My friend Mirabai Starr, translator of Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross, will be interviewed on Christmas Eve on New Dimensions Radio. She’ll talk about why St. John of the Cross is the “Rumi” of Spain, which Christian mystic coined the term “dark night of the soul,” how Our Lady of Guadalupe merges the spiritual traditions of several cultures, why St. Francis suffered so deeply, and why the sword of a spiritual warrior is a sword of peace and truth.
Mirabai was raised in a secular Jewish household, has maintained a Buddhist meditation practice since the age of sixteen, has engaged the ecstatic mystical traditions of Sufism, and now lives within the indigenous spiritual traditions of Taos, New Mexico.
I met her when I mentioned her translation of John of the Cross in a spirituality column (My House At Last Grown Still) for Sojourners. She dropped me a note in response and a lovely friendship has developed. Here’s an excerpt from that column:
It is three in the morning. There is no sound but the house creaking. A siren in the distance. Somewhere monks are rising for Vigils. In Catholic spirituality this hour is associated with St. John of the Cross and the “dark night of the soul.” It is a time of nothingness, when life’s futility is foremost in the mind. It is Jonah’s time in the whale. Where is God? asks the soul.
John of the Cross was a 16th-century Spanish mystic and Carmelite priest. He grew up in abject poverty in an itinerant family. The Carmelites offered to educate him if he joined the priesthood, which he did. Eventually, he joined a movement led by Teresa of Avila to return the Carmelites to a simple life of prayer and service. For this he was imprisoned and tortured by his fellow priests. The story goes that it was near 3 a.m. when he escaped from his prison cell and collapsed in the archway of Teresa’s chapel, weeping to hear the nuns singing.
John is remembered because of his poetry about the soul’s progress toward God and his commentary on the poetry—collectively called Dark Night of the Soul. (Mirabai Starr’s new translation is accessible and profound.) He describes two stages of spiritual desolation that some souls go through. The first is the “night of the senses,” followed by the “night of the spirit.”
Mirabai has spent the past several years sitting in the presence of the great Christian mystics-or so it seems. As a translator of the works of St. John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the archangel Michael, St. Francis of Assisi, and Hildegard of Bingen, she immersed herself in their essence, and found herself forever altered.
She brings a rare breadth of understanding to the teachings of religious mystics of several traditions. She echoes their familiar words, “Not my will but thine,” “Be present,” and “Open your heart,” and infuses them with the sensitivity and perspective of a gifted modern-day teacher.
If you want to rediscover the mystic traditions of the Jesus Way in a totally fresh and engaging voice, listen to Mirabai and read her books–especially the Devotions, Prayers & Living Wisdom series by Sounds True.