“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, the earth and every common sight, To me did seem, apparelled in celestial light, the glory and the freshness of a dream.” – William Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality
I am Brother Anthony of Greyfriars’ Abbey and this is the story of a soul who came my way, one smoky dusk of an old October day. At the end of a nap within my willow trees, she first made herself known to me. She was but a movement in the forest, a yet unknown presence, hiding somewhere within the shadows. Three times I convinced my mind that my eyes were playing trickster to my sensibility, but on the fourth rustling, of the underbrush, I caught a glimpse of rusty fur passing through the leaves. “Surely a fox has come to watch my human ways,” I thought, “probably drawn by the scent of the farm life that was always so much a part of me”
I sat still, long and still, hoping that my timid friend might venture closer in. You see, monks are quite skilled in sitting long and still. It is a way of waiting that we practice all the time, for we are the listeners of life, the called ones who learn to hear what others fail to hear—or even try to hear. We listen to the waters; we listen to the winds; we listen to the unspoken thoughts that wander through the mind; and, yes, we listen to the sparrows and the hawks, the dragonflies and butterflies, and even timid souls who hide in all the many hiding places found in life.
Now and then, I thought I could hear the sound of a paw upon a branch. I tuned my ears; I squinted my eyes, searching deeper, deeper into the leafy shadows. And as the sunlight began to turn to dust in the gold-ing of the day, she finally ventured out into the fading light, this soul who dared to come my way.
And there, eye-to-eye, this old man of many prayers was come upon by a somehow mystic soul, a fox, a vixen-fox, one I came to know as Shadow Fox.
I dared not to stir, not even a breath beyond my bare necessity. Even my lowered eyes kept to but occasional stolen glances, though this fox and her amber, gold-flecked eyes looked boldly into me. She stood motionless with a most self-confident, noble bearing. This fox was surer of herself than I was sure of me,
She watched me, she studied me, as if to take the measure of me. I did little more than to make myself barely present. Then I thought, “Who would take that first fateful step? That yet one more, closer step that brave souls make as they venture cautiously into an other’s realm. Who would try? And if they tried, would the other take to flight and thus declare the moment, come and gone?
So we watched and waited, demanding nothing more. Time slowed, but time passed as the night began to grow. In the distance a raven then called, then called again. And then the fox bowed to me as only foxes bow, as if to say to this bearded, greying man, “We shall meet here soon again.”
Once more the raven called, this time far more distant, as if the raven had took to wing, and this fox, this quiet, enchantment of a fox, she turned. Then one last glance … and then became as mist, returning to her shadows. It was then I realized the heavy beating of my heart. My breath, once shallow in the stillness of the moment, now began to gulp in mighty, life-restoring, spirit-calming breaths. And as the last light drifted off away and the fireflies began to rise, I vowed, “I must return to this place, this somehow holy place that is deep within the Willow Woods, and deep within the mellow of the dying of the day.”
The trek back to the Cloister would end in darkness, the moon but yet a sliver and the sky heavy with clouds. The Willow Woods was a mile and then a half mile from the wooden gates of the Abbey and the aged gatekeeper, Brother John of Wales, would be keeping the first watch of the night. He would be searching the darkness for me for I now listed among the missing. Monks are not to be outside the Cloister walls after sunset, at least, not without the occasional permission of the Abbot. It would be the warm glow of my lantern that Brother John would first find. He would then ring the Beckoning Bell that hung beside the gate and I would, in response, raise my lantern to signal, “All is well.”
My path would be along the edge of the wide Angels’ Meadow that stretched between the River Road and the fences of the Abbey Farm. It was called the Angels’ Meadow by the first monks who pioneered this place. They said that in the moonlight they saw angels coming down to dance and dance in the moonlit meadow, and in the dawn, they would leave behind rings of white flowers, as if the meadow were reluctant to let the angels return home. Those early monks called the flowers, that can be there Angel Lace, and the meadow they called, Angels’ Meadow. On this night of my tardy return, the only dancers in the meadow that I could see were the fireflies, and they were so many.
I would hurry by the fences of the sheepfold, our Abbey flock of Hampshire sheep would be bedded down for the night. Abelard would bark and bark ominously for he was good at keeping watch over the sheep. It was in his blood, bred from his ancestors in the Pyrenees, this sheepdog who thought himself somewhat of a monk. . He would make his way to the fence to see who dared approach his realm in the night. There I would call out the words, “Pax Christi, Abelard!”, and he would know that this nighttime intruder was but a friend passing by.
