The Nameless Has a Thousand Names

By Mirabai Starr (Photo by Lisa Law)

You have the urge (yet are unable) to catch hold of the One and tether it to the altar, where you have been taught to believe the One belongs.  You cannot name the One (though you try, calling it God or Goddess, Allah or Cristo, Mother or Lord).  You discover that the One cannot rightfully be referred to as He (though tradition requires that you assign a symbolic gender to the formless).  You are incapable of wrapping up the Holy One and presenting it to yourself like a toy or a sandwich, a list of rules or a reward.

You may have been conditioned to claim the One for your people alone, but then you see Him everywhere (everywhere!): in a corner of the airport where a man unrolls a small rug and bends to press his forehead, nose, both his hands and all his toes to the ground in submission; in the storefront church of the inner city where poor people sing and weep at the same time; in the grandmother lighting the Sabbath candles and welcoming the Bride of Israel.  You recognize your God as everyone’s God.

And not only among Jews and Christians and Muslims do you see the reflected face of the One.  When the climber reaches the summit and gazes out at a thousand miles of mountains and valleys, there is the One.  When the mother pushes through shattering pain to give birth, and the infant sucks in his first breath and expels his wild wail, there is the One.  When the father drops to his knees in the military cemetery after burying his son and wraps his arms around his own heaving chest, there is the One.  In our first kiss, in our final embrace, there is the One.

The One shows up in Native sweat lodges and Hindu temples, in the deep quiet of Zen meditation halls and in the ecstatic whirling of dervishes.  The One whispers through the words of the poets, through the curving lines of painters, sculptors, and woodcarvers, through symphony and hip-hop, Gregorian chant, hymns in praise of Mother Mary, devotional songs to Lord Shiva, through tobacco and cornmeal offered at dawn to the Great Spirit.  The One makes an appearance in the heart of the self-described atheist, who gasps in wonder at the beauty of an unexpected snow that fell during the night, carpeting the garden with jewels of frozen light.
The One reveals itself as the compassionate Father and the protective Mother, as unrequited Lover and loyal Friend, residing always at the core of our own hearts, and utterly invisible.  The One transcends all form, all description, all theory, categorically refusing to be defined or confined by our human impulse to unlock the Mystery.  And the One resides at the center of all that is, ever-present and totally available.

You remember, and forget, and remember again: beckoned with a thousand names, limited by none, the God you love is One.
Mirabai Starr
From GOD OF LOVE: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity & Islam; p. 12-13; Monkfish Books, NY, 2012

Mirabai Starr is author of critically acclaimed new translations of the Spanish mystics, and reflections on the unifying teachings at the heart of all spiritual paths. Mirabai Starr uses fresh, lyrical language to help make timeless wisdom accessible to a contemporary circle of seekers.

Mirabai has been an adjunct professor of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos since 1993.  Her emphasis is on making connections between the perennial teachings found at the heart of all the world's spiritual paths, in an effort to promote peace and justice.

She speaks and teaches nationally and internationally on the teachings of the mystics and contemplative practice. She is available for interviews, speaking engagements, workshops and contemplative retreats.  To learn more about her work, including her most recent book, The Showings of Julian of Norwich, visit:

Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.

This article appears in: 2014 Catalyst, Issue 3: Becoming truly embodied