Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics


Astonishingly relevant portraits of the lives of seven women mystics

Known to more than a million readers as the coauthor of the classic vegetarian cookbook Laurel's Kitchen, Carol Lee Flinders looks to the hunger of the spirit in Enduring Grace. In these striking and sustaining depictions of seven remarkable women, Flinders brings to life a chorus of wisdom from the past that speaks with remarkable relevance to our contemporary spiritual ...

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Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics

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Astonishingly relevant portraits of the lives of seven women mystics

Known to more than a million readers as the coauthor of the classic vegetarian cookbook Laurel's Kitchen, Carol Lee Flinders looks to the hunger of the spirit in Enduring Grace. In these striking and sustaining depictions of seven remarkable women, Flinders brings to life a chorus of wisdom from the past that speaks with remarkable relevance to our contemporary spiritual quests.

From Clare of Assisi in the Middle East to Thérèse of Lisieux in the late nineteenth century, Flinders's compelling and refreshingly informal portraits reveal a common foundation of conviction, courage, and serenity in the lives of these great European Catholic mystics. Their distinctly female voices enrich their writings on the experience of the inner world, the nourishing role of friendship and community in our lives, and on finding our true work.

At its heart, Enduring Grace is a living testament to how we can make peace with sorrow and disappointment and bring joy and transcendence into our lives.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060626457
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/28/1993
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,246,799
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.61 (d)

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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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Saint Clare of Assisi


What you hold, may you always hold. What you do, may you always do and never abandon. But with swift pace, light step, unswerving feet, so that even your steps stir up no dust, may you go forward securely, joyfully, and swiftly, on the path of prudent happiness.
— Saint Clare of Assisi,Early Documents 2.40

Imagine, if you will, a woman of about forty, coiffed and veiled, fine of feature, and thin as a willow. She is propped up in bed, though maybe we should say "on pallet," lest we suggest even a trace of comfort, and the spinning that normally occupies her is set to one side. She is writing, deeply absorbed: "What you hold...."

The year is 1235. Francis of Assisi has been dead for nine years. His friend and foremost disciple, Clare, is abbess of the Poor Ladies at San Damiano, and at least twenty-two other houses of the order look to her, for leadership. Her mother has joined her, as has her sister Agnes. The woman to whom she is writing is another Agnes who is particularly dear to her, though they have never met.

Agnes of Prague was a princess, daughter of the king of Bohemia. From her infancy she had been victimized by the elaborate system of political marriages that connected the royal families of medieval Europe. Betrothed as a baby to the son of the duke of Silesia, she had been packed off to the Silesian court to live until she and her intended were grown. She was just three when the young duke died and she was sent back to Prague. Off to Austrianext, sometime in her early teens, stated now to marry the son of Emperor Frederick II. Her fiancé jilted her, though, and once again she was back in Prague. Her father would have avenged her with a full-scale war, but Agnes dissuaded him.

Fresh offers of marriage came in — one from England's royal court, another from Frederick II himself, whose wife had since died. At this point, though, Agnes had had enough, and to his credit, her father backed her up. With his blessing, she would forego marriage and undertake a life of charitable works. About this time she met a small band of Franciscans who had come to eastern Europe telling tales of wondrous goings-on in Assisi. They spoke of a beautiful young noblewoman who had renounced everything to follow God.

To the twenty-year-old princess, as to thousands of European women, the story of Clare and her Poor Ladies was a powerful catalyst. In 1232, Agnes built a hospice and then a convent for Poor Ladies with an adjoining residence for the Friars Minor who would be their spiritual guides. When construction was well under way, she wrote to Clare, and in 1234 Clare sent five members of her order to Prague. Along with seven young women from Prague's wealthiest families, they entered the new convent. Agnes herself was among them.

In a worldly sense, Agnes was perhaps Clare's greatest "catch." We have only the four letters Clare wrote her and none of the ones Agnes presumably wrote. The joy they convey and the utter confidence are supremely Franciscan, and so is the unconcealed affection. In the fourth and final letter, written just before her death, Clare writes: "If I have not written to you as often as your soul — and mine as well — desire and long for, do not wonder, or think that the fire of love for you glows with less delight in the heart of your mother. No, this is the difficulty: the lack of messengers and the obvious dangers of the roads" (Early Documents 47).

Until rather recently, Clare's, story has always been told as an adjunct to that of Saint Francis. This is understandable enough, for Clare fits into that narrative with such exquisite rightness that if she had not turned up on cue, the chroniclers would surely have had to invent her. If they had invented her, they could not have improved on what she truly was — beautiful and courageous, as fair and serene as Francis was dark and lively, the contemplative fulcrum to his life of active preaching and teaching. From the minute she enters Francis's life, an irresistibly romantic subplot opens out.

Indeed, in some tellings, the subplot very nearly takes over, for as soon as Clare and Francis meet, the conventions of the courtly love tradition swing into play, if only on the subliminal level. The elements that make for romantic legend are all there in the story as it has come down to us. Clare's contemporaries swore she really was beautiful, that she was nobly born and widely esteemed for her kindness to the poor. Before her birth a mysterious voice was said to have told her mother she would bring a brilliant light into the world. The chroniclers loved to play with her name and called her "bright," "unsullied," "spotless," "gleaming." They spoke of Clare's radiance when she rose up from prayer and reported that even the place where she prayed would be lit up afterward. They marveled that despite her enclosed life, the light that was "Chiara" spread nonetheless throughout the world.

Francis himself, "God's troubadour," was at least as romantically appealing a character as Clare. Leader of the revels in Assisi before his conversion, a one-time knight-in-arms, he was a man with a past and, even after his conversion, a kind of spiritual outlaw. Clare's initiation into the spiritual life at Francis's hands, moreover, was easily as dramatic as any elopement. And if their liaison was never consummated in any worldly sense, all the better, for unconsummated love was a staple theme of the courtly love tradition.

To say of Francis and Clare that they were "in love" with each other in the ordinary sense is, I think, incorrect — inadequate — and I will try to explain why....

Enduring Grace. Copyright © by Carol L. Flinders. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Saint Clare of Assisi 15
Mechthild of Magdeburg 43
Julian of Norwich 77
Saint Catherine of Siena 103
Saint Catherine of Genoa 129
Saint Teresa of Avila 155
Saint Therese of Lisieux 191
Conclusion 221
Notes 229
Select Bibliography 239
Index 244
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2007

    Energy Medicine ¿ Ph.D.¿s Perspective

    A beautiful work which gives an overview of the life and trials of seven Christian Mystics, five of which are canonized Saints of the Catholic Church, all of which were nuns. Beginning with the life of Saint Clare of Assisi (1195-1253), Flinders, includes in her accounts of each of these women information about their early lives, their yearning for religious life, lessons they learned and shared with us. Each of the Mystics included share different aspects of their illumination, aspects, which serve to inspire those who aspire to know God. Continuing with the Thirteenth century mystic, life of little known Mechthild of Magdeburg, the dates of her birth and death remain sketchy. Flinders laments that Mechthild, who had no official biographer, was passed over for canonization (to be officially considered a saint by the Church) when she clearly displays all of the qualities of sainthood, as did the other women of this book. The life of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416?), an anchoress¿one who lives a radically cloistered life, the power to inspire by their life, mission and writing becomes more evident and more powerful. Continuing on with the better known Saints, Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) Saint Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510), Saint Theresa of Avila (1515-1582), and ending with the brief but powerful life of one named Doctor of the Church, Saint Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897).

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    Posted June 19, 2011

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    Posted August 23, 2011

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