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
(also by Kathleen Norris), the evocative prose reminded me of writing by other women, such as Annie Dillard, Greta Ehrlich, or Nancy Mairs, that I’ve also enjoyed. A critic from Commonweal
, Lawrence S. Cunningham, makes the same observation:
It is one of the graces of our time that the best of our contemporary spiritual writers are women who are also poets. We have thus been blessed by the writings of, among others, Nancy Mairs, Patricia Hampl, Annie Dillard, and Denise Levertov. Gifted with the power of language and disinclined to get mired down in petty ecclesiastical squabbles or sidetracked by the banality that often passes for spirituality, they, like the householder of the gospel, bring forth ‘old things and new.’ Among that number one must include, conspicuously, Kathleen Norris who can bring alive the old desert fathers and mothers, the saints of the calendar, the idiosyncrasies of community life, the travails of small-town living, the joys and pains of marriage and old age.