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Through the Narrow Gate by Karen Armstrong
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Through the Narrow Gate (1981)

by Karen Armstrong

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514919,733 (4.08)19
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    Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence by Rosemary Curb (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: The stories of other women who left the convent. Many of them had the same kind of crazy experiences that Karen Armstrong did.
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This moving and intimate memoir unfolds the story of a young woman in Birmingham, England who decides at age 17 to become a nun and begin the training that will prepare her to be the pure bride of Christ that she longs to be. The year is 1962 and Karen Armstrong is sure this is the right choice for her, though she knows it is breaking the hearts of her parents. Nominally good Catholics, they cannot comprehend why Karen would think this is the best choice. She has done well in school and ought to continue her education to maximize her potential. But Karen receives the encourage she needs from Mother Katherine, the nun who is principal of the school she attends.

The Order Karen chooses to join is the one where Mother Katherine trained. Karen believes a teaching ministry would be suitable to pursue, but the actual training as a Novice in the Order requires manual labor, absolute obedience and absolutely no time for reading. Actually, even thinking is discouraged because it might cause the young women to question their Superiors. Since they must obey every rule and comply with the very strict behavior code, they are told that questioning the Superior is tantamount to questioning God, the very thing they must never do.

But perhaps the greatest difficulty Karen faces deals with sublimating the flesh to embrace her spiritual life. It is the rule to eat every bite of every meal, and take second helpings of the foods she really dislikes. She really does have some serious allergies...probably lactose intolerance, but it is undiagnosed and the Superiors believe she is calling inappropriate attention to herself by getting sick all the time. And even worse, she suffers from seizures occasionally, which the Superiors believe demonstrate a weakness...the lack of self control, for which she should be seeking forgiveness!

Karen tries so hard to accept the rigid judgements of her Superiors, but she is incredibly lonely. Friendships and even conversation with the other novices are discouraged. Her strengths lie in her intelligence but the Superiors insist that she serve as a cook, a seamstress and a housekeeper, none of which she has any skills which please those who are training her. Ironically, it is in these years when Pope John XXIII is modernizing the foundations of religious life, so that nuns who follow Karen into the order are not subjugated to the rigid structure which is meant to break down "carnal self," so that only the pure spiritual self remains.

After three years of this difficult life, Karen does get the opportunity to go to Oxford, but her mundane work as a Postulant continues as usual. She is rushed and tired all the time, continuing also to have bouts with illness, but gradually begins to use her skill at critical thinking and reason.
After seven years, she decides with great difficulty that she should leave the order and return to the world. It is a world very different from the one she had left...she missed the turbulent 60's, the sexual revolution, the Cuban and Viet Nam crises that were daily in the news...news she never heard as she lived her cloistered life.

It is a moving story and a journey of faith that still inspires. It serves as a warning to religious leaders who draw the lines much more rigidly than Christ himself did and insist that others must stay within the lines or perish. ( )
  vcg610 | May 30, 2014 |
Comments on Reread September 2011: Have I really read this book only twice? It has lost none of its power to enthral me even though I am, I hope, a more mature reader than I was in 2009. Parts of the book still move me to tears and I suspect always will. In this reading, however, I also found smiles (although not laughter) and know that Ms Armstrong's trip to Marks & Spencer is not the end of the story.
  notjustlaura | Oct 4, 2011 |
I found this book to be very touching as well as very detailed. When I reached the end, I wanted to read more, so her sequel is on my TBR list.
  medievalmama | Jul 24, 2008 |
This is the first thing I've read by Karen Armstrong. I'm always fascinated by stories about the religious life. In this memoir, Armstrong tells the story of how she entered a convent at age 17, the details of her life there, and how she eventually left.
  Lindsayg | Jun 14, 2008 |
Very beautiful and moving book memoir of the authors time in a convent in the 1960s. It was a very hard life and the book makes this clear, but also makes clear the reasons people are willing to stay in the religious life, and the inner battle when they decide to leave. Really worth the read.
1 vote Kiora | Mar 8, 2007 |
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Epigraph
Enter by the narrow gate, since the gate that leads to perdition is wide, and the road spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that lead to life, and only a few find it. -Matthew 7:12
Dedication
In memory of my father
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It was 14 September 1962, the most important day of my life.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312340958, Paperback)

Through the Narrow Gate is Karen Armstrong's intimate memoir of life inside a Catholic convent. With refreshing honesty and clarity, the book takes readers on a revelatory adventure that begins with Armstrong's decision in the course of her spiritual training offers a fascinating view into a shrouded religious life, and a vivid, moving account of the spiritual coming age of one of our most loved and respected interpreters of religious.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:29 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Recounts the seven years that the author spent in a convent beginning at the age of seventeen, describing her religous doubts and spiritual struggles which led to her final recognition that she was not suited for life as a nun.

» see all 2 descriptions

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