January 2016 Print

The Tradition of Slowness

by a Benedictine Monk

Let there be no slothful brother who wastes his time in idleness
or gossip, neglecting reading, harming himself and disturbing others.
Let the monk be slow to speak, quick to listen. Let us be certain that we shall not be heard for our much speaking. (Rule of St. Benedict)

Slowness, handwriting, reading books ... and being old-fashioned, Tradition lives in the many forms of the true, the good, and the beautiful. But there is also prudence, that guardian of the virtuous. The prudence of ponderation, reflection, and consideration has a loyal ally, that ancient Roman virtue of discretio, discretion, meaning balance, measure, and moderation.

Far from pipe-dreams and romanticism, the natural, deliberate, slower pace of things such as handwriting, reading, and ponderation, has been wisely determined by a Divine Intention. There is indeed a redemptive virtue in all things established by God. St. Benedict writes “Let us hasten to do now, what may profit us for eternity.” In such sublime matters requiring deeper reflection and consideration as eternity, a certain slowing down may be the best thing to hasten.

Scripta manent

Written documents endure

While visiting the archives of Rheims which conserves one of the three extant letters dictated and signed by St. Joan of Arc, the archivist remarked, “We only have such documents today because they were written, with pen and paper.”

What we admire in such hand-scripted documents is the expression and transmission of something deeply personal about its author, in this case, a lone signature. The signature of St. Joan of Arc has been rigorously analyzed. An effusion of extraordinary traits of soul has been discovered therein. It matters little that she may have been left-handed or even illiterate, but the determined strokes of her signed name, especially the sword-like “J” of Jehanne, reveal a soldierly saint, the dynamics of a divine mission underway, a girl of seventeen willing to obey the voices of saints unto her martyrdom.

Pen and Ink

Let each monk be given a pen and paper for writing.

The art of handwriting belongs to oral communication. Writing is first a self-dictation in one’s thoughts of what the hand will then put to paper. You can hear the voice of the author as you read, but the message is permanent. A hand-written letter, being more pondered and reflected, often says more than words.

A good word is above the best gift.”

Handwriting is at once acquired virtue and second nature, an intimation of words and forms, a revelation of soul, in a different way than speaking aloud or fingering on a keyboard. We think more slowly and clearly in this quiet process, all in a tempo and cadence which is in harmony with the calm heartbeat, relaxed breathing, and the corresponding strokes of the pen in hand. It is not astonishing that specialists have praised handwriting as having highly therapeutic effects.

We admire the graceful, feminine penmanship found in the diary of St. Bernadette and the hand-written memoirs of Sr. Lucia, the celebrated visionary of Fatima. But beyond the charming old-world script of these treasured documents, is something even more profound, the absolute fluidity and clarity of thought, from interior thoughts to words put upon paper, without ever backing up to scratch-out or change a single word, written in permanent ink without rough drafts or notes. They wrote as simply as they lived, in a slower-paced era, thinking and writing in an admirable harmony which further expresses the candid truth of their message.

Hardbound Books

“Let them each receive a book...which they shall read through to the end.”

The benefits of reading a traditional hardbound, letterpress printed book continue far beyond the senses of sight, smell, and touch. Hardbound, cloth or leather, with gilt stampings, protective dust jacket, off-white ecrue paper made from wood pulp, pages sized for turning with a finger, font styles pleasing to the mind’s eye, line spacing adjusted for concentrated reading, yet the fine art of book making is to produce a permanent document and a permanent truth. Permanence is a necessary support of content, a hallmark of spiritual writings.

The Ladder of Monks

Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Contemplatio

The four-rung ladder of monks is: reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation. This, very briefly, is the supernatural process of union with God, which begins in reading. This ancient ladder is ascended in calm, interior silence, solitude, and most of all, the slowness of the patient expenditure of time. Peace of soul is achieved through this essential exercise of religious and contemplative souls. Each echelon corresponds to something deep within the soul, enflamed by the charity of God, without which we cannot truly live.

The Ladder of Monks makes use of the unchanging words of divinely inspired books placed on a shelf in the monk’s cell. There they await being opened, when the Holy Ghost will speak to us as we read. As St. Jerome writes, “When we pray we speak to God, when we read, God speaks to us.” What then shall He say to us?

The first and last words of the Rule of St. Benedict are: “Ausculta...et pervenies—Listen ... and you shall arrive.”