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Through the Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery
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Through the Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  1,108 ratings  ·  107 reviews
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 o ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published November 15th 1994 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published January 1st 1981)
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I read this around the same time I read her The Gospel According to Woman, which I think allowed me to see how Armstrong's personal experience deeply shapes her reading of all the Christian writers she addresses in that book.
Through the Narrow Gate was a little like entering another world, and I think Armstrong does a good job of having the reader experience the sort of mind-wracking logic of religious life that she was exposed to. From what I can tell, it also seems to provide a good historical
Probably 3 1/2 stars just because I found the setting so different from anything in my experience that it is somewhat difficult to connection. This is a tragic story of Karen Armstrong joining a very austere convent in 1962 at age 17. Despite a sincere desire to dedicate her life to God, she ultimately could not continue to endure the suffering and had to leave. It was painful to watch Karen/Martha try to adapt herself full of guilt to a life that did not allow her room to develop. The story inc ...more
I have read most of Karen Armstrong's books on the history of religion and admired her combination of scholarly research and clarity. Although I realized she was once a cloistered nun, I never know her story. While Mods and Rockers were frolicking and the counter culture was ramping up in the England of the 1960's, the author was doing her best to adapt to the rules of her order. She sincerely attempted to become obedient and submissive but endured inexplicable seizures because of the internal c ...more
This book is a jewel, so rich in personal detail, so thoughtful and full of insight, so full of ideas that connect with other philosophical schools of thought beyond Catholicism.

It has been said that the first thing you must be able to do is love yourself, not in a selfish way but in a forgiving way, understanding that you are a creature of great possibility but also of great desire, need and fear.

Do we do what we do from rational thought or from innate drives and subconscious motives of which w
Pranada Comtois
I love Armstrong's books and her memoirs are especially important for several reasons. First because the world needs more woman's spiritual narratives. Second, the honesty of how a serious spiritualist faces the rituals and dogma of faith and wrestles them down within their actual life experience is edifying and can inform our own journey.

As a spiritual activist for women's rights in secular, as well as religious and spiritual, worlds, I'm grateful Armstrong is forthright. More women need to do
Having read quite a few positive accounts of nuns' lives, I decided to balance it out with a rather less positive one. Karen Armstrong entered a very strict convent in the early 60s - pre Vatican II, as many nuns have pointed out when I've told them about this book. It was an unpleasant, oppressive experience for her in many ways - full of rigid, often illogical rules and a negative atmosphere, things like being forced to eat cheese even though it made her sick, being told to sew without a needl ...more
Mel Richards
A few summers ago, I went through my own spiritual journey. Although it was nothing like Karen Armstrong's, I too fell out of love with my Christian beliefs.

Every Sunday throughout high school, I had gone to Church and prayed to God on a regular basis. Meanwhile, at my school, there had been a disabled boy who I had befriended. The better I got to know him, the less I could understand how an Omni-benevolent God could possibly allow this to occur. The pain and suffering that he was going through
Memoirs and autobiographies have never truly interested me. But with Armstrong it is another case entirely. It requires an unearthly amount of courage to write your own story. Kudos to the writer for being honest, objective and real.
Never could the concept and consequences of the utter division of the body and soul have been more beautifully and poignantly explained. Her plight wrenches the heart and completely sucks the reader into her world. The psychological workings of the human mind, the si
An extraordinary book, really. A women's journey through her teen years committed to an institution that tried to erase her humanity and failed. One learns about rules, practices and traditions in the process of becoming a nun that have no grounding in reality, or even in scripture. So many rules and customs invented long ago by misogynistic men with complete disregard for the human need for compassion, friendship, and community with others. The author struggles with these feelings and the churc ...more
Karen Armstrong is a former nun and a well-regarded writer on religious topics. This is a memoir of seven years of her life spent in a Jesuit convent. Armstrong mentions that this is a complete re-write of a book she tried earlier...but it was too bitter for publication. Her emotions are still quite raw and she paints a brutal picture of convent life as seen through the eyes of a very young, very naive, very sad candidate for the cloistered life. It's a painful book to read and some parts of it ...more
This book was interesting to me personally for generational reasons (we both became adults in the 60s, though in many ways opposite circumstances) and religious (we were both raised Catholic). She went on to be the nun I'd considered being and then she left. I never went that route and wondered. She confirmed many of my feelings about what the life would have been like. I don't think I'd ever have made it. I can't shut out doubt well enough. Still can't.

