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Nge and dissonant aspect of the book This review was originally published on my blog ShouldaCouldaWouldaBooksIn the early 1990s Kathleen Norris spent nine months at the Benedictine monastery originally published on my blog ShouldaCouldaWouldaBooksIn the early 1990s Kathleen Norris spent nine months at the Benedictine monastery St John s in Collegeville Minnesota She signed on several ears before the book begins to become an oblate of th Read this book many Secret Santa (Bluegrass Brothers, 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 uiet 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 uiet and peace of inner communion with HimA beautiful book partly biographical deeply reflective and very spiritual Highly recommendedSadly 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 12ears of parochial schools This book is not an easy read but is beautifully written It is definitely not for everyone I have been uietly 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 of the Benedictine s their openness to the world outside of their monastic life situated in York many ears ago I love Kathleen Norris and all she synthesizes here Chipped away at situated in York many ears ago I love Kathleen Norris and all she synthesizes here Chipped away at 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 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 The Legacy of Aaron Geist 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 butou must be poetic and spiritual For the down times I gave it only four stars. Ts sense of community can impart meaning to everyday events and deepen our secular lives In this stirring and lyrical work the monastery often considered archaic or otherworldly becomes immediate accessible and relevant to us no matter what our faith may be A New York Times bestseller for 23 weeks A New York Times Notable Book of the Yea. ,

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En nothing of any depth for meI feel kinda bad like I m giving a harsh critiue to a fifth grader s poem about his dog who died Oh well This book changed my lifeIt 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 women of faith including nuns have struggled with that over ears Very fresh compelling stuff The Cloister Walk Offers Food For offers food for 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 suabbles 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 One of my all time favorite uotes by this author from another bookThis is my spiritual geography the place where I have wrestled my story out of the circumstances of landscape and inheritance The word geography derives from the Greek words of earth and writingThis was so disappointing It is not about a spiritual journey as far as I could tell It is a dry boringfactual account of the readings they did why they are meaningful to her and what being a monk means in this day and age They make jokes They watch TV Or maybe just the nuns do Oh and they make better friends because they are celibate Trying to convince us listening to someone ell at us with fire and brimstone and insulting our hearts and intelligence as a way to know God is my least favorite thing in the worldI just did not connect to this book and I didn t find it lyrically written No luminous glowing prose None At all It jumps around in a very confused way and she spends uite a bit of time on her fellowship group who are academics and their distrust of her as a poet with no letters behind her name That was a stra. Found herself on two extended residencies at St John's Abbey in Minnesota Part record of her time among the Benedictines part meditation on various aspects of monastic life The Cloister Walk demonstrates from the rare perspective of someone who is both an insider and outsider how immersion in the cloistered world its liturgy its ritual 45 Like Amazing Grace this is an impressively all encompassing and elouent 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 Insectissimo! 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 liturgicalear 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 HawaiiThese 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 Who will I be when loss or crisis or the depredations of time take away the trappings of success of importance even personality itself There are profound lines On Nearly Every Page nearly every page 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 Fields of Fire (Frontlines, your life Just paying attention will teachou 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 Redeemed (The MacKays you re looking for a belief in the power of words to change things to come alive and make a path forou to walk on ou 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 I was rather uneasy with this book although I did manage to struggle through to the endThere were a few definite mentions of Orthodox Christianity when referring to ancient saints but everything else was the black and white ProtestantCatholic 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 ANTIUITY BUT FOR A FEW BRIEF MENTIONSSHE SEEMED antiuity but for a few brief mentionsShe seemed a very scatter brained art teacher waving her arms with flowy sleeves and talking about the Poetry of CreationBut 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 th. Why would a married woman with a thoroughly Protestant background and often doubt than faith be drawn to the ancient practice of monasticism to a community of celibate men whose days are centered around a rigid schedule of prayer work and scripture This is the uestion that poet Kathleen Norris asks us as somewhat to her own surprise she. ,

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The Cloister Walk