Post #2.4, Tuesday, 11-12-2019

Historical setting: 561 C.E., Gaul

“Wake Lazarus; you must go now! The one who gathers the dead of plague has come for you. Go quickly so you don’t bring plague down on all of us here.”

         The abbot has his face covered in a cloth as though I bore the stench.

         “I’m not ill Father Mark. I assure you, I am not bringing the plague down on this place. Really the one who comes for the dead of plague – he is my family and he has likely just come to take me to see my daughter.”

         “The hallucinations and belligerent disobedience are the first signs. Go now or we will seal you with this cell!”

         “Very well.  I will just gather my work from the scriptorium and ready my horse.”

         “There is no time. This cell is to be sealed now.”

         “I understand.”

         I can only take the few things I brought with me and go away into the dark of this night. Surely I can understand the fear of the plague that sucks up any Christian vows of love for one another.

         Nineteen years ago a small battalion of soldiers from Constantinople arrived by ship and came up the valley of the Liger reaching only as far as the cluster of cottages by my farm before some of the soldiers were overtaken with plague. My wife went to tend the sick and it was soon after that she, herself, sickened and died, then it came down on all of us. Plague must be a natural turning because surely the judgment of God could not be so harsh and misplaced.

         It was not like the pox with scars that stay to mark the safe ones. The scars of plague are hidden under hoods or tunic or they last on only as a limp or a lisp. We knew nothing of this sickness before it took so many. People from the important cities, they already knew — a hag from Milan – the missionaries who traveled the roads – they knew; and now in all these nineteen years it is well known everywhere. It rises up here or there with reasons only in guesses and the cures must be in godless magic.

         I can understand why I am sent away only on rumor.

         I walk out into the darkness of this wretched night.

(Continues tomorrow)

Post #2.3, Thursday, 11-7-2019

Historical Setting: 561 CE, Gaul

“Know I love you Eve. Know you are loved.”

         I learned those rich and true words of a parent to child by listening for answers to my own gnarly and riled prayers. In times when I believe the world hates me I unfurl my ugly smudge of self to the Creator of love itself, and pouring back over me like the whole river un-damned comes flooding, cleansing, lifting, floating me like a fallen log, flowing me in God’s love – ‘know I love you Lazarus – know you are…’ There is no end or boundary — nothing I can do or say can take me beyond God’s reach. That is how I know to love my own children. Now that nineteen years have passed between us I still wish more than anything else that they may know well this parent’s love.

         Nineteen years ago it was when my wife nestled the new baby, and I took the three boys and little Eve, just eight then, to the river’s edge to skip rocks and explore the wonder of water running through. Young Laz would take all his 10-year-old muscle and fling a flat stone across the still water in the center of the river and Eve would giggle into a fit of sillies each time it popped up and skipped again. The little guys, the five-year-old twins would follow the lead of their big brother and plop a stone right down into the depths with no magical skips at all. Just a thud and a splash. But that was fine. I mean, what else is there ever, but to make a splash?

         It was odd that day when a ship of soldiers came up the river and dropped anchor at our doorstep. We wondered at its size and fearsome bow. We thought they came into our valley by mistake looking for a war that wasn’t. Then we met their enemy face-to-face and it was plague.

         I have longed to touch my wife and hold the baby, for one more giggle of children – I have grieved so for lost splashes and murmurs – the  “I love you’s…” and now I learn that Laz and Eve lived through all of it, alone without a mother or even this father to love them no matter what.

(Story continues next Tuesday Nov. 12)

Post #2.2, Wednesday, 11-6-2019

Historical Setting: 561 C.E., Gaul

What can I say to her?  The huge chasm between us is more of deaths than of measured time. She keeps enough distance between us that my longing arms would not reach her for hug in case I should follow my impulse.

         I try to fill the hollow silence with words.

         “Of course you are no longer the child of my memories. You are a grown woman now. Seeing you and your brother is such a joy for me. I’m overcome with the gratitude for it all. You both have taken the tragedy I left you in and reshaped it to loving-kindness for others who are themselves, in the same need as were you. A father who can see the changes in his children from child to adult has a gift of God’s Creation. But the greatest blessing a papa could ever have through his children is to see them grow up caring for others, quenching the thirst of their own sorrows at the great well of empathy.”

         Dear God how many ways can I say thank you? I love you too. And like you, I too long to wrap my arms around my children and dry their tears. I’m grateful for this odd turn of grief and for hopes. Amen.

