Tag Archives: religion

The Lost Symbol, Or Why I Still Like Dan Brown Books

I love Dan Brown books.  I do.  Most of America agrees with me.  But I also find it fascinating that there are many people in our country who absolutely REFUSE to read his works, most specifically The Da Vinci Code.  I’ve read three of Brown’s works, Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code and most recently The Lost Symbol.

The Da Vinci Code was the book that put Dan Brown on the map, opening a door to the hidden belief that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and had children, and that their descendants walk among us.  He created popular interest in the secretive and historical groups such as the Knights Templar and Opus Dei as well as the missing gospels.  What I found fascinating about this book was that rather than seeming blasphemous toward religion, I felt it made Jesus more real.  I’ve always been someone attracted to the human side of Jesus, the fact that he was a man, that he struggled throughout life to overcome his obstacles.  Being raised a Catholic and attending Catholic school for 9 years, I remember asking my mother why the Church wouldn’t allow priests to marry?  I thought that would solve a lot of problems.  For starters, a married man can better understand the family lives of his congregation; he’s experiencing the same ups and downs that occur when you’re compromising over what’s for dinner, how to discipline the kids, who’s turn it is drive or pick up groceries, yadda yadda.  Second, it’s a smart business move.  Even when I was in elementary school, the number of men attending seminary was less and less.  Not many have the strength and devotion to choose a life of solitude and move around a lot.  Why in the last 8 years, my family’s Catholic church has had at least 4 different priests.  It seems that whenever they’ve been around long enough to know all the families, they’re sent elsewhere and another one arrives.  If priests were allowed to marry, perhaps more men would devote themselves to the ministry.  But, we’re not here to discuss my views on religion, and I won’t argue with yours.  I do think The Da Vinci Code was a fascinating read that opened my mind to the human side of religious figures.

All of the books I read star Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks in the movies.  Angels and Demons is actually the first book and again dips into the intricate and secret world of The Vatican.  Brown stirred up the press with this book discussing the underground society, The Illuminati, a group founded in the 1700’s with the conspiratorial goal of undoing the Church to find true enlightenment.

Hmm, I’m beginning to see why readers are in such a tizz.  Ok, so Dan Brown has a knack for finding and expounding upon ancient historical figures and the conspiracy theories and mysteries that surround them.  Now, this is why I think he’s a fantastic writer!  That’s adventure thriller novel gold!  The man was named one of the most influential people in 2005 by TIME magazine editors for:

“keeping the publishing industry afloat; renewed interest in Leonardo da Vinci and early Christian history; spiking tourism to Paris and Rome; a growing membership in secret societies; the ire of Cardinals in Rome; eight books denying the claims of the novel and seven guides to read along with it; a flood of historical thrillers; and a major motion picture franchise.”


I’d love to have that kind of impact on the world.  Sadly, I’m not sure I have the patience necessary.

In The Lost Symbol, Robert Langdon is back and immediately flying to Washington D.C. to present at a conference for a last minute request by his former teacher and mentor, Peter Solomon.  No sooner does he arrive, than the life threatening forces begin to swirl around him.  The bad guy is a tattooed man with a thirst for revenge and the lost word that will make him the most evil minion of the dark forces.  He’s pretty much pure evil.  The secret society of this novel is the Freemasons.  Now, the freemasons historically consisted of many of our nation’s founding members, Presidents, and Supreme Court justices.  Benjamin Franklin, a Freemason, wrote a book about them with his printing press.  Mostly tied to Christianity, the Freemasons appear to be more open-minded, referring to God in a number of manners that suggest any religion could be a part of the Freemasons.  What makes them so intriguing in this book is that Dan Brown delves into the secret and lost (perhaps?) rituals of the society.  In the opening scene, a Freemason ritual is happening where the inductee drinks wine, meant to symbolize blood, from a real human skull.  It certainly paints a different picture than what most of us know about masons, like weird hats, man lodges, and secret handshakes.

It’s no wonder Dan Brown writes about religion with intrigue.  His father was a math teacher and his mom a church organist.  He grew up with both a passion for science and religion.  He combines the two in each of his novels.  In fact, they’ve essentially become his belief system.  In a Q & A he did for The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown said:

I’m fascinated by power, especially veiled power. Shadow power. The National Security Agency. The National Reconnaissance Office. Opus Dei. The idea that everything happens for reasons we’re not quite seeing. It reminds me of religion a little. The power that religion has is that you think nothing is random: If there’s a tragedy in my life, that’s God testing me or sending me a message. That’s what conspiracy theorists do. They say, “The economy’s terrible? Oh, that’s not random. That’s a bunch of rich guys in Prague who sat down and…”

Brown originally attempted a career in the music industry and lived in L.A. for awhile.  Not fitting in, he moved east and became a teacher.  For all you starving, struggling writers out there, listen to this schedule:  When Brown decided to write a book for the first time in his life, he woke up at 4 in the morning every day, wrote until 8, then biked 12 miles to teach spanish at a grade school, biked home, showered/ate and taught English at Phillips – Exeter.  He finished his book Digital Fortress a year later.  By the way, if you want to get really creeped out about a secret eavesdropping society, check out the true event that inspired Dan Brown to write Digital Fortress, a novel centered around the National Security Agency.

