Post #13.4, Thursday, October 8, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. Foothills of the Pyrenees

When is it ever that preparing for a long journey into winter is as joyful as this moment seems?

         Dear God, thank you!

         Here we are able to fit ourselves for a journey with substantial provisions. Nic has even purchased a donkey to take on the extra weight of these winter supplies. So we can take along The Rose’s favorite mix of oats and warm wools and fleeces for winter.

         The slopes we see to the north and east are wide and gentle before the torn silhouette of mountains edge onto the sky.

         “Have you gone this way before?” Nic asks.

         “No, I’ve only come to Hispania by sea.”

         “How will we find our way across the mountains?”

         “I would suppose we would just go up, and look across the valleys for the easy paths, then when we have gone up as far as we can go up, we should just go down. Isn’t that always the way with crossing mountains?”

         “Maybe so, Brother Laz, but I’ve never crossed mountains without an officer leading as though he knows the way.”

         “And yet, two of us are twice as brilliant as any one officer.  If we keep the sun on our right shoulder in the mornings, and our left before dusk, we will surely reach Gaul someday.”

         So it is this morning we begin a single journey that settles both of our wishes.

         The abbott and the monks offer prayers and advice.

         “Go with God, brothers, via con Dios.”

         This first day of the journey the mountains are a ragged line of shadow somewhere else, always seeming beyond us like the horizon itself but a ragged edge of particular peaks and places. I’m sure even the horses notice that this earth leads into mountains with every step a bit higher than the last — anticipation of a slow rising. The rivers run swiftly, and our campsite has a tilt to it that rolls us always on a downhill in our sleeps, a tilt we never even noticed when sitting by the fire.

(Continued Tuesday, October 13)

Post #13.3, Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E. Villa turned Monastery

         It was Nic meeting with the abbot while I was waiting. Could it be that this is another amazing synchronicity? It seems likely Nic has already chosen to stay here and he is speaking with the abbot about that now.

         Now my turn. “Father, I just want you to know I can testify for Nic if he should need a recommendation from someone who knows him well. And I too, can see that he belongs here so now I must prepare to go on alone.”

         “Where will you go, Brother Lazarus?”

         “I’m looking to join a monastery with a scriptorium and I plan to cross the mountains before winter sets in to go on to Ligugé, near Poitiers.”

         “So you are finding Nic to be a burden and you would prefer to go on alone?”

         “No, not at all. Nic is a dear friend and fine companion. He has been my patron all this way. But all we’ve done is chase my dreams and meet my own needs. Now it’s time for him to have his own good life and I can see he’s happy here. I will miss him, but what must be is what must be.”

         “Is this what Nic wants?”

         “I’ll talk with him when I’m sure there is a place for him here.”

         “And you have already brought this plan to God in prayer?”

         “Of course.”

         “So what answer did you receive?”

         “Maybe God has answered with the synchronicity of this also being Nic’s wish?”

         “So God did not answer your prayer.”

         “God sometimes takes a while to answer but I don’t want to wait too long, or the winter will be in Gaul and make it hard traveling for one alone.”

         “Sometimes God’s answer is found in a letting go of our own manipulation of things — just letting things happen. I was just speaking with Nic.”

         “Yes, I saw.”

          “He told me he was noticing you seem happier here than he has ever seen you. He asked if he might sponsor you here, while he goes on alone across the mountains to Gaul where there is a monastery that has a scriptorium near Poitiers and they may take an elder novice such as Nic. If each of you wishes to cross over the mountains alone – there is plenty of room out there. But I think I’ve heard God’s synchronicity in both your wishes and neither of you welcomes a lonely parting.”

(Continues tomorrow)

Post #13.2, Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Historical setting: 563 CE, the old villa, as a monastery

         The table is set with plenty. Monasteries often consider hospitality to strangers as their mission. This one, particularly, is one on a path with many a wandering stranger seeking hospitality. The gardens and livestock are here to serve mostly guests as these monks would, when left with no guests, practice the fast.

         Nic has filled a hearty plate for himself and his comfortable grace and ease of language with these Gothic monks gives me the thought that he belongs here. Several of these monks are older men also. It is clear that Nic fits here and I know I don’t.

          The rule of silence begins after the meal so I can’t speak with Nic about my thought but it seems clear to me; this is where he has found a home.

         My prayer attempts seem to tilt epic. I’m telling my whole plan to God as though God were mindless. So I begin it again.

         Dear God, I know it is our human nature that prods our impatience and allows us to think we can read a plan you may have …

         No, surely that’s not a good prayer-start. If what I have to say is truly God’s plan, I should just stick with “Thy will be done.”

         Dear God, please consider Nic’s happiness if it is your will. Amen.

