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Excerpt for Stepping Stones to God by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Stepping Stones to God

A Sequel to W. Somerset Maugham's

The Razor's Edge


Copyright 2019 JT Evergreen


Published by JT Evergreen

at Smashwords


This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

Prologue

Coming Home

Yosemite Falls

Grace

The Celibacy Thing

The Encounter

The Awakening

Margo's Departure

Jennifer and Charlie

Cold Bastard Work

Interior Silence

Two Ladies

The Gathering

Letter to Jimmy

The Phoenix

About JT Evergreen

Other books by JT Evergreen

Connect with JT Evergreen


Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Khris Lawrentz for his tireless proofreading.


Prologue

This is a tale of a young man and his journey in search of inner peace, understanding, and enlightenment – a journey in search of the Absolute or, perhaps, salvation from the unknown.


He will never be famous, and when his life, at last, comes to an end, he will leave no more trace of his sojourn than ripples on a quiet pond. And yet, his life may have a lingering influence over those touched by his presence, his grace, and especially his goodness. So, that long after his death, it will be realized there lived among us a very remarkable creature.


His inner struggle began during WWII. It was the last day of the war, perhaps the very last moment when a friend gave his life so he, Larry Darrell, might live. This haunting memory prompted his decision to forsake the norm of the day and devote himself to finding answers to the elusive meaning of why he was permitted to live in the face of so much death.


The consent of his fiancé, Jessica Christi, for a short-term separation, fueled his determination to begin his journey in Paris. A year later their engagement ended when Jessica realized Larry was lost to her.


His encounter with the angst of a disillusioned, defrocked Catholic priest engendered his desire to seek answers further afield – in the East, in India. There he found inner peace among those who had come to realize the futility of the material world. Enlightenment, however, continued to elude him.


After years of study, meditation, and prayer, his guru put forth the idea he should retreat to the mountains where he would be alone and free of worldly influences, suggesting that there he might encounter the final step to enlightenment.


As the last vestiges of worldliness dropped away, enlightenment came quietly with the realization of his oneness with the Universe, with God. He experienced the Kingdom within so often spoken of – that land within consciousness not yet revealed by religion, philosophy, or science. The experience had a profound effect upon him, leaving him in the world but no longer of it.


His access to this higher plane of consciousness endowed him with the understanding there was nothing to be healed. Armed with that realization, he possessed the greatest healing power the world had ever known.


Freed from the doubts and uncertainties of the past, Larry set forth on a new journey – one of giving rather than of receiving.


With his desire to return to the United States, he boarded the French tramp steamer, Jeanne Marie, where he worked his way across the Atlantic to the harbor of New York City.


Coming Home

Roiling black storm clouds, laced with unexpected cracks of heavenly thunder, rolled ominously overhead as Larry Darrell stepped confidently onto the dock in New York City harbor after an absence from the United States for more than a decade. He bade farewell to his shipmates, then paused a moment, gazing at the New York City skyline shimmering in flashes of dancing lightning. It was 1947, he smiled at the possibilities of his life now that he was home.


He pulled his watch cap over his ears against the cold winds preceding the approaching rain. Taking a last look at the French tramp steamer, Jeanne Marie, he saluted her, tossed his duffle bag over his shoulder and walked quickly toward the shore. Claps of thunder and flashes of lightning welcomed him home. He smiled to himself as he remembered what his mother told him as a child. Thunder and lightning were nothing more than the angels bowling in heaven. They were certainly having a good time this afternoon.


Larry ducked into the Hound Dog Café as the rain began coming down in sheets of icy cold water. It was late fall – old man winter was sending a calling card.


“Whadalyahave, sailor?” The smiling young waitress approached Larry as he sat down at the counter. Her tastefully displayed cleavage was accented by her name tag – Jesse.


The name, Jesse, sparked memories of the love he had for Jessica Christi. The pain of letting her go was still with him. He wondered if it would ever end.


“Coffee and hot soup. Do you have any?” Larry smiled at the attractive girl.


“We sure do. Country vegetable. I had some myself for lunch.”


“How was it, Jesse?” Larry smiled playfully.


“It was deee-lish.” She poured a cup of hot coffee and moved it toward Larry.


“I’ll have some of that soup, please – to warm my bones.” He smiled as he clasped the coffee cup in both hands, warming his cold fingers.


“I know whatcha mean. Won’t be long before the snow flies.” Jesse glared at the pouring rain as she moved to the chef’s window.


Larry sipped his steaming coffee and gazed at the gully washer. He was anxious to get to the YMCA for a night’s rest before he departed the clamor of the city.


Jesse returned with his bowl of steaming hot soup. “So, where y’all headed?”


“West, to a warmer climate.” He smiled. “From the sound of your accent, I’d say you’re from the Deep South.”


“You got that right, mister. Alabama’s my home. I’m sorry I ever left.” Memories of the past clouded her pretty face.


“Why don’t you go back? Probably a lot warmer.”


“There’s a guy back home I never want to see again.”


“Why not?”


“He was married, which didn’t bother him, but it sure bothered me when I found out.”


“And you no longer feel kindly toward him. Is that it?”


“I still love the sonofabitch, but hate him for what he did to me.”


“Those are pretty strong, conflicting emotions, Jesse. Not so pleasant for you I would imagine.”


“I know, but I can’t help myself.”


“Did he love you?”


“I thought he did.”


“You’re not sure.”


“No, I’m not.”


“Have you tried forgiving him for what he did to you?”


“Are you kidding?”


“No, I’m not kidding.” Larry saw her pained expression. “Hate can tie you to a person just as love can, and probably more so. You should consider it, and also consider forgiving yourself.”


“Myself?” She was surprised at the idea.


“Yes, yourself. I’m only guessing, but I’m pretty sure you’re angry for permitting yourself to be deceived.”


Jesse paused as she thought about what Larry had just told her.


“Well, consider it when the time is right. You might surprise yourself. And you’ll feel a lot better. Hate is a fleeting emotion; it will die by itself if not fed. But, if you really love him, you’ll never be able to stop. Don’t even try. I apologize for the intrusion.”


