The Original Loretta Brown Show

How to Be

How to Be: A Monk and a Journalist Reflect on Living & Dying, Purpose & Prayer, Forgiveness & Friendship by Judith Valente, an award-winning author, journalist and poet, and Brother Paul Quenon, a Trappist monk of the famous Abbey of Gethsemani and an acclaimed poet and memoirist.

How to Be is a dialogue in letters between two spiritual seekers — one following a monastic life framed by ancient prayer rhythms and the other a married, professional woman seeking a deeper sense of mindfulness in her busy life. In their letters, they ask universal questions about faith, work, prayer, balance, and meaning – questions that have become particularly relevant in the wake of our pandemic experience. How to Be provides ways to successfully navigate those questions through a spiritual lens.

Brother Paul and Valente are popular speakers, retreat and workshop leaders, podcast guests, and media sources in print, radio, and video. Both are available to discuss their book. Interviews at the Abbey outside of Louisville, KY, offer stunning visuals. These are some interesting angles to pursue:

§ How to Be is a book for seekers, whether starting out or spiritually devout. The authors offer thoughtful, practical ideas for handling conflict, leaving jobs, coping with the unexpected, and dealing with loss, as well as spiritual guidance on prayer, meditation, and living a more contemplative life.

§ How to Be seeks to preserve the wisdom Brother Paul has gained from 60-plus years in the contemplative life. Monks like Brother Paul are becoming rare. He is also one of the few people alive who personally knew the great spirituality writer Thomas Merton, who was his novice director.

§ It is unusual for monks in a cloistered order, such as the Trappists, to become close friends with outsiders, especially women. The friendship between Brother Paul and Judith Valente spans more than a decade and has been nurtured through visits and their years of writing letters to one another in which they share their practical and spiritual insights.

Judith Valente is a former staff writer for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in journalism. She is a former correspondent for PBS’s Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly and senior correspondent for investigative reporting and long features at the NPR affiliate in central Illinois. She was also a special correspondent covering faith and values and arts and culture for Chicago Public Radio. Valente contributes articles to US Catholic magazine and National Catholic Reporter. She lives in Normal, Illinois. Learn more at

Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO, entered the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in 1958 at the age of 17. Thomas Merton was his novice master and spiritual director. Quenon is the author of 9 collections of poetry. His memoir, In Praise of the Useless Life