#35.10 Tues. Aug. 23, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Following the Loire

         On these days we are riding on the north side of the Loire.  These riverbanks had caves where Christian ascetics found solitude. I was among them while St. Martin was living with the monks near Poitiers. Ana listens to my incessant reminiscing.

         “When I first came here I dug a so-called ‘desert’ cave in this bank. It’s hard to believe this was the farthest, most distant wilderness on earth and now its farmlands.”

         “Where did you come from then?”

         “At the passing of my elderly sister in Ephesus I went on to Persia to keep a distance from the Romans. Then when the politics between empires in 326 caused new insecurities it turned to be the Sassanid Empire that persecuted Christians. I was among the first of the many killed so I dared not spend my healing time in a place where my name was known. Barely able to travel, I had to make my way by sea in search of the farthest river. Like the Romans on their quests to conquer distant lands, like the Huns sweeping across the farthest reaches of civilization from the east, and like Father Columbanus seeking the most remote place, I also came to Gaul.”

         Ana notices, “Coming as we are this afternoon, from far away, it seems more like we are returning home than finding a wilderness.”

         “Yes, that’s a great irony in wilderness seeking. The ancient Hebrew people journeyed through wilderness to their homeland where they could be close to God. But it seems God left them out there in no man’s land for forty years until they finally learned to listen to God speaking. [the Exodus story] So, of course when Jesus wanted to listen to God he went straight into the wilderness. [Mark 1:12-13] In these times all the wildernesses are already brimming with saints listening for the still small voice Elijah could hear. [I Kings 19:11-18] The irony is we keep wandering into wildernesses to find God.”

         “Why is there irony in that?”

         “From the human place God is always paradox –Creator deep within all Creation – God is love within each person yet far beyond all people. Her poem is all that is – in all the wildernesses, in solitude or crowd, here God is. So in the end those who wander to find God are in the same places as those that wander to escape God.”

         “Wilderness is an eternal pattern of lostness and foundness.”

 (Continues tomorrow)

#35.9, Thurs., Aug., 18, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Journey toward the Loire

         This new day we set out to follow the rivers to reach the Loire.  At our pace it takes barely more than a day to come into sight of Sens, a city that keeps its Celtish ways even after the Romans came and built a wall and left.  The city itself remembers its deep love of nature and all Creation and it is a great power seat for the bishop, but I have no message to deliver here.  This night we stay in an inn adjacent to a stable for travelers on horseback. Tomorrow we will start a longer trek to Orleans. We have come to the end of the map given us by the iron merchant.

         Following the patterns of rivers and creeks I wonder if we would be more efficient reaching the Loire by boat. But just now we need to cross over the waters at a rocky and shallow place with rapids and falls and I am reassured horses offer the best passage.  The view of Orleans has a long welcome from this approach into the civitas.  The king’s castle rises high above the city like a shadow fortress to the fabled gates of heaven. I wonder aloud to Ana why King Guntram would choose to live so far from his city. 

         She reminds me, “His son is here, Clothar II, of course that would be a reason for him to come here and stay; but also, here is his sister-in-law Ferdigund, the child’s mother and regent and the widow of Chilperic.”

         Yes, that would surely make an awkward homecoming. No wonder he spent weeks traveling to get here with the Bishop of Tours and his whole entourage.

         But this thought I share with Ana, “Guntram didn’t think twice about taking in Siegebert’s widow, Brunhilda, and that young king for  whom she was the regent.”

         “Yeah, Laz, You’re thinking like a guy. Underneath all the King’s warring things, the swords and arrows and fast horses there are tangles of women with long tentacles of hate twisting deep into the histories. You’re forgetting that it was Brunhilda’s own sister who fell victim to Ferdigund’s jealousy. And Brunhilda is now the regent of another child, ruler of a land that just meets with Guntram’s lands in the Vosges.”

         “How do you think of these things? I expect we won’t be getting any royal invitations to breakfast at this castle.”

         “Yes,” Ana agrees, “We’d best choose our accommodations for this night among the commoners.”

[Missing footnote? This history is a recap from an earlier blog where it was noted. The story is indeed an interesting chapter or Wikipedia find.]

(Continues Tuesday, August 23, 2022

#35.8, Weds., Aug., 17, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         “So, Laz, right there in the middle of the Gospel of John was that personal telling of your death and all the grief. With those details given of the funeral arrangements and all the people keening, it was surely a first-hand story by the ‘beloved disciple’ of Jesus. So were you the writer of the Gospel who called himself the ‘beloved disciple’?”  [John 21:24]

         “Me? The writer? Of course not. I was dead for most of that story about me.”

         “So you must know who that mysterious writer was. Why didn’t he just say this was written by John, son of Zebedee, or sign the last page with his name instead of a mystery?”

         “Well, it wasn’t written by John the disciple. Knowing what I know of the title, “John” wasn’t the author but the dedication to the spirit of John the Baptist, by a follower.”

         “Do you know who I really think wrote it, Laz?”

         “No, who do you think?”

         “I think it was written by a woman. It has the hand of a woman all through it! It’s obvious. I think it was written by your wife.”

         “What wife?”

         “It must have been a woman who loved you and Jesus both, maybe a follower of John the Baptist, but surely it was someone you cared about also because you allowed her to keep her secret all these years.” 

         What can I say? “Ana, I won’t tell anyone who it was. Not even you, my own beloved wife. Knowing who inked the first writing of it would only make it about an old woman’s memory of her own little teen-aged infatuations – a childish fantasy. It would impair the mystique of the gospel.  It wouldn’t fix the flawed edits made to please Gentiles by making the evil of the Sadducees seem it was the full nature of all Judaens. It wouldn’t give those who read it a gift of mysticism unless the readers were already mystics. Telling would only make it seem human where now it holds revelations. So I see no reason for me to expose what is indeed beloved just to make it mundane.” [This blogger’s notes ]

         “Yes, I think I understand what you mean Laz; it would be like knowing it was a pet goose whose feathers fill this pillow.”

         “In all this softness, Ana, these chores of love seem bliss.”

         It is a warm and gentle drifting off. Thank you God, for this beloved Ana who sleeps here in my arms this night.

[This blogger’s notes ] Bible study is like a stream of fresh water always flowing new, though it has been known to be dammed for holding onto one a piece of river, capturing corners of the waters into stagnant pools of dependable sameness.  But in these times we are fortunate that the kind of understanding that rides the current, and drinks always from new waters is recognized as scholarship, so that what Diana Butler Bass calls “new eyes” on the ancient texts is not discarded as wrong but allowed to change the readings for all of us going forward.  Bass gave a speech that went viral, if bible study ever could do that, https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/mary-the-tower

            Her talk was based on a new find in reading an ancient Greek text and a beginning scholar named Elizabeth Schrader noticed something different from later versions which changed one Mary, sister to Lazarus into a Mary and Martha. This rewrites John so that Lazarus has one sister who might also have been called Mary “The Tower” (or Magdala), in the same way Peter had the nickname “The Rock.” This welcomes the idea of Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany being one in the same .

            This blogger’s favorite “go-to” scholar on John, John Shelby Spong, writing, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic published by Harper One in 2013 reveals some of these finds that Bass speaks of: the nickname, “The Tower” and the geographical detail of Mary Magdalene for example. Before Schrader found the proof of it in the ancient document Spong wrote his own mystical prophecy. On page 176 of this book Spong says of the two Mary’s being one person, it is  ”an idea that opens up some possibilities that, while interesting, are beyond the scope of this book.” And he also notes his own earlier book Born of a Woman.

(Continues tomorrow)

#35.7, Tues., Aug., 16, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         The servant folds down the sumptuous linens and our ewer is replenished and now Ana and I are alone.

         I ask Ana what she discovered of a woman’s anatomy in the books.

         “I’ve learned more from the shepherd. The only medical book was the Roman book from which my teacher’s own medical book was copied. I memorized it as a child. And here it is from some Roman scribe! It was interesting to see, but not helpful.” [Footnote 1]

         “Did you read more of Augustine?”

         “No. Actually, I spent the time in the volumes of bible. The servant helped me handle the great works, so I could look at all those stories and Psalms which I’ve only heard in chants and sermons.  I found the Gospel of John, Chapter Eleven is of particular interest.” [John 11 That’s the Lazarus story]

         “Oh you did? You probably noticed you don’t really need a clay flute to waken this dead man, just a shout from Jesus does the trick.”

         “It was more of a plea from a weeping Jesus.” She argues.

         “The ‘beloved disciple’ telling the story knew one thing well. The loudest weeping is when grief is mingled with guilt. It’s one hurt for the loss but also maybe Jesus was feeling remorse for his own tardiness; don’t you suppose?”

         Ana brightens, reminded of a meaty piece of royal gossip she’s heard. “It was like finding the King in Châlons when Orleans is the royal city of Burgundy. I heard the gossip about King Guntram’s recent journey to Orleans. He only went because Chilperic’s son whom he adopted was gravely ill. It took a messenger on a fast horse only a day to deliver the news, but Guntram took weeks to travel that same path.  His whole entourage of guards and servants, and even the holy man for the child’s kingdom, Gregory, Bishop of Tours, went at the King’s slow speed, dawdling the whole way.” [Footnote 2]

         I can envision it, “Guntram who doesn’t much enjoy the company of aristocratic bishops slow-walking all the way…”

         “It was like Jesus with no hurry to save your family the expense of that funeral, according to the writings by that beloved disciple. Apparently Jesus dawdled along the way too.”

