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Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

4.14  ·  Rating Details ·  4,750 Ratings  ·  177 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 ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 1st 1999 by Riverhead Books (first published January 1st 1998)
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30th out of 283 books — 135 voters
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Community Reviews

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Rebecca Foster
This makes the shortlist of books I would hand to skeptics to show them there might be something to this Christianity nonsense after all.* Like Speaking Christian by Marcus Borg, it aims to inject new life into theological terms that have become mere jargon; “it is my accommodation of and reconciliation with the vocabulary of Christian faith that has been the measure of my conversion,” Norris writes.

She spent 20 years away from the faith but gradually made her way back, via the simple Presbyteri
Sep 11, 2012 Jess rated it it was amazing
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 ...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 ...more
Katherine Blankenship
Aug 14, 2011 Katherine Blankenship rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Kathleen Norris is a wordsmith, so I'd probably enjoy reading her essays even if I couldn't relate much to the content. She just writes in a way that is clear and crisp as a fall morning. She's had an interesting life, and she's not afraid to examine it.

That said, this is a book that I never would have read if I'd first read a review of it. Norris is almost always reviewed as a "Christian author." That lumps her in with the same group as that creepy Left Behind guy, Pat Robertson's rantings and
Feb 11, 2009 Deb rated it really liked it
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.
Danni Green
Mar 14, 2015 Danni Green rated it liked it
This was a really interesting book. As a non-Christian who is not interested in becoming a Christian, I felt like I wasn't really the intended audience for it. But I enjoyed getting to know this author and her perspectives on a wide range of relevant terms and concepts in her religious tradition, and having the opportunity to reflect on how some of them might fit with my own faith and practice (as a Pagan Quaker Jew myself).
Jun 22, 2011 Lynda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: seekers
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.
Sep 17, 2011 Rachel rated it it was ok
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.
Heather Williams
Aug 20, 2010 Heather Williams rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Robin Groothuis
Sep 16, 2015 Robin Groothuis rated it really liked it
This is a book I've put off reading for years because I've been a casualty of church and didn't want to read anymore spiritual memoirs for a while, if ever. But it sat there on my shelf calling out to me every time I finished another book, and it came from my mom originally, someone who's recommendations are always rewarding. So I dove in. And I felt refreshed and renewed. Here is a person who had also been a casualty of church for a couple of decades and found her way back to a surprising small ...more
Rita Quillen
Jan 24, 2014 Rita Quillen rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Sarah Eisele
Mar 08, 2008 Sarah Eisele rated it really liked it
I have picked this book up numerous times. Norris is an oblate monk (a "civilian" monk in a sense) and reflects on the words used in the Christian church, such as "incarnation," "repentance," "prayer," "hospitality," "mystic." The words were a barrier to her when she returned to church in adulthood. The reflections are her attempt to communicate the meaning she found in the words over the years, words that have become powerful and meaningful to her faith.
Dan Salerno
Oct 31, 2015 Dan Salerno rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book! Kathleen Norris writes with wisdom, humor and faith. As the title of the book suggests, Norris' has written a very enjoyable series of essays on the vocabulary that Christians commonly use. Although her take on many of the words is anything but common, which is what makes her book so much fun to read.
Tjbrowne Browne
Nov 04, 2011 Tjbrowne Browne rated it did not like it
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.
Sep 23, 2016 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: god, memoir
Loved this; read it slowly, a bit each night. Religious and oriented toward God yet humane; framing a way of being Christian that seems more tolerant and accepting of human nature than what often comes across the pulpit, whether intentional or not.
Nov 02, 2009 Amy rated it really liked it
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
Oct 05, 2007 Louis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 29, 2016 Louis rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 19, 2016 Linda rated it really liked it
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
Jul 11, 2014 Kathryn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
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 “
Apr 04, 2014 Kati rated it really liked it
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
Jun 01, 2013 Phil rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christian
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 ...more
Jul 15, 2014 Serena rated it really liked it
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
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
Mar 11, 2009 Anna rated it it was amazing
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
Bob Price
Jan 11, 2014 Bob Price rated it liked it
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
Jo Young Switzer
May 27, 2016 Jo Young Switzer rated it really liked it
Normally I read books one at a time. This one I placed on a shelf and read one of its short chapters whenever I sat at the chair near the shelf. For me, this was the perfect way to read and absorb Norris's reflections on Christianity, Benedictine practices, and life on the plains of North Dakota. The book is organized around concepts like Prayer, Repentance, Idolatry, Righteous, Hospitality, Creeds, Unchurched, and many more. Reading one short chapter and taking time to think about it was, for ...more
Jul 11, 2008 Keith rated it really liked it
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
Benjamin Elliott
May 24, 2016 Benjamin Elliott rated it liked it
Shelves: owned-in-print
he subtitle of this book: A Vocabulary of Faith, gives the idea of its general framework with each section being titled with a specific word that is troublesome to some people in (and outside of) the Christian church. Some of the chapters stay very true to this premise, providing a discussion of the word and its impact on a christian life (the author or someone she knows); however, other chapters use this more as a jumping off point and end up places I didn't think were quite related to the word ...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 about Kathleen Norris...

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“This is a God who is not identified with the help of a dictionary but through a relationship.” 14 likes
“But in order to have an adult faith, most of us have to outgrow and unlearn much of what we were taught about religion.” 5 likes
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