Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness

Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, tells the amusing and somewhat depressing tale of her life as of 2004. Accutely self-concious and afraid of her unstable mind, Armstrong was a nun, a Ph.D. candidate, a school teacher, a biblical scholar on TV, and finally a world-renouned author and speaker. Her award-winning TED lecture is here.

Some highlights from The Spiral Staircase:
[While making a film in the holy land with a couple of local men who didn't
like small talk ...] On the first morning, while we were driving out to
the Mount of Olives, I had made another attempt at polite conversation,
twittering in my English way to fill the awkward silence. After he had
endured my pointless remarks -- "How beautiful the light is! How long have
you lived in Jerusalem, Joel? And where do you live , Danny?" --for about
ten minutes, sighing heavily and answering in curt monosyllables, Joel's
patience finally came to an end. "Karen," he growled, "if you have
something to say, say it! If not, sheket!"

[The driver Danny would drop her off at her hotel after working on the film
every day ...] Danny would drive me back to the American Colony,
screeching up to the entrance of the hotel with a flourish, clearly eager to get
rid of me and begin his own evening. "Thank you very much," I had said on
the first occasion, as I got out of the car. "What for?" [he asked] I
looked at him questionly. "Why are you thanking me? Don't thank me!
I have to drive you, whether I like it or not! It's my

[Around that time, with some Palistinian friends ...] Ahmed and three
of his mates were driving me back ... The car radio was blaring out some
tinny Arabic music, and two of the men on the backseat were drinking bottled
beer. Suddenly the music stopped, there was an announcement, and the
atmosphere in the car becamevery still. "It's the Koran," Ahmed told me
tersely, but with eager anticipation, as though he were expecting a great
treat. I was surprised. I knew that Ahmed was not a practicing
Muslim; in fact, he seemed to dislike religion. Had I been driving
in London with beer-drinking secularists and found that we were about to be
treated to a reading from the Bible on the radio, somebody would have lunged
immediately for the off button ... I listened to the the chanted
recitation as it filled the car. Periodically one of the men would make an
involuntary exclamation of delight, and soon, felling sorry for me, they tried
to include me in the experience, by translating the text into English, the words
tumbling over one another as they tried to express its complexity. ... Somehow
this scripture could still move these tough fifty-year-old men almost to tears,
even though they never went near a mosque and saw religion as the bane of the
Middle East.


Anonymous Mom said...

So are you feeling akin to Danny? Or climbing a spiral staircase? Or what?

4:20 PM  

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