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The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness Paperback – February 22, 2005
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“Enjoyable and deeply interesting. . . . Very rewarding.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“A story about becoming human, being recognized, finally recognizing oneself. . . . It fills the reader with hope.” –The Washington Post Book World
“Riveting. . . . It’s a pleasure to read simply because it’s honest and hopeful. . . . Armstrong is such an evocative writer.” –Newsday
“I loved this powerful and moving account, and read it nonstop.” –Elaine Pagels, author of Beyond Belief
“In . . . Armstrong’s memoir there lurks wisdom about the making and remaking of a life . . . from which all of us could learn.” –The New York Times Book Review
“A powerful memoir. . . . Buoyed by keen intelligence and unflinching self-awareness and honesty. . . . Armstrong is an engaging, energetic writer.” –The Christian Science Monitor
“Candid and compelling, and the sentences are flawless.” –The Dallas Morning News
From the Inside Flap
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. Gripping, revelatory, and inspirational, The Spiral Staircase" is an extraordinary account of an astonishing spiritual journey.
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I think everyone, especially Christians who think Christianity is the "only" way to God, would greatly benefit from this book.
After a horrific experience of seven years in a Catholic convent, Karen must re-invent herself. Through exposure to other faiths, she realizes that hers is not the only religion that has validity (and, she's actually left her former religion behind). Her passages about "certainty" of one's individual faith views are excellent: "If you are bent on proving that your own tradition alone is correct, and pour scorn on all other points of view, you are interjecting self and egotism into your study, and the texts will remain closed." (Page 288, paperback).
Like Ms. Armstrong, I have also had a similar experience with Catholicism and could identify with her turning "180 degrees" (page 166, Paperback) from a strict religious viewpoint to the secular. I, like Karen, feel free and am very grateful for the transition.
Karen gives me affirmation that I've made the right choice.
In our global society, we must must embrace all peoples of many faiths. Thank you, Karen, for your bravery.
Karen Armstrong is also the founder of Charter for Compassion.
Armstrong's candor, compassion and vulnerability are evident throughout the book. Once you finish reading it, you feel like you know the author intimately - and you do - because she allows herself to be open and vulnerable for the reader. There are times when you feel sympathy, others when you feel empathy, but you always feel the vulnerability and the humanity.
The book itself is a great read - I would classify it as nearly a page-turner. It is like watching a train wreck, but knowing that Armstrong is a preeminent author, it is also inspiring and awe provoking. In essence, the reader will find it hard to believe that Armstrong could become the woman she is given her experience - and yet it is that very experience and the humanity of it that makes the book an inspiration.