....cloistered in a psychological as well as a physical sense.
Karen Armstrong, a woman of prodigious intellect and talent, a woman who has written seminal books on the subject of religion, goes inside her own personal experience as a cloistered nun in Through the Narrow Gate.
It's not a particularly pretty picture, this story of her seven years immersed in a life full of bleakness, medical neglect, sexual frustration, and mindless negation of intellect. For someone of Armstrong's mind-set, that last privation must have been hardest to bear. Outside the walls of the cloister, meanwhile, the chaos of the 60s was raging, making the life within more inexplicable - and ultimately, irrelevant.
There is one bright, kind, and encouraging Mother Superior, however, who provides the necessary window of light, a person who provides Armstrong with both a reason to stay and a reason to leave the convent.
It's a blessing for us that she did leave and go on to live her life as a scholar, teacher and author. It's almost an equal blessing, however, that she endured those 7 years and writes about it so poitnantly; it makes her presence in the world all the more valuable.
I admit that I was really hooked when I got to Chap 3, page 62, when each of her fellow postulants began telling how they felt about their motives for being there. Best Example: "Marie, What brings you here?" (as though we'd met accidentally at a street corner.) Marie's answer, "It's such a beautiful life." Her black eyes which usually glinted in her face like shiny currants, misted over dreamily!" On the same page comes, "I smiled vaguely ... I nodded at her sympathetically...I told myself urgently!" On one page as in other places, Sister Karen uses 10 adverbs!
Again in Chap 6, "A Nun Takes the Veil..." Karen had the joyous task of ringing the Convent Bell... When she tries to get Mother Albert to hear her problem, as Mother is rushing down the hall "impatiently, shaking her heard "crossly and says, "I can't stop now, Sister," She said firmly. "I'm terribly busy!" When Sister Karen gets the words out, "I've broken the bell." Mother Albert was laughing helplessly, "You would, wouldn't you?"
Sister Karen not only lightened up in these early chapters but she gave far more seriously disappointing times that same touch of humor...even tho she was upbraided and reprimanded by Mother Albert. In her quandaries she comes forth with adverbs like "rebelliously." At her sewing machine with no neddle, "She knelt before the Mother and said, huskily." Next her feet treadled "busily" As she repeated, "mechanically, I cannot possibly spend my time more fruitfully!" Enough to show that it all seemed to become delightfully humorous, even tho she was surely thwarted and starved intellectually and many other ways!
Hooray for such a wonderful set-up to become an internationally famous OT Professor and an awesomely ingenius writer!
Retired Chap Fred W Hood