By Nancy McKay
A REVIEW OF GOD OF LOVE BY MIRABAI STARR
I approached this book with high hopes and some trepidation. I longed for interspirituality when I had no name for it. I knew I wanted more than interfaith dialogue, useful as that is as a starting place. I am usually disappointed when authors compare faiths. My experience of heavily negative criticism of Christianity and blithe misinformation makes me wary.
My own heart is eclectic. No ‘ism’ or ‘ology’ wholly suffices. I am ordained in a progressive Christian denomination and I use a Buddhist meditation I learned 30 years ago. I journal with “The Medicine Cards” on most mornings. In my spiritual direction practice, I encourage people to try on new ways of seeking and finding.
Mirabai Starr has done her homework and her soul work. She is accurate in what she says about my tradition, so I trust her to teach me about others. Her respectful and appreciative treatment of what I consider the best of Christianity is a joy to receive. I taught spirituality in an interfaith seminary and had to deal first with the wounds inflicted by some kinds of Christianity before we could turn to any of the riches. Professor Starr seems winnowed by experience of love and spirit, washed clean by prayer, and tempered by walking her talk. She does not shy away from the gritty and the everyday of life. Her account of Love in action in Lordsburg (!), New Mexico, makes a strong justice statement. In telling of St. Francis of Assisi, her passion for inclusion as justice shines forth:
It is not enough to recognize the other as oneself and to grasp our essential interconnectedness with all beings. The real work lies in putting our beliefs into practice. Not only is everyone welcome at the feast of the Divine; no one anywhere should ever go hungry. True Table Fellowship means making a commitment that everybody in our community has enough to eat.
Compassion is not a matter of feeling pity for the poor; it is a direct engagement with the roots of poverty, a willingness to sacrifice our own comfort for the well-being of someone else, an unqualified identification with those on the margins, and a wholehearted effort to bring everyone home to the table of the Holy One. (Pp. 92-3)
All three of the Abrahamic faiths warn of the high cost of loving. No sentimental chicken soup is served up. Starr does not speak of the Buddhist practice of Tonglin, the taking in of another’s pain to transform it and send it back into the world as blessing and positive energy. But she illustrates the practice with the story of Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari who believed the single message of the three monotheistic faiths was: love one another.
He did not, however, minimize the challenge in implementing this. “The stronger one is the one who can absorb the violence and anger from the other and change it to love and understanding.... It is not easy; it is a lot of work. But this is the real jihad.” (P. 101)
Oh, that Western Christians, especially Americans, could hear and trust that definition of jihad.
Starr acknowledges what she calls “cultural distortions” and urges us to not get stuck in them. All three faiths have them and atrocities result. She raises the prophetic voice that calls us back to the central truth: we are loved unconditionally and are called to love unconditionally also.
Of particular interest to me is Starr’s understanding of the pain and fury inflicted by the patriarchal religions. Yes, the Divine Feminine is real. Yes, She dwells within. Yes, love is Her name and being. Yes, the Abrahamic faiths have some cleaning up to do and some making of amends.
“Two things are guaranteed to hook you up with the God of Love: sorrowing and rejoicing.” My heart skips a beat at this. Sometimes I have seen the promised connection; sometimes I have not seen the guarantee, not yet anyway. As a spiritual director I sit with people who suffer loss and great burdens of hardship. Some do not find this promised love; it does not rush out to embrace them like the father of the prodigal. They feel betrayed not only by life but also by God.
Earnestly I pray that the love that I have personally known will seep into their hearts. Then I believe on their behalf as others have done for me when I could not see my way clear. I would like to share my experience with Starr and read more of what she says about this untimely emptiness that does not lead to a fullness of spirit poured forth. Is it just a matter of my impatience, as I suspect? I long for the “spaciousness in our days” that she envisions.
I welcome Starr to accompany me on my spiritual journey. I agree that love is the means and the end. I have known Love. I know she understands my experience. I shall be recommending this book and returning to it myself.