ARTICLES & BOOKS   Jeremy Driscoll OSB
A Monk’s Alphabet

Moments of Stillness in a Turning World

DARTON - LONGMAN + TODD, 2006

For Paul Murray, OP who helped so much with this alphabet and who helps so much in general

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Improbability
Infinite Nothingness
Instruments
Invisible
Inwardness in Things

Improbability

To the improbability of the universe existing - yet it does - there corresponds the improbability of a planet like earth existing - which, however, it does. To this improbability there corresponds the improbability of human life and consciousness existing on earth, but it does. Then there is the improbability of me existing, and yet I do. I am writing these lines. To all of these improbabilities there corresponds, and yet infinitely surpasses, the improbability of God, Creator of the universe, becoming incarnate in a human nature and revealing his whole being using the language of all these improbabilities. Yet it has happened. I believe in improbabilities, a remarkable string of improbabilities. Not in impossibilities, but in improbabilities.

Infinite Nothingness

Three weeks alone in a house at the sea, and one day passing into another with the ocean continually pasted up before my eyes. I have very little sense of one day being distinguishable from the next or one hour of prayer to be told from another. Prayer? What a mystery! Sometimes I feel an urge to describe it, from curiosity, from a desire to understand it; but I waver between calling it intense or nothing at all.
Christ is so huge. I lay in bed in the dark the other morning and said aloud to him, "I am afraid of you." Of course, there was no response. I did not mean that I am afraid of his being mean to me, or something like that. I am afraid of his infinity, overwhelmed by it. I thought of him as the eternal God emptying himself and becoming one like us to the point of undergoing death. That death would have been a kind of negative infinity for him, an abyss of nothingness in contrast to his infinite being. How could he have done it! Sensing something of the horror of this, I felt that this infinite nothingness is a realm into which I could fall if he himself, who experienced it, does not save me.

Instruments

In the Rule of St. Benedict, written in the sixth century as a rule for monks, there is a chapter called "The Instruments of Good Works." It is a list of some 70 monastic practices and tells us much about how monastic virtues and good deeds were conceived. One of the striking features of this catalogue is that it begins not with anything specifically monastic, but rather with the listing of the ten commandments and other key injunctions from Jesus addressed to alI his disciples. When I first came to the monastery and was taught this chapter, I remember wanting to pass on quickly to the specifically monastic stuff. I have since learned that a monastery provides ample occasion for observing injunctions like "do not kill" or "endure persecution."

Invisible

Among many good reasons that God presumably has for remaining invisible, one of them seems to be so that his creatures - and especially the human person, his image - might step out into their own, that is, that they might appear in their own magnificence without being outshone by him. Again, the humility of God and his gracious courtesy appear in this habit and arrangement of his. Thus, he can be pleased when two people are so absorbed in each other that they may not for the moment be thinking of him. He enjoys it when we enjoy him in what he has made.
There is a lovely freedom in this that I think he would at least sometimes want me to derive joy from - the freedom just to live and take pleasure in things, without being especially religious. It is sometimes enough for me, and just what God wants, that I simply and carefully behold the other - the other person, the other thing.
This thought is applicable in its own way even to evil, sin, and tragedy; for in seeing any of these, I do so on the strength of God letting them be, his allowing freedom its consequences, his gracious waiting for our turning from foolishness. So sometimes I just live the tragedies without always reflecting directly on God and thereby still experience his retiring and even shy presence.

Inwardness in Things

Supposedly we are made for God, for things absolute. But are we to go toward God at the cost of failing to notice that things in themselves are substantial, real and engaging? Things exist in themselves, with their own proper nature; they exist as they are. There is a true inwardness in things, an essence to each. They exist in their own right. That all this should be the case surely also has something to do with God. In other words, religious stuff is not the only way to God. Focusing directly on him is not the only way. Thomas Aquinas said, "All knowers know God implicitly in what they know." Saying all this, I do not mean to deny my principal roots in monastic life and theology, but that doesn't require that I get all excited and exclaim, "Oh my God! It's the Pope!" The pope fits in. I am grateful for popes. Yet even popes will turn attention from themselves not only to God but also to the things of this world. "The beautiful quality of the light of your island!" I heard Pope Pius XII exclaim in a recorded speech to Sicilians visiting him in the Vatican.