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Virgin Time: In Search of the Contemplative Life Paperback – September 7, 1993

4.0 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Catholic parochial school, writes Hampl ( A Romantic Education ), she learned the virtue of contemplation: "Pondering was the highest vocation. . . . Pondering was a special kind of thinking. It was not done in the mind, that chilly place, but in the heart, where the real mystery of intelligence--intuition rather than thought--lay catlike and feminine, ready to pounce." Accordingly, as she seeks the meaning of faith--by visiting several Catholic pilgrimage sites in Europe and a California-based Cistercian women's monastery, and by musing over her religious upbringing in Minnesota--she exercises her observational skills with a fury. She describes the wildflowers of Umbria and the quirks and passions of English agnostic travel companions; she relates how, in Assisi, touring Franciscans "spoke of Francis and Clare as of people who had just left the room for a moment"; in Lourdes, she is overwhelmed by a crowd of supplicants, many of them in wheelchairs; and in the California monastery, she probes the meaning of silence. But for all its prettiness and earnestness, Hampl's prose is finally prolix and enervating.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

"People like me, fused by fascination to their past, find themselves taking planes to distant places," observes Hampl, whose A Romantic Education ( LJ 2/1/81) reported on growing up Czech in America. To sort out her feelings about the Catholicism she rejected as a young woman, Hampl heads for Europe--the past of dusky cathedrals and centuries-old monasteries where her religion was forged. But along the road to Assisi, at the Poor Clare monastery on the Borgo San Pietro, and at Lourdes, she encounters not religious exaltation but vapid tourists and an American nun who is singularly unwilling to share her feelings. Only at a retreat in Mendicino, California, where religion is being remade, does she find true spirituality, learning to accept rather than to impose. Poet Hampl's prose is beautifully incisive, delivering her cascading reflections and sardonic asides on some loutish fellow pilgrims with equal vigor. Unfortunately, the reflections don't quite cohere--it's hard to follow the development of her thought--but her beautiful scattering of ideas is still well worth reading.
- Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (September 7, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345384245
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345384249
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
From the other reviews, this is clearly a book you either love or hate; as someone who loved it, I also found it (as the other fans of it did) a very moving and coherent tale. Hampl takes us with her as she seeks for a way to understand what it means to seek; she (like many of us) yearns for some sort of spirituality, but rests in a deeply uneasy relationship with her childhood Catholicism. The book follows her on a series of trips-- to Italy with jaded English tourists, then with Franciscan pilgrims, to Lourdes, back into her childhood memories, and finally to a retreat in California. I think readers who find the travelogue parts and the retreat section disconnected are not seeing this as a spiritual journey (in fact, most of them admit they aren't interested in it!-- then why read this book?) but it is-- and one that moves Hampl, not into certainty, but into peace and acceptance with her own doubt. The book charts her finding her way to accept and forgive those who travel with her, and especially to forgive herself for the dance she does between wanting this contemplative life and not wanting to give up the world-- adoring her sweets and coffee, her human companionship, her writing, her shyness, all the weaknesses that make her human and that she finally realizes do not have to be left behind, but instead embraced with compassion. The lessons she lives out are not solely Catholic or Christian but remind me of Pema Chodron's teachings on living with uncertainty. I found it honest, moving, and, in the end, deeply joyful.
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Format: Paperback
Although I do not consider myself to be religious and have seldom set foot in a Catholic Church, I found this book captivating. It is refreshingly honest and simple to read and the characters are charming and sometimes quirky. The narrator has spent her life trying to break free of her childhood Catholic roots only to find herself drawn back into them in middle age. She begins her pilgrimmage in Italy with a group of agnostic British couples and moves on to a group of Friars and Nuns, who are delightfully humorous and not at all what one would expect them to be. Throughout her trips in Italy we learn bits and pieces of her childhood along with the story of St. Francis and St. Clare. The places she stays and sees are described beautifully and I felt as though I were on the trip with her. The book is fun and charming to read and I highly recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are looking for an excellent writer, who explores development of spirituality, I do not think you will be disappointed by Patricia Hampl. Those of us who went through Catholic schooling during the fifties, who came from immigrant families, and struggled with Vatican II will all find topics of interest in Ms. Hampl's books. Anyone from the St. Paul area or of Czech, Bohemian or Moravian ancestry will find much to enjoy.
The latter topics of her ancestry is explored more in her book, A Romantic Education.
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Format: Paperback
This book is carefully and elegantly constructed, with the quiet pacing of a richly written travelogue. Her writing is so clear, descriptive and nuanced that the countryside, her fellow travellers and her own inner life are vividly realized. I enjoyed her candidness about the difficulty of constructing an authentic spiritual experience and the magic of actually experiencing one. It has what the best spiritual autobiographies have: hopeful doubt, caution, journey and joy. It is her stark candidness and the quality of her writing that set it apart as an excellent read.
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Format: Paperback
As memoir and (especially) travelog, VIRGIN TIME works reasonably well. The author has a quietly introspective prose style well suited to the topic. The reminiscences are well-drawn, and her observations of "sacred travel" are astute and entertaining.
But I bought the book to learn something of the contemplative life, and come away feeling like I know nothing more than when I began. This may be due to a sharp divide between two parts of the book: The first, an intertwined memoir/travelog, and the second, a crimped and uninforming description of a retreat at a dismal-sounding kind-of-a-sort-of-a-monastery in xenophobic Northern California.
I almost got the impression that the second piece had been grafted onto the first to complete the book or bring it up to a publishable size. This is a shame; the lesson I get from the California retreat is that retreats are about as pleasant and meaningful as giving up gumdrops for Lent.
And about contemplation itself we learn almost nothing.
I suppose I could just be dense; it's a fersure that I'm not a New Age type and look *very* askance at asceticism. (Most ascetics I've met are prideful people who look down their noses at those of us who try to live balanced and uniformly modest lives.)
Anyway. The book is worth reading until the author starts heading up to Northern California. Once you get to that point, put it down. There's nothing further up the road.
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Format: Paperback
Patricia Hampl, a poet, writer and teacher, is in the midst of a spiritual journey for what she has seen in the eyes of some fellow Catholics, the sustaining love of all emanating from a higher degree of unification between God and person. A pre-Vatican II Catholic education is the ground from which the journey proceeds. We tour with her at Assisi and Lourdes, and go on retreat in California, partaking in the conversations and quiet experiences Hampl collects. An exceptional observer and wordsmith, we are treated to a wonderful book on the level of construction and expression in which Patricia Hampl reveals how powerful prayer exists in the silences, much as a poem reveals itself in the white space between the lines of text.Virgin Time: In Search of the Contemplative Life
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