The Cloister Walk
Kathleen Norris
February 2, 2021

“The Necessary Other”


  1. There is irony in the functions of our lives. While some things may be inappropriate, they may also serve as something of great value. The challenge of our time is translating the inappropriate response in such a way that it is useful.
  2. There is a certain art to listening and a connection with silence.

“The monastic discipline of listening aims to still the body and soul so that the words of a reading may sink in…”
*          How do we experience the ability to better hear in silence? Because it is silence, not the lack of sound but the stillness of soul, that our attention is focused on the senses of sight and sound.
*          By listening we learn. Not to create new knowledge but to shape our understanding. In hearing we are able to capture something new or different, to better inform our understanding.

“Monks know very well how easy it is to lose track of one’s purpose in life, how hard to maintain the discipline that keeps ‘our minds in harmony with our voices’ (from St. Benedict) in prayer, the ease with which aimless desire can disturb our hearts.”
*          Ironically, many who are not monks experience the same thing. The problem is it takes someone who is willing to call the feeling and emotion what it is to set a person free from the maddening pursuit of something which may be “the elephant in the room.”
*          But can we find ourselves in that endless cycle whereby, the seeking of the holy becomes an end unto itself?

Denise Levertov said, “the substance, the means of art, is incarnation, not reference but phenomena.” What the artist frees is the imagination and the more abstract reality that is more pervasive than a lot of people care to admit.
*          Much of the poet’s phenomena comes not out of reference to authority but simply because the words are given to you. How do we credit someone who cannot cite “chapter and verse” with meaningful contributions to the health of a community?
* Norris said, “[the artist] understands that they have inappropriate responses to events around them and they find that these oddities are what constitutes their value to others.”

The “necessary other,” the artist of the theologian for example, are the ones that bring balance and pull back the curtain. It is the artist who sees what others can’t or won’t admit and declares the objective reality they perceive.

  1. How do we create space in ourselves to nurture our ability to be the “necessary other”?
  2. How do we tell the truth perceived as the necessary other without damaging the message or creating division, as opposed to broadening the perception of their community?