Thursday, January 10, 2008

Through the Narrow Gate

Just finished reading the most gut wrenching book by my hero Karen Armstrong. Through the Narrow Gate is her account of her decision to enter a convent at the tender age of seventeen before any of the liberalizing reforms of the Vatican II. She endured the grueling, sadistic rules (yep, there is self-flagellation in this book, believe it or not). All the rules were systematically designed to destroy individual will in an attempt to make the nun a perfect vessel for God's will. After seven years she left the convent in despair.

This book was utterly heartbreaking but also completely mesmerizing. I read the whole thing in two days, staying up way too late and even bringing it with me to the gym this morning. (You know you are enjoying a book when you are willing to read it on the stair stepper.)

I'd already read The Battle for God, which I still consider one of the most important books I've ever read. The thesis that meant so much to me in that book is also present here; when you loose compassion, you loose the most fundamental, living and valuable part of religion. Without compassion we humans are petty creatures capable of terrible things. This book looks into those dark places through the lens of one woman's experience, but emerges with hope and forgiveness. Truly beautiful and profound reading.

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