         Should I act on this? I know Nic belongs here so I can’t just expect him to go along with me on my journey across the mountains? What if God hasn’t yet told Nic or the abbot of the plan? Perhaps I should share my concern for Nic’s happiness with the abbot after prayers in the morning. I’m sure the abbot will be pleased to welcome this older man here to be a novice among these monks.

         When the silence is broken in the morning I wait to speak to the abbot. I can vouch for the goodness of Nic staying here, while I go on across the mountains into Gaul on to the monastery near Poitiers. When I was there before, I could copy scriptures in the scriptorium and yet keep a horse and serve as a messenger. I know I can be useful there and Nic seems to belong here. But I need to start my journey right away before winter comes down on the north side of the Pyrenees.

         So this morning I wait here on the bench outside the abbot’s cubical because the abbot is already meeting with someone.

(continues tomorrow)

Post #13.1, Thursday, October 1, 2020

Historical setting: 563 CE, at the family cemetery of the old villa

         “Brother Lazarus, her name was not Susannah; her name was Minerva.”

         The familiar sound of Nic’s voice plundered my moment of reverence as I knelt at the grave to place the flowers I had gathered. What does he know of my error in memory? Where has he been these days?

         I rise to my feet, and there he is with his same piercing and intended stare as when he found he had to accept that the recipient of his patronage was a Jew like Jesus. And now he has had to face a very strange dimension of identity of me, this person he has committed too. The last we saw each other he learned that I was indeed, as I had tried to tell him, the same man Lazarus who was Jesus’ own childhood friend.  All these years I have lived with so many deaths and resurrections and clearly, I’m not the young monk he promised to support.  I know the shock and disappointment sent him longing to soldier again.  What can I say?  What, even, can he say?

         We are locked in our stare that I wish were a simple hand-clasp or pat on the back — any kind of welcome gesture to accept that it is what it is.

         It’s not an easy resolution.

         My gaze on his elder face must speak of my longing for his acceptance, because his eyes soften to empathy then he looks away.

         I ask, “Do you mean I even remembered her with a wrong name?”

         He answers, “I’ve heard the hero stories of that war, not just in Bragda, but here, at the monastery. And yes, she was known as Minerva. But I have to tell you Brother Lazarus, I’ve pondered the notion that your grief has many names and I expect when we find Susannah, she will have a golden braid of hair also.”

         Dear God, thank you for such a friend as this. You must know my need for a friend.  Amen.

         Nic has given this his deepest thought. “Brother Lazarus, I wondered if my call was to be as Nicodemus, so that I would one day bring a heavy abundance of herbs and spices to a grave in grief for a younger man and spiritual guide, but now I understand it will be you who is left to grieve for me.”

         “May it be many years my friend, may it be a long time we have for this friendship.”

(Continued Tuesday, October 6)

Post #12.14, Wednesday, September 30, ’20

Historical setting: 563 C.E. remembering the villa

         I learned from the bishop what had become of the villa under the Goths. Besides the actual gold and jewels and riches of the Suebi family, the Goths took, as their war booty, the cult members who were still living. They sanctified the asceticism and declared a sacred burial place in the courtyard of the villa where they buried the dead of the cultists. 

         When these Goths, once pagan hoards, swept through Hispania a near century ago they were already Christianized with the Arian heresy. But like the Franks, they brought with them from their Pagan root the sanctification of the rotting remnants of sufferings. They were making the cultists into their saints.   

         I suppose, in the superstitious minds, the warrior Goths viewed their easy victory over the villa as the great and magical work of the Christian God. I mean, after all, they easily conquered the elderly Suebi don swinging at them with his one dull and tarnished sword.

         So, when I arrive at the villa tomorrow I can expect to see it is now a Gothic monastery as the bishop said it had become. And in the courtyard will be the burial places for monks and nuns and saints who have gone before. But I wonder if the family burial place will still be where I found it – at a traditional Roman distance from the villa. If I find it again, I will place flowers on the grave where I buried her with her family. That alone, seems to give purpose to this long ride.

         Dear God, Do you relish in the paradox? Is there ever an earthly place for your healing peace and forgiveness? Thank you God, for my own years of healing. May I never loose my vision of your relentless forgiveness and love even for those we humankinds may name as heretics and enemies. Amen.

         At sunset I find that pasture is still here where Umber may graze, and I may sleep in this autumn wither of grasses beside the still waters.

(Continues Thursday, October 1)

[A note about the order of this blog:  This continuing story posts three times a week, about 400 words at a time, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in “Chapters” by the month. The “Home” page features an introduction to the new month’s Chapter and a recap of the necessary plot line to help followers keep their bearings. May our followers simply enjoy this on-going meander through ancient Christian history.]

