“Thank God for David and for the creek. They said the cold water probably saved your life. David called in a Lifeflight helicopter and covered you with a blanket. He stayed with you the whole time. They got you down here to St. Luke’s but you were in a coma by then. That was four months ago. Four months. The doctors are shocked that you made it at all. You were a mess. The whole left side of your body was shattered, ribs, arm, pelvis. The burns were bad but they were more worried about the skull fracture. They kept testing you for brain wave activity and every time they were amazed by the results. Even though you were deep in a coma, they said it was like you were living a parallel life somewhere else.”
-Jacob Nordby from the Epilogue of his book
The Divine Arsonist: A Tale of Awakening
This isn’t the sort of book I normally read but somehow Jacob Nordby ended up being my “friend” on Facebook, and his book “Divine Arsonist” keeps coming up in my Facebook updates. I don’t really know how we got to be “friends” on Facebook (I’ve never met him) except that we both live near Boise and we’re both published authors.
I’m generally skeptical of self-help books or texts that purport to show some sort of inner truth or secret meaning to life, but in the back of my brain, every time “Divine Arsonist” appeared in my web browser, I couldn’t shake a twinge of curiosity. Also, I remember part of a transaction I had with Nordby on Facebook. I don’t remember the conversation specifically, but I do remember him gently chiding me about the “path” I’m on, referring to my faith. So I was curious about his particular path.
And I review books.
I normally receive complementary copies of the books I review from the publisher but this time I purchased a kindle edition, which was very inexpensive. I thought I’d shoot through the text rather effortlessly, but I had to really make myself read his book, and I found myself fighting the temptation to abandon it about halfway through.
I don’t want to be unfair. If this book is the result of Nordby being the victim of a hit-and-run car accident in which he was terribly hurt, and if he has suffered all of the misfortunes the Epilogue of his book records, then I have nothing but compassion for him and his family, and I do not want to make light of his experiences. And yet, so much of his book of spiritual allegory is presented as part of his lived experience, I don’t know where his actual life stops and all the fiction begins.
So what did I think of his book?
The Divine Arsonist is the story of a businessman who worked hard to climb the ladder of success only to have something whisper to him that perhaps there was something more to discover. This is his journey of discovery told in a blend of the personal story and fiction. It immediately spoke to me of the question: When do we start dreaming a new dream for ourselves and our world? The old ways are burning us out. That’s where Jacob is at the beginning of his journey. There are so many elements of a shamanic journey, vision quest or hero’s journey from old mythology: meeting spiritual guides, being challenged to endure rites of passage, time in the wilderness, facing the shadow and opening to all the levels of reality beyond our day-to-day “get it done” consciousness. The writing is luscious, descriptive and an easy read. I could have easily read it in one sitting but I forced myself to turn off the light at night and savor it over the course of several bedtime reading sessions. There are beautiful teachings that you want to grab the highlighter to remember.
Jacob’s journey toward finding his light is an invitation or challenge to go on your own journey, to claim your own light. It is a tale that reminds us that life is short and that we are choosing the world we live in right now with each thought and each action we take. It is a story that reminds us that sometimes we have to let go of everything that we think we know to become the person we came to earth to be. Even though I’ve had my own awakening moments, Jacob’s writing made me want to commit to living them on an even deeper level. Isn’t that what we want a spiritual book to do?
Amazon review by Carol Woodliff
I don’t normally look at the other reviews of a book I intend on reviewing, but after finishing Nordby’s book, I thought I must be missing something. Woodliff’s review is typical of the overwhelming amount of praise “Divine Arsonist” has received, at least on Amazon. So why aren’t I “wowed” too?
“So, back to your book. Emerson said ‘make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of triumph out of Shakespeare, Seneca, Moses, John and Paul.'”
-Nordby, Chapter Ten
Those few sentences really tell you everything you need to know about the philosophy that Nordby relates in “Divine Arsonist.” The essence is to not rely on any single truth such as, for example, Christianity or Taoism, but to derive truths from whatever seems to touch you as a truth. While Nordby’s story relies on external “guides” such as Lucius and Jack to assist the author on his spiritual journey, the truths that seem to come out in the end are truths that matter most to Nordby…or presumably anyone on a similar path. It’s what you would expect of a person taking different elements from a wide variety of world religions and philosophies and weaving them into what looks, sounds, and feels right to that individual…a completely, subjectively constructed set of truths.