Once past the sheepfold, I would enter the clearing and then up the dirt road to the Abbey. It would be here at this point in my trek that Brother John would surely catch sight of me. And so, as a matter of course, Abelard barked and I calmed his concerns; Brother John rang the bell and I signaled to him my well-being. And as I neared, he would push open the heavy-and-wide, oaken doors. And through them, Brother John would appear. And with that big barrel of a voice of his, he would proclaim, “Welcome home, Wayfarer. You will find Peace in this place.” We would hug our Benedictine version of a hug, a hug much like a bear’s but in a more holy sort of way. Brother John would convey to me, in no uncertain terms, the concerns of the brethren. And together we would latch the great door and I would return to my cell to pray, then to sleep.
That was the usual way of my coming home past the hour… but tonight, somewhere not far behind me, a raven cawed and I sensed he cawed for me.
Morning comes well before dawn at Greyfriars’ Abbey with one booming toll of the heavy handbell rung big Brother Benedict, followed by three knocks on the door by his big-fisted hand. You are to answer the knocks quite quickly with a bold voice yet still thankful in tone, “Peace, my good Brother, my Peace to you this day.” If you fail to answer, three more knocks will soon follow, but this time empowered by the growing impatience of Brother Benedict’s time.
After this, a quick wash of the face and the hands, on with the plain denim shirt of stone-washed blue, our work pants, our grey socks – oh, yes, always grey socks – grey for a reason I never did know not– and on our feet, not sandals as you might expect for a monk, but instead tough leather work shoes with steel protected toes. You might ask, “What about the monk’s robe? Do not monks wear robes when they are being monks?” The robes await the Brothers in the entry to the chapel, each plain linen robe hanging on its designated place on its designated peg in its designated way. To the chapel, the Brothers all walk with deliberate intent but never with haste, and always with steps cloaked in holy silence.
Prayers are said in the way they have always been said; scriptures are read; hymns are chanted; the Peace is passed from Brother to the next. With the “Amen” sung in a three-fold manner, into the new day we do go.
Breakfast follows. Always the same fare, biscuits with butter and blackberry jam or occasionally at Christmas, orange marmalade. There are glasses of juice and glasses of milk. And breakfast takes place without a word being spoken, or a word being heard, except the words of the Abbot as he gives us our assignments for the chores of the day. On this day, I would help with the harvesting of the hay, a chore most of us shared, a chore that was more pleasing than many other chores that monks sometimes must do.
After breakfast, the monks, we return each to their cell, there to ready for the day, washing and bathing, making the bed and sweeping the floor, for all must be ready and, of course, very clean, here in the Abbey for that is our way. It was in the sweeping of dust out the door of my cell that I took notice of a raven strutting about, a raven I had never before seen. “How could I know,” you might think to yourself, “are not all ravens, all black-feathered, every raven the same? I would have surely said, “Yes,” on the days prior to this, but this one raven and I assuredly tell you the truth had one small patch of gold on his chest, as if he were wearing a badge as sheriff of the woods. I thought this most strange, this raven with gold feathers placed on his chest. But even more so by the way he kept looking only at me as if he were there to keep watch over me. And then I remembered, yes, I remembered the fox in the shadows and the caw in the wind.
Haying time was a good time, one of those few times when the monks could talk and talk; tell stories and best of all, laugh and laugh, right out loud for all to hear. Sometimes we would laugh so much that we could hear God laughing with us. Haying was a good time. Hard work, to be sure, cutting the hay with old fashioned scythes, looking like friendly grim reapers, cutting swaths in a line in synchronized time. We would hum old songs as we swung back and forth those long, scary blades, singing songs we had learned in our boyhoods in lands near and far, and even a few we had learned from lands that none of us had ever known. We so loved haying time and the songs we sang there. Don’t get me wrong, we did love our chants and we did love our hymns. But still … once in a while … well, you know … it’s a joy merely to sing for the sake of the singing.
We were making good time. The sun was shining, but the Lord have given to us the grace of a few passing clouds. Brother Elias liked to call those occasional clouds, the shade trees of heaven, a momentary mercy from the heat of the day.
It was in a pause to wipe the sweat from my face that I noticed the raven come hopping across the stubble we had left in our progress. Strange. Yes, it is most strange to see a lone raven making his way in this particular … way. He would make three or four hops and then stop for a look. Then three or four more. then three or four more until he came near where we were. And there on his chest was that patch of gold.
To Brother Joseph, the monk who was working nearest to me -who happened also to be the youngest of the Brothers of Greyfriars’, a farm boy from the hills of Tennessee – I said, “Brother Joseph, I think that raven is following me.”
