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The Cloister Walk

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  7,300 ratings  ·  404 reviews
Why would a married woman with a thoroughly Protestant background and often more doubt than faith be drawn to the ancient practice of monasticism, to a community of celibate men whose days are centered around a rigid schedule of prayer, work, and scripture? This is the question that poet Kathleen Norris asks us as, somewhat to her own surprise, she found herself on two ext ...more
Paperback, 385 pages
Published April 1st 1997 by Riverhead Books (first published April 2nd 1996)
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Jessica North One of the resources she sites was published in 1963. This is simply a typo, but someone should change it!

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4.08  · 
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 ·  7,300 ratings  ·  404 reviews

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This review was originally published on my blog, ShouldaCouldaWouldaBooks.

In the early 1990s, Kathleen Norris spent nine months at the Benedictine monastery of St. John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota. She signed on, several years before the book begins, to become an “oblate” of the order. The word "oblate" comes from the old Latin for “offering”, but in reality has come to mean someone associated with the order who tries to live by their ideas as much as possible, while maintaining their secular l
Oct 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
(4.5) Like Amazing Grace, this is an impressively all-encompassing and eloquent set of essays on how faith intersects with everyday life. In particular, the book draws lessons from the time Norris spent as a Benedictine oblate. From this experience she learned the benefits as well as the drawbacks of solitude and communal living. She also considers the place that celibacy and monastic living might still have in modern life: “The fact that Christian monastics, men and women both, have been singin ...more
Oct 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
This book is not an easy read but is beautifully written. It is definitely not for everyone. I have been quietly reading it over the last two months. It is the author's own "walk" through the male monastic life and in particular the Benedictines. She looks at the relevance of their ordered life, their community living, their ritual devotion to prayer... to society today. It is of interest to me because of my own connections and impressions of the Benedictine's and their openness to the world out ...more
Aug 23, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: own, spiritual
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,
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
Nov 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love Kathleen Norris and all she synthesizes here. Chipped away at this before bed for a long time. Wanted to start it again when I got to the end. For me, the poet as theologian sure hits the spot.
christina white
Apr 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
May 08, 2015 rated it did not like it
One of my all time favorite quotes by this author from another book:
"This is my spiritual geography, the place where I have wrestled my story out of the circumstances of landscape and inheritance. The word "geography" derives from the Greek words of earth and writing."

This was so disappointing. It is not about a spiritual journey as far as I could tell. It is a dry, boring,factual account of the readings they did, why they are meaningful to her, and what being a monk means in this day and age. T
Lynn Horton
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
(This book extols a distinctively Christian worldview. Forewarned is forearmed.)

I read this every year, in December/January. It focuses me, stripping away some of the materialism that's built up in my life in the previous twelve months. It reminds me of my priorities in dealing with other humans, encouraging me to be patient and kind. I first read this in 1997, during a Christmas break at my old ranch high (10,000-plus feet) in the Colorado Rockies. Even though I wasn't surrounded by Benedictine
Rita Quillen
Dec 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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,
Jan 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion-faith
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
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
Emilia P
Jan 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Amy Neftzger
Jan 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that I thought I could read straight though and move on to the next novel on my TBR list, but it wasn't that simple. Norris has the poet's eye for insight and the material written here includes some beautifully written prose with keen observations on life and humanity. The reflective nature of the book caused me to pause between sections to let her stories and observations sink in. While she writes about monastic life, she doesn't romanticize it. Instead, we're drawn to examine ou ...more
Willa Grant
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Daphne Eck
Jun 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
this book was significant for me. one that was read at the right time, ya know?
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Warning: more personal essay than review.

The Cloister Walk as My Guide: Skidding between Catholics and Catholicism

(I use the capital G, when I’m writing about Norris’s ideas, and the small g, when I’m communicating my ideas about god. For Norris god is spelt with a capital G.)

Prayer in praise of god, I understand. Ritual prayer, like saying the rosary, I understand. Praying for life events to turn out well, I don’t understand.

I’ve had a long running and combative relationship with Catholicism. R
Katie Krombein
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have been meaning to read this for about 15 years and am glad I finally did. I laughed out loud reading it, as well as got teary at a few parts. I enjoyed some interesting literary/biblical connections, and I didn't understand some other references that were made. Some thoughts I enjoyed:

p. xix: Gradually my perspective on time had changed. In our culture, time can seem like an enemy: it chews us up and spits us out with appalling ease. But the monastic perspective welcomes times as a gift fro
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best written books I've read in some time. I now regard the book of Psalms quite differently, after hearing this poet's take on it. For spiritual growth, it is wonderful. From a mental health perspective, open and honest.
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this at least fifteen years ago. A wonderful book that helped me get in touch with my own spirituality. Probably time to read it again.
Beth Lorow
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I purposefully read this book bit by bit. It's such a thoughtful, poetic meditation on faith and monastic life.
I wanted to read this book ever since it was in a box of books to add to the collection back in 2012 when I worked at a college library. The title suggested nuns to me more than monks, but that is a minor quibble.

For the first 200 pages, this was a solid, four star reading: thoughtful, quoting the Desert Fathers, a Presbyterian who likes hanging out with Benedictine monks, which did make me a little nervous about if she was illicitly going to Communion all those times she talks about going to M
Jerry Oliver
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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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
“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.” 27 likes
“Only Christ could have brought us all together, in this place, doing such absurd but necessary things.” 8 likes
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