Two light beams reach into the night sky in front of New York Bay, representing the space where the World Trade Center twin towers once stood.
Two light beams mark the spot where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood.

One of my favorite gospel passages is Matthew 10:42 where Jesus says, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, truly I tell you, that person shall by no means lose his reward.” It’s a reminder that acts of compassion don’t have to be grand gestures. They can be simple expressions — what St. Teresa of Calcutta called doing “small things with great love.”

Matthew’s gospel and Mother Teresa’s words kept returning to me as I watched the 20th anniversary commemorations of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. …


A computer sits on a desk along with pen, eyeglasses, coffee cup and notepad.
Has the pandemic helped us see the proper role of work, or has working at home made work an even larger intruder in our personal lives? (Photo courtesy of Time).

When Labor Day comes around, I usually think of my parents, Charles and Theresa Valente. They did the kind of back-breaking work that is labor. My father drove a truck, loading and unloading 10-gallon barrels of roofers’ asphalt. My mother stood on a wet floor for eight hours a day, hosing down cucumbers in a food factory.

I determined early on that this would not be my work. Still, my parents bequeathed to me a hardy work ethic. They rarely missed a work day and gave their jobs their best. …


Sculpture made of concerte, fiberglass and steel of woman’s face whose hands open her chest cavity to reveal and empty space.
South African artist Daniel Popper’s massive sculpture “Hollow” is part of the Human + Nature outdoor exhibit at the Morton Arboretum near Chicago. (Photo by Judith Valente)

Imagine the enormous sculpted face of a woman rising up from a field surrounded by woods. Imagine her chest cavity opening to reveal a cavern into which humans can walk.

Then imagine a pair of massive hands joined by intertwining roots, reaching out from the soil in an open embrace.

These are two of the sculptures that make up an astonishing and thought-provoking outdoor exhibit at the Morton Arboretum outside of Chicago. Titled “Human + Nature,” the sculptures — made of concrete, steel and fiberglass — underscore the intimate dance between humans and their natural surroundings.

They are the perfect…


Soldier shares a moment of peace with young Afghani. (Photo courtesy of The Independent)

This week I spent a peaceful hour in meditation amid the cherry trees and cypresses of the Japanese Garden in Urbana, not far from the University of Illinois. Such moments fill me with gratitude — first, that there are such tranquil places within driving distance of my home, and also that I have the freedom to experience this kind of repose whenever I need it.

Before going to the garden, I had been re-reading Thomas Merton’s 1961 essay, “The Root of War.” …


Small twigs arranged in a square with small, round piece of wood in the middle.
A woman with special needs created this image evocative of the gospel of the Good Shepherd and the lost sheep. (Photo courtesy of Pat Pickett)

This is a column for anyone who’s ever been told by a teacher that they can’t draw or paint and shouldn’t even try. It is a confirmation that we are all, in our own way, artists. And, it is a message about how images can lead us to the doorstep of the sacred.

One of the finest, most versatile artists I know is Pat Pickett of Ashland City, TN, who works mainly in fabric but has done astoundingly creative work in other media as well. Pat is also a spiritual director. …


Woman holding pen writing on lined pages of a journal.
Author Judith Valente feels she missed a chance to record markers in her life as well as the simple pleasures of daily living by neglecting to keep a diary or journal.

A few weeks ago, I shared a few lines on Facebook from a poem I was writing called “To The Diary I Never Wrote.” It was a personal lament over the fact that I never kept a journal or even recorded notes about my life in a daybook over the years.

The poem begins by addressing my non-existent diary:

All the years I neglected you,

rebuffed your overtures, thinking:

little I do is worth recording.

Thinking: surely I will remember.

Then, of course, I forgot …

When I posted the lines, I expected to receive messages from dedicated journal writers…


Picture of globe of the world held in the palm of a hand.
Pope Francis has called for funds earmarked for weaponry to be redirected to humanitarian needs.

Every once in a while, something comes along that reminds me that the Catholic Church is the people and perhaps only the people can save the church.

That was the case this weekend when I attended an online conference of Pax Christi USA, a Catholic group that has been promoting peace and non-violence for the past 49 years. These are the folks seeking a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons. They hold conflict resolution trainings in communities plagued by violence. They have engaged in dialogue on the continuing sin of racism when many parishes have shied away from that difficult conversation.


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.
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…

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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