An Evening with Kathleen Norris


It’s hardly fair to write a book review on a book I haven’t yet read;  but since I recently attended a book reading where Kathleen Norris gave the background of <A href=" and Me and read from it, perhaps I can introduce the book. 

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Acedia is pronounced uh-SEE-DEE-uh.  It means boredom, listlessness, lack of caring.  Acedia is something Norris has struggled with all her life.  She said this book has been percolating for over twenty years.  She believes that it is a struggle common to humanity.

Back when (1000 years ago) the major sins were categorized, there were first eight.  Acedia was telescoped into sloth and the deadly sins were seven instead of eight.  Norris is careful to distinguish acedia from depression by calling acedia a spiritual condition and depression a medical condition. She also sees sloth as physical laziness and acedia more a state of the mind.  It can exhibit itself both as torpor and frenetic activity. 

Fresh from a series of caretaking roles (Norris’ father and husband died after long illnesses) and still caring for her 91 year old mother, Norris spoke of times when she was so numb that she couldn’t pray.  She wasn’t so worried because she knew how many others were praying for her.  Much of the book is memoir, recounting what she has learned in the last difficult season of her life.

One feature of the book which insures I will read it is the commonplace entries in the back: quotes Norris has been collecting about acedia all her life. 

Kathleen Norris came across as a person of integrity, a woman comfortable in her own skin. She was neither pretentious, condescending, or arrogant.  She is a person I would delight in inviting to my house for dinner.  The Q & A was most interesting, especially because the Portland audience was across the spectrum.  Because my theology is  more conservative than hers, some of her answers caused me some inward wincing (e.g. her off-the-cuff definition of a Christian in response to a question had more to do with community than with Christ).     

Why I call Kathleen Norris L’English.

Previous post about acedia here.

A nugget on the subject of pride from Norris’ Cloister Walk.



11 thoughts on “An Evening with Kathleen Norris

  1. Carol, so glad you mentioned this book.  I just got copies of The Cloister Walk and Dakota, and plan to read those first, but I’ve been talking with friends about Norris ever since she appeared at the Festival of Faith & Writing last April.  I missed her address, as it coincided with another must-hear and I decided I would get the recording—but then, turned out that session was never recorded!  But the little I know of her is spiritually provocative, in the way I hope to be provoked for the rest of my life.  Please do give us your review when you’ve read this!

  2. I just got this after being on the waiting list at the library…so surprised to see your blog here about it.  Thanks for the little preview..I’m glad to hear your take on where she comes from spiritually as I have a feeling I’m probably more conservative too.  Another Carol in Oregon

  3. So what is funny ab/ this post is that I clicked on your link to “previous posts ab/ acedia,” and there I found that list of things to do that help with it–which I had already printed out and taped on my bathroom mirror!!! My daughters always laugh at it when they come over because of the part ab/ “shoveling manure.” I remind them there is more than one way to shovel manure 

  4. Whatever your take on her theology, and she makes me cringe a little, too, this book sounds interesting. I wonder if acedia or the *absence of caring* is what Maurice Sendak describes in his book Pierre:  A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters?Norris obviously has care-giving talents as she dealt with husband and mother, but do you know why she didnt have children?

  5. Carol, thank you so much for this report on your evening with Kathleen Norris. I had been looking forward to it and now am looking forward to checking out the links you gave and also to ordering the book. Anything she has written I will read, even though my theology is, like yours, more conservative.

  6. @hiddenart – I really don’t know why she didn’t have children.  I’m always amused when God uses someone we don’t quite “approve of” to get His points across.  Now I will have to find Maurice Sendak’s book to check it out.  Thanks for always bringing in ancillary and corollary points, my friend.

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