Clearly I’ve expressed my profound admiration for the writer Dan Brown and his suspense novels.  If you’ve only seen the films, you’re missing out!  They have too much to tell in too short a time, and the movies almost make the story unbelievable.  The hold your breath, edge of your seat reading of his books is a much better experience!  ESPECIALLY for Angels and Demons, the book has a TOTALLY different ending, which I much prefer.

Have at it!  What’s your opinion of Dan Brown and his franchise of religious suspense novels?  Have you read his works?  What’s your favorite?  Has anyone read his earlier novels, how do they compare?  What thoughts and opinions do you have about his subject matter?  Do you ever stop on a page and wonder, you know, if it’s possible?

Coincidence? I Think Not.

For the past five months, I’ve participated in my first ever book club.  I had gone to the occasional book discussion at the library if I was interested, but I’d never been in an actual group that I committed to seeing everyone in it at least once a month.  I couldn’t be happier I did.  I’ve mentioned my totally awesome and insightful book club members before, but let me regale you with their praise once more.  Collectively, the group is made up of teachers ranging from elementary to college level, nurses, sales managers, and counselors.  I am their token young person.  I joined up when a coworker of mine invited me knowing I had been an English Major and loved to read.  The first night I met the group I couldn’t believe how welcoming they were and how they opened up the discussion to ask me my opinion on things.  I love how each member has their own unique way of relating to the book.  Myself and one other member love researching the history behind the book, why did that author have to write this story, what’s the author’s background, what is the public saying about the story.  Other members have notebooks that they jot down questions about specific scenes where they want to know the thought process behind the character.  And others come to chat and bounce ideas off of our discussions.

Get to the point, Witkins, you startin’ up a talk show or what?! 

So, over the past five months, one member had repeatedly brought up the same book title at every other book’s discussion.  Because we heard it so often, we agreed to read it.

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

The Celestine Prophecy discovers the story of a Peruvian manuscript that is said to highlight nine insights that all humans will come to understand in consecutive order.  It takes the reader along the spiritual journey of John, a man with no direction at the beginning of his story.  The first insight is the noticing of coincidences.  It is believed that human beings will start to realize the uncanny timing of occurrences in their lives, be it the people they meet, the information they need to learn, or the path they should travel.  After that, the insights build upon one another with emphasis on energy connections and self awareness.

Now, a story isn’t a good story without conflict.  This tale, being a spiritual one, has conflict when the church authorities begin hunting down the existing manuscript and confiscating any copies that may be in circuit.  They are determined to teach that the manuscript defies the one true God and the Church’s teachings.

So begins our Indiana Jones-style adventure story, following John as he learns and experiences the nine insights.

Some Background Information:

I didn’t particularly think The Celestine Prophecy was well written.  It was difficult to get through and there was simply “no fluff” in the dialogue.  It is written out very matter of fact:  John asks himself questions, John meets who he needs to meet, asks what he needs to, travels on.

However, I did like the story.  There’s something to be said about noticing coincidences, and you may call it whatever you want.  I believe there is a spiritual aspect to our lives.  How else can we explain that innate feeling we get when the phone rings and you know who’s on the other line, or when you have a dream that something bad is going to happen and a loved one dies?  What sets us apart as humans is the ability to see and read and feel each other.  But like everything else, it’s a learned skill.  We have to be open to getting to know someone.  In that sense, I think the Celestine Prophecy has a lot to offer.

But check this out!  When Redfield first attempted to publish the tale, he refused all offers because it would be additional 12-18 months of editing before publication.  Umm, isn’t that the standard?

He believed the story needed to be published now (which was in 1993), and “driven by intuition to seek [a publishing consultant from New York] he decided to self-publish the book.”  He met his wife, Salle Merrill, right after publication and the two of them basically drove around the midwest/southern part of the country handing out copies of his book out of their car trunk.  Word of mouth spread, and the book was picked up by Warner Books and published a hardcover edition in March 1994.  Now what I’m wondering is is this a prime example of social media hard at work creating the dream of a New York Times Bestseller (which Prophecy was for 3 years)?  Or is this just fodder for one man’s quest to revolutionize religion?

Machu Picchu

I did a little hunting on the local library catalogs and only 1 out of about 6 housed the book in non-fiction.  In truth, it is published as fiction.  There wasn’t a real “John” who backpacked around Peru and met up with renegade priests who taught him how to grow corn using his mind’s energy and who made his way to Machu Picchu to assist finding the ninth insight.

The book has nonetheless skyrocketed in sales, and become so popular, Redfield has written three other books, The Tenth Insight, The Secret of Shambhala, and The Twelfth Insight.  He now puts out newsletters and has written programs to help people propel forward in their own spiritual journeys.

