It is a continual source of both amusement and disquiet to me how many topics are perceived as being "remote" from religion, and raise eyebrows when paired with it. Flinders spends much time dwelling on the connection between food and religion, or actually: about our hungers. What do we hunger for? What do we long to find and ingest to make ourselves feel "full" and complete and secure?
This is not a new connection. "Taste and see that the Lord is good," is an ancient scripture. (Psalms, I think.) And "Hunger and thirst after righteousness." More recently there has been the growing awareness about the connection between the emotional hungers of the heart and how a person relates to food. Some believe we have a "God shaped hole" in our inner selves, an open place that only God can fill, without which we hunger and feel incomplete.
In my own personal and academic background, I have startled people by pairing theater and religion (although their ancient roots are intertwined) and sexuality and religion (thankfully, a pairing which causes less surprise over time). While sexuality has an important component that is only about one's self, it is also about the connection to the Other -- and God is the ultimate Other, as well as the only one who can truly know us and be with us from within.
The hunger of the mystics to know and ingest God is familiar to me, in my own less-single-minded way. The story of my life is very much the story of my relationship with God, from earliest childhood through today. Even the times of my atheism have been defined as my mourning for God, and my ongoing hunger for God.
On page xxi, Flinders makes a case that a woman putting God or Christ in the center of life can be uncomfortably close to the cultural expectation of having a human man at the center of life. I felt that she had the condition reversed. I think that the original error was to set Man in the place of God culturally, and give Man to Woman to be her God, while reserving God for Man because he was somehow more fit for that relationship. Woman has hungered for God, and been told to settle for serving Man: Husband and Father.
Also, I was disappointed that Flinders did not ask whether or not a "God-centered" life would carry these uncomfortable emotional overtones if we set aside the generic masculinity of God and embraced not the formless abstract (which she mentions), but the Divine Feminine.
Instead of God as Father, King, Husband/Lover, what relationship can a female mystic have with a God who is Mother, Queen, and Friend and/or Lover? Does that take some of the sting out of putting an "other" first in our lives?
Personally, although I am not at all orthodox, I believe that the Divine should be at the core of our lives. Some might call that "first" in a hierarchical way. I like to think of it is "first" in an organic way. I want all my impulses to rise first from the Spirit within, the Spirit of Love and Wisdom and Transformation. It's not a power I bow down to (not always, anyway), it's the Ground from which I grow, the Water which nourishes and inspires me.
Flinders, for all her feminist background, still seems to be caught very much in the patriarchal models of spirituality: dualistic, hierarchical, and either Masculine or Abstract visions of God. I look forward to taking this journey with her, but suspect that her perspective may be a bit narrow at times for me.
I don't have the book in front of me, but I did not leave the foreward with the idea that God should not be the center of our lives. I took instead from her warning that "traditionally feminine" forms of self-sacrifice are not required by God. Since these mystics' stories are so often dulled with the metaphor of an obedient woman sacrificing her will and desires to The Man Upstairs, I was pleased to see that Flinders was aware and actively eschewing that theological assumption.
Her warnings of using traditional gender roles in relationship to God had me looking more closely at my own desires, and how I value them. Since my own true desires so often rock the status quo, I am often hesitant to follow them. Certainly, as I have taken on the mantle of authority in my church, I have also come to live with unspoken - and spoken - expectations of how women leaders shall be. While "obedience" is not a word that would gain anybody's trust in the modern liberal church, it is still assumed that "change will be approached slowly." Issues of sexuality, changing gender roles, new and fresh approaches to problems will not be introduced, or will be sparsed out carefully. Because of course, it's "common sense" that the church is slow to change, and won't brook too much newness. It's "common sense" that people come to religion, and to God, for a certain amount of sameness, of "tradition." The church of England is being laughed at by many of its own constituents for doing something so "ridiculous" as suggesting gender neutral lanaguage in "songs we've been singing this way for years." This is the sort of holy desire I see being suppressed.
You wouldn't disagree with that, I don't suspect. But I said that to say this. I believe there are assumptions being made even in brand new, burdgeoning personal spiritual movements that are upholding the status quo, not questioning it. This is the connection I make to her warning.
Take 12-step, for example. In an addiction-riddled culture, 12-step work has become an important spiritual path. It has certainly nurtured much healing and transformation... I know it has in my life. However, even in that work, it can be easy to pathologize all human desire as a part of our disease, in an almost Calvinistic way. If I turn my will over to God, then I cannot let my desires get in the way. I cannot trust myself to desire what is good. It would be crazy-making to act on these desires. It's an easy trap to fall into, and it is related to traditional forms of disempowerment for women. I have seen troubles in pagan groups that mirror such thinking, too. In that case, secrecy might be the reason for the obedience. The single act of changing the gender of the other being that I sacreifice my self to, doesn't solve the problem in and of itself.
I see in her argument the same basis as in yours. That truly devoting ourselves to the Holy Other can stir desires in us that change the world. This is the basis of sacred sexuality. This is where I see her going.