Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics

By Mirabai Starr. Sounds True, 2019. 264 pages. $17.95/paperback; $16.95/eBook.

Mirabai Starr’s Wild Mercy is a vibrant companion for homebound Friends in pandemic isolation, those publicly protesting racial injustice, and Friends writing budget policies to correct economic disparities. Starr’s themes rise straight out of our equality testimony, for “that of God in everyone” is also a central conviction of female Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim contemplative activists. I only wish Starr had included the fiery voices of Elizabeth Fry, Mary Hughes, Mary Dyer, and countless Quakers who also got in trouble for extending Friends convictions of spiritual equality into social, political, economic, artistic, and gender equality.

Margaret Fell warned of being ripped open by the Light. Starr, too, was ripped open by the death of her teen daughter. Grievous loss catapulted her into breaking open, melting down, and connecting intimately with the Beloved through the presence of feminist mystics across time and tradition. Starr interweaves her own tragedies, vulnerabilities, and strengths with capacities expressed through the ages by courageous women too long ignored.

A multilingual scholar and leading contemplative feminist-activist educator, Starr is animated by continuing revelation. She writes:

Here’s how I have built this book: Each chapter of Wild Mercy is a tapestry of my favorite teachings from women of wisdom of the past and present, interwoven with my own reflections and personal stories and ending with a suggested practice—often, but not always, a writing prompt—so that you can integrate the topic at hand with your own experience. . . . It is my hope that . . . you will identify with their struggles and be encouraged by their breakthroughs. That you will forge living relationships with them as your ancestors and guides, draw on their power, embody their essential qualities.

Starr’s writing impacted me emotionally, parallel to what I experienced in Kendal, England, when I beheld the Quaker Tapestry (quaker-tapestry.co.uk). Four thousand men, women, and children stitched stories depicting 350 years of Quaker life onto 77 embroidered panels: “a unified design, yet diverse enough to draw together groups of people with different interests and abilities.” Similarly, Starr draws together diverse readers of many faith traditions—and none—through inclusive language, striking metaphors, and rich imagery.

When she writes, “There is a great need to be mothering the world together right now,” her voice echoes Margaret Hope Bacon in Mothers of Feminism. Julian of Norwich found it obvious that God is a mother; look at the impact of Mother Mary and Mother Teresa upon Christianity; meet Ma Kali, Hinduism’s Supreme Mother, and Indian saint Anandamayi Ma, known as “the Bliss-Permeated Mother.” I learned that the Arabic word rahim means womb. Rahim also means compassion, the very face of the Divine Feminine among Muslims, who repeat “rahim” from the Qur’an many times a day in daily prayers.

“How do we claim this life-affirming birthright without sucking our Mother the Earth dry?” Starr challenges:

By engaging the very feminine values that have been missing from our religious and political institutions: the willingness to be present, to listen, and, most of all, to allow our hearts to be moved by the suffering of the world. The great gift of the brokenhearted is a deepening of care. We bleed for our bleeding Mother. We spontaneously rise to tend her.

I see evidence of fierce, tender mothering arising in these times of pandemic uncertainty.

Wild Mercy serves up hearty, nourishing fare for Friends of all ages and genders. Don’t miss the “deepening” sections, lit with provocative prompts to help the reader access their own “wild mind” (a phrase the author borrows from writer Natalie Goldberg) through transformational writing. The author sums it up:

This book is more than a book. It is an invitation . . . to turn inward and to step up, to cultivate a contemplative life and to offer the fruits in service. Thanks to an array of wise and wild women and a few goddesses, the way is flooded in light, even—perhaps especially—when our eyes perceive it as dark.

Judith Favor is a convinced Friend who remains active with Claremont Monthly, Southern California Quarterly, and Pacific Yearly Meetings.

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