43.8, Weds., April 19, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Home in the Vosges Mts.

“So you felt tricked.” Ana has more clarity of thought than I. We both know our children well. “Laz, Greg and Gabe are literate, brilliant in fact, and we both know the burden the world will place on them all too soon, demanding their many gifts. In another year or two they will be as tall as men, and no one but us will see them as children though they will be teens — crazy with courage — and caring deeply about perceptions of themselves as seen from the viewpoints of others well beyond our walls. We can’t control them, always.”

“I know what you are saying, Ana. You think our little hatchlings will learn to fly even though we want to keep them in the nest.”

Ana knows, “And you know perfectly well, you can’t teach them the world by telling them of the dangers of lurking duxes and baros. They will surely go off to learn all about guardsmen and swords and horses and warring for themselves. The more you tell them not to go, the more they will know they must.

“So I will send off a bird in the morning with a message and tell them you will carry that message and our sons will be the envoy.”

“But Ana, what about you, and the babies, and the farm?”

“Simon is quite able to manage the farm these days. He is fully ten-years-old, and will still accept my relentless guidance.”

“But Ana, in so many ways Greg and Gabe are still innocent children.” I plead for naught, wishing it were so. “Maybe they can learn responsibility by staying at home?”

“So don’t you want to be the one to see them into their adulthood? Or would you rather they just go off against your will as thwarted but precocious children will do?”

“Yes, you are right, Ana, but …”

“So where is it you are going? How long might you be away?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

“So you have no idea where you are going? I will worry for them and pray for you…”

“Yes, Ana, I know you are right about this. I just need to consider it.”

The softness of this night can make everything seem right. Thank you God. It is much too rare in these times to have this quiet night in the scents and softness with Ana. I’d still rather not be gone.

(Continues tomorrow)

43.7, Tues., April 18, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Home in the Vosges Mts.

The children are sleeping. It was a long day that started with Easter, then the walk home and the welcoming hugs and the reports of all that happened. Simon and Hannah still did the evening chores, while Greg and Gabe practiced their archery and the mounting and dismounting of the mule who seems to have grown more patient with age. Who are the grown-ups among these children?

In the quiet softness of a sleeping night here with Ana she asks me why I am still stern with my sons. She’s heard from them already, and now she wants to know my view of whatever it was that demanded such wrath from me and sent my children dreaming.

“Ana, when we arrived there were crowds of pilgrims, and right in the midst of all the fasting pilgrims came dux Waldalenus, the mayor of Metz, in a carriage with armed guards. The boys were awestruck seeing this swath of power in the midst of a great pilgrimage, but I could only see the Spirit of heaven was suddenly marred by earthly politics.

“Then when the boys were sleeping Brother Servant summonsed me to meet with the Baro Dithrum who headed up the mayor’s guards. Remembering our journey to Metz, those years ago they were asking for the same messenger to take a letter from Father Columbanus to a council of the Frankish-Roman bishops of Gaul. It seems Bishop Arnulf of Metz, and his wife, Sister Doda, remembered our visit to them, and they came to know the work of Father Columbanus with opened minds. Now they’ve become followers and benefactors of Luxeuil. So it is that dux Waldalenus of Metz also gives his support to the Celtic father and he is now arranging for the Father’s peaceful message to the bishops council be carried by that same messenger. I clearly said I couldn’t be that messenger this time.”

“So why are you angry with your sons?” She asks.

“Maybe I shouldn’t be angry at them. You’re right. They’re just children with children’s dreams and lofty imaginations way bigger than their understanding of the world. But they let themselves become victims of the baro’s trickery, all for promises of swords and horses and glory.

“After I said no to it, Baro Dithrum followed me to our campsite. When I was asleep he lured the boys to the stables with promises they could ride the horses and become guardsmen.”

