December Chapter, “Stories in the Dark”

Family is always the odds and ends of old friendships sometimes with precisely matched DNA and sometimes only a wide openness to one another’s ethnic tradition: Pagan, Roman, Republican, Islamic, Democrat, Orthodox, Zealot, Heretic …  The chasm of politics and the distances we hurdle to make this all work out so we can simply eat together at the same table is the dare we accept in order to find God’s miracle through the creative chaos of it all.

            The December chapter of visits a few morsels of Gospel “Stories in the Dark” to bring this fictional 6th Century family to the holiday table of celebration of Christmas miracle. May this little storytelling come to you as a snippet to glue into the collage of your own family’s gathering.

Post #2.12, Thursday, 11-28-2019

Historical Setting 561 C.E.

Ezra’s story continues. “I had no idea where to search for Enola.  I called her in the dark and of course there was no answer. I asked Colleta to call too so that she would know she was welcome to come back inside and she could stay with us. Colleta called into the darkness with her own forced words of acceptance. And of course we heard no answer. Colleta told me to search the cold and damp places that I knew of because trolls and ogres live under bridges and in caves and holes.

         “I reminded her Enola is not actually a troll or an ogre. It were only rumor that made her seem so. But when I searched behind our old cottage lot where we had dug a cave for roots — where Eve and I had played as children — I found her. She had been the whole night sobbing alone in that earthen hole.  She was curled in a ball with tears and vomit through her hair.  I helped her wash her long hair in the cold well water before I took her on to my cottage.

         “Colleta had made her a bed by the fire…”

         “A kindness.”

          “And she had prepared a net to cover her face.”


         “So, turns out I built the new cottage in the place where our house had been but it were Enola who Colleta sent to live in it. My wife said she had already made a home of the old cottage once of our neighbor’s and besides the neighbor’s cottage is larger and better for the children who were soon to start. I made the second room of the new building opened to the back to make a shed for an animal or two, with the loft above for a haymow. And we planted the whole of Enola’s gardens and bees all around that cottage so Colleta can stay a comfortable distance from Enola and my sister can do her work in remedies as she chooses.

         “So can you stay on with us Papa? That loft over the donkey’s stall could be a fine roof and room for you.”

         “Thank you. I suppose I’ll have to. My cell at Poitiers was sealed for plague so I hear. I’m probably not welcome back there.”

(Come back again Tuesday, December 3 for the next Chapter “Stories in the Dark”)

Post #2.11, Wednesday, 11-27-2019

Historical Setting 561 C.E.

Ezra’s telling me this story, but let me comment here. “I can imagine starting a marriage bringing home a sister-in-law who is the known ogre of village gossip. That would be a bit of a challenge for a new bride. I mean, you said your bride had to leave her own family behind and move into that dumpy old cottage of our neighbor’s.”

         “You make me seem a terrible husband, Papa! I fixed the cottage. And I had already promised to build Colleta her own cottage. But you are right. You imagine what had never crossed my mind. I hadn’t the slightest thought that taking in Enola would be a challenge for Colleta. After all Colleta was beautiful and Enola was ugly. Colleta was chosen and Enola assigned. I really didn’t understand.”

         “I’ll bet that was a pithy chat for a pair of newlyweds with a spare sister already at hand.”

         “Enola was understanding.  She quietly left and went out alone into the darkness. Colleta and I argued late into night until we both noticed each had smothered separate hopes and fears in the same bucket of misbegotten angry words. All either of us wanted was to hold onto family. In the midst of our raging I produced your drawing on the rock of us as children and suddenly Colleta took it from my hand and said she knew the girl! Suddenly I was the only one arguing.

         “Colleta recognized Eve as the hag’s assistant who came along when her own mother needed help with the difficult birth of her baby brother. Suddenly Enola was the exact person who could quell Colleta’s own unspoken fears of motherhood when her own mother might be far away in the city.”

         “So where did Eve run to in the dark that night?”

(find out tomorrow)

Post #2.10, Tuesday, 11-26-2019

Historical Setting 561 C.E.

Ezra continues his story. “We are only family again because Eve was so patient in bringing me through my selfish thoughts and fears. In my mind I could tell myself the horrific visage was indeed my beautiful little sister, twisted and re-formed by hard pits of pox scars. But were I to accept her, the actual monster of the rumors as my beloved sibling I would need to dismiss my own ignorant howls of fear simply to save my honor. Others would righteously excuse me from my rebuke of her if I claimed this was no sister of mine but a cruel hoax of a demon. Throughout my thoughts of abandoning her again she simply held my hand and begged me not to look at her face while we talked. I could do that. We were alone in the garden. I didn’t have to account to anyone but her for my fears.

         “And so we talked.

         “It was no different than when we had last talked in the shadows of a rainy day, two children on straw mats lying side-by-side in the healing place where we had been delivered to grasp onto one more thread of life.  We shared our hopes to see our father again, and even our mother if there were a heaven and we would be there.