         “So my dear Eve I should ride back to Poitiers soon.  If you or your brother would want to see me again just send word to the monastery at Poitiers.”

         “What are you, a priest or a monk?”

          “No. I have no Holy Orders from the Roman Church. I’m a guest at the monastery for prayer and I use the scriptorium.”

         “Oh. So why would you do that?”

         “My work is as a messenger of the teachings of Jesus so I copy scriptures onto scraps of papyrus or scrapings of parchment then I take that to the those who are yet meeting in the old ways of Jesus which sometimes seems far from the Roman order.”

         “So you have become pagan?”

         “You already know my faith; I’m sure it is also deep in your own child’s heart. But in these times I would be called a heretic with every ilk of heresy changing with the winds.”

         “Christian is different now. So I suppose you are a pagan, Papa.

         “If my brother wants to see you again I will tell him you are at Poitiers.”

         “Know I love you Eve. Know you are loved.”

(Story continues tomorrow)

Post #2.1 Tuesday, 11-5-2019

Historical setting: 561 CE, Gaul

I call through the cottage door, “Eve, don’t be afraid. Please come and walk with me to the hill to your mother’s grave and we will place flowers together. Let’s go now and cut a bouquet from the yellow bobbing heads that fill the wild meadow so late in this season. She always loved those flowers. Come along that we may talk as we go.”

         There is no answer and no sound. Maybe she isn’t here. Or perhaps she believes me a ghost so she would expect I could ignore the door between us and surround her with a nimbus spiritual nature. But I’m simply made of earthen flesh — strangely healing — but always just a man of humankind.

         I wait long by this door.

         “I have waited here. If you are waiting inside not knowing what to do with me waiting out here I understand. I will go away from your door now. I will go on alone and gather the flowers then I will go to your mother’s grave alone. You will see me there if you look. Or you may come even if you choose to hide from me in your bee veils. That will be fine. I so much want to see you again. You are such a beautiful and cheerful child in my memory.”

         I gather the flowers and trudge the hill. I try to give her a distance and not to look back to see if she follows but I do take a glance. I catch a flit of bee netting before she ducks to hide. Lithe and lean she is quiet like a wisp. I kneel where the rocks are piled for the graves.

         “Papa I can’t let you see me now. I’m not beautiful and I’m not a child; I am always alone so if I would be cheerful that is only for God to know. The Eve you once knew and called wonderful Creation and gift of God is no more.”

         She places a large bundle of flowers next to mine then she stands and steps back from me. The bee veils waft in the first winter’s breath around the pillar of a woman’s form.

         What can I say to her?

(Come again tomorrow, Wednesday)

October Recap

OCTOBER RECAP – Chapter 1, “Scars.” launched this continuing story.

         To recap, in 561 C.E. (or as one reader reminded they would surely have called it “A.D.”) nineteen years after plague devastated his family, Lazarus returns to find his adult daughter Eve living as a recluse “hag” (calling herself Enola) providing herbs and medical remedies from her garden on the River Liger (Loire). He finds his now grown son Ezra is at work burying the dead of another outbreak of plague. As this chapter ends Lazarus means to reveal his unique nature of extreme healing to his son and restore the bonds of family, but there is no instant warm welcome home for this papa. His son wants nothing to do with this strangeness.

Last summer, way before the blog started, I submitted two of the October posts to the “Night Gallery” art show at BayArts to provoke inspiration for art. Rob Hartshorn, a known and prolific artist of the Cleveland area took on the concept of Plague Pit and created this amazing piece of art now on display. It is much better as art than photo. See it before November 8 if you are in the Bay Villiage, Ohio area.

         Please come again to this blog, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in November when the spooky pagan season of Samhian lightens from its haunts onto the hearthstone of home. In the November chapter on the long cart ride from Poitiers Ezra tells of his family and his own story of finding his lost sister in the November chapter “Finding Eve.”

(10-31-19 post 1.9) October Chapter – “Scars” Set in 561 C.E. Gaul

Surely it is hard for my son to understand my strange circumstances of healing even though it would seem a good thing to find one another again after we each expected the other’s death. But of course, it isn’t as sweet and simple as it would seem. 

