Amsterdam, January 1532
Preach the word…be unfailing in patience and in teaching…2 Tim 4:2
The following night was crisp, clear and moonlit, and not too severely cold, considering it was January. It had been a long day of agonizing indecision for Anna, and evening brought Janneken, but no relief. She longed to spend more time with Adriaen before he sailed out of her life. The temptation to go out with him, away from the same, endless four walls with only children for company, was overwhelming. But she must not let her heart rule her reason, nor loneliness her common sense. ‘A true soldier of Christ, a true soldier of Christ.’ The words twisted and circled through her mind all day, and the pamphlet under her mattress kept luring her gaze in that direction. She steadfastly ignored it.
Just in case she decided to go to the meeting with Adriaen, she changed into a clean kirtle and apron, then laced up her bodice with trembling fingers. She brushed her dark, unruly hair until it was as glossy as it ever had been in her life. A crisply starched white cap, and soft leather boots completed her outfit. But would she go? She bit her fingernails, and straightened the kitchen, which was already neat as a pin. Janneken and the children had a happy reunion, and they giggled and chattered as they played games in front of the fire.
Finally, after dusk descended on Amsterdam, Adriaen arrived. His cheeks were ruddy with cold, and his ears were well-covered by his flat woollen cap, but his eyes sparkled beneath it like diamonds on snow. Though his bulky overcoat covered his muscular frame, Anna noted that the tired stoop was gone from his wide shoulders.
“Are you coming with me?” Adriaen asked, smiling.
“Yes, I will go.” Anna could hardly believe she had agreed. It must be a sign of her desperation to be near a man who saw her only as a nursemaid to his children. It was not because she was the least bit curious about the meeting. In fact, she was taking her life in her hands by attending. But tonight, she would try to figure out what being a ‘true soldier of Christ’ was all about.
Anna wrapped herself in her fur-lined cloak and wound a fleecy scarf around her head. In spite of herself, her spirits lifted as she stepped outside into the night with Adriaen. As they walked in the shadows of the tall houses, she savoured the freedom of being outdoors without the responsibility of watching out for small children. Adriaen led the way to the woods, striding easily on the snow-packed trail.
A meeting in the forest…it was strange, and her nerves tingled with the danger of it. She couldn’t help looking over her shoulder frequently. She was sure she heard someone following them, and her heart almost beat out of her chest. Adriaen listened too, then shrugged.
“Maybe an animal, or others coming to the meeting.” Of course, Anna thought, feeling foolish for her alarm. Others would be going too. Just because someone was following them didn’t mean there was a spy. It was just that sneaking about at night like this made her shiver. Every sound could be the officers coming to arrest them all. And to get rid of them all.
After a brisk walk, they arrived at a small clearing surrounded by cedar trees. Half a dozen men and women were already assembled there, the men already deep in some discussion. They greeted the newcomers warmly and indicated a couple of logs for them to sit on. Nobody introduced themselves or asked for Anna and Adriaen’s names. But then Anna remembered— you can’t betray someone unless you know their name. It was rather comforting, this feeling of anonymity. Nobody would know who she was either.
A clean-shaven man of medium height and shoulder-length hair seemed to be the leader. Was this Jan van Geelen? Or Jacob van Campen, who was the bishop of the Amsterdam Anabaptists? Every time another person came brushing through the snowy cedar branches, she froze, certain that this time it was a spy, or the officers, come to betray or arrest them all.
What was she doing here? What would these people think if they realized she had already betrayed one of their number? Adriaen had told her that his brother had arrived safely in Moravia, but now that the authorities knew Joachim to be a leader, it would never be safe for him to return to his native home in the Netherlands.
Besides Anna, there were two other women there that night, one an older woman and the other appeared to be her granddaughter. They greeted her with smiles and motioned her over to sit with them on a large log. Anna never did find out their names.
Eventually, when the Dienaar were satisfied that no more people were coming, they asked everyone to gather round. The assembled believers formed a half-moon in front of the three Deinaar. The night was beautiful, the stars winked above, and though the air was brisk, the spot was sheltered by the cedars and quite comfortable. Anna thought of the rich decorations in the Oude Kerk, with its colorful stained-glass windows and statues of gold, the altar with its burning candles of incense, the ancient relics and the gold-laced tapestries.
But in this lovely place in the wintry woods, where she knew only one person by name, she felt like she could almost belong to them. Somehow, God seemed much closer here than He ever had anywhere else. She could almost feel His presence here in the woods He had created. She felt closer to these humble people upon meeting them once, than she had in the entire Catholic congregation where she’d been attending all her life.
She didn’t know exactly what it was that made them different. Their voices were kind, yes. It was hard to know who the leaders were, since several of them took turns speaking, and none of them seemed to be the head of the others. Nobody wore expensive clothes, only the simple, unadorned garments of the layman.