         “Guntram probably didn’t want to face his sister-in-law, Ferdigund, but he would have had a terrible grief had the child died.”

         Ana points out the obvious, “His adopted son, Clothar didn’t die. Guntram found him well.”

[Footnote 1] She could have found it interesting. Galen, Roman physician was notably inaccurate but came close to recognizing the uterus as different from an internal version of male genitalia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galen Retrieved 5-14-22

[footnote 2] Gregory of Tours who was along on the journey told of his own impatience with the old man who was King. This is found in book X of The History of the Franks.

 (Continues tomorrow)

#35.6, Thurs., August 11, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. King Guntram’s castle in Châlons

Father Felix is working hand-in-hand with the King’s men to build a monastery here in Châlons.

         I’m starting to understand the pieces of power here, so maybe I should congratulate young Felix for elevation to a would-be bishop if the king could only give that advancement.

         I mention, “With only a parish priest assigned here by the powers of Rome it was probably no joke at all for Father Columbanus to address you as ‘Bishop’ of Châlons.”

         The beardless young face of the priest shows off a bigger grin, “Yes, you’ve noticed.”

         “So, Father Felix, I suspect the new monastery will use the Celtic Rule, not the Benedictine.”

         I can guess a disturbing power play behind all of this. The simple purity of Father Columbanus settled him into the midst of a political mire which may have seemed, in a way, a wilderness. And those Celtic Christians did find what they were seeking — mountains and forests replete with nature fulfilled by Creator. It is a place for ceaseless prayer and psalms as love letters to Love’s Source as Columbanus considers a ruin to be a gracious place for his community. And maybe he has no idea that boundaries, and in fact kingdoms are being manipulated by his land grant. I think Guntram finds this gentle Celtic father is one more tool to empower him to reach over the heads of the bishops of Austrasia.

         Ana spent all this time in the book collection of this king and his late brother.  These would be the very same books that Chilperic read that led him to conclude that the Trinity was not biblical and maybe not even ordained by God, but was simply a contrivance of human compromise. The Trinity and the creed itself were born in a theological, philosophical academic puzzle devised to produce humanly discernable proof for a three-headed Christian God that could be fully explained by men of power who had been rooted in paganism rather than monotheistic Judaism.

         I told her Guntram probably won’t read all of those volumes and take his holy insights to the bishops as his brother did. That gained Chilperic nothing but the wrath of his own bishop, Gregory of Tours. Here Guntram is maintaining an intentional separation between the holy and the political from the vantage point of earthly control alone. He is always cautious not to tread anywhere near the gates of heaven, as Chilperic had attempted.           

         And again tonight Ana and I are guests in this royal luxury.

(Continues Tuesday, August 16, 2022)

#35.5, Weds., August 10, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. King Guntram’s castle in Châlons

         At the King’s meeting we are discussing the complaints from bishops regarding Father Columbanus.

         Apparently Fr. Felix, the Priest of Châlons, is a defender and follower of Columbanus. I can see that if kings chose bishops, Felix would definitely be the bishop who is missing from this city.

         The King wants to discuss differences of Celtic and Roman order, “Are there more than just surface differences?” He asks. “Is there something in the depths of the faith, some secret of theology, or immaculate tidbit of wisdom that only holy men could know?”

         I shake my head, and glance at Father Felix, who is also not able to think of anything. Yet everyone is looking to me for an answer.

         “Your Majesty, the bible is the same, even the language of the bible is the same regardless of variations in spoken dialects. The creed is the same. The rule differs only a little. Father Columbanus requires more hours chanting psalms and confession is private while the Benedictine rule hears personal sins in the gathered group. But the sins are the same.”

         “I’ve heard enough then,” and the king abruptly stands and leaves the meeting followed by his entourage, leaving me and the priest and priest’s own following of monks to figure this out. 

         “I’m not sure what I said that the king found so disturbing.”

         Fr. Felix guesses, “You affirmed the king’s notions of those bishops. Guntram wants it to be known he is the temporal king, and things such as hair-styles and calendars are not of heaven but are of earth. It is Guntram who rules the earthly kingdom. I think, Brother Lazarus, the King would have the bishops concern themselves only with the heavenly kingdom and he thinks the bishops are over-reaching to worry over calendars and hair styles.”