(Continues tomorrow)

43.6, Thurs., April 13, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Luxeuil

Ana and the children will be home from church soon, expecting we will be home too. But our long walk is punctuated with one childish plea after another — random arguments — tossed at me like unbaited fishhooks hopelessly cast onto the sea. I remain silent. I’ve no reason to argue. I know what is right.

“But Papa, God needs young swordsmen and riders!”

“Father Columbanus would be pleased.”

“Momma would be proud of us.”

Finally they just settle into quiet seething with a few snarling interludes so at least I can think now and try to make sense of this.

They are at an age. I’m not of an age. I am older. I know what they don’t know, and I never want to see them riding off with swords and armor because some baro who works for a dux convinces them God needs soldiers. Father Columbanus would never send out messengers armed with anything but his own fine-spun words. Surely Columbanus isn’t condoning children as guardsmen. And why does an abbot’s messenger even need guardsmen? Why do bishops even have guards? They just think they need guards because generations of nobility don’t know any better. Surely a great man named for a dove, follower of Christ, has no need for an armed envoy.

But in their little child minds they imagine their beautiful mother riding off across the rivers to carry healing and a message of peace for people in need; then, they imagine she would be proud to see them on warhorses, girding swords? They are children.

Dear God, they are beloved children. Why does it call for greater strength to be peacemakers than warriors? Why can’t their mindless, and incessant heroism just be about peace? Is love so much harder to believe in than hatred? I’ll wait for answers. Amen.

So the argument lands at Ana’s feet.

They are just returning from the church in the wood. Hugs and welcome, home smells and fragrances of familiar. I wish we could ignore this worry and just be home.

“Simon and Hannah have been such able helpers” Ana reports.

So a ten-year-old is a fine farmer, but a twelve-year-old is a child. A ten-year-old sees a need and rescues with a fix and everyone is better for it. A twelve-year-old can only see himself in the light of others’ opinions. This whimsy of courage is irrational.

(Continues Tuesday, April 18, 2023)

43.5, Weds., April 12, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Luxeuil

We’re celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection today, by the Irish calendar, that is. The somber chanting turns to halleluiahs, and after the familiar but still confusing readings from the gospels for this time we are all supposed to be happy again, just as we were when Jesus sat at the table with us and offered himself in the bread and the wine. How quickly we forget the impending tragedy and we simply recall the familiar people gathered at the table.
I gaze over the crowds who are ever-pressing in together to get a glimpse of the abbot with his arms raised giving blessings to us all however many of us are here. It is the largest crowd ever, I’ve been told. So where are my two nearly men, Greg and Gabe? They aren’t here in our usual place to stand in this oratorio. It’s where I expected they would be. I study the crowd stretching my hopes around every hooded head that could possibly be the right size and in a pair together, as they always are. I don’t see them anywhere.
That pulse of panic for missing family members ravages my imagination. It’s a terror for a parent that none of these holy men could possibly understand. Where are my sons? Dear God, Stay close. I trace my way back to our campsite. Then I go on back into my prayer places of last night, then back to the place I had met Brother Servant and the baro not far from the stables of Luxeuil, and there they are in the stables brushing down the horses of the visiting nobility just chatting with the stable groom. Is it anger or gratitude owning my speech just now?
“There you are! I’ve been looking all over. How could you go…?”
“Oh, Papa! Look at the beautiful horses! Baro Dithrum said Dux Waldalenus set them aside here for the abbot’s envoy of messengers. He said they are looking for more men to train to be the abbot’s guard.” Greg is just babbling on and on.
Gabe clarifies, “We told Baro Dithrum we’ve only ridden on our farm mule, but he said we could easily learn to ride horses. He asked us about our farm and he said he knows you. But he calls you Ezra like the brothers here.”’
“This is the day your mother expects us home. Let’s go now!”

