Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
Ink and Honey
By Sibyl Dana Reynolds
We, sisters of Belle Cœur, once lived near the great church of Mary Magdalene. Dwelling under the protection of her spirit, we marked the hours with our prayers. Worship was woven into each day, the way the basket weaver turns the willow branch to create a strong and purposeful vessel.
In time, at our most shining hour, our community grew to include twelve women. We held our lives and practices close to ourselves, but our calling was to serve the people of Vézelay, the small village near Belle Cœur. In our infirmary, we tended all manner of brokenness and injury that afflicted those who lived nearby. We also cared for pilgrims on their journey and crusaders returning home, splintered in body and spirit. It was a life precious to us, meaningful and dear. In the most golden moments, we lived in harmony, joyfully greeting each day with grateful hearts and ready hands.
And then God called us. Rumor and suspicion of our ways forced our leave of beloved Belle Cœur, our home and sanctuary, to travel far, to seek safe haven elsewhere.
We arrived here at Le Monastère de la Visite, near the town of Chartres on the broad limestone plains surrounded by a thick forest. The sisters from the monastery offered us shelter in exchange for our assistance with their many tasks, and so we were able to continue to serve God's people in little ways.
Now once again we dwell in the light of a great cathedral. Though it was nearly destroyed by fire many years ago, Nôtre Dame de Chartres is being rebuilt to honor Our Lady and her holy relic, her veil, the Sancta Camisia. A morning's walk from our quarters takes us there.
I warm my hands at the candle flame while I work late into the night in this small room with its gray stone walls. Nearby my sisters take their rest between the hours of communal prayer. Seated here on a wooden stool before the worn table with its slanted surface, I make my notations on stolen bits of parchment.
A raven feather quill is my instrument, my memory the wellspring for my words, and for inspiration...for inspiration the fire of Petronilla's prophecy. From Petronilla, the visionary of our sisterhood, came the luminous words that even now echo in my soul.
"You must write, Goscelin. Though an untold time of silence and darkness may pass, our story will be for the women to come. May they take heart from our love for them!
"Record this message in your manuscript so one distant day it may be discovered for those who will need our wisdom. Tell them this...
"You are invited to make a sacred pilgrimage of remembrance. Our spirits arrive through these stories bearing flint and wood to kindle your creative fires. Sharing our stories unshackles us from our bondage as those who have been silenced and forgotten. We are longing to reach you, to know you, to teach you, and to guide you to remember your own true nature. We have been calling to you in your dreams."
Petronilla's deep blue eyes were wild with passion and pooled with tears. Her pale skin covered her tall, bony frame like a shroud. "Word for word, Goscelin. You must write what I tell you. The ones who will find this book some future day will need our wisdom."
I dipped my pen into the ink and prayed to fulfill the task as my sister wished. Petronilla paced about the room muttering softly before she continued.
"Record these instructions for the ones who will come long after we have gone:
"You must find the cathedral, the sanctuary, and the oratory hidden within you. We will meet you there, in spirit. We implore you to gather a circle of kin for shared study of this sacred manuscript. Read between the lines, and meditate upon the symbols offered here. Look for the allegories to reveal the hidden knowledge within these pages. Use what you discover as you would a map to help you find the way to your destination. You will learn through our stories how our sisterhood chose to live in beauty, with holy passion for God, how we transfigured our world in the time of the sword. The lessons for the art and craft of sacred living are offered here."
And then, after a long pause, Petronilla leaned close to me and whispered, "Dearest Goscelin, it is your charge to convey how we hold our sisters and brothers yet to come in our prayers. They will continue our legacy. Share with them our promise that our spirits will guide them as they search for the lost key to Eden.It will be their task to reclaim the Garden."
Petronilla's instructions weighed heavily. My prayer lives in me...a constant companion.
Beloved Jesus, guide my quill to complete the task I have been given. I long to do Your will. Amen.
Excerpted from the novel, Ink and Honey © Sibyl Dana Reynolds.