Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cloister Walk

I just finished Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, which means I am officially back in the swing of reading after a relatively long (for me) hiatus. I was super excited when I found this book at the Pimmit Hills used book sale, since it's been recommended to me by lots of friends. And, I am happy to report, it was a lovely book to read. I love how Norris incorporates the wisdom of the desert fathers, her poetic eye, and her apparent desire to give the monastics she encounters the most sympathetic witness possible. I was a girl who was convinced that she was going to become a nun for years (it still sounds so romantic, doesn't it?), and until a year or two ago told Ben that were he to die, I would raise our kids in a cloister (not so much anymore), but I remain a sucker for all things monastic.

There are some things that get on my nerves about the book (one of the pesky remnants of academia is that it feels impossible to read a book without developing a list of critiques). I don't like how preoccupied Norris is with being a "poet", which seems like a trite differentiation. And sometimes I feel like Norris is being a little too sympathetic to monastics, who, let's face it, can be misogynistic, petty, obnoxious, just like the rest of us. And sometimes the book feels too fragmented-- revealing the truth that the book wasn't really written as a whole, but rather as a patchwork of individual articles and commissions that weren't originally intended to be a book. But enough about what I think about it... here are a few passages that, leafing through the book, I apparently liked because I've highlighted them:

"In the medieval era gardens were designed to suffice for the loss of Eden. The garden I've grown into, in my middle age, seems more a kind of Purgatory, but I love it. It's a ratty little garden, not much at all. But I can call it mine." (those following my garden progress can understand why this resonates with me)

"The monastic life has this in common with the artistic one: both are attempts to pay close attention to objects, events, and natural phenomen that otherwise would get chewed up in the daily grind." (which, at it's best, is also how I feel about blogging)

"[Sisters] are often quick to point out similarities between a celibate commitment and fidelity in marriage. 'Both are a discipline,' one sister said. 'Both can be a form of asceticism.'" (don't worry, things are great with me and Ben! ;-) I just thought it was an interesting comparison)

So, the passages are obviously a hodgepodge, but in many ways, so is the book. Let me know if you want my copy of it!

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