         All of us living people seem to nurture a sense of ordinary in an extraordinary world.  From our first breath we cry. From our first glimpse of light we hide our eyes. From our first touch or taste or sound we seek a source with explanation. Maybe it is a safety we all need. Maybe we need to meet amazement on our own terms or we would simply become stifled by so much awe. The patterns of Creation would surely overwhelm our senses with miracle if we weren’t able to name some things “ordinary.” 

         The whole of Creation has way more beauty than is needed to function. Creatures, smallness, largeness, wind, water, grandeur, sand for miles, sky forever, breath, breathless, lightness, darkness these are all everyday things of life yet overwhelming by extraordinary proportion. So each in our own way learns to accustom senses to the pervasive miracles. Each of us in our own way must simply name wonder as normal. 

         Healing – even when it hurts — is always amazing. When it surprises us it is miraculous or terrifying. It is a very short step from what we call the “normal healing” of each of us to this mythical kind Jesus bestowed upon me, that brings me from death to life at each of my deaths.  I know this oddity was to give all people a sign or a metaphor for the spiritual healing of new life — the resurrection to which we all belong. I am simply the physical art piece of a Holy Sign, like an urn of water turned to wine – a word of poem — a metaphor for the invisible spiritual nature.

         What can I say to my son? “I never told you about this oddness of me before because it is a hard thing to accept especially when it is your own father who is sitting here next to you on this hill of graves after so many years of grief. Might I give you more time for thoughts of this? I will leave word with Eve how I may be found if you would decide you want to see me again. I will go now to speak to her however she will have me — through bee veils or maybe just shouting through her door.”

(Next Chapter “Finding Eve” starts Tues. 11-5-19)

(10-30-19 post 1.8) October Chapter – “Scars” Set in 561 C.E. Gaul

I have to tell him now.

         “I am no mystical apparition from Eve’s spiritual wonderment. I’m simply a living person.”

         He is not asking.

         He is telling me. “She calls herself Enola now — always Alone. It’s not fitting that she told you she was ‘Eve.’ That was the name our papa wanted for her because, he said, she was the first woman born to our family and it was the name of ‘first woman created by God.’ But every Christian knows it is ‘by one woman that sin came on earth.’ So her namesake is responsible for all of original sin and maybe it is because of Eve that we have these punishments of plagues and deaths.”

         “Actually, I blame the scholars of Latin theology for winding Paul’s words into a doctrine called Original Sin. God’s creation is life and goodness not a natural infusion of sin. Dear little Eve was always such a friendly and happy child. Being alone, that doesn’t suit her. I’m so sorry to learn of that.”

          “How was it that you knew her as a child?” He has a halting caution in his question.

         “Now I sit here with you on this hill of graves talking with you as though we were strangers together newly making one another’s acquaintance. You have asked why I would come here when I have no scars of plague.

         “I came in hopes I would find you here. I did have scars. They healed. I did tuck you into bed and kiss you goodbye, my son, and I did have a terrible death from plague and a long and morose healing from death and from sickness. By a strange gift of Jesus again and again I am alive and well yet always healing from death, from scars, from wearing old.  And I still remember our joy as family together and so I still grieve. My long years of grief are for our family — your mother and your sisters and brothers – my grief never heals. I still long for you and all those I love. I only hope you can share with me in my joy of finding you strong and well and as I see a man of great goodness. I am so proud to be your papa.”

         He puts his hands over his ears and turns away from me.

         “No!  You are telling me something terrible that can’t even true! My papa is gone and I have already visited the stones outside the church walls and I have smothered him under flowers for forgetting. Leave me alone!”

(Story continues tomorrow, 10-31-19)

(10-29-19 post 1.7) October Chapter – “Scars” Set in 561 C.E. Gaul

“Before the silence kept for those grieving you asked who sent me, and you asked my name.  Your sister sent me and I am called Ezra.” I told him I am Ezra because I still need to keep my secret a bit longer.

         “Ezra? I am Ezra also! And you say my sister sent you?”

         “She said I would find you here.”

         “Oh, that is very strange indeed.  My sister sees no one and speaks to no one. When someone comes with a need she calls through the door and sends them down the road to my cottage and if I am not there my wife treks up to her garden with the message. But my sister receives no one.”

         “I thought she was wearing the bee netting because she was particularly afraid of me.”

         “No, my man she hides from everyone. But I do have a thought why she didn’t hide herself from you. I think she got a glimpse of you and maybe thought you were the very ghost of our father. You do look and talk like him at the age he was when he died. And she is one to believe in spirits of the dead flitting in and out among the living.”

