Friday, January 23, 2009

Kathleen Norris

"Some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred fold."
These are the words of the Lord, applying to a context in the New Testament that does not follow as nimbly as this handful presented itself, but somehow marking the divisions of this blog. I had no sectional scheme in mind when I launched the thing, but I became aware of a sort of marker at Post 30, and that I have again reached some sort of goal at 60 seems to make sense.
By 30, I had commented on Ignatius Loyola's "Spiritual Exercises", and that seemed, in hindsight, to make a goal sensible to me at least; and now at 60 I have engaged in conversation with an old friend, someone who showed up in our circle, in the autumn of 1973, after I had finished my year with the Exercises, and helped explain the purpose in being put through them.
An advertisement about the blog provoked her to tune in to my words again - we talked a great deal in the old days - and someone else's writing provoked her to ask me to comment. The writer was Kathleen Norris and the book Ms. Norris' latest, "Acedia and Me".
I first heard of KN through "The Cloister Walk", two or three years ago when it was Shawn's bedside book for some weeks and I was read excerpts as I sipped my morning coffee, studied my journals for twenty years ago, and read the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano.
I also had a subscription for some months to The Economist. And there was always the Divine Office, of course.
CW was a nice book and I especially enjoyed the references to the Benedictine Monastery, but as there was obviously little awareness of John of the Cross or the inescapable relevance of Aquinas, I could only be casually interested.
But A and M is different, as the Holy Spirit made abundantly plain this morning. Because Shawn had taken us all out for breakfast before MT and I shopped and she went to work, the groceries were in the packs before the bookstore door was open, and there was nothing to do but to come home without the book. No matter, according to the Boss. Get back downtown and get it. So I did just that, while MT hit our excellent French bakery for the weekly bargain in day old baguettes. We brought these home - eight of them - and there was a very telling moment which a good French painter like Cezanne or Alfred Sisley would have rendered showing a sight line from the book on the buffet in the dining room to the bag of baguettes on the kitchen island, projection his own uncertainty, by some trick of chiarascuro, as to which object, in the long run, would be of most value. A and M comes with good reviews and a nice run on the New York Times best seller list, but it's been a long, long, time since I could assume that any of those recommendations would meet with the mystic's standards. Perhaps the chief purpose in the purchase was Irene's need, albeit unconscious, to be Dutch-uncled yet again. MT and I were scheduled for a walk, as for the first time in a couple of weeks there was a promising spread of blue sky, but I did take enough time to glance at the back, to see if I could find John of the Cross mentioned.
Ah, yes. And exactly the key text, although, at first glance, perhaps short of sufficient context. So off for the walk, during which the clear sky clouded over. Then I had to help with lunch, as a week ago MT sprained her elbow falling over a roof rake for snow and I had become chef's assistant. There is a lot of chopping involved, as Marianne, true to her name, prefers a French knife to a can opener.
But finally the book and I get the chance to see why the Muse has been so bloody vehement. Oh my God. As I said - well, Ireneus said it first - in timing there is advantage. Whew. James is in place. Thank heaven. Kathleen and Assumption Abbey in North Dakota, which I have already been in contact with because of a death in my daughter's relatives by marriage, can deal perhaps with him if they need a demonstration, and I can remain the hermit, researching, and writing on the Web.
What a gift I find immediately. Maybe the New York Times and its lists can be of some use after all. Is it not one of their own that's walked right into my lab, with half the reason for her youthful acedia stapled all over her body language? The history of her music instruction left me as ill as Hanon's cluttered pages. And the fact that she loved Bach so much only proves the evils of the method she was caged within. No numbers, no freedom. It's as simple as that, and every meaningless rote process we have to endure, especially in the name of education, can only create mental problems. Memory is the tool of analysis, not its master. And obviously all those high priced editors, publishers, and reviewers are just as unaware as she is, of the problem, or the chapter would have been written much differently. You see why I can't be impressed by the Big Apple.
I will finish the book, of course. And I suspect that John of the Cross and I are going to have a very good time with the acedia thing, with not a little justified assaulting of American and Western culture. But if I never went a page further, that information about the music instruction alone has already justified the price of purchase.

1 comment:

cabbage ears said...

Actually, Ken, what is dutch uncled? Never lost respect for people who search quietly for the truth. In this book one of my favourite insertions was on pp 167-168..."Kierkegaard summons the creation story in Genesis:" If I recognize and reaffirm, I am then not unconciously "dutch uncled".