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…


Figure of a man leaping over the space between two ledges with clouds and sun above him.
Figure of a man leaping over the space between two ledges with clouds and sun above him.
Our fears often cause us to catastrophize reality. (Photo courtesy of Beinspiredchannel.com).

I inhaled anxiety at an early age. My mother’s fear kept her from ever going to a dentist. My sister has never flown on a plane. One of my aunts was afraid to ride on buses. I vowed this would not be my life. Often I merely covered my fears by feigning bravado, behaving in a manner a male friend once jokingly described as “female macho.”

When COVID-19 hit, my dread kicked into high gear. Last year at this time, with thousands succumbing to the virus daily, I feared my husband and I wouldn’t live to see another spring. Never…


Yellow and orange tulips alongside bed of white jonquils.
Yellow and orange tulips alongside bed of white jonquils.
Nature’s flourish of new life offers us a chance to reassess what is life-affirming for us and what we need to let go of. (Photo by J. Alden Marlatt)

The jonquils are popping up here in central Illinois. Their bent blossoms always remind me of monks in white cowls bowing their heads, their thin pointed leaves like fingers raised in prayer. Wild violets have spread across reviving fields, and tree buds are inching their way outward.

What seemed barren, even lost for dead during the winter, has come out on the other side surging with new life.

I’ve often thought April would be a better month than January to announce a new year. Spring always feels to me like a new beginning. I sometimes feel sorry for folks in…


Palm branch.
Palm branch.
(Photo courtesy of Ignatian Solidarity Network)

I never feel quite ready for all the emotions Palm Sunday stirs in me. This is the day people across the world recall the riveting story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his equally precipitous fall from that lofty moment into betrayal, crucifixion and death. Every year it seems to draw out a reaction.

Last year I saw Jesus’ suffering and death as a reflection of the isolation, uncertainty, and threat of death we faced as the COVID pandemic rampaged. Those who took ill or had lost loved ones were experiencing a personal Calvary. …


Blank sheet of paper on wooden table alongside a cup of coffee and some red berries.
Blank sheet of paper on wooden table alongside a cup of coffee and some red berries.
Are some lifestyle changes, some lessons we learned in the pandemic year worth keeping?

I had the privilege this week of guiding an online retreat on the topic of community, sponsored by St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow, VA. Several people shared that they are in no hurry to “get back to normal,” even as the country moves closer to reclaiming our former way of life. I was heartened. I thought I was the only one who felt that way.

To be sure, climbing out of the pandemic is a good thing. As more people become fully vaccinated, fewer will lose their lives. Grandparents will be able to hug their grandchildren again, and friends will…

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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