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The Cloister Walk (1996)

by Kathleen Norris

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2,470294,716 (4.05)81
Why would a married woman with a thoroughly Protestant background and often more 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 question that Kathleen Norris herself asks as, somewhat to her own surprise, she found herself on two extended residencies at a Benedictine monastery. Yet upon leaving the monastery, she began to feel herself transformed, and the daily events of her life on the Great Plains - from her morning walk to her going to sleep at night - gradually took on new meaning. She found that in the monastery, time slowed down, offering a new perspective on community, family, and even small-town life. By coming to understand the Benedictine practice of celibacy, she felt her own marriage enriched; through the communal reading aloud of the psalms every day, her notion of the ancient oral tradition of poetry came to life; and even the mundane task of laundry took on new meaning through the lens of Benedictine ritual. Kathleen Norris here takes us through a liturgical year, as she experienced it both within the monastery and outside it. She shows us, from the rare perspective of someone who is both insider and outsider, how immersion in the cloistered world -- its liturgy, its rituals, its sense of community -- can impart meaning to everyday events and deepen our secular lives, no matter what our faith may be.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
NYT Bestseller; A “person of Modern Sensibility” who encounters reflection
  PAFM | Oct 19, 2019 |
Kathleen Norris is a poet who, with her husband, move from Hawaii to rural South Dakota to take over her family farm. In the process of rooting herself in this new place, she discovers a local Benedictine monastery, and she's attracted to the rhythms and depth of life she sees there. It's a gorgeous book about being pilgrims and learning from where you are. Norris is one of a few authors who I'll read everything she produces. Some of her work is less spiritually focused, but none is better. ( )
  patl | Feb 18, 2019 |
I have read other things by Norris and found her religiousosity so tiresome. I decided to try this because Naples had it and Ottawa didn't. It was my last read in Naples and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot about monastic life--who knew there were monasteries-- and ancient saints. ( )
  mahallett | Feb 22, 2018 |
This is a book that I thought I could read straight though and move on to the next novel on my TBR list, but it wasn't that simple. Norris has the poet's eye for insight and the material written here includes some beautifully written prose with keen observations on life and humanity. The reflective nature of the book caused me to pause between sections to let her stories and observations sink in. While she writes about monastic life, she doesn't romanticize it. Instead, we're drawn to examine our own rituals and religious practices through new eyes that add meaning and significance.

If you're a fan of authors such as Thomas Merton I recommend giving this book a slow and thoughtful read. ( )
  Neftzger | Feb 28, 2015 |
The Cloister Walk offers a bridge into the life in a monastery from the viewpoint of an outsider - Norris comes from a protestant background, she's married - but have in different periods over some years been a Benedictine oblate (as a lay person attached to a monastery).

In this book she shares her experiences of the daily rhythm in a monastery - going to morning prayers, vespers in the evening etc. - trying to be immersed in Benedictine spirituality. The chapters are structured to follow a liturgical year - so we can get a feeling for the shifting periods of the church-year.

The book is partly memoir, partly contemplation - a lot of small and larger essays and devotions put together. Some reflections on books in the Bible, about prayer, reading, listening to Bible readings, some about Catholic saints, a lot about daily life of monks and nuns - and collected what Benedictine spirituality can offer us modern people living in a stressful world. Here's one reflection on time:

In our culture, time can seem like an enemy: it chews us up and spits us out with appalling ease. But the monastic perspective welcomes time as a gift from God, and seeks to put it to good use rather than allowing us to be used up by it….Liturgical time is essentially poetic time, oriented toward process rather than productivity, willing to wait attentively in stillness rather than always pushing to "get the job done". ( )
4 vote ctpress | May 19, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
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CHRISTINA, JACQUELINE,
LILLIAN, A. J., AND MIKEY
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Why would a married woman with a thoroughly Protestant background and often more 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 question that Kathleen Norris herself asks as, somewhat to her own surprise, she found herself on two extended residencies at a Benedictine monastery. Yet upon leaving the monastery, she began to feel herself transformed, and the daily events of her life on the Great Plains - from her morning walk to her going to sleep at night - gradually took on new meaning. She found that in the monastery, time slowed down, offering a new perspective on community, family, and even small-town life. By coming to understand the Benedictine practice of celibacy, she felt her own marriage enriched; through the communal reading aloud of the psalms every day, her notion of the ancient oral tradition of poetry came to life; and even the mundane task of laundry took on new meaning through the lens of Benedictine ritual. Kathleen Norris here takes us through a liturgical year, as she experienced it both within the monastery and outside it. She shows us, from the rare perspective of someone who is both insider and outsider, how immersion in the cloistered world -- its liturgy, its rituals, its sense of community -- can impart meaning to everyday events and deepen our secular lives, no matter what our faith may be.

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