Brother Joseph looked to the straw covered field, following the point of my finger, then after a searching, returned to looking at me. “What, Brother Anthony,” he asked. “What raven are you speaking of?”
“The raven over there, but a few yards away.”
“Brother Anthony, you best rest from the heat. There is no raven that I can see. Oh, I see. You are jesting with me?”
I was puzzled, even perplexed. The raven was there. I could see it… I swear (though monks are never to swear). “Can’t you see the raven, Brother Joseph? That raven! That raven who is just sitting there, right over there?”
“Brother Anthony, please.” He returned intently to his work and I think he kept wondering if I were alright in body and mind.
There did come a time when the raven cawed three times, if I remember it right, and then I think that strange raven – you may not believe me – that raven did give me a wink of his eye.
All day we hayed till near four o’clock, stopping only for long drinks of cold lemonade kept in large Mason jars and thick cheese sandwiches that Brother Andrew had made and brought to us kindly in the middle of the day. And all through the day, that hot haying day, the raven followed me, never getting too close but always near enough for him to see the sky blue in my eyes and I, the ebony black in his. That is until the sound of the bells came rolling over the fields, and then he flew straight away in the northerly direction of the far Willow Woods.
And as my mystical raven took flight to the north, we, this hot and sweaty Brotherhood of work weary monks packed our gear and headed south for evening vespers were awaiting in the chapel, and a meal then in the refectory. And we ambled back home through the stubble left by the mown hay, returning to our world of holy silence, we shared a common thought all of us together, “It has been a good in the fields of the Lord, a good day indeed.”
The night, my sleep was deep and filled with dreams – to be honest, I could remember but dream, a long dream that seemed far more real than most dreams I have. Most of my dreams are but memories of places where I once had been and visions of places where I never have been. But this dream was a Dream-maker’s dream, a dream not of my own creation, but a dream that came to me from some other place.
I was a pilgrim, in this dream, a pilgrim young and strong. I was in the midst of a journey, unawares of from where or whence I came. I was a road, a country road, a winding road one might find in the hill country of a good land. There were woods of maples just beginning to take on their autumn colors. There were fields with stone fences. Now and then, a hearty oak, on the far mountains I could see, even smell the forests of tall pines that reached higher and higher on the mountains until giving way to the grey granite and the high snow. I journeyed and I journeyed with a old leather pack on my back and a red bandana draped bout my neck, denim shirt, denim pants, and shoes like the shoes of a lumberjack.
All along the way not a soul did I see, not a farmer working his fields, not a shepherd tending his flocks, not a peddler selling his wares, not even a fellow traveler coming my way or even one passing me by. “Only me” – or ought I say, “Only I”. Oh, I saw hawks in the sky and quail in the field; I saw wrens making nests in the fences and ducks landing as a flock on a lake I walked by, but nary a man, nor a woman, nor even child. I did see some rabbits that were the size of small dogs, rabbits that brown, silver, a few white and one that was a shade of rusty red.
I walked and I walked, forever it seemed, yet I never grew tired I just kept strolling along through what like a cool October day. Yes, I believe it was surely October because I caught scent now and then of a far, distant fire, a friendly fire, a savory fire, a fire with no danger, a warm cabin fire, like the smoke that rises from a leaf burning fire.
But then … I came to a bend in the road and it entered a wood. And there the journey, it changed.
Hidden behind the cedar that guarded the bend in the road was a most unexpected sight, my fox from the shadows and by her side, my raven. And then, as if the Dreamweaver brought my dream to a pause, everything slowed into a suspension of time, as if I were to savor each moment as they came and etch them forever deep on my mind.
I stood there in my stillness, and they stood there in theirs. Not one of us moved, but surely we breathed. And then as a mist rolled in from the woods, they turned, first the fox, then the raven in a manner that somehow beckoned me to follow. If it weren’t but a dream, I doubt I would go, but in dreams, we are braver, much bolder than we are most other times.
The mist was greying as we entered the woods, somehow transforming the day into a bright, moonlight night. It was if the grey mist itself did turn luminous, lighting this new world in a soft-lighted glow. The woods were thickening but not in a frightening way. I could tell there were maples and birches, an elm tree or two. Much like a park, tidy and swept, this wood did seem, with our path, winding slowly through a trail through the trees, a trail not designed to get anywhere fast.
The fox travelled spritely, almost a trot, for her legs were much shorter than mine. The raven would hop after hop, now and then, having to make a short flight to keep pace with his partner, this travelling fox. The fox never looked back, though the raven kept checking to be sure I kept up.
