Silence.  Stillness.  Motes of dusk float along sunbeams.  My eye catches the movement of birds, flying past the high narrow window, wings black and shining in the sun.  I shiver.

Leaning closer to the parchment, I adjust for the scant light from the window to better illuminate the words.  I blow very softly on the ink, waiting for it to dry sufficiently so that I may continue without smudging the work I have done.  My breath is light and easy, my chest completely comfortable.  I murmur a prayer of thanksgiving for this small miracle.

With ink stained fingers I dip my quill and continue to write.    This Holy work cramps my fingers and dims my eyesight, but for the glory of God and the Holy Roman Church I prevail.  I am painstaking and accurate in my copying of this most Holy Scripture, unlike several of the Brothers, who add thoughts of their own to the text.  Blasphemy at its most high, as if God’s words needed embellishment.   Today I work alone as I am unable to travel due to my affliction.   Many of the other Brothers have traveled to Umbria to trade wine and cheese for textiles and supplies.  We require very little to maintain our friary, and God always provides.   Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall…

Bells toll.

With great foreboding I lift my head from my work.  A call to prayer at this unusual time could mean only one thing.   Has he reached the hour of his death?  Is it now we must bid farewell to our beloved Father?  Too soon.  Too soon.    I rise.  I know that I must go to him.  Dread grip my heart and my breathing begins to fall short.  I must be calm.  In order to make it up the hill to be by his side I will need inordinate strength.  I attempt to slow my breathing, calming myself as best I can.  I measure each breath I take with care and purpose then attempt to exhale completely before drawing a new.  Gingerly I move to the door, pull it open and step outdoors.

The sun burns my eyes and I am momentarily blinded.  I blink and adjust.  The sounds of nature assail. I am unused to being without walls.  Dust lifts in the breeze and I use the sleeve of my robe to cover my mouth and nose.  I breathe deliberately and begin to walk.

“Brother Thomas it is the worst I fear!  We must be quick.  He lies in the small cell next to the Porziuncola.  Do hurry!”  Sister Miriam rushes by, tears streaming down her kind, round face.  I feel my own tears catch in my throat, but firmly will them away.  I must be strong if I am to make it to the Porziuncola.

One foot dutifully follows the other as I slowly make my way along the path.  Twigs and pebbles gather in my soles but I ignore them as I move slowly but steadily through the woods.  The sun is warm and strong for this time of year, hearkening an obscene cheeriness.  How dare this sun pretend at joy when God’s most beautiful Light is about to be extinguished?  Anger chokes me and I feel my chest begin to expand, a barrel about to burst.  My steps falter.  I cough, my wheezing breath catching in my throat.   Strangling on air thick as mud, I begin to choke.  Wretched body, how can you forsake me now when I need you the most?  I grapple with panic, reaching for elusive faith.  I pray,  ‘Dear God grant me this miracle.  I beg of Thee’.  Grabbing hold of a sturdy tree I try to calm myself.  I must be strong.  I must prevail. I must be there for him as he was there for me so long ago. I must!

Ten years have passed since the Brothers arrived in my small village and enacted my salvation.   Infirm for all of my young life  I had withered in the darkness of our tiny cottage, avoiding the outdoors and its insidious, choking dust.    Day after wretched day I attempted to lighten the burden of my existence lest my father cast me out to beg on the streets as he so often promised to do.  But for my mother bravely standing between us, I would have been abandoned years prior.   I knew that my days at home were dwindling.  Twelve years of age with nothing to add to the meager household, no labor to offer, no trade to pursue.  I had nothing to give but an undersized sickly body fighting for each breath.

When the good  Brothers found me and offered to take me in, I vowed to give my life in service to the Order and to God.  Dazzling was their message and irresistible their means, I was carried along on the strong sure shoulder of Brother Angelo to my new home, my new life.  With song and laughter and antics they spoke most beguilingly of God’s love.     I give thanks each day for this miraculous life I have been given, a life of chosen poverty and humility that I embrace with no reservation.  I exalt in the love of God.  I embrace my beloved Brothers.  And most of all I give all that I am to my beloved Father.  I would surely have died if not for him.  He has given my life purpose.   I now read and write and find that I am a useful instrument in this world.

It is unfathomable that the heart of this Divine Brotherhood is about to cease beating.  I am inconsolable.  My breathing constricts further and I fall to my knees, wheezing painfully, trying to drag breath into my overinflated lungs.  Unable to exhale, I fear that this barrel chest may finally spill its life liquid upon the ground.  While I have no fear of my own death, I fear the death that looms imminent upon the hill.  I am compelled to attend my beloved Father in his final hour but my traitorous body rebels.  I attempt to stand and  the world reels before me.  My vision swims with black spots and I fall to the ground, dirt filling my gasping mouth.  I cough and wheeze but no air can reach my grasping lungs.

