Book Review: Roll Around Heaven

Author: Jessica Maxwell
Publisher: Atria Books
Book Publication: 2009

Roll Around Heaven is Jessica Maxwell’s personal tale of the unpredictable path to spiritual enlightenment. Maxwell, an adventure writer by trade, finds herself immersed in an increasingly spiritual world, initially against her own will, after she sees a vision of her recently deceased father’s face in the sky. This is the first spiritually awakened moment that we witness along with our narrator, who, it turns out, perhaps should have seen the influx of spiritual incidents coming, based on some pretty crazy past events she eventually remembers to tell us about.

From here, Maxwell, whose parents’ negative experiences with religion have left her more than a little skeptical of its influence, is met with one spiritual experience after another. A guest speaker she enlists for her creative writing class, a pig farmer no less, turns out to be her spiritual teacher, providing her with the encouragement she needs in the initial stages when she’s terrified of what her spiritual experiences could possibly mean.

She can’t comprehend why she’s been chosen to undertake this journey but, as she points out in her introduction, “The most important point of sharing my story is to prove that ‘God experiences’ are not the territory of the lucky or the spiritually gifted or the superreligious – they are the birthright of us all.”

Maxwell’s off-the-cuff explanations of these events are always amusing – she starts off her story by saying that “the spiritual path ain’t for sissies” after all – and the manner in which she relentlessly questions the occurrences makes her story feel that much more believable. Because, let’s face it, there are some pretty unbelievable stories in this novel.

It’s encouraging to read how a spiritually-inept woman can become wise to the spiritual world, but it’s perhaps hard to imagine that anyone’s spiritual journey can be as intense and perfectly-executed as Maxwell’s. This is a woman who not only sees visions, but also detects the auras of professional baseball players, dines with Deepak Chopra, ends up on a nerdy dance floor with Stephen Hawking, and gets insulted by famous spiritual masters.

She calls on Jesus to cure her sore throat, but when she calls on every religious entity she can think of in order to cure a paralyzed little squirrel, and it actually works, that’s a whole different story. This is clearly not your average spiritual adventure.

But, while some of her experiences are awfully unlikely, it’s her tales of finding perfect clarity that are the most inspiring, especially when it comes to her romantic life. Again she protests a lot, but it all seems to unfold with such perfect and amazing ease. She receives signs from higher powers telling her that she needs to get out of relationships that aren’t providing her with what she needs, and is finally able to find the person she’s looking for in the church, of all places.

Maxwell’s initial skepticism is more hilarious and relatable, but her authoritative and lucid tone at the end of the novel speaks volumes to the sort of transformation that can take place. The woman who didn’t know what the Holy Spirit was at the beginning of the novel is, years later, doing psychic readings for women she doesn’t know in spas. What Maxwell really wants us to take away from this reading experience is that, if we truly open ourselves up to the spiritual realm and are attuned to what it’s trying to tell us, we can become the masters of our own spiritual worlds.

But the big problem that Maxwell sees is: “How on earth do you convince people that they might have more control over their lives – and even their physical and emotional health – than they ever imagined? Or that prayer and meditation give you the best possible immunity from the Gray side?”

Well, it looks like she found the answer – you tell them all about your own spiritual journey, and hope that it inspires them to take their own. And she’s on to something there, because you like Maxwell and you want to know what’s going to happen to her, but more than anything else, you want your own spiritual pilgrimage to unfold in as choreographed a manner as hers has.

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