A memoir recommended for those who live in what feels like "a barren waste" and who are open to finding lessons from God in such places by appreciating small gifts, being patient, hardy, and resourceful.
In this classic study of the spirituality of place, first published in 1993, poet Kathleen Norris writes about life in Lemmon, a small town of 1,600 near the border between North and South Dakota. She and her husband have resided there in the house built by her grandparents in 1923.
It certainly takes a rare mixture of hardiness, patience, and resourcefulness to live in this area of the country, which has been dubbed "the American outback." While outsiders tend to view this stark milieu as nothing but "a barren waste," the author finds many marvels to celebrate, and throughout the book, she does just that. She concurs with St. Hilary, a fourth-century bishop, who believed "Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God."
Although Norris was raised a Protestant, she has found the greatest spiritual nourishment during times spent with the monks and nuns of Benedictine communities in the Dakotas. Seeing these Catholics as prairie descendants of the ancient desert monastics, she savors their ability to make an art out of listening, hospitality, and the joining of work and prayer. They have helped her appreciate the beauty of solitude and the remarkable ways that silence can enhance our everyday relationships with God and neighbors.
Norris applies some of the spiritual insights she learns while on retreat to the difficulties and problems of small town living — inertia, fear of change, provincialism, closemindedness, and callous treatment of outsiders. At the same time, she affirms "the holy use of gossip" in a tightly structured community where individuals need to share their tragedies and triumphs by talking about each other's experiences.
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography is a bountiful and beautifully written book overflowing with keen insights into nature, community, storytelling, solitude, change, and soulful living. No matter where you live, this book will increase your appreciation of the many gifts and lessons of a place.