The City and the Monastery According to a Protestant Poet

A recent study was released that looked at the ill effects of city life that can be accessed here here. In light of such a study, the intensification of urban living ought to be a subject of theological reflection, and books such as Graham Ward’s Cities of God and TJ Gorringe’s A Theology of the Built Environment have provided some fruitful entry points for such a project.

The American poet Kathleen Norris has made her contributions to this issue with a number of important reflections linking the Monastery and the city in The Cloister Walk. Below are quotes from that chapter:

“The monastery is a city in the ancient meaning of the word, as ‘civitas‘, a place which stands for human culture in its highest sense, and serves the common good.”

“I have often had the odd feeling that the monastery is the real world, while the dog-eat-dog world that most people call “real” is in fact an artifice, an illusion that we cling to because it seems to be in our best interest to do so.”

“The Christian vision of heaven is of a city, the New Jerusalem, and…the Godhead itself is a kind of city, a community of three persons, or…”a collective being, with unity”.

[Aidan] Kavanagh laments that…”[Our] iceon is not a city…’whether of man or God, but the lone jogger running through suburbia, in order, we are told, to feel good about himself”

“Images of the city are impossible to avoid in the monastic choir, as scripture is full of them. You’re reminded, over and over, that in fact you have come here to be a part of the city of the living God, and you’re challenged to make something of it”

“Do you work, as Jeremiah reminds us to do, for the welfare of the city to which God has sent you? Can you say, with Isaiah, ‘About Zion I will not be silent, about Jerusalem I will not rest, until her integrity shines out like the dawn, and her salvation flames like a torch’?”

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