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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

cover of The Cloister Walk

I savored this book for at least a month. Reading a chapter before bed sometimes, or a couple chapters during a slow morning. Then I got close to the end and read even more slowly because I didn't want to finish. In this book, readers are invited to join Norris during a year of her life. A year in which she spends much time at monasteries, with monks and nuns, doubting, returning to life in South Dakota, and reflecting on how liturgy, prayer, psalms, and metaphors can fit into regular life.

Norris has a wonderful way of writing, and of thinking -- she asks good questions and makes connections between people and ideas that feel true. Norris also writes humbly -- not as someone with all the answers, but someone who is seeking and who has been found and is in awe when she glimpses the Kingdom of God. In many chapters, monks (from a variety of centuries including the most recent) are set alongside regular society. What does it mean for Christians to set themselves apart from the world? What do their interactions look like when they come in contact with the world again? What does it mean to be celibate in a society where sexuality is exploited and over-emphasized? What does it mean to continue rhythms (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, lifetime) and remember the past, when society so often longs to forget it and move on?

One set of ideas I really appreciated was those connecting artists with theology and prophecy. (By artists I mean all varieties.) Artists see the world differently, and artists who are Christian are called to share this different vision. It doesn't mean that artists are better -- but that artists often grasp different pieces of God's character and are able to make connections for others in ways that minister to the whole person. This is important to me because I consider myself an artist and sometimes find little encouragement in Christian circles. It's easy to get caught up in words and abstract ideas and forget about what it means to live practically as a Christ follower in this world. Artists and pastors and other truth-speakers have the opportunity to call us back to reality. To connect ideas with concretes and emotions and colors and the future. To take what has become mundane and remind us how amazing and incomprehensible truth actually is. I'm glad for the encouragement and understanding and exhortation Norris gives to herself and others in these pages.

Title:The Cloister Walk
Author: Kathleen Norris
Date published:1996
Genre: Religious, Nonfiction
Number of pages: 380
Notes: repeat reading


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