The Cloister Walk

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The Cloister Walk

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Jul 26, 2007, 9:41pm

Since posting my self-introduction I have finished The Cloister Walk. (At least for a first reading. I plan to look into parts of it again. I am also hopeful that a small group to which I belong will get to chat with her for awhile soon.)

Kathleen Norris's first interest seems to me to be a poet. She is enough practiced at it to have salient insights about the life of a writer. So I found the most interesting part of the book to be her short piece on metaphor. I believe she misinterprets the pronouncements of the masses on metaphor; she seems to think that the people of today are antipathetic to figurative language. I think that people of today have a hard time distinguishing the literal from the figurative. But her take on how we interiorize (or something)metaphor is subtle and spot on.

As a writer she can be distractingly precious in her prose. I picked up a small volume of her poetry yesterday, and as with so many poets of the day I find it hard to see what makes her short writings poems. Nevertheless, most of her writing is transparent and to the point.

She appears to suffer depression or bipolar disorder. So many seekers do. I have often wondered whether that makes us suspect. The book reminded me of that.

The Benedictine life is strict enough, but it is not a very difficult discipline. I think Ms. Norris shows us what a monastic concentration on the way can do for us (and to some extent for others). I recommend the book to you, Ian.


Jul 27, 2007, 8:39am

Based on comments about this book on LT I mooched a copy from Bookmooch which will hopefully be arriving soon. I'll let you know my thoughts when I get through it.

Jul 27, 2007, 5:04pm

I read the Cloister Walk as a lenten meditation about seven years ago, while riding to and from work on the bus. I found that reading short snatches of her work suited me fine. I felt a commonality with her as she is experiencing Roman Catholic monasticism from the viewpoint of a Protestant, and she has remained Protestant. I am Episcopalian, and feel a sympathy towards monatiscism, but I don't feel a call to change denominations.

Edited: Mar 24, 2008, 9:24pm

There are Episcopal monastics -- nuns, monks, and friars all over the US! There are more in the north east and north central, but even Bible-belt Georgia has a convent in Augusta, one in south GA, and at easy access, one just above us in TN.

One reason I like deWaal's work is that she is a woman living the Benedictine rule while married and living in the world (she's English, I believe) --Living with Contradiction is broken up into small bite-sized pieces that can be read alone or in groups.

I just checked your link and New York state has multiple monastic groups and several orders of Friars-- some of which accept married members who take vows of chastity (committment in relationship) rather than vows of celibacy. Go to the ECUSA national web site and look under "religious orders and communities", if you are interested. Most allow visitors.

Mar 24, 2008, 11:48pm

Speaking of Episcopals, I once organized a panel discussion between a Tibetan Buddhist nun (Ven. Thubten Chodron) and an Anglican (Episcopal) nun named Sister Benedetta, CSC. The latter nun had also become a priest a few short years earlier; in fact, as far as I know she is the first Canadian (and possibly the first person, full stop) to hold ordinations as both priest and nun.

The discussion was on balancing the role of contemplative and clergy (a double role that both women shared) ... and it was very interesting!

Mar 25, 2008, 10:27am


My wife and I have done events at the Little Portion Friary (Episcopal) in Mt. Sinai, Long Island.

One year, we did the Easter Triduum there. Our parish has retreats there every year. We've done the labyrinth walk and potluck dinner (about every full moon, to allow for enough evening illumination along with gas lamps).

The word "cloister" brings up Benedictine to me, and not necessarily Franciscan; although Second order Franciscan women are "cloistered" although there are very few of them in the Epicscopal Church.

When we lived in Michigan and Indiana, we did go to St. Gregory's Abbey on occasion, located south of Kalamazoo in Three Rivers. A men's group I convened in Indianapolis had three visits there (one Lenten (purple), one Epiphany (white), one ordinary season/green). That gave me the best idea of the cycle of life in a monastery.

Mar 27, 2008, 10:50pm

I've visited with the Sisters of St. Mary in Sewanee, TN, the Sisters of St. Helena in Augusta, GA; have a priest/friend who is in the order of St. Anna the Prophet (only 2 years old so not nationally listed yet) in Atlanta, GA, and have been communicating with the Sisters of St. Gregory -- I'm an Associate of the Brothers of St. Gregory --all Episcopal communities or orders that include sisters who are also priests. I'm also interested in the dual-house Benedictines of St.Luke, out of Iowa, but have not gotten around to writing them yet. I also much admire the retreat work of the Catholic Senacle Sisters in Georgia.

Edited: Mar 27, 2008, 11:34pm

There is a Lutheran Benedictine House in Oxford, Michigan, only about 50 miles north of Detroit. Their website:
Their monastery is very small, and unusual in being Lutheran. Our Episcopal Church in Detroit, Emmanuel, had a couple of retreats there in the 1980's.