Reading the reviews on Goodreads, the points range from one star to five.  You’ll see the recently relocated person give it two thumbs up for reminding them to take life into their own hands and make the changes they want to see, while others write angry reviews that the book is nothing more than psychobabble and a waste of time.  I’m going to stay somewhere in the middle on this.  I said before, it’s not well written, I wouldn’t recommend it for its eloquent language, but if taken for what is, a parable about how life could be, perhaps should be, with more thought to how we communicate with each other and how our own “control dramas” impact our learning, then I think it is a worthwhile read.

James Redfield

The author, James Redfield, did lead an interesting life that I think demonstrates why he would have a need to write this book.  Redfield grew up in a Methodist community-rich environment.  He did question elements of the faith and went on to study many Eastern philosophies like Taoism and Zen, while studying Sociology at Auburn University.

For 15 years he worked as a counselor for abused teens, and used methods of human potential and psychic phenomena to assist his patients.  When he left, it was to write full time and found that while writing The Celestine Prophecy, he himself underwent the kinds of phenomena described in the book that helped him put it all together.  He was given learning tools and met people who helped teach him the exact spiritual insight he was trying to write about.

Your turn!  What do you think of The Celestine Prophecy?  Have you read it?  What insight would you most want the whole human race to realize?  Have you had any coincidences in your life lately?  

Note:  I purposely didn’t include the full nine insights, so as not to spoil the book for anyone wanting to read it, but you may view the insights on Redfield’s site here

Room for Rent: Give your writing some space, for the love of God!

I’m stuffing lettuce in my face right now.  Guilt tripped after a weekend with the family, I devoured bite size bits of chocolate, ate french toast for supper, and cheesy potatoes for breakfast.  But I was leaving soon, and if I didn’t eat them for breakfast, I wouldn’t get any more!

Penitence: a light green salad, smidge of a smidge of a drizzle of caesar dressing, and Morning Star chicken nuggets with barbecue sauce and pomegranate juice.  It’s sort of like a kids meal at a fast food restaurant isn’t it, which tells you how well I prepared for this week’s resolution to eat healthier.

I swear to you, come morning, it’s back to Luna Bars and orange juice for breakfast.

Ok, Jess, distract the readers from your failings, what did you accomplish this week?

Let’s see, I relaxed. Sure that may not sound like an accomplishment, but for me, it’s not an easy thing to do.  And I bet many of you find it difficult too.  We writers can procrastinate to no end, but that’s not the same thing.  Say it with me, it’s not the same thing!  Procrastinating requires you to be doing other things when you should be doing something else more important.  But I had no immediate task to undertake.  I was free for three days to lay on the couch, watch movies with my parents, color with my niece, and read 100 pages of Jane Austen’s Emma while either in bed or in the tub.  That’s right, I took baths! To some, the notion of a bath is disgusting, as you’re sitting in the same water for so long, but I freaking love them!!!  And we have no tub at our house.  Well, we do, but it’s in my roommate’s bathroom, and I wouldn’t step a toe in that tub; it’s full of man hair and year old mold.  ylech!

I just got to hang out for a few days with my best friend, the red fleece blanket my parents call “Bette.”  Don’t ask.  I saw my dad attempt to latin dance, and my mother repeatedly fall asleep during every movie we watched.  I had my two year old niece pretending to be a monster crawl all over me growling and tell me what I thought was her monster name, “GaGaGooGi.”  Turns out, she wanted to recite “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.”  *shrug*

I also attended a church service for the first time in maybe four years, Christmas excluded.  My dad recently transferred, if you can use that verb while talking about religion, to a new church and my mom still goes to Catholic mass.  I decided to appease him and go to his service on Sunday morning.  I was a little out of my realm.  Half an hour before the service started was pure parish singing, and there were a decent number of raised arms about me.  I’m not comfortable with that.  I ventured down that path once before, and the more I got into it, the more I found out my beliefs differed from everyone elses.  Still, I admit, it was moving.  The pastor had a very moving lesson to teach us, and I applied it as fittingly as I could with my current endeavors.  The lesson essentially taught us, “God is a filler, not a forcer.”  God will never force us to do anything, but if we give him SPACE he will fill it with all his goodness.

Ok, stay with me.  I’m not about to change platforms and write about religion.  But I can appreciate situations where I feel uncomfortable.  And I can learn from them, and from those around me.  Even though my religious views don’t match my fathers, it seemed more meaningful that I go with him, and when he held my hand in prayer, I felt it shake.  So, I listened to the sermon, and I said, “Self, how can you make SPACE for your writing?  What will you allow your SPACE to be filled with?  Who will you show off your new SPACE to?  And before you can do that, what must you clear away first?”

When I opened my thoughts to my writing, and how a silly thing like SPACE could impact it, I was sort of stunned.  I think it does apply that for us to be creative and embracing of criticism and feedback, we have to open and give ourselves SPACE to hear those things.  For us to try a new idea, a new genre, a new publishing venture, we have to give ourselves SPACE to show those things.

How are you giving yourself SPACE this week?

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