Make your own free website on
Along the Way
Home | Homilies | Stories | Thoughts along the way... | ATW News | A User's Guide...

This is a tale of friendship and spiritual growth on a pilrimage to the Holy Land.  I call it fiction but the line between fiction and reality is very thin. The protagonist in the story is never named. Though I have written the story in the first person and much of what is described is based on my memories of a pilgrimage I made to Israel in 1972.

The Pilgrimage is a 120 page novella that ran in the North Star in weekly installments for about 10 months in 2001 and 2002. It is too large to place on this page. The Pilgrimage can be downloaded to your computer by clicking on the link below. It is available in Acrobat Reader (PDF) format and needs a recent version of Adobe Acrobat Reader to be viewed. If you need a reader they are available at as a free download.

click here to download file

The following are the first few chapters of the story...
Br. Barti really wasn't a brother any more. Years ago He had been a Trappist but after more than15 years in the monastery his path lead in a different direction. When I met Barti DelCalle he was in his mid -forties and a teacher of history and religion at St. Alered Catholic High School. I was about 26 at the time and worked as a juvenile probation officer out of the County Family Court system. We were an unlikely pair of friends, given our age differences. Yet, over the years Barti became an extremely important friend and mentor.

One of my responsibilities as a juvenile probation officer was to prepare pre- sentence reports for the judges. These reports were a detailed evaluation of a juvenile probationer. The report helped the judge determine the most appropriate disposition of the case. Writing a report required interviews with the youngster, family members, teachers and other responsible adults who knew the youth in question. About two thirds of the time I recommended probation, which meant that I would be responsible to counsel with and monitor the young man's activities for the next year or two.

Barti was good with kids. He had the discipline that came with more than fifteen years of living in a monastery, as well as the kind heart that such experience often nurtures. His homeroom was referred to as Limbo, since the kids who were in trouble with the principal often ended up there. The kids saw it as their last chance to get their act together or be kicked out of the school. Barti and the principal saw it as an opportunity to give the children the extra attention that they so obviously needed.

Billy Scarlotti was a sophomore at St. Alered and in Barti's homeroom. He had a reputation in the school already and was assigned to Barti as his last chance to stay in school. About the same time Billy was transferred into Br. Barti's homeroom, he was arrested along with his younger brother, Mark, for a series of break-ins and minor burglaries in his neighborhood. I was in the process of doing a pre-sentence report on Billy and needed to interview his school counselor. The counselor encouraged me to speak with Barti, as he had more contact with the boy. I was able to meet Barti in the faculty lounge the next day. We had almost an hour of relative quiet for our discussion before he had to run off to teach class.

Billy's father was a demanding man who pushed himself to the limit and expected the same from his sons. His mother was ineffectual in standing up to her husband. She provided what nurturing she could for the boys but it was clear that much more was needed. The boys feared their father. He rarely struck them but his words were quick and wounding. It was clear that they were a disappointment for him. Yet, no matter how much effort they exerted, they could never please the man. Eventually the boys simply gave up trying to please their father. It was around this time that the burglaries began. They never took anything of real value-- mostly small change, food and alcohol. The police learned that the boys were behind the burglaries when Mark was discovered drunk and passed out in his parent's living room. He was taken to the hospital to have his stomach pumped and for psychiatric observation. The next day he was released. The police figured that the bourbon Mark got drunk on was stolen from the neighbor. One thing lead to another and the boys were in court.

Barti was concerned about the boys. Their fear of the father, as well as their desperate need for the man's affection and approval was evident. He tried to talk with the father earlier in the semester but the man seemed to focus only on their academic performance. His father had been demanding of him and he turned out ok, so he would be equally demanding of his boys. The boys needed to learn to be tough if they were going to survive in today's world. No matter how Barti tried to get the man to perceive how desperate the boys felt, he was unable.

I had a similar impression. I was going to put the boys on a very mild form of probation. They would need to do a few community service projects, visit me every other week for monitoring visits, and the whole family would need to take part in court ordered counseling. perhaps the psychologist would be able to break through the father's shell and see how much his children needed him.