(Continues tomorrow)

43.4, Tues., April 11, 2023

I stumble back through the darkness, finding my way among the campers to reach the place where these precious two, oldest of my seven, are still sleeping soundly.
Dear God, Thank you for these beautiful children. Am I being selfish and greedy to hold so tightly to this gift of family so not to listen to the plea to help this whole community?
It is Holy Week so, of course, I’m also remembering Jesus. Maybe the abbot feels betrayed by his follower, abandoned by his friend, sorting his options and priorities, dealing with the dangerous politics of popularity, wrangling the power of the mob with his silence and navigating the unquenchable thirst of others for violence by numb autocracy.
Dear God, you give us these earthly choices, all the while knowing us so well. Is it possible love for family is your own metaphor for love? Or is this choice more perplexing? Or is that the paradox? I’m confused with so many righteous possibilities. In another time I would easily go off to Rome or to Paris or wherever for whatever years and days it takes, but how can I leave Ana and the children just now? I listen for your answer. Amen.
I can’t really sleep tonight. So many thoughts are twisting and spinning, and maybe even marching in lockstep through my brain. It isn’t too hot or too cold for sleeping just now. Maybe it is too many stars. Really it is just too many thoughts.

Already the sun is rising, and here people are already returning from matins though some of us are sleeping. Greg and Gabe left without waking me. Their fleeces are in tidy rolls put aside here for the day. I had best go search them out. I know they can take care of each other on their own, but I can’t dismiss my need to know exactly where they are. After all it is my loyalty to my family that makes me such a disappointment to these brothers of Luxeuil.

(Continues tomorrow)

#43.3 Thurs., April 6, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Luxeuil

         “You must know it is your duty to God to deliver the Father’s letter.”

         “I’m sure there are others who would gladly do this.”

         I can see Brother Servant feels betrayed. Now he just turns and walks away with no parting blessing. Baro Dithrum is left to explain.

         “Brother Ezra, you were chosen because, it seems, on your previous assignment the message delivered to Bishop Arnulf served to garner his support for the abbot here. Father Columbanus guesses that the bishop’s change of heart was a result of your visit and his own wife’s coaxing.”

         I offer more options, “It could have been lots of things — geography, proximity of Luxeuil to Metz, or maybe the voice of God, or simply competition among bishops.”

          The power structures of Gaul are shifting in the wind, and with the loss of powerful kings a lesser unity of nobility is filling the void. Bishops are appointing one another based on birthright more than sanctity. And they seem to think their duty is to maintain a political consistency and order.

         The baro explains, “obviously this group of Frankish bishops, who are meeting, see themselves as overseers of the activities of foreign abbots.”

         “That’s a very specific purpose to meet, as though these bishops are simply joining forces to get Father Columbanus to restyle his hair.”

         Baro Dithrum snickers, “Yes, that’s how Father Columbanus received the news. He just handed their summons back to me and said he was ‘glad to make an excuse for them to meet together, and if he isn’t present maybe they can talk about something more useful than calendars and haircuts.’ So he prepared his reply that says he won’t go before them. So you see, this letter is timely and important.”

         “I understand. But surely there are other messengers you could send. I have other priorities now. Ana and I can’t just go off roaming as we did before. I know these holy men don’t see family as a priority. One who vows chastity surely would only see seven children as a testament to original sin. But as a baron, and not a monk, you can surely understand duty to family.  I thank God everyday for the beautiful gift of family and I don’t believe my priorities are misaligned.”

         “Rethink it, Brother Ezra, pray on it if that’s what you do. Consider the righteous choice less selfishly.” He too, turns and leaves without closure.

(Continues Tuesday, April 11, 2023)

#43.2, Weds., April 5, 2023

         Brother Servant asked me to meet here after vespers when my boys are settled in for the night. Brother Servant and a nobleman are waiting by the gate.

         Brother Servant tells me, “King Guntram is dead.”

         “I’d heard that. He was old. He was the last living son of Clothar.”

         “He didn’t die of age. He died in battle fighting with the bishops to win Brittany from the heathens.”

         “And now, he is a saint?” I ask.

