Several years ago, this book caught my attention. I loved the title, especially the subtitle, and the cover. When I began reading it, I found I had a lot more to love.
The author, Carol Lee Flinders, received a doctorate and taught about the literature of medieval women’s mysticism … a way of seeing that resonates with me:
- a state of relatedness
- a whole way of looking at human existence
- that departs radically from anything called normal (punitive model for life)
- different assumptions about what life is for
- and what use we are to one another
- how we regard our own desires and one another’s
Because of her experience
Certain things happened in my own immediate world that put the whole inquiry in a particular light. Because of them, I came to believe that the struggle women have embarked upon is going to be so much more fierce and unrelenting than I’d imagined that nothing short of the admittedly extreme measures to which women like Julian (of Norwich) and Teresa (of Avila) resorted will carry us through. ~Carol Lee Flinders
In the early 90s, while Flinders taught at Berkeley, a student was murdered while working late in the Associated Students’ offices. To honor this student, a conference focusing on Gandhi’s teachings on non-violence was planned. Asked to be a presenter, Flinders spoke about
- spirituality and feminism
- violence against women and children
- what had to be done
It wasn’t the first time Carol Lee’s life had been touched by violence against women.
- In 1969, Karen Sprinker, the eldest child of her parents’ closest friends, was brutalized and murdered by a serial killer. Within two years, Karen’s father was dead of a cardiac arrest.
- In 1976, Lucille Towers, a student of Carol Lee’s, was attacked as she walked from the campus library to the parking lot. She never regained consciousness after her assailant hit her head repeatedly with a rock. Lucille’s husband, Fred, later took Carol Lee’s class, probably to feel closer to his wife who had liked the course. Neither Fred or Carol Lee could get past what had happened.
Following her presentation at the Gandhi Non-violent conference, Carol Lee and her husband drove through Petaluma.
Later that evening, in a house Carol Lee and her husband passed by on their way to dinner, Polly Klaas, a twelve-year-old girl, was abducted from her bedroom at knifepoint. Two months later, all hope for her safe return vanished when her body was found. She had been strangled.
People were stunned by their lost sense of personal security–a child had been kidnapped from her very own bedroom. They felt betrayed by a legal system that was supposed to protect their families, and could not manage to keep a repeat offender from harming yet again.
Carol Lee’s story of questioning everything she thought she knew about what to do about the socially-sanctioned warfare against women and girls is chronicled in at the root of this longing: reconciling a spiritual hunger and a feminist thirst.
Grounded in historical research on the ways patriarchy works invisibly and silently with far-reaching effects, Flinders challenges Western feminism to move beyond its male-centered, materialistic focus.
Flinders shows the empowering meanings mystics and those in tune with the Divine Feminine give to the critical stress points between spirituality and feminism. These meanings have been largely obscured:
- Silence AND finding and using our voice
- Self-naughting AND the self-knowledge and self-love that strengthens focused attention
- Redirecting desires AND faithfulness to the vitality that calls from our depths
- Enclosure AND ritual containers for replenishment, self-attunement and self-realization
She encourages a refocus on the values and motifs of the sacred feminine as a path forward — a compassionate reverence for life modeled by women mystics.
Ultimately, I came to believe that a purely secular framework for this endeavor is not adequate. To strengthen girls enough so that they can look patriarchy in the eye and keep walking, I feel certain we must be able to draw on something much deeper than our knowledge of constitutional law. ~Carol Lee Flinders
I found the book validating and couldn’t wait to discuss it with a group of women. I had that opportunity on June 10, at the book club I recently joined. I recommended the book, so I led the discussion.
Flinders notes that each of us must construct our own frame of reference that makes our personal history comprehensible … a usable past that will be different for each of us. Because mysticism is “a state of relatedness,” I asked each woman to introduce herself by sharing her history with feminism and spirituality. The depth of the sharing moved me deeply.
For a couple of us, our feminism arose some forty-five years ago in the context of our spiritual journey. But for most of the women, they hadn’t made a connection between their spirituality and feminism.
I wasn’t surprised. I hoped reading this book would change that. For most of them, it seemed to.
Despite being published in 1998, at the root of this longing is even more relevant today. In general, violence in our culture is escalating. Women and children bear the brunt. The war on women intensifies as states pass laws that do violence to women’s lives, especially poor women and their children.
I felt validated by Carol Lee’s emphasis on the need to bear witness to the immanent as well as the transcendent … especially during this time when secularism reigns supreme and a spirituality in alignment with the sacred flow of the life force is curiously absent. I find hope as she lifts up the vitality and brightness of women mystics and saints in our midst and from our past.
I find hope in these contemporary women mystics who embody spirituality and feminism:
A woman’s only real security lies in the strength of her own connection with the sacred. Everything that happens in life can result in a deeper connection with the sacred. ~Carol Lee Flinders
What about you …
Do you connect with any of this?
If so, please share how.
Your sharing would be a way to honor “relationship” … a mystic’s way of being in the world.
What contemporary women mystics inspire you and give you hope?