After the business discussion was concluded, I mentioned that I enjoyed the opportunity to visit St. Alered, as I had graduated from the school nine years earlier. I commented that I heard good things about him from the students and faculty with whom I maintained contact. He thanked me for the kind words and explained how he ended up at St. Alered. At least I understood why almost everyone at the school referred to this layman as Br. Barti.

During our conversation he mentioned that he still maintained some involvement with the Trappists as a lay associate --a member of their Third Order organization. The group had a formal relationship with the nearby Trappist Abbey. The monks provided spiritual direction, formation in the Trappist values and tradition, as well as a supportive environment for meetings and retreats. The group functioned as a community apart from the monks but united in spirit. Barti was novice master for the group at the time.

I felt the need for more direction in my spiritual life and questioned him about the group. Rather than begin a lecture on the topic, he invited me to attend a meeting that weekend. I attended, was deeply impressed, and shortly thereafter applied for membership. Thus began a friendship and a spiritual mentoring relationship that has continued for many years.


It was a month later when Billy and Mark Scarlotti were scheduled for their sentencing. I recommend to the judge pretty much what I had discussed with Barti. Prior to the sentencing I met with the boys and their parents and conveyed the gist of the sentence to them. They seemed relieved that the sentence was not going to be more severe, though Mr. Scarlotti was resistant to the idea of counseling.

The morning of the sentencing Alice Harrison, my supervisor, called before I left for work and asked me to come into her office as soon as I arrived at the CourtHouse. I immediately scanned my memory for possible infractions of office policy. I could think of none and was more than a little puzzled about the phone call. So, as soon as I walked into the office and my coat was off I knocked on her door.

"I received a call from the police this morning." Alice began. "It appears that last night Mark Scarlotti took his father's shotgun and killed himself. The police are classifying it as a suicide. Billy Scarlotti's sentencing has been postponed for a month."

I said nothing. I sat there in shock, trying to comprehend what I had been told. Mark Scarlotti, dead? Suicide? Mark was only eleven years old. How could he be dead? Shot himself in the head? Why? Why?

There were probationers to see and reports to write, so I kept busy the rest of the day but it was difficult. My mind kept wandering back to Mark Scarlotti. Why didn't I see it coming? If I had been more attentive or more skilled maybe I could have seen what was coming and prevented the suicide?

Barti attended Mark's funeral, as did I. Both of us would be working with Billy in the coming months and he needed all the support he could get. We wanted him to know that we were there for him. After the internment we spoke briefly with Billy. He seemed to be dealing with the grief better than anyone in the family. His mother was a wreck, barely able to contain the grief that overwhelmed her. Mr. Scarlotti was withdrawn, almost uncommunicative.

I needed to deal with my own grief, as Barti could see. So he invited me out for coffee and conversation. I accepted.

We found a quiet cafe that served excellent coffee. We were lost in our thoughts for the first few minutes, as we picked at scones with orange sauce and sipped our coffee. Eventually, I found the presence of mind to give voice to the pain I was struggling to understand.

"I'm not a stranger to death. I've had aunts and uncles die. All of my grandparents are dead. Class mates have died. It was difficult for me. Each time it was painful, some more painful than others. Yet, nowI feel devastated. I really didn't know Mark Scarlotti that well but the grief is almost more than I can bear. After work last Monday, the day I was told about the suicide, I went home and prayed. I don't think I've ever prayed as intensely or as desperately in my life. I don't even remember the words. I just knew that I had to give over Mark and his family to God. I knew that I had to cling to God with every fiber of my being at that moment and that is what I did. I wept bitterly. The tears that wouldn't come at work were now a flood."

Barti sat and listened to me as I vented the feelings that I had been barely able to contain for the better part of the week. He listened and understood. He nodded as I spoke, making it obvious that his reaction to Mark's death was not all that different from my own. We sat in silence for a while after the words no longer came. Then he began to speak.

"After I made temporary vows the Abbot called me into his office and asked me if I would like to study scripture. The Abbey needed a few scripture scholars to assist with formation and it was the custom to send talented young monks off for advanced studies to provide for the specialized skills a community of monks might require. Apparently I had a gift for languages and I loved Scripture, so I fit the bill. The opportunity intrigued me and I was more than a little puffed up that the Abbot had chosen me for the honor. So, I agreed to undertake the necessary studies. Several months later I was on a plane to Israel. I was to study at the Dominican School of Biblical Studies in Jerusalem and stay at the Abbey of Latroun in Ramleh, a town not far from Jerusalem on the road to Jaffa. I would spend a year learning Hebrew and Arabic prior to commencing formal scriptural studies.