“’Sokay. You win a few. You lose a few – right?”


“Yes, you’re right.” Larry felt a twinge as he thought of his love for Jessica and how their lives had grown apart.


He finished his soup, left a tip and caught Jesse’s eye as he prepared to leave. He threw a smile and a friendly salute across the room, then moved to the front door of the Hound Dog Café.


Jesse ran to the front door and breathlessly confessed, “You were right, mister. I will try and forgive him, and myself. I promise.”


“Jesse, you’ve made me very happy. I know you’ll be ok. Life will be sweet again, I promise.” Larry leaned forward and kissed her cheek.


“Thank you. Hey, what’s your name?”


“Larry, Larry Darrell. Goodbye, Jesse of Alabama.” He smiled and opened the front door.


She half whispered, “Goodbye … Larry,” and sighed as she watched the sailor shoulder his duffle bag. He waved farewell, then disappeared down the walkway. The rain had turned to drizzle. She hoped he would stay dry and warm on his way west. She hardly knew him, but she already missed him.


She went behind the counter and thought about the boy she loved and hated. Deep in her heart, she knew she would forgive him if he were to walk into the café and ask for her forgiveness. The stranger was right, she would always love him.


Larry entered the Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street and approached the ticket counter.


“Good afternoon, sir. How may I help you?” The eager young ticket agent smiled at Larry.


“Hi. I’m bound for California. What’s the fastest way to get there?”


“The 20th Century Limited will carry you from here to Chicago in sixteen hours. You can switch to the California Limited which will take sixty-three hours to carry you to Los Angeles. Fast enough?”


“Yes, indeed. When does the next 20th Century leave?”


“Departure is at 4:45 p.m., half an hour from now. And, there is space available. It’s all Pullman, no coach.” The young agent smiled at the efficiency of his announcement.


“That’s perfect, how much do I owe you?” He forgot about staying at the YMCA. He had slept in many places over the years but never on a train. He looked forward to the experience. Leaving the big city for the wide open spaces was preferable.


“You know, you could fly to the coast. That would be the fastest.”


“No, I’m not in that much of a hurry. I want to take in the countryside as I go.”


“That’ll be $61.30, please. The train departs on Track 34. Just follow the signs.”


Just follow the signs, the young man had said. That’s what Larry had been doing these many years since leaving the States, following the inner signs that led him through the labyrinth of worldly experiences in Europe to the spiritual mountaintop experience in the Himalayas where his search ended and his real life began.


He smiled at everyone he passed as he made his way to Track 34. Some returned his smile, others did not – they looked away. He felt sadness for those who turned away. He was glad to be leaving the big city.


The coach gave a slight jerk as the train began to move away from Grand Central Station. He was on his way again. Pounding rain beat against the coach window as the train left the station. Thunder and lightning were more distant now. The storm was moving away. The wheels of the coach squealed on the tracks that curved onto the straight away, out of the city toward the open plains.


His rough seafaring appearance raised eyebrows at first, but the children traveling with their parents gravitated to him immediately. The laughter generated by the tales Larry told of his travels in Europe, India, and on the high seas soon had parents gathering around, joining their children in the fun of the stories Larry enjoyed telling.


As twilight gave way to the darkness of night, Pullman Porters began converting seats into upper and lower berths. Larry occupied the upper berth while two small boys, of parents across the aisle, occupied the lower berth. The rhythmic clickety-clack of the coach wheels racing along the rails soon put everyone into a peaceful slumber. Larry reveled in the experience. He thought of the Himalayas as he drifted off to sleep.


“Hello?” came a whisper from someone on the other side of his curtain. Larry parted the curtain and came face to face with a lovely elderly woman.


“Hi, who are you?” Larry whispered as he turned on the overhead light. Her head was wrapped in a beautiful scarf. The fear on her face told him she was in need.”


“My name is Hilda.”


“I’m pleased to meet you, Hilda. How can I help?”


“I saw you with the children. You radiated so much peace and happiness … I was wondering … would you do me a favor?” She looked down.


“I’d be happy to. Tell me about the favor.” Larry suspected what she was about to ask.


She looked up into Larry’s eyes. “Would you pray for me?” Tears welled in her eyes.


“Of course I will. I’m glad you asked. Now, you get yourself into bed, and I’ll see you in the morning.” He broke into a grin.


“Yes, in the morning. I’d like that, and thank you so much.” She turned to leave.


“See you then,” Larry whispered.


Hilda stopped and glanced back. “Thank you. Good night and God bless you.”


“Night, Hilda. Sweet dreams.” Larry closed his curtain, turned off the overhead light and laid back. He smiled and whispered to himself, “God has already blessed me, Hilda, and you as well.” The experience in the Himalayas rushed back and overwhelmed him as he fell asleep. He knew instinctively there was only perfection in the inner plane. Hilda had nothing to worry about.


Larry woke to the giggling and laughter of the two boys in the lower berth. He pulled the curtain aside and looked below, “Mornin’ you two. What are you up to?”


Rays of the rising Sun illuminated the coach as it sped along to its destination. He dressed, chatted with the boys and their parents, then moved forward in the coach.


“There you are, Hilda. How are you this morning?” He sat on the arm of the coach seat.


“I slept like a baby last night. I haven’t done that in a long time, thanks to you.” She smiled up at Larry.


“Oh, no, I won’t take credit for that. You did it yourself.”


“I don’t understand.”


“You let go of your problems last night and thought you handed them to me.”


She smiled at the thought, “I guess I did, didn’t I.”


“Did you ever hear the expression, let go and let God?”


“No, I haven’t, but I like the sound of it.”


“That’s exactly what you did last night. I was kind of proxy for God at that moment. Continue to do that every time you come face to face with your problems. Say it to yourself as often as necessary and your problems will soon dissolve into the nothingness they are built on. I know it seems impossible. You’ll just have to trust me.” Larry paused and smiled at her.


“I believe you …?”


“Larry, my name is Larry.”


“I believe you, Larry. I will remember what you’ve said.” Hilda put out her hand. Larry grasped it and held it for a moment.


The two boys from the lower berth and three other children approached Larry. They wanted to hear more stories. Larry laughed and said goodbye to Hilda as they moved aft in the coach.