And then into the Willows our path did lead. They looked the Willows I had come to know so well – or so I thought – for so many years. These Willows looked much the same, but then willow trees do tend to look the same, in their weeping and swaying, their touching the ground in a most elegant way, but yet … somehow, not really the same. Deeper and deeper into the willows we went, as if the shade of the willows themselves became a world of its own.
And when we were deepest in the depths of the woods, my fox and my raven turned and told me these words.
“Come with us, Voyageur, for your Destiny is searching for you, and the Willow Woman awakes.”
The words were said to me, I did hear them, I do so truly believe. They came from the soul of the fox and from the look in the raven’s eye. I stood and stared in disbelief. I knew I was lost in a dream, but still it all seemed so very real, more than what we normally take for real, the reality that is found beyond the limits of what we take for real, but, in truth, is what I would come to know as the Great and Sad Illusion.
“Well, Voyageur, are you coming? Or are you not? “ It was the raven speaking as he hopped a few hops in my direction. “You must come.” The words had the tone of urgency as if there were no time to lose. “You must come, you must come, Voyageur,” the voice from the raven cawed. “You must come and come now!”
I couldn’t move; I wouldn’t move, not a step. Somehow I was in that frozen state that comes with the feeling of unknowing, that anxious, nervous apprehension that comes before the coming of the fear. And then … the fox, my Shadow fox, turned to give a backward look. And from her soul, I could hear with my inner self a softer voice, a voice that those around you cannot hear, a voice which spoke to me, “Be not afraid, Voyageur, for the Aged One walks with thee.”
And with the courage of her words, I dared take my steps into this world within the Willows. And with each step, the mist grew less and less, and the moonlight more and more. We walked through veils of willow leaves as we ventured further in. Thicker, thicker, thicker, until at last, the willow leaves gave way and we came upon a silver river at the foot of a silver waterfall.
Here the shades of night turned into a moonlit brightness, brighter than any moonlit night I have ever known. And the moon upon the river turned the waters in sparkling jewels. The waterfalls made the sound of children laughing, or maybe the sound that young and playful angels make. And in the distance, I could hear the owls calling in the night.
It was at the bank of the river, not far from the splashing of the waterfalls, that the fox and the raven they turned to me as if to say, “We have arrived. Now come near.”
I inched my way closer to these two enchanted souls with a reverence I had not planned. Closer, closer, almost there … now, finally there. And as I took my place, the fox, the raven, they slowly turned and faced the waterfall.
And before my eyes, through the crystal curtain of the silver falls, a soul emerged all dressed in many, many shades of white and shades of ivory light.
The soul was an elegant lady so tall and graceful, as if maybe a Queen from a northern land. Her dress was made of long, flowing strips of cloth, all of them white, but yet each one a different white, creams and ivories, some the color of feathered swans and some the color of candle glow. As best I could tell, the cloths were of silk and satin and Worchester wool. Her hair was the blond that is almost white but not quite, and it swirled all about in cascading curls. Her eyes, piercing blue; her smile had the look of gentle peace; her countenance, royal and regal. In her hand, her right, a long, crystal staff and at the top a dazzle of clear blue, a jewel the size of which I had never seen, a sapphire I might guess … but being a monk I have little experience, if not none, with the knowing of gemstones and jewels.
Through the watery veil she had emerged and set her footsteps of the sparkling waters of the river, barely touching the surface as if walking on air. Three steps she, maybe four, maybe five, I was so awestruck by all that I saw that I couldn’t be sure. Then stopped and lifted her eyes to sky, a sky that I now noticed had turned the bluest of blues sketched with wispy white clouds through and through. And with the sound of a wind that blew from the North, a wind that was whirling with snow and feathers of frost, the elegant lady all dressed in white touched the waters with her long, crystal staff. And when she did, the river, beginning at the point where the staff had touched the water began to turn into an ever growing sheet of ice. And stretched further and further, till it reached the shore where we stood.
The fox and the raven looked to me and gave me a nod, a nod which I took to mean it was time. I looked to this Lady in White, her eyes looked back to my own. And I felt a warm sense of Love, but a most dignified Love, a love more majestic than playful. She then raised her hand in a gesture to come. And to this, the raven took flight and flew over to perch on the top of her staff. The fox near my feet began to bark as foxes do bark, neither as fearful as wolves, nor as friendly as dogs, but in the way that only foxes can do. In the distance, a bell could be heard and with it, I heard a knocking, what I thought might be a woodpecker pecking on an oak tree nearby. I thought, “She has made this whole woods come alive!”