"Even though I was a student, everyone in a Trappist monastery contributes to the welfare of the community at Latroun. I was given responsibility for the kitchen. My reputation had proceeded me. The Abbot made sure that my kitchen responsibilities did not include cooking, as the culinary arts were not among the gifts God granted me.

"Miriam Mansour and her husband Abed worked for the Abbey. She was the cook and he was the general handyman. It was my responsibility to oversee Miriam. Br. Yacoub had responsibility for Abed. Miriam was a gifted cook and a saintly woman. They were Palestinian Christians and suffered continually for their faith. The Israelis abused them because they were Palestinian and the Moslems ostracized them because they were Christian. Even though they suffered they were the happiest people I have ever known and the most saintly.

"I am jumping ahead a bit but the event I want to describe took place after I had been in Israel almost eight years. Abed had suffered from a weak back and aching joints for many years, almost as long as I knew him. However, he endured and bot his job done. One day the pain became too much for him. He was unable to do the assigned chores. Everyone knew that this was not like Abed. Normally he did what you asked of him in the cool hours of the morning and spent the rest of the day accomplishing a dozen tasks that needed doing but no one seemed willing to undertake. When we sent for the physician tests were ordered. Before long the lab results were back and we all received the news. Abed was dying from cancer. It was eating away at his bowels and hip bones. He would be dead in another month or two.

"Not only his family, but the entire monastery was saddened when they heard the news. We were all loosing a good friend and a true man of God. He as a much holier man that most of the monks. We all knew it and admired him for his virtue.

"It is customary among the Palestinians to provide a light meal for the funeral guests at the home of the departed. Immediately after the funeral Mass I went to the Mansour residence to help prepare for the meal. The family members were still at the internment when I arrived, all except for Ishmael, a boy of about twelve. He had been left behind to watch the house and prepare drinks for the guests who would arrive soon. He was making lemonade. Aside from the lemons and sugar, there was no other food in the house. I realized that they were probably broke with the funeral expenses and would be unable to feed the guests. I didn't want them to be embarrassed, so I reached into my pocket and found the equivalent of about twenty dollars. It wasn't much but it would provide something more than what they had. I gave the money to Ishmael and sent him to the store. He didn't come back for over forty minutes. this was a trip down the block that could be navigated in about fifteen minutes even on the busiest of days. When he showed up all he had was a package of tea for brewing and half of a cake. I was more than a little frustrated. It was almost time for the visitors and all we had was unbrewed tea and half of a sad little cake.

"I was ready to explode at the waste, imagining that he had been irresponsible, spending the money on himself. Just as I was about to explode, he began to explain in a halting and frightened voice. On his way back from the store he met a Palestinian woman whose home was hit by Israeli artillery shells in retribution for some Palestinian assault, which had been in reprisal for some Israeli offense. The woman had no place to lay her head and nothing to eat. Ishmael gave her half of the cake. There had been money left over from the earlier transaction, so Ishmael gave the woman the rest of the money in his pockets. With the grace of God, the woman would be able to stay under a roof that night and for weeks to come.

"My righteous indignation melted away into deep shame as I listened to Ishmael. How much like his parents was this boy. His father had just died and the only money in his pocket was a few dollars he received from his parents' employer. Did he think of himself? No! His only concern was for someone to seemed to be in even more desperate straights than himself! How like his mother and father, this child saint!

"I carried my shame silently for many days but it continued to burn within me. I could not let go of the shame I felt and my deep disappointment at my failings. In prayer one evening about a week later everything came clear. I realized what must be done. Each of us has a different path as we follow where God leads. My failing was no more than a marker of where I was along the path. Becoming obsessed with my failings only locked me into a self- centered masochism that served no good and only served to undermine my resolve. Before Abed died I promised to help look after Miriam and their children. My responsibility was to keep my promise.

