By Laleh Bakhtiar
A REVIEW OF GOD OF LOVE BY MIRABAI STARR
Mirabai Starr speaks of the great tree of monotheism with its roots entrenched in the immutable soil of the metaphysical truth of love and its trunk extending heavenwards.
When it comes to understanding the God of Love, one who submits to the will of God (muslim) may approach from a different road, but the goal is the same as that of a Jew or a Christian.
As Rumi says:
Oh many are the Indians and Turks that speak the same language. Oh many the pair of Turks that are as strangers to each other.
Therefore, the language of mutual understanding is different indeed. To be one in heart is better than to be one in tongue.
- Mathnawi, Book 1: 1206-1207
And it is “the one in heart” that God is Love so eloquently addresses.
Could she have added that Abraham’s second wife, Hagar, who “calls the place where she saw the One who had seen her, ‘the Well of the Living One Appearing to Me’,” actually refers to the Zamzam well?
When Abraham left Hagar and Ishmael in the Makkan desert, she searched for water, running seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwa:
But her search ends in failure. She returns to her child in despair.
She sees, O joy!
The child, left to love, being impatient in his thirst, has dug out the sandy ground with his feet. At the end of despair, in the final futile effort, in the moment no one could foresee, nobody could expect, suddenly, miraculously, with the power of need and the mercy of kindness:
A humming. The sound of the footsteps of water.
Zamzam. The overflowing, sweet, life-giving water from the depth of stone!
And the lesson?
Finding water through love and not through search but only after searching.
Reaching Him – not with just effort –
O you who trust in love – endeavor as much as you can! ”
Ali Shariati, Hajj: Reflections on Its Rituals
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As a result of Mirabai’s quest, her search within for Khidr, the Green Man, “the Friend the soul longs for, the one whose presence illuminates our hearts with true understanding,” she exemplifies another story of Rumi.
One who had to cross the great salt desert, in order to arrive at one of the stages of the destination, ran out of water. She became thirsty. She began to dig shallow into the desert earth, here and there, there and here. She died of thirst.
Along came another who had to cross the great salt desert in order to reach her destination. She also ran out of water. Her thirst was consuming her. She chose a spot and dug deep, deeper and the deepest possible. Suddenly, water sprang out like a fountain and she was saved.
Mirabai, in her search for Khidr, for true understanding of her fellow human being, deepened her love for Jewish Law by actually practicing it. Yet, the very title of her work stresses her understanding of the Way of Jesus and Christianity, the following of the Golden Rule. And her final conclusion, the Truth, reaffirmed by Prophet Muhammad, is that God is One.
Submission to the will of God (islam) as an uncompromising monotheism is also essential Judaism. To believe in Jesus is essential Christianity.
The commonalities, as Mirabai Starr points out, far outweigh theological differences. It is the commonalities that need to be understood and stressed if we are to be the one community to which many of us aspire.
And, in her search, Mirabai remained faithful to the Truth. She did not say that God is Love. She recognized the Sufi paradox: God is Love, but at the very same instance, Love is not God.