I checked with the fox as to what I should do. Then with only a swish of her tail as a signal to go, we stepped off the bank onto the ice and carefully made her way ever closer to this Elegant Lady in White. Once more, I heard the knocking, and then I heard it again. The bell rang and it rang. Then a voice called out as if out of the Night … “Brother Anthony, Brother Anthony! Are you there? Is everything alright?”
Again the knocking, this time more a pounding than a knocking. And I awoke. Well, at least, I half-awoke. “Brother Benedict,” I called out. “Brother Benedict! Forgive me for my slothfulness. Peace, my good Brother, my Peace to you this day.” And now, I was no longer there on the ice-covered river, but back in my room before the dawn of the day.
“What a dream, Lord! What a dream!” With this thought I moved into my awakening routine, one done in near darkness, half-consciously. Shirt buttoned, socks pulled on, trousers belted, then make the cot – a simple enough chore for the sparse and simple accommodations of the monk’s life, straighten the grey, woolen blanket and set the pillow. Over to the water basin and splash some water on the face, say a prayer and cross your self –“In anomine Patrie, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.” Then listen for the chapel bells, if ringing then make haste. Gather your shoes from beside the door … and then … I was stopped by a something different as “somethings different” tend to do to a soul. My fingers found my shoes wet, sitting in small puddles of cold water. “Why are my shoes wet?” my thoughts asked. But before I could conjure a reason why, a dreamy memory came to mind. And when the memory came I began to wonder. (Monks often tend to wonder, we tend to wonder about almost everything others just know, at least, we do so, every now and then.)
In chapel, I confess I was still wondering while we chanted our Psalms for the day. I tried so hard not to, but even when we were praying in the holy silence, the wondering kept coming. I felt wrong about doing so, but I did. “Can a dream ever be more than a dream?” During breakfast, I was still wondering. I would have asked one of the Brothers about my wondering, but breakfast is one of our times for keeping very quiet here at Greyfriars’ Abbey.
Today I would help loading the hay, high up in the barn. You put hay up high in a barn to keep dry. And when you keep hay dry, you keep the hay good. Wet hay turns bad. Farmers say it turns sour. I liked stacking hay in hayloft. It was something I did as a boy. I especially liked looking out the hayloft door. A boy can see a far ways from up there. From this hayloft you can see the sheepfold across the pasture, the apple orchard that is just beyond the stand of maple trees, and if you lean out and hold on, you can even see the cross on the tiptop of the chapel roof. And when I leaned way out to take that look … on the cross, on the very top of the cross, a raven perched. And I wondered … was that just an everyday raven or even a crow or was it my raven who seems to know my name?
All through the morning, the raven would caw but strangely never did fly away.
INSTALLMENT # 11
The afternoon would be time spent over at my hermitage, my private place, my getaway, my hideaway, my off-all-by-myself little world, a log cabin, one room, one window, one door, one porch, all snugged under a rusting metal roof. It was tucked beneath some oak trees, near the river, about a to mile walk from the farm. Here, four afternoons a week, I would write and read, study and prayer but never nap for our rules call for no napping in our hermitages, or anywhere for that matter. It’s a rule, a rule that has always been and, if I were to guess, would always be.
On most days, for reasons I never knew, the resident mouser of the Abbey barns would follow me to my hermitage. She never traveled with the other Brothers, only me. I reckon she saw something in me that was different than other souls. What it was that she saw, I do not know. Oh, this black cat with a spattering of brown was a found cat, a kitten left by the road by some stranger who was just passing by and their ways to somewhere else. Somewhere along the way she got the name, Jasmine, but we call her Jazz for short and for the fun of it. Who would ever think that a monastery cat would ever be named Jazz?
Jazz was late today; maybe she was delayed by her chasing a butterfly that crossed her path. She was like that, that cat, easily distracted by whatever came her way. But by the time I reached the river path, she caught herself up. And off we traveled to our place faraway. We spotted a pheasant get flushed from the tall grass and we came upon a turtle coming up from the river. And when we drew close to the cabin, just past the lightning struck oak, we caught sight of my raven. He was making himself at home, sitting as comfy as comfy could be, without a care in the world, on the wooden rail of the porch, watching me, watching Jazz the cat making our way.
I thought ravens and cats were not meant to get along. But this raven had no fear and this cat, no interest. And so, my uninvited guest stayed the afternoon with us, watching me write with an unusual measure of curiosity for a raven I thought while keeping one eye on the ways of the cat.