"So, you see, it is a waste of energy to berate ourselves for what we might have done. We did what we did...that is all with which we have to work. Anything else is a fantasy. Neither of us are saints or geniuses. We do the best that we can do. That's all there is. God asks nothing more of us. Mark Scarlotti is dead. Billy is alive and needs us. Let's put aside self- recrimination and focus on Billy and the other children who need us."

He was right. I was indulging in self-pity more than anything else with the emotional roller coaster I had been riding the past week. It was right to grieve the loss of Mark but not to wallow in grief. I had known the boy only slightly and my grief was out of proportion to the depth of our relationship. If I was to honor Mark, it was time to focus on caring for the rest of the young men assigned to me.


Mark died in March. By June I was attending the Lay Associate meetings regularly as a novice. These meetings involved time for discussion, common prayer, formal instruction, and silent prayer. Aside from the regular meetings of the entire group, Barti and I would meet a couple times a month as part of my formation as a novice in the group. These meetings were particularly helpful because they not only included instruction in the Rule of St. Benedict and various Cistercian traditions but they were also an opportunity to talk. Barti was rapidly becoming my de facto spiritual director and a trusted friend. Our age difference, almost twenty years, didn't seem a barrier to our friendship. It even may have helped the relationship, as he naturally fell into the role of mentor. At that point in my life a mentor was very much needed.

My unquestioning childhood faith was destroyed in the cynicism of my college years. I also discovered that my sense of direction in life had disappeared. with the loss of faith. There were several dark years of spiritual and emotional struggle. Eventually I reached a point where I discovered that at least I valued life. This was not much but it was a toehold. As time passed I discovered other toeholds, that love was important to and hope. Before long I found that I even possessed a basic faith in God. I could accept that God existed but that God was far beyond my comprehension! What do I do with these insights?

My search lead me through an examination of Judaism, several Protestant denominations, Islam, Zen, New Age philosophies, Baha'i, and ultimately back home to the Catholic tradition where I began. Throughout the search I made discoveries about the importance of prayer, ritual, community, structure, and my spiritual needs. God kept drawing me along. Clues were given just when I needed them. Experiences would come out of the blue or I would meet people through unusual coincidences and these would lead to some new insight bringing me a step closer to home.

I had been back in the good graces of the Church for about two years. It was exciting at first, as I discovered for the first time how rich the Church of my childhood is with support for whoever seeks a deeper relationship with the Lord. With time the novelty began to wear off. It was difficult to keep up with the spiritual disciplines I took on earlier. There was a growing sense of emptiness. I was going around in circles and needed direction. I needed a clear idea of what God had set out as my life's purpose. Then along came Barti, right on time! In the months since we met, I felt like there was life and movement again.

If the weather was nice, we often got together at the park and walked as we spoke. I found the walk distracting at first. Though it wasn't long before I noticed that the pace of walking helped to slow down our conversation and allow space for thought and a more careful choice of words. Occasionally Barti would have me do simple exercises to help focus my awareness. The exercises were more easily done in the park than a coffee shop, which was the other common venue for our conversations.

On one of the earlier walks through the park, I remember sharing my frustration with Barti over having no clear direction in my life. His response was quick.

"That's not anything I can give you! I might tell you to do this exercise or read that book as part of your formation but I am only here to help you find your own way. God's will for me is not His will for you. My path is different from yours. Only you can find the path along which God is calling you."

"I understand that," I responded. "Yet, how am I supposed to find my path? I don't read minds. How am I to know what it is God wants of me?"

Barti smiled at my sincerity, then continued on. "You put one foot in front of the other and walk. As you walk you look around. As you walk you listen--to the sounds which envelop you, to the sound of your heart, to the voices of those who God sends to instruct you. As you walk watch for the markers that point in the direction of your purpose. Trust in the road, that it will take you where you need to go. Before long you will find yourself walking the path of your destiny and knowing where God is leading you.

