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Toward the Light

Just finished reading The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness by Karen Armstrong. Though I enjoyed the entire book, the last chapter was my favorite. It is in this chapter that she summarizes her newfound understanding of religion and culture, and explains how her study of theology in preparation to write A History of God was in part a spiritual practice, which then transformed her. Prior to that chapter she weaves her life story into modern world history, leaving me feeling more educated, if still alarmed, about what is happening.

I thoroughly recommend this read to anyone who is interested in peace, tolerance, or spirituality, regardless of their originating traditions or inculturated beliefs. I don't want to say too much about it and spoil the story....but I will say that I am adding several of Armstrong's books to my reading list.

I want to include a couple quotes from the book, this one I think is central:

The great myths show that when you follow somebody else's path, you go astray. The hero has to set off by himself, leaving the old world and the old ways behind. He must venture into the darkness of the unknown, where there is no map and no clear route. He must fight his own monsters, not somebody else's, explore his own labyrinth, and endure his own ordeal before he can find what is missing in his life. Thus transfigured, he (or she) can bring something of value to the world that has been left behind. But if the knight finds himself riding along an already established track, he is simply following in somebody else's footsteps and will not have an adventure. In the words of the Old French text of The Quest of the Holy Grail, if he wants to succeed, he must enter the forest "at a point that he, himself, had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no path." The wasteland in the Grail legend is a place where people live inauthentic lives, blindly following the norms of their society and doing only what other people expect.
(page 268)

... The events of September 11 were a dark epiphany, a terrible revelation of what life is like if we do not recognize the sacredness of all human beings, even our enemies. Maybe the only revelation we can hope for now is an experience of absence and emptiness. We have seen too much religious certainty recently. Maybe this is a time for honest, searching doubt, repentance, and a yearning for holiness in a world that has lost its bearings.
(page 303)

Other notes on spirituality:
--centrality of practical compassion in all worthy religious teachings
--the failure of fundamentalism as being the sacrifice of compassion and emphasis on belligerent rightness
--sacredness of all human life, including the lives of one's enemies
--ritual as a route to spirit
--silence as a necessity for awareness of God as the ground of all being
--study of sacred text as readings with contemplation, not academic mining for facts
--failure of Western society's attempts to find God because it has become too scientific/academic and has discredited mysticism and myth

Comments

liveonearth
Jul. 3rd, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)
Based on this comment, I think you will find Armstrong's path especially amazing. She went through a long period of feeling much as you do, after her convent years. She could not find God as it was taught to her by western Christianity, and only later and somewhat by accident discovered that perhaps there is something sacred, it is just different from what she was taught.

She also had some very interesting experiences with a medical condition that went undiagnosed for a very long time. The way she writes is so authentic and non-judgmental that I think just about anyone can appreciate what she has to say.

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