The Cloister Walk

The Cloister Walk A New York Times Bestseller For Weeks A New York Times Notable Book Of The Year A Strange And Beautiful BookPart Memoir, Part Meditation, It Is A Remarkable Piece Of Writing The Boston Globe The Cloister Walk Is A New Opportunity To Discover A Remarkable Writer With A Huge, Wise HeartNorris Resonates Deeply For A Lot Of People She S One Of Those Writers Who Demands To Be Handed Around You Want To Share This Great Discovery, Giving Her Work As A Gift Or You Simply Shove A Copy In The Face Of A Friend, Saying Read This Minneapolis Star Tribune

Kathleen Norris was born on July 27, 1947 in Washington, D.C She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as on her maternal grandparents farm in Lemmon, South Dakota Her sheltered upbringing left her unprepared for the world she encountered when she began attending Bennington College in Vermont At first shocked by the unconventionality surrounding her, Norris took refuge in poetry After she grad

[Reading] ➹ The Cloister Walk ➯ Kathleen Norris –
  • ebook
  • 416 pages
  • The Cloister Walk
  • Kathleen Norris
  • 09 July 2017
  • 9781101215661

10 thoughts on “The Cloister Walk

  1. says:

    This review was originally published on my blog, ShouldaCouldaWouldaBooks.In the early 1990s, Kathleen Norris spent nine months at the Benedictine monastery of St John s in Collegeville, Minnesota She signed on, several years before the book begins, to become an oblate of the order The word oblate comes from the old Latin for offering , but in reality has come to mean someone associated with the order who tries to live by their ideas as much as possible, while maintaining their secular life otherwise As I understand it, this means living by the text of The Rule of St Benedict, a ninety six page volume that, as I understand it, is really the slimmest of all rulebooks for an order like theirs.The monks live communally and share everything food, living space, chores it is written into the rules that not even the abbott is excused from kitchen duty, and the prioress of nuns herself washes bodies for burial Many of them have jobs in the wider community as well, as teachers and counselors and nurses but not all Some serve the order itself tending their farms, cleaning their abbeys, as liturgical directors, musicians, administrators The Benedictines believe deeply in hospitality the monastery is not considered complete without a guest or two staying with them The most interesting of these principles, to me, however, was the order s deep engagement and focus on the psalms It is a first principle of their worship that they read the psalms straight through, at least some portion of it each day When they reach the end, they start over again, month after month, year after year, until the verses become as familiar to them as breathing, until they occur to them unbidden, while out watching a sunset one evening, deep in the midst of depression, suddenly appearing and able to save them from themselves, with a seemingly spontaneous gift of praise a beautiful gift of a thing that happens to Norris after she returns home to the bare plains of South Dakota after her stay with the monks.The most obvious comparison for this book is Fermor s A Time to Keep Silence, which I read last year They are both writers who have chosen to live with and like monks for extended periods of time They both have engaged with different orders and repeatedly returned to the Benedictines as the most human of the lot, the ones they consider their closest friends They both use their time to inwardly reflect on who they are at the moment, and to get to know the monks and nuns they re living with But what s different is that Norris focuses far on the texts that are at the center of life there, while Fermor is far concerned with explaining the how the orders work to others and looking into their history, and, of course, with navel gazing about his own inner transformations, minutely examining his emotions from one day to the next Norris shares her life with us in glancing ways , but never makes herself the point the way that Fermor does There s value in both, but I thought Norris book likely approached what it was like to live as a member of a monastic community far than Fermor s did.This book, therefore, is really about what engagement with literature, with pure words, as much as it is about religion Norris is a poet, and approaches her time with the monks from that perspective Each chapter is structured around a reading, a line, or a life of a saint she encounters while attending worship with the monks The readings appropriately follow the wheel of the year, and the saint s days and feast days that mark its change She tells the tales of obscure saints we d never otherwise hear of, attempts to genuinely engage with parts of the bible that others consider a drag poor complaining, doleful Jerome , and looks hard at other bits that are generally politely excised from modern day worship such as the really angry, vengeful, not at all admirable bits of the psalms , and reframe their meaning and purpose for what she calls a modern literal minded audience.Indeed, one of her repeated insights is that we, as a society, have lost the knack of living metaphorically read the rest on the blog at

