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Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith Paperback – April 1, 1999

4.4 out of 5 stars 111 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Our ridiculously fallible language becomes a lesson in how God's grace works despite and even through our human frailty. We will never get the words exactly right. There will always be room for imperfection, for struggle, growth and change. And this is as it should be." With observations like this one, Kathleen Norris, author of Dakota and The Cloister Walk, has again provided a salutary corrective for contemporary Christians in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. The book is about how she learned to use religious words, such as "incarnation," "idolatry," and "evangelism." Norris is a feminist, a theological conservative, a sophisticate, and a country bumpkin. And she's one of the few living Christian writers who can be described as truly great. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

When poet Norris (The Cloister Walk) found her way back into church in the early 1980s, she was unsettled by what she calls the "vaguely threatening and dauntingly abstract" vocabulary of the church. Many of the words, like "Christ," seemed to her code words churchgoers used out of convenience when they could not find other words to use. Other words?like "salvation," "conversion," and "dogma"?seemed to Norris to be too abstract to reflect meaningfully her own experience. In this "vocabulary of faith," Norris draws upon her considerable poetic skills to refashion the vocabulary of the church into her own religious vocabulary. In each of these meditations, Norris uses anecdotes and humor to invest these words with fresh meanings. On "Salvation," for instance, she tells the story of an acquaintance who had become relatively successful in a new venture with his business partner. But, when Norris's friend realizes that his partner will go as far as committing murder to succeed, he leaves the partnership and returns home. Norris describes this victory as the beginning of salvation, "to make sufficient," because her friend "realized the road he was on was not sufficient; it could lead nowhere but death." In "Conversion: The Scary Stuff," Norris retells the story of Jacob's wrestling with the angel to demonstrate the struggle we all undergo in seeking the face of God. Norris's lyrical prose rings with clarity and grace as she brings life to her experience of the church's vocabulary.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Revised ed. edition (April 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573227218
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573227216
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #303,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on September 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
In her other books, Kathleen Norris has written about the life journey that took her away from home, to Bennington College in Vermont and then to New York City, as she became a poet and lived in the eminently secular literary world; then back to the Great Plains of South Dakota, where she began attending her Grandmother's church and gradually found herself drawn to the Christianity she had forsaken many years before. In this book she tries to do exactly what she describes above, take individual words that she found, and many others still find, off putting from the Biblical and Christian lexicons and reconcile herself to their meanings, however harsh or judgmental or intimidating they may seem.
She does this in a series of very brief essays--about 80 in less than four hundred pages--covering such words as : Dogma, Heresy, and Pentecostal. Between the number of topics she covers and the very personal reflections they provoke, no one will agree with everything she has to say, and many will disagree with most of it. But she brings two extremely important qualities to the task : humility and skepticism.
People of faith are commonly caricatured as people whose minds are closed to all but their own beliefs. Kathleen Norris exemplifies the fact that quite the opposite is often true, that faith often comes to those whose minds are most open, to both doubt and possibility.
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Format: Hardcover
"Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith" is the first book I have read by Kathleen Norris. I'd heard a good deal about her prior to reading it. I was prepared to be disappointed. I was not. "Amazing Grace" is one heck of a book.
Ms. Norris is a rare find. In "Amazing Grace" she combines deep, honest reflection with beautiful, unassuming prose to construct short, sweet, and insightful pieces about words (things like "grace," "judgment," and "hell") that have always unsettled or scared her a bit. She examines each word carefully. Often, she thought of sides of a topic I had never considered. The following is part of the passage on grace...Ms. Norris approaches the subject in a unique and enlightening way (She is speaking in the context of Jacob's flight from his brother Esau as told in Genesis 28):
"God does not punish Jacob as he lies sleeping because he can see in him Israel, the foundation of a people. God loves to look at us, and loves it when we will look back at him. Even when we try to run away from our troubles, as Jacob did, God will find us, and bless us, even when we feel most alone, unsure if we'll survive the night. God will find a way to let us know that he is with us in this place, wherever we are, however far we think we've run. And maybe that's one reason we worship-to respond to grace. We praise God not to celebrate our own faith but to give thanks for the faith God has in us. To let ourselves look at God, and let God look back at us. And to laugh, and sing, and be delighted because God has called us his own."
Kathleen Norris is to be commended for the courage she displays in pondering the questions these often loaded words have left her with. All who read her book will benefit from her thoughts.
"Amazing Grace" was a true joy to read. I recommend it highly.
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Format: Paperback
This book impressed me immensely; well beyond what I had expected and I had read two previous books by Kathleen Norris. It is a marvelous format that works like a sort of "Day by Day" series of inspiring and/or compelling theological thoughts. Rather than follow a litergical order of verses, Norris uses different words and terms associated with Christianity to fuel her observations. I honestly was expecting a sort of academic treatise on what various terms meant. What I got instead was an illustration of the essence of the meaning of various aspects and perspectives of Christianity. From the very beginning I was inspired by what Ms. Norris was sharing. She has observed a lot through her years and has a remarkable ability to recall those observations into illuminating stories.

Part of the impression this book made upon me may have had something to do with the fact that I started reading it towards the end of a retreat I was on. It was at the Benedictine Convent and Abbey where Ms. Norris spent much of her time. I hadn't even considered the connection when I took the book along but I was quickly in tune with her comments about her experiences with the Benedictine nuns and monks. Part of the appeal of her book to me had to have something to do with so many events taking place in locales I am familiar with. However, the broader appeal of the book lies in her sincere devotion to the Benedictine Way while equally active in the main stream Protestant Church. She seems intent on exploring ways to find a closer and clearer meaning to her faith. Like Ms. Norris, I had experienced years apart from religion before returning to it with a sincere intention to become a "Good Christian". However, I needed to first understand what it is that comprises a "Good Christian".
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Format: Paperback
My response is as much to the other comments about this book. I am currently halfway through the book, and am positively loving it. I am always eager to listen and learn from others' personal relationships with God. I notice that there is a great split in the reviews; people either love the book or hate it. It seems to me, in an extremely simplistic sense, that there are two sorts of Christians reading the book. There are those who are open to interpretation and a rather ecumenical, liberal faith, and those who are so traditional and fundamental that they are unable to appreciate any variance from the mainstream. This sort of thinking can only build stronger walls between "real" Christians and the rest of us. Who is to say that Norris' relationship with Christ is in actuality the "road to hell"? Widen the circle; allow for diversity so the Christian community can truly exist as the Body of Christ. The right hand really hasn't any business slapping the left. The book is elegant and full of spiritual gems; Norris is a modern mystic to be celebrated.
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