         “And now he is gravely missed. His nephews who inherited the earth are nothing like blessed peacemakers.”

         “And St. Guntram was that?” I wonder.

         “Comparatively speaking. So his death has created a likely catastrophe for us all.  Do you recall some years ago you and Ana carried messages to all of those complaining bishops?”

         “Of course I remember that.”

         “We are calling on you to go again, now, with a message from the father to the Council of Bishops.”

          “I can’t go now. Things have changed for us. Ana and I can’t just ride off delivering messages. And besides, we haven’t even horses.”

         The other fellow I learn is a baro in Metz speaking for the mayor who is funding this mission. The baro just turns away at my refusal.

         Brother Servant continues, “The bishops of Gaul are now speaking in unison. The young kings have no strategies or understanding to solve issues with anything but military might; so we can’t expect support for an Irish abbot from the throne. Of course Father Columbanus would make concessions in the simple matters of calendar and tonsure, but he fears those arguments are only an excuse for sending us all back to Ireland.”

         The baro glances at me and adds,  “You can see how people here thirst for the good work of Father Columbanus.”

         Brother Servant continues,  “If we were nothing more than an impoverished secular church in the woods no one would care how we cut our hair.”

         The baro adds, “For this mission you will have fast horses and an armed guard…”

         I answer Brother Servant, “Of course I know well the goodness of Father Columbanus.  But…”

         The baro continues, “… and of course there will be a messenger’s purse.”

         “Really I can’t go at this time. Ana has an infant at her breast. And these boys who are with me today, barely men, are the oldest of our seven. I’m simply not the right man for this mission.”

(Continues tomorrow)

#43.1, Tues., April 4, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Luxeuil

         My boys had a long day. Before I left our camp I looked on them sleeping like a nest of baby bunnies, so innocently curled up on the fluffy fleeces we brought for these nights camping with the pilgrims.  Even as we took our time, the walk here was short for us, only a half day. But Gabe and Greg were so swept up in the power of it all, the tales of journeys of so many pilgrims, the whole wide expanse of God’s kingdom on earth, the psalms they’ve learned with language itself, now chanted in unison by uncountable voices; no wonder it is overwhelming for them.  They’ve never seen any crowds of people before. And now they see people in throngs, moving toward a single goal, all arriving at these gates after journeys while fasting, exhausted from travel, longing for mystical empowerment mingled into the great unison of prayer. 

         Here it is said that there are so many monks and nuns in the community of Luxeuil that the Father has ruled for ceaseless chant continuing at all hours in the grand oratorio.  It is indeed like waves on the sea, first the elder monks are the choir, then washing over that, the nuns are processing through the halls and into the choir stands, then it is the novices, and on and on one choir after another, prayer without ceasing.  All of this like a beating heart in the center of so many Easter pilgrims. They are here finding ear for confessions, or blessings for healings at the waters. Empathy has worn my boys to exhaustion.

         I have this appointment to keep with Brother Servant at the gate so I make my way through camps in the dusky light where now there are two here waiting for me – Brother Servant and a nobleman.

         My perspective, “I come here to pray on earth as it is in heaven. But petty squabbles over earthly power – politics – hardly seem a worthy cause for breaking the silence of the vigil.”

         While I am arguing the need for solemnity Brother Servant and this other fellow are hard set on the politics of Gaul. Brother Servant reminds me of the grief of earth, the broken heaven, and the torn cloth of the holy is the fear and lust for earthly power. It was the fears of Rome’s most powerful that had Jesus crucified. True, Holy Week is all about the politics.

(Continues tomorrow)

#42.14, Thurs., March 30, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. The opened gates of Luxeuil

         I’m asking Brother Servant what hour will the nuns be in the oratorio. Cy casts a look of suspicious curiosity. “Why would I bring young boys just to see the nuns?”

          Brother Servant knows why. He says, “I can’t wait to see the look on her face when Sister Colleen catches a glimpse of these two she delivered so safely all those years ago.”

