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Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  5,540 ratings  ·  207 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 Books (first published January 1st 1998)
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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 Presbyt
Mar 11, 2012 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 judgmenta ...more
Katherine Blankenship
Aug 08, 2011 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 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
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 the w
Feb 11, 2009 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 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).
May 11, 2009 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 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-print
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.
Michael Walker
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: mature Christians and those seeking God
Norris, a poet by trade, writes evocatively as a Christian who has returned to her faith roots. This is her third book about her return to Christianity after a two-decade hiatus brought on by a liberal secular education. In this installment she reflects on religious words - "scary words" she calls them - and what they mean to her now that she has embraced Jesus Christ. Fundamentalists and Conservatives may cringe at some of her statements, as may liberal believers. Honest, excellent writing that ...more
Sheri S.
Aug 09, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 - Norris examines words used in the language of Christianity and explores their meanings through various stories and discourses. She explains their possible meanings through research/reading she has previously done as well as drawing from her experiences in monasteries. She often takes a different perspective on common terms which gives fresh meaning to the term in question. I appreciated her chapter on the definition of "wickedness" and how revelation is "not an is the reve ...more
I love this book. It's great to pick up and read a section each night. Or not. I've left this by my bed for months now, and when I feel like reading a short snippet of a devotion-like reading, I can just pick up where I left off. Very relatable as well. Norris has experience with Catholicism, Protestantism and contemplative practices. As well as good common sense and a personal, pleasant writing style. I'm keeping this book by my bed and will continue to delve into it.
Heather Williams
Aug 20, 2010 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 dauntin ...more
Robin Groothuis
Jul 21, 2015 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 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 unders ...more
Sarah Eisele
Mar 08, 2008 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.
Apr 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Having consumed this collection of brief essays in a couple big gulps, I think I will have to revisit it more slowly to get the full effect. That having been said, I did find much here that has lingered with me, particularly the way Norris very persuasively makes her case for religion as a communal experience, imperfect though it may be, as opposed to the personal spiritualities of the day that can often lead to narcissism.
Dan Salerno
Sep 22, 2015 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 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.
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
It was really inspiring and educative.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this last year but forgot to write about it here. Norris writes about religion/spirituality by titling each chapter with a particular religious "vocabulary word" - such as "salvation", "repentance", "dogma", etc that she found to be scary to her originally. She tells about her own life and her experiences getting to know a nearby Benedictine abbey in the rural area she lives in, and how that affected her understanding of spiritual things. This was hit or miss to me. I appreciated a lot of ...more
Sarah Webber
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religious
I started this last year, got two thirds of the way through, and then put it down for a year. This June, I picked it up again, starting again from the beginning. And got two thirds of the way through, again. Well, I am determined this winter to whittle down my currently reading list, because 14 is ridiculous.

I am a diehard Kathleen Norris fan and am always rewarded when reading her work. I think I will want to read this again at least once more. The entries are not in any particular
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion, faith, poetry
Over the past month, this book has become a sort of devotional. I am reading a borrowed copy, and have dog-eared too many pages to count. Kathleen Norris uses her poet's intuition to explore, as the title indicates, a vocabulary of faith. Beginning with "scary" religious words, Norris explores the baggage such words carry with them, and, in her search, uncovers a realm of grace packed into the language of Christianity. But such meaning must be sought after; it is not a given. Humorous, heartwarm ...more
Judy Gray
Feb 02, 2018 rated it liked it
New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Winner of the Association of Theological Booksellers' Book of the Year and Best General Interest Book Awards for 1998

"Struggling with her return tot he Christian church ... (she) found it was the language of Christianity that most distanced her from faith. Words like "judgement," "faith", "dogma", "salvation", "sinner" - even "Christ" - formed what she called her "scary vocabularyL, words that had become so codified or abstract that their
Rollie T Anderson
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Norris is a terrific writer and thinker who has a knack for expressing her Christianity in a way unlike any other author I've come across. This book is chock full of passages that really made me stop and ponder my own views on various topics. She's definitely a refreshing change of pace.
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read this for a book group, and it was a library copy. I had so many post it notes in the book I decided to buy for myself. This is a book that can be referred to at different times of one's life, depending upon one's mood, current situation, or, just in need of comfort and solace.
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Like Norris' "A Cloister Walk," another great spiritual book that is to be savored time and time again.
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Loved the concept of this book - so many short chapters! Definitely felt she veered off the edge of orthodox soteriology at times but overall found it refreshing and thoughtful.
Fay Green
Aug 05, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Extremely boring,slow read. Had to shelve it twice before finishing once and for all
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved the story and her writing.
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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
“This is a God who is not identified with the help of a dictionary but through a relationship.” 14 likes
“I just don’t understand how you can get so much comfort from a religion whose language does so much harm.”…I realized that what troubled me most was her use of the word “comfort,” so in my reply I addressed that first. I said that I didn’t think it was comfort I was seeking, or comfort that I’d found. Look, I said to her, as a rush of words came to me. As far as I’m concerned, this religion has saved my life, my husband’s life, and our marriage. So it’s not comfort that I’m talking about but salvation.” 6 likes
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