The Cloister Walk

( 12 )

Overview

A New York Times bestseller for 23 weeks

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

"A strange and beautiful book...Part memoir, part meditation, it is a remarkable piece of writing." -The Boston Globe

"The Cloister Walk is a new opportunity to discover a remarkable writer with a huge, wise heart...Norris resonates deeply for a lot of people: She's one of those writers who demands to be handed around. You want ...

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Overview

A New York Times bestseller for 23 weeks

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

"A strange and beautiful book...Part memoir, part meditation, it is a remarkable piece of writing." -The Boston Globe

"The Cloister Walk is a new opportunity to discover a remarkable writer with a huge, wise heart...Norris resonates deeply for a lot of people: She's one of those writers who demands to be handed around. You want to share this great discovery, giving her work as a gift3/4or you simply shove a copy in the face of a friend, saying 'Read this.'" -Minneapolis Star-Tribune

The New York Times bestseller by the author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. After spending two extended residences at a Benedictine monastery, Kathleen Norris takes readers through one liturgical year--its rituals, its prayers, its daily activities. Through her accessible prose, a seemingly archaic world becomes immediate, accessible, and relevant to people of all faiths. 400 pp. Author tour. National media publicity. 85,000 print. (Inspirational)

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The allure of the monastic life baffles most lay people, but in her second book Norris Dakota goes far in explaining it. The author, raised Protestant, has been a Benedictine oblate, or lay associate, for 10 years, and has lived at a Benedictine monastery in Minnesota for two. Here, she compresses these years of experience into the diary of one liturgical year, offering observations on subjects ranging from celibacy to dealing with emotions to Christmas music. Like the liturgy she loves, this meandering, often repetitive book is perhaps best approached through the lectio divina practiced by the Benedictines, in which one tries to "surrender to whatever word or phrase captures the attention." There is a certain nervous facility to some of Norris's jabs at academics, and she is sometimes sanctimonious. But there is no doubting her conviction, exemplified in her defense of the much-maligned Catholic "virgin martyrs," whose relevance and heroism she wants to redeem for feminists. What emerges, finally, is an affecting portrait-one of the most vibrant since Merton's-of the misunderstood, often invisible world of monastics, as seen by a restless, generous intelligence. Apr.
Library Journal
Norris's acuity, writing talent, and ten years as an oblate at a Catholic Benedictine monastery have well equipped her to enlighten outsiders to the true ways and spirit of monastic life or, as she refers to it, the real world. Norris, a Protestant, describes how community life is the essence of humanity and celibacy an opportunity for transformation. She demonstrates the applicability of ancient scriptures and liturgies to modern times and tells how daily psalm-reading and prayer, ceremonies, and rituals helped her to overcome depression and gain inner peace. Norris, herself a poet, draws many parallels between the monastic and the poet, both of whom are fine-tuned to see the sacred potential in all things. Actress Debra Winger reads Norris's refreshing and highly inspirational book. For popular spirituality collections.Barbara J. Vaughan, State Univ. Coll. at Buffalo Lib., N.Y.
Molly McQuade
She writes about religion with the imagination of a poet...the story of her faith is attractively incongruous, and more than a little receptive to rebellion...some bridling is worth it to a reader when a writer is as original as Norris, a Midwestern, late-twentieth-century mystic. -- Chicago Tribune
Robert Coles
Ms. Norris is subtle and shrewd...in The Cloister Walk, persisting in her wonderfully idiosyncratic ways, she gives us the result of an immersion into a liturgical world...Most of all, naturally, these pages offer the voice of Kathleen Norris, a person of modern sensibility who dares leap across time and space to make the interests and concerns of any number of reflective thinkers her own...She is one of history's writing pilgrims to offer a contemporary American one. Boldly willing to foresake any number of corporal trends and preoccupations in favor of this Walk, this searching expedition within herself. -- The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573225847
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/28/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 164,192
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.21 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathleen Norris

Kathleen Norris is the award-winning, bestselling author of Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith; The Cloister Walk; and Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, in various anthologies, and in her own three volumes of poetry. She divides her time between South Dakota and Hawaii.

