Friday, December 30, 2011

Transcendent Moments

Still writing (and driving) in her 90s, my mentor and friend Muriel James, is one of the wisest persons I have known. She is a psychotherapist and an ordained minister.  Over the past 20 years,  she has also been the  #1 fan of all my books. We still meet occasionally at California Writers Club meetings (Mt. Diablo Branch). She is currently reading my latest novel, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story. Can't wait to hear her reaction to the story of an American priest and a Belgian nun who are kidnapped and tortured in Bruges, Belgium.

The following quote is from a 1992 book she co-authored with her son. It contains remarkable human and spiritual insight, especially in light of the rapid emergence of Evolutionary Christianity.

“Occasionally we experience transcendent moments when there is a merging of the cosmic, holy, and human spirits. Everything seems united. These are mystical experiences in which, for the moment, we forget ourselves and feel at one with all that is. There are no boundaries, no distinctions of time and space. Transcendent moments such as these, when everything seems to be one, can happen at any time, in any place—perhaps when we stand in awe of the magnificence of the ocean waves, the wind blowing across a wheat field . . . At times like these, we may awaken to the sense that we are merging with some form of spirit beyond ourselves, a cosmic spirit.”—Muriel James and John James, Passion for Life: Psychology and the Human Spirit

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of the suspense novel,

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cosmology Is the New Mythology

[Ever on the prowl for modern wisdom, I came across the following article by Bruce Tallman. I hope you'll find it as interesting as I did. I see it as a companion post to my entry of Monday, July 25, "A Lot of 'Big Bang' For the Buck."]

Dear Friends,
On November 26 the London Free Press  published my article "Cosmology Is the New Mythology" with the same title I sent them! It's only 600 words, so why not print it off and, when you have 2 minutes, give it a quick read?
Bruce Tallman, Dr. Min.
Spiritual Director and Marriage Coach
"Helping people grow in faith and love since 1983"
*  *  *

The mysteries science is coming across are getting bigger and bigger. On both the smallest and greatest scale, science is completely stumped. String theory, the most promising theory of physics of the past thirty years, since it was meant to explain everything, cannot be tested or proven. Basically, the theory is that underlying all particles discovered in cyclotrons like the Large Hadron Collider, there are infinitely tiny particles called "strings" whose vibrations at different rates produces all other particles. However to test string theory, according to Dr. David Goldberg, a leading astrophysicist, you would need a cyclotron the size of our solar system. It can’t be done.

Goldberg was speaking at Starfest, the annual gathering of about 800 professional and amateur astronomers north of Mount Forest which I’ve attended for the past four years. Another famous astronomer said telescopes are time machines. When we observe the Andromeda galaxy, we are seeing it as it was two million years ago, because it is two million light years away and it took that long for the light we are presently seeing to reach us.

If you looked back far enough, beyond the furthest galaxies, you would eventually see nothing in every direction except the cosmic fireball produced by the Big Bang, the explosion that began everything. There is no seeing beyond this. Scientists cannot say what caused the Big Bang. Physicists tell us that at the quantum, subatomic level the universe operates in unexplainable, irrational ways. No one knows how the same particle can be in two locations at once, how light can be both a wave and a particle at the same time, or how particles come out of a complete void.

Similarly, at the largest level, Goldberg told us that astrophysicists have "no clue what the universe is expanding into, why there is more matter than antimatter, or why there is anything at all." They also have no idea what "dark matter" and "dark energy" are, even though scientists know they make up 95% of the universe. Only 5% of the universe is visible.

At a previous Starfest an astronomer said "when scientists have no clue, they give things a name and that makes everyone feel better." For example, scientists have no idea why there was 380,000 years of complete darkness after the Big Bang, but they called the first appearance of photons "First Dawn" and that calmed everyone down.

Also, when they have no clue, they start theorizing, and if there is no way to test their pure theories they call it "cosmology." Cosmologists have theorized that the Big Bang was caused by "branes" colliding, but they have no way of testing this, and it just pushes the problem back another step. Where did the branes come from? A native Canadian who had become a professional astronomer told us that, according to aboriginal lore, the universe is floating on the back of a giant turtle. They also believed this in ancient China, which gives added weight to the argument. It seems to me to be as valid a myth as the theory of branes.

More science equals more mystery. Still more science equals still more mystery. Projecting down the road, further science will result in even more incomprehensible mysteries, ad infinitum.

Astronomy has completely blown apart many peoples’ former belief in God. They had to find a much bigger, more mysterious, more glorious God if they wanted to keep believing. So, believers are indebted to science for helping us to know God more fully.