The raven never cawed, just strutted about, as if stretching his legs; the cat never hissed, not even a mew, she just kept to herself and paying no mind. It was a quiet time, indeed it was. But every once in a while, we would meet eye to eye – that is, the raven with the patch of gold feathers on his chest, not the cat. And in those momentary stares, the strangest of thoughts would arise. Sometimes I would wonder if I was reading his mind. And then, I did wonder, “Could it be possible that this raven was reading mine?”
INSTALLMENT # 12
Outside an occasional bout of curiosity about the scratching of my fountain pen upon the paper, both cat and raven simply kept me company until the nearing of the time for heading home. Back home in Canada, we would call this hour of the day, the gloaming of the day, when the sun begins to slip behind the hills and the light begins to soften into a honey-gold. With the packing of my belongings, Jazz took time to stretch and stretch in an almost overly dramatic way, my raven … who for some reason, yet unnamed … took to preening his feathers, both the long black feathers that ravens are known for as well as those few feathers that were strangely gold. As I gave one last check to the well-being of hermitage, the raven gave a sudden caw, one single caw, no more. I believe it was an attention getting caw for I turned to catch his eye and then I swear – though monks not ought to swear in any form or kind – I heard this haunting raven say to me, “Voyageur, remember, you must remember.” My thoughts hastened to correct this first impression, “Brother Anthony! You are letting your imagination become much of you!” But then the cat meow-ed a most dreadful meow as if she had come upon a fearful thing. Then off the raven flew, straightway, toward the Willow Wood. And after a few moments of our watching this sudden flight, the cat and I began our journey back.
Along the way we came upon a sizable flock of dragonflies. It was where the path comes nearest to the river, not far from the approach to Pilgrim’s Bridge, an old and creaky covered bridge through which travelers make their way to Greyfriars’. Well, they did more so before tourists came by car and busses to see this ancient of monks. Back then, the travelers or the pilgrims they came by foot, coming from somewhere else and their way to someplace else. Oh, the dragonflies … they do like to go hunting in the gloaming time, darting here and there in a pattern that only dragonflies must understand. I like it when the dragonflies stop and hover. This is one of the things that make my list of Things Amazing.
As I paused to let Jazz jump after a dragonfly or two, along the path came Brother Anselmo, not far behind, coming from his hermitage that is a ways further out than mine. Brother Anselmo is a rather round soul, a short and portly man with but a fringe of hair left about his head and a joyful countenance upon a face. If a face could shine, Brother Anselmo’s surely did. I gestured that I would wait for his catching up and then we could stroll our way together. He acted as if he tried to hurry up, but Brother Anselmo does not hurry all that well.
It is sometimes good to walk alone; but it is also good to walk together. This way a good time to walk together and Brother Anselmo seem to agree. Jazz, frustrated by the elusiveness dragonflies, seemed indifferent to it all.
About halfway home, Brother Anselmo drew us all to a stop, right behind the stand of pines that mark the final stretch of path before the Abbey Gates. Then with all seriousness, he said, “Brother Anthony, I was remembering the night the star did fall. Do you remember it?”
I answered, “Why, of course, my Brother. We all remember that night. Stars do not fall to earth that often in these times, at least not here, at Greyfriars. Why do you ask?”
Brother Anselmo responded, “Oh, I was just remembering that night but then I could not remember why I was remembering it at all.” (Brother Anselmo often talks this way… and I am guessing it is because he also thinks that way.)
Yes, we all remember the night the star did fall in the woods here at Greyfriars’. Yes, indeed, we all do remember that night. How could a soul ever forget?
(Yes, we all remember the night the star did fall in woods here at Greyfriars’. Yes, indeed, we all do remember that night. Yes, indeed.)
INSTALLMENT # 13
It was in the year when the meadowlarks lost their way and landed among the dandelions that filled the fields. The dandelions came that year by the thousands, far more than ever before, and the meadowlarks came by the hundreds, far more than ever came since. The night the star fell was not long after the dandelions and the meadowlark went away. That night began with a lightning storm that blew in among the giant thunderclouds that tumble down from the Avalon Mountains, far to the west. Storms such as these are creatures to be respected, but this particular storm came growling and snarling, and the monks were praying especially well in the face of its anger. The rains were of the kind reserved for floods and days when worlds do end, drenching the Abbey grounds and turning the tile roofs into a long series of waterfalls. When the storm settled down, deciding to leave for other places, we all thought that the night would finally find its peace. We were wrong. Yes, monks are sometimes wrong, especially when it comes to stars falling from the sky!
