This week I would like to lift up the voice of Karen Armstrong. Karen is a British commentator and author most recognized for her work in comparative religion. When she was a teenager, Karen joined the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus and remained in the convent for seven years. She left to order in 1969 while studying English at Oxford. There, her dissertation was failed on counts of an unsuitable topic. Her early life, then, was filled with pain and disappointment. Then, she found new life in this life and she was brave enough to claim it. In 1982, while teaching girls, Karen Armstrong published Through the Narrow Gate, a memoir about her time in the convent. That launched her career as a writer and commentator, where she found her voice in the world. Karen Armstrong is most well know for A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She continues to delve into interfaith dialogue in her life, writing and work.
Armstrong is one of my role models because in our world, I believe that compassionate listening is a spiritual practice. Becoming better listeners will help us as individuals as well as our communities and our world. Armstrong first learned how to listen to herself, the Spirit in her. She did not come to her career easily. She had passion, but struggled to find her place. This gives me hope because sometimes I feel frustrated that I cannot find an outlet for my passion. It was not clear to me when I was young what I should do with my gifts and my faith. Also, Armstrong loved to study. She knew that really beginning to understand the major religions of the world took time, patience and commitment to academic rigor. Then once she did find an outlet for her voice, she applied her gift of listening to listen to people of different faith background. She learned to respect and revere people who come from different places of faith. For example, she loves the Jewish emphasis on practice in their faith. She says, “I say that religion isn’t about believing things. It’s about what you do. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about believing in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.”
In 2008, Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize for her Charter For Compassion. Watch her talk here:
In her talk, Armstrong wants to find shared moral ground between religions in order to foster global understanding and build a peaceful world.
Karen Armstrong has become a respected, prominent and prolific religious historian. She found her voice and is using her skills to promote peace, interfaith respect and conversation in a world that needs all three. This Lent, I recognize her voice as a voice of truth, wisdom and life among us.
Do you like Armstrong’s idea for her Charter For Compassion? What did her talk make you think of? How can you live this in your community?
Who is one of your female role models? Why?
Who is someone you admire for his or her passion? For his or her listening skills?