I have mixed feelings about Kathleen Norris’s memior Dakota. But the chapter on monastacism and visitors is excellent. I’d reprint the whole thing here if I could.
Not all silent somber faces, monks apparently have a lot of inside jokes and some can be rather playful at times.
One of my favorites is an ancient story of a gathering of bishops in Antioch, one of whom is the monk Nonnus. He scandalizes the other men by daring to thank GOd for the beauty of a notorious courtesan who has ridden naked through the city. The others look away as she passes by wearing nothing but jewelry but he asks, “Did not her great beauty delight you? Truly, it delighted me.” Then he chastises his fellow bishops, commenting that he only wishes he had the desire to please God that she has to please men.
To one contemporary monk, this story is at the heart of monastic contemplation, in that it calls a monk not to refuse to look at the world but to discover God at work in it. The story is also a subtle evocation of monastic hospitality as an invitation to new self-awareness. As the story goes, the courtesan heard of the monk’s remark and came to him in disguise, seeking to change her life. She became a nun, and the church acquired a new saint, Pelagia the Harlot.
-Kathleen Norris, Dakota, p.197