The Cloister Walk
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The Cloister Walk

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  5,228 ratings  ·  282 reviews
One woman's experience in the monastery environment, a search for peace in her life.
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published April 2nd 1996 by Riverhead Hardcover (first published 1963)
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Oct 13, 2008 booklady rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all believers
Recommended to booklady by: The Common Reader
Read this book many years ago but I can't recall exactly how many. I'm 99% sure it was in the late '90's. In any event, I was still so ignorant about my own Catholic heritage at that point I hadn't even heard of The Rule of St. Benedict,* which I promptly went out, bought and read from cover-to-cover. (Now I have three -- or four -- copies of it!) When I think of a good 'rule of life' I think of St. Benedict's Rule and I am grateful to this Protestant woman for teaching me about it!

The Cloister...more
I was rather uneasy with this book, although I did manage to struggle through to the end.

There were a few definite mentions of Orthodox Christianity when referring to "ancient" saints, but everything else was the black-and-white Protestant/Catholic divide. I don't know about many Protestant monastic communities, but there are several Orthodox monasteries in the United States. While I stop short of insisting she be completely inclusive, I thought it odd that Orthodoxy was relegated to antiquity,...more
The Cloister Walk offers “food” for the soul at a time when many of us are hungry. Norris’s book chronicles her experiences as a lay oblate at St. John's Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Collegeville, Minnesota. What makes this book fresh, wonderful, surprising, and completely relevant to people of all faiths (or non-faith) is that Norris is not—-as one would anticipate—-a Catholic, but rather a Protestant filled with spiritual doubt.

When I first read The Cloister Walk and Dakota (also by Kath...more
This book changed my life.

It's hard to explain. You really have to read it. (Based on my experience, it helps to be a Catholic who loves books.)

Kathleen Norris is a poet and has a poet's perspective on Catholicism and the ways of Benedictine monks. But she's also a Protestant, with a refreshingly level-headed outsider's perspective on the seemingly impenetrable world inside a monastery. The monks and nuns she describes are real, honest, witty and faithful people, with great stories and a passio...more
christina white
Jun 07, 2007 christina white rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Courtney Bambrick in Philly
Norris is introducing us, one by one, to the core religious aspects of Christianity as she comes to know and understand them. We explore every key dimension of monastic life with her: Why celebacy; why community; why Scripture reading; why choir and music; why poverty; why we are not perfect. I think, like many people, I expected this book to be a straighforward description, something like, "This was my year in the monastery. We ate beans and prayed, blah, blah, blah..." However, we as readers r...more
Jul 21, 2008 Suzanne rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in monastic life
Shelves: spiritual
Recently reread after completing In This House of Brede. Norris is a married Protestant poet and a Benedictine oblate. As a poet and a Benedictine she is drawn to the Psalms in the Bible and their poetic imagery. This book is about the time she spent studying at a Benedictine monastery in the 1990's. Sadly, I find her prose uninspiring. I didn't "feel" the joy that comes through the pages of Merton and Godden. It just seemed forced to me.
Rita Quillen
This book moved me in a way few books do...and I guess it's because it was like very few books I've ever read. It's such a raw, open, personal book, but the writing and the sensibility of it are just exquisite.
I remember this book from when I first started working at Politics and Prose. This was one of the big, non-fiction best-sellers in the store. I remember, in particular, Kathleen Norris coming to speak and sign at the store. It was a very interesting event. I was intrigued by the subject matter and I loved the cover (I have always loved this picture of trees). At the time I was living with my ex and kids in an apartment at Bishop's Gate - an old Church and oblates' residence that had been turned...more
What a fascinating book. There is a blurb on the cover from The Boston Globe which says in part "This is a strange and beautiful book." and I have to say I agree completely with that sentiment.

