Author Kathleen Norris appeared this past weekend at St. Philip’s Episcopal Cathedral in Atlanta. Her books include The Cloister Walk, Amazing Grace, Dakota, and A Virgin of Bennington. In my mind, Norris writes richly about the interior life in much the same way as my mentor Madeleine L’Engle, who passed away in 2007 (though perhaps not quite with Madeleine’s bold resolve).
Kathleen Norris shared a formative story from her days at Bennington when, while studying abroad in Paris, she ducked into Notre Dame fleeing a sudden rainstorm. For Norris, these were agnostic years in college yet church still beckoned its quiet and safe sanctuary. By chance as the weather continued outside, the cathedral organist began to rehearse anthems, at once surging through the massive cathedral pipes, the stone edifice of Notre Dame, and into the heart of Kathleen Norris. The combination of Notre Dame’s magnificence, the heavenly acoustic splendor of the organ, and the beating of her own heart aligned. As Norris put it in her talk, this was a mountaintop moment. The veil of her non-belief began to lift.
I had a similar epiphany while studying in Europe. My childhood had left me spiritually bankrupt and in existential despair. Yet within the great churches and spaces of Italy, I began to experience firsthand the passions that once led renaissance artists to create. My eyes were opened. This wasn’t gilding the lily as I had been taught; here, God was at work in us and through us along the pathways of aesthetic praise.
Note: Psalm 107b, Posuit flumina, “the Lord changed deserts into pools of water.” More on Kathleen Norris may be found at http://www.barclayagency.com/norris.html.