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Cloister Walk Essay, Research Paper

Norris, Catholic Tradition, and Notre Dame

In The Cloister Walk, American poet Kathleen Norris takes the reader through her experiences with life in a Benedictine monastery. She writes 75 short tales, each one dealing with a different observation.. One thing that appealed to me about this book is that Kathleen Norris isn’t a catholic, nor is she very into church. Her experiences at the monastery help her better understand herself, as well as others. This paper will attempt to link my experiences with those of Kathleen Norris’s and the Catholic Tradition.

Kathleen Norris moves into the St. John’s monastery and her book is based on her nine months there. She has a very poetic personality, and goes to the monastery in search of expanding her mind. She doesn’t expect to find religious knowledge or to improve her relationship with God. “The monastic life,” she says, “has this in common with the artistic one: both are attempts to pay close attention to objects, events, and natural phenomena that otherwise would get chewed up in the daily grind.” There are a few main topics with which she pays special attention too, those of celibacy, community living, the liturgy, and time. Each of these topics relates very nicely to my experiences here at Notre Dame, as well as to different aspects of the catholic tradition.

Norris has this to say about celibacy. “Celebate people have taught me that celibacy, practiced rightly, does indeed have something valuable to say to the rest of us. Specifically, they have helped me better appreciate both the nature of friendship, and what it means to be married.” Although I cannot relate to the marriage aspect of this statement, I can relate to the friendship part. For 19 years of my life, I chose to remain celebate. The friendships that I formed in this time with members of the female sex have been very powerful. I can honestly say that I have experienced love without the physical part of my relationships being present. The perfect example of this is my best friend at Notre Dame. We can sit and talk all night long about absolutely anything, and we both know each other as well as ourselves. We help each other cope with the hard times, especially as of late, she has been at my side supporting and loving me the entire way. Should something physical step in the way of this at this point in time, I think that our friendship would be altered for the worst. This all relates to the Catholic tradition of remaining celebate until marriage. The reason the Catholic church does this is so people learn to develop emotional ties rather than physical ones. Should I ever marry this girl, it won’t matter if there isn’t any physical attraction because the emotional bond between us is so strong that we could most likely deal with anything. When Norris says “they(celebate people) have something valuable to say to the rest of us,” she is putting the catholic church’s feelings on the issue into layman’s terms.

Communal living is another topic that Norris has an opinion about. While she was living in the monastery, she was amazed at how the monks were all so diverse, yet they managed to get along well. As one monk told Norris “our biggest problem is that each man here had a mother who fried potatoes in a different way.” Norris talks about how beneficial it was for her to live among such a diversified group of people because she learned to accept diversity. This is especially important here at Notre Dame. In my dorm room alone I have a roommate originally from Mexico, a roommate from Seattle, and a roommate from South America. Three different languages are spoken in my room and before this year I had never met two of my roommates. This has been my most gratifying year though in regards to learning to understand different types of people. Living with all different types of people for the past two and a half years has been a great experience and has helped me to grow as a person. I had to learn to take individual differences into account in order to live happily in the dorm. Catholics are taught the importance of friendship and understanding…something that communal living definately endorses. I feel the same way that Norris does when she says that she has grown as an individual simply through living with other people.

The next topic that Norris talks about deals with that of the liturgy. Norris, being very poetic in nature, takes a liking to the liturgy. She finds that the language of the liturgy and the language of poem to be very similar in that the wording is eloquent and takes a great deal of discipline and commitment to understand them both. The lesson that Norris is trying to teach by saying this is that discipline and commitment are two very important qualities to have; and the more that you have of each the better. I do not think that this can really be applied to Notre Dame, at least not in my experiences, because of the many outside influences that can affect people. Illness, injury, depression, stress, and exhaustion are all things that college students experience, some worse than others. Norris didn’t really have to deal with any of that at the monastery, but I can still see what she is saying. Regardless of that, discipline and commitment are two things that are very prevelant in the Catholic tradition. It takes discipline to live within the Catholic tradition. For example, the temptations of sin must be avoided. Also, the Catholic tradition stresses commitment too. Commitments to God, to yourself, to your family, and to your spouse are all examples. Norris feels that poetry and the liturgy teach you commitment and discipline, and once again, help an individual to grow as a person (like she did.)

The final subject that this paper will discuss is what Kathleen Norris says about time. “In our culture, time can seem like an enemy. But the monastic perspective welcomes time as a gift from God, and seeks to put it to good use rather than allowing us to be used up by it.”

The Cloister Walk

Kathleen Norris


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