This was a very interesting, even inspiring little book. The author writes in a very simple, clear, but eloquent style, expressing her thoughts with an imagery that works well for the reader. Similar in feeling and theme to Dan Brown’s, mysterious and thrilling “Da Vinci Code”, but gentler, less violent, perhaps less controversial and more spiritual, this would be a great little book to read on a plane, on vacation or to discuss with a group, as it addresses the enigmas of life while it engages the reader in the story it is weaving.
Written in the tone of “The Celestine Prophecy”, by James Redfield, and/or “Many Lives, Many Masters”, by Brian Weiss, M.D., or “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”, by Richard Bach, this book lends more spiritual meaning to life, even as it questions the basis that Christianity and the Judeo/Christian foundation were conceived upon.
Cardinal Mario Vasili, the priest in charge of the archives at the Vatican had a vision as a young boy, which led him on the path to the church. William (Bill) Connor was unsure if which way to turn, the spiritual or the lay life, but when his dad suddenly died, he fulfilled his last wishes by entering the priesthood and giving up the woman he loved most. Sent to the Vatican, he found it difficult to navigate the politics of the priests; he is confused by the open hostility he witnesses between some of the residents there. He has difficulty getting along and so is transferred to work on the Vatican’s archives with Cardinal Vasili.
It turns out that this is fortuitous. While he is working with him, some books and papers fall from a cabinet, injuring Vasili, and when Connor steps out of the room to get help, he does not realize that something momentous has happened in his absence. When Vasili rises up from the floor, trying to recover from his injury, he discovers a secret compartment and an ancient document hidden there.
From this moment, the mystery begins and the excitement builds. He confides in the priest, Bill Connor, and together, they try to figure out what it says on the ancient scroll. It happens that Bill talks nightly, on the internet, to a group representing various religious backgrounds, called “Common Ground”. The group is reminiscent of the real life face to face meetings held by the three women who wrote “The Faith Club”, Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner. They banded together to try and find common ground for people of different religious and cultural backgrounds, to bring about greater harmony in the world. They themselves represented Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In Bill’s group, they also included a fourth member, someone who was a non-believer in any particular religion.
At first, the message of the scroll is difficult to decipher since it was written in Aramaic, an ancient language. However, soon, the message that seems to evolve is that “tuning into G-d is the path to inner peace”. Another is that “through love and forgiveness we may connect with G-d”. We discover that there is no need to fear death since we don’t really die; we grow as we live different lives until we learn how to love and forgive and then reconnect to G-d. Life is merely perception; it is the tool we use to learn what we need to know and how we need to live in order to make that most important final connection with G-d. Because some of the precepts presented in the document seem to contradict Christian Core values, there is a time of turmoil and treachery.
Overall, the book was very engaging. However, about 1/3rd of the way into it, it devolved into too much of a religious argument, and although it attempted to merge and integrate all religions as one, it actually isolated me and might isolate other readers who are not as immersed in Christianity or as focused on Jesus Christ. I almost walked away from the book, thinking it had not decided what it wanted to be, a philosophical, religious or mysterious finished product. Was it a novel with a message or a religious treatise? I decided to read on anyway, and about 2/3rds of the way into the book, the pace of the mystery really picked up, and was finally fully engaged again, wondering how the novel would end. I was pleased that the ending did not disappoint me. The author did not avoid difficult concepts, but rather she merged these concepts into a credible whole.
I do have some questions raised by the book. If life is an illusion, a place for us to grow before returning to G-d’s house, who lives in that house? Is the G-d to which we all return Jesus? If that is the ultimate message, the author may turn off many readers who cannot abide that particular belief, no matter how it is dressed, regardless of whether or not they embrace the belief that love and forgiveness is the answer to the world’s ills. While I am not religious in my faith, I am not a Jesus follower, and the book began to feel like it could only be read by someone who followed or at least was willing to see the light, and ultimately believe in Jesus, so that one day they could come home to his house. I think this issue might eliminate a vast audience. It felt as if the discussion of religion was far too repetitive to be simply for emphasis. It felt as if the author had wrapped the religious message in the mantle of a papal mystery and had used the mystery as a vehicle to deliver that message. I didn’t think the spiritual was a natural byproduct of the story but rather its main purpose.
It also raised this question, if living according to the principles of love and forgiveness promotes peace and tolerance, if this unites all religions, is it achievable or merely a utopian wish encompassing a bit of a Pollyanna attitude or wishful thinking? By becoming too involved in Jesus, I felt it reduced the impact and rather diminished the universal spiritual message by making it seem almost trite, even as it tried to encompass all religions and beliefs.
I thought that book had a better editor than I have come across recently. Unlike other books, I have recently read, the spelling and/or grammatical errors are few. Most books are spell checked and grammar checked by software rather than the human eye, therefore, mistakes are often missed if the word merely exists in the dictionary, regardless of whether a word was omitted or used incorrectly.