Enduring Grace is a book by Carol Lee Flinders about seven women mystics of the Middle Ages. I have found a lot in this book that is helpful to my spiritual practice. The last woman she writes about is Therese of Lisieux, and I found some things I want to share.
“… in her upbringing, sinners were perceived not in terms of wickedness, but of forlornness and despair. Indeed, it was understood that despair — failure to experience God’s love — can be the motive for sin as much as its result. Sinners are essentially outcasts…” p213
Despair is something I continuously struggle with. Belief in the goodness of the Divine Process is difficult due to early trauma. I always find the idea of “outcast” rather than “sinner” to be very comforting. An outcast does not deserve punishment but desperately wants inclusion. There’s a lovely video of Father Greg talking about widening the circle of inclusion until there is nobody left outside.
“From the entire story of Therese, which we get in so much more complete a form than we do with any other mystic I know of, we keep being struck by the endless ways in which these individuals shaped one another. A model of spiritual development emerges that is remarkably collective. It began with her family … They evolve together, prompting one another, correcting, consoling… and we see the same process in the convent itself, of individuals “working out their salvation,” but together.” p218
She goes on to say “… women understand the deeply collective and communal side of human experience. They see the incandescent superstar for what it is, but they see the constellation in which it has come into being, too, the reverent and loving care that has surrounded it and nourished it. They see how much we have to do with one another, how profoundly we require one another.” p219
I have been envying my brother the fellowship of AA. I would love to belong to one myself. In fact I do, but it is not as accessible as AA meetings. (In Camden, Maine, where my brother Jack lives, he can go to a meeting of AA every day of the week.) How I wish that I had a local community of Kindred Spirits. My experience at camp was one of inclusion and belonging that I had never experienced in quite the same way. I realize that the idea of helping each other along our spiritual paths is one of the joys of that community.
Father Greg also comments on the importance of community.