Authentic spiritual journeys are seldom neat and orderly, especially for artists. Kathleen Norris's biographical reflections in The Virgin of Bennington bear witness to this. As Augustine summarized his own messy journey, "Salvation is far from sinners, and such was I at that time. Yet little by little I was drawing closer to You although I did not know it." Among Kathleen Norris's books are Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, The Cloister Walk, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, and three books of poetry. The Virgin of Bennington is now available in paperback.
How would you describe your conversion experience?
I would call it a reconversion. I'd grown up singing in church choirs in the Methodist Church and United Church of Christ since I was 3 years old, and drifted away from all of that when I went to college. Once the family moorings are gone you can drift awhile before you realize that maybe there is something to this faith business, and to Christianity, after all. It isn't just for grandmas and small kids, which is how I looked at it in my 20s.
Your home and your Bennington life were radically different.
Absolutely. I had a very close-knit family. We went to church every Sunday. And I really missed my family at college. I missed Hawaii because there's a huge difference culturally between Hawaii and Vermont. Weather has not much to do with it. It's just the whole cultural shifting to the East Coast. Bennington is really connected more to New York City than to the countryside.
The Bennington of the '60s was known for being a very out-there environment.
And always had been. It had been founded in the 1930s during the Depression by followers of John Dewey for "learning by doing." It was one of the first homes for modern dance. ...1