Over the weekend, between bouts of sunburnt gardening, I finally got around to reading Karen Armstrong’s autobiography The Spiral Staircase. It was as glorious as the sun on my back and as strong as the pugnacious weeds the landlord insisted I remove. Just a couple of my favourite passages:
Ms Armstrong on solitude and silence:
At first this silence had seemed a deprivation, a symbol of an unwanted isolation. I had resented the solitude of my life and fought it. But gradually the enveloping quiet became a positive element, almost a presence, which settled comfortably and caressingly around me like a soft shawl. It seemed to hum, gently but melodiously, and to orchestrate the ideas that I was contending with, until they started to sing too, to vibrate and reveal an unexpected resonance. After a time I found that I could almost listen to the silence, which had a dimension all of its own…Without the distraction of constant conversation, the words on the page began to speak directly to my inner self. They were no longer expressing ideas that were simply interesting intellectually, but were talking directly to my own yearning and perplexity. I was no longer just grabbing concepts and facts from my books, using them as fodder for the next interview, but learning to listen to the deeper meaning that lay quietly and ineffably beyond them. Silence itself had become my teacher.
This, of course, is how we should approach religious discourse.
On her desire to know God:
I had been expecting the thick mist to part, just a little, and had not really known, with every fibre of my being, that I would never know, that I would never see clearly. I was still hankering for ‘the one veritable transitory power’.
And yet the very absence I felt so acutely was paradoxically a presence in my life. When you miss somebody very intensely, they are, in a sense, with you all the time. They often fill your mind and heart more than they do when they are physically present.
As I read these lines I opened, time stopped and the world fell away and I was transported once again into the eternal. It was so wonderful and glorious and impossible to describe. I can only quote poetry to explain:
There is all around us
of original fire.
You know what I mean.