Pain--is missed--in Praise.

In her 1993 book, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, poet Kathleen Norris documented how the Plains shaped and challenged her soul. She told how a frenzied New York life gave way to an austere North Dakota sojourn, how her agnostic mind gave way to a rekindling of the faith of her grandmothers. This led her in surprising directions. She became a lay preacher in her Presbyterian church and began hanging out at the local Benedictine monastery.

Now, in her follow-up book, The Cloister Walk (Riverhead Books), from which this article comes, Norris explores more deeply her rediscovery of the Christian faith. During two nine-month visits to a Benedictine community in Minnesota, she enters into the premodern monastic world with its ancient rituals, rhythms, and ways of seeing. Her role becomes that of a translator, interpreting what she discovers for modern sensibilities. In this chapter, she focuses on the seemingly familiar psalms, finding them transformed when experienced in the context they were created for: public worship.

Church meant two things to me when I was little: dressing up and singing. I sang in choirs from the time I was four years old and for a long time believed that singing was the purpose of religion, an illusion that was rudely swept away by the rigors of catechesis. Church was also a formal affair, a matter of wearing "Sunday best" and sitting up straight. Like the girl in Anne Sexton's "Protestant Easter, 8 years old" I knew that "when he was a little boy / Jesus was good all the time," and I made a confused attempt to connect his story with what I saw around me on Sunday morning: "They pounded nails into his hands. / After that, well, after ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Issue: