The Spiral Staircase

The Spiral Staircase

My Climb Out of Darkness

Book - 2004
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Random House, Inc.
Gripping, revelatory, and inspirational, The Spiral Staircase is an extraordinary account of an astonishing spiritual journey. In 1962, at age seventeen, Karen Armstrong entered a convent, eager to meet God. After seven brutally unhappy years as a nun, she left her order to pursue English literature at Oxford. But convent life had profoundly altered her, and coping with the outside world and her expiring faith proved to be excruciating. Her deep solitude and a terrifying illness–diagnosed only years later as epilepsy—marked her forever as an outsider. In her own mind she was a complete failure: as a nun, as an academic, and as a normal woman capable of intimacy. Her future seemed very much in question until she stumbled into comparative theology. What she found, in learning, thinking, and writing about other religions, was the ecstasy and transcendence she had never felt as a nun.

Baker & Taylor
The author relates her decision to leave her convent after failing to find religious fulfillment, her struggles with depression and epilepsy, her realization of her calling, and her career working with sacred texts.

& Taylor

The author of Holy War relates her decision to leave her convent after failing to find religious fulfillment, her subsequent struggles with depression and epilepsy, her realization of her calling, and her spiritual career working with sacred texts. Reader's Guide available. Reprint. 60,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York : Knopf, 2004
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780385721271
Branch Call Number: B ARM
Characteristics: xxii, 305 p. ; 23 cm


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Aug 13, 2016

The review by Bryce Christensen captures the essence of this book by Karen Armstrong, of her reflections on the meaning of her experiences relating to religion and spirituality. I would add that Armstrong's contribution to the inter-faith dialogue is her openness in examining ideas. This attitude is similar to what the Zen Buddhist monk refers to as "beginner's mind" and an attitude fostered in Buddhism about testing ideas through one's own experiences rather than merely relying on external authorities. In p. 290 Karen Armstrong writes: "This has become my own method of study. Henceforth I tried not to dismiss an idea that seemed initially alien, but to ask repeatedly, "Why?" until, finally the doctrine, the idea or the practice became transparent and I could see the living kernel of truth within." Her arguments for compassion (the practical expression that involves both heart and mind rather than the weepy stuff) and her views in the last chapter is particularly relevant today as the world becomes further polarized by acts of terrorism.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 05, 2015

This moving story of the author’s search for God is intimate and illuminating—the spiritual odyssey of a gifted thinker and teacher. As she questions her own Catholicism she delves deeply into other religions and achieves a greater appreciation not only of Christianity, but also of Judaism and Islam. Her quest to find meaning in religion will inspire lively discussion.

Nov 30, 2010

After enjoying 'Through the narrow gate', I postponed reading this sequel about Armstrong's years outside of the convent. When I finally got to it, it proved to be unexpectedly interesting.
Armstrong first relates her problems adapting to the world, and her struggles with the symptoms of what later is diagnosed as epilepsy. Slowly, we travel trough her years in academia.
It turns out that Armstrong's 'professional career' develops in stages. For several years, she is a high school teacher; subsequently, she works with television. Finally, she starts to write.
I remember reading her 'A history of God' years ago, and it was interesting to see how she arrives at her personal ideas about God. I cannot completely agree with her views. but she does inspire me to reject any kind of theology which defines God too closely and tries to turn Him into our 'personal pal'.


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