I’m going to slide myself into the words of Kathleen Norris like I’m climbing in her womb. She will be my new mother for a while. My teacher, my comforter, the voicer of my soul.
I came to her writing almost 15 years ago, the summer after I graduated from college. I had read a review of The Cloister Walk in Poets and Writers Magazine, and in the way I imagine God gives some people dreams, I was handed the sense that this was my book. So that summer, after my parents loaded our Volvo wagon and drove me to New York City, after I talked to the director of the program with whom I would be a church-planter in Greenwich Village, after he expressed dismay that I might go to NYU if I got in the next year, after I cried hysterical shaking sobs into Mom’s chest, after we told the director I was going home, after all of this – Mom, Dad, and I walked to the Strand Bookstore, and I bought – for $11 – the hardcover of The Cloister Walk that sits beside me on my desk now.
In those pages I read:
“Many people experience such otherness in childhood, but those who find their otherness integral to a call – to religious life, to ministry, to the arts – learn to adjust to it as a permanent condition.”
“Poets and monks do have a communal role in American culture, which alternately ignores, romanticizes, and despises them. In our relentlessly utilitarian society, structuring a life around writing is as crazy as structuring a life around prayer, yet that is what writers and monks do. Deep down, people seem glad to know that monks are praying, that poets are writing poems. This is what others want and expect of us, because if we do our job right, we will express things that others may feel, or know, but can’t or won’t say.”
“I had thought I was merely tired and in need of rest at year’s end, but it drags on, becoming the death-in-life that I know all to well, when my capacity for joy shrivels up and, like drought-stricken grass, I die down to the roots to wait it out.”
And so, there, in the moments of fallowness, when life was broken and I was completely disassembled, Norris knit me back together.
Today, on a morning when just walking into the guest room and seeing the purple candle holders and globe my mom bought me because I mentioned I might add purple to my bedroom after my divorce, on a morning when I break down again and again, I climb back into Norris and find myself. This morning I read her poem called “A Letter to Paul Carroll, Who Said I Must Become a Catholic so That I Can Pray for Him,” and these two passages stood out:
“Of course I believe it. Even the Methodist
in me believes in the change,
the bread and wine that turns into Benedictines
dressed like ravens
who reappear each morning
to pray and sing.”
“I don’t know what I’m saying,
Paul, and that’s the point.”
Life is disassembled again. Yet, it is beginning to come together; Norris marks the beginning (again) for me. Again and again.
The other day, as I stood on the tractor step while Dad drove, he looked at the field to his right and said, “Look I can see the shimmer of corn.” The newly sprouting field.