Mostly I read this in order to move on to
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 ...more
this book makes you consider making big sacrifices for a whole and total betterment of existence, but then, the reader can feel good about maintaining their ability to shower, while still submitting to something greater than oneself. the book has some lulls, but overall, is inspiring and even amidst Amrstrong's spiritual pursuit, the struggles are very natural, human and applicable to any reader.
This is a memoir of a pre-vatican II nun. O my I loved all of the gory details. Unfortunately I was very interested in finding reasons to become a nun and other reasons to turn my mind off etc. So. This book does not those grant. I mean, this is sensible food for your "I will just drop out and become a nun" fantasy. Soooo.

I only read this book as it was this month's book club selection but I ended up liking it and watching a TED talk by its author Karen Armstrong who has become a widely sought and widely read commentator/author on the history of religion. Hard to believe the somewhat sheltered, 17-year-old girl who entered a British convent in the early 60s could become this worldly, intellectual woman. Armstrong recounts her trying, early days as a novice nun in a traditional convent in a simple writing style th ...more
Karen Armstrong is a bit of a pariah: she studies hard and knows all the answers. When her peers hit puberty, she is horrified--unable to imagine the possibility of dating, kissing, sex. Instead of running with hormones like so many 16-year-olds, Karen runs from them when she decides to become a nun.

Through the Narrow Gate is mostly the story of her fight to become a nun, and then her continued fight once she reaches the convent. As someone with nearly no background on the transitions from post
Colleen O'Neill Conlan
(This is not the revised version, but the original edition from the library)

I have another of Armstrong's memoirs, but wanted to read this one first, which tells of her early search for a deep connection with God. For her, that meant serving as a religious sister, or nun. She began her formal religious training at 17, and this book is about her seven years of convent life, first as a postulant, then as a novice, and then as a professed nun.

Armstrong is a clear and gifted writer, giving intimate
Wow this is barely a review, it's just me rambling about myself. Tread carefully. And wow I haven't finish this. I have calculus homework to do haha, I'll finish it later.


I bought this book at the bookstore at my university. There were carts just outside the store and I was wandering around campus because I had a midterm that evening. I stopped, and saw book carts parked outside with "$5 SALE" signs taped to the sides. the store and I absolutely could not resist going through those carts
Kaat V
Begonnen aan Karen Armstrongs 'Wenteltrap' , het vervolg van 'Door een nauwe poort'. Het zijn autobiografische verslagen van een grote vrouw. Door een nauwe poort ging over haar intrede en verblijf in het klooster in de jaren 60 en eindigt met haar uittrede. Geen zoeterigheid noch bitterheid, maar het verslag van een intelligente vrouw op zoek naar zingeving.

De Wenteltrap gaat over haar 'opnieuw in de wereld zijn', hoe moeilijk ze aansluiting vond bij een wereld die op een 6-tal jaren extreem w
I really only read this book to get an idea what this woman went through during her time trying to become a nun. I wanted to know the background for "The Spiral Staircase" which, I believe, is her second book (about life after the convent).

I enjoyed reading about what Karen went through during her journey in this book, trying to become a nun. You never know what really happens inside the convent walls except from individuals like Karen who defect and are willing to tell their story.

The reason
I didn't think this memoir lived up to its potential. Armstrong's experience is story-worthy, but she didn't write it in a compelling way. For instance, I wish that she had left out some of the little anecdotes about life in the convent and instead reflected more upon her inward struggle to grow closer to God amidst the hypocrisy and contradictions she was being faced with daily under the care of the nuns. I felt a disappointment throughout the book, wishing it didn't feel so slow and tedious.

