By BODIL JELHOF JENSEN email@example.com
Illustrations by KIRSTEN PETERSEN firstname.lastname@example.org
(Reprinted with permission. The book has many illustrations in full color and may be purchased from the publisher at https://bsmbooks.bigcartel.com/product/sana-and-morgana-go-to-school.)
It was a long winter.
It was a hard winter.
It was a real Canadian winter. Some would even have said it was a real Quebec winter.
And just when everyone had had enough of winter—maybe even more than enough—it really snowed. It snowed so much the cars became lumps on the toad, the houses turned into white pumpkins and the schools disappeared. Everyone stayed home and had a snow day.
Then the snowploughs came and cleared the roads. The snow men came and shoveled off the schools. After a lot of effort, the schools popped out. They-opened a week after the storm. That was a long snow day. Seven times longer in fact.
But nobody came to clear the snow in the backyard of the house were two black dogs, Sana and Morgana, lived and took care of BJ, a tall lady with white hair.
When the snow finally stopped falling, the two dogs stepped out their backdoor and came now to nose with a snowbank. They pushed their way forward and churned to the top fo the snowbank to get a better view. Everything was buried in the white powder: their balls, their favorite sticks, their food bowls and a good part—maybe the better if not the best part—of every tree! The trees were certainly a lot shorter. The bird feeder that used to swing from a dead branch high up one tree was now sitting on the snow like a birdbath.
Even stranger, the backward fence was gone. Sana and Morgana looked left. They looked right. They looked straight ahead. The five-foot fence had been deep-fixed, every post, plank, and nail. There was simply no fence. It was buried, gone.
That was the first day after the storm. in the days that followed the dogs kept a watchful eye on BJ. Everyone was housebound and cabin fever was rising. On the eighth day, as Sana and Morgana looked around their yard, they could no longer resist temptation.
If grass in summer is greener on the other side of the fence, snow in winter must be whiter on the other side. Faced with one big outside, and no my side, your side, his side, her side, its side, their side, inside, offside, let alone a right side, wrong side, upside or downside, Sana and Morgana wanted to find out how white white could be. Nothing and no-one stood in their way. They had only to put one paw in front of the other and the world would be theirs.
Without even a farewell bark, Sana and Morgana did what dogs love to do. They went fir a walk. This time they went without any leash. This time they went without BJ. This time they went all by themselves. They crossed the fence line and left their bakcyard.
First, they ran down their street towards the river. Right past the window with the red, blue and white “Go, Habs, Go” poster. Sana and Morgana were certainly going. Maybe they would go so far as to join the team, help it win the Stanley Cup.
Up to the four-way Stop/Arret en toutes directions they went. Sana and Morgana knew how to stop one way, but not four. Stopping in all directions at the same time was beyond them and seemed a waste of energy. So they. did not stop at all, but U-turned and chased each other up the street again. Go, dogs, go! Luckily no cars were coming because they were way too busy having fun to keep a lookout. Up and down they raced.
On their third sweep along the street, Sana and Morgana heard laughter in the distance. They perked up their ears and decided. to do what they saw the children on their street do. almost every day. They would go to school. They had walked to the school many times with BJ in tow, but had never even gone into the schoolyard. one recess Sana had managed to poke her head through the fence where a board was missing. Having her head patted by the children had given her a warm feeling right to the tip of her tail.
Up the street the dogs went again one after the other. Sana had taken the lead from the start with her long legs, great in any race and terrific in snow. But even Morgana’s short legs held up well in the tracks made by Sana.
The dogs came to the busy road at the end of their street and paused, only an instant. Here snow had been pushed aside and the road salted. Traffic was rolling along on wet, slushy pavement. The two dogs barely looked at each other or the traffic as they dashed across the wide road. Their luck held. They made it to the other side, their tails intact, probably thanks more to the cars’ good brakes than their own common sense.
On they charged to the schoolyard. It was surrounded by piles of snow reaching skyward—little mountains taller than the tallest teacher and twice as much fun. Sana and Morgana took one pile by storm and looked down into the schoolyard. It was full of children screaming and laughing as they ran here, there and everywhere. Knapsacks, snowballs and mittens were flying. It was one dog’s delight, two dogs’ paradise. School may have been out for the day, but the dogs wanted in.
Sana and Morgana hurled themselves into the schoolyard and the children screamed and laughed even louder. The dogs ran around wagging their tails, sniffing and licking everything and everyone. The children just ran around. What a learning experience! School was even more fun than Sana Morgana had imagined.
Sana grabbed one child’s mitten and started a game of tag. Around the schoolyard she flew, under and over legs and outstretched hands. No-one could catch her. Two legs were no match for Sana’s four. In one corner of the yard, Sana gave up the mitt to Morgana, who ran the other way. The children just couldn’t beat the dogs’ tag team.
