THE CLOISTER WALK by Kathleen Norris


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 Ruminations on the perennial relevance of Benedictine monastic life from Norris (Dakota: A Spiritual Biography, 1993), who acts as a sympathetic and perceptive outsider. Ten years ago Norris, a Protestant who had not been to church for 20 years, became an oblate, or lay associate, of the large Benedictine community of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn. Since then she has spent two nine-month periods studying and teaching at one of the abbey's many academic institutes. She sets out her experiences in the form of 75 short reflections, which cover the course of the monks' liturgical year and touch on many aspects of their life and her reactions to it. We hear how the Benedictines find a meaning in the passing of time through their daily rhythm of prayer and work. Norris is struck by the way communal recitation of the Psalms, with their paradoxical, violent emotions, breaks through the conventions of church language and American optimism. She speaks of the monastic lectio divina as a mode of reading that involves the heart and aims at a surrender to whatever word or phrase catches the attention. She reports conversations with the monks and visiting sisters on the pressures of community life and the struggle to remain faithful to the prayer in a culture that values independence and putting self first. We hear how celibacy is about a primary relationship with God and demands a self-awareness and emotional wholeness that often makes monastics invaluable counselors to laypeople. Norris is also aware of the tensions in American Benedictine life, e.g., she powerfully presents the cases for and against wearing the traditional habit and outlines some of the impact of feminist thought. A down-to-earth and accessible introduction to a powerful tradition.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 1996
ISBN: 1-57322-028-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1996


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