READ: II Chronicles 34:14-21
“When the priests and workers were bringing out the money that had been accumulating in the house of the Lord, money now required to pay for the rebuilding of the Temple, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses some four hundred years before. … Shaphan the scribe then brought the found book to King Josiah and read to him its words. When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes in remorse for he and his people had not been keeping the terms of this covenant with God.” – II Chronicles 34:14,21
In the midst of a major refurbishment of the Temple, a building whose care had been long neglected, the construction crew came upon a sacred book that had somehow become lost in the rubble of passing time. The Chronicler refers to it as the Book of the Law of Moses. We are not sure to what this precisely refers, either a book of priestly practice, or our present Book of Deuteronomy, or even a copy of the Torah. Its exact content we are not sure, but the significant matter is that “the Book” had somehow through the decades, maybe centuries, had become lost and forgotten, though the priests all through those years had kept gathering offerings in the Temple vaults. And when the good King Josiah was read the words of this Lost Book, he broke down in shame, guilt and tears. It was if the young King was weeping in remorse, “How could we have forgotten these valuable words?”
Somewhere along the way, a most significant Book was put on a shelf and left there, gathering dust in the realms of the eventually-to-be-forgotten. I find it utterly amazing that the Temple, the priests, the nation of Israel, could have lost touch with something so central, so essential, so foundational to their way of life! How could that have happened! Yet … it does happen … it happened back then and I believe it can happen today. We can somewhere along the road of time and change … lose touch with the Something-Very-Much-Needed.
Monks were famous for their work as the printing presses of medieval times. In their Scriptorium, monks would sit at rows and rows of writing desks, making handwritten copies of books, read to them by a lector, one word at a time. Tedious work, slow work, but work that might only be done by monks who could pray for hours and, for that matter, for generations through the tools of pen and ink. Some say that the monasteries were the means by which knowledge was kept alive through the book burning wars of the Dark Ages. Nowadays our one and only Brother who works in our Scriptorium here at Greyfriars’ Abbey does so more as an artist, creating beautiful manuscripts in calligraphy and artistic illumination. No longer is the Scriptorium necessary to keep alive the ancient texts, but rather to keep alive the ancient art. But still … it is for the sake of remembering that which ought not to become lost in the rubble of time.
In recent years, contemporary souls have questioned why the monastic life continues to be. It all seems rather archaic. Some might say these foolish men and women who live the monastic life are out of touch with these modern, changing times. Some might say these Brothers and Sisters serve little purpose in this high-tech, high-efficiency, high-energy era. Why do we need these places that carve out cathedrals of quiet in such a noisy world? Why do we need these places that cherish reverence and tradition in a world so caught up with activity and innovation? Why do we need these places … that seem so, so different from the world about them … keeping alive old values and ancient ways that are so different than those held by the world we have become?
I believe … yes, I have come to deeply believe it is so that this world – even the world of the Christian church – might never lose forever … a certain “Book”, a book of truth in danger of becoming lost forever in the rubble of our frantic change. It is not about old-fashioned rules and it is not about antiquated understandings and it is not about a greying nostalgia of the “good-ole-days”. No, rather it is about … certain ways of life and certain values in life that ought not to become lost forever… wisdom and practices that quite possibly, and I sense quite probably, … are still essential to the well-being of the soul and to the well-being of society.
It is not what we will learn that will most likely do us harm, but that which we have forgotten.
Brother Anthony of the Cross