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SHAKIR NOORI

vants, that when they read or write out any holy text, they might understand it and benefit from it.’”

Father Charbel was no ordinary librarian, but a voracious reader into the bargain, reading ceaselessly day and night, offering advice on what to read, and helping researchers. I shall never forget the assistance he gave me over sources for my thesis. He encouraged some of the monks to copy torn books and rebind and decorate them, and taught them the art of restoration. The keys to all the books were in his hands and the monks would record their titles in the records and registers. But more than that, he transformed the monastery into a great pyramid of the tales and stories that lay between the library’s four walls, tirelessly probing the hidden caves and tunnels of its books and the spirits of their authors. He wrote and numbered and catalogued, staying up till dawn, spilling his pale lamplight onto the pages, wrestling with their shaky handwriting, and asking himself, in cheerful scholarly spirit: Were the authors magicians who transformed into bishops and priests and monks and angels and shut themselves away in this corner, repeating in our earshot: “Close your eyes a moment. You shall see Jesus in the letters of the books upon the library’s shelves!”?

There was no solitude in the library, as Father Charbel would say. The monk’s solitude was in his cell, and without these books he would never see further than the end of his nose. Those poor wretches who grow old, not one of them knowing what to do with his time or his life. The retired government worker might be kept occupied by family. The monk, meanwhile, leaves his cell to pray and eat, then returns to sleep, hoping Christ’s shadow will pass through his dreams. It was possible he might catch a sight of this shadow in the innards of his books, he should keep reading – and Father Charbel never hesitated to make this point to the novices, to encourage them to read and study and keep their young minds alert and open. These dust-covered tomes wait only for hands to pluck them out and eyes to break the code of their tangled letters and restore them to life: as though the pages were a lonely woman, caressed by the hands that came to turn them.

I would spend hours in the monastery’s library until I’d notice Father Charbel standing over me and saying: “Reading is the only way to dispel cold nights of sleeplessness, worry, and nightmares.”

I would lift my face to him and reply: “You’re right, Father Char-

34 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015

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