"Struggling with her return to the Christian church after many years away, Kathleen Norris found it was the language of Christianity that most distanced her from faith. Words like "judgment", "faith", "dogma", "salvation", "sinner" -- even "Christ" -- formed what she called her "scary vocabulary", words that had become so codified or abstract that their meanings were all but impenetrable. She found she had to wrestle with them and make them her own before they could confer their blessings and their grace. Blending history, theology, story-telling, etymology, and memoir, Norris uses these words as a starting point for reflection, and offers a moving account of her own gradual conversion. She evokes a rich spirituality rooted firmly in the chaos of everyday life -- and offers believers and doubters alike an illuminating perspective on how we can embrace ancient traditions and find faith in the contemporary world." -- from back cover.
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Her book is a series of short, beautifully written essays (none more than 5 pages long) about the 'vocabulary of faith' as she calls it. There are thoughts on there are excerpts on such words as Heresy, Reprobate, Idolatry, Anger, Herod, Hospitality, Orthodoxy, Ecstacy, Trinity, and a host of others.
It is difficult for me to explain how deeply this book affected me, and how personally inspirational I found it. She certainly is well-studied, but it is the poetic insights that she imparts to traditional scriptural and 'doctrinal' terminology that is so gripping. The fact that she manages to weave her personal story into this is almost a cherry on top a huge sundae.
It may not be the book for everyone, but if you are looking for a positive, beautifully written, easy to read book, you will not go wrong with this one.
Amazing Grace is a collection of short stories arranged by topic,
She spent 20 years away from the faith but gradually made her way back, via the simple Presbyterianism of her Dakota relatives but also through becoming an oblate at a Benedictine monastery – two completely different expressions of the same faith. At times liturgy has only been like going through the motions for her, but sometimes dutiful action cuts through her doubts. I especially appreciated how she gives personal weight to the term “salvation,” attributing to Christianity the ability to save her marriage after her husband’s severe depression threatened to crush it.
“My book might be seen as a search for lower consciousness, an attempt to remove the patina of abstraction or glassy-eyed piety from religious words, by telling stories about them, by grounding them in the world we live in as mortal and often comically fallible human beings.” And that is exactly what she does: in few-page essays, she gives each word or phrase a rich backstory through anecdote, scripture and lived philosophy. For instance:
Incarnation: “it waits in puzzlement, it hesitates. Coming from Galilee, as it were, from a place of little hope, it reveals the ordinary circumstances of my life to be full of mystery, and gospel, which means ‘good news.’”
Prayer: “is not asking for what you think you want but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine. To be made more grateful, more able to see the good in what you have been given instead of always grieving for what might have been. ... I sometimes think of prayer as a certain quality of attention that comes upon me when I’m busy doing something else. When a person—friend or foe—suddenly comes to mind, I take it as a sign to pray for them.”
Church: “When formal worship seems less than worshipful—and it often does—if I am bored by the sheer weight of verbiage in Presbyterian worship—and I often am—I have only to look around at the other people in the pews to remind myself that we are engaged in something important, something that transcends our feeble attempts at worship, let alone my crankiness.”
The book is on the long side, so take it slowly, a few essays at a time. There are too many excellent quotes to copy out here, as my Post-It-strewn paperback attests, so I will simply give this my highest recommendation and say that I mean to read every other book Norris has written (including poetry). She’s the sort of down-to-earth guru I could follow." Rebecca, GoodReads member, @bookishbeck
It took me 6 months, sometimes just snatching a 15 minute devotional read along with my Bible study/prayer time..but I too have my hardback copy strewn with PostIt tags - truly to be savored.
Most especially loved how Norris embraces the mystery of God and His plan through Christ - refreshing to read from one who is so talented with words, so dedicated to understanding, & so humble to be honest enough about her doubts, & her own stumblings. I'm not sure I've met anyone who's pursued the Benedictine (Catholic) cloister practices AND serves as a teacher and longtime member of her prairie town's Presbyterian church?