Mirabai Starr answers the question:
How does traditional spirituality differ from a spirituality that honors the Divine Feminine?
Watch Mirabai Starr’s interview:
Thank you for joining us today. Allow me to introduce you.
Thank you. I love being with you and I'm delighted to be here. Go ahead.
Okay. Mirabai Starr is an author, speaker, and Shift faculty member. She presents classes and workshops around the world on the teachings of the mystics and contemplative practice, and on the transformational power of grief and loss. Her forthcoming book, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, will be published in April. I understand that Wild Mercy was inspired by your work at The Shift Network. Is that true?
That's totally true, Phil. I really loved the way that seed was planted in several courses that I did on women mystics and goddesses. It germinated in the rich soil of the Shift community of the beings who gathered with me to study and practice and sit with these women mystics and goddesses. And from those seeds that we planted together that germinated in that garden of our togetherness, this beautiful book... I think it's a beautiful book and that's certainly the feedback I'm getting from all the endorsements and blurbs, was born — Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics.
Well, congratulations on finishing that project. I'm looking forward to reading it myself.
Thank you, Phil.
I love your writing. You're such a beautiful writer.
Oh, thank you so much. That means a lot coming from you who are a beautiful writer.
The only question I'd like to ask you today is, How does traditional spirituality differ from a spirituality that honors the Divine Feminine?
Wow. How does a traditional spirituality differ from a spirituality that honors the Divine Feminine? That's beautifully put. There are many ways you could ask that question and I like the way you're asking it. Well, in many significant ways, I'm afraid, there seems to be a distinct difference between feminine spirituality and what you call traditional spirituality. I guess the first thing I want to say is that's not a difference, necessarily, between women and men, but between the feminine essence and the masculine essence of wisdom as expressed through the various wisdom traditions.
Traditional spirituality is dominated by the masculine. Some would say the patriarchy. That's a word I try to avoid because it's so triggered and triggering. But it has to do with a kind of masculine paradigm that has valued, for thousands of years, order and structure, rules and behavior that is guided by concepts of punishment and reward. Dogma is very important in this kind of masculine paradigm of spirituality that has dominated the world's religious traditions. Also, a kind of very pure spirituality. So pure, in fact, that it emphasizes purification practices, fasting, and silence and solitude — that kind of spirituality that is rooted in suffering, voluntary suffering, and spending 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, repenting, so to speak.
So purification and also, I don't know, perfection. The masculine spirituality has emphasized perfection, being perfect like your Father in heaven is perfect, as it says in the gospels of Jesus. So excuse me for beginning with what feminine spirituality isn't. But I guess you asked for the difference. The masculine paradigm has had many gifts. It has given many gifts and continues to do so — the deep purity of these wisdom traditions and the practices that cleanse the mirror of the heart so that we can reflect the divine light.
One of my most beloved mystics, Saint John of the Cross, whose work I had the great privilege of translating, especially Dark Night of the Soul, is a prime example of the beauty of this masculine paradigm, where John speaks a lot about ascending a ladder, a ladder of love, up and out of this relative world. But John's spiritual teacher was a woman, Santa Teresa de Avila, Saint Teresa of Avila. They were both 16th-century Spanish mystics. Teresa is almost the opposite, although they're wonderfully complementary. Teresa advocates for... rather than ascending up and out of this world, she invites us to fully inhabit the depths of our own souls. This, she says, is where the Beloved, as she refers to God so charmingly all the time like the Sufi mystics do, dwells in the center of our own being.
Why? Because we, each of us, is the most beautiful place in all of creation. So where else would the Holy One choose to dwell? But, additionally, Teresa and so many of the women mystics of all spiritual traditions... Teresa happened to be a Christian mystic, but the Sufi mystics, the Jewish mystics, the Hindu and Buddhist and Taoist and Indigenous women mystics, emphasized, universally, the sacred power of embodiment, of fully inhabiting this, whatever it is, this body, these circumstances, this life here on Earth, relationships with other beings, and our connection with the Earth herself, the Earth as mother.
So the feminine is very much about not transcending, but rather, fully inhabiting and claiming this world as holy. The feminine is also not so interested in rules and regulations and structure and prescribed prayers and dogma and doctrine, theology, although there's some exquisite feminine theologians, women theologians, including Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich, and some of the other women mystics I love. And yet, the primary concern of the feminine, of feminine spirituality, is rather than having everything kind of figured out and systematized so that we can count on it to provide the answers that our minds hunger for, the feminine is much more about the wild, the unpredicted and unpredictable, about creativity and relationality and sensuality and connection.
The feminine, I guess I would say, is rooted in the absolute unshakeable visceral understanding, the experience of interconnectedness. Not only with other beings. Not only with the Earth. Not only with the Divine. But with all that is, that everything is this beautiful web of interconnectedness. Therefore, nothing that happens is relegated to the unholy. Everything belongs. Everything is welcome.
That is beautifully put. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today, Mirabai. I will be including a link for your book, Wild Mercy, in the transcript of this call. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you, Phil. It's always a delight to be with you. Take care, everybody.
Mirabai Starr writes creative nonfiction and contemporary translations of sacred literature.She taught Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos for 20 years and now teaches and speaks internationally on contemplative practice and interspiritual dialogue. A certified bereavement counselor, Mirabai helps mourners harness the transformational power of loss.
She has received critical acclaim for her revolutionary new translations of John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul and Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle. She is author of the poetry collection, Mother of God Similar to Fire, a collaboration with iconographer William Hart McNichols, and the award-winning book, God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Her recent book, Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation, received the Spirituality & Practice “Best Books of 2015” award. She lives with her extended family in the mountains of northern New Mexico.
Mirabai’s new book, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, will be published in April 2019.
Click here to visit Mirabai’s website.
Click here to watch Mirabai's video interview about her book, Caravan of No Despair.
Click here to read Mirabai's April 2017 article in Catalyst, "How I Met My Mother."
Click here to watch Mirabai's November 2017 video interview in Catalyst on the Rise of the Feminine.
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: 2018 Catalyst, Issue 25: Perspectives on Spirituality