A very enjoyable read about a nun who enters the convent at a very young age and then struggles miserably for seven years and leaves. She enters Oxford but still struggles, seemingly with mental illness, later diagnosed epilepsy. She shares her story of faith to atheism and back to faith again. This one came highly recommended by a friend and I'm glad she told me to read it. 4 stars.
If hope and faith are grounded on belief in doctrine, what happens when belief begins to crumble?
Armstrong struggles with this question and more with a recounting of the four decades of her adult spiritual life, starting in the tumult of the sixties and bringing us to the tumult of the post-9/11 world. During this time, she explores the importance of belief, doctrine, obedience, and hope in matters of faith, juxtaposing her Christian experience with personal discoveries she garnishes from Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam -- All this before the haunting backdrop of the words of T S Eliot, "Because I do not hope to turn gain / I do not hope..." (Ash Wednesday 1) Armstrong recounts her fall from faith, her climb from a personal darkness, her loss of hope, and how she later reclaimed it, becoming a world-renown religious scholar in the process.
You do not have to have enjoyed, or even read, Karen Armstrong's books on theology to find some meaning in this tale of her life after leaving the convent. I personally found her search for meaning very helpful-it resonates with me. She struggled to overcome her years in the convent but discovered those years have profoundly shaped her and let her become what she is today.
I did not exactly find this book "unputdownable", as one of the reviews inside the cover claims. I expected it to have more theological discussion, but she doesn't get into that until the last few chapters.
This is a work of a British woman who entered, then left a convent. In her subsequent life in the "secular" world, she rejects religion only to gradually drift back to it. Her new concept of religion however is far different from her convent days. It's not BELIEF in a body of dogma, but rather ACTION - living the Golden Rule...treat others only as you would treat yourself. Doctrine is not important, compassion is.
She is also the author of "A History of God".
I enjoyed the book very much! I was a nun for 21 years, and thought I left without any lingering issues....now I'm not so sure...very thought provoking. Now I'm reading History of God by KA --she's GOOD!
Kinda slow moving at the beginning, but gets better.
Karen Armstrong has written many important contemporary books on world religions. This book takes us on her personal journey. It is highly readable and provides great insight into spirituality/organized religion and how Armstrong came to her unique perspective.
I am reading another Karen Armstrong book and I wanted to know more about her. this book was very informative and gave you insight into her life and journey with God.
Review first published on my blog: http://memoriesfrombooks.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-spiral-staircase-my-climb-out-of.html
Karen Armstrong grew up Catholic and joined a convent at age 17 in 1962. She spent 7 years training to be a nun and then made the difficult decision to leave the convent in 1969. The ensuing years brought trials and a whole a new life, ultimately leading to her world-renowned work as a comparative theologian.
This memoir is the story of her decision to leave the convent and what came after. It includes reflections on what brought her to become a nun, her life at the convent, what caused her to leave, her adjustment to life outside the convent, and her long struggle with an unidentified illness (ultimately diagnosed as epilepsy).
The title, The Spiral Staircase, is a reference to a T. S. Eliot sequence of poems that speaks about the journey of spiritual recovery. It speaks about one who has lacked faith but who find his or her way towards God. The spiral is the lack of a clear path, the seeming repetition of choices and mistakes, the seeming lack of movement at times, but at the end of it all, a progress upwards. Karen Armstrong uses the poem and the image of the spiral staircase as symbols of her own journey.
What comes through clearly in the book are many of the negative aspects of convent life that caused Karen Armstrong to leave the convent life and also the turmoil that the decision entailed. The "outside" world was not what she expected. The life she found was not the one she expected. Positive and negative emotions intermingle throughout the book. The confusion and the questions come through ranging from the spiritual ones to the physical ones of her illness. The struggles sometimes lend the book a sad and negative tone. The reader is ultimately left with the idea that each person must travel his or her own individual path. There are no easy answers.
Prior to reading this book, I did not realize that this is the third memoir that Karen Armstrong has written. The first, Through the Narrow Gate, describes her years in the convent and was originally published in 1982 about twelve years after she left the convent. The second, Beginning the World, talks about her transition out of the convent and was originally published in 1983. According to the author herself, "It is the worst book I have ever written and I am thankful to say that it has long been out of print." This book, The Spiral Staircase was originally published in 2004 and is essentially another look at the the same time period covered in Beginning the World. A do-over, if you will.
In the preface to this book, Karen Armstrong explains why she felt the book Beginning the World needed re-writing. "It was not a truthful account. This was not because the events I recounted did not happen, but because the book did not tell the whole story ... It was an exercise in wish fulfillment, and predictably, the result was quite awful."
I completely understand that our view of the world and our own past changes with time, age, maturity and distance. However, the statement in the introduction to a memoir raises for a question of credibility. If the books reflect a different outlook at a different point in time, what gives one greater credibility over the other. What makes one "awful" and the other more reflective of the truth other than a change in perspective?
I have enormous respect for Karen Armstrong's knowledge and her work in promoting a world of mutual understanding and respect between different faiths. That is the main reason I wanted to read the memoir. That respect remains unchanged after reading this book, but the inspiration I was hoping to find in her personal story was not there for me.
*** Reviewed for the GoodReads First Read program ***
a nun's life and the crisis of faith
Karen Armstrong, author of The History of God, recants her personal journey from her beginnings as a nun, her illness of epilepsy, and her path to God after leaving her life as a nun. Very inspirational.
Good book to read after Armstrong's autobiographical "Through the Narrow Gate" - good follow up. Interesting transition and aftermath for this nun upon leaving the convent. True story.
A very intense book, follow up to Through the Narrow Gate.
Excellent book by an exceptional woman who overcame many difficulties to become a major academic authority on religion. She is an interesting writer and her life has been remarkable.
very interesting story of her life change from nun to author
The life and philosophy of an ex-Catholic nun who became a theologian.
National Bestseller Only a remarkable life course could transform a devout nun into a sophisticated iconoclast. Armstrong here recounts precisely such a journey with an unflinching honesty that exposes unanticipated ironies in her personal metamorphosis. Thus the embittered nun who repudiated religion when she abandoned the convent now wryly contemplates her professional status as a writer passionately attracted to religion and personally devoted to a regimen of silent reflection strikingly similar to that of religious orders. To be sure, Armstrong maintains her distance from Christian orthodoxy and still recalls her convent years as deeply painful. But taking her title metaphor from poet T. S. Eliot, Armstrong views all of the wrenching reversals of her life--including not only the spiritual trauma of renouncing religious vows but also the psychological distress of dealing with misdiagnosed epilepsy and the academic disappointment of failing to win her doctorate--as parts of a coherent pattern of gradual enlightenment. Though that enlightenment has left Armstrong far from orthodoxy, it has awakened in her a new appreciation for the moral teachings of Jesus and--much to her surprise--even a profound sympathy for St. Paul. This enlightenment has also led Armstrong to explore the spiritual riches of Islam and Buddhism, so deepening her awareness of interfaith parallels. Even among readers who embrace doctrines Armstrong dismisses (such as the reality of a personal God), this candid memoir will clarify thinking about the search for the sacred.