Brother John: A Monk, a Pilgrim and the Purpose of Life | August Turak

The following is an excerpt of Brother John: A Monk, a Pilgrim and the Purpose of Life, an award-winning true story about the surprising power of generosity – now beautifully illustrated in an all-ages rendering. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.

Brother John is also what might be termed Mepkin’s foreman. After morning Mass, the monks without regular positions line up in a room off the church for work assignments, and, with several thousand acres full of buildings, machinery, and a farm with 40,000 chickens, there is plenty to do. (As a daily fixture at the grading house, packing and stacking eggs thirty dozen to a box, I could easily skip this ritual. I never do.

Perhaps it is the way Brother John lights up when I reach the front of the line, touches me ever so lightly on the shoulder, and whispers “grading house” that brings me back every morning. Perhaps it is the humility I feel when he thanks me, as if I were doing him a personal favor.) Yet Brother John keeps it all in his head. Replacing every lightbulb that flickers out somewhere is his responsibility. He supervises when possible and delegates where he can, but as he is always shorthanded, he is constantly jumping in himself at some critical spot. Throughout the monastery, the phones ring incessantly, with someone on the line asking, “Is John there?” or, “Have you seen John?” And through it all, his Irish good humor and gentleness never fades or even frays.

Now, after just such a day, four hours after his usual bedtime, and forty years into his monastic hitch, here was Brother John eschewing Boniface’s baking, a glass of cider, and a Christmas break in order to walk me back to my room under a shared umbrella.

When we reached the church, I reassured him several times that I could cut through to my room on the other side, before he relented. But as I opened the door of the church, something made me turn, and I continued to watch his flashlight as he hurried back for another pilgrim until its glow faded into the night. When I reached my room, I guess I wasn’t as sleepy as I thought. I sat on the edge of my bed in the dark for what I can say, with some conviction, was a very long time.

Over the next week, I went about my daily routine at Mepkin as usual, but inside I was deeply troubled. I was obsessed with Brother John. On one hand, he represented everything I had ever longed for, and, on the other, all that I had ever feared. I’d read Christian mystics say that God is both terrible and fascinating, and, for me, Brother John had become both.

Of course, my obsession had nothing to do with the fact that he was a monk and I was not. On the contrary, Brother John was fascinating precisely because I intuited that to live as he did, to have his quiet peace and effortless love, had nothing to do with being a monk and was available to us all.

But Brother John was also terrible because he was a living, breathing witness to my own inadequacies. Like Alkibiades in Plato’s Symposium, speaking of the effect Socrates had on him,

I had only to picture Brother John under his umbrella to feel as if “life is not worth living the way I live it.” I was terrified that if I ever did decide to follow the example of Brother John, I would either fail completely or, at best, be faced with a life of unremitting effort without Brother John’s obvious compensations. I imagined dedicating my life to others, to self-transcendence, without ever finding that inner spark of eternity that so obviously made Brother John’s life the easiest and most natural life I had ever known. Perhaps his peace and effortless love were not available to all, but only to some. Perhaps I just didn’t have what it takes.

Continue reading Turak’s journey, and consider gifting this to friends this holiday season – right here.

And watch this book trailer to learn more about how this remarkable story was brought to life by artist Glenn Harrington, watch this:

Praise for Brother John

Brother John is a charming and simple story with a powerful and insightful message. August Turak speaks beautifully about what truly makes life worth living.”
— Carl McColman, author, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and An Invitation to Celtic Wisdom; cohost, Encountering Silence

“A beautiful, and beautifully illustrated, parable for our time—for any time.”
— James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage and Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity

“Meaning. Purpose. Engagement. Those are our modern buzz words. Yet most focus on the purpose of doing, and not the purpose of being who we really are. Turak’s beautiful Brother John gently points us inward and upward toward our ultimate purpose.”
— David W. Miller, PhD, Director, Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative

Brother John tells a simple story of a life profoundly lived. The depth of this life becomes visible and transformative in a simple act of hospitality and kindness: an act that raises the question of the kind of life we really want to live. The story is made all the richer by Glenn Harrington’s evocative illustrations. Brother John is deeply rewarding food for contemplation.”
— William Cahoy, PhD, Dean Emeritus, Saint John’s University School of Theology and Seminary

“In this beautifully illustrated book, August Turak pulls back the curtain of monastic life. Brother John shows us how to bring a little bit of heaven to earth, right now. I highly recommend that you read Brother John and share it with anyone you care about.”
— Mike Morrell, collaborating author with Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation

“Beautiful illustrations and it was so refreshing to reread Brother John. It’s a powerful reminder of how Brother John lives, how we should all live, and what might be holding us back.”
— Kavita Hall, Director, Corporate and Foundation Relations, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

August Turak is an award-winning author, speaker, consultant and contributor for and the BBC. He is also the founder of the spiritual and educational nonprofit the Self Knowledge Symposium Foundation (SKSF). August retired as a successful entrepreneur and corporate executive. His book, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks, was published in 2013 by Columbia Business School Publishing. When he is not praying and working alongside the Trappist monks of Mepkin Abbey, he works with his nonprofit and lives on a seventy-five-acre farm near Raleigh, North Carolina.
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