Picks and Pans Review: Amazing Grace: a Vocabulary of Faith

updated 04/06/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/06/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Kathleen Norris

This isn't light reading, but it's definitely worthwhile reading, especially if you have ever felt overwhelmed, turned off or just plain curious about the language of Christianity. In this series of meditative essays, poet Kathleen Norris (who explored similar territory in her 1996 bestseller The Cloister Walk) ponders and interprets dozens of religious terms, from the threatening (apostasy, heretic, hermeneutic) to the innocuous (conversion, imagination, chosen), that routinely keep people away from Sunday-morning worship services.

Rather than knock readers over the head with dictionary definitions or constant references to God and the Bible, she combines an impressive understanding of theology with personal experience, making her essays read like letters from a highly literate friend. A piece about asceticism prompts Norris to recall a plane trip on which she was exhausted but forced to listen to a nervous seat partner who was clearly in need of reassurance. Writing about exorcism, which she acknowledges has been relegated to the realm of "shlocky horror films," Norris explores the idea of exorcising "the demon of anger."

Most of the essays are only a few pages long, but don't be fooled by the length. You could read these any number of times and always discover something new. (Riverhead, $24.95)

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