However, since some scientists think all religion is mythology, and since their smallest and greatest theories can’t be proven, it would help if they realized cosmologists are really doing mythology under the guise of scientific explanation, and if some scientists say science proves there is no God, they are really doing theology disguised as scientific authority.

(Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director. ; )

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of the suspense novel,

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Wisdom: A Reflection

"Wisdom is luminous and never tarnished; she willingly lets herself be seen by those who love her, and known by those who look for her. She hastens to meet those who long for her. Seek her in the morning and you will not be disappointed; you will find her sitting at your door. To meditate on Wisdom is understanding fully grown; whoever is on the watch for her will be free of anxiety. She goes in search of those who are worthy of her, graciously meets them on the way and is present in their every thought."
The Book of Wisdom (6:12-16)

It has become the quest of the past decade of my life, triggered by my re-reading and meditation on Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. The above passage from the Hebrew Scripture reminds me that it is not I who seek Wisdom. She comes looking for me. 
The fruits of meditation on Wisdom include:
• deepening maturity ("understanding fully grown")
•  reduction of anxiety
•  the presence of Wisdom to me and its influence on my every thought, decision, and action.

Perhaps the height of Wisdom is knowing that I am not all-wise, all-knowing, nor fully mature. Instead I am a traveler who encounters Wisdom "on the way" (on my personal and shared camino). It is  in this real world that we bump into and recognize each other. And enjoy each other's company as we walk.

Photo by Alfred J. Garrotto, Los Arcos, Cabo San Lucas (2011)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"The Way" Shows the Way

I'd wanted to see The Way from the moment I first heard

about the Emilio Estevez film about a father (Martin Sheen) 

who completes the "Camino" de Santiago de Campostela on

 behalf of his estramged son, who died on the first day of the

 journey. I knew I would like it, because of my interest in the 

centuries-old pilgrimage. Also because two good friends had

 recently completed the journey. (See my blog post of August

 17, 2011, "The Real 'Camino.'") What I was not prepared for

 was the way the story moved me at a deep level of my being

. I'm not ashamed to say that I wept from the opening scene 

to the roll of credits at the end. I hadn't had such an 

experience since the last time I saw the stage/musical version

 of Les Miserables.

What was it that touch me and created this unexpected 

reaction? In no particular order, I'll share the fruit of my


•  As a father, the thought of losing an adult child;

•  As a believer, contemplation of the mystery of a God who 

 leads us where we never intended to go and do things we

 thought we were either incapable of or disinterested in;

•  As a student of Christian history, to be pulled into a

tradition that places one of the twelve apostles in the 

outermost frontier of the Roman Empire in the second half

 of the first century AD/CE. (Is the tradition historically true?

 I don't know. At this point it hardly matters, in light of 

spiritual benefits accompanying the Camino.) 

•  As the person I am today, a sense of physical loss that I am 

not in condition to make such a journey on foot, even if I had

 a mind to. (Spare me the "You can do anything you want to" 


•  As a flawed human being, witnessing the opening and

 unfolding of a closed, self-centered heart to acceptance of

 and acceptance by other imperfect people--fellow travelers 

on the camino and on the journey of life.

I'm sure the film touched me in still other ways of which I am

 not even aware yet.

Bottom line, I highly recommend this film and look forward

to seeing it a second time myself.

You may be interested in viewing the trailer for this camino-based film at

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of the suspense novel,

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Veronica Rossi--"Under the Never Sky"

Veronica Rossi and I are members of the California Writers Club Mt. Diablo Branch. She was kind enough to be one of my beta readers for my new novel, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story. Her feeback and suggestions had a very positive effect on the final version of the story. Earlier this year, Veronica sold her three-book deal, beginning with Under the Never Sky to HarperCollins and looks forward to production of the movie. Little Brown is publishing the book in the UK and 23 international territories! Not many of us can say that, now can we?     Veronica Rossi

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of the suspense novel,

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Real "Camino"

My good friend, Rita Iorfida, went to Spain this summer to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Campostela this summer. I hope you'll find the following interview about her experience both informative and inspiring.
Garrotto: What is a "camino"?
Iorfida: Roughly translated, camino means “way” or “path.”  In Italian camino means a walk or a path or a route."  To early Christians pilgrims, it was a way or path to a sacred site, usually a church that housed a sacred relic.  The route was usually difficult and onerous. Pilgrims were housed by local farmers, given whatever meager food was available in exchange for work or payment.  These routes were designated by "way markers" or signs, which directed pilgrims along the route.

