The Cloister Walk

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In her preface, Kathleen Norris writes that THE CLOISTER WALK resulted from her “immersion into a liturgical world,” intervals of study that were to comprise one year but which, for her, took nearly three. This period corresponded to her preparation to become a Benedictine oblate, a lay member of the fifteen-hundred-year-old order of monks founded by St. Benedict, and the time of her residence at Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The author structures her book as though this period of time covered one liturgical year, beginning with September 3, the feast day of Saint Gregory the Great, and concluding near the end of August with “Night,” a short meditation on Compline, the official night prayer of the Church. Although a practicing Presbyterian, Norris explores through seventy-five short chapters her affinity as a poet to the Catholic monastic tradition, the mystery of her spiritual journey, as well as reflections on the relevance of Scripture and the lives of various saints to contemporary society. Interlacing chapters on monastic practice and tradition, autobiographical detail, and commentary on Scripture and the saints allows Norris to capture the rhythm of church seasons, creating thereby a sense of time counter to the hurried pace of American life.

Although some Catholic readers may find familiar explanations here, this book will appeal to any audience interested in the monastic tradition and the process of spiritual formation. Norris is successful at debunking many of the myths about monasteries and vowed religious persons. She is equally adept at showing the beauty and meaning of religious practices, such as the chanting of the Psalms and the oral reading of the Bible.

Sources for Further Study

America. CLXXV, August 31, 1996, p. 29.

The Christian Century. CXIII, October 9, 1996, p. 940.

The Christian Science Monitor. May 30, 1996, p. 14.

Commonweal. CXXIII, May 17, 1996, p. 26.

Cross Currents. XLVI, Fall, 1996, p. 403.

First Things. December, 1996, p. 30.

Library Journal. CXXI, March 15, 1996, p. 76.

Los Angeles Times. May 21, 1996, p. E1.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, May 5, 1996, p. 12.

The New Yorker. LXXII, June 17, 1996, p. 100.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, February 26, 1996, p. 95.

Sojourners. XXV, November, 1996, p. 56.

The Women’s Review of Books. XIV, November, 1996, p. 26.