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Analysis of the Spiral Staircase

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This assignment will deal with The Spiral Staircase as a spiritual autobiography. It will not be in the form of one composite essay, but will rather address each question separately, as has been laid out in the original question.

1. The first step of the course you came to a deeper understanding of the basic structure of spiritual accompaniment (see page 7-24 of the reader). Read the autobiography carefully. Describe the main forms of spiritual direction present in the chosen autobiography, using the triangle of the reader (pages 21 and 24)

Spiritual accompaniment, according to Ancilli's edition, "seeks to guide the person being accompanied in her or his relationship with Divine reality" (Reader 2006:14). Barry expands on this, as:

help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship (idem).

In this relationship there is an accompanist, the person being accompanied and the Divine Presence. It is incumbent on the accompanied individual to initiate this relationship, and the accompanist in turn brings in his/her insight, discernment, communication skills and experience. When "[t]he deeper layer in conversation opens up in mutual respect between [...them, and] is present, Divine light streams into the person being accompanied" (ibid:23). Thus the person being accompanied is central to this dynamic which relates to his/her search for God. The accompanist is thus an "instrument of mediation" (ibid:24)

Karen Armstrong, the author, is the person to be accompanied in this exercise. She set out on her journey with the Divine, according to her spiritual autobiography The Spiral Staircase, when she entered her convent in 1962 at the age of seventeen years, entirely of her own volition and with "unusual resolution" (Armstrong 2005:1). She tries to explain this within the milieu of the sixties, looking for external rather than internal reasons, although she does describe many of her dreams, as delineated below. Religious life appeared to be a "soft option", although she feels that had she not "wanted to find God", she "would not have lasted more than a few weeks" (ibid: 2).

She had set out to have an intimate relationship with "the infinite and ultimately satisfying mystery that we call God" (idem) but the problem was that although she is faced with this mystery in many guises, she is unable to recognise God in it. Is she "yearning for transformation"(idem) in God or just transformation? Was her journey a spiritual one because she recognises that unlike her peers, she does not have the physical makeup to take the "Rock'n'Roll" option and thus seeks the "soaring theatre" and "imagery of Catholicism" (ibid: 5) instead.

She wished to "live more authentically and "sought intensity and transformation in the life of a nun"(ibid:5-6). Sadly seven years on, she admits failure; she could not entirely subjugate the ego, nor could she abandon herself (ibid: 7). During the novitiate, she had focused

on her spiritual life - "learning about prayer and the meaning of [...their] Rule"(ibid: 10). She had planned to "develop an interior attitude of waiting permanently on God, perpetually conscious of his loving presence" (ibid: 20). Her goal was to connect with the Divine but it did not seem to be materialising.

The convent and its form seemed to represent God for her. The superiors in this institution "stood in the place of God" (ibid: 27). Ironically, when Karen left the convent, on her first day out, she responds to the form of authority that she had apparently rejected - the bell, which in the convent represented the voice of God. Her response to this 'voice' has her kissing the floor (ibid: 23). She acknowledges that it was her "failure to find God"(ibid: 25) that propelled her away from the convent rather than the rituals. And yet, what she appears to be left with are only the rituals.

She saw herself as having been a soldier of God. She was expected "to die to [...her] old sel[f... and] to become utterly pliable to the will of God" (ibid: 45). Yet through the initiation "God seemed to have gone" and in her mind was a "curious blank" (ibid: 57). She saw this as a "God-shaped gap" for God had never spoken to her (ibid: 58). Moreover she was unable to focus on Him for two minutes, seeming "allergic to God" unable to pray" thus feeling her religious life was a sham (ibid: 59-61). This allergy manifested in her body in her last year in the order and she succumbs to a breakdown(ibid: 67). With the discarding of her habit was the equivalent distancing of "beliefs and principles" (ibid: 33). Conviction was replaced by doubt.

Tennyson, through his works and Karen's response to his poetry, acts like a virtual accompanist. He remains steadfast in his belief in the Divine and thus, in this instance he acts as a form of tzaddik, "his being-there exerts the decisive influence" (Reader, op cit:13). Yet Tennyson's poetry does divert her, as with her seeing religion as a form of art. Tennyson's tension between faith and doubt further reflects her "own perplexities" (Armstrong, op cit: 113).

She questions whether God is a "mental aberration" (ibid: 80). She then posits "if there were no God" then much of her life has been nonsense (ibid: 81). Yet she acknowledges "God had never been a real presence to [...her]" (idem). Even when in Israel, she says "there was no God here...Instead there was simply a suspension of self" (ibid: 194). As a reminder almost, she says her "involvement with God [i]s well and truly over" (idem) when her sister Lindsey becomes a Buddhist. She keeps reminding the reader about this, and yet on some level, I feel that it is almost as though she is reminding herself.

One of her mirrors for this separation from God is Herbert Hart, a committed atheist, He challenges her on the veracity of the "Virgin Birth or the Trinity" (ibid: 125). Furthermore he contests the validity of the existence of Jehovah over Apollo. This reference to mythology is the first of many and seems to confuse Karen in her perception of theology.

She also blames God for Jacob's condition, yet in the next breath negates the existence of an "overseeing deity"(ibid: 134), in which she



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