         “Then a priest came. He spoke to the hag outside; then she came to us and touched us each for fever and pronounced us well. She told Eve they could only use a boy because the work was tending vineyards. I just felt proud and chosen as I marched out of there with the priest.  I could hear Eve crying out to me not to leave her alone, and the hag comforting her – ‘you will be fine.’ ”

         “And now here was Eve again, Enola, all grown up and changed, but still begging me not to leave her alone. How could I? I helped her gather the starts for her new garden and took her with me in my cart.

         “My new wife was horrified.”

(Come again tomorrow.)

Post #2.9, Thursday, 11-21-2019

Historical setting: 561 C.E., Gaul

Ezra continues his story.“I was moving all the things of a bride and a dream from my wife’s father’s home in the area of Tours down to my cottage in the Liger valley, and the journey took me right by the garden of the hag. 

         It were a dreary day, brightened with a thought to stop and dig out some of the herb-starts to put into our own garden in the place where Eve and I were once children. I thought my sister would take notice of it the next time she brought flowers and she would realize I had been the one to plant the garden because of the plantings I was choosing. Then she would come seeking me as I have been seeking her.”

         “That must have worked as there is also a garden now.”

         “Oh that it were so simple.”

         “That morning was a blustery day and add foreboding weather to the rumors I’d been trying to un-imagine of trolls and goblins haunting the earth, or worse yet, the spirits of evil seeking revenge for all the healing that had happened in this pagan place. I had to muster my courage. I know those stories are just superstitious threats spun to garner holy obedience but they were hanging in the air that day. I started to sing what Eve and I would sing in the scary times.  ‘Though I walk through the valley of shadows…’”

         “You remembered that song?”

         “Of course, Papa. I was singing it loud and slow and suddenly I was not singing alone.  Eve’s beautiful voice was singing like a bird above my song. I was completely washed of my fears, headlong into joy as I turned to see the woman standing, singing next to me. Then from deep in my gut I let loose a most horrific howl! There where Eve’s beautiful face would be framed in black hair was the face of a true ogre. I was shivering with fright. She took my hand in hers, and turned her face from my sight and said, ‘Lazarus, I have been so alone.’  And all I could do was to tell her I was called Ezra now.”

         “It must have been devastating for her.”

         “I wasn’t even thinking of her, only myself. But then she told me not to call her Eve, but call her Enola – alone, backwards and forwards and always alone.”

         “It must have been a great hurt for her.”

(Story continues next Tuesday, November 26)

Post #2.8, Wednesday, 11-20-2019

Historical Setting: 561 C.E., Gaul

“How did you find her?” I asked Ezra.

         “It is a long ride.” He observed, “So I will make a long story of the short one.

         “When I was first tending vineyards near Tours I started my search for her. That was near where we were taken to the Hag of Healing. Do you remember the charcoal drawing you made when the twins were wee little babies?”

         “Of course I remember. I marked a rock as a gift for your mother.”

         “I have that rock in our cottage even to this day. I carried it in my search and showed it to anyone who would listen. I was searching for the beautiful child with long black hair named Eve. No one had a whisper to share.

         “Then years after the hag died of pox and her cottage had been demolished, I was working again in vineyards for the owner of the idle lands and I noticed the hag’s gardens for healing were being tended.  I thought of Eve, and couldn’t let go my search. This time I was asking about the gardens and not the child. I heard rumors of demons and trolls, since, of course the hag was pagan. It was well-known by Christians that whatever was happening there could only be omen of evil. So there I was, seeking a woman named for the Original Sinner among the pagans and trolls.”

         “She was not named for the sin, but for the Creation.”

         “Sure Papa. All the while, I was gaining coin with work so I choose to make myself a landowner. I read that if I paid the taxes owed on abandoned property it would be mine to farm, but I would also have to take on the neighbor’s burden of tax as well and that had a house and fields ready to till. I believed I were a rich man. Even with my lame leg a strong and beautiful wife would be mine simply because I had land. Everything was amazing. Then I went up on the hill of graves behind our old farm to meet with the angels and shout my gratitude for such a good life and there I saw the bouquet of flowers. I believed Eve was nearby.”

         “So you found her near there?”

         “No. Were it only that simple. And now I learn it wasn’t even her that left the flowers.” 

(Story continues tomorrow)

Post #2.7, Tuesday, 11-19-19

Historical Setting: 561 C.E. Gaul

Bright November morning sun – cold and crispy all blaring golden.

         I have so many questions for my newly found son. There is so much I want to know.

         “So, you have a wife and children?”

         “Yes, Papa you are a grandfather. Celeste is the oldest. She is seven years old and Daniel, he is five. Margey is still a suckling babe. And we had another who was born too soon and we laid him on the hill next to his grandmother and the others of my brothers and baby sister.”