Finally, one bright apple offered the dogs a sandwich left over from lunch. Sana and Morgana had no trouble giving up the mitt in favor of the sandwich, even if it was a little squished.
Refreshed, the dogs were game for more, but it was far too late to go to class. All the yellow school buses were lined up, waiting for the children who lived far away. Their red lights were flashing, their stop signs had swung out. Traffic on the street was at a standstill. The school day was over and it was time to go home.
Sana and Morgana didn’t really mind. They probably could not have sat still in class long enough to learn anything, anyway. Instead they ran up and down the line of buses and let each child pat them goodbye in turn. The dogs were so happy that their tails couldn’t wag fast enough.
Back at the house BJ did mind and she was not happy. She was lost without those dogs. She went up and down the nearby streets, whistling and calling their names. If Sana and Morgana heard her, they did not listen.
Bj walked to the railway tracks and to the busy road. She went to the river. She looked up ad down each street she passed. There was not much to see except snowbank after snowbank—certainly no black dogs and no dog prints.
BJ told her neighbors that Sana and Morgana were gone. Everyone was very worried. Everyone promised to be on the lookout.
After much searching BJ gave up and went home. There, the red light on the telephone was blinking. A message. “Mrs. Sana,” the telephone said. Actually, Madame Sana, because this was Quebec after all. “Your two black dogs are at our school.” It was from the person in charge of school buses. BJ smiled in relief.
There was a second message. “Madame Sana. Your dogs are still ere. Te school is closing. We will have to call the dog pound if you don’t come soon.” That was not as welcome news as the first message.
BJ grabbed her boots and two leashes. She rushed up the street and across. the busy road to the school Not without looking both ways—twice, of course. She was too old to jump in and out of traffic to to trust to blind luck or someone’s brakes.
She marched across the schoolyard to the main entrance. There, at the top of the steps, she found the two dogs tied to the front door of the school with yellow rope.
“Madame Sana?” asked the person in charge of school buses.
“No, that’s Sana. I’m BJ,” said BJ. And Sana wagged her tail in agreement.
Sana had left home wearing her name tag with her phone number. Morgana had been in such a hurry to follow Sana that she had left her collar at home.
The person in charge of school buses said that the dogs had behaved well, for their first day in school. Sana and Morgana wondered if that was an invitation to come back.
For now, they walked home with BJ firmly tied to their leashes. The three stopped at the busy road and waited for traffic to clear—out of respect for BJ’s old knees.
After that, until spring came and melted the snow, Sana did not go out in the backyard without BJ on a leash. She did not want to loose her again! Morgana, on the other paw, was smart enough to know that she should stay at home, fence or no fence. She wandered around the yard poking her nose into the snow, searching for forgotten treasure. Just in case the treasure hunt took her a bit beyond the fence line, she never forgot her collar with her name tag. Even if she sometimes wore it backwards.
But no one forgot the day Sana and Morgana left BJ behind and found their way to school. Not Sana. Not Morgana. Not the school children. Not the person in charge of school buses. And least of all, BJ.
By THOMAS BLOM CHITTICK
Ansgar, a French born Benedictine (801-865), was given the title of the Apostle Of The North by the church in Rome and became the founding Bishop of Hamburg. Of special interest to us at St Ansgar Lutheran Church in Portland, Maine were his missionary journeys into Denmark and Sweden, which won him the official title of Apostle. We were looking for a logo, or image, for our congregation, which ultimately led us to The Reverend Ann Deneen, who at the time was pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Gloucester, MA. She is a well known iconographer in the New England Synod. She agreed to paint (write) an icon of Ansgar and would do so in the classical way of traditional icon painting by rooting her work in prayer. I know she worked this way because she often reflected on those prayers: some for the congregation bearing the saint’s name, some for Ansgar’s emerging image, and some for her own search for meaning and closeness to the saint. But first, let us turn to Ansgar’s five missionary journeys, which are known to us through his assistant who wrote a biography of the saint the year after Ansgar died on Feb 3, 865.
Soon after Ansgar was ordained, the Christian King of Denmark appealed to the empirical court for someone to preach in Viking Denmark. Over the derisive laughter of his fellow monks, Ansgar answered that call and went off for a two year stint in Slesvig, Denmark (826). Who, his fellow monks and friends laughed, would be so foolish as to think he could preach among Vikings?! But off he went, undeterred by their ribbings and nervous entreaties. He did not venture north into Jutland, however, without first waiting for direction through his dreams. Dreaming was a central aspect of Ansgar’s spirituality after a dream about his deceased mother. She came to him encouraging him to pay more attention to his studies. Having been an undisciplined youngster, the dream produced a change of heart, leading him, thereafter, to work hard at his studies and to follow his dreams when embarking on any new venture.