         “I can affirm that. The bishops do seem to wield an unfettered share of earthly power, at least that is my opinion having been on a journey with messages of rebuttal.”

          Fr. Felix observes, “There’s a lot to it. This king spins webs with nuance. He surely didn’t need to hear anymore to know Father Columbanus meets his own political needs very well. Now the king is undoubtedly scheming a power play that only an earthly sovereign can wield.”

         The King’s servant has a request from the King that when we return to Annegray we will stop again here because the king wants us to take a message on to Father Columbanus. Apparently the King has a plan.

(Continues tomorrow)

#35.4, Tues., August 9, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. King Guntram’s castle in Châlons

         I am graciously received by this king. As a messenger from Father Columbanus I am accustomed to greetings of disgruntlement from bishops. But here the king wishes to hear from me and he has lots of questions about Father Columbanus and the community at Annegray. Ana and I are assigned a posh guest room in the castle and I’m invited to dine at the king’s table in the great hall. Ana is seated with the royal ladies. And here we are also assigned a chamber servant who waits only on us — such luxury.

         A night as a guest in a king’s castle is an adjustment for us, having spent so many nights on the raw earth, or sleeping in the hay above the horses, or even worrying over the cost of pillows at an inn. Ana has never seen anything so elegant in all her few years.

         The king invited us to stay overnight because he wants me to meet in the morning with some of his advisors regarding his projects for new churches and monasteries within Burgundy.

         This new morning Ana is glad to spend her time in the library.

         At the meeting with King Guntram he is at the head of a long table with advisors all around. His first question is directed to me. “What am I hearing of rumors that the bishops surrounding Annegray are displeased with Father Columbanus?”

         “Your Majesty, the good father has addressed these complaints individually to the bishops. I’ve been delivering these messages.”

         “So what is the source of the rub?”

         “I believe the issues are the differences between the Benedictine Rule and the Celtic Monastic Rule. It’s about tonsure and calendar.”

         “Do you have personal knowledge of this conflict?”

         “In a way, I am aware, Your Majesty, Ana and I live very near the community of monks in a cottage which is associated with the ruin of the fort. But I’m not serving any bishop, and at this time I have no holy orders.  I was there as a layman.”

         “Good. So you have an unbiased opinion.”

         “Maybe not unbiased, because I have great regard for the Celtic Father and his following.”

         “As do I.” Answers the king.

         “And I also, Your Majesty.” Answers the young priest seated nearer the king at the table. And all around the table each man approves of the holy father regardless of having ever met him. Well, Father Felix has been there and knows of the Celtic Rule.

(Continues tomorrow)

Post #35.3, Thurs., Aug. 4, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         This morning I deliver Father Columbanus’s message to Father Felix a bit hesitantly, asking him for whom it might have been intended. Even though it is addressed to “The Bishop of Châlons” he opens it and glances over the letter while we wait; then he explains to us that he knows Father Columbanus and he addressed it “Bishop” with a glimmer of humor. He showed me the letter. It begins “Greetings, Father Felix.” [Footnote 1] So now I see two church fathers who oversee monasteries subtly mocking the pomp of an elevated title.

          While we are here, also, Ana continues her relentless search. She asks the young priest if this building houses an ancient library. He suggests we ask about books at the King’s castle as the king has a number of recent acquisitions.  And he also affirms what we heard yesterday.  The king often stays in Châlons so I will be able to deliver that last message I have for the king directly to him while we are here.

         Now at the king’s castle the gatekeeper adds us to the list of visitors as ‘Envoy from Father Columbanus.’ I hand the gatekeeper the message I have brought from Tier without the same care I have for safe delivery of the father’s message to the king.

         Here Ana again asks about books. The King’s library, Ana discovers, is very much the same as King Chilperic’s. Actually Ana finds a whole section of volumes that King Chiperic once owned. We can only suppose that is because King Guntram inherited the books when his half-brother, Chilperic, was assassinated.

         King Guntram is the last surviving son of Clothar I who divided these lands of the Franks into the four kingdoms that now battle each other incessantly. The next generation of kings of Franks are yet very young and are ruling under regencies, whom it happens are the wives of Guntram’s brothers.[Footnote 2]

         One nephew of Guntram, Childebert II, rules Austrasia, the kingdom with all the disgruntled bishops we’ve been visiting on this journey. In the Vosges, Austrasia and Burgundy share a vague border. In some places the southern border of Austrasia is more clearly defined with Nuestra, which was Chilperic’s kingdom, and Nuestra also borders Burgundy.