         “Oh, that was the new grave I saw there. I visit that hill to place flowers when I’m nearby in my travels. On my first visit back, when I had a hope of finding some one of us I saw our house was torn down and buried.  So I was no longer searching. I was only grieving. Then these years later I saw a new cottage where ours had been; there was a vineyard, the fields were being tended and children were at play so I thought our neighbors must have a new generation of family in their cottage which was the same. It is a wonder for me now to realize I was seeing my own grandchildren. I thought it was my crazy wishes that made the little girl appear to have your mother’s eyes and her smile. And now I realize I wasn’t imagining.

          “Celeste does resemble her grandmother. That is such a gift. Yes Papa. I have had that same thought.”

         “I have always kept a secret hope that the monk I met would have heard my plea on that terrible day when I passed into death and he would have come immediately down from Civitas Turonorum, or Tours as you say, and find you all alive and able to mend to healing. And I would understand if you wanted no part of a father who would abandon his children when they were sick and most in need. Really all I wanted was to believe there was a way for you to be cared for. I could do nothing but to try to find someone to help you.”

         “Was it you that left yellow flowers on Mother’s grave?”

         “Yes, I did place yellow flowers when I was nearby in a season when the yellow flowers bloomed.”

         “I thought it was Enola. So when I saw the flowers I felt sure I could find her nearby. I didn’t know what had happened to her but I kept searching.”

         “Where was she?  How did you find her?”

(Story continues tomorrow)

Post #2.6, Thursday, 11-14-2019

Historical setting, 561 C.E., Gaul

“Yes, my son, this has been a very long journey for you.”

         “A day it has been and into night and now it will be that back to day again.”

         “If the donkey is tired you must be exhausted.  Let’s stop by the river and rest. I’ll take coals from the foot warmer and fan a watch fire. I will keep watch while you sleep and we allow rest for the donkey also.”

         Dear God, thank you for keeping this watch with me. Thank you for bringing me to know again this beloved son of mine. Amen.

         So here I am with a fire and a river and my son whom I thought would never be mine to know as an adult — all great blessings of this night.  The privilege of long life is only gifted through healing – changing, learning, growing in spirit and mind and often in loosing and grieving. What seems the constancy of life into age is really an endurance made up of many little healings day by day.

         And yet my waking this night, with the visage of the abbot masked to shield him from an imagined fear of stench still riles my rath. The plague is horrific. Just the fear of plague sends us clinging to guesses at cures and blames for causes, trampling out any human instincts of compassion and transforming us into creatures who can only answer evil with greater evil. And he said it was I who was belligerent.

         Of course, it may have actually been a kindness that he sent me out before my cell was sealed with the heavy fear of plague. Milan seems less afflicted by plague so everyone looks there for the cure. We have heard rumor from Milan that when plague visits a house the doors and windows of the house are bricked up with both the sick and well still inside. What had been a place for a family’s life with all of the daily encounters – meals, prayers, births, deaths, celebrations, joys, struggles – all sealed in, dark and stagnate with those who were nearest death suffering the least. Surely if my cell had been sealed I would have starved slowly and my son would be sent back alone this night.

         He stirs. I cover him with the blanket. How many years have I longed for this?

(Continues Next Tuesday, November 18)

Post #2.5, Wednesday, 11-13-2019

Historical Setting, 561 C.E., Gaul

No stars, no moon — the stillness of dark has no dimension – no goodness, no evil just void.

         Dear God were it only true that the one who gathers the dead had come for me this night. Stay near me. I would rather not be discarded alone. Amen.

         “There you are Papa!  I was waiting for you at the front gate.  I should have guessed they would send you out a hidden door to the churchyard. My wagon is just beyond the wall. Are you well?  Can you walk with me?”

         “I am well. Didn’t I tell you I wasn’t in danger from this plague?”

         “You did say that, but your story were so strange I choose to think otherwise.”

         “So you came all the way down here to find me as a dead man?”

         “I came to take you back in whatever way I could find you.  I wagered with Enola, who still thinks you a ghost, that you would have plague by now. I bet her I would find you suffering or dead. But now I’m so glad I lost the bet, even though I still think you are a flesh and blood mortal man and not a ghost.”

         “I am that, as I told you.”

         If there were any hint of light this night it falls on the pale coat of the donkey waiting outside the wall. The cart is filled with blankets and straw with a large bundle of fragrant herbs.

         “Enola promised me I would find you well, as I have, and yet she filled my wagon with comforts for you ailing so perhaps she also didn’t believe her own wager.”

         “It was kind of you both. I truly wanted to see you again. And perhaps Eve or as you say Enola will shed her bee nets that I may lay my eyes on her beautiful face as she is now grown up.”

         “She has no more beautiful face, Papa. That’s why she wears the nets and why she chooses to see no one. The plague only left her with two scars on her neck, but the pox disfigured her monstrously.

         “My wife can’t even bear to look upon her though my children are accustomed.”

         “However I see her will be better than never seeing her.

         “This road seems longer at night behind a slow donkey, is it not?”

         “It is a long road. We won’t be there before dawn.”

(Continues tomorrow)

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)