  2. says:

    4.5 Like Amazing Grace, this is an impressively all encompassing and eloquent set of essays on how faith intersects with everyday life In particular, the book draws lessons from the time Norris spent as a Benedictine oblate From this experience she learned the benefits as well as the drawbacks of solitude and communal living She also considers the place that celibacy and monastic living might still have in modern life The fact that Christian monastics, men and women both, have been singing such gentle hymns at dusk for seventeen hundred years makes me realize that ceremony and tradition, things I ve been raised to distrust as largely irrelevant, can be food for the soul Sometimes her topics are drawn from the liturgical year feast days, patron saints and martyrs, chosen scriptures, and wisdom from the Desert Fathers or other spiritual gurus Emily Dickinson is among her favorites Other times she simply reflects on her own life the blessings and challenges of being a freelance poet and lay theologian the daily discipline involved in marriage, keeping a house and gardening and childhood memories from Virginia, Illinois and Hawaii.These are disparate pieces rather than a straightforward narrative I read two or three at a time over a period of several weeks and found them to be a very peaceful way to start or break up the day My favorite individual essay is Dreaming of Trees contrasting the treelessness of her adopted Dakotas with the other landscapes she s known, Norris wonders how to cultivate simplicity of spirit What would I find in my own heart if the noise of the world were silenced Who would I be Who will I be, when loss or crisis or the depredations of time take away the trappings of success, of self importance, even personality itself There are profound lines on nearly every page, but here are a few of my favorite passages The hard work of writing has taught me that in matters of the heart, such as writing, or faith, there is no right or wrong way to do it, but only the way of your life Just paying attention will teach you what bears fruit and what doesn t But it will be necessary to revise to doodle, scratch out, erase, even make a mess of things in order to make it come out right if the scriptures don t sometimes pierce us like a sword, we re not paying close enough attention if you re looking for a belief in the power of words to change things, to come alive and make a path for you to walk on, you re better off with poets these days than with Christians we exist for each other, and when we re at a low ebb, sometimes just to see the goodness radiating from another can be all we need in order to rediscover it in ourselves.

  3. says:

    Read this book many years ago but I can t recall exactly how many I m 99% sure it was in the late 90 s In any event, I was still so ignorant about my own Catholic heritage at that point I hadn t even heard of The Rule of St Benedict, which I promptly went out, bought and read from cover to cover Now I have three or four copies of it When I think of a good rule of life I think of St Benedict s Rule and I am grateful to this Protestant woman for teaching me about it The Cloister Walk as best as I can remember it is a collection of essays written by Kathleen Norris about her discovery of and journey with The Rule of St Benedict and the monks of a Benedictine Abbey in Minnesota It is a very quiet, meditative book which touched me deeply when I read it much like Thomas Merton s Seven Storey Mountain I pray that it isn t just a desire for escapism, but a real hungering after that still, small voice which can only be heard when one voluntarily abandons the outer world for the quiet and peace of inner communion with Him.A beautiful book, partly biographical, deeply reflective and very spiritual Highly recommended Sadly I gave away my original copy of this bookso I need to get another This is a book worth owning Even though I was in my early forties at the time and a cradle Catholic product of 12 years of parochial schools.

  4. says:

    This book is not an easy read but is beautifully written It is definitely not for everyone I have been quietly reading it over the last two months It is the author s own walk through the male monastic life and in particular the Benedictines She looks at the relevance of their ordered life, their community living, their ritual devotion to prayer to society today It is of interest to me because of my own connections and impressions of the Benedictine s and their openness to the world outside of their monastic life situated in York many years ago.