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Read an Excerpt

THE CLOISTER WALK
by Kathleen Norris

 

INTRODUCTION

This reading group guide has been created to enhance your group's enjoyment of The Cloister Walk, which can be read as a chronicle of spiritual discovery or as a meditation, like daily passages of scripture. We hope it will prove to be a valuable accompaniment to Kathleen Norris's unique work --- "a gift of insight... one of those rare books too rich to race through" (The Kansas City Star).

Part memoir, part meditation, The Cloister Walk is the movingly written and thought-provoking record of a married, Protestant woman's time spent in a community of men in a traditional Benedictine monastery in Minnesota. Any reader seeking a meaningful life - not necessarily a religious one - will be inspired by author Kathleen Norris's experiences among monks who, while so little understood in our society, are admirable bearers of tradition, incorporating in their lives the values of stability, silence, and humility that we so desperately need, yet relentlessly avoid. An award-winning poet, Kathleen Norris brings her appreciation for language and metaphor to the reading of Bible, especially the psalms, and shares the way she slowly, sometimes painfully, "let words work the earth of her heart." Gradually she learns much about simplicity, patience, forgiveness, the value of community, and the responsibility of freedom. It is in the sanctuary of the cloister that she at last achieves healing - finding peace in her sometimes troubled marriage and gaining a new understanding of her challenging life in the outside world. Above all, she discovers the force of spirituality and the beneficial change it can effect - that "love can be the center of all things, if only we will keep it there."

 

ABOUT KATHLEEN NORRIS

Praise

p>Related Titles

If you enjoyed The Cloister Walk, you'll want to read these other works by Kathleen Norris, all available from Riverhead.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. In the book's preface, author Kathleen Norris admits that in the past she has employed literature as a substitute for religion in her life (p. xvii). What are the similarities for her between a writing apprenticeship and a spiritual quest? Why does the latter prove so much more fulfilling? What other things do people use as replacements for religion, and why do you think they so often fall short of the kind of life epitomized by the Benedictines?
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Table of Contents

Preface

Dawn

September 3: Gregory the Great

St. John's Abbey Liturgy Schedule

The Rule and Me

September 17: Hildegard of Bingen

September 29: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Archangels

The Difference

September 30: Jerome

October 1: Thérèse of the Child Jesus

October 2: Guardian Angels

Jeremiah as Writer: The Necessary Other

November 1 and 2: All Saints, All Souls

November 16: Gertrude the Great

Exile, Homeland, and Negative Capability

New York City: The Trappist Connection

Los Angeles: The O Antiphons

Borderline

The Christmas Music

January 2: Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus

Passage

The Paradox of the Psalms

Baptism of the Lord: A Tale of Intimacy

January 10: Gregory of Nyssa

February 2: Candlemas/Presentation of the Lord

Celibate Passion

February 10: Scholastica

Good Old Sin

Acedia

Pride

Anger

Noon

Degenerates

New Melleray Abbey Liturgy Schedule

Chicago: Religion in America

The War on Metaphor

March 18: Mechtild of Magdeburg

April 2: Mary of Egypt

Saved by a Rockette: Easters I Have Known

Triduum: The Three Days

Triduum Notes

Cinderella in Kalamazoo

The Virgin Martyrs: Between "Point Vierge" and the "Usual Spring"

Minneapolis: Cocktails with Simon Tugwell

May 15: Emily Dickinson

Maria Goretti: Cipher or Saint?

Evening

Genesis

Road Trip

Places and Displacement: Rattlesnakes in Cyberspace

Learning to Love: Benedictine Women on Celibacy and Relationship

The Cloister Walk

The Garden

The Church and the Sermon

June 9: Ephrem the Syrian

Small Town Sunday Morning

At Last, Her Laundry's Done

Dreaming of Trees

Monks and Women

July 11: Benedict's Cave

A Glorious Robe

Women and the Habit: A Not-so-glorious Dilemma

The Gregorian Brain

Oz

Generations

Monastic Park

August 28: Augustine

The Lands of Sunrise and Sunset

The Nursing Home on Sunday Afternoon

One Man's Life

"It's a Sweet Life"

Coming and Going: Monastic Rituals

"The Rest of the Community"

"The Only City in America"

Night

Acknowledgments

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

This reading group guide has been created to enhance your group's enjoyment of The Cloister Walk, which can be read as a chronicle of spiritual discovery or as a meditation, like daily passages of scripture. We hope it will prove to be a valuable accompaniment to Kathleen Norris's unique work --- "a gift of insight... one of those rare books too rich to race through" (The Kansas City Star).