As he departed, he spoke to her over his shoulder, “You can do it, Hilda. You don’t need me. You can do it yourself.”


Hilda sat back with a contented expression on her face. “Yes, I can,” she whispered to herself, “I believe I can.” She smiled at the joy the children were experiencing in the company of this blessed man.


The 20th Century pulled into the Chicago LaSalle Street station on time. It was 8:45 a.m.


Larry hailed a cab and asked to be taken to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway station on East Jackson Boulevard where he boarded the California Limited for the final leg of his journey to California.


The second day out of Chicago, Larry climbed the stairs to the observation deck. The sun had just risen on what promised to be a beautiful day. He noticed a nun who had been sitting in the same seat the day before. He approached her with a smile. “May I sit here?”


She looked up in surprise, smiled and nodded.


He seated himself next to her and noticed her fingering her prayer beads. After a few moments he hesitantly spoke, “You were here when I left yesterday evening. Did you stay here all night?”


She pinched her lips and looked out the window, “Can’t sleep.”


“I’m sorry to hear that. Must be something very weighty. Not that it’s any of my business, of course.”


She closed her hands around her prayer beads, held them tight, and answered with a sad chuckle, “You’re right. It is none of your business.”


“Perhaps I should move. I apologize for…”


“No, please. Don’t go. I’m the one to apologize for being so curt. Please, forgive me.”


“That’s easy enough to do. You’re forgiven.”


She turned and looked at Larry and smiled, “Thank you.”


“The way you’ve been wringing the life out of those prayer beads, I’m going to step out on the limb and guess he hasn’t been listening.”


She shook her head slowly and sniffled tears back.


“I’m a good listener. Wanna give me a try?”


“That’s very kind of you but…”


“But, what?”


“It’s hopeless.”


“Well, now you have my curiosity up. Tell me what’s so hopeless. That wedding band on your hand tells me you’re married to God. Perhaps you’re expecting something in return for your devotion and it’s not happening.”


She looked at him, “How come you seem to know so much about it?”


“I’ve been around. Now, are you going to tell me what’s on your mind … but first, I’m Larry Darrell?”


“How do you do, Larry Darrell? I’m Sister Jeanne-Antide.”


“Ah, the French saint.”


“Yes, how did you know?”


“I lived in France for a while.”


“My home. How I long to be there again.”


“I hear sorrow in your voice.”


“True.”


“And your burden?”


“I’m returning from the Mayo Clinic.”


“Ah. And?”


“The prognosis is negative. Maybe six months, maybe a year.”


“Hum. That is a burden. Are you afraid?”


“No. It’s just letting this disease take me without my permission.”


“Without your permission. That’s an interesting way of putting it. But the word that comes to mind is omnipresence.”


“Omnipresence?”


“Do you believe that God is all present?”


“Yes, of course.”


“But you also believe in this disease you carry. Is that right?”


“Well … I don’t know.”


“You’ve been praying to God to heal you of this disease. Am I right?”


“Well, yes. I have.”


“So, there we have the conundrum.”


“The what?”


“The problem. You believe that God, the Almighty, the Perfect one, is all present … along with this disease. If that is true, then the Universe would collapse into nothingness. Do you see my thinking?”


“Yes … I do see. I guess I’ve been praying amiss. But I feel the pain of this disease.” She looked into Larry’s eyes for an answer.


“Yes, of course, you do. But let’s back up a little and take a closer look at what this so-called disease actually is from a spiritual standpoint.”


“I should know, but I don’t. You obviously do know so, tell me.”


“Anything that is not of God must be an illusion, a shadow. And how do you get rid of a shadow?”


“Turning on a light is my guess.”


“That’s right, but how do you get rid of a spiritual shadow? You get rid of it by the light of Truth.”


“I’m ashamed to admit it, but you’ve lost me.”


Everyone, or most everyone is functioning on this mundane level of godless consciousness. I know that’s a harsh thing to say, but it is accurate. In order to escape this, one must reach for a higher consciousness where only God exists, where there is no disease. There is nothing but the perfection of the Almighty.”


“Who are you? And where did you come from?”


“What?” Larry was somewhat startled by the question, “I’m Larry Darrell and I came from downstairs, upper birth 22B.”


“That’s not what I mean and you know it.” She laughed.


“Yes, I know it, but I don’t have an answer for you. I’m just here, on my way to California and probably San Francisco.”


“I don’t want to lose touch, Larry Darrell.”


“Okay, I’ll let you know where I land.”


“That higher consciousness you’re talking about.”


“It’s that kingdom within. Right where you are now.”


“I’ve been trying to reach it but have failed miserably.”


“Not really. You’ve just been adding 2 plus 2 and coming up with the wrong answer.”


“And the answer is?”


“Silence. Listening. Do you pray with words?”


“Yes, of course.”


“Try it without words. Just listen. If you can achieve one second of contact with that inner kingdom, I guarantee you the disease you carry with you will flee like a shadow does when the light is turned on. It’s the only way to heal yourself and others of anything that is not of the Divine.


“That reminds me of the twelve degrees of silence one of your sisters composed. She was a Parisian Carmelite nun. Her name was … Sister Marie-Aimee of Jesus. Give me your address and I’ll send you a copy.”


Larry and Sister Jeanne-Antide continued discussing the finer points of their spiritual philosophies while establishing a bond that would last for many years to come.


Two days later they reluctantly parted company when the California Limited pulled into the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal.


Before the day came to a close, Larry was on a Grey Hound bus headed north along the California coast.


The next afternoon the bus pulled into the terminal in the Mission District of San Francisco. Larry asked where the YMCA was located.


He had read about Yosemite Falls and the hiking trails it offered. After days of idleness, while traveling west, he looked forward to the exhilaration of climbing to a mountaintop again. It would be one of the first things he would accomplish after he found a permanent place to live.


Larry took in a deep breath of the cool fresh ocean air. The climate of the Bay area suited him perfectly. He knew he would enjoy living in this unique city.