“Brother, you have fallen!”  I am swept up in the strong, familiar arms of Brother Angelo.  Overcome with gratitude I begin to weep.

“Our ailing Father asks for you.  I must take you to him.  Peace be with you now, Brother.  You are safe.”  I relax into his strong arms and feel the tightness of my chest begin to ease just slightly.  It is enough.

Outside of the cell, the Sisters gather.  They kneel in silent prayer, surrounding the tiny, still figure of Sister Clare, stark in her grief.  All around them on the ground hundreds of birds have landed, gathering as if to pay homage to the great man within.  The birds stand fearless and unmoving, their heads cocked toward the tiny building.  Brother Angelo pauses at the sight, crosses himself at this miracle, then carries me inside.  It is there I finally see him.

My beloved Father Francis.

Gaunt and gray of skin with bones protruding he lays on a cot, naked but for a thin raiment to cover him.  The wounds of Christ have marked him and now I see for myself that blood seeps from his hands, his feet and his side.  Basins catch the drops of blood before they have a chance to fall to the ground.  He seems unsettled and tries to push these basins aside, but the attending Brothers gently ease them back in place.

“You seek relics of my living blood, my Brothers?  This body bears much pain and suffering, but I do not.  God cloaks me in comfort in my hour of travail.  Leave beautification to our Holy Father in Rome after I have shed these mortal remains.”  His voice is a quiet rasp but I hear him easily as if he whispers directly to my heart.  His gaze falls upon me.

“I see you there, Brother Thomas.  Attend me now.”  Angelo gently sets me to my feet and steadies me so that I do not fall.  I walk to our Father and kneel beside him.  My chest is tight and throbs with breath that will not expend.  I duck my head to hide  tears and weakness.  Father Francis lays his hand upon me.  With terrible joy I feel a warm rivulet of his blood trace its way to my forehead.  I am consecrated.

“Breathe easy.  Breathe easy.”  He speaks on an exhale.  Instantly my body responds.  My lungs, rock hard with putrid air, begin to deflate.  On a long blessed sigh, I am healed.  I take a deep shuddering breath and release it.  My body is replenished.  I sob aloud.

“These tears are greedy, for they steal you from your duty.  I need you my Brother. Take up your quill and make record of this day.  Leo, please.”  Brother Leo takes vellum and quill and sets them before me.  I prepare myself.

“Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You; through those who endure sickness and trial.”

It is his hymn, the Canticle of the Sun.  His reed thin voice wavers, singing the familiar notes lovingly.  Brothers Leo and Ruffino bow their heads, silent tears stream down their cheeks.  Brother Angelo is overcome and leaves the cell.  We hear his agony as he runs toward the wood, a grief too large to contain.

Father Francis pauses, looks to me and nods.  I dip the quill and poise, ready to begin.

“Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.”

His voice fades as the last note is sung and he sinks into sleep.  The final verse is written.  I make record of his hymn,  my fingers shaking with the passion of his final message.  When I have finished, the words drying on the sheet, I leave Father Francis and join the others who have gathered outside to pray.

Hours pass.  I kneel among the birds.   I submit my very life to the Lord if He would spare our most Beloved, vowing that  I would gladly sacrifice all that I am to spare his precious life.  Why am I to be healed of this affliction when Father Francis must perish?  I rage and pray silently in the sunshine, ‘God grant me mercy that I might die so that he can live’.  My knees bleed and I am drained of tears, and still my lungs betray me with their vitality.  There is no grace in this.  No grace in living.

I am startled from my prayers as hundreds of birds end their vigil and lift off from the ground around me.   With a terrific noise they rise, circling once around the hut that houses our Beloved Father  then flying en masse toward the setting sun.  We all watch this glorious, monumental sight, breathless with awe.

Moments later Brother Leo comes outside.  Dusk has fallen.

photo: Jerry Segraves

4 Comments on “At the Setting of the Sun

  1. Stunning! I feel that we have all been to that “timeless” place and have been united once again through your writings and through my painting that was “channeled” through me to the canvas. What a “special” moment.


  2. Pingback: The Senses Awaken | Pieces of Me

  3. Pingback: Then Something Weird Happened | Pieces of Me

  4. Pingback: Miracles Happen | pieces of me

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