Multi-racial group with hands clasped in prayer seated around a square wooden table.
Multi-racial group with hands clasped in prayer seated around a square wooden table.
The 6th Century Rule of St. Benedict offers a roadmap as we seek to bind the wounds of our divided nation.

Of all the words spoken about the stunning events in Washington, D.C. on January 6, few struck me more than the sad observation of a commentator who remarked, “There is a sickness in the soul of America.”

Seared into my memory is the scene of men who climbed onto a scaffold to replace an American flag flying over the U.S. Capitol with a Trump banner.

Though the angry horde that attacked the Capitol included ardent conspiracy theorists and white supremacists decked out in animal pelts, combat gear and Confederate flags, there were also among the crowd schoolteachers, business owners, grandmothers, and former military members who had once taken an oath to defend our country. …


Sun’s rays in the form of a cross above ice-crusted bare winter branches.
Sun’s rays in the form of a cross above ice-crusted bare winter branches.
“What are the positive signs of God’s spirit acting among us?” (Photo by Pat Leyko Connelly).

What are the positive signs of God’s spirit acting among us during these difficult times?

That is a question Abbot Gregory Polan recently posed to Benedictine monastic communities across the world.

The abbot is a tall, slender, soft-spoken man and the elected leader of Benedictine monks worldwide. I had the privilege of interviewing him a few years ago for a radio piece after he had completed a new translation from the Hebrew of the Psalms. I’ve since met with him several times in Rome. Every time I’ve felt as though I’m witnessing the Benedictine values of hospitality and humility personified.

When this Chicago-born abbot speaks, it’s the real deal. …


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As we march toward a new year, what are the memories of 2020 we will seek to preserve? (Photo courtesy of Bridge Lake Photo Group).

When I lived in Washington, D.C. I loved to visit the National Museum of American History. The museum houses popular culture icons such as Dorothy’s ruby shoes from “The Wizard of Oz,” Archie Bunker’s chair, and one of Mr. Rogers’ sweaters.

I have a feeling that a host of 2020 symbols will make their way one day into the history museum — from our home-sewn cloth face masks and “Black Lives Matter” lawn signs to our Zoom screen shots and pandemic Christmas ornaments immortalizing the strange twists of this extraordinary year.


Silhouette of a child holding a flower and seated looking up at night sky full of stars and the Milky Way.
Silhouette of a child holding a flower and seated looking up at night sky full of stars and the Milky Way.
Darkness is the counterpoint that reminds us we must be bearers of light in a broken world. (Photo courtesy of Pinterest).

“We are not here to curse the darkness but to light a candle that can see us through that darkness,” John F. Kennedy famously said.

I’m reminded of those words as we head toward the darkest days of the year. As a child I feared the dark. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I slept with the lights on in the rooms surrounding my bedroom. Thousands grow depressed each year when the daylight hours shorten. I too used to dread the dark veil of winter — until a profound experience of night changed that.

On a reporting assignment for The Wall Street Journal, I went one year to the Utah desert. I will always remember stepping outside in the evening and feeling embraced by a sky-full of stars. The specks of light seemed to endlessly unfold in a vast womb. It was the kind of sky our earliest human ancestors saw before our world became lit like an amusement park. …


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“Prepare the way … make straight in the wasteland a way for our God,” the prophet Isaiah writes in a Scripture reading for the Second Week of Advent.

Like perhaps many of you, I remember well the first time I heard “Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord),” the exuberant opening song of the musical Godspell. I walked around for hours afterward humming the tune.

I think of that jubilant scene every year when we again read the Scripture passages during the Second Week of Advent that gave rise to the song. The prophet Isaiah foretells of a voice that will cry in the desert, “Prepare the way … Make straight in the wasteland a way for our God.”

In the gospel of Mark, the voice of John the Baptist tells of “one mightier than I who is coming after me.”


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Feeling the need to take a pause, nourish your soul and connect with others? I’ll be offering a series of contemplative retreats this winter designed to be a fulfilling way to refresh and renew your soul. Presentations include the use of images, music and poetry as well as prompts for reflection. I find that people also enjoy sharing in small groups during these online presentations so I make sure to include time for you to connect in that way.

All of my Winter 2020 and 2021 retreats will be conducted via Zoom. Please note all retreat times are listed in Central Standard Time (CST). …


Post says “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in front of tree with rose-colored leaves at St. Benedict Monastery, Bristow, VA.
Post says “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in front of tree with rose-colored leaves at St. Benedict Monastery, Bristow, VA.
Advent Scripture readings are full of hope, miracles and pleas for peace. Signs of wonder still surround us. We merely need to wait and watch. (Photo by Matilde Pinto)

A few years ago, I spent several weeks during Advent with the Benedictine sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas. We listened to Scripture readings full of amazing happenings: surprise pregnancies, angelic messages, signs of peace and glimmers of light in the darkest days of the year. .


Jupiter as bright dot above crescent moon over mountaintop on Nov 17.
Jupiter as bright dot above crescent moon over mountaintop on Nov 17.
Jupiter aligns with the crescent moon on Nov 16–17, 2020. Saturn joined the moon and Jupiter later in the evening. The returning stars in the nighttime sky remind us there is stability even in the midst of chaos. (Photo courtesy of Forbes)

As someone who’s lived in eight cities over two continents in the course of my studies and career, I’ve struggled as a Benedictine lay associate to understand the monastic vow of stability — the commitment to intentionally stay in one place.

Stability runs counter to our American fascination with mobility. We think of mobility as the ticket to freedom and success. These past months of the pandemic have helped me to see another side of stability, one that fills me with gratitude this Thanksgiving week.

Ever since I married 15 years ago, I’ve resided in the university town of Normal, Illinois. However, I spent most of that time traveling, first as a correspondent for PBS-TV and more recently to speak and lead retreats across the country based on my books.


Words on blackboard: “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
Words on blackboard: “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
Quote attributed to both novelist and spirituality writer C.S. Lewis and motivational speaker Les Brown. Throughout history, older people have accomplished major feats. (Photo courtesy of quotemaster.org).

There’s an intriguing passage in “The Rule of St. Benedict” encouraging monastery leaders to seek the opinions of the youngest members as well as the most senior in tackling a major decision. Benedict’s rationale is that “the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.”

It was a revolutionary concept in St. Benedict’s hierarchical, patriarchal society of the 6th century.

For decades now in the U.S., we’ve had a fixation on the young. It began with the Fifties and Sixties boomer generation that rightly critiqued the hypocrisy and mistakes of their forebears. …


Against backdrop of U.S. flag and silhouette of Iwo Jima Memorial, line of voters cast their votes on machines.
Against backdrop of U.S. flag and silhouette of Iwo Jima Memorial, line of voters cast their votes on machines.
Empathy, self-reflection, humility and truth-telling will be key to healing the nation’s deep divisions. (Photo courtesy of bbc.com)

Sometimes people ask me why I place so much emphasis on a text written by a monk who lived in the 6th century. It’s because “The Rule of St. Benedict” never ceases to amaze me with its relevance to today’s world.

I turned again to “The Rule” in these days following our close and contentious presidential election. The “Rule” offers marvelous insight into what we need now from America’s new leaders. Monasteries also offer us a model in their practice of discernment in decision-making, consensus-forming and community-building.

In a Benedictine framework, leaders aren’t rulers whose main concern is holding onto power. Leaders are above all servants — teachers whose main task is what St. Benedict calls “the care of souls.” …

About

Judith Valente

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.

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