It was on the second watch of the night that the star came our way; Brother Dominic had just relieved Brother John from his duty; the sky was returning to its scheduled starlight during the first quarter of a low slung moon. The first warning, according Brother Dominic, was the sudden flight of a flock of starlings that had nested in the gigantic Wisdom Oak that night. (The Wisdom Oak is a very old oak tree, an oak around which the Cloister of the Abbey was built oh so many years ago. The Wisdom Oak sprawls wide with many, many branches that reach wide and reach tall. Often birds on their pilgrimages from North to South, and from South to North, often bed down in her branches for the night.) But back to the account of Brother Dominic. First the starlings took to wing as if frightened by an unseen something. Then the livestock stirred, both in the barn and in the pastures. Then Brother Dominic thought he heard a most puzzling, never-before-heard kind of sound, he described it as “… like whistling, no, more a sizzling coming the sky above…” Then the night flashed bright by an explosion high above the apple orchard. “Nearly blinding me,” declared Brother Dominic, and awakening all the rest of us but this flash in the night. Only Brother Dominic and Brother Amos, the shepherd that night, actually saw the star fall to the Earth, but I suppose so did the sheep, for they took to running every which way and Abelard our sheepdog took to barking. The star came to earth near the Willow Woods, in the field where we pick blueberries and keep our beehives.
We all came running, which is unusual for monks are never to run, only make haste. Brother Amos was the first to find the fallen star; Brother Dominic waited for the rest of us and led us to where he believed it crashed or landed or settled or ended up… … (I am not sure what fallen stars do when they come hurtling down to Earth!)
The fallen star set the grass on fire, at least, for a few minutes, turning then to smoke which eventually cleared. And when we crept up closer, the star which was so very big and bright in its falling, now looked no more than a black hunk of rock with parts of it shiny and parts of it dusty. It was glowing like an old piece of coal that is almost burnt out. It was the size of small boulder, a rock that was far too big to throw, but possibly could be carried. Oh, yes, the fallen star also kept whistling, and now and then humming. And that star we eventually threw into the waters of the deep well, for reasons that we would soon come upon.
Brother Anselmo broke me from remembering by calling out, “Brother Thomas, how was your day?” He nodded, “It was good,” for Brother Thomas never has much to do with words you can hear. So Brother Anselmo, Brother Thomas, and I, we walked in through the gates with the heavy, oak doors, bringing to its close another day spent well with the Lord.
INSTALLMENT # 14
During prayers at “Compline”, our name for those last evening prayers, my thoughts kept returning to the unfinished dream of the night before, that dream with my fox, my raven, and that Elegant Lady in White. Would they return to me, or should I say, would I return to them?
Sleep came quickly for me. I must have gathered a full share of weariness for I cannot remember when I crossed over from the walking world of wakefulness to the drifting world of sleep. Some nights are labors of tossing and turning, but not this night. This night the Dream-maker just came and snatched me away.
I was immediately by the waters beyond the willows, watching the river turn to frosted ice. Across the way, in front of the icy waterfall, stood the Lady in White and on her crystal staff sat my raven. Beside me, my fox, my friend who had emerged from the shadows, was looking up at me with an expression of questioning expectation. The raven cawed, the Lady beckoned, the fox proceeded, and I followed. The fox that somewhere at some unremembered time gave the name ShadowFox stepped confidently across the ice, in that trot that confident foxes do when they have no reason to run; but I took careful steps, not being well-practiced in matter of walking on frozen rivers.
As I drew close and then even closer to the Elegant Lady in White I became enchanted by the beauty of her face, but even more so by the sky-blue color of her eyes, a clear and light blue, a heavenly blue, an innocent blue. And it was not merely color of her eyes that captivated me, but how her eyes seem to speak to me in a voice that sparkled like sunlit waters.
The Northern Wind began to rise bringing to life her long silver-blond hair and the long wisps of cloth of her snowy white robe. My raven cawed once more, then cawed no more, somehow signaling ShadowFox to come to attention, sitting down in a most respectful, military way, the way that alert foxes tend to do. And as my heart become lost in my anxious breath, the Elegant Lady in White, she smiled at me and it felt like Love.
Then in the fullness of that moment, she spoke. “You have come, Voyageur, and now we must begin the Great Journey, the journey from the world –that-was to the world-that-must-come-to-be.”
I could not speak though my thoughts were struggling to speak. Inside of me, I prayed, “Lord, give me voice.” And with that the raven whose name I somehow now knew to be Barnabas turned to the Lady and spoke my thoughts to her. “Most Elegant Lady, why me? Where are we going? Why are we going?” Exactly my thoughts were the raven words, though he spoke with a much wiser air about him, as if the raven were a sage from a far distant time.
