One of my favorite contemporary authors is Mirabai Starr, who I first encountered through her vivid and accessible translations of some of the great Christian mystics. Mirabai has emerged in the last few years as one of the leading voices in interspirituality. She is the author of Caravan of No Despair, God of Love, along with translations of mystics like John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich. In this brief interview she talks about another topic dear to her heart: the Divine Feminine.
What makes a “Feminine Mystic”? Is it simply a woman who is a mystic? Or is there something more distinctive about this type of spiritual leader?
Mysticism is about a direct experience of the sacred – nothing between our souls and a naked encounter with the Beloved. A life of spiritual practice may help empty the cup of our preconceptions and lead us into the radical emptiness required for this kind of communion, but ultimately a mystic meets the Holy One beyond the forms of prescribed prayer or corporate theology. Such an experience of divine love changes us forever, but in ways that may be invisible to anyone else – even to ourselves. So to be a mystic is not necessarily to become a teacher or a guide, in any formal sense.
Still, in these times of rapid global change, humanitarian crises and environmental devastation, we are all being called to step up and respond to the cries of the world. The path of the feminine mystic illumines a way to cradle the broken heart of the world inside our own broken heart, and to allow that tender holding to be the beginning of any action we might take. If a mystic is one who is intimate with radical unknowingness, a feminine mystic accepts the mystery as the starting point for any kind of meaningful response to the task at hand, whether to comfort a single bereaved father or to speak out in a prophetic voice against social injustice.
Interspirituality seems so important, and yet it seems that, at least among Christians, there are some voices who caution against this kind of interfaith exploration. What words of assurance and invitation would you have for the person who is afraid of, or resistant to, interspirituality?
The interspiritual path is not a matter of dabbling in multiple religions, drawing a bit from Sufism and mixing in a dash of Taoism to come up with some kind of spiritual stew that bolsters our own egos and nourishes no one. Many people who consider themselves to be interspiritual are deeply rooted in one tradition, yet are open to experiencing the sacred in many other holy houses. To walk an interspiritual path is to drop to our knees in the presence of Love wherever we encounter it, and to disarm our hearts the minute we have the impulse to otherize a faith we do not understand.
Interspirituality is about saying YES to the sacred in every form and no form, about moving beyond intellectual orientation to active engagement with various religions, about seeking and finding the Love that unifies all paths and affirms our essential interconnectedness.
Do you see “God” and “Goddess” as two separate realities, or two dimensions of the same reality? How do we reconcile the mystery of gender with the mystery of Divine Unity?
Ultimate Reality, of course, transcends all gender. And yet here in the Land of Forms, we are dependent on symbols to connect us with that which lies beyond all description. Religious metaphors are fingers pointing at the moon, to use the beautiful Buddhist image. The point is to look up. And so I have found that sometimes relating to the Divine as feminine grants me access to a quality of holiness that shows me how to live in this world in a more sacred manner. In Judaism (my own ancestral tradition), the Shekhinah is the indwelling feminine face of the Divine. She is the immanence of God, present in and throughout all of creation.
Like Mother Mary in the Christian tradition and Qwan Yin and Tara in Buddhism, the Shekinah is the embodiment of mercy and compassion, yes, but she also carries the energy of wildness, creativity, unpredictability. She is not meek and mild; she is passionate, even fierce. She is mother, she is lover, she is our vital connection to the earth itself. The Shekhinah is all about embodied spirituality, rather than transcendence. She is about embracing this world, rather than making our reservations for the world-to-come. She is one of many expressions of the feminine face of God I turn to for spiritual sustenance.
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