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At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst

At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst

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by Carol L. Flinders

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"My feminism and my spirituality have always been closely connected, laying claims on me at the same level. I'd taken up meditation out of a driving and, yes, aching need for self-knowledge and meaning. My feminism had arisen out of that same well of feelings, and in many regards the life I'd chosen had satisfied it. Part of me, though-


"My feminism and my spirituality have always been closely connected, laying claims on me at the same level. I'd taken up meditation out of a driving and, yes, aching need for self-knowledge and meaning. My feminism had arisen out of that same well of feelings, and in many regards the life I'd chosen had satisfied it. Part of me, though--the part that never lost awareness of the attitudes that demean woman and girls so universally and sytematically--was like a muscle that was sore from continual strain and misuse. It was hot to the touch. If after all these years it was still flaring up, then surely it was time I attended to it."
-- from At the Root of This Longing

In this brilliant exploration of the apparent conflicts and tensions, between feminism and spirituality, Carol Lee Flinders, author of the highly acclaimed Enduring Grace, here uncovers how she found that a life of meaning, self-knowledge and freedom absolutely depends on both.

In At the Root of This Longing, Flinders identifies the four key points at which the paths of spirituality and feminism seem to collide--embracing 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. Providing historical and mythical context to our contemporary struggles, she finds inspiration in the story of fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich and her direct experience of God and in India's legendary Draupadi, who would not allow a brutal physical assault to damage her sense of personal power. She also draws widely from the voices of mystics across the ages, feminist theory and history, anthropology, women's psychology, contemporary fiction and film, and her personal experience as a meditation instructor to weave a shimmering tapestry of stories and insights that will forever change our understanding of how we can--and why we must--begin to satisfy both our spiritual hunger and feminist thirst.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In an intriguing combination of personal and scholarly prose, Flinders (Enduring Grace) works through the details of her attempt to reconcile the conflicts she found between her "commitments to feminism" and her "spiritual path and practices." Living most of her adult life in a "spiritual community" with author and meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran, Flinders has contemplated the works of women mystics including Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila and Clare of Assisi. But how can these women's (and her own) experiences of peace and God jibe with the often angry feminist Flinders finds herself to be? In historical context, she examines today's sexism and violence against womenthe legacy of patriarchy that, she says, is not a natural condition at alland uncovers parallels between Gandhi's Indian revolution against British colonialism and the challenges facing Western women today. Flinders concludes that reclaiming the ancient "sacred feminine" is not at odds with political feminism, but rather necessary for it. In the spirit of Women Who Run with the Wolves and Reviving Ophelia, this book has the potential to change women's lives. $30,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Mar.)
Library Journal
On turning 50, Letty Cottin Pogrebin observed, "I stood on a fault line, feeling the world rearranging itself beneath my feet." For Flinders (literature, Berkeley), the shifting sands of 50 have less to do with beauty lost or opportunities missed than with as simple (and as nebulous) an issue as reconciling her own tensions between spirituality and feminism. A member of a northern California Hindu spiritual community for more than 20 years, she categorizes Western women as "cultural orphans...barely connected to a living ethnic tradition." Of her own emotional reconstructive work, Flinders claims closure and lobbies hard for American feminism to craft its own meaningful spiritualities and rituals outside the purview of traditional orthodoxies. Although her work is somewhat limitedby her own admission, it is personal and local in scopespiritual questers and students of meditation will find a kindred spirit within. Recommended where interest is high.Sandra Collins, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Lib.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.21(d)

Read an Excerpt


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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