Kathleen Norris

ADVENT MEDITATION: Annunciation by Kathleen Norris

November 30, 2018

From Amazing Grace My only rule: If I understand something, it’s no mystery. (Scott Cairns)   If God’s incomprehensibility does not grip us in a word, if it does not draw us into his superluminous darkness, if it does not call us out of the little house of our homely, close-hugged truths, we have misunderstood the words of Christianity. (Karl Rahner) “Annunciation” means “the announcement.”  It would not be a scary word at all, except that as one of the Christian mysteries, it is part of a language of story, poetry, image, and symbol that the Christian tradition has employed for centuries to convey the central tenets of the faith.  The Annunciation, Incarnation, Transfiguration, Resurrection.  A Dominican friend [...]

POETRY: New Year’s Eve In Bismarck, North Dakota by Kathleen Norris

October 31, 2018

Flying in Before snow closed the airport, Waiting For a way out, Drinking at the Patterson, Peppermint schnapps For the season, The town, The storm. The bartender joins in. He’s old, and wears a black String tie. A cowboy, drunk, says “You’re lookin’ good. Got a figure like a bombshell. Like an angel. An angel from outer space. Some guys’d up n’ say, ‘C’mon, you’re gonna have some.’ I believe in God. I’d never say that to a girl.” It’s ten below in Bismarck. They say it’s colder In outer space. The Ecclesiastes In my hotel room Is uncharacteristically hopeful. “Better is the end of a thing,” He says, loosening his loincloth, “Than the beginning [...]

POETRY: Ascension by Kathleen Norris

May 10, 2018

Why do you stand looking up at the skies? (Acts 1:11) It wasn’t just wind, chasing thin gunmetal clouds across the loud sky; it wasn’t the feeling that one might ascend on that excited air, rising like a trumpet note. And it wasn’t just my sister’s water breaking, her crying out, the downward draw of blood and bone…. It was all of that, the mud and new grass pushing up through melting snow, the lilac in bud by my front door, bent low by last week’s ice storm. Now the new mother, that leaky vessel, begins to nurse her child, beginning the long [...]

POETRY: Excerpts From The Angel Handbook by Kathleen Norris

November 1, 2017

Be careful how you unfold your wings— there are some in the world who are not content unless their teeth are full of feathers You may find employment with the Sanitation Department or at any laundry When you ride subways wear ornate silver shoes and always stand near the door When you cross at intersections look both ways, then up It will often be expedient to altogether remove your wings from your back, where people will first think to look for them, and carry them around inside you— at such times be careful that your hands do not forget and begin to imitate their beating in your heart, for if you begin to fly, the police will be called and you will only confuse them You will find that you are most free when you are able to sit still [...]

POETRY: Luke 14, A Commentary by Kathleen Norris

October 18, 2017

So he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11) He is there like Clouseau [...]

POETRY: A Prayer To Eve by Kathleen Norris

October 14, 2017

Mother of fictions and of irony, help us to laugh. Mother of science and the critical method, keep up humble. Muse of listeners, hope of interpreters, inspire us to act. Bless our metaphors, that we might eat them. Help us to know, Eve, the one thing we must do. Come with us, muse of exile, mother of the [...]

POETRY: Mrs. Adam by Kathleen Norris

October 8, 2017

I have lately come to the conclusion that I am Eve, alias Mrs. Adam. You know, there is no account of her death in the Bible, and why am I not Eve? (Emily Dickinson in a letter, 12 January, 1846) Wake up, you’ll need your wits about you. This is not a dream, but a woman who loves you, speaking. She was there when you cried out; she brushed the terror away. She knew when it was time to sin. You were wise to let her handle it, and leave that place. We couldn’t speak at first for the bitter knowledge, the sweet taste of memory on our tongues. Listen, it’s time. You were chosen too, to put the world [...]

SATURDAY READING: Ghosts—A History by Kathleen Norris

September 30, 2017

From Dakota: A Spiritual Geography The church was music to me when I was little, an enthusiastic member of the cherub choir in the large Methodist church in Arlington, Virginia, where my dad was choir director.  We wore pale blue robes with voluminous sleeves, stiff white collars, and floppy black bow ties, which I thought made me look like one of the angels in my picture hymnal. I sang from that book every day at home.  One of my strongest memories of early childhood is of sitting on my mother’s lap at our old, battered Steinway upright as she played the hymns and I sang.  By the time I was three, long before I knew how to read, I’d turn the pages and on seeing the illustration would begin singing the right song in the right pitch. [...]

LENTEN MEDITATION: My Messy House by Kathleen Norris

March 6, 2017

From: Amazing Grace When I’m working as an artist-in-residence at parochial schools, I like to read the psalms out loud to inspire the students, who are usually not aware that the snippets they sing at Mass are among the greatest poems in the world.  But I have found that when I have asked children to write their own psalms, their poems often have an emotional directness that is similar to that of the Biblical Psalter.  They know what it’s like to be small in a world designed for big people, to feel lost and abandoned.  Children are frequently astonished to discover that the psalmists so freely express the more unacceptable emotions, sadness and even anger, even anger at God, and all of this is in the Bible that they hear [...]

