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I am being quite hard on the book, and I suspect if I was less alienated from the spiritual culture I grew up with I would be less hard on it. The mystics discussed within it were favourites of some of my relatives, I grew up realising I should read Aquinas for example and also The Cloud of Unknowing (which seems not to have an author). Apophatic (negative) theology is probably very useful but as a child I tied myself into endless knots trying to get rid of positive knowledge to a sufficient degree (might explain why in secular thought I am somewhat drawn to, and also despair of post-structuralist thinking).I found Woods casual assertion that Catherine of Siena was not an anorexic, or at any rate if she was one she was an exceptional one dismissive of the very real intellectual and spiritual power behind actual anorexia in many women- who to meet them are abnormally brilliant intellects. Its that self-effacing quality as well as the ecstasy of unhealthy self-denial that I think pervades much of Catholic mysticism and traditional spirituality that is actually quite related to anorexia (trust me I have suffered from both).Perhaps it didnt help that I am concurrently reading The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader where the link between self-hate, misogyny and mental illness (also possibly brilliance) is made more obvious, albeit in a work of fiction by a present-day author.But to me the endless denials and darkness and shrinking away from knowledge in this book did not seem helpful. It was a helpful book because in some ways it reconciled me to my tradition, and to some of the great thinkers I had been too dismissive of (whereas now I can be only as dismissive of them as I would be of myself as also a flawed thinker). But it did make me despair (once again) of finding a place within the tradition. If holiness is everything opposed to pleasure and even basic human relationship then that makes holiness seem not very desirable or even healthy in a commodified world.I dont want a spirituality that explains why being human is weak, inadequate and tragic. I don;t want one that is a commodity of nothingness, a place to bury my flaws and insecurities and hide from them. I want what may be impossible, impetus and hope for a drive toward radical justice, but WITH mystery (hence I am looking at catholic writers again) and WITH God as relationship, as presence, as real.The last chapter of this book was for me the strongest, it forced itself to look at some negative strands and imperfections in faith-thought and then steer a course toward mystery and radical love (or was I reading that into it).At the end of the day, noone- no matter how wise can give me the answers I seek. And maybe that after all is the apophatic side of theological thought.
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