"The image that comes to mind is a pilgrimage. The pilgrim seeks some special grace, some transformation of spirit by traveling to a distant shrine, a sacred place. He cuts himself off from everything that is familiar and with the blessing of his pastor, sets off on the journey. As he travels there are challenges that must be overcome. The trip is arduous and makes great demands of strength, discipline, and courage upon the pilgrim. Cut off from his home, he dies to that familiar and comfortable world. He is a walking ghost haunting the highway upon which he travels. He travels through an in- between world of spiritual purpose and sore feet, where ordinary people and objects are infused with new meaning and a sacred purpose. He will meet other pilgrims and find revelation in these encounters. Then, at some point in the pilgrimage, when he is sufficiently open to hear God's voice, his questions will be answered and he will find himself on sacred ground. He will find himself a new person, transformed, reborn, really alive for the first time and ready to do what is required of him."

"Then I must go on pilgrimage!" The thought burst from my lips before it was half formed. I realized immediately that I was biting off more than I might want to chew. However, I realized also that I was right in wanting to go on pilgrimage. Nothing had ever felt so right in all of my 26 years! Then it dawned on me that I must go on pilgrimage to some particular place. "Barti, where should I go?"

"Well, there are many places you could go. The Cathedral is considered a place of pilgrimage in this diocese. There are regional pilgrimage sites like the Jesuit martyrs shrine in Auriesville, New York. There are national sites like the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. There are international sites, like the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Then, of course, there are the three classic pilgrimage sites: Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. or modern classics like Lourdes, Fatima and Medjourgorie."

I hadn't realized there were so many places of pilgrimage and was unsure of what to say. I wanted a real pilgrimage. I wanted to know what to do with my life. I wanted to feel like I was a new person. I wanted to have a sense of mission, a sense of purpose. Now it seemed I was only marking time. I told this to Barti.

"Each of the ancient pilgrimage sites is a different experience. In a sense, they do a different work in the pilgrim.

Barti stopped walking for a moment and looked at me, as if he were calling me to a decision with serious consequences, as he continued to explain. "Santiago de Compostela requires a long journey on foot. This pilgrimage is a 500 kilometer hike across northern Spain. It is a pilgrimage whose landmarks are reminiscent of heroes and adventurers. It is traditionally a pilgrimage of quest where the inner transformation occurs as an element of the journey. The visit to the shrine at the end is essentially a celebration of the journey. The symbol for pilgrims who walk this path is the scallop shell.

"The pilgrimage to Rome is a celebration of the Church. It is a celebration of the community of believers, as fellow travelers and not just as an organizational structure. The history of the community is encountered there. Those who walk this path are called wanderers and their symbol is the walking stick.

"The pilgrimage to Jerusalem is much more a pilgrimage for the individual. History and community are all present but the heart of the experience is the encounter with Christ in the land where he lived out his mortal existence and in which his mission was revealed. It is much more a pilgrimage of faith than the others. One doesn't visit just one site, though the Church of the Holy Sulpecure is considered the ultimate shrine to which one journeys. Rather, there are many sites and many shrines, each reflecting something of sacred history or the life and ministry of Christ. In this pilgrimage one encounters the source and foundation of his faith. Those who make the pilgrimage are referred to as palmists and their symbol is the palm.

"Let me ask you a question. Your answer will help us narrow down your options. Where has God lead you so far? Your entire life is a pilgrimage. So if we can get a sense of where God has been leading you, it will be much easier to figure the most beneficial pilgrimage."

"I 've been wrestling with this question for years, but it's still difficult to give my thoughts expression." I began. "I need to know that God is real. I have the sense of his reality. All of my seeking has been to find God. I though maybe that the Rabbi or the minister might know where God is. They spoke to me of God, taught theology and invited me to partake in ritual. I listened to what they said. I participated in the ritual. It was helpful but God still hid from me. Since returning to the Church I have found a greater sense of God's presence. This has been primarily in people like yourself, who seem to live and breathe in God's presence. I want that experience. I want that certainty!"

"Well then, I recommend that you go back to the source." Barti turned away and began walking again, speaking as he continued on.

"Those who desired to encounter God left their homes and after passing through the desert met him in the Promised Land. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua. Perhaps you need to take the Pilgrimage of Abraham and travel to Jerusalem."

"How would I go about it? Abraham followed the fertile crescent. Each of the others you mentioned followed other routes." I was concerned that Barti would want me to travel to Iraq as the starting point for my journey and that the rest of it would be on foot through the desert and Middle -eastern battlefields. It was as if Barti sensed my discomfort. Smiling, he answered my question.