         I explain to Cy, “Sister Colleen was our midwife before she took her vows.”

         I ask Brother Servant if we may help Cy into the healing waters yet tonight. That is now our most urgent need.

         “Of course.” He points to a long line at a crowded archway, “The blessings for healings will be spoken as long as there is a need.” 

        “Ezra, after you deliver this man into the healing waters, and after you’ve made camp for your sons I must talk with you.  I will be waiting for you here.” Brother Servant sounds intentional.

         When Cy has found comfort in the healing waters, and has found his footing again we walk him to the camp area and he asks, “Your friend the monk doesn’t call you Lazarus he thinks you are Ezra. It doesn’t matter to me, but your boys are confused.”

         Greg wonders, “Yes, Papa. When we are here, should we also call you Ezra?”

         “No. Call me Papa!  I’m always your papa, no matter where we are, I’m still your papa.”  Maybe everyone is confused but me.

         Gabe asks, “So what does God call you? 

         Greg echoes, “Does God even know your name?”

         How should I answer? Lazarus is such a weighty name to carry into this place already dripping in a profusion of relics and saints.

         “God knows me as friend of Jesus, Ana’s husband, father … actually, I guess God knows me by who I love.”

         Gabe answers, “Yes, me too.” Greg echoes it.

         Cy smiles and adds, “likewise.”

         It is true. God knows us all by our love.

         By the time we have a camping place among the pilgrims, the night is deep into darkness. I return to the gate and Brother Servant is waiting here with a man dressed as nobility.

         “We need to talk about the situation with the bishops of Austrasia and Burgundy now that King Guntram is gone.”

         “Brother Servant, it’s holy week.  I really didn’t come here to break the vesper silence just to talk politics.”

         The monk argues, “Holy Week is all about the politics.”

(Continues Tues., April 4, 2023)

#42.13, Weds., March 29, 2023

Historical setting: 602 C.E. Luxeuil

         This man is not even as heavy on my back as were two boys I’ve carried home from the fields at the end of a day’s work; that was just a year or so before they declared themselves men. Now they are concerned for this man who is lame, and even for their papa.  As we walk with the flow, Greg and Gabe discuss various plans to help carry the man using a tarp hanging from rods they can hoist across their shoulders, maybe like a slain deer. And by the time they have mulled over every transport possibility, we’ve already arrived at the opened gates of Luxeuil and we find a small space on a bench where the fellow can have a seat while we figure things out here.  

         This fellow says his name is Cy.

         The boys announce their names, and they mention they are twin brothers. Cy looks incredulously at the two precisely matching humans leaving a long and ridiculous pause — a wink of sarcasm. Greg and Gabe have no idea it is so conspicuous. Everyone who knows them never mentions it.  “And you call this fellow Papa?” Cy asks.
         “Yes, I’m named Lazarus.” And just now a familiar monk comes grinning and greeting, “Ezra!  So good to see you again, and these are the little baby twins all grown up I see!”

         Greg answers, “We are Greg and Gabe, and this is our new friend Cy.”

         Gabe adds, “He has a lame leg, so we are watching out for him now.”

         Brother Servant is still greeting this reunion with his wide, friendly smile as I affirm our purpose.

         “We need some direction Brother Servant. First we need to wait in the line for the healing waters, so that Cy can find relief and healing. When is Father Columbanus offering prayers for healing?”

         “In this busy season we have stations for all the different needs, so someone else is available at the waters for prayers and blessings.  Worship is in the oratorio where the Father is next offering mass.”

         “I’ve heard the rumors that there are so many monks and nuns here now that choirs lead the chants continuously all hours, day and night.”

         “That is either true because we have so many monks and nuns, or because the ones that live here never sleep.”

         “So, you might guess, we also would like to be present in the oratorio when the nuns come in chanting.”

(Continues tomorrow)