#35.14, Weds., Aug. 31, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The Celtic Pagan village of Largin

         Ana has a clearer picture now of the challenges and possibilities and believes her mission, to save both mother and child might be doable. When Thole and I are privy to the “secret” it is that Tilp differs from her husband on priorities. Thole is only focused on saving her. But she told Ana she already loves this baby. And that was her secret. She wants this baby to be safe no matter how it is born, as it was when she was born and her own mother and Largin chose not to put her out for the wolves afterall, even when they saw she was bent and frail. We learn that Ana believes the baby is due in about two months. There will be no waiting for the Yule.

         We stay this night in the house of Thole and Tilp, and in the morning we will ride to Poitiers where Ana hopes to meet with sisters who are accustomed to caring for the sick and have undoubtedly read everything known about birthing babies. She thinks it possible that Tilp may be able to birth this baby without her own death imminent, as everyone else seems to fear.  But Ana plans to be prepared to save Tilp even if the baby must be birthed by the blade.

         She knows that the story of Julius Caesar’s birth is said to be a myth, since his mother reportedly did not die. So now it is thought that the blade may only be used to save a baby if the mother has died. Ana also knows that ewes can be saved when the lamb is delivered surgically. She believes there is yet a secret for saving the life of a human mother when the delivery is surgical. What Ana most wants is to see under the skin of a pregnant woman but that is a sacred journey, morally prohibited from view.

         Last month we were traveling when the moon was in this gibbous phase rising in an afternoon. Ana and I camped alone on a river island, as she wished to follow the pattern of women. I expect she will be glad this month to be in a convent with other women for this phase. In a tender moment, so I don’t sound like I am blaming her for being ill-tempered, I will ask her about that calendar, and not in the morning, as she is especially out of sorts these mornings… Oh.

 (Continues Thursday September 1, 2022)

#35.13, Tues., Aug. 30, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. The Celtic Pagan village of Largin

         We’ve arrived at the village where Thole worries while Tilp naps. Ana is waiting to examine Tilp, and in the meantime Thole is explaining her pregnancy to Ana.

         “We are planning that winter would be a good time for this, near the solstice, because we weren’t sure how quickly you could get here.  But now that you’re here we could do this anytime.”

         “The baby will be born in God’s time Thole. You don’t get to decide when that will be.”

          “Yes, but here we don’t have to worry about God’s time. We aren’t even Christian you know.”

         “I have a question for you that you actually can answer. How long after the last Yule season did she first have morning sickness?”

         “That was in February, by the Roman tally of months. But she didn’t start to get pregnant until well into spring. That’s when I went searching for you. When I returned she already had that terrible belly.”

         “That belly is where your baby lives, Thole. It is the good order of the Creator, or Mother Nature, that the baby has room to grow.”

         This chat is interrupted as Tilp, herself, waddles from the thatched house to the log circle. She seems a tiny mouse hauling away a huge oak gall. Her lame foot is less bent now, nearly flat on the ground with the extra weight of the baby she carries. Ana is delighted to see her.

         “Tilp, from all the fears and worries I’ve been hearing I didn’t expect to see such a strong and healthy mother as you seem. I am Ana, who has come at Thole’s request to see you through this time.”

         “Ana, I’ve heard you are the good fairy come to save me.”

         “My task is to care for you. Your job now and forever is to keep the baby safe.”

         “Come into our house with me. I have a secret I don’t want Thole to know.”

         Now Thole and I are alone and Thole is frantic over this “secret” the women are sharing between themselves. I suggest we brush down the horses, and put them to pasture. It’s always good to answer worries with caring for the critters and the earth.

         Dear God, thank you for the needs that keep us useful. Guide Ana to see them through this. Amen.

(Continues tomorrow)

#35.12 Thurs., Aug. 25, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Druid Largin’s village on the Loire

         Ana is most anxious to meet Tilp and examine her. She wants to assess the limits of her skills against the likely problems with this birth.  As we speak in whispers not to wake her, Thole tells Ana of his worsening fears for Tilp’s well-being.