Garrotto: What motivated you to make this journey?
Iorfida: I have thought about this over many miles of walking, over months of training, over months of step by step reflection.  Why the camino, and why now?  I could say ‘because,’ but that is too easy.  As I thought and thought,  I realized that I did it to give thanks to God, Jesus Christ, to my family and my friends.  One of the songs that gave me comfort on my training walks was “Blessed” by Lucinda Williams.  Some of the words are as follows:
We were blessed by the mystic
Who turned water into wine
We were blessed by the watchmaker
Who gave up his time
We were blessed by the wounded man
Who felt no pain
By the wayfaring stranger
Who knew our names
We were blessed by the homeless man
Who showed us the way home
We were blessed by the hungry man
Who filled us with love
By the innocent baby
Who taught us the truth
We were blessed by the forlorn
Forsaken and abused
We were blessed
Yeah we were blessed

Each day, I wanted to define what 'blessed' meant for me that day, what I wanted to give thanks for.  I have learned so much since I started walking. It wasn’t just the camino itself. It was the journey to get there. I have learned how not to be alone, how to enjoy my thoughts, how not to be afraid of the ache, how to listen to myself, and most of all how to be at peace with myself. I have learned that there is so much more than what is happening to me—the birds, the changing of the seasons, the beat of putting one foot after the other, the beauty of the day whether it be sunset, sunrise or the heat of the day. There is so much more than the small world that we define for ourselves. 

Garrotto: What was your route in Spain? Why did you choose that route from among the others?
Iorfida: We chose the “Camino Ingles” for a variety of reasons. We were intrigued by the fact that this was the route that pilgrims from the British Isles and Ireland followed to reach the remains of Saint James in Santiago.  We also wanted to walk a route in its entirety.  The “English Way” was reported to be 120 km and could easily be completed in 5 days.  Another reason for choosing the "Camino Ingles" was that it was the “road less traveled.” That meant there would be less congestion on the route.

Garrotto: How far did you walk? In how many days?
Iorfida: The official guide said the route was 120 km. In actual fact, it was 150 km and we walked it in 5 days with no day of rest. We basically were on the road from 8 a.m. until 4 or 5 p.m. We rarely stopped for lunch. We existed on fruit and nuts, energy bars, and water. Chia seeds proved to be important in maintaining hydration; electrolyte tablets restored lost salt.

Garrotto: What surprise you about the experience? (Something you hadn't anticipated)
Iorfida: I was surprised how personal the experience was.  I was with two of my close friends and my favorite young woman.  I expected a lot of talking, sharing, and bonding as we walked.  Yet I found it an intensely private experience and relished the moments that I walked ahead and could enjoy each step and each experience, including the pain.

Garrotto: How has the "camino" changed you?
Iorfida: I want to say I am more spiritual, but that is not true. I worry less about tomorrow and concentrate more on today. I try to give thanks for one thing daily. I try to be kind to strangers that I meet, since strangers helped us on our "camino," pointing us in the right direction, yelling across the fields, “Buen camino.” I smile more often.

Garrotto: Would you do it again? If yes, why? Same path or different?
Iorfida: I am seriously thinking of walking the Portuguese route next year.  It is 240 km. I am not certain I would do the whole route, but certainly a portion.

Garrotto: Why does the "camino" have such an appeal to people worldwide?
Iorfida: That is hard to answer. I have read several books about the "camino."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
You may also be interested in viewing the trailer for Emilio Estevez's camino-based film, "The Way," in which he stars with his father Martin Sheen.

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of the suspense novel,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kindle Author Interview

Five of my titles are now available in the Amazon Kindle Store:
The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story (NEW NOVEL!)
The Wisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean (nonfiction)


Circles of Stone
Down a Narrow Alley
(sequel to Circles of Stone)

A Love Forbidden

This week  I was interviewed by writer, director, producer David Wisehart for his "Kindle Author" blog. I invite you to take a look.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Lot of "Big Bang" for the Buck


In my ongoing search for wisdom in our often unwise world, I came across Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker's Journey of the Universe. The book is a companion to the authors' documentary and educational DVD project by the same title (see trailer below). What amazes me about their exploration of creation, from "big bang" to humans' headlong rape of natural resources, is the simplicity of the writing. This scientific-philosophical narrative is aimed at the lay reader for whom cosmology is mostly an off-the-radar area of awareness.

I was moved by the authors' conviction that the universe is alive, not inert, and that it is purposefully self-organizing,  rather than randomly. They present us as unlucky heirs of a totally opposite, materialist mind-set that began in the 16th and 17th centuries. Indoctrinated as we are today in a static cosmology, most of humanity today views planet Earth as our toy to exploit without regard for  consequences to ourselves and future generations.