I am a huge fan of books about religion. With one exception, I don't particularly like books about my own religion. It's not that I have any plans to change my religion. I just feel like I know quite a bit about it already and I like to learn about others.

Anyways, so I give this book 4 stars based on my fascination with religions. As far as interesting-ness level, it's probably only a 3 star book. I thought it was going to be more dramatic and gut-wrenching, but it wasn't and that's a good thin

"Through the Narrow Gate is Karen Armstrong’s intimate memoir of life inside a Catholic convent. With honesty and clarity, she explains what drove her at age seventeen to devote herself to God. Over the next seven years, she endures the difficulties of convent life — the enforced silence, the lack of friendship and family, her own guilt at not being able to stifle her voracious intelligence — and unveils the secrets of religious life during the post–Vatican II years." (From Amazon)

A grea
Karen Armstrong wrote the story of her life’s decision to become a nun. At the age of 17 she left her family and joined an order in England. The very strict (and unreasonable) demands were more than Karen could bear. She became anorexic and experienced seizures. Twice a priest touched her inappropriately. She began to question the rigid and touchless lifestyle and realized she was not part of the real life. She was given the opportunity to study @ Oxford University. She excelled in literature. A ...more
Karen Armstrong wrote the story of her life’s decision to become a nun. At the age of 17 she left her family and joined an order in England. The very strict (and unreasonable) demands were more than Karen could bear. She became anorexic and experienced seizures. Twice a priest touched her inappropriately. She began to question the rigid and touchless lifestyle and realized she was not part of the real life. She was given the opportunity to study @ Oxford University. She excelled in literature. A ...more
I found this book riveting and literally couldn't stop reading it. My husband was brought up and educated in the Catholic faith and is extremely bitter about it, so reading this made so many things clearer to me about why. I am glad to know that methods and training for nuns has greatly changed - it needed to!
Paul Dinger
This is great autobiographical writing. Karen Armstrong was once a member of a very asture group of nuns, and as you read this, you wonder why she didn't leave earlier. This group isn't about discipline, it is about a denial of life. A denial of anything which might be uncomfortable, sickness, doupt, fear, it all gets whisked away. meanwhile any weakness, such as Ms Armstrong's being lactose intolerant is a sign that this is the way one should proceed. Of course, the lactose intolerant should dr ...more
Kathleen Dixon
Nov 27, 2010 Kathleen Dixon rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kathleen by: Jan, Jocelyn
What an amazing book - I couldn't put it down. My knowledge of Karen Armstrong up till now had simply been that she had been a nun but that she left that and became a superb author. I've read a number of her books and found them excellent; I also saw clips of her speaking about Compassion, and know of course about the Charter for Compassion. Reading this account of her time as a nun, while not necessary for appreciation of any of her work, has enfleshed it for me.

I have also read bits about the
I so wanted to love this book and at times I did, Ms. Armstrong writes with strong passion, this book is at times tragic, most of the time, bitter at times, inspiring at times, and eye opening. Having been raised Catholic, and still a Catholic, the lives of nuns have always fascinated me. I have read many tales of life in the convent and understand it was barbaric, emotional and spiritual. How some customs and rituals existed for so long is tragic in many ways, personally, religiously and spirit ...more
I had already read or listened to several of Armstrong's books. The beginning of The Spiral Staircase" is especially strange because she talks about it as a sequel to Through The Narrow Gate, and yet there was another book, Into the World, which she wrote after this one, but she said it was really crummy and Staircase was the better follow up. I had read neither at the time. It was great to finally read the experiences in her life that shaped what was to come in Staircase. I'm so proud of her fo ...more
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British author of numerous works on comparative religion.


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More about Karen Armstrong...
A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Islam: A Short History The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness The Case for God The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism

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