Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Atchison Blue" by Judith Valente

In this meditative spiritual memoir, Judith Valente, celebrated PBS religion journalist and celebrated poet, invites readers along on her transformative pilgrimages to Mount St. Scholastica monastery in Atchison, Kansas. The Benedictine sisters who invited Valente presented her with a view of monastic life and wisdom that brought spiritual healing to her fast-paced life--and promises to do the same for her readers. The first time Judith Valente arrived at Mount St. Scholastica monastery, she came prepared to teach a course on poetry and the soul. Instead, she found herself the student, taking lessons from the Benedictine sisters in the healing nature of silence, how to cultivate habits of mindful living, and the freeing reality that conversion is a lifelong process. With the heart of a poet and the eye of a journalist, she tells how her many visits and interviews with the Benedictine sisters forced her to confront aspects of her own life that needed healing--a journey that will invite readers to healing of their own. A beautiful and heartfelt work that crosses The Cloister Walk with Tuesdays with Morrie, Atchison Blue will resonate with readers of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Mary Gordon, and Anne Lamott.


Judith Valente is a PBS correspondent with a hectic job of jetsetting around conducting interviews and working with others. She decided to take time out to spend with the sisters of the Mt. St. Scholastica Monastery at a quiet town called Atchison. As I'd often wondered about what happens within the walls of such places, this sounded like an interesting book to read. Did the sisters in "The Sound of Music" romanticise the lifestyle? If so, to what extent?

The book did reveal a bit about how long lives devoted to reflection, routine and acts and mercy do often provide a different perspective to that of those of us who are rushing about, taking everything the twenty-first century has to throw at us. It also raises questions as to whether people can choose to live contemplative lives outside of a monastic setting, and if so, how successfully. Some of the sisters' revelations about moments when they felt closest to God surprised me, challenging our assumptions about what such ladies might be expected to say.

I did find it a bit slow-going at times. The reflections are about all sorts of things from birth to death and the coping with the stress in between. There was a little too much focus on death, making it a bit melancholic for my tastes. Still, it was definitely good to read, just for showing me that no matter what lifestyles we may choose, we are all much the same when you think about it.

I received a copy from NetGalley and Ave Maria Press in return for an honest review.

3 stars

Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith available from Amazon

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