If you like the quote in the title of this review, you’ll like this book. The words spoken by Sister Joan Chittister contain the kind of wisdom you’ll find throughout this short and mind-blowing book. While How to Live draws much of its wisdom from The Rule of St. Benedict and the monks and nuns who follow his Rule, the book is useful for anyone looking to lead a balanced life of service, rest, gratitude, and community. My only complaint about this book is that I checked it our from the library, so I couldn’t mark it up.
The author of How to Live, Judith Valente, isn’t someone who lives in a remote monastery somewhere. She’s not out of touch with reality or detached from the world – both common criticisms about those who lead the quiet lives we think of when we think of monasteries. Instead, she’s a two-time winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award, as well as a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer. Her journalism and broadcasting experience has sharpened her ability to concisely deliver complex truth, and that makes this book a pleasure to read. The prose is great, and the content is better. Valente is a self-diagnosed workaholic, and she faces the same kinds of temptations of excess that we all face. She sees too much, hears too much, and works herself into hospitalization. So, her fascination with the deliberately-paced monastic lifestyle is understandable. The Rule of St. Benedict, roughly 1,500 years old, calls for a lifestyle of service and contemplation. We’re to put others before ourselves. We’re to ask for patience from others. We’re to show gratitude for the blessings around us. We’re to welcome everyone, especially those who are unwelcome elsewhere. Work is not to be too harsh or burdensome.
Valente distills the wisdom of The Rule of St. Benedict for the reader, and also incorporates poetry, wisdom of the nuns and monks she’s met, and her own life experience. If you want to slow down or live with more intentionality, this book isn’t a bad starting place. Especially helpful are the exercises at the end of each chapter. These let you put into practice the theories you read.