I'm currently reading a little gem of a book ? really, a little collection of little gems of essays ? called A Monk's Alphabet: Moments of Stillness in a Turning World
. It's by Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, a Benedictine monk who lives part of the year at Mount Angel monastery
in Oregon, and part of the year as a teacher in Rome.
Driscoll's book is a meditative, quiet, peaceful read. It's a series of short essays on any number of themes, including both the expected ? Monastic, Prayer, Lazarus ? and the mildly surprising ? O'Keeffe, Mosquitoes, Germs. All of the essays stand or fall on their own merit. Indeed, it must be stressed that, unlike, for example, Kathleen Norris's Cloister Walk, these essays are individual entities, brief, and sometimes profound, explorations of various themes.
A Monk's Alphabet is a beautiful book, both in its design, and in terms of what lies within its pages. The essays vary wildly in content, from thoughts of the lessons of friendship, to the general direction of Western culture, to the horror of war; they always fall back on the Lordship of Christ, and His prescription for world and individual redemption.
Take, for example, this entry titled "Message:"
Things have a message. All things do, if only I know how to hear. Cups, lakes, clouds, trucks, dogs, desks-anything. Everything! I have this image: I bend over and put my ear to anything at all ? say, to the side of a couch ? and I listen very carefully to the quiet stream of the Eternal Word of God, holding the couch in existence, giving himself to me in the world that surrounds me. Each thing: a door through which the silence of God breaks into some particular, partial expression.
As I said, this is a quiet book, not a weighty and triumphant work of theology. It's something to be read slowly, and savored. And, it will haunt you, reader, it will haunt you.
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Speaking of Benedictines, I'd like to encourage everyone to take a look at their original charter, and the charter for western monasticism as a whole, The Rule of Saint Benedict. I use this book a great deal in my own life, and I'm hardly a monastic. Sure, much of it is difficult to relate to the life of a layperson ? after all, do we need to be instructed in clothing and footwear? ? but overall, it's a miracle of spirituality, inculcating a spirit devotion to God and God's order in all that we say or do.
Of particular interest are the "Prologue," the "Guidelines for Christian and Monastic Good Practice," and the long section of humility as a path to unity with the divine. I find, though, that much more of this precious text flavors my days as well. The sections on how to treat guests, on "the good spirit which should inspire monastic life," and on leadership in a monastery can all be related to our day-to-day struggles to be better human beings in relationship to one another and to our creator.
The version of The Rule that I like best is called Wisdom from the Monastery: The Rule of St Benedict for Everyday Life. It includes a wonderful translation of the text, and several short essays by the likes of Kathleen Norris on such subjects as Lectio Divina, Prayer, and the Work of God. It's a lovely book, and I anticipate that you'll cherish it always.