Journey of the Universe is not a religious book. For example, it does not address the question of a "prime mover." Yet, it is a sacred book in the sense that the authors treat their subject, the universe, with utmost reverence. They are critical of current trends at play in human history, but offer hope for the future of all who carry "big bang" DNA. 

Tucker and Swimme remind us that the dawn of human intelligence allowed the universe to reflect upon itself for the first time. They go on to offer us three guides that we can securely rely on as we move forward into the universe's future: 
(1) Stars from which the elements of our bodies are made--"Wonder is a gateway through which the universe floods in and takes residence within us." 
(2) The ocean which, given time, will "dissolve things into itself"--Like the seas, we have the possibility of becoming empathetic beings, capable of flowing into and becoming one with the feelings of any being. 
(3) What we make with our hands--"Our destiny is woven into the mysteries of creativity and time."

In short, Swimme and Tucker offer a big picture of the universe and our place in its existence and progress. They call us to see beyond the social, political, and religious chaos and crises of the moment. They invite us to trust, as they do, that we are part of something wonderful--though as yet unseen--that will certainly emerge from the darkness. "If the creative energies in the heart of the universe succeeded so brilliantly in the past, we have reason to hope that such creativity will inspire us and guide us into the future."

As I bask in the good vibes of reading Journey of the Universe, a line from a Christian hymn plays at my memory: "This is holy ground. We're standing on holy ground."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Evolution of a Novel: Conception to Birth

On the morning of July 26, 2010, something entirely new and quite unexpected happened to me. But first, let me backtrack. I had already written and published five novels, the most recent, Down a Narrow Alley (2005). Since then I've turned my attention mostly to nonfiction projects, the most satisfying of which was The Wisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean (2008). This set of personal reflections on themes from Victor Hugo's classic novel have been well-received (with limited sales, my literary fate).

I had no intention of writing another novel. I thought I'd told all the stories I had in me, except for one half-finished, dead-in-the-water novel (and stories I make up for my grandson's entertainment). That's why I was surprised to wake up that July morning a year ago with a rough, but complete, narrative arc in my head, three main characters who would carry the story from beginning to end. I even had a working title,  A Train to Bruges. For the next six weeks, I continued to wake up with snippets of story and characterization, all of which I scribbled in the notebook I keep bedside, just in case (rarely) I  think of something brilliant during the night.*

As always, writing the first draft was exhilarating. My dreamed-up characters came to life. My villain was sufficiently evil. Best of all, I knew from Day 1 how the story would end. Studying the completed draft, I realized as many novelists do in that situation, that all I had in hand was a skeleton. My story needed flesh, which came only with grinding effort through subsequent drafts, along with  whatever research I needed to make the setting and characters seem real.

By June 18, 2011, I had arrived at Draft 8.2 and could finally add the # # # symbols to indicate "The End." Somewhere along the way, my working title had yielded to the current pre-pub title, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story. Not that a novel is ever really finished as long as it's still in the author's hands. Once already, I've gone back in to add a few sentences to close an information gap that will keep the reader from wondering, "What about . . . ?" 

Now the real work begins: marketing a manuscript the book-reading world is not panting for and competing with the other million or so books being published this year. Like a lot of my colleagues of a "certain age," the question is, do I set out to find another agent (I've had three over the course of my career, but no one currently)? Or do I play my "Go Directly to Self- and E-pub" card? I'm pulled in both directions. Response to the ms. from my beta readers has been encouraging (overwhelming, in fact): "the most powerful novel I've ever read" . . . "the characters drew me as if I was attached to them by rope or chain" . . . "a powerful story" . . . "a gorgeous, romantic novel, beautiful, masterful." Heady stuff. I still haven't decided which way to go. I'll let you know which direction I take in future posts.

For a sample, click on the heading, "Work In Progress," above.

* The lined, hardcover notebook was a gift from writer-friend Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff in May 2010 for my role in helping with the California Writers Club, Mount Diablo Branch's Young Writers Contest. The notebook had rested on my night stand unused until that moment in July when I began filling its pages each morning with plot, character, and setting notes.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Declan Deane: If Jesus Returned

 [Today, I invited my dear friend, Fr. Declan Deane, who passed away from cancer last December, to share a bit of his wisdom with us. He said, "Yes, if you think it will help someone." I do, so here it is.]