The book is strange because of the variety of things included. Some chapters are basically journal entries from the author, diary entries of her life. Some chapters are her thoughts about the Benedictines that she has spent time with, about their beliefs, their practices, their lifestyle, etc. Some chapte...more
Kathleen Norris has an uncanny way of being theologically astute and real-world practical at the same time. This book was amazing. It was hard to put down. Her chapters were usually short, but the book was over 350 pages. It provided a lot of bite-sized chunks of wisdom gleaned from interacting with monks as an oblate, living life in a small, South Dakota town, and being a professional writer and poet.

Norris would usually tackle an issue concerning monastic life, such as celibacy, for example,...more
Emilia P
Jan 11, 2008 Emilia P rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who are really attached to their religion and would like to have a better sense of why
Shelves: real-books, churrrch
I got the chills approximately every 5 minutes reading this book. Norris meanders through her stays in a Benedictine monastery in Minnesota, her thoughts (and Benedictine thoughts) on the scriptures and on early saints and theologians...the poetry of liturgies and the sacramental and sacred in daily life. Oh, dang, so great.

Norris has lived in DC, Illinois, Hawai'i, Vermont, and NYC, but ended up in South Dakota. There is a peaceful prairie way about her work and a great sense of curiosity...more
Wonderfully moving and engaging book describing Kathleen Norris's experience living in a cloister. I read this book years before I converted to Catholicism, so it's clearly not required to have "insider knowledge" to relish this book.

There was a passage somewhere in the book that has stayed with me. I can't remember enough of the wording to even Google it successfully. Norris was speaking to a monk, I believe, who had a view of the many and varied people walking by. She asked him, given that the...more
I found myself more interested in the beginning of the book and parts of the last third, but I found it hard to get through. I did, however, find many quotes to be very insightful...

“A friend who was educated by the Benedictines has told tme that she owes to them her sanity with regard to time. ‘You never really finish anything in life,’ she says, ‘and while that’s humbling, and frustrating, it’s all right. Liturgical time is essentially poetic time, oriented toward process rather than productiv...more
In The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris recounts her communal experience with the monks at St. John's Abbey in Minnesota. The author is an outsider to the Catholic faith, especially to the community of celibate men. She is a married woman with a Protestant background, and as a poet, she likens her role to that of a monk, something that the modern world had written off as entirely useless. She writes the book in the pattern of the liturgical year, celebrating the seasons of Lent, Advent, Christmas,...more
Jerry Oliver
I write this review in joyful tears. This book is such a mysteriously profound, simple, surprising and timely read. I shouldn't be surprised. It touches and inspires much like Dakota, The Virgin Of Bennington and her collections of poetry. Kathleen Norris has grown to become one of my favorite authors.
I always find it amazing how we find our way to the right books at the right time. Though I've read most of her other works I for some reason never picked up The Cloister Walk until now. She has a...more
This is a re-read for me. In fact, I've re-read this book so often that I've lost count. One reason for that is that I found Kathleen Norris so calming a writer that, on those occasions when I'm on edge, I tend to pick up one of her books and read a few pages at random to get some perspective. Like Norris' other Christian non-fiction, Cloister Walk makes observation from Norris' Benedictine and small town South Dakota perspective (which, oddly, remain highly congruent). She weaves in the spiritu...more
I first read Dakota by Kathleen Norris not long after having my first child. It was a timely coincidence that I found myself reading her again shortly after having my second child. While not as good as Dakota, this book was still moving.