Fini


Yosemite Falls

Josh Pendleton


“We’ll be closing in five minutes,” announced the manager of the Curry Village convenience store. Larry looked at his watch and was surprised how late it was. He arrived in Yosemite Valley that afternoon, checked in, stowed his gear in his cabin, and took a long walk in the beautiful invigorating setting. The twilight lingered long after the sun disappeared behind Yosemite Point.


He noticed a young man watching him as he paid for a sandwich, cold drink, and the trail mix he would take on his hike up Yosemite Falls in the morning. On the way back to his cabin he did not see the young man but he sensed his presence. He wondered why he was following him.


He showered, ate his sandwich, and read until he felt drowsy. Before retiring, he stepped outside to get a feel for where he was and the adventure he had planned for the next day. The stars blanketing the clear sky seemed to hang so low you could touch them. The sound of falling water from Yosemite Falls was comforting to Larry. He knew he would sleep well. After taking several deep breaths he returned to his cabin.


The day had already broken when he opened his eyes. The first thing he thought of was the young man who had been watching him the day before. There was a spiritual connection but he wasn’t certain what it was. He dressed, filled his backpack with several bottles of water along with the trail mix he had purchased, then headed for a quick breakfast at the restaurant.


As he entered the restaurant he saw the young man sitting at the counter drinking a cup of coffee. The empty plate in front of him told Larry he had been there for some time. He looked tired as if he had not slept well. Larry was tempted to introduce himself but decided against it. He did not want to delay his ascent up the falls.


Twenty minutes later he was on his way to the trailhead. He stopped for a moment to admire the beauty of the cascading water. It was late spring and the flow of water over the falls was at its peak. He took a deep breath as he approached the trailhead. He had read about the attraction but was not prepared for the sound of the gushing water and the glorious feeling of having the mist from the falling water encompass him. His delight at being there was enhanced by the unexpected treat.


He was not alone as he began his climb. Several other climbers preceded him, and a few followed him. He had forgotten about the young man.


Two hours into the climb he found himself alone. The climb was more difficult than he imagined. Some of those ahead of him had stopped to regain their strength while he continued at a comfortable pace.


He stopped to take in the view of the valley below. Moments later he heard someone panting heavily as they came up the trail. Larry turned when he heard a breathless “Hi.” It was the young man who had been watching him.


“Hi, yourself.”


“Mind if I join you?”


“Not at all. Here, give me your hand.” Larry pulled the young man up and over a boulder in the path. “What’s your name?” The two men stood face to face.


“Josh, Josh Pendleton.”


“I’m Larry Darrell. We’ve got another hour of climbing before we reach the top. Are you up to it? You look a bit winded.”


Josh laughed, “I’ll make it. But I will admit I’m not as fit as you.”


“Why don’t we sit a moment while you catch your breath? Did you bring water?”


“Yes, but only this small bottle. Didn’t realize what I was getting into when I began climbing this morning.”


“I have several bottles. You may have some of mine.”


“Thanks. That’s very good of you.”


“I saw you last night at the convenience store.” Larry gave a knowing smile.


“Yes, I saw you also,” Josh smiled.


“I got the feeling you were following me. Is that true?”


Josh was silent and looked down. “This may sound idiotic, but I was hoping for a chance to talk with you.”


“About?”


“That’s the idiotic part, I don’t know. When I saw you at the convenience shop I found myself spying on you, and that’s not like me at all. I actually followed you until you went into your cabin. I know I should feel ashamed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of nut. I sensed a peacefulness about you, something I lack. I felt as if I knew you, but I knew that wasn’t true.


“You probably think I’m crazy. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done this. I apologize.” He got up. “Come to think of it, I don’t believe I can make it to the top. I’ll leave you to it.” He turned and began walking away.


“It’s about God, isn’t it?”


Josh did not turn around, “What did you say?”


“I said, it’s about God, isn’t it?” he replied in a matter-of-fact tone.


Josh turned around and stared at Larry.


“You forgot your collar, Josh.” Larry smiled.


“My collar?” Josh was slack-jawed.


“You’re a priest, aren’t you?” Larry picked up his bottle of water and laughed, “Here, you better sit down and have another swig of water before you fall down.”


“How did you know?” Josh was mystified as he sat next to Larry.


“It’s written all over your face, Josh. The question is, do you know why you came to Yosemite?”


Josh chuckled, “The answer is … I don’t know. As you can see, I’m really not the outdoors kind of person.


“Something … I don’t know what. I just felt I had to come here.” Josh looked intently at Larry. “Who are you?”


“I’m Larry Darrell.”


“That’s not what I meant.”


“I know what you meant, Josh. You’ll just have to find the answer to that question on your own. Let me ask you, do you know who you are?”


Josh looked down at his hands and quietly answered, “No, I don’t know.” Then he looked up at Larry, “No one has ever asked me that question before.”


“When you discover the answer as to who you are, then you’ll know who I am?”


Josh smiled, “But discovering the answer you speak of is my dilemma.”


“Perhaps I can help. How long have you been a priest?”


“Five years.”


“How long have you been searching?”


“Searching? Searching for what?”


“Searching for God. Searching for who you are and your relationship to God.”


Josh was unafraid in revealing the secrets of his heart. “I don’t know. It seems like I’ve been searching forever. So many dead ends.” Josh lapsed into silence.


“Where are you stationed?”


“Stationed?”


“What diocese are you with?”


“Oh, San Francisco.”


“Parish?”


“Saint Mary of the Assumption.”


“Oh, the one that looks like the inside of a washing machine.” Larry laughed.


Josh began laughing, “Yes, the washing machine. That’s exactly what I thought when I first saw the building.”


“I’ve read about the archbishop of your dioceses. He appears to be quite controversial.”


“Stephano J. Cordova. He’s part of my problem.”


“Yes, that’s the one. Part of your problem?”


“He’s supposed to lead and I’m supposed to follow that lead, but I’m having difficulty.”


“How so?”


“Everything he does seems contrary to what I’ve been taught and what I believe in. The purpose of being a priest seems to be lost on him. I don’t know. Perhaps I made a mistake in becoming a priest.” Josh looked at Larry. “And I shouldn’t be dumping this on you, a stranger.”