Post #12.13, Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., the Inn at Bragda

         Back at the inn now, and it’s the disappointment I’d feared.  The Rose is not in the stall. Nic’s things are already gone from the loft. The innkeeper says he paid ahead for me and my horse for this night and he will pay more if I need to stay longer. He left no message for me at all. But Nic’s kindness was nearly said to this innkeeper with the same words as in the story Jesus told of the stranger who was rescued by an eternal enemy-Samaritan-“neighbor” whom tradition has renamed as “good.”

         With Nic gone from the loft and no other travelers here to offer their peaceful chorus of snores this night is too silent for sleep. The sharp spear of moonlight jabs a path between the loose tiles of the roof and I know I won’t sleep at all.

         Dear God, stay near to Nic wherever he has gone. Forgive my wanderings. Amen.

         The rising on this new day is muffled by my own sleepless fatigue. There is nothing to drive me to journey except the nothingness of here. I mount my gelding named for the dull color he is, but in that simplicity he offers a wideness of solace; so we set our faces East to follow the river, Umber and I.

         I remember this path by the river. It is easily a two-day journey to the villa, but along the way, after the place where all those years ago I passed through the Suebi army on my way back to Bracara with the warning, I found a place where the river slowed and spread to soften the earth for a pasture land of tender grasses. That was where I rested then.

           In the days after the raid I followed this trail along the rivers as I am now, to return to the villa, the tabula rasa of a war field.

         After that raid when I came back to the ruin I found the full silence of devastation. The gardens were ashes, and the outbuildings gone with wafts of smoke still rising. That last wagon in the flight had no one left to drive it and no beast to pull it. Both the horse and the driver were still in their places stricken by arrows. I buried Susannah, then I buried her father along with his sword in what seemed to me the family burial ground outside the villa. But the woman of the cult Susannah was trying to rescue was not amid the ruins of the wagon. And the villa itself was nearly unscathed.

         In the bishop’s telling of the story I learned what I didn’t know then.

 (Continues tomorrow)

Post #12.12, Thursday, September 24, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., Bragda

After I met with the bishop, after my mind was clear of wishes, and my memories were of grief, now I find Nic is not where I expected to find him: just outside, practicing his horsemanship. He is nowhere to be seen. He left an apple for my horse.  What can I do but ride back to the inn?

         It seems a longer ride alone. Thinking of Nic, remembering Nic. I had asked that this pure and chaste man still harboring his own wish for holy orders help me find my mythical wife with a yellow braid of hair. Then, like the Samaritan saving the beaten stranger on the road to Jericho, he learned that this victim he rescued was his own enemy, The Jew. He shed prayers begging strength to forgive like the sweat pouring off his scalding skin on the ship’s deck adrift in the hot still waters of summertime on the bay. He forgave his enemy. He offered me his friendship.

         Dear God, help me to forgive his soldier ways, if he should ever agree that we meet again. Amen.

         But now, I’ve laid on him tangible proof of my strange nature– my odd gift of physical life after life.  There’s no intricate theology to be spun from the miracle to say it is every person’s fate in resurrection. There are no others of my kind peopling this earth. And I offer no excuse from earthly mortality. I’m just a strange sign to make a physical metaphor of a spiritual truth. No wonder he chose to leave.

         My secret wish as I go back to the inn for one last night before I  gather my things and ride on to the villa, is that when I take Umber into the stall, there, also will be The Rose. Then I will go quietly into our space in the loft and I will tell him I understand I have made it all so hard for him. What can either of us say? Maybe he will speak or maybe he will just quietly get up and leave then. Over and again I have put him into hard places.

         The ride back is a tangle of strange dialogues in my head.  What can I say? What has been said? What is known now that was hidden before?

(Continues Tuesday, September 29, 2020)

Post #12.11, Wednesday, September 23 ’20

Historical setting: 563 C.E., Bragda

         Here in these Holy halls where even bishops tip-toe on marble floors to soften the echoes, I have found a quiet place to take a moment to mesh the stories the bishop told with the fragments of memory and now I seem to know too well the things I have not allowed into my waking thought before this.

         As the bishop told it to me today, it was the story of an imaginary hero, a missionary who saved the people and the gospel too. I know it was no missionary hero but an ever-grieving servant, a Christian pacifist who chooses no sides in these wars. My wound healed more quickly than my grief.

         Now I leave the basilica expecting to find Nic who excused himself from our meeting with the bishop to practice with his horse.

         What will I tell Nic now of my true remembrances? Should I tell him about Susannah, who saved numbers of the people from the war, and was the very one in the first place who demanded the bishop send a missionary to dispel the cult? Should I tell him that my remembrance of marriage to the woman with the golden hair was nothing more than my twisted grief for Susannah beyond the tragedy of her death? It was my own pretending that allowed me to be spared the reality of grief.

