Pair of open hands painted with map of the continents as doves fly above them in symbol of peace.
Pair of open hands painted with map of the continents as doves fly above them in symbol of peace.
Despite two decades of continuous war, some people of faith are still trying to stop the production of war weaponry and urge resolving conflicts through non-violence.

Every once in a while, an experience I have causes me to rethink whether I’ve wasted much of my life failing to do the one thing necessary. Such was the case recently as I listened to people who have spent their lives working to replace war with peace, resolve conflict with non-violence.

They spoke as part of an online retreat I attended called “Finding Hope in Turbulent Times,” co-sponsored by the Coalition for Peace Action, the Sacred Heart Peace Community of Camden, NJ and the Catholic Non-Violence Initiative of Pax Christi USA.

“These were people who decided to do something…


Clay bowl filled with ashes and a cross made of palm, sitting on some green palm leaves.
Clay bowl filled with ashes and a cross made of palm, sitting on some green palm leaves.
Instead of the usual emphasis on penance, can we focus this Lent on cultivating joy? (Photo courtesy of catholic.org).

The liturgical season of Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. This period of prayer, penance and giving feels much different to me this year — and not only because the pandemic will prevent many of us from going into a church to receive the traditional forehead tracing of ashes.

Normally, I look forward to Lent. It’s as an opportunity to shake out the inner ashes that have accumulated in my heart over the course of a year. There’s meaning in having a designated time to examine our shortcomings and engage in some sort of penance.

I believe this year…


Gray stone inscribed with the words “Laughter is the best medicine.”
Gray stone inscribed with the words “Laughter is the best medicine.”
As pandemic burnout spreads, a good antidote is the ability to laugh at ourselves and find humor in our experiences. (Photo courtesy of viralrang.com).

When I wrote recently about poetry’s capacity to unite and to heal, I received an impassioned note from a friend whom I respect immensely who is an artist and deeply spiritual person. She said we don’t need more poetry right now. What we need is more laughter.

“Poetry is serious business, and I can’t do serious right now,” my friend wrote. “I need humor … I see the word [spiritual] retreat and that’s what it does to me — makes me retreat when I want to go forward and dance and smile again and even belly laugh.”

My friend has…


Page with words in a letter written in blue ink with pen on top of the letter.
Page with words in a letter written in blue ink with pen on top of the letter.
Writing and receiving letters, or reading the correspondence of history’s great letter-writers like Thomas Merton, can be an antidote to loneliness.

During our forced solitude this past year, letter-writing has enjoyed a much-deserved renaissance. Perhaps the next best thing to receiving a newsy, well-written letter from someone we know is to read the published correspondence of history’s great letter-writers.

I’ve spent the past months “receiving” letters from someone I can only wish I had met in person, the great spirituality writer Thomas Merton.

On January 31 — Merton’s 106th birthday — I’ll be reading from some of his letters at an online fundraising event for the International Thomas Merton Society.

Merton was one of the world’s most prolific letter writers. He…


Cup of tea beside two books open to poems surrounded by white daisies.
Cup of tea beside two books open to poems surrounded by white daisies.
Poetry clarifies our yearnings, defines our struggles and holds a mirror to ourselves. (Photo courtesy of stylist.co.uk)

After the trauma of 9/11, I had the chance to interview then-U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “At a time like this, no one asks what short story should I read or what film should I go see. They ask, ‘Do you have a poem?’”

Poetry’s capacity to reveal our yearnings, draw meaning from our struggles and hold a mirror to ourselves is among the reasons it endures. …


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Choosing a word to guide us in the coming year can be a helpful spiritual practice. (Photo courtesy of EveryPixel).

Whenever I guide retreats, I always come away amazed by the profound insights I receive from the people who attend. That was the case again this past week at my online retreat, “Writing the Prologue to Your New Year.”

People joined from across the U.S. as well as Ireland, Peru and the Philippines. One of our tasks was to choose a word we’d like to use as our guiding star for the rest of the new year.

The practice comes from an ancient tradition among monks and religious women in the third and fourth centuries living in the Egyptian desert…


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…


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.


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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…

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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