          I asked, “So for her father’s spirit she put on the bee veils and came out and spoke to me in person?”

         “Apparently so. I wouldn’t have thought it of her. As recluse as she is from living people surely she would also hide from a ghost.”

         I should change the subject. “So why were you named Ezra? Is that a family name?”

         “No. I wasn’t named Ezra. I was named Lazarus after my father. I liked my name because it reminded me of him. But the keeper of the lone boys told me it was the name of a dead man and I would be better named for the living.”

         I had to argue. “Apparently the keeper of lone boys didn’t read to the end of that story. Lazarus was not a dead man for very long. Jesus raised him back to life.

         “So what of your sister? Does she still call herself Eve?”

         He pales before me and stares at me — hollow and cold as though he has seen what his little sister doesn’t seem to fear – a ghost. He gathers his wits to ask.

         “How do you know her? Did she tell you that was once her name? How would you even know that?”

(Story continues tomorrow, 10-30-19)

(10-24-19 post 1.6) 561 C.E. Gaul – October Chapter – “Scars”

I can’t let him go on alone to gather the dead. His leg is withered as one weakened by plague. It would be hard work even for a strong man to dig the graves and to bring the bodies of the dead to the hill for the burials. I demand to help.

         The flat winter sky is laid above as a cold wall ‘round heaven and below us the haze over the valley is of lingering flat gray smoke pretending sky over the village.  We descend into that band of chimney ash wafting noxious with stench of plague and failed rosemary down on into the valley of Saumur.  Bodies enough to fill the cart are laid out on the street under the watch of the village priest and the few still live for grieving.  He is signing the cross with gesture and praying the souls off to whatever place has room for more souls this particular afternoon.

         I could see the bag for remedies I had brought to him earlier is empty now, folded and tucked into his cincture.

         No word is spoken among the mourners as death is best kept in silence. The other of us who digs the grave and I place the bodies one by one onto the cart and we start a slow trudge back up the hill.  The few who follow after us are the dark silhouettes of nameless grief. Silently they follow. So too must we be silent now.

         This is the particular allotment of time the world gives each person for grief – this momentary stand by the naked hole of grave. But we all know grief is much wider and longer and louder and further reaching than these few quiet sobs offered up from the living in place of the familiar touches and caresses of everyday good-byes. They come. They go. We replace the soil and it is done. The huge hole pierced into earth is hardly seen now because we have done this work well. We can all pretend to forget.

         The man whom I believe I know well tells me again he fears for me because I have no scars but he also mentions he is grateful for my help.

         “So who would send you up here like this when you have no scars from plague?”  And one more thing he asks. “And my man, by what name are your called?”

(Story continues Tuesday, October 29)

(10-23-19 post 1.5) 561 C.E. Gaul – October Chapter – “Scars”

I asked if help came. I want to hear his answer.        
         “A monk came down alone and plucked me and my sister out of the deathbed of our brothers and baby sister. He said he was with my father when his spirit too, was tugged and towed away by the angels. I know he meant he died and his bones would be in the plague pit outside the church walls. My brothers and the baby were all put into that grave my father dug for himself next to our mother. I was young and it were such a big hurt so I clung hard to the angel story believing surely my father was not really in that forbidden hole just beyond the church.

         “The priest took us two who still lived off to the hag of healing. She said if we lived through the plague we would be safe from it forever. She was right. She told us only those with scars on our necks or legs from the lanced buboes could live after. And we would be the only ones who could care for the dying and dead ever to come. Others came to that old woman’s door again and again for remedies and herbs. There were more outbreaks of illness all around but my sister and I seemed safe, though I’ve a lame leg since.

         “When I was mostly well another man came and took me to the place for lone boys where I was taught to work.  I heard rumor that the hag of healing was taken with the pox and she was buried with the pagans. I asked for news of my sister.  No one had any knowledge of any child staying with the hag and the keeper of lone boys told me not to think of it. It would only be sadness.

         “But every time there is a sign of contagion I’m the one they summons for the dead.  There is so little I can do for the sick, except tell them some do survive and maybe healing can come to them too.”

         “It must be a comfort. You are surely a good man.”

         He leaned back resting on the shovel handle, “We have dug enough so I can go to the village and gather the dead of them up here. When I return stay far away. This is not a task for one with no scars.”

         “No. I’ve come to help you with this work.”

(Continued tomorrow)