Historical setting: 564 C.E. The Gaul Side of the Pyrenees
August investigates the deeper of the caves in the steep bank of the river. He takes a lit lamp and the alms the villager gave. Now Nic and I have been waiting here, and August emerges with only an empty earthen water jar.
“Brother Lazarus” August reports, “Those shoes you made are too small. The monk’s feet are already darkened from the freeze though all the rest of him is the pale of death. His body is sparse and thin but still the shoes would not cover his feet and he needs warm shoes. At first sight I was sure his soul had long fled the bones so I covered what was left of him in the wool. I thought I was wrapping his body for a burial, but then he stirred and then he shivered. He was sleeping nearly breathlessly as in a deep trance of prayer. So when he awoke I offered him a sip of water from a cup I found nearly empty. He was grateful, and said his feet could no longer take him down to the creek and he asked that we fill his jar before we travel on.”
August adds that he thinks we need to bring him out of the cave and take him on with us to the monastery where he can get proper care for his damaged feet.
“Is that what he is asking?” I wonder. “He might be one who seeks spiritual perfection in abandoning the physical world, so placing him in a oxcart for a long journey to find physical healing would only intrude on his spiritual journey even if it takes him beyond this earthly life.”
“What are you saying Laz?” Nic argues, “that we leave him here to die alone simply because he can’t walk to the creek for water?”
“We need to ask him.” August offers that pragmatism and goes back into the cave with Nic following close behind and now I choose to follow also.
While we are deciding his need the monk has pulled himself closer to the front of the cave, so when we find him again he is hiding his eyes from the glare of sunlight beaming into the entrance. Having heard our conversation he is ready with his answer. Now I can see I was quite wrong to suggest he would choose to abandon his bones to nurture spirit alone. He spoke of the thin places but not of death or even of a heaven without earth.