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Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith
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Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  3,810 ratings  ·  141 reviews
Struggling with her return to the Christian church after many years away, Kathleen Norris found it was the language of Christianity that most distanced her from faith. Words like "judgment," "faith," "dogma," "salvation," "sinner"—even "Christ"—formed what she called her "scary vocabulary," words that had become so codified or abstract that their meanings were all but impe...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 1st 1999 by Riverhead Trade (first published March 23rd 1998)
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I first heard of this book over a decade ago when I was in a much different place in my spiritual journey. An acquaintance (who was a member of a church that I judged as too liberal in their interpretation of scripture and therefore, I'm ashamed to say, I believed meant they didn't have true faith) was reading this book and it caught my eye. I dismissed it at the time because if that person was reading it then it probably was not the best choice for me. Sheesh!!! Could I have been more judgmenta...more
Katherine Blankenship
I really wanted to love this book. I loved the idea of re-defining terms in our faith that have transformed into representing something we don't understand. The beginning of the book was amazing, it's clear that Kathleen Norris has a way with words and experiences that I do not, but as the book continued her chapters became less about the terminology and more of a repetitive account of her experiences in Benedictine spirituality. Her writings became less of using her life and the readers lives t...more
As I have said earlier, I am on a kind of Kathleen Norris roll here...... Reading her books is kind of like peeling an onion. She is telling much the same story in every book, but from a different perspective. "Dakota" had to do with understanding her geographical roots. "The Cloister Walk" had to do with her discovery of the Liturgy of the Hours as practiced by the Benedictines. This book has to do with the underlying "language" that she had to examine upon her return to the Christian church an...more
Jun 22, 2011 Lynda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: seekers
Shelves: positive-living
Most books that I have read about religion and spirituality assume the reader has an understanding of the vocabulary of those topics. I have found that that is not always the case. This book attempts and almost succeeds in addressing this problem. I still found some ambiguity that I felt was caused by the author's personal perceptions. It is still an excellent book, but I can only give it 4 stars.
As with so many profound human concepts, our language around the topic of spirituality and devotion is limited, divisive and often fails us. This is a wonderful book for someone who both loves words, their intricacies & evolution, and is reconstructing a personal spiritual ground.
Heather Williams
I first stumbled across this book in a pew at the Benedictine monastery in Atchison, KS. It was sitting in the rack with the hymnals, and after skimming a handful of pages I put it back, knowing I would find it again later and spend much more time with it. Norris sums up her purpose in the preface: "When I began attending church again after twenty years away, I felt bombarded by the vocabulary of the Christian church. Words such as 'Christ,' 'heresy,' 'repentance,' and 'salvation' seemed dauntin...more
Rita Quillen
If you grew up in a religious Christian family and have moved away from that tradition but seek to understand it....if you are a seeker, new to the faith,....if you love language, spirituality, and a little intellectual challenge with your beautiful ought to read this book. Norris is one of my favorites--she's just unique as she combines the talents of a poet with the mind and spirituality of a wonderful, "down-home" theologian. She makes the language of faith and spirituality unders...more
This book felt to me like it was rushed to press after the success of The Cloister Walk. Norris is one of my favorite writers, but this book didn't seem up to her usual standard.
Bob Price
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound! The mention of the hymn brings memories to the mind of times long ago.

In this book, Kathleen Norris gives us a lectionary of sorts of the Christian faith, to describe Amazing Grace and other words. In this, she radically redefines and gives new insight into familiar concepts. She draws upon her years of experience in rejecting, then tentatively exploring, and finally accepting the faith.

In her familiar style, she writes like a poet and spiritual sage as she...more
Tjbrowne Browne
Norris' is a word artist, sculpting beautiful imagery from the medium of language. Unfortunately, her sarcastic and cynical political opinions kept awkwardly creeping into a book professing to be about faith. I had to stop reading mid-way.
While it's not quite up to par with The Cloister Walk, I still very much enjoyed reading Amazing Grace. At first, I was frustrated with the lack of definitions in this book. It is, for the most part, assumed that the reader already has a basic understanding of what each word means, as in true poet form, Norris often comprised a chapter wholly of what came to mind in reaction to the word she was reflecting on.

