This remains one of my favourite quotes. There is so much wisdom in it, especially in these fractious and intolerant times……
“….in this journey of the spirit, I and others still walk that steep uphill road….And all our religious edifices, which serve first as staffs to help us on our way, in the end become crutches which we must discard….And the doctrines which we espouse and which we hold dear are only smooth shining stones which we pick up on the road and place in our baggage. With each new dogma and doctrine, the baggage grows heavier, until we discard these pebbles, one by one, leaving them on the roadside for others to find and carry a little further. And in the end we have need of neither doctrine nor creed, nor to name that which we worship – for it is beyond all image and words….”
What a wonderfully well-written and stimulating read! “The Spiral Staircase” charts Karen Armstrong’s slow process of emerging from an alienating experience of nun-hood, with her human ability to relate damaged, and without a sense of connection with God as depicted by conventional Christianity.
This is a brave book: it is very honest, humorous, and inspiring. Armstrong also provides a tough and unsparing critique of the structures of formal religion and conventional psychiatry. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of an outsider, gradually finding her unique place in the secular world – in a career talking and writing about God….
We all struggle to a greater or lesser extent with the twin challenges of self-acceptance and finding our place. In concluding “The Spiral Staircase” , Karen Armstrong has this to say on those crucial topics:
“My life has kept changing, but at the same time I have found myself revolving round and round the same themes, the same issues, and even repeating the same mistakes. I tried to break away from the convent but I still live alone, spend my days in silence, and am almost wholly occupied in writing, thinking, and speaking about God and spirituality. I have come full circle. This reminds me of the staircase in (T.S.) Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, which I picture as a narrow spiral staircase. I tried to get off it and join others on what seemed to me to be a broad, noble flight of steps, thronged with people. But I kept falling off, and when I went back to my own twisting stairwell I found a fulfilment that I had not expected. Now I have to mount my staircase alone. And as I go up, step by step, I am turning, again, round and round, apparently covering little ground, but climbing upwards, I hope, towards the light.” (pp 341-2)
I derived great comfort, support and encouragement from this book – do read it!