The Korea Herald


Beloved poet and nun Lee Hae-in reflects on 60 years in convent

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : June 21, 2024 - 09:11

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Poet and nun Lee Hae-in speaks during a press conference at the Franciscan Education Center in Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap) Poet and nun Lee Hae-in speaks during a press conference at the Franciscan Education Center in Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

In celebration of her 60th anniversary of entering the convent, beloved poet and nun Lee Hae-in has released a collection of short essays titled "Precious Treasures" (a direct translation of the Korean title).

"Having lived in the convent for 60 years, I thought it might be forgiven now to reveal the notebooks I kept. I wanted to share my personal stories with readers,” said Lee during a press conference at the Franciscan Education Center in Jung-gu, Seoul, on Tuesday.

Having entered the order of Olivetan Benedictine Sisters of Busan in 1964, Lee set off on her path as a nun and has now spent almost two-thirds of her life as a Catholic nun. In 1976, she published her first poetry collection and bestseller, "The Land of Dandelions." Since then, she has penned many poetry collections and essays, some of which are included in school textbooks. She is widely loved for her simple, clear and affectionate language that reflects on the self, life and everyday delights.

"The gift of 60 years of monastic life is a serene equanimity, like an evergreen pine tree, a sense of balance and stability. ... But 60 years of monastic life is by no means easy. It could be written as a book titled 'Now I Can Tell,’” she said, with her positive outlook and brightness shining through during the hour-long interview.

"Monastic life has taught me that love can be expanded. Everyone is a treasure," said Lee, regarding her choice of the title "Precious Treasures."

She went through her 184 diaries, compiling cherished stories written over six decades. The book includes short essays, columns and 10 new poems, capturing the joy and happiness of life and gratitude towards others and God. It also contains memories of her mother’s letters, postcards and heartfelt conversations with readers and fellow nuns, anecdotes with Ven. Beopjeong, letters from Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan and other recollections of those dear to her.

In the book, Lee is portrayed as someone contemplating how to bring joy to others. She enjoys collecting good poems and phrases to share with people she meets and makes gifts from small items like leaves, flower petals, shells and pine cones to give to her readers.

"In the mountains of Gwangalli (or Gwangan-dong, Busan, where the monastery is located), there are pine cones, and by the sea, there are seashells. I cherish and love these objects. I can't give anything else to my readers, so I would write (Bible) verses on seashells or attach special meanings to pine cones. Living a life full of such joyful contemplation is a treasure."

Lee attributed the enduring love from her readers to her simple and clear everyday language.

"People often associate nuns with self-denial, sacrifice, pain, temperance and patience. Symbolically, we are such people, but within us, we also have the heart of flowers and stars. I think the reason readers love my poems is that I sing about familiar objects in a simple language."

Diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2008, Lee underwent surgery and chemotherapy, experiences that further strengthened her inner self.

"Going through the illness, I found I also had a bold and vigorous side. … Now, looking at my gray hair, I think to myself, 'This is a gift of time,' and I’m determined to live my remaining years more happily and cheerfully."

Lee added that she still wants to do many things, such as writing a fairy tale like "The Little Prince" and warmly welcoming visitors to her small writing studio in the convent, Hae-in’s Den, as long as her health allows.