Kathleen Norris is a writer who manages to write about herself without that subtle egotism that sometimes turns personal and spiritual reflection into exhibitionism disguised as candour. As a Benedictine Oblate she has thought long and hard on the Rule of St Benedict, and tries to live out the discipline of that Rule in the various contexts that make up her life - her marriage and family, her vocation as poet, and her service to her church and community.
The Cloister Walk is just the kind of book for holiday reading. No long chapters; more a collection of reflections and essays about monastic living adjusted to the daily routines of faithful living.
A number of books have been written about amazing grace (a no longer very original superlative) - including her own volume, Amazing Grace. The subtitle is A Vocabulary of Faith, and it too is a mixed collection of essays, biblical reflections, theological and literary ruminations about experiences, her own and those she knows, all written around Christian theological terminology. She writes with a poet's sharpness of sight, and insight. Her Christianity is warm, unjudgemental, regulated by her vows of vocational commitment, yet open to change and difference in a way that resonates with my own reluctance to have everything pinned down. You can't be wide eyed and happily bewildered by amazing grace, and at the same time insist that such grace can be domesticated, organised, turned into the religious routines of theological defensive play, with no risks, creative surges repressed, nothing unprecedented or unpredictable looked for or wanted.
After preaching she was accosted by a recently ordained Lutheran deacon who said to her, 'I feel sorry for you because you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ'. All because she didn't press the right verbal buttons; tick the spiritually programmed boxes; click her way through the how to get saved menu. Reflecting on such encounters she wrote
In the suspicious atmospehere of the contemporary Christian church, it is good to know one's ground. When others label me and try to exclude me, as too conservative or too liberal, as too feminist or not feminist enough, as too intellectual or not intellectually rigorous, as too Catholic to be a Presbyterian or too Presbyterian to be a Catholic, I refuse to be shaken from the fold. It's my God too, my Bible, my church, my faith; it chose me. But it does not make me "chosen" in a way that would exclude others. I hope it makes me eager to recognise the good, and the holy, wherever I encounter it. (Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace, 143)
Amen to that!
On the same theme of Gospel inclusion, she tells of an old Benedictine Sister who was comforting her mother as she was dying and said, "In heaven everyone we love is there".
The older woman corrected her daughter, "No, in heaven I will love everyone who is there."
Amen to that as well!