Representing different faiths and no faiths, yet bonded together in sadness, a small group of people gathered to say final goodbyes to the bedridden young woman as her passing neared.

Present were her divorced parents—her father, an observant Jew, and her soon-to-remarry mother, who holds alternative beliefs.  Also in attendance were her sister, an advocate of her mother’s beliefs, and the young woman’s caretaker, a fundamentalist Christian.

Joining them was Maria Bartolotta, her pastoral counselor for many years, who turned out to be a greater source of consolation on this day than anticipated.

Maria originally agreed to provide care and counseling until the young woman reached the end of this life.  The commitment deepened when, with the woman’s passing imminent, Maria was asked to compose a prayer appropriate to the occasion yet comforting to everyone in the room.

A challenging test      

Suddenly this non-sectarian minister was expected to give one transcendent voice to people whose religious views were shaped by diametrically opposed disciplines.

This call for spiritual help had to be answered to the satisfaction of everyone in the room, with each person’s particular belief taken into consideration. And that answer was needed immediately. It was a difficult call, indeed. But one that Maria heard and heeded.

Secluded for a short time in what she described as “sacred space,” she quickly created a prayer that expressed the group’s “one-size-fits-all” requirement with the clarity, humility and, most important, the sincerity the moment deserved.

Appreciation was unanimous. So was the gratitude of a group of people—highly diverse in belief systems, yet perfectly comfortable with each other in prayer. Maria’s prayer.

We can also underline the word “appreciation.” For not long after her daughter’s passing, her mother asked Maria to officiate at her upcoming wedding. Maria, who had comforted the young woman to the end, accepted the invitation.

A long history of caring

Maria sees the gathering’s request for a prayer as “both a challenge and a special opportunity to be of help. I simply could not ignore it. My training developed in me the capacity to do the work. I gladly supplied the will.”

Pastoral counselors are trained to utilize both spirituality and psychotherapy when treating mental, physical and emotional health problems. This branch of counseling is made up of clergymen, clergywomen and laypersons of all faiths—or of none.  Due to its inclusive nature, pastoral counseling was tailor-made for Maria Bartolotta.

One might even call it predestined. “Since childhood, I have felt a certain energy flowing through my body. Growing up on Long Island in New York, I knew intuitively that the feeling had something to do with my ultimate career, even though what I now do for a living did not even exist at that time,” she pointed out.

The wonders of Qi

According to people around the world—in and out of the medical profession—the energy she intuitively felt then and understands so well now is instrumental in helping people. It is known as life energy, a centuries-old cornerstone of medicine in the Far East and several other cultures. Life energy is referred to as Qi, Chi, Prahna and several other names, depending on the country in which it is used.

A network of pathways called meridians carries the life force and its healing powers to wherever needed throughout the body.

By touching the client with her hands, Maria starts this health-giving journey and augments the vital life force while removing impediments to health in the body. “Through touching, I direct life force to the trouble spot. This is possible because touching enables me to feel a client’s pain or pressure. As a result, I can track the flow to the correct destination,” she explained.

Reflexology is another therapy that has proved helpful to Maria and her colleagues. Treatment involves directing the flow of life force by pressing pressure points at the bottom of the patient’s feet. The points are so thoroughly connected to the body they can send health-restoring life force to any afflicted body part, organ, or gland.

Maria’s home sweet spiritual home

Maria mastered these and other healing techniques after years of study, exploration and just plain caring. Her early education was twofold. She was taught by alternative teachers whose backgrounds were both medical and spiritual, as well as teachers who were skilled in regular curricula subjects from elementary through high school.

Maria enrolled in the State University of New York at Binghamton after graduating from high school in 1971. She graduated from SUNY with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1974. Next stop was Europe, where she visited family in Sicily, taught English and expanded her spiritual capabilities.

In the late 1970s, she made a move of great personal significance—to Los Angeles. “Here I discovered the non-sectarian Healing Light Center Church. This, in itself, was a blessing,” she happily remarked.

Maria enrolled in the church’s seminary program for training ministers and healers. The program is facilitated by Rev. Rosalyn Bruyere, an internationally known, highly respected practitioner in the field.

Sharing reality

Maria connected with the reverend quickly and easily. “Until I met Rosalyn, I had never known anyone who shared my reality—a reality that is one with spirituality. The first time I heard Rosalyn speak I realized that I had finally come home.”

Immersed in her studies, Maria remained at Healing Light for the next 5-1/2 years. She graduated in February 1983 with a degree in Natural Theology and Sacred Healing from The Healing Light Center Church Seminary.

The years of service begin

She was ordained a pastoral counselor in January 1984, after serving the required yearlong intern-style practice period.

As an ordained pastoral counselor, she represents a major provider of alternative health services throughout the United States. Today pastoral counseling accounts for over three million hours of treatment annually in both institutional and private settings, according to the organization Pastoral Counseling for Growth. Moreover, surveys show that seven out of ten Americans have undergone alternative therapy.

Unquestionably, increasing numbers of patients and professional caregivers are recognizing the value of alternative therapies in general and life energy therapy in particular. Meanwhile, alternative therapists continue to spread the word.

Rev. Bruyere, for example, is active in joint efforts among patients, physicians and healers. She frequently teams up with physicians to study and promote healing and health of individual patients. Without doubt, Rev. Bruyere plays a role in the worldwide trend of bridging the gap between alternative and Western medicine.

Growth and good work

Further evidence of this trend is the fact that Maria’s clientele includes people from a number of cultures and countries. Like her U.S. clients, the “offshore” group is comprised of early trauma victims.

Her door and her heart are open to members of all organized religions as well as those with no religious affiliations—atheists included. For the record, she subscribes to no organized religion. “My belief system is Pantheism, which recognizes God in everything on the planet,” she stated.

Next year marks her 30th anniversary as a pastoral counselor. More to the point, it is the beginning of her 4th decade of:

—Helping babies enter the world and seniors leave it unafraid and at peace.

—Giving hope and support to the depressed, a measure of self-respect to the drug-plagued and joy to newlyweds.

—Showing traumatized people ways to rid themselves of pain so they can sleep at night and function productively daily.

—Often paying closer attention to the turbulent lives of her clients than to the serenity of her own life.

Some people might see all this as 30 years of sacrifice. Maria would most likely look at it as three extremely rewarding decades of service. Also rewarded in numerous life-enhancing ways are the clients she has touched over the years.