Rebecca's Reviews > Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris
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it was amazing
bookshelves: theology-religions, memoirs, absolute-favorites, writers-and-writing

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 Presbyterianism of her Dakota relatives but also through becoming an oblate at a Benedictine monastery – two completely different expressions of the same faith. At times liturgy has only been like going through the motions for her, but sometimes dutiful action cuts through her doubts. I especially appreciated how she gives personal weight to the term “salvation,” attributing to Christianity the ability to save her marriage after her husband’s severe depression threatened to crush it.

“My book might be seen as a search for lower consciousness, an attempt to remove the patina of abstraction or glassy-eyed piety from religious words, by telling stories about them, by grounding them in the world we live in as mortal and often comically fallible human beings.” And that is exactly what she does: in few-page essays, she gives each word or phrase a rich backstory through anecdote, scripture and lived philosophy. For instance:

Incarnation: “it waits in puzzlement, it hesitates. Coming from Galilee, as it were, from a place of little hope, it reveals the ordinary circumstances of my life to be full of mystery, and gospel, which means ‘good news.’”

Prayer: “is not asking for what you think you want but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine. To be made more grateful, more able to see the good in what you have been given instead of always grieving for what might have been. ... I sometimes think of prayer as a certain quality of attention that comes upon me when I’m busy doing something else. When a person—friend or foe—suddenly comes to mind, I take it as a sign to pray for them.”

Church: “When formal worship seems less than worshipful—and it often does—if I am bored by the sheer weight of verbiage in Presbyterian worship—and I often am—I have only to look around at the other people in the pews to remind myself that we are engaged in something important, something that transcends our feeble attempts at worship, let alone my crankiness.”

The book is on the long side, so take it slowly, a few essays at a time. There are too many excellent quotes to copy out here, as my Post-It-strewn paperback attests, so I will simply give this my highest recommendation and say that I mean to read every other book Norris has written (including poetry). She’s the sort of down-to-earth guru I could follow.

*Others I would include:
The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg
A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren
Secrets in the Dark by Frederick Buechner
Falling Upward by Richard Rohr
How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins
Unapologetic by Francis Spufford
An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
Without Buddha I Could Not be a Christian by Paul F. Knitter
and anything by Anne Lamott.
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Reading Progress

April 9, 2014 – Shelved
April 9, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
September 6, 2015 – Started Reading
September 6, 2015 – Shelved as: theology-religions
September 7, 2015 – Shelved as: memoirs
September 30, 2015 – Shelved as: absolute-favorites
September 30, 2015 – Shelved as: writers-and-writing
September 30, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Rowena (new)

Rowena Good review!

message 2: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason I'd love for you to read some Christian Wiman.

Rebecca Jason wrote: "I'd love for you to read some Christian Wiman."

I'd love to as well! Strikes me as someone whose books are hard to get hold of?

Rebecca Rowena wrote: "Good review!"

Thanks :)

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