ABOUT THE TITLE

Part memoir, part meditation, The Cloister Walk is the movingly written and thought-provoking record of a married, Protestant woman's time spent in a community of men in a traditional Benedictine monastery in Minnesota. Any reader seeking a meaningful life - not necessarily a religious one - will be inspired by author Kathleen Norris's experiences among monks who, while so little understood in our society, are admirable bearers of tradition, incorporating in their lives the values of stability, silence, and humility that we so desperately need, yet relentlessly avoid. An award-winning poet, Kathleen Norris brings her appreciation for language and metaphor to the reading of Bible, especially the psalms, and shares the way she slowly, sometimes painfully, "let words work the earth of her heart." Gradually she learns much about simplicity, patience, forgiveness, the value of community, and the responsibility of freedom. It is in the sanctuary of the cloister that she at last achieves healing - finding peace in her sometimes troubled marriage and gaining a new understanding of her challenging life in the outside world. Above all, she discovers the force of spirituality and the beneficial change it can effect - that "love can be the center of all things, if only we will keep it there."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathleen Norris is an award-winning poet and the author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, as well as three volumes of poetry, the most recent of them Little Girls in Church. A recipient of grants from the Bush and Guggenheim foundations, she has been in residence twice at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural research at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and has been, for ten years, an oblate of Assumption Abbey in North Dakota. She and her husband live in South Dakota.

PRAISE

The New York Times Best Seller

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

"This is a remarkable piece of writing.... If read with humility and attention, Kathleen Norris's book becomes lectio divina, or holy reading."
- The Boston Globe

"She writes about religion with the imagination of a poet... The story of her faith is attractively incongruous, and more than a little receptive to rebellion... Some bridling is worth it to a reader when the writer is as original as Norris, a Midwestern, late-20th-century mystic."
- Molly McQuade, Chicago Tribune

"Ms. Norris is subtle and shrewd... In The Cloister Walk, persisting in her wonderfully idiosyncratic ways, she gives us the result of an 'immersion into a liturgical world'... Most of all, naturally, these pages offer the voice of Kathleen Norris, a person of modern sensibility who dares leap across time and space to make the interests and concerns of any number of reflective thinkers her own... She is one of history's writing pilgrims but also a contemporary American one, boldly willing to forsake any number of cultural fads, trends and preoccupations in favor of this 'walk,' this searching expedition within herself..."
- Robert Coles, The New York Times Book Review

"With her lucid, luminous prose, hard-headed logic, and far-reaching metaphors, Norris has brought us the cloister at its most alive."
- San Francisco Chronicle

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. In the book's preface, author Kathleen Norris admits that in the past she has employed literature as a substitute for religion in her life (p. xvii). What are the similarities for her between a writing apprenticeship and a spiritual quest? Why does the latter prove so much more fulfilling? What other things do people use as replacements for religion, and why do you think they so often fall short of the kind of life epitomized by the Benedictines?

2. Monks' lives are often difficult, and they are little understood by the rest of society. Why do they persist in their anachronistic lifestyle and practices? How would you answer the author's question: "Are monks wasting their time in seeking to convert themselves, and the world, from evil?" (p. 128) How did the book change your understanding of the monastic life? Did it inspire you to pursue these ideas further?

3. One of the wonderful paradoxes in this book is that only by immersing herself in life among celibates is the author finally able to understand and find peace in her marriage. How has the monastic life helped her in her relationship with her husband? What does she mean when she writes that all committed life is "sacred and self-transcendent" (p. 261), necessarily "ascetic" (p. 128), and that marriage can be "a school for love" ?

4. The author is continually amazed by the perspective of time in a monastery as compared to that of the world outside. Whereas time is considered by the Benedictines to be a gift, what is our culture's attitude toward it? How are these different attitudes reflected in the ways we treat our elderly and approach death? How is making peace with time vital to our being at ease with ourselves spiritually? How do the rituals and daily rhythms of monastic life force a re-evaluation of residents' experience of time?

