At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirstby Carol L. Flinders
In At the Root of This Longing, Flinders identifies the four key points at which the paths of spirituality and feminism seem to collide—vowing silence vs. finding voice, relinquishing ego vs. establishing 'self', resisting desire vs. reclaiming the body, and enclosure vs. freedom—and sets out to discover not only the sources of these conflicts, but how
In At the Root of This Longing, Flinders identifies the four key points at which the paths of spirituality and feminism seem to collide—vowing silence vs. finding voice, relinquishing ego vs. establishing 'self', resisting desire vs. reclaiming the body, and enclosure vs. freedom—and sets out to discover not only the sources of these conflicts, but how they can be reconciled. With a sense of urgency brought on by events in her own life, Flinders deals with the alienation that women have experienced not only from themselves and each other, but from the sacred. She finds inspiration in the story of fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich and her direct experience of God, in India's legendary Draupadi, who would not allow a brutal physical assault to damage her sense of personal power, as well as in Flinders's own experiences as a meditation teacher and practitioner. Flinders reveals that spirituality and feminism are not mutually exclusive at all but very much require one another.
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A few years ago, when I'd made the last revisions and double-checked thelast footnotes of a substantial writing project, I relaxed into a kind offallow spell. The timing was right, because my fiftieth birthday was bearingdown on me, and a measure of anxiety seemed to be congealing around thatfact--much more than I'd anticipated (one does brace oneself for this one)because I had every reason to be content with where things stood. Marriage,son, health, work, friends: everything was fine. I couldn't account forthe flutters I was feeling somewhere around my solar plexus.
Later on, I would learn that many women experience something very like whatI did that summer and fall. Some speak about it in terms of cleaning house,an almost reckless desire to simplify and streamline. For one friend knittingis more to the point: wanting to go back and pick up stitches that may havebeen dropped along the way. To me it felt like hitting a blank place onthe map--as if I'd come up over a rise and found myself looking out acrossa vast inland ocean nobody had told me was there. The flutters were real,but so was a certain exhilaration.
It's taken me some time to be comfortable using the term synchronicity,Jung's term for the curious way in which ordinary, external reality cansuddenly click into alignment with one's inner, archetypal world. When Ifirst heard of the phenomenon I thought I was being asked to believe synchronicitiesare planted in front of us by an unseen hand like clues in a cosmic scavengerhunt. This was way too anthropomorphic for my taste. But gradually I cameto understand that these events, or recognitions, have to do withsomethingmystics have always tried to convey: that the knowledge and the truth andclarity we are seeking isn't "out there" at all, but deep inside.Certain insights want to break out into daylight, but we hold them down,fearing the kind of change that might take place if we knew them experientiallyand all at once. Down through time, we've evolved different methods by whichthey can emerge, in small, manageable doses. We throw the I Ching, we dealout tarot cards, we analyze our dreams, and through these fissures in ordinarylogic we can in effect nudge ourselves along--Self talking to self in aheavily coded language.
Perceptions of synchronicity work, I believe, in about the same way. Whena message wants to move from the unconscious to the conscious level, weexperience a kind of turbulence first, the flutters that signal disequilibrium.Finally, though, something in us manages to paint it across the very landscape,where we can't help but read it, and we draw from that reading the courageto strike out into the wilderness and make up our new maps as we go along.This was exactly what happened to me now. A beguiling little bit of synchronicitygave me the gentle shove I needed--and put me in touch with someone ideallysuited to keep me company.
I had been on good terms with Julian of Norwich for more than half my life.She was the subject of my doctoral dissertation and, more recently, oneof the subjects of the book I'd just written about women mystics. I'd rereadher Revelations at regular intervals, as much for their long, lovely, incantatoryrhythms as for as their utterly original content. I imagined she must havelooked like Vanessa Redgrave or Emma Thompson--enormously kind and serene,a composite of the best women friends I've ever had. I had never consciouslyinvoked Julian, but her anchorhold, dimly lit, with a fireplace at one endand a cat, was in my mind's eye a real place, and a safe place. . . .
Even though I'd written about Julian twice, I'd never given any thoughtto how old she'd been when she wrote her famous Sixteen Revelations of DivineLove. Now that fifty was not just a stray bit of biographical data, though,but a state of mind--and body--that I knew intimately, I wondered for thefirst time what Julian's experience had been. The version of the Revelationsthat she wrote when she was fifty is actually a rewrite. A much shorterversion was composed when she was thirty, soon after the experience it describes.Did Julian's decision to recast her story have anything to do with the floodtide of raw, creative energy I was just beginning to experience myself--alongwith sleepless nights, intense anxiety states, and rooms that seemed alwaysto be overheated? What an astonishing thought: that a fourteenth-centuryanchorite could have had a body as well as a soul, and a woman's body atthat, hormones coursing through it, wreaking their own kind of regular havocjust as they were in mine.
It intrigued me to reflect that when I'd written about Julian in EnduringGrace, I'd been almost as old as Julian herself was when she wrote her fullerrendering of the Revelations, but there was more. When I'd written aboutJulian the first time, I realized, in my dissertation, I'd been thirty,the same age she was when she wrote her first draft of the Revelations.Better still, I remembered that I'd actually filed the dissertation in thespring of 1973, exactly six hundred years after the actual showings.
As coincidences go, this was all pretty tame stuff. But long exposure tomedieval visionary writings gets one into the habit of treating even small"wrinkles in time" with respect, for throughout the Middle Ages,long before the term synchronicity was coined, the visible world was understoodto be crisscrossed with "the footprints of God."
Meet the Author
Carol Lee Flinders, author of the highly acclaimed Enduring Grace and At the Root of This Longing and coauthor of the million-copy-bestselling Laurel's Kitchen, holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and is a well-known speaker and teacher who has taught writing and mystical literature courses at the University of California, Berkeley.
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