         The books are not the only thing King Guntram has of Chilperic’s.  He also has his son. He adopted that nephew to be his heir, as he has no sons. Clothar II is a young child now, living in Orleans with his mother, who is currently the regent of Chilperic’s swath.

[Footnote 1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_of_Burgundy retrieved 12-1-2022. It is an enigma for historians, but a fiction writer’s ‘ah-ha’ that Châlons of Burgundy, while missing a bishop, did have a “Felix” who showed up several decades later in Britain, as a bishop, then a saint, related to St. Columbanus. He was called Felix of Burgundy. (The bishop’s portrait copied into the art of this blog is from St. Peter, Mancroft, Norwich. posted in this wikipedia article noted.)

[Footnote 2] Navigating the political scene of the Merovingian dynasty is easier with a genealogy chart. A good one is Appendix A, (p. 232-233) of Geary, Patrick J. Before France & Germany: the Creation & Transformation of the Merovingian World, New York: Oxford Press, 1988.

(Continues Tuesday, August 9, 2022)

Post #35.2, Weds., Aug. 3, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         The stable master directs us to an inn with a private sleeping room for a man and woman together. I don’t think either of us will sleep until we settle this hurt between us. We talk in the dark, long into the night.

         We decided we will spend the coin and stay at this inn another night before we look for this priest so I can deliver to him the message addressed to the “Bishop of Châlons.” Today, all we will do is search for a knowledgeable shepherd.

         It turns out the stable master here knows exactly the person Ana is seeking. This is the one he calls on for wisdom with horse woes, and this fellow happens to be a shepherd. So this morning we find this wise man at the shearing shed in the countryside we had passed through yesterday when we were seeing all the sheep. He hears Ana’s need and they talk for several hours. He marks with charcoal on a freshly shorn sheep showing the location of the internal parts so that she can see the place on the sheep for a surgeon’s blade that could save both the lamb and the ewe. Ana studies it carefully and uses the charcoal to mark a flat stone with her own notes.

         As we mount our horses to go back to the city this elder shepherd takes me aside to tell me he understands her fear. “A young bride often fears for her life in birthing her first child.”

         He must think Ana is with child and asking this for herself. He has a firm warning to me that sheep are nothing at all like human beings. I would argue that she is a physician planning to help another woman. But really, we only have to thank him for his guidance whatever was Ana’s reason for learning this.

         This afternoon we find this church in Châlons. Everywhere it is bustling with activity. Monks are meeting with the builders working from a vast foundation of an ancient basilica still used as a church. Father Felix is with a messenger for the King and he isn’t available just now so we make a plan to return in the morning.

         Two nights now, we’ve paid a royal price for a private room in an inn. The public stable we found has no traveler’s loft, and the monastery isn’t built yet.

(Continues tomorrow)

Post #35.1, Tues., August 2, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Châlons

         On this new morning we are riding toward Châlons. There are sheep grazing all around us by this road and Ana hasn’t forgotten my promise to take time to find a sober shepherd for her questions.  Somehow, what I intended as simply the point of view of drunken shepherds, that phrase “vexatious woman,” has come between us. Even though I clearly didn’t mean that was what I thought. I only meant the drunken shepherds might draw that generalization of all women. It was a misunderstanding. Our long ride is silent, except for her reminders of my promise.  I won’t try to twist it into an excuse, but I could mention that bishops perceive themselves as shepherds and right now we on our way to visit the Bishop of Châlons. But I think better of mentioning this thought of bishops as shepherds.  My jest wouldn’t lighten the mood, or even inform. I do know when not to speak.

         These silent hours of riding take us into the city. I ask a stranger to tell us where we might find the Bishop of Châlons. His answer is much more informative than a simple finger pointing to a direction.

         “There was once a Bishop of Châlons they say. St. Peter sent him here. These days we have a young priest minding the duties of the church.”

         “So there is no Bishop of Châlons?”

         “No. But Fr. Felix is a fine young priest.” He glances at Ana. “He will gladly hear your confessions.”

          “Which way is the church?”

         He takes a long look to the north, so I can guess it is north. Then he explains, “It’s under construction these days. The monks who oversee the work answer to the young priest as though he were an abbot or bishop. King Guntram has an interest in all the new ways of the church and he guides our young priest in the upbuilding of Châlons. The King assures us Burgundy doesn’t need the sour notes of an old bishop in these new times.”

         Then Ana asks, “…and has Châlons any knowledgeable shepherds?”

         He ignores her question, and points me toward a construction site to the north.

         “It’s like no one can hear me,” she laments.

         We could go on to the church, but the sun is already setting and Ana and I, and our horses too, are hungry and irritable and tired. We’d best find a common stable with an inn.

 (Continues tomorrow)