I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Laurie Klein’s reflection titled “Alphabet of Presence.”
I keep sensing, maybe as an amateur mystic,
that the whole world is every moment saying the name of God. —Li Young Lee
After my father died, ragged bereavement steamrolled my days. Journaling, therapy, and medication helped. I also took up calligraphy. A focused return to the ABCs might reawaken curiosity, make me feel less numb, more present.
Cautiously hopeful, I tackled Uncial, an uppercase medieval script historically used by monks. Ancient texts often featured a versal, or large embellished letter, now known as a drop cap. The gilded letterform’s interior spaces and surrounding area might showcase painted lilies, stars, or vines. Saints. Angels. A fiendish imp.
I soon learned clinical depression saps concentration. Even dexterity wavers. Despite penciled guide lines, my plodding rows of rookie “A’s” resembled a windblown beach fence.
Fine. I would become a disciple of “B”—which suggested my father’s funhouse signature: the bulbous, lurching capital, our surname’s ten letters sardined within. Before long, my downstrokes reliably commandeered the practice page; loops, not so much. More immersion, then. More practice. Breath, synced with motion. Eventually, the entire arm learns to trust restful, repetitive cadence.
Here was something I could control.
Then I’d muff the next letter, give in to gloom. Always we begin again, St. Benedict wrote. As the weeks passed, rendering letterforms felt akin to prayer. An alphabet of presence. I sensed God’s pleasure, a serene nearness that rekindled hope via the flow of ink, the angled nib, the breath-held flick when adding a flourish.
Single words became islands, afloat yet connecting across spaces eloquent as a mindful pause. Picture slipstreams of soap bubbles wafting over a balcony railing. Passersby pause, necks craning upward. The scribe waves back, her pen, a small plastic wand.
How often over this past year have you wanted to wave a magic wand? Assailed by viral mayhem, beset by global grief, I’ve tumbled down too many virtual rabbit holes, overwhelmed by jangling news and cutthroat opinion. Come January 2021, I wondered what fresh spiritual practice might jump-start delight. I’d not yet felt chosen by a guiding word.
What if I picked a letter instead, used corresponding words to spur renewed devotion?
Is it any surprise I chose “B”?
Three months later, my imagination and spirit remain attuned to one generous majuscule and its tacit music.
Breath of All Being, I murmur, help me begin. And in response, over time, I . . .
… bend in prayer: Beckoning Brightness, illumine the way
… contemplate the Beatitudes: Beautiful Savior, rebalance my life
… try to daily embody the word Behold
… donate honeybees: Benevolent God, champion beekeepers everywhere
… peruse black poets and writers: Bringer of Breakthrough, establish justice with mercy
… welcome returning bluebirds: Bard of the Seasons, birth new life through me
… savor breath prayers: (inhale) Be near me, Beloved; (exhale) help me believe
… spice entrees with fresh bay leaf, basil, or borage: Abiding Bounty, fine-tune my taste
… harness signage for prayer: Prosper Mr. Barbieri’s business
… run an herbal bath, then soak-and-soul-search: What blessed me today? Who blindsided me? Where am I broken? What might yet be born . . . and what must I bury?
On a recent walk I blended an essential Navajo ideal with St. Patrick’s breastplate prayer, creating new lyrics for “Morning Has Broken”:
Beauty before me, Beauty behind me, bridging our spirits, bountiful Lord;
Brimming within me, moving beside me, timelessly guide me, forevermore.
Books are also timeless guides. I love to read, but occasional guilt overtakes me: Shouldn’t I focus more on the Bible?
Thank heavens for the Abbey’s inspired reading selection, God Alone Is Enough. Author Claudia Mair Burney quotes Teresa of Avila: “Without a book my soul felt dry and my thoughts wandered. With one, I could collect my thoughts. [Books] were the bait that lured my mind back to awareness of God.”
Fellow celebrants, might you befriend a letter? Then, another. And another . . .
Gently now, begin with a bow . . .
Laurie Klein is the author of Where the Sky Opens and Bodies of Water, Bodies of Flesh. She blogs monthly at LaurieKleinScribe.com