Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

About the Written Word

by Ann Cavera


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 his text."

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 printed.

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 fingers.

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. 

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.