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Posted February 9, 2015

Book: Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith
Author: Judith Valente
Sorin Books, Notre Dame, IN. 2013. Pp 180

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

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, cultivating habits of mindful living, and the freeing reality that conversion is a lifelong process. The sisters presented Valente 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.

An Excerpt from the Book:

I sometimes imagine that the moment of death is like the final scene in the film Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Diane Keaton's character, Theresa, is beaten to death by a drifter. The room she dies in turns to black. The movie screen goes blank. We move with the character from life to nothingness.

For some reason, that scene comes to mind when I return to my room after spending the night shift at the Dooley Center. I find it hard to sleep. The next day, sister Thomasita asks me what I thought of the experience. I tell her it made me sad --- and angry. Angry that women who had dedicated their lives to serving others now had to suffer the indignity of dementia and painful physical conditions. And sad that so many of them seemed resigned to merely waiting to die, their do-not-resuscitate orders on file.

"I have something to show you," Sister Thomasita said after a long pause. "They're notes I took when I was sitting with my good friend Sister Mary Noel during the last two months of her life." Sister Mary Noel had died in 1978 of bone cancer at the age of fifty-two. "I kept this notebook during the time she and I experienced her death and life. I think they offer the real thing."

Sister Thomasita may also have had in mind my father's recent death in wanting me to see the notebook. I don't know what I expected, but it was not the gripping narrative I was about to read:

I know of no beauty compared with the painful beauty of this past week with Sister M. Noel. She shared with us an experience she had had as a young college student, when what she called "the flaming, magnificence of autumn: caught her and held her. "I looked," she said, "at one particularly beautiful leaf as it slowly drifted to the ground. I picked it up and questioned how it had become so uniquely glorious. I realized that the leaf became beauty in its ready acceptance of life --- wind, rain, sunshine. It ripened, taking in fully what was its life. And then when it had to, it had let go. It had opened itself completely to the Creator. I knew then that in my life I must do the same. The time would come too, to let go . . .

Table of Contents:

1. Finding light
2. Listening
3. The movement of the heart
4. Seeking grace
5. The interior life
6. Conversatio! The constant turning
7. The monastery of the heart