Pedal, Sprocket, Chain

Kathleen Norris is one of my favorite writers.  Her books include: Dakota: A Spiritual Geography; The Cloister Walk; and Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.  She writes with seemingly effortless ease, leading me to believe that writing for her is what breathing is for the rest of us.

Norris grew up in the church’s embrace, but left the religion of her childhood only to return years later with fresh, appreciative eyes.  Since 1986, she has served as a lay associate in the Benedictine Order of the Catholic Church.  I share some quotes from her writings that have stayed with me over the years.  If you’ve read any of her works, you’ll probably recognize them.  If you haven’t, I encourage you to spend some time with one of her worthwhile books.

I had a radiant faith as a child, mostly related to song and story.  Like many people of my ‘baby boomer’ generation, I drifted away from religion when catechism came to the fore, and the well-meaning adults who taught Sunday school and confirmation class seemed intent on putting the vastness of ‘God’ into small boxes of their own devising.

If grace is so wonderful, why do we have such difficulty recognizing and accepting it?  Maybe it’s because grace is not gentle or made-to-order.  It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change.

I wonder if children don’t begin to reject both poetry and religion for similar reasons, because the way both are taught takes the life out of them.

The Christian religion asks us to put our trust not in ideas, and certainly not in ideologies, but in a God who was vulnerable enough to become human and die, and who desires to be present to us in our ordinary circumstances.

For some reason, we human beings seem to learn best how to love when we’re a bit broken, when our plans fall apart, when our myths of self-sufficiency and goodness and safety are shattered.  Apocalypse is meant to bring us to our senses, allowing us a sobering, and usually painful, glimpse of what is possible in the new life we build from the ashes of the old.

Norris reminds us of things we already know.  Sometimes our foot slips off the bike pedal.  We fall down.  The wheels come off.  The chain spins off the sprocket.  Some things just can’t be fixed.  Religion, at its best, speaks to those moments.

[If you like this photograph, or any others that appear in my previous blogs, I’ll mail to your home a 4″x6″ print in a white 8″x10″ mat, ready for you to frame.  $10.  Send me a message on my CONTACT page or email me at]

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One Comment

  1. Dani Veenstra June 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    I’m reading her Vocabulary of Faith book right now as part of my studies. Great stuff.