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Beginning the Journey

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You have all earned my heartiest gratitude - and not just for being patient with me these weeks! This book looks wonderful, and I feel deep joy when I anticipate our time spent together reading it.

Welcome to our first journey - Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics. It would seem so far that we are a group already acquainted with one another. If we find our group expanding later, we may feel the need for more of an introduction with each other. For now, let's leap into the text!

As I began the book this evening, I realize just how quickly the author moves into rich territory. So I'd like to spend just a bit of time on the preface and introduction this week. Behind the cut below are a few thoughts I had about the content of the preface. I hope you find something that resonates with you, rubs you the wrong way, or otherwise gets juices flowing.

The role of discussion starter can rotate through our group. For the preliminary chapters, and for the first chapter on a mystic - St. Claire of Assisi - I will take the initiative to offer up food for thought on the reading. If anyone is led to take this role for other chapters - notably for Mechtild, our second mystic - please speak up.



Flinders uses the preface to describe her journey - what brought her "here" to create this text, and what her desires were in writing it. Her background in English literature and her work in Women's Studies no doubt filters into her love of female Christian mystics. Most telling, though, is the years she has spent publishing cookbooks. The experiences of hunger and food are powerful themes in her life and work, and the various ways that humans can experience hunger is clearly a lens she will be using throughout her descriptions of these women.

Especially striking to me was the concern she brought to the table, through the words of Carolyn Heilbrun. Heilbrun shares a common concern from the feminist movement: namely that womanhood itself has often been defined as putting a man at the center of one's universe - patterning one's life and being around the desires and existence of this male. Heilbrun adds: "Occasionally women have put God or Christ in the place of a man; the results are the same: one's own desires and quests are always secondary."

This statement fell loudly on my ears. Over and over again, my skin has bristled at just such a definition of faith. I never have put it into words, but a whole series of experiences in churches, in seminary, in various books and spiritual tools and conversations can be explained by this observation. Sometimes modern Protestant piety grates on me and remains elusive, and it is for this reason. Sometimes talk of God as the center of our lives doesn't sit well with me at all, regardlesss of the deep yearning I have to find that unity and guidance and peace. Sometimes my deep need to surrender becomes complicated and tarnished by my own assumptions of it. I have rarely been able to approach Christian mystics, and I can name now that this is the reason. While I have named and uncovered other manifestations of patriarchal religion, this one has gone unnoticed until now. The pictures I have of personal piety are deeply affected by this dynamic, by the overlaying of old sexist patterns onto the "mystical" experience. I am stunned and releived to see it described here.

So, Flinders begins her sacred and careful discussion of these womens' desires with this wisdom. She starts off by pointing out something inviolable about human desire, human hunger, and the wisdom inherent in these appetites. How refreshing. How is hunger manifesting in your life these days? In what ways do you trust your desires? What else about Flinder's discussion of her journey grabbed you? What food do you hope to get out of this group?
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On October 3rd, 2006 01:07 pm (UTC), queen_in_autumn commented:
Thank you for this, HP.

With all the recent excitement and change in my life, I'd completely forgotten to get the book -- but I've just ordered it from Amazon via overnight, so hopefully I'll be able to make a substantive contribution by Sunday night.

I'll be interested to read more about her critique of "putting God or Christ in the place of a man." It seems to me that putting 'God' at the center of life is what religion is about -- although I'm sure there are ways to do that which are not healthy. I don't want to comment more until I've read what she has to say, but that caught my attention.
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On October 20th, 2006 03:46 am (UTC), wlotus commented:
So, Flinders begins her sacred and careful discussion of these womens' desires with this wisdom. She starts off by pointing out something inviolable about human desire, human hunger, and the wisdom inherent in these appetites. How refreshing. How is hunger manifesting in your life these days? In what ways do you trust your desires? What else about Flinder's discussion of her journey grabbed you? What food do you hope to get out of this group?

Today I posted in my own blog about my hunger to know God. The problem is, I don't trust my desire...and for good reason: I can trace that desire to my hunger for a sense of importance by being known as a person who is close to someone powerful. But I wonder if even with that other hunger tied to it, would it still be fruitful to nurture my hunger for God.

Right now, in light of those ponderings, I am hoping to find encouragement to continue to seek God, despite my motives being questionable.
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