Those of us who enjoy spending long hours reading and who also
feel called to write can appreciate the scribe Qoeleth's comment at
the end of Ecclesiastes. From candlelit scriptorium in ancient
monasteries to the light from computer screens, writers have spent
their lives studying, preserving and creating the written word. It
gives both of us pleasure to think we are living in the tradition
of those ancient monks as we sit hunched over our keyboards,
fingers flying so that, perhaps, in us their work continues.
Our "scriptoria" is a computer desk in one corner of our family
room. One wall is lined with shelves made for far fewer books than
we have crammed into this space. Tightly packed lines of books
support mini stacks of books turned sideways on top of them. Small
piles of books, impossible to fit on shelves, are stacked
discreetly beside the bookcases.
In 1492, soon after the invention of the printing press, Abbot
Johannes Trithemius of Sponheim wrote: "The printed book is made of
paper and, like paper, will quickly disappear. But the scribe
working with parchment ensures lasting remembrance for himself and
Thankfully, books are still with us and writers still write,
even though now mostly on a computer where, with a simple touch of
the "delete" key, a whole work can disappear before it can be
From time to time, we consider giving away some of our books,
but how can a person give away pieces of the minds of Tolkien G.K.
Chesterton, Henri Nouwen or any one of a number of the fine authors
we have come to know and love?
Our oldest son tells us he has downloaded more than 6,000
articles and books and most of his reading is done with electronic
devices. He keeps just a precious few "real books" on a small shelf
in his house in San Diego. We gave him our copy of A Time to Plant
by Kyle Kramer and were happy to see it had been given a place on
his bookshelf when we visited him.
Our son often tells us we should be downloading everything, but
we like the feel of a paper book. There is something tangible and
comforting about words on a page. We glance over at our shelves and
immediately we feel surrounded by old friends.
We still enjoy referring to Writings on Spiritual
Direction (By Great Christian Masters) Edited by Fr. Jerome
Neufelder and Mary C. Coelho. We knew Fr. Neufelder and think he
would be happy to know he still lives on our bookshelf.
A doorway connects our "scriptoria" with our kitchen. This, too,
gives us a connection with monks of long ago. We read that, at some
point in the Middle Ages, scriptorium began to be located next to
the monastery kitchens. Perhaps the warmth from the kitchens
spilled over into the scriptorium to warm the monks' thoughts and
Frankly, we are grateful for the warmth, but we think it would
be difficult to sit next to a kitchen and try to write while we are
being tempted by the smell of baking bread. However, since bread
seldom gets baked in our kitchen, as soon as this article is
finished, we will find a good book and have a cup of tea.