Mirabai Starr writes fiction, creative non-fiction and contemporary translations of sacred literature. She teaches Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos and teaches and speaks widely on contemplative practice and inter-spiritual dialog. A certified bereavement counselor, Mirabai helps mourners harness the transformational power of loss.
She has received critical acclaim for her revolutionary new translations of “Dark Night of the Soul” by 16th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, and “The Interior Castle” and “The Book of My Life,” by St. Teresa of Avila. She is the editor and writer of the six-volume Sounds True series, “Devotions, Prayers & Living Wisdom,” and contributing author to “Living Fully, Dying Well: Reflecting on Death to Find Your Life’s Meaning.”
Listen Here to Tami Simon of Sounds True interview Mirabai in her podcast, Insights at the Edge. In this episode, Tami speaks with Mirabai about interspirituality (practicing within many faith traditions simultaneously), the connection between grief and longing, the dark night of the soul in the modern world, and the experience of “being naked with the beloved, unknowing.”
Toward the One
There is an apocryphal story about Abraham smashing the idols in his father’s workshop to make a statement about the absolute unity of the Divine. As the legend goes, one day an elderly woman comes by Terah’s idol-fabrication establishment with a basket of bread to offer the gods in exchange for some sort of worldly favor: a good fig harvest, perhaps, or a decent husband for her last unmarried daughter.
Abraham sneaks into the shop in the middle of the night, tips over the breadbasket and scatters the loaves, smashes most of the stone effigies with a hammer, and then places the weapon in the hands of the largest idol. When Terah surveys the damage the next morning and demands to hear what Abraham knows about it, Abraham informs his dad that the gods fought over the offering and the largest idol won the contest.
“That’s ridiculous!” Terah bellows. “It is made of stone. It has no power.”
“Then why worship it?” Abraham asks.
For this blasphemy, Abraham is thrown into the village furnace to be burned. The following morning when the death chamber is opened to retrieve the remains, Abraham steps out, unscathed.
It might be tempting to conclude that the moral of this story is the supremacy of the One God of the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — over the silly little pantheistic and polytheistic superstitions of our ancestors, as well as of much of the non-Western world. This kind of religious elitism is not only misplaced, it is antithetical to the heart of spiritual experience: all is one and we are all interconnected. And the essential unifying principle is love.
Monotheism — the belief in One God — is not about an extra-special Deity who wins the contest and gets to be the boss over all the other deities. It’s not about the Christian God being better than the Muslim God, or Allah as the true Divine Being while Krishna is relegated to the status of a fairy tale. It is about the oneness of all that is. As such, true monotheism demands that we treat one another and the rest of creation with reverence and care, because we are all limbs and lashes, organs and angles of a single sacred body, whose name is Love.
As I write this, Sikhs and those in solidarity with them are gathering in Wisconsin for a vigil. On Aug. 5, a neo-Nazi opened fire at a Sikh temple as members were gathering for worship. Apparently, the turbans they wear as symbols of their faith struck the killer as some kind of threat to white America. He summarily killed as many worshippers as he could before killing himself.
Sikhism, an intermingling of the pure monotheism of Islam with the devotional expression of Hinduism, is a peaceful path, grounded in a balance between hard work and joyful praise. Any Jew, Christian or Muslim who bothers to look into the face of Sikhism will find the face of the God of Love looking back. The same is true for any of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. Wherever human beings gather and reach out to the Divine Mystery, in song and in silence, in supplication and in thanksgiving, within the walls of a temple or in the vast sacred spaces of the wilderness, we are touching the One, and affirming the the absolute unity of being.
May this tragedy serve as another heartbreaking reminder that any notion of the Other is an illusion we cannot afford to indulge, and infuse us with the courage we need to smash the idols of hatred and ignorance.
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. –Deuteronomy 6:4-5
And Jesus said, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. –Mark 12:29-30
Say: He is Allah,
The One and Only;
“Allah, the Eternal, Absolute.
- Mirabai Starr
Article originally published online at the Huffington Post