"We each make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem along the path that God sets out for us. It is not like Santiago de Compostela with its road and villages. When we go to Jerusalem we are making a journey of faith and each of us comes to faith by grace. The heart of the journey is internal anyway, so that mode of transportation is of little consequence. It is important that you have time to devote to the pilgrimage."

An idea was taking shape in the back of my mind as Barti spoke. "Do you think you could come with me to Israel? Be my guide on the pilgrimage. I'll cover your expenses."

"I'll have to make sure that I can take the time off from teaching. We will need at least a month but as long as the arrangements can be made, I'd be happy to join you. However, as a spiritual guide I will do only what I have been doing on our walks. I will you help you by asking questions. The Holy Spirit is your only real guide on this pilgrimage. Listen to Him carefully."


The next month was a living hell.

Early in the evening on Monday, I got a call from the mother of one of my probationers. The boy was missing. His brother overheard him talking about sniffing glue. The kid had a problem with that and had been admitted to the hospital before because of the results of glue inhilation. I tried to keep evenings for my personal life, what there was of it. However, this could be serious, so I got into my car and headed across town. Along with the boy's mother and brother, I spent the rest of the evening looking for this youngster behind bushes, in alleys, in dumpsters, and in abandoned buildings. He eventually turned up at a friend's house.

Wednesday morning a young boy I was to transport to a juvenile facility ran away. After making his farewells I walked him to my car, so we could begin the three hour trip to the facility. Just as I was trying to get him settled in the car, he wanted to go back and hug his mother one more time. He never gave me any trouble, so I agreed to it. As soon as he was near mom, he bolted out the door and off into the neighborhood. Unlike the TV shows where the hero chases the child for a few blocks until he catches the offender with a flying tackle, in real life there is no chasing. You let the kid run and call the police. Aside from being embarrassed and frustrated, I was angry at myself for falling for the kid's ruse.

A week later my supervisor was telling us that the child support bureau needed some help. They were trying to bring their records up to date and issue warrants against those who were sufficiently in arrears on their court mandated child support payments. We were to spend half days twice a week with the child support bureau going through payment records and figuring out who was naughty and who was nice. I had a talent for working with the numbers and within a week I was assigned to do it half- time every day. I may have had a talent for it but I hated it. I was getting behind in my own work and I hated doing what was essentially an accountant's job. No offense meant to any accountant, but I'm not an accountant and have never felt any attraction to the profession. The work drained me. I was coming home in the evening, collapsing on the couch and waking up just in time to shower and come back to work the next day.

The girl I was going with at the time seemed to have a fixation on the morbid. I could never understand what she saw in Sylvia Plath. Our relationship was going more and more down hill. I was just about ready to break off the relationship but I still liked her and wasn't sure that breaking the relationship off was the right thing to do.

I was praying but nothing was happening. I'd give over all of these frustrations to God in prayer but the situation only grew worse. Where was God in all this?

So, when my next meeting with Barti rolled around, that was the first issue I brought up. This time we met at the coffee shop. It was mid- afternoon and the shop was almost deserted. Barti listened patiently to my litany of woe, not saying a word.

Finally, when everything was out, Barti told me to sit back in my chair and close my eyes. Next, he told me to relax. Then I was to sit there for the next fifteen minutes in absolute silence and lis ten--just listen.

I felt like a fool sitting in that coffee shop with my eyes closed for fifteen minutes. I figured that there were only a few people in the shop, so why not? I sat and listened. I heard some dishes rattle as the counterman was putting away clean cups and saucers. A chair on the other side of the room scraped the floor as someone stood up. I hear the footsteps as that same person walked to the door and out of the shop. I heard the sound of cars and trucks on the street--engins, horns, tires on pavement. I heard a couple of boys talking about some ball game as they walked past the coffee shop. I smelled the coffee brewing. It smelled delicious. I could smell some muffins fresh from the oven as they were being placed in the display case by the counterman. I felt the gentle stroke of a breeze as the old rotary fan rotated above me with a gentle wooshing sound and set the air in motion. I heard my heart beating and felt my blood pulsing through my head. I felt my lungs slowly fill and empty all the scents of the shop as I breathed slowly. I heart the couple across the shop talk about their daughter. She was leaving her husband and they didn't know what to do. I heard Barti whisper, "Open your eyes." I didn't see him at first, then I noticed that he was sitting near the couple who were concerned about their daughter. He got up and came back to our table.