The Cloister Walk is like a collection of essays; each chapter reflecting on Norris' year long stay at a Benedictine monastery and the following year outside of one. Her earthy view of spirituality illustrates how every day life can be sacred. Apparently this mes...more
Dianne Oliver
For some reason I had the idea that I didn't like this author. Did I not care for Dakota? Did I start reading her in a hectic place? Anyway, I thought this book was lovely. I appreciated that fact that she could come out of her box as a Presbyterian and look thoughtfully and appreciatively at the Benedictine order- their customs, history, how they live- and apply it to her walk. It is sometimes a stretch for me, but a healthy one. I was really moved by her take on the Psalms, and the value of li...more
Willa Grant
I took longer to read this book than I have ever taken to read any book. Not because it was difficult but because the author gave me so much to think about. I had to go & get books to read that she was commenting on & wanted to think about things she brought up carefully. I especially liked Ms Norris' take on the Book of Revelation. I also realized that one of the things I most love about litugy is the sanctifying of the everyday things. I love ritual, I love liturgy & I am going to...more
Melissa Jill
There were some great little jewels in this book. I did enjoy it. I just wish it was laid out in a more organized fashion. The chapters more or less stood alone and didn't flow from one to the other. I found myself sucked in to some of the stories in the book but it was a slower read for me because the over-arching story was not well tied together. That being said, I did like the little glimpses into modern day monasticism. Really interesting since I knew next to nothing about it previously.
So, I've really only been reviewing books that I am actively reading (and not going back and reviewing "blasts from the past") but I was so disheartened to see that some of my all-time favorite books are not in my feed at all. I read this book when I was in seminary, and I still open its pages on a regular basis for inspiration. Reading it has drastically impacted my spirituality. I don't think this is the place to explain how or why, but I can say that this is Kathleen Norris' best work (and I...more
liked it at the time... but don't remember anything profound. does that say a big something about the book... my brain... or something else? :)
i wonder if books like that have a place anyway because they affect our lives for a moment and maybe help us to become more cemented in what we believe/are... even if we can't consciously remember how we were affected later. thoughts?
Julie Connor
Kathleen Norris is a poet, essayist, and deeply reflective author and speaker. In 1974 she moved with her husband, David Dwyer to a farm she inherited from her grandparents' farm in South Dakota. She joined a Presbyterian church and discovered the spirituality of the Great Plains. She entered a new phase in her literary career after becoming a Benedictine oblate and, after spending time at Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, she penned "A Cloister Walk," a New York Times bestseller th...more
Claire Gilligan
I was skeptical when Liz recommended this--a sort of memoir by a Protestant woman who's a Benedictine oblate at one of the more liberal Catholic monasteries in the US. But it turned out to be quite good, in part because of her sometimes very different perspective on things. Definitely glad I bought this one.
Alissa Wilkinson
One of the best books I've read all year.
Totally and completely saved my spiritual walk!
To summarize this beautiful book is not an easy thing to do, but basically it is the fragmented diary of sorts of Katheen Norris, a woman who spent ten years as a Benedictine oblate and another two years living at a Benedictine monastery. In The Cloister Walk, she muses on just about every aspect of faith you can imagine and delivers for the reader a perfect balance of education, beautiful writing, and her own observations and opinions about the faith and her experiences within said faith. The s...more
I'm not sure quite what I expected when I picked up this book at the library, but it completely blew. me. away.

The Cloister Walk is almost a journal of sorts, with plenty of stream-of-consciousness and slice-of-life writing, but much more poetic than that. I don't like choppy books--those that read like a diary or are compiled of essays--but this was the most beautiful book I have ever read. It almost defies explanation (if you couldn't tell by the above nonsensical paragraph).

The chapters are o...more
The Cloister Walk really deserves 2.5 stars. As food for my closet infatuation with Catholicism, the book was wonderfully enjoyable, but my Protestant mind and spirit won't let me give it three stars.

Norris observations on Christianity and monasticism were telling and often surprisingly insightful, but she missed the core purpose of Christianity--Christ. As she herself admits, she has difficulty believing in a literal Jesus, so she sees Christianity as a religion that reminds human beings that t...more
Paul Pessolano
I would definately recommend "The Cloister Walk" for a person who wanted to read something of a spiritual nature, or a book suitable to a priest, rabbi, or minister.

Kathleen Norris is known more for her poetry and prose than for her books of non-fiction. This book is quite unusual in that Kathleen was brought up in the Presbyterian faith, and when she entered adulthood she found that, although she did not lose her faith, she became lack in practicing her religion. It was only in later life that...more
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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...
Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith 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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“I wonder if children don't begin to reject both poetry and religion for similar reasons, because the way both are taught takes the life out of them.” 20 likes
“Only Christ could have brought us all together, in this place, doing such absurd but necessary things.” 6 likes
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