5. What is the significance of the Rule of St. Benedict's instruction: "Keep death daily before your eyes" (p. 8)? How can this practice lead to forgiveness and love - and to the "conversion of heart" sought by all Benedictines? How can you employ this rule in your own life?

6. Prayer is sometimes described by the author as "the joy of just being with words" (p. 93). Has this been your experience? Is it enough? What is the role of silence in spiritual life, and why is silence so hard to come by in our culture? After reading this book, do you consider yourself skilled at listening? If not, did the book inspire you with ways to improve you "quality of attention" (p. 143)?

7. Celibacy is a little-understood lifestyle, and the author does much to illuminate it in this book. Do you agree that celibacy allows individuals to be of greater service to God and each other? Do you think the Catholic church should continue to require its priests, nuns, and monks to make this vow? Have you ever had a personal relationship with a celibate? If so, did he or she make you feel "appreciated, enlarged" as the author's friends have done (p. 121)?

8. Discuss the dramatic contrast between monastic culture and our consumer culture. How do your homes and workplaces differ from monasteries? Are you attracted to the alternative the author describes? How do you think you would adjust to the emphases on prayer, silence, and humility that characterize monastic existence?

9. The author's spiritual quest required unlearning the lessons and attitudes about church from her childhood. How was she able to let go of her youthful God's demand of practicing religion the "right" way (p. 92)? How do you think we can better expose children to religion so that they will more easily grow into a meaningful, mature relationship with God? Are there any of your own childhood experiences in established religion that have interfered with your spiritual development? If so, did the book provide you with ideas for overcoming the ways you have become exiled from your religion?

10. The author conveys several times her complete astonishment at finding herself a resident in a monastery. Have you ever experienced, as she does, a new environment that became life-changing? Was there any fear or resistance on your part? Did it make you subsequently more welcoming of new experiences?

11. Depression is a common malady in our culture, and the author writes movingly of her own encounters with it. How does the Word of God provide her with "a hope that no modern therapeutic approach can give" (p. 129)?

12. Do you think contemporary changes in liturgy to make it more accessible are detrimental to the practice of religion in the long run? What is the value of the traditional in comparison to that of the trendy? Do you agree with the author's insistence that keeping liturgy grounded in age-old metaphor and poetry is imperative if we are to preserve meaning and the "belief in the power of words to change things" (p. 154)?

RELATED TITLES

If you enjoyed The Cloister Walk, you'll want to read these other works by Kathleen Norris.

The Psalms
A beautiful new edition of one of the most beloved books of the Bible, with insight and illumination from Kathleen Norris.

Amazing Grace
Kathleen Norris explicates and demystifies words in the Christian vocabulary that both attract and trouble her.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 15 of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2008

    A Walk to Remember

    The heart of this book is about Norris¿s walk amidst a group of Benedictine monks at St. John¿s Abbey in Minnesota, experienced through her role as a lay oblate associate, which she structures over the course of a liturgical year. Norris uses her strength as a storyteller to welcome the reader along with her on this journey utilizing her casual, engaging writing style. There¿s an immediate familiarity that comes through as she weaves personal history with insights from her past and present experiences that point the reader to parallels between monastic life that has existed for over 1,500 years and her contemporary life as a married, Protestant, poet/writer. In a world that embraces individualism while shunning a commitment to community and ¿others,¿ I found myself joining those ¿others¿ who have been drawn into Norris¿ journey for understanding, healing and meaning. Norris finds balance and routine in the rhythms of Benedictine life, one in which she becomes aware of the freedom of time as gift, where faith is a discipline - a process - not a product. She rediscovers that there¿s no right way to do faith, just as there¿s no right way to write poetry. In another passage, she shares that there is something deeply connecting, practical and refreshingly realistic about belonging to a community that not only welcomes and accepts people as they are but shares willingly and at times with disarming humor. Along the walk, other themes and reflections are explored, shared and questioned. This is that special kind of book that the more you read and reflect about its diverse content, the greater your awareness becomes of the connection and relevance between spiritual grounding and ordinary daily ritual. Through the pain, suffering, depression and doubt, Norris discovers a place she feels she belongs.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 1999

    A book to be read more than once...

