It looks like I've discovered a new favorite author this year. In January I read Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo, a humorous novel that builds bridges between people of different faiths. The guru, Rinpoche, who answers questions about the meaning of life while sharing breakfast with the protagonist, Otto Ringling, is not actually Buddhist, and encourages his students to embrace a more inclusive, universal spirituality.
The second book I have read by Merullo is Vatican Waltz, which I like even better than Breakfast. In this novel the protagonist is a young Catholic woman, Cynthia Piantedosi, whose deep spiritual life leads her to the understanding that one does not need to adhere to any particular religion in order to know God. As she says at the outset of her story: "The God I imagine and worship, the Being I give thanks to for every breath and pulse, doesn't care as much about labels as about love; and my style of prayer isn't so much about asking for things (though I sometimes ask) as it is about searching, in an interior silence, for my truest self, my reason for being here, in this place, in this body, at this particular point in the endless sweep of time. I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, and to this day I hold a good deal of reverence for those rituals and beliefs, but my story is really about what happened as that label fell away, as I found the courage to un-name God, as I came, so slowly, to understand who I really am."
From there, the story of Cynthia's life unfolds. Most of the novels I read involve romance, but there is no romance in this young woman's life. Her deep love is for God, with whom she spends hours of devotion every day. For her adoration she receives the visions that send her on a journey of danger, intrigue, and discovery. I won't give away the plot, which will keep you turning the pages, but for the purpose of our building bridges theme, I will say that Cynthias' story testifies to the common bond of truly spiritual people who see beyond the rules of particular churches and religions. She echos my feelings about leaving the Christian Church when she thinks: "Why be a Catholic or Protestant or Jew or anything else with a label and rules? Why not . . . just lead a simple life of prayer and work, try to love, try to give, and not do anything at all that separated me from other people?"
I used to have a deep longing to find the one church or spiritual organization where I would feel completely at home and totally in sync with its teachings and practices. After a lifetime of exploring different paths, I came to the realization that there is no system of belief that I can claim as the ONE I want to follow. And I have decided that I prefer it this way, because I agree with Cynthia that labels separate us from one another, and separation creates misunderstanding and discord. Of course I realize that it's not Cynthia, but her creator, Roland Merullo, with whom I feel a deep connection. I highly recommend his books for bridge building inspiration.