After a two year stay in Denmark, Ansgar returned south. The effort in Denmark had not yielded a great deal of success, save for a school for boys. In the Hamburg area, to which he returned, the work of ministry was more established. Some years later, a second request came for a preacher, this time to Viking Sweden. The invitation was from the Christian King of Sweden. Off Ansgar went again, this time by boat only to have the boat over-taken by pirates who robbed him of all the churchly articles necessary for worship and study. Inexplicably the pirates let Ansgar and his party off on shore. From there they walked for miles to Birka in south central Sweden. If you travel to Birka today you’ll see a huge stone cross erected in Ansgar’s memory.
After his work in Sweden under the protection of the King, Ansgar returned to Hamburg where he became the Bishop and which become headquarters for his missionary work in The North. In 834 Hamburg became an archbishopric, which included Iceland, Greenland and all of Scandinavia. But then in 854 Vikings laid waste to Hamburg and Bremen. And for two years Ansgar was simply a wanderer in northern Germany. Eventually he was installed as Bishop of Bremen (849). Soon thereafter he responded to yet a third appeal by the Emperor to again travel to Slesvig. This time the new King of Denmark was not a Christian. So the Emperor devised a plan whereby Ansgar became something like an ambassador of the court, which helped Ansgar gain access to the king. It proved a wise plan because Ansgar and the king eventually became friends and ultimately Ansgar baptized the king.
In 853 Ansgar made yet another missionary trip to Birka, Sweden. This time, however, the king could not give clear permission for Ansgar to preach, but he told the bishop that a council of Viking chieftains was soon to gather to select which gods they would officially recognize. Ansgar was allowed into that gathering and, in what was a kind of game of chance, resembling the childhood game of pick-up sticks, Ansgar was permitted to insert the name of Jesus along with the chieftains’ sticks with the names of many Viking deities. Many sticks were picked for official recognition and one of them was the stick with the name of Jesus on it, the one Ansgar had inserted. Thus Ansgar was permitted to preach in Sweden. This time a stronger Christian community was established in Birka.
Before his death in 865, Ansgar made a fifth mission trip, to Ribe, Denmark. There, over vigorous protests by the Vikings, Ansgar erected the first church bell in Scandinavia. How the Vikings objected to the tolling of that bell! Soon thereafter, Ansgar died and it became clear to his biographer that there were several distinguishing characteristics to Ansgar’s ministry that needed recognition. The saint refused any military escort offered him by the imperial court; amidst the Vikings he would convert by word not by sword. Ansgar was renowned among Christians for being a person of prayer. Specifically, he had the gift of offering healing by prayer. But what distinguishes him in this vein was his insistence that his assistants play down these healings by whatever gift Ansgar had so as not to draw attention to himself. Also, in Ansgar’s day the booty of war could include capturing people from among the vanquished to be used for slave labor. Ansgar, when he could, bought many indentured people out of slavery.
Within two years of Ansgar’s death, all of the Christian communities and churches in Sweden and Denmark he had established either fell apart or were driven underground. It was not until two hundred years after the saint’s death that a Christian church was officially and permanently established in Slesvig. And it was said by those who were instrumental in bringing this congregation into existence that it was the spirit of Ansgar that helped it happen. One could almost say that it was his sixth missionary journey, which brings me to our Ansgar icon in Portland, Maine.
Picking up on the notion of a sixth posthumous journey, iconographer Ann wondered why we couldn’t imagine the Saint journeying to North America; a seventh journey. Some months later, I was visiting friends on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot Bay. Thinking of Ann’s question, I took a photo from the island as I faced easterly, looking toward the mainland and Cape Rosier. I sent it on to Ann as a template for her icon and her imagination: Ansgar in North America. That’s what you see in this depiction of the Apostle of the North. It was not, however, a fanciful ruse. What Ansgar accomplished and the obstacles he overcame make him a man for this particular season of Christianity in the Western world. Similar to Ansgar in hostile Viking Scandinavia, the church in the US and in much of Europe is “up against it,” hard pressed to contend with forces within and without that make for tough sledding in our time. Ansgar, in this way of imagining, can be an inspiration for perseverance in challenging times.
The icon has some anachronisms, which we enjoyed employing. The cross in the crook of the staff is a replica of the Birka Cross, only discovered in an archeological dig less than a hundred years ago. Since we were uncertain of how a monk of his time was dressed, the robe he wears in the icon was chosen from photos we had seen of Thomas Merton. The little white church Ansgar cradles, which is a standard symbol in Byzantine iconography for a church builder, is a replica of a typical Danish country church. But these churches in fact date back only to the 16th and17th centuries. Finally, Ann and I have spent a lot of time in campus ministry, so we very much wanted Ansgar’s likeness to be from when he was young, not “venerable.” It’s an icon for the younger generations to identify with. Following Ansgar the visionary, the dreamer, we dreamt of him in North America surrounded with these symbolic features and leading us into our unknown futures.
May his faith and bravery be a model for how we do church in these trying times.
Bridget Lois Jensen