“Me, a stranger? Hardly. Come on, let’s climb. We can rest and talk when we get to the top.” Larry got up and extended his hand, pulling Josh to a standing position.


“I live in San Francisco. We’ll have plenty of time to talk there.”


“You don’t.” Josh was surprised at this news.


“Yes, I do. I’ve only been there a short time. You can give me some pointers on where to go and what to see.”


“Yes, I can.”


An hour later they reached the top of the falls. “Let’s cross that bridge. We can rest on the other side. Did you bring anything to eat?”


“I saw you buying trail mix last night, so I bought some.”


They crossed the bridge and settled in the warmth of the late morning sun.


“You’re not Catholic?”


“No, I’m not anything come to think of it.”


“But, how did you know so much about me?


“It’s easy to recognize someone searching for the truth. I lived in India for many years. There’s a small ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas.”


“That’s very interesting. I’ve often wondered about those places. What did you do there?”


“I learned something about myself.”


“And you left, because?”


“My guru, my teacher told me it was my duty to return to my own people. And, here I am. And, there you are. So, you see, he was right.” Larry grinned at his new friend.


Josh hesitated, “Are you opposed to organized religion?”


“Oh, no, quite the contrary. It has its place for those who require it. It was the dogma of the Church that turned me away.” Larry chuckled. “On Fridays, it was ok for a Catholic to kill someone in wartime, but they weren’t allowed to eat him.” They laughed at the paradox.


“But there is something else for those who no longer need the kind of dogma and organization today’s religions offer. I think you may be one of those people.”


“You think I should leave the church?”


“Oh, no, I didn’t mean that. Leaving the priesthood would mean abandoning your parishioners. I’m assuming you have people who depend on you for spiritual support and guidance.”


“Yes, I do. I could never leave them. But I feel lost in leading them. I need more and I’m unable to find it. I don’t know where else to look.”


Larry smiled; “I have news for you. What you are seeking is closer than hands and feet, you’ve heard that before, I’m sure.”


“Yes, but what does it mean? That’s the problem. I pray about it all the time. But nothing seems to happen.”


“Nothing?” Larry smiled at Josh


Josh laughed, “Well, almost nothing.”


“Do you pray with words?”


“Yes, of course.” Josh looked surprised.


“You’re going to have to learn to pray without them.”


“But without words, what’s left?” Josh was confused.


“Listening. That’s what’s left.”


Josh began nodding off; he finally fell asleep from exhaustion. Larry would let him sleep for half an hour or forty-five minutes before they must begin their return trip to the valley.


Larry leaned back and smiled to himself as the mist from the falls floated lazily up from the crashing water below, baptizing these two souls who had come from different parts of the earth and found each other on the cliffs of Yosemite Falls. Their friendship would last a long time.


Larry touched Josh’s arm. “What!” Josh came awake with a start. “Oh gosh, I must have fallen asleep.”


“Time to go down, my friend. Too dangerous to be caught on the trail when it gets dark.”


They said little to one another as they descended to the valley floor.


As they finished their meal, Josh leaned back in his chair and looked thoughtfully at Larry. “You were saying something about praying without words before I passed out.”


“Yes, I was, wasn’t I.”


“You were emphasizing the word listening, but listening for what?”


“God is speaking to you all of the time, Josh. When you pray with words, they just get in the way of hearing what you need to hear.”


“And if I don’t hear anything?”


“You will. Give it time. There’s an old saying I learned in India. It is by yourself – without ambassador – that God speaks to you. You are as one who has a private door that leads to the King’s chamber … you said it yourself earlier about feeling the need to come to Yosemite. You were listening, and here you are. Listening doesn’t mean you’re going to hear words, although that is possible. Isn’t there something in scripture that says, be still and know?”


“Yes, it’s in Psalms, be still and know that I am God.”


“What does that mean?”


“I don’t know, now that I think about it.”


“Change it to, be still and listen, and see what happens. It’s not easy to still the mind, but it can be done. And you don’t have to go into a closet to do it. You can listen all day long no matter where you are or what you are doing.”


Josh frowned. “That urge to come to Yosemite was pretty strong even though it made no sense to me at the time. Now that I’ve met you, I’m beginning to understand.”


“The next time that urge comes, it will be easier for you to sit back and let it flow.” Larry smiled to himself; the expression of realization that flooded Josh’s face reminded him of his own realization years earlier.


Josh mused, “It was almost as if I couldn’t help myself even though common sense told me not to.”


“I think it’s cool that you threw common sense out the window or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”


The waitress approached their table, “Is there anything else I can get for you boys?”


Larry said no and thanked her.


The waitress hesitated, “Are you brothers?”


Larry looked at her, “No, we aren’t. But it’s interesting you should say that.”


“You seem so in tune with one another.”


“What’s your name?” Josh smiled at the pretty girl.


“Carolyn. It was a guess. I’m not sure why I said it.”


“Well, thank you, Carolyn. You’re closer to the truth than you know.”


“Have a pleasant evening. Good night.”


“Night, Carolyn.” Larry turned to Josh. “You see, she was listening and heard something.


“And when you get good enough at listening, you can teach your parishioners how to do the same thing. Unless you’re listening, you’re in kind of a prison.


“Some writer coined the phrase, break the fetters that bind you. He was referring to listening during prayer.”


Larry picked up the check, “My treat.” He brought the evening to a close. “I’m beat. Time to turn in … where are you staying?”


Josh hesitated, then laughed, “In my car.”


“What?”


“I didn’t know about reservations. I’ll be okay.”


“You slept in your car last night?”


Josh nodded.


Larry laughed, “When I saw you at breakfast this morning, you did look like something the cat dragged in.”


Josh laughed, “I didn’t look that bad.”


“Yes, you did. Come on, you’re staying with me. I’ve got twin beds in my cabin. I thought you were kidding when you said you weren’t the outdoors type.” They laughed as they exited the restaurant.


As they walked to the cabin, Larry mused, “You know, I think our waitress was on to something.”


“Meaning?”


“I like you, Josh. I believe we’ll be good friends. I have no brothers. I’d like to think of you as my brother.”


