Today is the first (UK) publication date for Band of Angels, a project that has seen me through a strange and sad, but also beautiful period of my life.
The book is dedicated to two sisters, my mother Robbi and her adored older sister, whom we all knew as ‘Sis’. They were the two great luminaries of my childhood, and it was their plucky refusal to think that ‘their’ – women’s – version of Christianity was less important than what the ‘men in skirts’ (as they affectionately called them) were doing that sparked my own fascination with the early Church all those years ago. Sis died twelve years ago, when my own girls were tiny. I remember my mother talking resolutely in those days about how good it is that life flows on. Losing her sister brought a pain that would always be with her, but she couldn’t get over how lucky we were – are – to have a new pair of sisters in the family now.
And now she is gone, too. My first memory of God-talk was when she herself lost her mother, a lifetime ago. I remember her trying to explain that when you love someone they are always with you no matter what happens to them or to you. She explained to me that this is what God is: the thing that connects us, that makes love real no matter what happens. I did not know it then, and I am fairly sure that she did not know it herself, but that explanation of love is one that reaches back to the fourth century. It is an explanation offered by Saint Augustine, as he mused about the death of his beloved mother, Saint Monnica. It was only in adulthood that I discovered that my mother’s lovely idea about God and love was actually a legacy that connects her, and all of us, back through Augustine to one of the great women of the early Church.
So perhaps it was no accident that it was during the dark time of my mother’s last illness that I found myself wandering through the lost world of early Christian women. The journey has been a source of both solace and delight.
Mary and Martha, Thecla and Perpetua, Blandina and Melania, Paula and Eustochium, Olympias and Pulcheria: thank you for being such marvellous companions! It has been a privilege to try to see the world through your eyes. And if you meet two plucky sisters from Alabama, I hope you will give them my love.