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Friday is for Friends

Kathleen Norris tells her story, inAcedia & Me: Marriage, Monks and the Writer’s Life, of how she became a poet during her college days at Bennington. It was a teacher who told her she had what it takes.

Any Kathleen Norris readers out there? What do you think of her works? What do you think of her story of rediscovering faith? (By the way, her story here reminded me of those mentioned in Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy, as told in the fine work of Timothy Larsen, who walked away and then came back to the faith.)


This chp tells the depressing story of some poets who could not find peace, and Norris winds in and out of her discovery of her gift for writing her own loss of faith, her marriage, and her move to South Dakota — where she began to discover her faith again.

In college she “came to believe that outgrowing a religious faith was something I needed to do in order to become a writer” (50). That is, “To challenge authority, convention, and traditional religion: that was the poet’s calling.” She also learned that depression was the proper mood for writing poetry.

She and her husband then moved from NY to SD: “The people I encountered every day were not other writers but farmers and ranchers, and something of their deep respect for God, the land, and the weather began to rub off on me” (52). She occasionally attended her grandmother’s Presbyterian church, discovered a Benedictine abbey in the area, was advised to read Hans Kung or Flannery O’Connor — she chose Flannery.

Both Norris and her husband were poets and how they learned to live together — she going to bed early and arising early and he staying up late and rising late.

Acedia doesn’t really come up in this chp much — one might guess that she is here connecting acedia to depression, the depression that poets know.

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Chris Smith

posted October 31, 2008 at 5:18 am

Kathleen Norris’ writing is some of the finest coming out of the Christian tradition today. In particular, she applies the monastic wisdom of the Church to today’s world in a way that is just as thoughtful as that of any of the “new monastics” (and in some aspects probably moreso!).
ACEDIA AND ME is, in my opinion, one of the best books for the Church published this year… I posted my review of it last week:

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Dan Brennan

posted October 31, 2008 at 6:46 am

I’ve read her *The Cloister Walk* a few years ago–and I think she has some grrreat chapters in there on sexuality, spirituality, singles, and friendship/communal-love. I’ve also read her *Amazing Grace.*

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posted October 31, 2008 at 7:47 am

I’ve read all her works and appreciate her thoughts, which help me think through my own journey.
My favorite of her works (I’ve not read this one yet, but bought it recently) is Quotidian Mysteries.

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posted October 31, 2008 at 7:58 am

Her book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, was one of the few books that offered me any sort of solace during a time of great grief in my life. At a time when all of my foundations had been shaken, she gave me the strength to believe that doubt is not the end and transformation is possible even after tragedy. I still pick it up and read sections of it quite often. It has become an old friend.

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Steve Cuss

posted October 31, 2008 at 8:45 am

Hi Scot,
I’ve read all of her works except this most recent one. I think she offers a great gift to the church and I’m sure I’ll read this latest work as well
Peace to you,

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L.L. Barkat

posted October 31, 2008 at 11:19 am

I’ve been thinking about poetry today too. : )
Interesting, because I think poetry can help us shape our pain, find relief and hope. But Norris’ story seems to suggest that her poetry was a cause of pain? Maybe?

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tim atwater

posted October 31, 2008 at 12:20 pm

i think i’ve read most of her stuff — only one of her volumes of poetry (Little Girls in Church) incl Quotidian but not this latest.
I esp appreciate her BothAnd mix of Benedictine and Presby (with a tinge of Methodist) and her appreciation of rural life.
This maybe nouveau emergent heresy but — out in the sticks we’ve been doing emergent for centuries. ain’t nothing new under the sun…
and Kathleen Norris writes it as well as anyone
grace and peace

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posted October 31, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Just this week finished The Virgin of Bennington. Suddenly the world of poetry is so much bigger. Norris knows her stuff as well as writes from the soul. Before moving to eastern Montana I read Dakota, and it gave me such a clear view of the land and its people for which I am grateful. Have stopped by one of “her” monasteries occasionally to feed my soul in this barren, lonely place. Grateful for her spiritual life that enlivens mine.

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Dana Ames

posted October 31, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Virgin of Bennington
Cloister Walk
Amazing Grace
Favorite: Cloister Walk. There is so much richness there, particularly discovered at a time when I was thinking hard about my identity as a woman. The ch. on the Virgin Martyrs had a huge impact on me. Second favorite: Dakota. I grew up in a small town.
Losing and coming to faith, and depression, are part of all her books. I appreciate her honesty.

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Ann Voskamp

posted October 31, 2008 at 9:25 pm

?The people I encountered every day were not other writers but farmers and ranchers, and something of their deep respect for God, the land, and the weather began to rub off on me.?
Living on long dirt, under a big sky, does something to the soul.
Maybe farming isn’t so different than writing, this act of digging hands into the stuff of earth and touching God?

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posted November 1, 2008 at 8:35 am

I liked the chapter, but had a similar thought that she was discussing more of her transition into life in S.D., and not much about acedia.
The rawness of her writing both attracts and repels me. It’s real, and when she discloses how some of the lies she bought into about writing- which overlap with all kinds of work- I always shudder a bit. I haven’t read her other works, but I’m enjoying this book.

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