It is through the feminine mystics that I have come to know their Beloved, Christ.
I grew up in a secular Jewish household of intellectual artists. They acknowledged Jesus as one of our own tribe, yet carefully sidestepped any metaphysical implications in favor of his radical teachings on social justice. As a teenager, longing for something to address the burning in my heart, I drifted toward the Eastern Traditions, hooking up with my lifelong Guru, Neem Karoli Baba, cultivating a Buddhist sitting practice, and embracing Sufism—all of which continue to sustain me to this day.
It wasn’t until I came upon the Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila, and began to translate her masterworks, that I came face to face with the Christ Consciousness distilled in the symbol of Jesus, and fell in love with him. As the courtship developed, I met him in the garden of other women saints: Hildegard of Bingen, who recognized her Beloved in the “greening of the earth;” Clare of Assisi, who saw our souls as “mirrors for Divine Love;” Julian of Norwich, who concluded that Christ, the Third Person of the Trinity, had to be “She” because who else but a Mother would break herself open and pour herself out for the sake of her children? I identified with Mary Magdalene, who stormed the halls of the rich and powerful to throw herself at the feet of her Beloved and cover them with priceless nard. Many others have lit my path: Terese of Lisieux, Joan of Ark, Hadewijch of Brabant, Mary of Nazereth, and Mary’s Metiza representative, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
It is Teresa of Avila that keeps the fire alive in me. I keep returning to her and finding new treasures that rise to the surface from some hidden depths of this great soul, like some perfectly painted Anasazi pot that appears in an arroyo after the spring rains have washed away centuries of desert sands. Teresa was famous for talking back to God when things did not go exactly her way. I love this anecdote, where the Holy One gave her a taste of her own medicine:
One day, as Abbess Teresa bustled about her enclosed convent in an attempt to make order, she heard a sound on the staircase and looked up. A little boy stood on the steps, smiling at her. How had a child made his way into a cloister of women?
“Hello,” he said. “Who are you?”
“I am Teresa of Jesus (her religious name),” she answered. “Who, may I ask, are you?”
“I am Jesus of Teresa.” And he revealed himself as her Beloved, in his childlike form.
Now, hopelessly inter-spiritual being that I am, I can’t help but see parallels here to the Krishna story in the Hindu tradition. The baby Krishna, Gopala, is one of the most beloved forms of the Lord of Love. And there are countless stories about Krishna as a mischievous little boy, Govinda, stealing butter and eating it behind the cow shed. Perceiving God as a child evokes a kind of tenderness missing from the more traditional religious position of awe in the face of the grandeur of the Divine. For the mystics, the formless Godhead blesses us with a multitude of forms: unrequited lover and faithful friend, Father and Mother, stranger and son. God, as the Sufis say, is Love, Lover and Beloved: Isqh Allah Mabud Lillah.
It is not all sweetness and light, however. The feminine mystics have taught me that loving Christ requires dying with him. And the mystics of all traditions echo this teaching of annihilation. It is necessary to die to our small self in order to be resurrected as the True Self, the God-Self, the One who already is and ever shall be in Union with the Beloved. This unitive process involves crucifixion, and it hurts to be crucified. Yet Christ has taught me that every one of life’s painful losses is another opportunity to die into the arms of love and be reborn. Like a child, I blink in wonderment at the beauty of the ever-new world, even as the flames of environmental degradation and oppression of those on the margins melts my heart. Our hearts are supposed to melt. I learned this from him, and from the women who adore him.
Mirabai Starr is an esteemed faculty with The Shift Network. Mirabai’s next course on Feminine Mystics will start in July 2015. To be kept informed about Mirabai’s upcoming course, please sign up by clicking here.
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.
Mirabai speaks and teaches nationally and internationally on the teachings of the mystics and contemplative practice, and is a certified bereavement counselor. She is available for interviews, speaking engagements, workshops and contemplative retreats.