"What did you hear?"

I explained everything that happened and what I heard. I was particularly excited about the sensitivity to smells and sensations. I was astonished by the clarity of my hearing.

"Exactly, we go through life blind deaf and dumb to everything that is going on around us. It isn't that we don't have the ability to hear it, or see it, or smell it, or feel it. We take all of this stimulation in through our sense organs. Its just that we tune 90% of it out.

"Now, you were complaining about your job, your girlfriend, your prayer life. the question I have for you is 'How carefully were you listening?'"

He was right. I was so busy feeling sorry for myself that I didn't pay enough attention to the kids, to my girlfriend or to God. My prayers were little more than complaints. I admitted as much to Barti.

"Prayer is talking to God. It's all right to pour out your heart. We need to do so. However, it is just as important to listen. God speaks to us in the silence. We can hear his voice if we make the attempt to listen. God speaks to us in many ways but we have to pay enough attention to realize that God is speaking to us.

"For example, have you really listened to your girlfriend? She is depressed and asking you for help. It's evident in her obsession with morbid poetry and suicidal poets.

"The boy who ran away is another example. Did you give him a chance to talk with you about his fears at being sent to a juvenile facility. He sounds like a fairly young child from what you said...about 11 or so. That must be a terribly frightening fate for such a small child. His mother is probably beside herself from worry over what will happen to the boy. Did you listen to any of them express their fears. Did you explain to them exactly what the training facility was like?

"You want God to speak to you in some baritone voice and give you traveling orders. It doesn't work that way! God was giving you detailed instructions in the person of that boy and his mother. God was giving you detailed instructions in the worries voiced by your girlfriend. You only needed to listen with your heart and respond to what it told you. that requires taking some time by yourself and quietly listening, reflecting on what God is doing in your life and what is being asked of you."

"You might discover the voice of God in the thunderstorm. Odds are however, that you will discover the voice of God in the gentle breeze or the smile of a child. that was the experience of Elijah. He ran from Jezebel in fright, hiding in a cave deep in the wasteland. He sought to find God in the thunder, in the storm, in other loud and dramatic effects. To his surprise, he discovered God in a moment of silence surrounded by the stirring of a gentle breeze. It is the ordinary and commonplace that we will most likely discover God but we must be ready. We must be looking and listening for God in the commonplace.

"Remember also that by listening carefully with an open and prayerful heart to the people with whom you come in contact you are serving as a sacrament of grace for them. God is allowing you to be a channel of his grace to those people, as careful listening to someone is an act of love. People understand this, in their hearts if not their conscious minds, and appreciate it.

We sat drinking our coffee in silence for at least ten minutes.

As I think back, Barti was an excellent example of a loving listener. While I may stress Barti's comments as I tell this tale, the great majority of the time we spent together involved him listening to me. He would draw out my thoughts and feelings. He would help clarify what I was trying to say. Mostly he would simply listen attentively, as if every word that came from my mouth was a blessing he did not want to loose or waste. He was this way with everyone. Whenever he was in conversation with a person, his whole attention was on that person. he took in every nuance and subtle expression. He was totally focused on that person.

Barti promised earlier to make arrangements for the pilgrimage. He broke the silence by bringing me up to date on that activity. Air passage was arranged on ELAL with a lay- over at Orley near Paris for a few hours. On the way back the layover would be in London. We would arrive in Israel on February ninth and leave on March 2nd. We would stay in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. That gave us six months before we departed but he suggested that we take the time in between to prepare for the pilgrimage. In a sense, the spiritual pilgrimage would begin immediately, with the actual departure simply being a step in a process that had already begun.

Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

(c) 1997-2008. Richard Shewman. All stories, articles, reflections and other written material contained in this website are the creative fruit and property of Richard Shewman. All rights are reserved. The written material contained in this website may not be reproduced or published in any form, except for the individual and personal use of the reader, without the express consent of the author.