         Maybe it is like the doctor told me in Nance, some memories are better kept forgotten in the bandages.

         Now I shall see if my old soldier-friend Nic has learned to vault into the saddle yet.

         Nearly blinded by the glare of autumn sun I find Umber still tethered, but a bit more loosely than when I left him so now he is able to reach down and gnaw at an apple carefully lain at his feet. I have no guess where Nic and The Rose may have gone. I don’t blame him for leaving though. I must be a terrible disappointment to his onetime dream of sponsoring a monk who would be copying scriptures quietly and uneventfully. He meant to be the mighty protector fending off all ravages of evil outside the sacred wall of the monastery, guarding the sanctity of the written and copied word within. He meant, at least, to be a very good man, even if some bishop of old would not see him into the inks as a true God-man.

(Come again tomorrow)

Post #12.10, Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., remembering a villa in 462

Remembering 462 C.E., A very earthly enemy invasion was coming down on us from the eastern coast of Hispania. The first arrow arced through the vines of portico into the midst of our meeting. The next seemed to take an eternity to arrive, though it was only a few seconds. It was the stop of time we needed to realize we were under siege. Everyone, the family, the cult worshipers, the servants, all the able-bodied people who were neither guards nor soldiers crowded into the few wagons and carts available at the stables. As I prepared to ride ahead with the warning of the invasion, the elderly don, with his own sword already in hand, stopped me to hand me the gospel to take it back with me to Bracara for “safe keeping.” Then right behind him was Susannah begging me, before I left, to help get those who were too weak from hunger into the wagons for safety. Arrows were landing all around us like sleet in an oddly-seasoned storm, and we knew in another instant there would be spears and swords and cavalry. We must have already been in their sights, because the arrows were finding marks. Susannah was felled as we were lifting a starving ascetic onto the wagon bed; Susannah died there to save the life of one who had already chosen heaven over earth. I laid both women onto the wagon before an arrow came into my own shoulder.

         I only stumbled for a moment and then was able to mount my horse and go at full gallop toward the west to warn the others, but even then the rumors of war were spreading ahead of me like a torch dropped onto a parched summer’s field, so by the time I neared Bracara I was riding into the mighty storm of dust at the hooves of the Suebi fighters plundering into their newest war which was, for that moment, behind me.

         How I wish, at this remembrance, that the ancient truth wasn’t of her heroic death, but that Susannah with the yellow braid was … What have I done? Have I chased an empty, imagined romantic whim from another century only to be reminded that the single shred of reality left of it all is my own grief? And is this instant of grief what we have come all this way in search of?

         What can I say to Nic?

(Continued tomorrow)

Post #12.9, Thursday, September 17, 2020

Historical setting: 563 C.E., remembering villa near Zaragosa in 462

Here is a quiet place to collect my thoughts as I now have the one thing I was seeking – my clarity of mind. The bishop laid out details of a time in the missing century. And now my own remembrances have become horrifically clear. This is why I’ve kept these things hidden in this smog of forgotten time. I recall the villa and its ancient heretical cult festering like a plague, feeding on fears and longings for an unknown and unknowable abusive god. The God of love and life was unreachable by these cultists expecting, as they did, only sacrifice and punishments.

         I remember we were meeting together on the villa’s warm and breezy portico. Susannah led us in a familiar hymn as though we were all of a single mind and one voice. Then a young cultist asked that we may speak our separate prayers aloud. We heard, buried in each prayer of unctuous words a statement of judgment of earth things and a promise to pay for the “sins of earth” with holy suffering. How is it that God can even hear such a chaos of jangling sacrifice and useless human pain and not send down angels to set it right again?

         I pretended then, my prayer aloud; or maybe it was a sermon for earth in the guise of prayer but it forced onto them the Genesis thought – “After each day of Creation God said ‘it is good’. Thank you God for all these beloved people and for this whole beautiful Creation you have named ‘good.’”

         One shouted out, “So how do you know the mind of God?”

         As I was opening that Gospel of John to the first page, I started to say, “it is written… expecting I would read the part that begins, ‘In the beginning was the …”

         Susannah answered, “Just listen to him!  This man brings us the true Gospel!”

          I had indeed come as a stranger among them and a messenger of the Word assigned the task of freeing them from so much self inflicted suffering, but were I sent down to them on wings from heaven I would truly be a failed angel. Every message of every angel begins, “don’t be afraid” yet there is no edict I could think to announce an honest dissolution of fear. And at that very moment the fear of ethereal awe was immediately changed to an earthbound and tangible fear – an arrow landed in our midst — the unspoken terror was of an earthly war.

(Come again Tuesday, Sept. 22.)