Although Nordby only mentions the works of Carlos Castaneda in passing, the experiences he relates reminds me of how Castaneda’s “Don Juan” series has been described to me (I’ve been meaning to read Castaneda for years but never got around to it). I guess that’s what impresses me the most, or fails to impress me, about “Divine Arsonist.” It seems all too derivative, all too “borrowed” from other religions to be truly insightful, let alone remarkable.
I swam through a field of unconditional love to explore the Great All-Nothing. Without effort, I was there, face to face with what could only be the Mystery of Mysteries, Yahweh, Baha, Wakan, Tanakh, Allah, Krishna, God the Father-Mother, Rah.
I have to assume that some parts of the book accurately describe Nordby’s past, and if so, then Christianity, or the part he experienced, was extremely…extreme, and restrictive, and joyless. Nordby did manage to salvage some portions of the Christian writings, but a much larger part of his philosophy is founded on nature-based religions such as different Native American beliefs. There was also a fair amount of mysticism involved and I’ve spent enough time reading Kabbalah and Chassidic Tales to recognize some symbols from those sources (I should say that I doubt Nordby has actually read from Jewish mystic texts, but many mystic themes seem to travel across different disciplines).
Here’s a short sample:
Masters and ancient ones have appeared to bring the light. In earlier days men were more simple, natural. They lived with the Earth and were guided by the Great Mother’s voice.
A dual male/female god isn’t unusual, even in Judaism. In mystic thought, the Ein Sof is the powerful, creative, male force God while the Divine Presence, which descended upon the Tabernacle in the desert (see the end of the Book of Exodus) is considered feminine and nurturing.
There also seemed to be some of the eastern philosophies influencing Nordby, “surrendering the ego” and such, and though I doubt it was intentional, I caught a few references that could have been from The Matrix (1999) and even the cave scene from The Empire Strikes Back (1980), though the connections were only superficial.
“Divine Arsonist” seems to be the sort of book that would appeal to someone who is on a spiritual journey (and aren’t we all) but who doesn’t want to choose one of the pre-conceived paths. Well, not exactly, anyway. If a person isn’t attracted to a pre-existing religion or philosophical discipline, then “Divine Arsonist” offers the alternative of borrowing as much or as little from any or all of the traditions human beings have created for themselves over time. It’s actually quite appealing when seen from that light.
I don’t want to minimize the impact of all this, particular in Nordby’s life, since it is obviously quite significant.
However, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, I travel a somewhat different path, and while it isn’t entirely traditional, it is truthful to say that I rely on what I consider to be an objective and external God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a book or repository of truth and wisdom that has existed in one form or another for thousands of years. The difference for me in writing my own Bible vs. exploring the one I believe was given to us by God, is that in the former, I’m investigating merely myself and my own symbols in relation to my environment and how I perceive it, even in the spiritual realms. In the latter, I’m delving into not only my relationship with my environment but my relationship with the One, Radical, Creative, Unified, God and how He desires to relate to me.
Truth isn’t just what I decide it will be, even below the conscious level (although most humans sometimes attempt to manipulate “truth” to their own advantage), but it’s what God has decided it will be. My task is to search for truth where ever it may be found, uncover it, and let the sparks fly upward back to their source (and you’ll forgive me if I momentarily borrow from the imagery of Chassidic mysticism).
God has created a trail for each of us and in partnership with Him, we walk the trail together, not because God needs us as a companion, but because God wants unity with human beings and He desires to teach us about a relationship with Him. The problem with internally generated symbolism and meaning is that ultimately, you can never surprise yourself or learn something new. Oh I don’t doubt that it can be very beneficial in many ways.
But it’s not God.
After everything I just said about Nordby’s book, why would I read another book (or book series) that promises to reveal yet another “alternative” spirituality? Curiosity? Yes. But I also want to pursue the history and the mythos that Castaneda’s work contains. After all, Castaneda’s books are considered classics in their genre and not derivatives of previous works (as far as I know).
There is value in unfolding another’s symbolism and following the thread woven into their tapestry…just as long as you remain grounded upon a firmer foundation.