“Thank you, Larry. I was thinking the same thing. I certainly can learn a lot from you.”


“And I from you.”


“Oh, I don’t know about that.”


“We’ll see. Here we are. Now for a shower and a good night’s rest.”


The next morning as Larry finished dressing, he heard Josh groaning as he got out of bed. The climb up the falls was taking its toll. Larry stepped into the main room, “Morning.”


“Everything hurts.” Josh staggered to the bathroom.


“It’ll be easier the next time.”


“What next time?” Josh was inconsolable.


“I’d like to do this again. You can be my climbing partner.” Larry knew what the response would be and laughed.


“I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.”


“We’ll see. I’ll meet you at the restaurant.” Larry opened the cabin door and stepped outside. Giant pine trees shaded the cabin against a clear blue sky, promising a beautiful day for their return to San Francisco.


Josh joined Larry in the restaurant and sat down with a thump.


“You ok?”


“Yeah, I’ll be okay, when everything stops hurting.” Josh managed a smile.


“Josh, I know your heart is troubled. Here are my phone number and address. Give me a call when you’re free and we’ll get together. I’m pretty sure I can help.”


“You already have, and I will call you … probably sooner than you like.”


“That’s ok. Finding your way out of the darkness is not only important for you but also for your parishioners.”


As they walked to the parking lot, “I’m beginning to get an idea of who you are, Larry Darrell. I appreciate what you’ve done for me. Till we meet again,” Josh put out his hand.


Larry smiled, stepped forward and embraced Josh, “It won’t be soon enough. Farewell, my friend.”


“Josh shook his head as he drove out of the Valley. It was difficult for him to comprehend what had transpired in the previous forty-eight hours. He felt a peace settle over him he had not experienced before, in spite of his aching muscles. It was then he remembered something Larry told him earlier which had a marked effect on him. Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, and not within thyself, thy soul will be forlorn.


Fini

Grace

“Hi, Josh.” Larry stepped out onto the stoop of his apartment building. “Come on, let’s take a walk. It’s too nice a day to stay indoors.”


As they walked along California Street, toward Grace Cathedral, Larry remarked, “You look a hell of a lot better than you did the last time I saw you.”


Josh laughed, “It took me three days to recover from that climb.”


“It’ll be easier the next time,”


Josh sighed, “We’ll see.”


“So, Josh, what’s troubling you?”


“What makes you think anything is troubling me?”


Larry looked at Josh and smiled.


“You know, it really annoys me that you can read me so perfectly. Maybe I just wanted to hang with you.” Josh stared straight ahead.


“All right, we’re hanging … now, tell me what the problem is,” Larry had trouble controlling a smile.


“Grrrrr … okay. I used the term Grace of God in my homily this morning and a parishioner cornered me afterward. She politely asked me what I meant by the word Grace. I hem-hawed around and finally admitted I didn’t have an adequate answer. She told me to find out … and get back to her.”


“She told you to find out?” Larry stopped and stared at Josh.


“And get back to her,” Josh stared back. “It was old Mrs. Clausing, my personal nemesis. Did you ever see that poster with multiple women sitting around a sign that read, ‘Lips that touch liquor shall never touch ours’?”


Larry laughed. “Yes, I’ve seen it.”


“She’s one of the founding members.” They laughed. “She thinks I’m too young for the job and watches every move I make and every word I utter. But she means well … I think.”


“Maybe she’s a cougar and has lust for you?”


“Now there’s a thought I hadn’t considered. I guess there really are women like that.”


“You bet there are. And you’re a prime target. Celibate … we hope … single … good looking.”


“Will you please stop. Don’t forget those lovelies sitting around that sign. Poor Mrs. Clausing … she looks like she’s been out in the rain … feeding the poultry.”


“Hum, I see what you mean. Well, it was just a thought.”


They climbed the stairs of Grace Cathedral and sat down mid-way. Larry sighed at the prospect of Hunting Park stretching out before them. “I love this city in every way possible, its beauty, its people, and the weather. And I love you, Father Pendleton. I see myself in you so many years ago. Always searching, grasping for the truth. Never satisfied.”


“You forgot to mention misgivings.”


“Yes, I’m aware of your misgivings.”


“That’s funny, I’ve never spoken to anyone as I do with you.”


“Of course you have. You’ve been telling God about your misgivings for a long time. I think He wearied of hearing about it and brought us together at Yosemite.”


“You talk as though you have a personal relationship with God.”


“Yes, it does sound like that, doesn’t it? The fact is, it’s possible … for everyone. It appears to be a deep dark secret but really is not. It’s our fondness for the knowledge of good and evil that keeps us from experiencing the Holy Grail. We continue to eat those apples coming from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as if there were no tomorrow. Scripture forbids it, but we do it anyway and in so doing we die to the truth – as predicted.


“It’s the illusions we live in every day that distract us from the reality of who and what we really are.” Larry lapsed into silence.


“So, what’s the solution?”


Larry laughed, “Stop eating those damned apples.” A serious expression flooded Larry’s face, “The secret is so simple, it’s amazing so few have found it.


“The secret of life is … there is no good and no evil in any effect we behold. It’s the secret of no-power. God is not powerful. It has no adversaries. Not a single one. Until we come to that realization, we’re stuck in this limbo of our lives. The temptation to be hypnotized by good and evil is forever there.”


They sat in silence as Josh contemplated what Larry had said.


Josh looked at Larry. “Right now, my problem is the Grace of God. I need an answer or who knows what Mrs. Clausing will do to me. I’ve scoured dictionaries and encyclopedias for a definition. None of them make any sense. They contradict one another, so I’m dumping it on you for an answer.”


“I’m honored … sort of,” Larry looked at Josh from the corner of his eye. “What makes you think I have the answer?”


“For the same reason I dragged myself to Yosemite and nearly killed myself following you up the Falls. Something inside tells me you know.”


“Good boy, you’re beginning to listen to that still small voice. Well, you may as well include the word God along with your search for a definition of the Grace of God. They are both spiritual qualities of the Divine. You can’t have God over here and his Grace over there. They are one and the same. When you bestow the Grace of God on someone, you’re actually bestowing the Infinite upon itself.


