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Lighting the Lamp

Presented by Carol Lee Flinders
Reported by Diane Bengson
Clearview, Ohio USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35 No. 6, December 1999-January 2000, p. 132

(This is a report on a 1999 LLLI Conference session.)

Ideally, home is the place where our hunger and thirsts are satisfied, says Carol Lee Flinders, author of Laurel's Kitchen, Enduring Grace, and At the Root of This Longing. Flinders talk on home and women's role in it was peppered with the stories of her own journey, as well as reading from her writings. With quiet wisdom, she led us through the evolution of women's roles in the home from the 1970s through the 1990s. She began with thoughts from the introduction to the cookbook, Laurel's Kitchen in 1976, which Flinders co-wrote with Laurel Robertson and Bronwen Godfrey. In the introductory essay entitled "The Keeper of the Keys," Flinders urged readers to see a woman's influence in the home as the origin of all change. She encouraged women to take their tasks and roles at home seriously as a way to bring about social reforms from below.

Writing about food and home led to a column that Flinders wrote for 12 years. The 1980s, with its faster pace, faster food, and extreme materialism, led Flinders to write about the sanctity and peace possible in simple activities like cooking with quality food and doing housework with slow awareness. She wrote about what it means to see kitchen work as holy, and to take time to cook whole, healthy food. She wrote about finding creative outlets for the woman at home, and about how big business encourages us to fill our emptiness with buying things rather than nurturing the flame of home life.

Finally, seeing no major changes despite her efforts, and realizing food was not an end in itself, she abandoned writing about food and the home in 1989. She found herself asking the question, "What does full human unfolding mean?" She studied the lives of great people like Mahatma Ghandi and the female mystics. Not surprisingly she found herself looking at home again. As she wrote Enduring Grace, she found in the lives of each female mystic a period of enclosure, either in a convent or in a room in her home, where the woman turned in time of crisis and later emerged strong and full. She added this idea to her definition of home: a safe place where one can go to cocoon and emerge beautiful and whole, like a butterfly. She believes that it is necessary to a healthy culture to provide homes that are safe for this important work. However, Flinders sees the home of the 1990s under assault from the corporations and media of the world, which have everything to gain materially and financially from the dissolution of our homes.

At this same time, her son was learning about the ways our culture views women. Flinders was motivated to educate her son about feminism by talking about how women are viewed in movies, by the media, and in daily life. She began to read about the history of women's roles, and was surprised to find that viewing women as inferior to men was a fairly recent phenomenon.

Flinders was also deeply affected by the murder of 12-year-old Polly Klass in California, which crystallized her sense of the accepted violence against women in our society. From this, she came to a two-fold definition of feminism: wanting safety for all girls and women, and wanting the opportunity for all females to develop their talents. Again, she sees home as the crucial place where children are nurtured to learn respect for all people and to come into their own as full individuals. But how do we combine the need to make a strong, safe home for ourselves and our children with our desire to be actively pursuing our other interests?

Flinders admits there is a tension between the needs of home and self. She thinks it's normal to feel restless and to long for our own journey while also wanting to create a home for our family. She sees this tension as full of possibility. It is a wellspring, a tautness from which our journey can spring. These feelings prod us on to make connections and contributions beyond our family life in whatever ways we can.

Her spiritual teacher’s Indian grandmother would light an oil lamp in the evening and bring it out, her beautiful, wise face shining in the lamplight. As she set it down, she would say, "Be a lamp in your home, daughters. Be a light to all around you." Flinders adds to this, "And be a light to your own path."

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