    This book has achieved something quite mystical. The peace, tranquility and life perspective of the monastic life has been captured here. At first I found the book slow, until I realised that I was still at the pace I live my life - and slowly the reflections, almost meditations of each chapter, slowed me down. For those readers who have visited a monastery or convent to take a retreat, the experience of having your perspective changed and being brought 'to your senses' is a familiar one. It is magical for the author to have so immersed herself in the wisdom and peace of the Benedictine life that she can reach anyone who chooses to purchase this book. Reading 'The Cloister Walk' has been a life enhancing experience and just as I have finished - I feel inclined to start reading again from the beginning to more fully absorb what I may have missed the first time. Buy five copies and give four to people that you love.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2000

    Wisdom for the Family

    Norris invites us into the daily life of the cloister, among those who live within the 'Rule of St. Benedict'. St. Benedict wrote his 'Rule' for daily community life in the early 6th century, during a time of societal upheaval. Through his wisdom, Benedict offer our world a life of prayer, hospitality, humility, balance, stability, compassion and spiritual maturity. All Benedictine monasteries offer hospitality for day-retreats or overnight retreats. I have retreated to the cloister over the past 15 years for at least a week every year, and now I go one day a month. Through these 'cloister walks', like Norris, I've marveled at the wisdom of Benedict and his practical vision for community life. For another title which explores Benedictine wisdom for parents, check out THE FAMILY CLOISTER: BENEDICTINE WISDOM FOR THE HOME, by David Robinson (New York, NY: Crossroad, 2000, 192pp., trade paperback). Peace to all who walk these ancient paths.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2005

    Highly recommended

    One of my favourite books. Definitely worth reading more than once. Christianity without hypocrisy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 25, 2011

    Cloister Walk is a must read!

    In her book the Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris describes her spiritual journey into the monastic lifestyle. Through describing her nine months of experiences living with the Benedictines, practicing community living, singing psalms and embarking on other contemplative practices, Norris brings the reader along in her soulful evolution. Rather than shielding the reader from the challenging moments of this journey, she reveals them. Her concentration throughout the book is on the role of community in the practice of a religion often using metaphor to make the experience more accessible to her readers. She describes faith as a process, not as a goal to be obtained. The words, chants, and psalms, that a person learns to express faith is a vehicle for bringing about an experience where faith can be nurtured. She writes, "We can see the obvious truth of this by shifting our attention to poetry, and entertaining the notion that one might grow into faith much as one writes a poem" (Norris 61). As her journey progresses, she reveals "three elements as a kind of trinity always in motion" when monastic life is experienced in its fullest (Norris 252). She writes, "It would be impossible to love God without loving others; impossible to love others unless one were grounded in a healthy self-respect; and, maybe, impossible to truly love at all in a totally secular way, without participating in the holy" (Norris 252). Balancing these three facets of the monastic discipline requires practice and patience. Norris describes specific experiences of clergy whose confidences she has gained throughout her experiences. In telling their stories, Norris shows the human side of a lifestyle that is elusive and often misunderstood to most people outside daily religious practice. She spends ample time in the book explaining and exploring the many facets of one of the most misunderstood components of monastic life, namely celibacy. Through examples from full Benedictines, she explains that celibacy frees people to serve others and stay in community with mindful intent as one of her confidants explains "the fruit of celibacy is hospitality" (Norris 263).
    One of the meditative practices Norris describes is one most people can relate to and that is gardening. She connects with her readers, contrasting the image of a lush, ordered medieval garden built on the images of Eden, with her own down- to- earth version that probably more easily resonates with most readers. She is both literal and metaphorical when she writes, "The garden I've grown into, in my middle age, seems more a kind of purgatory, but I love it. It's a ratty little garden, not much at all. But I can call it mine. (Norris 271)" Throughout the text, Norris weaves esoteric notions of a practice of faith with a more tangible example so that the reader can follow her journey more completely. The skill Norris evokes to this end makes the Cloister Walk an engaging read throughout the 377- page journey of faith, ritual, and religious practice.
    Although she describes her experiences in specific situations that build her monastic journey, Norris does not go into detail about how these experiences translated into her everyday relationships with her husband, other relatives, and friends. Although not an immediate focus of a memoir detailing her journey seeking monastic ideals, more details about how she applied the knowledge of her religious experiences to the everyday mundane things would have serve

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2008

    Meaningful

    Insightful

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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