But once I realized that Amazing Grace is just that, a compilation of reactions to words...more
This non-fiction book is a spiritual look by the author, from her own religious perspective and experiences, of several words that she had always found to be frightening, or off-putting, or unapproachable, or just plain scary. This is not a bad hook on which to hang a book of reflection and spirituality, and I very much enjoyed this book, and found it an easy read, with many short chapters (basically, one chapter per word).

Norris begins this book, after a short Preface, with a look at the word “...more
It took me about four years to get through this book, but it was like a good bar of quality chocolate: a little morsel every so often kept my spirits high. I'm going to miss reading it! Maybe I'll start again from the beginning.

Kathleen Norris's perspective and experience is so diverse, and she brings this depth of spiritual insight into traditional Christian concepts, with a mixture of personal opinions and respect for the opinions of others. She understands church history and comes across as h...more
currently reading update: ( i forgot to post when i started this book a while back) the intro is compelling, but the format beyond that doesn't beg me to read it through in the same way i'd take on a novel.

after the intro, her contemplations on the language of faith are presented as a series of brief vignettes: one word at a time - defined by a relatively brief story or train of thought.

possibly it's just ME... but i'm not great at absorbing deep thought material in one giant, saturated dose. it...more
I wish I could exhibit even a fraction of the wisdom that poet Kathleen Norris displays in this beautiful book. Each chapter at most a few pages long, she addresses with masterful economy and native intelligence the words in what I'll call the Christian canon that scare her the most - salvation, heresy, Christian, medieval, faith, blood, etc. - and that were obstacles to her Christian conversion.
In these short essays, she relates her return to her tiny hometown in the Upper Midwest, her initiall...more
From your humble book reviewer!

I loved this book! Written in essay format on various topics of theology and religion, there is something for everyone. This is not an instructional book in the sense of workbook learning. It is an open-minded inquiry for all denominations.

I grew up in a multi-faith home and neighborhood, so there were many points that I remembered. At the time, I thought of differences but with aging, experience and what I hope is received as wisdom, I see similarities.

What impres...more
This is one of my perennial favourites which I just finished re-reading for- I really don't know how many times. Part of that is because I like Kathleen Norris as a rule, but one of the things that I like about this book is that it is broken up into small section as Norris examines the word in the Christian vocabulary which bothered her the most in the course of her conversion. They are, incidentally, many of the words would disturb a lot of people, so Norris take can be quite helpful in, at lea...more
This is a collection of autobiographical vignettes by Kathleen Norris. It is set as a Protestant who had left faith behind, then returned to it in the context of a Catholic monastic community where she is a lay associate. And as an outsider, she is looking at the wonder and the ordinariness of what it means to be christian.

Christianity, like many other social settings, has a set of vocabulary that is used. And often, the words are used in ways that effectively strips them of their meaning. So wo...more
This is a collection of autobiographical vignettes by Kathleen Norris. It is set as a Protestant who had left faith behind, then returned to it in the context of a Catholic monastic community where she is a lay associate. And as an outsider, she is looking at the wonder and the ordinariness of what it means to be christian.

Christianity, like many other social settings, has a set of vocabulary that is used. And often, the words are used in ways that effectively strips them of their meaning. So wo...more
I would love to meet Kathleen Norris after reading this book. I would love to walk in her shoes, or maybe just know more about her.

Favorite quotes:

" 'Each one of us acts as an Antichrist," he said, "whenever we hear the gospel and do not do it.' "

"But in order to have an adult faith, most of us have to outgrow and unlearn much of what we were taught about religion."

