Figure of woman in cross-legged yoga pose.
Figure of woman in cross-legged yoga pose.
Focusng on the breath is a common yoga practice for dealing with anger and anxiety. (Photo courtesy of NPR.)

My friend the poet Lisa Breger is one of the most peaceful people I know. In our two decades of friendship, I’ve never known her to raise her voice or argue. Lately, Lisa has either witnessed or bore the brunt of four road rage incidents in her small Massachusetts town. “And there isn’t even a lot of traffic in our town,” she says.

Road rage is part of a metastasizing pattern. Hate crimes have spiked. Airlines report increased incidents involving unruly passengers, including one in which a group of teenagers was removed for cursing, failing to wear face masks, and…


Two lay associates of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Kansas are spending July 4th helping asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

This July 4th, while many of us will be enjoying picnics, barbecues and fireworks, two lay women I know will be doing something far more patriotic and appropriate for America’s independence day: helping asylum seekers at our southern border reunite with family members in the U.S.

The two women, Terry Diehl and Dennie Oades-Souther, are lay associates (Oblates) of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, KS, whose Benedictine sisters have also been taking turns serving at the border. …


A sketch by Thomas Merton showing the profile of a monk in hooded cowl with the words “Thou Inward Stranger,” theme of 2021 Intl. Thomas Merton Society conference.
A sketch by Thomas Merton showing the profile of a monk in hooded cowl with the words “Thou Inward Stranger,” theme of 2021 Intl. Thomas Merton Society conference.
International Thomas Merton Society conferences are like a chance to replenish our “inner aquifer.”

So often attending a conference is like going to the dentist. You know it’s good for you but can’t wait until it’s over. Not so the biennial conferences of the International Thomas Merton Society. The 2021 event took place last week and closed with prophetic talks by Quaker educator, author and activist Parker Palmer and singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer.

The entire conference was like taking a long, leisurely walk with not only with Merton, who died in 1968, but with a host of living spiritual masters.

Like many of the presenters, Parker and Carrie left us with profound questions, especially in…


Altar in a church with crucifix on the side and display of dogwood in vase in foreground.
Altar in a church with crucifix on the side and display of dogwood in vase in foreground.
Catholic bishops voted overwhelmingly this week to issue a statement on Holy Communion widely seen as an effort to deny the sacrament to Catholic political figures who support abortion rights. (Photo by Paul Quenon)

At an online retreat this weekend, those of us who attended were invited to consider the “gentle, tender invitation into the heart of God” we are experiencing. This letter emerged from that invitation.

Dear U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

As you begin drafting a statement on Holy Communion that could affect Catholic public figures, I offer these few humble thoughts.

I write as one who has attended daily Mass for years. Every time I approach the altar to receive communion, I feel the full weight of my own unworthiness. …


Alan Arkin in shirt and cardigan, left, seated on a bench holding a bonsai tree with Michael Douglas in wool cap and sunglasses.
Alan Arkin in shirt and cardigan, left, seated on a bench holding a bonsai tree with Michael Douglas in wool cap and sunglasses.
Alan Arkin, left, plays a wealthy, 80-year-old Hollywood agent and Michael Douglas is an aging acting coach who question the meaning of their lives in the Netflix comedy-drama, “The Kaminsky Method.”

“The Kaminsky Method” is a Netflix series my husband and I have enjoyed binge-watching because it’s both hilarious and thought-provoking. The show stars Michael Douglas as Sandy Kaminsky, an aging actor-turned-drama-coach. Alan Arkin is his caustic, elderly best friend; Kathleen Turner is his estranged physican ex-wife; and Paul Reiser plays a retired high school English teacher full of memories and regrets.

As the characters confront health crises and losses through the narrow window of years left to them, each begins to question what they made of their lives.

I am part of a wonderful Facebook group called “Poems, Prayers and…


Brother Paul Quenon and Judith Valente stop to observe a yellow blossom on a tulip poplar tree at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.
Brother Paul Quenon and Judith Valente stop to observe a yellow blossom on a tulip poplar tree at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.
Brother Paul Quenon OCSO and author Judith Valente stop to observe a blossom on a tulip poplar tree on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani outside of Louisville, KY. (Photo by Charles Reynard)

My first out-of-town, post-vaccination outing wasn’t to the beach or a family reunion or a graduation ceremony or some vacation spot. It was to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

In a way, it was like a homecoming. As soon as I stepped out of the car and felt the palpable silence that surrounds Gethsemani, got a whiff of the blooming lilacs and cast my eyes across the cypress and sycamore trees, an even deeper green than usual after a morning rain, I remembered why I go to monasteries, why we all need monasteries. Monasteries — among many things —…


Hands clasped together over a table.
Hands clasped together over a table.
In the Pentecost story, Jesus’ disciples are able to communicate with people from different countries and cultures.

One of my husband’s most cherished friends is a man named Pierino who lives in Italy. They see each other perhaps once a year, text often and have video calls. Here’s the thing: my husband doesn’t speak Italian and Pierino doesn’t speak English.

Still, they manage to communicate, while sipping vino rosso, drinking a caffe stretto, or savoring a plate of risotto. The affection between the two of them when they are together is unmistakable.

I thought of this mainly wordless friendship as Christian churches across the world celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world.

In…


Sunlight glinting off rippling waves on body of water.
Sunlight glinting off rippling waves on body of water.
The great social activist Dorothy Day said each action we take for the good causes a ripple effect. (Photo by J. Alden Marlatt)

I spent a few days recently in Chicago. It’s always a glorious sight to see the sun rise in the East over Lake Michigan. One morning I woke early determined to snap a photograph. By the time I pulled out my camera and adjusted the lens, a blanket of clouds moved in obscuring the sun’s bright disk. I had missed the moment!

The experience caused me to reflect on how swiftly life changes. Children crawling across a carpet one day are graduating from college the next, or so it seems. Careers end. Parents age. Friends move on. …


The author at age four and her mother Theresa Costanza Valente at home in Bayonne, NJ.

Like many women, I had a complicated relationship with my mother. It was only perhaps in the last five years of her life that we finally, happily began to understand each other.

My mother was nearly 40 when I was born. Fearing something would go wrong with the birth, she prayed throughout her pregnancy to St. Jude, the patron of hopeless cases. When I was born healthy and grew into a curious, rambunctious child, my mother responded by becoming intensely protective. …


Purple irises blooming in front of gray stone house with blue shutters.
Purple irises blooming in front of gray stone house with blue shutters.
Spring reminds us to wake up to the ever-changing life around us. (Photo by J. Alden Marlatt)

“Wake up, O Soul! How long will you sleep?”

That line from St. Gertrude of Helfta rang in my head this past week each time I went for a walk. Walking is one of my favorite contemplative practices. Here in the Midwest, the earth is finally waking up. The land has exploded with color: yellow, red and orange tulips. Deep purple irises. Pale purple lilacs.

Day by day, nature is evolving before our very eyes, and we so often miss it. Wake up, O Soul!

My friend the filmmaker Marilyn Freeman uses that very line from the 13th century writings…

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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