A wide-ranging tale examines the long spiritual history of humanity.
Benedicta, the beautiful, aristocratic mother of Francis, the young seeker in Livingston’s debut book, lies on her deathbed when she bequeaths to her son a collection of old scrolls. Each one is a journal recording a different part of Benedicta’s life—and the diverse people, representing various religious and spiritual practices, she met along the way. The journals tell the story of her trips—they’re full of travelogue-style details—and of the unplanned insights she gained in the far-flung places she visited, learning about the religions of each place from the people she met there. A teacher in Jerusalem named Abraham Joshua Hirsch tells her about Judaism; a Franciscan monk named Giuseppe talks about Christianity; a young businessman named Ravi Kumar explains Hinduism (and she discovers a great deal about India’s other religions from a knowledgeable chauffeur in New Delhi named Sita Rom); an Australian Aboriginal elder named Freddy instructs her in the ancient spiritual ways of his people; in Cairo she learns about Islam from the story of Ali Mohammed al-Mirsi. In each case, Livingston subordinates the personal to the informational; the characters throughout are mostly mouthpieces for researched facts, although the author presents that material so smoothly that readers will likely be caught up just the same. The many differences in all the systems of belief Benedicta encounters are laid out clearly, and the curiosity of the character herself tends to tease out the commonalities Livingston clearly wants to highlight. “There is only one type of Spirituality in the world,” readers are told. “It provides an inner ear for the inner voice we all have.” The book draws a sharp distinction between religion and spirituality, stressing that the former causes hatred and fear, while the latter encourages peace and love. The nature of these observations tends to be obscured rather than enhanced by the thin fictional narrative that overlays them, but the reflections themselves should be appealing to any student of comparative religion.
An engaging walking tour of the world’s most powerful beliefs and what they share.