The Cloister Walk


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Kathleen Norris, a married woman with a thoroughly Protestant background and often more doubt than faith, finds herself, somewhat to her own surprise, on two extended residencies at St John's Abbey in Minnesota. Part record of her time among the Benedictines, part meditation on 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, ritual and sense of community - can impart meaning to everyday ...

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Jun 14, 2007

Thought-provoking book for stimulating reading

Kathleen Norris is a nationally known poet and was a non-practicing Protestant when she found herself involved with an order of Benedictine nuns in North Dakota, and from there was drawn to monastic life.
In Cloister Walk, she records experiences and insights during a year at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, where she trained as an oblate, or, she explains, an "associate."
Norris shares the relevance she finds 1.) in the liturgy--the scheduled praying, singing and reading of scripture the Benedictines practice; 2.) in the Rule of Benedict--the code of behavior the order follows; and 3.) in the writings and wisdom of people involved in monastic life, past and present.
From the liturgy, she receives unexpected gifts of insight that apply to her personal trials and frustrations. As she observes the Rule of Benedict applied to the everyday interactions of the monastics, she realizes the people who live at the abbey function as a big family, so they experience same benefits and difficulties as lay people. As she studies the writings of people in church history and talks to her contemporaries, she sees how similar struggles are repeated at many times and in many locations.
Strange as it may seem to people like me, immersed in a hectic, demanding secular culture, Norris' observations are often applicable to my life, very refreshing, and worth contemplating.
My husband and I read Cloister Walk together in a boat on the upper Mississippi. Normally, he fishes and I read to myself, and I was reading Cloister Walk. I kept coming to passages I just had to talk about, so I would read to him and we would talk. It took us a long time, because we kept finding parallels in our lives for the concepts she presents.
Norris has shown us how to see some things in different ways as she has shared the experiences that have helped her see things in new ways. I think that's what being a poet is about, and that's what God is about.
This year's fishing season has started, and we're in the middle of reading Norris' book, Dakota. When we're done with that, we've got Amazing Grace.

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