  5. says:

    I was rather uneasy with this book, although I did manage to struggle through to the end.There were a few definite mentions of Orthodox Christianity when referring to ancient saints, but everything else was the black and white Protestant Catholic divide I don t know about many Protestant monastic communities, but there are several Orthodox monasteries in the United States While I stop short of insisting she be completely inclusive, I thought it odd that Orthodoxy was relegated to antiquity, but for a few brief mentions.She seemed like a very scatter brained art teacher, waving her arms with flowy sleeves and talking about the Poetry of Creation.But she didn t really talk about Christ, or God, much That mostly clinched the I don t like this book feeling Granted, it s a difficult subject to write about well, but she kept approaching it, and she s already set the scope of the book as Benedictine monastic experience and then nothing of any depth for me.I feel kinda bad, like I m giving a harsh critique to a fifth grader s poem about his dog who died Oh, well.

  6. says:

    This book changed my life.It s hard to explain You really have to read it Based on my experience, it helps to be a Catholic who loves books Kathleen Norris is a poet and has a poet s perspective on Catholicism and the ways of Benedictine monks But she s also a Protestant, with a refreshingly level headed outsider s perspective on the seemingly impenetrable world inside a monastery The monks and nuns she describes are real, honest, witty and faithful people, with great stories and a passion for their religion that seems very accessible My favorite of the chapters in the book are her essays on Catholic women saints one on St Maria Goretti and 1950 s American Catholic misogyny, and one on the virgin martyrs They re very frank about the problems in the way the church has treated women and how Catholic women of faith, including nuns, have struggled with that over the years Very fresh, compelling stuff.

  7. says:

    I love Kathleen Norris and all she synthesizes here Chipped away at this before bed for a long time Wanted to start it again when I got to the end For me, the poet as theologian sure hits the spot.

  8. says:

    The Cloister Walk offers food for the soul at a time when many of us are hungry Norris s book chronicles her experiences as a lay oblate at St John s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Collegeville, Minnesota What makes this book fresh, wonderful, surprising, and completely relevant to people of all faiths or non faith is that Norris is not as one would anticipate a Catholic, but rather a Protestant filled with spiritual doubt When I first read The Cloister Walk and Dakota also by Kathleen Norris , the evocative prose reminded me of writing by other women, such as Annie Dillard, Greta Ehrlich, or Nancy Mairs, that I ve also enjoyed A critic from Commonweal, Lawrence S Cunningham, makes the same observation It is one of the graces of our time that the best of our contemporary spiritual writers are women who are also poets We have thus been blessed by the writings of, among others, Nancy Mairs, Patricia Hampl, Annie Dillard, and Denise Levertov Gifted with the power of language and disinclined to get mired down in petty ecclesiastical squabbles or sidetracked by the banality that often passes for spirituality, they, like the householder of the gospel, bring forth old things and new Among that number one must include, conspicuously, Kathleen Norris who can bring alive the old desert fathers and mothers, the saints of the calendar, the idiosyncrasies of community life, the travails of small town living, the joys and pains of marriage and old age.

  9. says:

    Recently reread after completing In This House of Brede Norris is a married Protestant poet and a Benedictine oblate As a poet and a Benedictine she is drawn to the Psalms in the Bible and their poetic imagery This book is about the time she spent studying at a Benedictine monastery in the 1990 s Sadly, I find her prose uninspiring I didn t feel the joy that comes through the pages of Merton and Godden It just seemed forced to me.

  10. says:

    Norris is introducing us, one by one, to the core religious aspects of Christianity as she comes to know and understand them We explore every key dimension of monastic life with her Why celebacy why community why Scripture reading why choir and music why poverty why we are not perfect I think, like many people, I expected this book to be a straighforward description, something like, This was my year in the monastery We ate beans and prayed, blah, blah, blah However, we as readers receive something much wonderful, rare, and important While we DO receive a description of monastery life, we experience it as Norris s personal spiritual journey all her revelations, confusions, doubts and certainties Essentially, we see what happens to her FAITH What a brave and miraculous thing to show to strangers And much holy After all, the material aspects are not what matter to Holy People, or poets which is what Norris is first and foremost As much as I enjoyed this book, at times I found it difficult to get through it It is not the most entertaining read, but rather something for contemplation You need not be religious, but you must be poetic and spiritual For the down times, I gave it only four stars.

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