The clean-shaven man had opened the service by reading from Scripture in a strong voice, as if he were a ‘True Soldier’ marching in the spiritual army of Christ. “As my Brethren have desired it, I will read from the sixth chapter of the letter of Paul to the Ephesians: ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…’”
A slight stir of alarm filled Anna’s heart, and she wondered whether these people viewed the state church as the devil, the ruler of darkness. The assembled ones bent forward in rapt attention, the light of the moon shining on their eager upturned faces. The next Dienaar am Wort to speak was a large man wearing a long black robe and a beard. He spoke on gelassenheit, a total surrender to the will of God. At the end, he asked anyone desiring baptism to come forward. His eyes seemed to linger on Anna, but she shrunk into the shadows. Did she appear so interested in his words that he thought she might join the Anabaptists? True, she was curious, and she longed to experience the closeness of these people, not the least because Adriaen belonged here, but she was not ready to become one of them.
The young girl came forward to be baptized, as well as a middle-aged man, who was wearing the tunic and hose of a farmer. Her father? They knelt in front of the preacher, and he baptized them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, sprinkling a few drops of water on their heads. He gave the man his hand, and the farmer stood while the preacher blessed him, and welcomed him to the brotherhood with a holy kiss of peace. He repeated this with the girl but omitted the kiss. At the end of the service, Anna looked around in bewilderment when everyone knelt on the snow to pray. When she noticed she was the only one sitting, she hastened to get down on her knees, her cheeks burning. In the Catholic church, most of the people stood during the whole service, including the prayers, and only the priest prayed.
The sermons over, the Anabaptists began to discuss practical matters. Their faith was so new, and they were so scattered by persecution, that it must be difficult for the leaders to get together to debate and adopt unified practices. Anna got up and walked around the edges of the little clearing, alert for any unusual sound, as the men discussed their doctrine long into the night. One loud-voiced, outspoken man seemed to be pushing some sort of scheme which included using force, and he kept quoting violent parts of the Old Testament. The others speedily convinced him to drop that idea. The only sword they would use was the sword of God’s word— the sword of peace and love.
Anna stiffened in alarm when they began discussing the need for more ‘apostles’ to spread the Truth to the world, and then she heard Adriaen’s name. Just like that, and before her very eyes, Adriaen knelt in front of the tall preacher. The preacher laid his hands on Adriaen’s head, asked him a couple of questions which Adriaen answered with ’ja’. Adriaen was pronounced Dienaar am Wort, an evangelist who would spread the Gospel, wherever in Christendom God led him to wander. Adriaen stood, bowing his head in humility.
No! Not Adriaen as a preacher! Anna gaped at him. Adriaen was standing tall and straight in the moonlight. He was the perfect image of a True Soldier of Christ. A lump formed in her throat. How could he look so untroubled and undismayed, yet strong, standing beside the other preachers? Did he truly believe that the Anabaptist view of salvation was the correct one? Anna shook her head. What made him agree to go on a mission that promised to make his life very short? If he lived another year or two, it would be a miracle of God.
He would be in ten times as much danger. Any weak adherent to the Anabaptists who was caught could be tortured until they broke down and betrayed Adriaen’s whereabouts. Then the Court officers would send the tauferjager after him; these rough hooligans would do anything, even hunt human beings, for money. They would chase him until they found him, then after they were done tormenting him, he would be executed by some barbarous method. They would burn down his house, take everything he owned, including his children.
Anna took a step forward, then stopped. Who was she to protest God’s will? She had no right to interfere with Adriaen’s life, nor with what God called him to do. But in that moment, she realized how much she cared for him, how much she wanted him to stay alive, and she might as well admit she loved him. Yet now, more than ever, he was out of her reach. He would not marry anyone who wasn’t an Anabaptist, and Anna was no Anabaptist, though it did seem she was being pulled in that direction. Otherwise, why would she be here?
In the shadow of a sheltering cedar, she prayed for the salvation of Adriaen’s soul, for his safety, and for the steadfastness of any unfortunate soul the authorities caught. She prayed to the Virgin Mary, to every saint she could think of, and to God Himself.
A short time later, Adriaen was ready to leave. Neither of them spoke much on the way home. Anna’s heart was so full she didn’t know what to say, and Adriaen walked as if in a trance. Was it sinking in for him what he had committed himself to do? Instead of sailing away on a ship, he would have to tramp over the whole of the Netherlands and beyond, hiding in forests and swamps wherever he could, and scavenge for food like an animal. The Anabaptists convinced Adriaen that God required him to do this, and he accepted the mission without question.
She feared she would never see him again. In a few weeks, a few months, or a few years at the most, she would hear that he was dead, long after it happened. Perhaps she would hear that he was languishing in some damp dungeon and suffering…
“Adriaen,” Anna faced him in the shimmering moonlight. “Don’t go away!”
Adriaen stopped in the middle of the path and stared at her, a puzzled look in his eyes. “Go away where? Are you saying you don’t want the truth of the Gospel to be pronounced to all Christendom? Because you believe your gambling, drinking, Latin-chanting priest is telling the truth?”
Anna clapped her hands to her mouth. “But that’s blasphemy! You cannot speak like this and go unpunished!”
“I will let God decide who will be punished.” Adriaen’s eyes held concern. “Am I asking too much of you to take care of the children? If so, I will find someone else to look after them.”
Anna shook her head. That was not what she meant at all when she asked Adriaen not to go away. But how could she tell him what she did mean? That she would miss him too much, and that she was afraid for his safety, and if anything happened to him, she would be devastated? Or that she feared he would die unshriven in some castle dungeon, and would suffer eternally? She couldn’t tell him. He must not find out how much he mattered to her. He would be disgusted.
“I…I…just don’t want them to lose their father as well as their mother.” Their footsteps crunched on the snow-packed path as they continued wending their way homewards. A deep fatigue settled on Anna’s mind. Maybe it would be best to just stop caring and worrying so much about her loved ones; let a numbness creep into her mind, like the numbness of her toes from the cold.
“I wish the same, Anna,” Adriaen said. “I will be constantly praying that the children can live with me again, but in the end, I must also pray ‘Not my will, but Thine, O Lord.’” He paused, but Anna didn’t answer. She was so tired. “Will you send messages when I’m gone, and tell me how you and the children are doing?”
“Yes, but how?”
“The baker, Geryt, can be trusted to deliver any letters. I will also send messages as I am able, and I will send money through him as well. I hope to have the children brought up in the true teaching of God when they are a little older, but in the meantime, you must do what seems proper to you.” He looked intently into her face; what was he searching for? “I will pray also that you come to a knowledge of the Truth and give your heart and your will to God.”
Anna let the numbness creep into her soul. That’s what she thought she had been doing all her life. What mortal could know God’s will?
“I will arrange something for them in case I perish,” he continued. “But I may still live a long time, you know. With God, all things are possible.”
If all things are possible, Anna thought, she wished that the world could agree on their religious views, so everyday life could settle down. And if all things were possible, she wanted to settle down with Adriaen as her husband. Was it sinful to wish this? It seemed reasonable to her mind. She would have to ask Father Hendricks about it, but of course, the way things stood, he would not recommend her marrying an Anabaptist preacher. Still, here she was, on the way home from a forbidden meeting, an Anabaptist preacher at her side. She ought to confess it, but she decided Father Hendricks didn’t need to know about it, at least not for now. The confessor’s zeal for eradicating the Anabaptists might stop Adriaen in his tracks. If Father Hendricks found out Adriaen was back in town, the newly-ordained preacher would never take a single footstep across Europe. Anna would not be the one to inform on him.
“Adriaen, now that you’re a Dienaar, might I ask you a question?”
“Certainly. I will do my best to answer, although I am not as learned as some men, you know.” He smiled. The moon shone down in silvery rays through the branches of the snow-dusted trees, while the night breezes carried the clean scent of cedar.
“How is it that the Anabaptists are not afraid to die?” There. It was out.
Adriaen bowed his head, in almost a prayerful attitude. Perhaps he was praying. Praying for the right answer to give her, so that her interest in his beliefs would not float away like the down off a thistle.
“God loves those who follow His will, accept Jesus as His son, and believe that He died for our sins. Only through Jesus dying on the cross can our sins be forgiven, not through any earthly priest,” he said gently. “Nothing stands between us and God except our own sins. Jesus suffered and died for us, and if we obey His commands, he will prepare a place for us in Heaven where great joy and a crown awaits us.”
Anna walked on, trying to make sense of it all. It was difficult for her to imagine a life where there was just a man and his God, without calling on the saints to intercede, and without confessing to any priest. It was quite a leap from the grand cathedrals of the Roman Catholic church to a secret meeting spot in the woods. And a great contrast between the chanting of the richly robed priests before their holy altars, and a discussion in the middle of the night between a dozen men in the woods.
Adriaen walked with Anna to the door of her house, and she turned to bid him good-night. An inscrutable look lingered in his gentle brown eyes.
“Sleep well, my friend,” he said.
“I will try. And I hope you have a nice warm bed to sleep in.”
Feeling shy all of a sudden, Anna stepped into the doorway of the house, her pulse racing, and with legs that felt as wobbly as a pickled herring.
“I shall be fine.” His tender gaze penetrated her soul. “May God be with you and grant you his peace.” Then he vanished into the crystal night. Anna remained on the doorstep, her heart aching and throbbing like a drum.
She’d have to go find herself a respectable widower somewhere, with ten children who wouldn’t care who or what she was, as long as he had someone to care for his children. Maybe that would cure her of this ridiculous fantasizing whenever she was around Adriaen. It was intolerable to pine after him like this. He was an Anabaptist preacher, she was Catholic. It would never work. Not now, and not when he was done mourning. Not even if she was the most beautiful woman on earth.
Inside, she tore off her scarf and tossed it on the trestle table, followed by her heavy cloak. She sat beside the fireplace in brooding silence. The children and Janneken lay sprawled at her feet, sleeping, and she sighed. The spell of peace she had experienced in the forest had disappeared along with Adriaen. If she had as much faith as Adriaen did, it would be easier to trust her future and eternity to God.