The Lady reached out and touched my chin with a touch that was both warm and cold, saying with almost a smile, “Oh, so many questions, so many questions, Voyageur. The answers will be found, but not here, but along the Way.” Then she turned, Barnabas took to wing, and ShadowFox took to walking, and we followed the Lady across the frozen waters to the woods across the way, the woods that I would come to know as the Woods of Solemn Whispers.
INSTALLMENT # 15
The Willow Woods was warm and loving, a place to hide among one’s dreams on summer days. The Apple Orchard was a place for running up and down the paths between the rows of well-ordered trees, a place for playing tag for young souls and for thoughtful strolls for reflective monks like me. The Maple Forest was for tapping trees in the cold of winter to make the maple syrup that we sold to passers-by, and, of course, for becoming soft and mellow in the falling of gold and crimson leaves, when old monks pause to remember that all things do grow old.
But this Woods we now entered, this Woods that rose up from the frozen waters, was a lifeless realm of barren trees midst thick tangles of thorny brambles. And as we ventured in, the air became a frosty fog and the light turned to shades of grey. The trees were little more than ghosts, and the silent sounds of frightful, unseen things did seem to rise from everywhere.
Barnabas lighted on a high and lonely branch, and to me appeared more frightful perched up there. But then I came to understand that he was but taking his raven’s work of being watchful scout.
Shadow Fox began to sniff among the brambles as she quartered the path before us. Searching, searching, first here, then there, for dangers that might be near. Somehow I felt safer with this fox flushing out the fears and this raven looking down the way.
But, most of all, I felt safe in the presence of the Elegant Lady all in White. She walked with a manner so stately and serene, securing me in her regal countenance. And as we took our steps, she would softly sing a song with words I did not understand and she would touch my shoulder with a love I most surely did.
Deeper in, deeper in, deeper in, we journeyed, Barnabas flying from one lofty branch to another own the way. And we followed, Shadow Fox, the Lady, and me. Deeper in, deeper in, deeper in, we journeyed on, until we reached a clearing in the woods and then the Lady in White, she simply was no more. I was at first frightened by her turning into mist, but in the eyes of Shadow Fox I sensed that her disappearing was always meant to be.
Here in this clearing filled with daisies made of crystal ice, three souls came upon the first of the Ancient Ones. Into the clearing, a deer did walk with antlers wide and tall. And in the distance, I heard once more the abbey bells.
INSTALLMENT # 16
With a most noble countenance, the deer kept his gaze upon us as he made his towards us. This deer seemed to me to be more a stag than merely a deer. Stags are known to be more majestic in their bearing, having learned this from legends I once had read when I was still a dreaming lad. His coat was like velvet gold; his eyes like liquid onyx touched with flecks of amber that caught the winter light as it reflected off the ice and snow. If stags were to have their kings, then this stag was royalty.
The air was cooling more and more, making our panting breath a frosted mist. I never thought of ravens or any other bird ever having to breathe, but, as with Shadow Fox and me and now this mighty stag, even Barnabas was turning bits of breath into puffs of frozen smoke. And as the air cooled, the light in the clearing took on a subtle cast of icy blue. Then a thousand little whirlwinds seemed to suddenly come to life, lifting the snow into swirly swirls that spun upward to the sky.
With the coming of this wind, ShadowFox began to bark as if fending off imaginary warriors hidden within the icy swirls. And as she barked, Barnabas flew up upon my shoulder, giving me a start which turned quickly into but a momentary surprise. He began to caw with a caw hat had within it a cooing possibility, a calming coo because I have come to know that coos are meant for calming just as caws are meant for calling your attention and warning you of foes.
The wind whirled now as if in a hurricane in the making causing Shadow to bark all the more. Round and round, then round some more. I felt as though I might be swept away. But then … quite suddenly … the stag of velvet gold with onyx-amber eye let forth a bellow, like a bugle sounding charge. And with that bellow, that wilding call, all suddenly drew still and silent. So very, very still and silent. For the longest while. Then the stag shook his mighty head and reared up and pawed the air. And when all was listening … the stag began to speak with words than seemed to be my very thoughts … “Voyageur, you must return with me to the Ancient Wild for there you will remember. Follow me to the higher realms among the lofty crags, where only eagles dare to fly.
I checked with Shadow and he gave an assenting nod. I checked with Barnabas and he blinked his affirmation. And with my stepping towards the mighty stag of velvet-gold, the winds rose up once more, but now in blinding fury, swirling all about us in a cloud of sparkling white until I sensed that my feet were rising from the ground below.