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 ...

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