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Catholic_monks_in_Jerusalem_2006“Will you be comfortable there, Father? Can I bring you a blanket?”

The novitiate is over-solicitous, as those fresh to the calling tend to be, and he tests Father Ignatius’s patience at times. “A blanket, indeed? Now that would be an indulgent sin, would it not? ” The old Abbot replies.“I wonder, Brother, would you ask Brother Thomas to come and see me when he is spared from his tasks? I would like him to sit with me for a while, if he can. Oh! (As the young brother moves to depart) And you might ask him to bring a blanket, should he be able.”

The novitiate fades into the green fog of the garden, leaving not a memory behind.

With a contented sigh Father Ignatius leans back on the hard timber bench while his rheumy eyes explore the mist, wandering among those vague splashes of colored flowers which are impressions on his palette of memory, remembered rather than seen. For he sees so little now. There is campion where Brother Paul will always plant it, already in bloom, a brave red slash along the bed before the wall, and there the meadow-sweet and flowering thyme, in softer more subtle hues. From the orchard on the hill a message comes, a gentle scent of apple blossom on the breeze – a breeze now chill to these old bones, though the sun is strong. And this is his garden, sight and scent, and this the hum of bees, and this, his world.

Left alone, his mind quickly fades to sleep. His breath cracks in his chest. Wafts of grey habit drift by, hither and thither, with greetings he scarcely hears.

“Good day to you, Father!”

“God bless you, Father!”

These, his children, some who will pause to touch his hand as they pass, some who will not. On the edge of rest he sighs in sorrow for them. Brother Thomas brings news often of the new King, so discontented with his Spanish Queen, whose dialogue with the Church is tainted by violence and hatred; and Thomas fears he would burn down this sanctified place. Father Ignatius makes a silent prayer for his King who, though god himself, needs his true God’s grace.

He has dozed awhile, has he not? The sun has dropped lower over the presbytery roof, casting its long shadow like a cloak across the grass. How long has he slept? Has he missed Vespers? Why has Brother Thomas not come for him? Some more pressing business, Father Ignatius suspects, for his good friend will soon be abbot in his place, an office he already conducts in all but name. Yet the bees still hum their own plainsong, and the birds’ jealous melodies of evening are scripture to eyes which can see the written word no more. So perhaps God will forgive him his omission this once? Father Ignatius settles his conscience with a word or two of prayer, and drifts.

Again? Has he yielded to sin and slept again?

I am cold.

“I am cold.” Father Ignatius says, but no words come. From deep within something is reaching for him, and someone stands behind him, someone he cannot feel or see. There is a roaring sound in his head like the surf he played upon in his youth, pounding and pounding. He sees himself, a child again. He sees the beach, and Marian whom he loved once, smiling her welcome, her skin fresh and shining in the salt spray.

A new journey has begun – a journey for which he has been preparing all his life.

Around Father Ignatius a mist is closing, a grey cloak that curls and swirls like speech, but has no sound. Yet there is sound. Voices: strange voices that speak in words he scarcely understands.

“Through here. Try this door.” A young man.

“You first!” A girl or a young woman, fearful.

A lance of light, stabbing, flickering! Suddenly, rapidly, they materialize before him. The young man bears the light in his hand. He is short-haired and beardless. The woman is dressed shamefully in just a loose vest and a strip of cloth about her hips. There, for a moment, Father Ignatius sees as though the veils of age have been entirely lifted, and the woman sees him too. Their eyes meet. She screams in horror. The young man drops the lance of light. Both figures turn, to be lost once more in the mist.

Brother Thomas will discover Father Ignatius still seated in his customary place in the garden after Compline, as the last traces of evening fade. With the neglectfulness of youth his novitiate never gave him the ancient abbot’s message. Filled with remorse Brother Thomas will drop to his knees to give his old departed friend the Last Rites. As he does so, his knee will find something hard half-buried in the grass and he will pick up this object, a black cylinder. He will be amazed to discover that in response to his touch it will emit a piercing light.

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