Karen Armstrong begins this spellbinding story of her spiritual journey with her departure in 1969 from the Roman Catholic convent she had entered seven years before--hoping, but ultimately failing, to find God. She knew almost nothing of the changed world to which she was returning, and she was tormented by panic attacks and inexplicable seizures.
Armstrong's struggle against despair was further fueled by a string of discouragements--failed spirituality, doctorate, and jobs; fruitless dealings with psychiatrists. Finally, in 1976, she was diagnosed with epilepsy, given proper treatment, and released from her "private hell." She then began the writing career that would become her true calling, and as she focused on the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, her own inner story began to emerge. Without realizing it, she had embarked on a spiritual quest, and through it she would eventually experience moments of transcendence--the profound fulfillment that she had not found in long hours of prayer as a young nun.
Powerfully engaging, often heartbreaking, but lit with bursts of humor, The Spiral Staircase is an extraordinary history of self.
In 1962, British writer Armstrong (The Battle for God, etc.) entered a Roman Catholic convent, smitten by the desire to "find God." She was 17 years old at the time--too young, she recognizes now, to have made such a momentous decision. Armstrong's 1981 memoir Through the Narrow Gate described her frustrating, lonely experience of cloistered life and her decision, at 24, to renounce her vows. In its sequel, Beginning the World (1983), she tried to explain her readjustment to the secular world--and failed. "It is the worst book I have ever written," she declares in the preface to this new volume: "it was far too soon to write about those years"; "it was not a truthful account"; "I was told to present myself in as positive and lively a light as possible." The true story, which she relates in this second sequel, was far more conflicted and intellectually vibrant. Her departure from the convent, she writes, actually made her quite sad; she was "constantly wracked by a very great regret" and suffering on top of it with the symptoms of undiagnosed temporal lobe epilepsy. How she emerged from such darkness to make a career as a writer whose books honor spiritual concerns while maintaining intellectual freedom and rigor--this is Armstrong's real concern, and the one that will be of most interest to the fans of her many acclaimed works.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 21, 2005
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