Book review

Walking with wise women

Taos author Mirabai Starr's new book, 'Wild Mercy,' discusses feminine mysticism

By Johanna DeBiase
Posted 4/11/19

There is a secret fiesta going on in the wildwood, and you are invited.

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Book review

Walking with wise women

Taos author Mirabai Starr's new book, 'Wild Mercy,' discusses feminine mysticism


Wild Mercy

Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics

235 pp. Sounds True. $17.95

'There is a secret fiesta going on in the wildwood, and you are invited. This party has been unfolding for millennia. Its hosts are women mystics from all branches of the soul family … Its guests include anyone whose heart has ever yearned for union with the Beloved and the alleviation of suffering for all sentient beings. Which means YOU."

So begins the book of spiritual writings released this month, "Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics," by local author and teacher Mirabai Starr. She will be celebrating her hometown book launch with a reading and signing Sunday (April 14) from 4-6 p.m. at El Monte Sagrado Resort, 317 Kit Carson Road. Admission is free and books will be available for sale.

Readers of all genders are invited into a secret gathering where the paradigm of male-dominated faith traditions is disrupted and feminine wisdom reigns. "Wild Mercy" is a healing journey into the feminine experience, "with its emphasis on the value of relationships, feelings and mutual empowerment over individual success and empirical argument."

The premise of Starr's book is that devotion and nondualism, the belief that we are not separate from God, can coexist. She writes, "If the feminine is all about incarnation and embodiment (which is what I am proclaiming in this book), then she rests squarely in the realm of form. And in form we have separation as well as unity. We have mountain ranges and blue spruces, inner cities and dive bars, old white dudes and radical black feminists … This world is filled with glorious, untidy multiplicity. Sometimes God feels very far away, and so we long for God. Not because we believe that God and self are ultimately existentially separate, but because here in the midst of our relative reality our souls yearn to return to where we come from: Absolute Love."

Each chapter begins with a haiku that concentrates the heart of the theme into three lines. Then, the author addresses the reader using the pronoun "you" to draw us into the circle before she proceeds with the teachings of women mystics past and present. The stories of these exemplary women are linked and entwined with the author's own reflections and personal anecdotes. Chapters conclude with a suggested practice, such as meditation or writing, holding space for the reader to reflect on how the teachings pertain to their personal journey.

For example, the chapter "Connecting: Community and the Web of Interbeing" opens with the haiku:

Tears of the Buddha

Gazing on the world below

The goddess is born

Starr addresses the reader, "You feel special. Sometimes this feels like a curse. Like no one will understand you. Ever. Like you will always be an alien walking among regular humans, pretending to blend in." She explains how the woman mystic is different from the prophet male hermit wandering the wilderness alone, but instead is empowered by her community. She emphasizes that the feminine is a way of connecting.

Starr tells the story of how she leaves home at 14 and moves to the Lama Foundation, a spiritual intentional community that teaches her the ways of the feminine mystics. She gives examples of wise women who draw on community and connectedness for their spiritual purpose including Mother Mary, the Beguines, Sister Greta, Fatima and Tara. The chapter ends with an invitation for deepening your understanding of "Connecting" with a writing exercise about contributing to others.

The 12 chapters include--Turning Inward, Laying Down Our Burden, Breaking Open, Melting Down, Connecting, Embracing, Sheltering, Co-creating, Making a Joyful Noise, Forgiving, Dying and Taking Refuge.

"Wild Mercy" is structured in such a way that it does not have to be read in order; one could open to a section randomly or choose a topic that speaks to them in the moment. However, the order of the chapters feels intentional, and the reader might benefit from following the mystical voyage in the direction given. Either way, be sure to have your pencil nearby as there are so many insightful lines in this book, you'll find yourself unable to stop underlining.

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, compassionate action and the teachings of the mystics across the spiritual traditions. She is the award-winning author of "God of Love," "Caravan of No Despair" and other acclaimed works.

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