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category: Religion
published: May 2003
publisher: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Teaching Places

Life Writing

by Audrey J. Whitson

tagged: sexuality & gender studies, religious

Teaching Places is a tale about a woman’s spiritual search, how that search calls her to the land and how the land teaches. The telling spirals, exploring loss of faith, loss of voice, and the finding of a different, broader faith and a deeper, stronger voice. Her journey takes her to many special wilderness areas across Alberta — from the edge of the Canadian Shield to mountains, prairies, boreal forest, and parkland. In the telling of her journey, she interweaves migration, evolution, family, landscape, noise, silence, and song.

Remarkable for the breadth of its treatment of the spiritual journey, combining prose and poetry, the book delves into old traditions (Aboriginal, Old European, mystical Christian) and new. Genealogists, geologists, students, and instructors of natural history and theology will find this book of great value in their study and in their courses.

About the Author
Audrey J. Whitson received her MA from the Franciscan School-Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. Her writing and photography have appeared in Other Voices, Pottersfield Portfolio, the Edmonton Journal, Catholic New Times, and Canadian Woman Studies, among other publications. She has taught theology at St. Stephen’s and St. Joseph’s colleges in Edmonton. To learn more about her work, visit
  • Short-listed, Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction, Alberta Book Awards
  • Short-listed, Grant MacEwan Author's Award
  • Short-listed, ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year in Body, Mind and Spirit
Editorial Reviews

"Whitson's book is a poetic evocation of particular places in Alberta, some of which she seems to be putting on our spiritual map for the very first time. Teaching Places is partly an ode to the natural beauty of our province. It is also a deeply-felt search for personal meaning. At the same time it is subtly charged with a challenge to Albertans to find the spiritual value in a landscape too easily plundered for resources."

— Alberta Book Awards 2004 Jury

"[A] travel guide...for an inn er journey, a stream-of-consciousness logbook of Whitson's adventures into nature and her own true nature....The book is an inspiring and uplifting read."

— Vox Feminarium, 3:2

"This book orchestrates a graceful interplay of the personal and the ecological, the local and the universal, all tuned through a single honest soul to the harmonies, and dissonance, now present in the landscapes that roll eastward off this continent's backbone. It has the kind of heart, observed detail, and narrative flow that come with caring. Whitson cares. Read this and you will too."

— Trevor Herriot

"Whitson's ability to find the holy and the creative in the growth of seeds, the migration of plants and the layers of soil is admirable. She marvels at the wonders of creation in a fashion that is delightfully infectious, and, sadly, necessary if our species is to survive in harmony with the nature that it is so determined to destroy."

— Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen, Toronto School of Theology

''Whitson pays attention to the world around her and the world inside her. The reader experiences the Alberta landscape through th eyes of a poet; self through the eyes of a wry, honest observer. The combination is seamless and revealing.''

— Grant MacEwan Author's Award 2004 Jury

"This is a brave and beautiful book, the record of a journey we'd all like to make if we had the courage. Audrey Whitson 'takes her spirit for a walk,' as the medieval pilgrims used to say. She peels back the layers of her life and her land and enters mystery through so many portals. Her book is an invitation, a challenge, a blessing. I know vaguely the geographical territory through which Audrey Whitson travelled, having spent a few summers in Northern Alberta as a quasi-missionary. I learned so much from Teaching Places about the land -- its trees, rocks, and grasses -- its birds, animals, and their habitats. I was enabled to enter into the very terrain, to match with her my stumbling spirit to my stumbling feet, and my soaring spirit to the soaring grandeur of a land that survives despite all we have done to it. And I marvelled with Audrey at how the shaping of the land revealed the shaping of a life and recorded in its very shape the spirit of creation. I finished the book with great regret. It is that kind of book."

— Great Plains Quarterly, Fall 2004

"Whitson is an eloquent writer. She interweaves her observations of the land with stories about her family, friends, and work. Her feeling for the beauty of Alberta is enhanced by her own colour photographs. As she states, 'This is a journey into self, faith, family, and the land.'"

— Canadian Book Review Annual, 2006

"Audrey Whitson reaches down and stirs something deep in the soul. Her love of the land is respectful, serious, irresistible. The terrain she captures so vividly on paper as a record of her Alberta pilgrimmage moves the heart of any reader who has known and loved the prairies....Whitson's is a journey that is deeply spiritual, without being orthodox. Her spirituality is articulated as understandable and embodied; it is felt through her language and use of metaphor."

— Great Plains Quarterly, Fall 2004
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