         “She sleeps in the daytime now.”

         Ana answers, “That isn’t unusual for an expectant mother, Thole. It’s not a worry.”

         “I have to tell you Ana, she is growing very large in the middle of her. Perhaps it is a boil that will need to be pierced before the baby can be born. They try to tell me this is normal. But she was always so much smaller than the mom’s you see with fat bellies.”

         “That would also be normal. You probably don’t need to worry over that.  You would want to have her bigger in the middle when there is a baby there.  You’ve surely seen pregnant horses.”

         “But she isn’t a horse or a ewe or any of those other kinds of mothers who naturally grow large in pregnancy. She is human.”

         “Thole when I see her I will tell you if it’s a worry. From the things you tell me it hardly would seem unusual.”

         “No, Anatase! It is all very unusual!  You’ve got to believe me.”

         “How is she feeling?”

         “She says she is fine, but she would never tell.  She tells me she is fine even when she is vomiting.  How can I believe her?”

         “Is she still vomiting in the mornings?”

         “Why did you guess it was in the mornings? Do you know of this sickness already?”

         “Really, Thole, it isn’t unusual at all. Lots of women get morning sickness the first few months.”

         “No, this was not about the pregnancy. She was sick every morning before we even made this plan.”

          “Is she better now? Lots of times it gets better as the months go on. But it’s not a deadly worry.  After I see her and examine her I will tell you what is usual and what is not. If something would be amiss I will know what to ask about when I visit the monastery at Poitiers where the sisters are surely the most knowledgeable. By the grace of God we will see her through this.  Now, you mentioned that she would be due around your own birthday in December, is that right?”

(Continues Tuesday, August 30, 2022)

#35.11, Weds. Aug. 24, 2022

Historical setting: 589 C.E. Marmoutier on the Loire

         Saint Martin’s monastery here on the banks of the Loire, called Marmoutier, (That’s Martin’s monastery in French) is firmly grounded in the Benedictine Rule now. So this night we will stay here in a guest room with Ana wrapped in a monk’s wools so we won’t have to explain our marriage to an abbot, and surely not to the bishop here who is Gregory himself. That Gregory ponders all the little details of things that happen in this region and writes it as history. And I do suppose a personal diary of a noble bishop can become the history of the Franks when you are a Frankish nobleman and Bishop of Tours. It is interesting that he has no complaints about the Celtic Christians now mingling with the Franks.  And it could be that Father Columbanus is King Guntram’s little secret. We bring no letter for this bishop. Maybe Gregory doesn’t even know about this Irish Father.

         Now on this new morning we go on from Marmoutier into the Pagan lands where Druid Largin worries over his tribe.  Ana was last here when she was a small child and Daniel made a deal with Largin to take her to be apprenticed in healing then to be returned to them. So here she is now, coming back to them as a practitioner of healing for the purpose of saving the one heir of the tribe that could promise its continuance.

         We’ve ridden most of the morning passed Tours, passed the ferry landing. On to the woodlands where the cooper makes barrels from the once sacred oaks now to fill with wine and ale. We walk the horses on the path into the woods to the village.

         Druid Largin is first to greet us.

         “So Ezra, you have finally brought us the child your people borrowed.” He’s probably making a joke of it. It’s hard to know.

         “She is no child, and now she is my wife. You must know, your son-in-law, Thole wants her to attend to your daughter for the birth of your heir. When that’s done we will return to our home.”

         “I understand it’s not exactly the deal made with Daniel, but I know how these things get skewed in the hands of all our unwitting gods.”

         Here is Thole now.  He warmly greets the horses he’s loaned us. Then he goes to Ana, speechless and humbled with gratitude that she has come in time.

         “Tilp is resting.” He tells us.

(Continues tomorrow)

#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)