" is only as one is at home in oneself that one may be truly hospitable to others --welcoming, but not overbearing, affably plia...more
After giving a very biased five-star review of Lionheart, I was wary about giving another five star review so soon, but this book is an exemplary text in its field. While Kathleen Norris and I share much more in common spiritually than we do professionally, her writing is so well-researched and engaging, it is easy to overlook the more "poetic places." This is a compilation of the "scary" words of the faith, which Norris does not answer with trite Christian responses. This is a thoughtful explan...more
Jul 11, 2008 Keith rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Keith by: Kathleen
After I hammered Kathleen for her previous book, "The Cloister Walk", she sent me one of the chapters of her new book for my comment. The chapter was so much superior to Cloister Walk, I was drawn into this new book. This book has had a wide readership. It is an attempt to define "scary" religious words in the language of everyday life. A very successful attempt.
And remembering my uneasiness with Cloister Walk, she pulls back at one point in the book, saying that "one of her editors" told her s...more
I liked this just as much as Dakota, if not even more. Norris takes 'scary' Christian words and reflects on each one. With short reflective chapters on words like evangelism, heresy/apostasy, Mary, perfection, righteous, and trinity, it's easy to pick up and put down; in fact, I recommend taking the time to digest and consider each word - what does the word orthodoxy mean to me? Or unchurched? Or God?
A couple of years ago I read Norris's Dakota: A Spirital Geography, and I loved the lyrical way it linked the landscape of the midwest to spirituality. I was intrigued by her description of her intimate interactions with monks, so I read The Cloister Walk, and was heavily disappointed. Where did the gorgeous writing go? It had become defensive and proselytizing writing. I decided to give Norris another go, and so read this book. I liked the organization. She listed words from the religious vocab...more
Richard Simpson
May 19, 2012 Richard Simpson rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Richard by: Discovered it myself.
The author does a very good job in describing the various terms common to those who are Christian which she found to be "scary" as she returned to faith in Christ in her mid-30s. Each term, such as "Salvation, Blood, Commandments", is given a short two-three page essay in which she describes that which she considered to be off-putting when she first became reacquainted with them after almost 20 years away from the Church and how she came to reconcile herself to them, and how God touched her thro...more
This was a re-read for me, because this book offers so much to contemplate in terms of true spirituality. In this book Norris, who was raised Congregationalist, then became atheist (or perhaps agnostic or even simply indifferent) and is now a regularly praticing and occasionaly preaching Presbyterian, as well as a Benedictine oblate, examines the language of religion, focusing on that terminology which often pushes us away rather than drawing us in. Rich with references to classical theologians,...more
Apr 26, 2008 Leslie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Stan, Bri, and John
This is a collection of two to six page vignettes that touched me in a major way. If interested, you can either read them kinda quickly (like I did) or consider them slowly (as it'd definitely work to set the book aside for a while and then come back; you don't necessarily have to recall previous chapters in order to understand later ones). Norris did things like discuss the positive connotation of the word 'detachment' in her text, and you've GOTTA love that. Other "scary" words she tackles fro...more
Sep 27, 2011 Randy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Great book. I had been hounding my men's bible study group to read it and discuss it as a group (I eventually gave up on that and decided to just read it on my own); after reading it, I believe more than ever that there is a terrific amount of material to discuss, with most chapters only a few pages long. Kathleen Norris provides thoughts on many terms associated with the Chritian faith, and many of her comments will provoke some soul-searching, by members of all Christian traditions. Something...more
There were times this book annoyed me greatly and I came close to quitting (times when random political comments would pop up with little to do with the subject at hand, and mar the points Norris was making).

Another reviewer said it best, Tjbrowne Browne's review of Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith:
"Norris' is a word artist, sculpting beautiful imagery from the medium of language. Unfortunately, her sarcastic and cynical political opinions kept awkwardly creeping into a book professing to b...more
Although I love Kathleen Norris, there has yet to be a book of hers I have read (The Cloister Walk, Dakota, and now this) that I could give a full five stars to. She always has many wonderful nuggets of wisdom, but they tend to get buried a little between the vast amount of topics covered and the length of her books. This is another example of this. I loved joining her in the process of redeeming these words that had distressed her and trying to make them her own and something palatable. She has...more
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SR Summer Reading: Norris, Amazing Grace 3 12 Aug 22, 2014 02:59PM  
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Kathleen Norris was born on July 27, 1947 in Washington, D.C. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as on her maternal grandparents’ farm in Lemmon, South Dakota.

Her sheltered upbringing left her unprepared for the world she encountered when she began attending Bennington College in Vermont. At first shocked by the unconventionality surrounding her, Norris took refuge in poetry.

After she grad...more
More about Kathleen Norris...
The Cloister Walk Dakota: A Spiritual Geography Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women's Work (Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality) The Virgin of Bennington

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“This is a God who is not identified with the help of a dictionary but through a relationship.” 13 likes
“When I see teenagers out in public with their families, holding back, refusing to walk with mom and dad, ashamed to be seen as part of a family, I have to admit that I have acted that way myself, at times, with regard to my Christian inheritance. A hapless and mortally embarrassed adolescent lurked behind the sophisticated mask I wrote in my twenties: faith was something for little kids and grandmas, not me.” 4 likes
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