Tag Archives: Acedia

Kathleen Norris, Part Two: SIlence, Poetry, and Acedia (Episode 36)

In this episode we conclude our interview with poet and essayist Kathleen Norris. In part one of the interview, Kathleen and Cassidy explored topics such as poetry, creativity, silence (of course) and acedia — a spiritual malady that she wrote about movingly in her memoir Acedia and Me

This is part two of a two part interview. Click here to listen to part one.

Katherine Norris on Skype with Kevin Johnson and Carl McColman.

This week the conversation continues with reflection on the value of monastic spirituality, the question of whether religion can be a force for good in today’s world, how even monks can experience an overload of regulation, how toxic silence and self-censorship is a problem particularly for many women, and how a good writer moves beyond simple expression to caring for the reader.

Structuring a life around writing is as crazy as structuring a life around prayer. — Kathleen Norris

By drawing connections between poetry and prayer, or between liturgy and poetry, Kathleen Norris explores how a contemplative heart beats at the center of creativity as well as spirituality. She goes on to discuss the difficulties inherent in recording an audiobook, gives some pointers about reading her work, and offers a few thoughts on the challenge of using poetry while preaching.

At the end of the interview Carl and Kevin join Cassidy and Kathleen (via Skype), to ask a few final questions. She offers a particularly spiritual perspective on who her “silence heroes” are, and reflects on how one of the most important qualities for her as writer has been simple candor.

Liturgy itself is a poem — the daily liturgy of the monastery plus the eucharist, the mass, it really functions like a poem during the day — you know you’re going to be entering this realm again of the mystery and the poetry and all of that, and then you’re going to go and do your chores and do whatever else you’re doing, but there is a certain poetic quality to it, that is really refreshing, and I think that’s one of the big appeals to me — it was the poetry that drew me in. — Kathleen Norris

Katherine Norris and Cassidy Hall

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Episode 36: Silence, Poetry and Acedia: A Conversation with Kathleen Norris (Part Two)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman
Guest: Kathleen Norris
Date Recorded: September 17, 2018

Kathleen Norris, Part One: Silence, Poetry, and Acedia (Episode 35)

Kathleen Norris and Cassidy Hall

A self-described “evangelist for poetry,” Kathleen Norris explores the spiritual life in both intimate and historical ways, through her award-winning poetry and luminous works of literary nonfiction, including Dakota: A Spiritual GeographyThe Cloister Walk, and Acedia and Me. In addition to her distinguished literary career, she is a Presbyterian layperson and a Benedictine Oblate.

“There’s natural noise, like wind, that contributes to silence. It may be loud, in fact, but it’s not mechanical noise, it’s not human generated noise. It actually feels more like silence than not — like rain, or ocean waves, or wind in grass and trees. That has a silent quality to it.” — Kathleen Norris

This is part one of a two-part interview. Click here to listen to part two.

Norris launches into her interview by recounting stories of introducing children to silence, moving on to muse about “the terror of the blank page” and how silence is not always a comfortable presence. She muses on how the structured life of a monastery has been a blessing to her both as a contemplative and as a writer; how her earliest encounters with silence were bound up with family dynamics; and how silence became her ally as a young poet in college.

“Silence sometimes shows you what you’re really suffering from… just to sit there and let the silence sink in, and often that’s when you discover what it is you’re really worried about, what you’re really suffering from, what your real concerns are, because when you’re busy in the world either with activity or a lot of verbal stuff going on, you’re ignoring some of those deeper things, and sitting in silence for a while, it will start to surface.” — Kathleen Norris

Her conversation with Cassidy (Carl and Kevin join in later in the conversation, and will appear in part two of this interview) covers a wide range, from musing on the relationship between silence and the sounds of nature, to the ways in which silence can touch on situations like depression, vulnerability, and acedia. She muses on how noisy cities are (she spends some of her time in Honolulu) and reflects on how people in our culture have created a “coccoon of noise” that seems to  arise out of an existential fear of silence.

“Acedia basically means not being able to care, even to the extent that you no longer care that you can’t care. It’s this really weird mixture of restlessness, boredom, despair… I agree with the desert monks that it is a major human emotion, the same as anger or greed or envy; it’s just been ignored.” — Kathleen Norris

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Kathleen Norris on Skype with Carl McColman and Kevin Johnson. Listen to part 2 of this interview to hear their conversation.

Episode 35: Silence, Poetry and Acedia: A Conversation with Kathleen Norris (Part One)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Guest: Kathleen Norris
Date Recorded: September 17, 2018