monks, contemplatives, and writers all in pursuit of beauty

I’ve kinda been into monk-ish thoughts lately.

That is, for the past 6 months or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about contemplation and have read a few books relevant to a contemplative lifestyle lately – like The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery by Henri Nouwen and Contemplation in a World of Action, essays by Thomas Merton, himself a famous Trappist monk.

So today when I was skimming through headlines on the NPR news page, this one naturally caught my eye: Inspired by Monks, A Writer Embraces His Life of Solitude.

From the article – love this:

Most of them, I think, were extremely serious about their vocations. But there’s such a thing as merry monk, you know? …  And here were these people who had – I think this may be the best way to describe a monastic life – people who had made a conscious choice to dedicate their lives to the pursuit and – the creation and the pursuit of beauty.

-Fenton Johnson, the writer interviewed in this article – who also, interestingly enough, grew up in Kentucky right near the Trappist Monastery Gethsemani where Thomas Merton was, and whom he also references in this interview; it was monks from this monastery that Johnson grew up knowing and interacting with on a regular basis.

In the spring of my sophomore year of college, already four years ago now (what?!), I took a class that introduced me to an incredible, inspiring, and mystery of a woman writer – Emily Dickinson. I love this poet. I love her poetry. And her story is so intriguing to me (Why spend most of your adult life secluded in your own home, seeing very few people outside of your immediate family, and dressing always in white?? etc.); and while she’s still largely an enigma to me, I think I’m starting to understand her just a bit more, especially in light of my contemplative readings of late – which emphasize the importance of solitude. Emily Dickinson, after all, was another artist (I’d even venture calling her a contemplative) in pursuit of, almost obsessed, even, with beauty:

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth, – the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.




  1. Bekah, VERY interesting post. . . THANKS!  If you are wanting to look into more of the background of monastic life, mindset, way of life, etc. it would be well not to overlook the eastern tradition.  Some really great stuff there. Too much to list, but here are a few suggestions or starting points: Anything from or about monks on Mt. Athos:  St. Silouan, St Paisios, Archmandrite Aimilianos  (The Way of the Spirit: Reflections on Life in God.  I am reading this now–very deep stuff).Tito Colliander, Way of the Ascetics–simple, deep, soul stretching; one of my favorites. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena: Guidelines for Spiritual and Monastic LifeSayings of the Desert Fathers or Lives of the Desert Fathers–the start of it all in the Christian traditionJohn Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent–classic par excellence of the monastic strugglePhilokalia–4 vols., but there are anthologies of this spiritual classic that collects materials on the inner life of prayer from the 4th to the 17th centuries. Pray for you every day!!! Dick


    1. Wow, thanks Cousin Dick, this stuff looks GREAT; will definitely be referring to this list before too long 🙂 – thanks again!

      And thanks, too, so SO much for your prayers – wow, every day?! I’m really touched and honored by that…thank you 🙂

      Miss you and Patty and all – I think of you often!


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