Desert Mothers, Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women by Laura Swan, Paulist Press, New York/Mahwah. N.J. Copyright © 2001 Saint Placid Priory is a collection of histories of women from whom this fictional character was drawn.