By Kim Metzgar
“But if I am a monk, that means also that I am just a man, connected with all other men and women in my time and in other times. I am searching, like we all do. I struggle to believe, like we all do. Life is lovely, life is hard this is true for me like it is for us all. That is why I think to share my alphabet. Not because monks are different and so worth a visit to see them in a zoo, but because my monastic life has given me the space to think about things that we all care about and all have to face. Life poses huge questions. Terrible questions, glorious questions. We must face them. Avoiding them makes us dangerous and makes the world go crazy.” By Father Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B.,A Monk’s Alphabet.
Father Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., thinks of writing as a part of his monastic vocation. The author of eleven books and more than 50 scholarly articles, has recently reached popular success with two of his latest books, What Happens at Mass (2005), and A Monk’s Alphabet: Moments of Stillness in a Turning World (2006). He writes both from his home monastery at Mount Angel, in Oregon, and from Sant’ Anselmo, the international Benedictine university in Rome, where he once studied and where he now teaches. Although he is monk, priest and teacher, Father Jeremy considers writing as part of his monastic vocation. “It may sound odd to say it, but I think of it as somehow exercising the monastic virtue of hospitality. It is my way of sharing the fruits of the monastic life with guests to the monastery,”in this case, with readers.
“Monks try to practice mindfulness,”he adds. “They strive to be aware of God all the time, and all of the ageold monastic practices have this as their goal. But one can’t just think directly about God. Being aware of God’s presence in the course of a given day will mean a wide range of things to be attentive to, extending from the Word of God and the sacraments in the various liturgies to whatever is happening that day in the world, in the monastery, in my life. That will sometimes mean letting oneself be struck by even the most unexpected of things as the revelation of God. I write to keep myself mindful and to record, for myself and others, what I have come to understand, what I struggle to understand. In this sense writing is woven into the whole fabric of my day.”
A Monk’s Alphabet has sold more than 12,000 copies in the first four months. Father Jeremy notes he is writing to "e;believer and unbeliever alike and trying to share with all the perspectives that monastic life makes possible.”
He has used his training in theology to write What Happens at Mass. However, he notes “to understand our faith on a profound level it should not be necessary to be a professional theologian, even if I am convinced that professional theology is one way of faith pursuing understanding in a profound way. And professional training in theology is useful in guiding others who may not be professionally trained.”
After completing two graduate degrees at Mount Angel Seminary School of Theology, Father Jeremy’s abbot sent him to Rome for a degree in patristics. He completed the first at Sant’ Anselmo, contribute to Father Jeremy’s writing, as well as his teaching.
“Since I wanted to write my doctorate on Evagrius Ponticus, Sant’ Anselmo’s specialized department of monastic studies (the Monastic Institute) seemed the best place for writing it,” he said. “I got interested in Evagrius during a seminar at Sant’ Anselmo during my first round of studies here in Rome in 1983. I was fascinated by both the style and the content of his writing, and I realized in that seminar that he is crucial for understanding the spiritual life of a monk. I had the good fortune of making some original discoveries in my research, and the importance of Evagrius in a program of monastic studies emerged more forcefully in my own doctoral work. So, when I was finished with my doctorate, I was invited to teach the very things I discovered in my own research and at the same Institute in which I had made the discoveries.”
His yearly semester in Rome and his work at Mount Angel and at Sant’ Anselmo, contribute to Father Jeremy’s writing, as well as his teaching.
“At Mount Angel I feel very much inserted with my students into the scene of the Church in the United States,” he notes. “At Sant’ Anselmo my students come from many nations and from many different local churches and cultures. This is a tremendous richness. I think my closeness to the Church in the United States brings something to my teaching at Sant’ Anselmo that it might not otherwise have. Naturally something similar is true in the opposite direction. The international perspective I gain at Sant’ Anselmo enriches my teaching in the United States.
“I write about what I teach about,” he said. “Working questions out with students refines and clarifies what I want to write. But once I have gotten something put into writing, I don’t hesitate to use it in my teaching because anything I would be willing to publish is certainly my best effort at stating the question. So time given over to teaching is time given to writing, and vice versa.
“This is true even of my more popular books, What Happens at Mass and Monk’s Alphabet because in both of these I am making a pastoral application of my scholarly work; and I make this a dimension of my academic teaching as well.”
The opportunity to study and pray in Rome provides many occasions for inspiration, he adds.
“Roman Catholic liturgy developed in this city under the influence of Peter’s successors, the popes, and under the influence of the imperial culture. The scores of churches throughout the city each bear witness to a different layer of the history of the community, still alive today, that descends from the apostles. The streets, the buildings, the piazzas, the abundant art, the very way of life—all these are witnesses to the history of Christian faith in this city and its spread from here. So, one feels it all the time, sometimes directly in examining it, sometimes in the background of what one is studying and praying about.”
Father Jeremy has several more writing projects planned. He notes, “I have just finished writing an article on the liturgical theology of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. This will be part of a volume which is a birthday gift to the Pope on his eightieth birthday, presented to him by the Pontifical Academy of Theology, of which I am a member.
“I have published two major articles on the Polish Nobel prize winning poet Czeslaw Milosz. I am planning two more. I would also like to write another popular book about liturgy like What Happens at Mass, maybe on the Liturgy of the Hours or on the Creed. I would also like to write another book in the same genre of Monk’s Alphabet because I enjoy writing in that style and people seem to enjoy reading it. I want to focus the subject matter a little more tightly on questions of desire for people and places, desire for things to turn out a certain way. Desire is a beautiful, dangerous, fruitful mystery.”