JESUS: Baptism Of The Lord—A Tale Of Intimacy by Kathleen Norris

January 9, 2017

From The Cloister Walk True intimacy is frightening, and I was well into my marriage before I realized that I either had to seek it or live a lie.  Intimacy is what makes a marriage, not a ceremony, not a piece of paper from the state.  I have shared great intimacy with several people; my friend dying of cancer for whom I would hold (and later clean) the bowls in which she frequently had to vomit; the monk homosexual and resolutely celibate, with whom I’ve shared the deepest confidences.  But it is only with my husband that I feel the mystery Saint Paul speaks of in Ephesians, our lives so intertwined that they feel like “one flesh.” I had forgotten how much marriage imagery there is in this feast that ends the [...]

ANGELS: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Archangels by Kathleen Norris

July 15, 2016

From The Cloister Walk Before my husband embarked on his South Seas journey, he installed a large National Geographic map of the region on the stark white wall by the kitchen table.  When he called last night, he’d just arrived in Rarotonga, in the Cook Island.  I found the words on the map, and fingered them as we spoke.  I finger them again, at breakfast, to keep him in my presence.  It’s our fifteenth anniversary.  He’s staying at the Paradise Inn. We didn’t pick our wedding day for any particular reason.  We eloped, continuing what has become a family tradition, on my mother’s side: both my grandmother Totten and my mother eloped when young – probably too young – and then built on this folly [...]

EASTER: Saved By A Rockette — Easters I Have Known, by Kathleen Norris

April 10, 2015

From The Cloister Walk Let us sing now, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten your labors.  You should sing as wayfarers do – sing, but continue your journey.  Do not be lazy, but sing to make your journey more enjoyable.  Sing, but keep going. (St. Augustine) A dark plaid, deep reds and browns.  My favorite dress.  Soft cotton, no scratchy lace.  Buster Brown shoes.  An occasion; my mother has set my hair in rags overnight and in the morning she lets me brush out the curls.  Then we go to a department store in downtown Washington, DC, where along with other children, I have tea and cookies with the Easter Bunny.  I have the photograph to prove it. I love singing in the cherub choir at the First [...]

MARY: Dogma, by Kathleen Norris

January 1, 2015

From Meditations on Mary Dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality.  Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery. (Flannery O’Connor) I am indebted to the writer and sculptor Edward Robinson for pointing out to me that the word “dogmatic” as used today means, ironically, to have abandoned the original spirit of dogma.  In the early church, he says, dogma simply meant acceptance, or consensus, what people could agree on.  The Greek root from which “dogma” comes means “what seems good, fitting, becoming.”  Thus, the word “beauty” might be a more fitting synonym for dogma than what has become its synonym in contemporary [...]

POETRY: Answered Prayer by Kathleen Norris

December 10, 2014

I came to your door with soup and bread. I didn’t know you but you were a neighbor in pain: and a little soup and bread, I reasoned, never hurt anyone. I shouldn’t reason. I appeared the day your divorce was final: a woman, flushed with cooking and talk, and you watched, fascinated, coiled like a spring. You seemed so brave and lonely I wanted to comfort you like a child. I couldn’t of course. You wanted to ask me too far in. It was then I knew it had to be like prayer. We can’t ask for what we know we want: we have to ask to be led someplace we never dreamed of going, a place we don’t want to be. We’ll find ourselves there one morning, opened like leaves, and it will be all [...]

LOVE: Anger by Kathleen Norris

November 24, 2014

From The Cloister Walk His abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it, and said to him, “Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers) If it is true that the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, and if anger is disturbance of the heart, then there is no greater obstacle to the presence of the Spirit in us than anger. (John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent) One night, many years ago, I was angry at my husband.  He’d had good news – the galleys of his second book of poems were coming in the mail – but he’d responded to it by growing more distant and then driving off to God-knows-where.  When he hadn’t returned by evening, although I was worried [...]

FAITH: Grace by Kathleen Norris

November 4, 2014

From Amazing Grace Jacob’s theophany, his dream of angels on a stairway to Heaven, strikes me as an appealing tale of unmerited grace.  Here’s a man who has just deceived his father and cheated his brother out of an inheritance.  But God’s response to finding Jacob vulnerable, sleeping all alone in open country, is not to strike him down for his sins but to give him a blessing. Jacob wakes from the dream in awe, exclaiming, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!”  For once, his better instincts take hold, and he responds by worshiping God.  He takes the stone that he’d kept close by all night, perhaps to use as a weapon if a wild animal, or his furious brother Esau, were to [...]

THE CHURCH YEAR: Candlemas/Presentation Of The Lord by Kathleen Norris

February 3, 2014

From The Cloister Walk And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “Behold the child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35) The darkness is still with us, O Lord.  You are still hidden and the world which you have made does not want to know you or receive you.  You are still the hidden child in a world grown old.  You are still obscured by the veils of this world’s history, you are still destined not to be acknowledged in the scandal of your death on the cross.  But I, O hidden Lord of all things, boldly affirm my faith in you.  In confessing [...]

GRACE: The Grace of Aridity and Other Comedies by Kathleen Norris

October 13, 2012

From Portland Magazine It’s all about water, and grace. Our planet is mostly water, as are we: one fact of nature that astonished and delighted me when I first encountered it as a child, and which I still treasure as evidence of the essential unity of all things, is that human blood, chemically speaking, is nearly indistinguishable from sea water.  While we live and breathe, we are literally at one with the ocean, and when we die, our bodies become earth.  This is not New Age fancy, but science. We human beings, however, are remarkably adept at ignoring elemental truths; we’d rather place our faith in technology, and keep playing with our toys.  Every now and then I read of a survey conducted by sociologists in which Americans are [...]