THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE by Karen Armstrong

We will be meeting this month on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of December at the home of Linda Palmason 3022 Westridge Blvd at 2pm.  All are invited for these discussions.

In the lucid yet reflective manner that is Armstrong’s trademark, The Spiral Staircase recalls her painful early life as a nun, her even more painful reentry into secular society, and most compellingly, the long-undiagnosed epilepsy that made her life a horror show of phantom visions and misplaced hours.

We follow Armstrong to the Middle East and elsewhere as she searches for answers to questions no less daunting than the significance of faith. Yet what drives Armstrong is her distaste for and distrust of those who see only black or white, never shades of grey. “I disliked the crusading certainty of Ayatollah Khomeini, yet I was also disturbed by the shrill rhetoric of some of Rushdie’s champions,” she writes in the wake of debate over Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and the ensuing fatwa issued by the extremists on the Islamic right. Indeed, as religious dogma divides the world in ever new ways, Armstrong’s learned views are especially resonant.

But The Spiral Staircase, its name inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem cycle Ash-Wednesday, is not a polemic, despite Armstrong’s forceful and persuasive arguments for religious tolerance. Rather, it’s a beautiful letter sent by a gifted writer attempting to decode the meaning of her life. Who can’t relate? –Kim Hughes