“Part of the confusion comes from current dictionaries. The word Grace comes from the Hebrew word Chen and the Greek word Charis, both of which mean bending or stooping in kindness to another, such as a superior would do to an inferior with favor or mercy which is not how God works.


Josh sat up bug-eyed at what he heard and stared at Larry.


“That’s right, Josh. We are all part of the Infinite even though we go by the names of Tom, Dick, or Harry. We are all part and parcel of the Divine. The only problem is, some have forgotten who they are, and that’s where you come in – to show them the way back to the Father’s house.”


Josh shook his head, “That never dawned on me before.” He began to laugh with a joy Larry had not heard from him before.


“Welcome to the real world, my friend.”


Josh’s expression turned to one of panic, “How am I ever going to explain that to Mrs. Clausing?


“Ah, yes, dear, sweet, Mrs. Clausing. Glad I don’t have to tell her. I struggled for a very long time with those words, for that realization. As I’ve said, they are one and the same spiritual qualities, unknowable, and un-nameable. As soon as you hang a name tag on either one or both, you’re defining an infinite spiritual quality with a material definition which drags them down into the mundane and renders them useless, and impossible to understand with the human mind, even though we continue to bandy the words about as if we knew what we were talking about, and don’t.


“On the other hand, Grace, and God, for the lack of better terms, can be experienced.”


“Experienced? How?”


“Experiencing the Grace of God lies dormant within everyone. It can be expressed or experienced, but not in one blinding moment of realization. If that were possible it probably would fry your brain. You experience them in degrees.


“Degrees?” Josh looked puzzled.


“Dying daily. That’s another biblical principle people skip over.”


“I’m afraid, I’m guilty of that.”


“Even with the proper explanation, it’s still difficult for folks to accept. It simply means dying to who you think you are and realizing who you really are.”


“And who am I?” Josh spoke too quickly, ‘I know, I know, we discussed this at Yosemite.”


“Getting to know who you are is a process that requires a good deal of study, meditation, and prayer for which most folks don’t take the time.”


“And if they do find the time?”


“They will experience Grace in the form of more harmony in their lives, better health, better relations with others, better-looking cougars.” They laughed.


Josh groaned, “I still don’t know how I’m going to explain this to Mrs. Clausing? Would you like to have a go at her?”


“No, thank you. She’s your parishioner.


“If I knew what you know, I’d feel more confident.”


“Just follow that still small voice. It knows. What is important to remember I, you’re in a position to assist others in many ways. Each of your parishioners will require the principles we discuss to be applied according to their particular needs. Using a cookie cutter approach won’t work. Listen to the still small voice within. It will tell you what Mrs. Clausing needs to know, as well as each of your parishioners.


“The plight of your parishioners, as with most everyone, is likened to being in a dark room. They are uncertain of their movements, they cannot see objects around them, or properly locate them. Therefore, they are liable to hurt themselves by coming into sudden contact with them. But flip a light switch on, and immediately all confusion disappears. Every object is seen, and there is no longer any danger of being injured.


“Conversely, they encounter frequent hurts, disappointments, perplexities, sorrows, and pains caused by sudden contact with principles which they don’t know, let alone understand. But when the light of wisdom is introduced into their darkened understanding, confusion vanishes, difficulties are dissolved, all things are seen in their true place and proportion, and the man walks open-eyed and unhurt.


“So, look upon yourself as a switch-flipper, turning on the light of wisdom with those you encounter.” Larry sighed. “Okay, so much for solving the problems of mankind. How about we go for a chocolate Sundae somewhere? I haven’t had one of those in a long time. One with bananas on it.”


Josh laughed and got up. “Banana split is the term I think you’re looking for. You would think of something like that after hauling me out of my pit of unknowing.”


“Yeah, but you have to remember … I had to crawl down there to get you. Now come on, let’s go and splurge.”


“So where do we go for this treat?”


“On Van Ness somewhere. There are all sorts of neat places just waiting for us.”


They descended the stairs of Grace Cathedral and walked along California Street toward Van Ness Avenue on a beautiful afternoon in the city of San Francisco.


Fini


The Celibacy Thing

Laura Joubert


Larry’s doorbell rang as he was about to leave his apartment. He walked down to the lobby and opened the front door. “Josh, I didn’t realize you were coming over. Did I miss your call?”


“I’m sorry, Larry, I should have called. I wasn’t sure if I should bother you or not.”


“It’s never a bother, but I am on my way to the Wharf. Why don’t you come along; we can talk. I always feel more energized near a great body of water.”


They boarded the Powell Street cable car and traveled in silence, enjoying the ringing of the cable car bell by the talented conductor.


As they stepped off of the cable car at the Aquatic Park turnaround, Larry announced, “We’re going to Boudin’s Bakery. I need some sourdough bread. It’s the aphrodisiac of the San Francisco Bay. I’m surprised to see you on a Sunday. Don’t you have services to attend to?”


“I’ve taken a leave of absence.”


Larry stopped, “Why for heaven’s sake? Mrs. Clausing again?”


“No, nothing like that. It’s worse, much worse.”


“The minute I saw you I knew something was up.”


“I’m afraid to ask how.” Josh sighed.


“The colors of your aura are all mixed up … a muddy brown.”


“You’ve never said anything about colors before.”


“I usually don’t. Doesn’t seem important. They tell me what I need to know. The minute I saw you, I got the feeling you were about to bust a gut. Does that cover it?”


“Yes, it does.” Josh smiled and looked away, “I would sure like to know how you do it?”


“It’s not a secret. We’ll get to it one of these days. So, what’s the problem?”


They continued walking toward the bakery. Josh was silent, contemplating how to broach the subject. Larry refrained from pressuring him.


He made his bread purchase, and they walked to the park along the bay front, settling on a bench facing the water. Larry handed Josh a piece of fresh sourdough bread. “Soul food,” he smiled. “Now, are you going to tell me or not?”


Josh sighed, “There’s a parishioner…”


“A woman?”


“Yes.”


“It’s the celibacy thing.” Larry groaned, “Of all the bloody nonsense.”