 Homily of February 14, 2010

Based on the Beatitudes
(Luke 6:20-26)

So that little lecture [the Beatitudes] by Jesus has been called a series of bombshells. Another writer, G.K. Chesterton, a great English Catholic writer, said that to understand a passage like that you should learn to stand on your head, because Jesus sets the world's values upside down. And, you know at that time people did not really respond very well to Him. There might have been a huge crowd at one time, but one by one they all faded away and finally there was only a tiny little nucleus left because they were alienated by the things He said and did. And some of them turned completely against Him.

And so I asked myself the question, What would happen if Jesus came back today, February 2010? What if He did the things and said the kind of things that He did 2000 years ago? Would I follow Him? Would you? Would many people? How would we respond? So I allowed my imagination to run a little bit riot, and I thought it would go maybe something like this.

Jesus landed at SFO. He was invited to address the Commonwealth Club. The scheduled lecturer was postponed until next year; it was meant to be given by Deepak Chopra, entitled, "Finding Peace of Mind." So first thing Jesus did was He asked how much the fee was to be. And they told him $50,000. He said, "Please go out into the street and distribute it among the beggars and the homeless people."

And then in His lecture He said, "If you want to find peace of mind, avoid greed in all its forms. The best thing you can do to obtain peace of mind is to sell what you have -- your homes, your cars, your property. Give everything you have to the poor, and then you will truly find peace of mind." At the end of the lecture people came out shaking their heads a little bit in bafflement and saying, "What a strange man. He didn't have a whole lot of comfort to offer us. Perhaps we should have stuck with Deepak Chopra."

The Archbishop of San Francisco invited Jesus to dinner with all the religious leaders of the city. Jesus said He would be happy to go to the dinner the next evening, but that this evening He had a prior commitment. He planned to dine at a restaurant in the Castro with friends from the gay and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. He invited the religious leaders to join Him, but they politely declined.

From then on Jesus was picketed wherever He went by members of the Christian Coalition. They carried banners saying, "This cannot be the Messiah. He welcomes sinners and dines with them." Jesus visited San Quentin prison, and He called a press conference and stated, "All human life is sacred, from the unborn child in the womb to my humble friends on death row. Each one of them has an angel that worships day and night before My Father in heaven."

By the things He said and did Jesus alienated both liberals and conservatives. Day by day the numbers of His followers decreased. But among those followers were some faithful women who seldom left Jesus' side. Their presence was a great boon to the hoard of paparazzi who trail Jesus everywhere. The Papal Nuncio approached Jesus and tactfully suggested that He might invite the women to go home. "They are giving a bad impression," he said. "People are beginning to say that women can play as important a part in Your community as men." To which Jesus replied, "Have you not read what my servant Paul wrote, 'In Christ there is neither male nor female, but all are one in Him'?"

Later that week it was announced that Jesus was being investigated by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As Jesus walked along the street, there were always crowds surrounding him. And one day a man who was identified as a leading member of the Mafia -- in fact, he was commonly referred to as the godfather. He was very eager to see Jesus. But being short of stature, he climbed up into a tree. Jesus walked past, looked up, saw him and said, "Come down, godfather. I plan to dine at your house today." Delightedly, the godfather invited all his friends to his mansion. FBI agents went up and down [the street], recording the license plates. At the end of the meal the godfather rose and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement to make. Here and now I have decided to give half of everything that I own to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone -- and regrettably I have -- I am going to repay them fourfold." Jesus smiled and said, "Salvation has come to this house because you too are a child of God." 

Next day, the San Francisco Chronicle carried a banner headline and it said, "Jesus Loves Crime Baron." Many politicians now jumped on the opportunity to denounce Jesus as a dangerous radical. And everywhere He went He was shadowed by weary local and federal agents.

Finally one day He was accosted by a Muslim, a wealthy man, who had a sick servant. "Sir," he said, "I am not a Christian myself, but I can tell that you are from God. Now, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Say but the word and my servant will be healed." Jesus said to him, "Your servant is healed as of this very moment." And then He turned to the crowd and said, "This man has more faith than all the Christians I have met." This was the crowning blow for many people. Jesus was warned that His life was in danger and He was forced to flee to another place.

So that's how I allowed my imagination to roam free. Maybe it'd be a little bit like that if Jesus returned. Certainly, it's imaginable that He would have done and said much the same things as He did when He was here 2000 years ago.

And the question then arises, how would you and I respond? Would we give Him praise, and blessing and honor, or would we, like the majority of people, either drift away or turn against Him? So let's take a few moments of silence to ask ourselves the question: "How would you and I respond to someone so wonderfully disconcerting as Jesus of Nazareth?"