The Cloister Walk
Kathleen Norris
January 27, 2021

Hildegard of Bingen wrote to a monk, “What I do not see I do not know. I see, hear, and know simultaneously, and learn what I know as if in a moment. But what I do not see I do not know, for I am not learned.


  1. How do we foster knowing?
  2. Which methods or senses have primacy: images or ideas; synthesis or analysis; instantaneous or sequential; intuitive and associative or formal and prescribed?
  3. How can we embrace the less-preferred method of gaining knowledge without dissolution?

A Benedictine monk observed, “the delusion of self-importance weakens the true self and diminishes our ability to distinguish desires from need.”

While “I” am important in finding my true self a strictly inward focus can lead to a false prioritization of self over all others. The challenge for many is to have a healthy self-awareness and appreciation for one’s own needs, and celebration of our skills and abilities, but not to elevate our own importance over all others. In being true to who we are, it is important to know what you are and acknowledge your blessings without self-conceit or false self-importance.

“[Monastic] communities traffic in intangibles – worship, solitude, humility, peace – that are not easily manipulated by corporate concerns, not easily identified, packaged, and sold.

“What we have to struggle for, and to preserve, is a shared vision of the why, why we live together. It’s a common meaning, reinforced in scriptures, a shared vision of the coming reign of God.”

While Norris is specifically referring to monastic communities in her story, she offers an important question for us, “what do I have, or can I offer, that provides meaningful intangible knowledge?” I feel this question is of importance for our evolving life together. It is not simply the aggregation of things that is important for knowledge and a well-functioning society. Sometimes the greatest gift a community and civilization has is the ability to foster goodwill and relationship as a complement to things.

Part of our greater challenge is highlighted in the struggle for the shared vision of “the why” we are. It is not enough to have a vision of what is possible and what is “better or worse” but necessary to include the discussion of “why is that important” as we move forward. Coupled with the location of “the why” is answering the question, “does the why change or evolve with experience?”

What is our vision of the coming reign of God as posed by the Benedictines?