I had been curious about "The Cloister Walk" for many years, but have been inexplicably reluctant to read it. Recently I had the opportunity to listen to the abridged audio version of the book, read by actress Debra Winger. Now that I've heard the tape, I'm looking forward to reading the entire book someday.
As a convert from Protestantism to the Eastern Orthodox Church, I found that many of Kathleen Norris' thoughts, feelings and experiences in discovering and participating in liturgical life paralleled my own. Her writings remind me of Orthodox writer Frederica Mathewes-Green, notably "Facing East" and "The Illumined Heart," a well-known convert from the Episcopal Church.
I appreciate Norris' penetrating insights into the monastic life. By living with the Benedictines, she was able to answer many of the questions that those of outside of the monastic life have undoubtedly wondered about.
I'd recommend this book to anyone curious about liturgical life, monasticism or about going deeper in the Christian walk. While Debra Winger did an adequate job of reading this abridgment, I was unconvinced that she knew what she was reading about. Fortunately Norris' narrative is captivating on its own.
When Kathleen Norris found her life in a shambles, she sought shelter in the cloistered world of the Benedictines. She never details the specific problems that led to her quest for renewed faith in God. Although she has joined the monastery as an oblate--unlike the monks and nuns, she can leave to resume her married life and her book tours--she nevertheless feels that she has penetrated to the core of the monastic experience. Her descriptions of what the liturgy means to her, what the companionship of celibate men and women has given her, show us what has kept the Catholic monastery alive for nearly two thousand years. The topics of faith and spirituality, God and religion, monastic service and celibacy are interpreted through her own experience. She writes movingly and convincingly of her own feelings and thoughts, but I am left wondering just what it was that drove a married Protestant woman of middle age, who confesses to a "checkered past," to seek haven in monasteries. Surely her life's experiences color her perceptions and interpretations of cloistered Catholicism. In addition, she identifies herself as a poet, and she is a conspicuous participant in many rituals as she walks ahead of hundreds of monks to begin the reading for a service. Her anecdotes and quotations beautifully present the understanding she has gained, but how close is that to what the lifetime monks and nuns experience?