“Yes.”


“And?”


“I haven’t done anything.”


“Have you thought about it?” Larry gave Josh a side-long glance. Josh did not respond. “Well, have you thought about it?”


Josh’s head went down, “Yes.”


“Then you’ve broken your vows.”


“It’s not that simple.”


“Of course it is.”


“Now what do I do?”


“The first thing you have to do is stop beating yourself up over this man-made law of celibacy. Yes, I said man-made. It amazes me how the Catholic Church has gotten away with this nonsense for so long. The pain and suffering it has inflicted are criminal.


“What is your common sense telling you about this Canon law?”


“There’s something wrong with it, but I don’t know what.”


“Only ninety-nine percent of priests are qualified for celibacy and even that percentage is questionable.”


Josh straightened up, “What do you mean ninety-nine percent?”


“Just what I said, no priest is a qualified celibate just because the Pope and those fuddy-duddy hypocrites in the Holy See say so. To force people into that corner is tantamount to criminal abuse. Now, we’re seeing the results from that abuse.


“If Canon Law were challenged in a court of law it would fail miserably.”


Josh was slack-jawed, “I don’t understand how you can say that. These laws have been with us for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.”


“That’s precisely the problem. They’ve been outdated for hundreds of years and no one has done anything about it. The laws were proclaimed on the premise they were acknowledged by and consecrated by Almighty God. A prosecutor would have clear sailing since no defense lawyer would be able to call the Almighty to the witness stand to substantiate the claims of the Church.


“And don’t get me started on this sainthood business they bandy about. I find it amusing they always wait until the poor fellow is dead before they bestow that privilege on him. Given the opportunity, I’m sure most of them would reject the whole premise of sainthood.”


“You feel warmly on the subject.” Josh contained his smile at Larry’s outburst.


“I do indeed, and so should you.” Larry realized his passion was a little over the top. He took a deep breath and smiled. “What’s her name?”


“Who?”


Larry looked at him.


“Oh,” Josh smiled as if he had just won the prize turkey. “Laura, her name is Laura Pritchard. Isn’t that a beautiful name? I looked it up. It means clever, clear-sighted, and intelligent. That’s her in every way.”


“You’re beginning to sound like you’re besotted.”


“I know, and I’m ashamed.”


“Ashamed of what? Having feelings for another human being?”


Josh was silent.


“Does she know how you feel about her?”


“I’m not sure. She volunteers at church. We’ve worked fairly close in the last year and a half.”


Larry chuckled, “Trust me, she knows. Has she given you any indication she would like to reciprocate?”


“There have been looks. Nothing more.”


“What kind of looks?”


“The worst is when she takes communion.”


“The worst?”


“Well, not the worst, but the most intense.”


“How so?”


“Most people keep their eyes closed in prayer when they receive the sacrament. Laura looks up at me in such a way … it melts my heart. She moves her head forward a little to receive the wafer, her lips touch my fingertips.”


“Josh, for heaven’s sake, the woman is making love to you in front of the altar.”


“No, she’s not.”


“Then why are we having this conversation?”


“I know, I know, I know. But I don’t know what to do about it?”


“Are you reciprocating when she does that?”


“No, I don’t think so.”


“Do you pull your hand away immediately when she takes the wafer?”


“Well, yes, kind of.”


“Oh, my God, how long has this been going on?”


“Not very long.”


“How long?


“About a year. Maybe a little less.”


“You’re not made out of asbestos, my friend.”


“What does that mean?” Josh was annoyed at Larry’s frivolous remark.


“It means unless you do something about this, you’re going to explode, and probably do something really stupid.” Larry paused, “Josh?”


“What.”


“Did you know we’re being observed?”


“What?”


“I spotted her when we got off of the cable car. She was getting out of a cab.”


“Her? What her?” Josh looked around. “What did she look like?”


“Above average height, good figure, shoulder length sandy colored hair. I only caught a glimpse.”


“Oh, my God, that sounds like Laura.” Josh twisted around, looking in all directions. “I don’t see her.”


“She’s still there, I can feel her watching us.” Josh got up and walked around their bench, looking in all directions.


“There she is. I’ll be right back.” Larry turned and watched Josh running toward the Alcatraz ticket kiosk. Josh called her name. She stopped but did not turn around. He caught up with her. She turned and faced him. Larry could not hear what they were saying. She kept shaking her head. Finally, Josh took her hand and walked toward Larry. Laura followed, reluctantly.


“Laura, this is my friend Larry Darrell. Larry, Laura.”


“How do you do, Mr. Darrell.”


“Larry, please. You are Laura …?”


“Joubert.”


“A lovely French name.” Larry smiled.


“You told me your name was Prichard.” Josh’s jaw dropped slightly.


“That’s my married name.”


“You’re married?” Josh could not have been more astonished.


“Divorced,” Laura whispered.


“Well, that’s a nice kettle of fish,” Larry observed.


“Laura, please, sit here next to me. Josh, you sit on the other side so she can’t get away. So, Laura, can you tell us why you were following us?”


“I wasn't following…”


“I spotted you getting out of a cab when we got off of the cable car. Own up, Laura.” Larry could not keep from smiling.


“I’m so embarrassed; I’m sorry, Father…”


“Josh, Laura.”


“I’m sorry, Josh. I don’t know why I did that. I saw you get on the cable car with Larry near the Fairmont.”


“How long were you following me?”


“Since you left your residence this afternoon. I planned on talking to you but couldn’t do it.”


“I thought we were friends. You can talk to me about anything.”


Laura looked down and was silent.




“How well do you know Josh?” Larry picked up the conversation.


“Well, we work together at church.”


“That’s not what I meant.”


Laura shook her head and could not speak.


“I’ll answer for her. I know Laura very well, and I care a great deal for her.”


“Oh, Josh, you shouldn’t say that.”


“Why not, it’s the truth.” Josh was relieved.


Larry took advantage of a pause, “Laura, your turn.”


Laura shook her head and began to cry, “I can’t say it. I just can’t say it. I have to go.”


“Oh, no you don’t.” Larry pulled her back. “Does the word love have anything to do with it?”



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