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Theme:
Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene

Saturday, July 25, 2020
Summary: Sunday, July 19—Friday, July 24, 2020

Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on. . . . Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God. (Sunday)

Like myself, a great many Christians have absorbed most of what they know about Mary Magdalene through the dual filters of tradition and the liturgy, which inevitably direct our attention toward certain aspects of the story at the expense of others. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Monday)

What if, instead of emphasizing that Jesus died alone and rejected, we reinforced that one stood by him and did not leave? —Cynthia Bourgeault (Tuesday)

Mary Magdalene and the other women were the first witnesses to the resurrection because they remained present for the entire process. (Wednesday)

Great love is both very attached (“passionate”) and yet very detached at the same time. It is love but not addiction. (Thursday)

I painted Mary Magdalene and Christ seated side by side as visionaries and spiritual teachers with their hands open in the universal gesture of prayer—gifts offered and received—as icons of the sacred. —Janet McKenzie (Friday)

 

Practice: Bride and Beloved

Today’s contemplative practice is inspired by the life of Mary Magdalene and her role as an icon and archetype for the full partnership of women in the divine. Psychotherapist Joan Norton offers a meditation in which we can all participate.  

I’m grateful for the stories of Mary Magdalene because she fully lived a woman’s life of love and relationship, while also being a source of special spiritual knowledge. In her we find guidance for both the inner life of the spirit and the outer life of love. That has always been the role of the feminine face of God. I’m grateful for the pathways to self-knowledge that Mary Magdalene’s stories provide. . . .

Forever we have been told to seek the Kingdom within. Now . . . we seek to understand the feminine energy of God, which we can call the “Queendom within.” Together they are a whole known as the Divine. . . .

She Brings Goodness upon the Land

Close your eyes and feel your feet on the floor. Breathe a simple breath . . . and another breath even slower than the first one . . . and now another breath . . . still so slowly.

            You are safe here in this room, with your feet on the floor and the floor upon Mother Earth . . . your feet are feeling the warmth of the earth, so secure and so safe . . .

            Breathe again deeply and slowly . . . your feet are heavy now and comfortable on the floor . . .

            Once upon a time it was foretold that the Bridegroom would have a Bride and that goodness would be upon the land and healing would come from their union . . .

            Breathe . . .

            It was foretold that the two halves of God would be together as One . . .

            Wholeness is our birthright . . . Breathe deeply and remember your whole and sacred self . . .

            There was a time when we women knew ourselves to be in sacred partnership, knew ourselves to be the Sacred Complement to the Bridegroom . . . knew that masculine and feminine God meet within each human being . . .

            Breathe again slowly . . .

            Breathe into a place within your heart, a place of knowing yourself as Sacred Partner . . . as soul partner . . . as Bride and Beloved . . .

            It was foretold . . . and let that time be now . . . and let that sacred vessel be me . . .

            Sit in silence for a while and let images or feelings surface within you.

            (Allow 5 or 10 minutes.)

            Open your eyes and come back into the room, as you are ready.

What were your experiences during this meditation?

Joan Norton also offers this journal question, which is an important one for both women and men to reflect on.

In the Song of Songs (5:7) the bride says, “They beat me and wounded me and stripped my mantle from me.” In what ways do you feel women have been treated disrespectfully by your religion?

Reference:
Joan Norton and Margaret Starbird, 14 Steps to Awaken the Sacred Feminine: Women in the Circle of Mary Magdalene (Bear & Company: 2009), 17–18.

For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala Publications: 2010).

Diarmuid Ó Murchú, Inclusivity: A Gospel Mandate (Orbis Books: 2015).

Susan Perry, ed., Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: The Art of Janet McKenzie, (Orbis Books: 2009).

Richard Rohr, The Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013).

Image credit: Mary Magdalene with Jesus the Christ (middle panel of the triptych The Succession of Mary Magdalene) (detail), Janet McKenzie, 2009, Collection of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. Used with permission of the artist. www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on—and Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God. —Richard Rohr
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Mary Magdalene

Come and See
Friday, July 24, 2020

At our Universal Christ conference in 2019, artist Janet McKenzie shared her paintings, including her work “Jesus of the People.” In her presentation, she shared how rewarding and difficult it can be to disrupt people’s preconceived notions of who someone is and how they should behave. Our expectations are often bound by class, race, culture, gender, and in this case, religious tradition. Any resistance we might feel to changing our perspective of the role Mary Magdalene played in Jesus’ life or the early church probably stems from that same discomfort of having our preconceived notions challenged. With that in mind, I want to share what Janet McKenzie has to say about her painting, “Mary Magdalene with Jesus, the Christ”—our banner for this week’s meditations.

I painted Mary Magdalene and Christ seated side by side as visionaries and spiritual teachers with their hands open in the universal gesture of prayer—gifts offered and received—as icons of the sacred. Jesus, the Christ, sent to live among us as the Word Made Flesh, and Mary Magdalene, the first one sent to proclaim the resurrection, are models for the community of disciple-companions sent “to the ends of the earth” [Acts 1:8] to tell and become the Good News for all. [1]

Susan Calef, a professor of theology at Creighton University, wrote this commentary about McKenzie’s painting.

The One Sent: Mary Magdalene with Jesus, the Christ. The very words recall the climactic scene of the Gospel of John, that of Mary Magdalene’s dawn encounter with the Secret Gardener. “Mary! . . . Go, tell my brothers and sisters . . .” (John 20:16‒17). For centuries artists have rendered the scene familiar: The Risen Christ stands above and Mary kneels below, her outstretched hand reaching for him as he rebuffs her. “Do not cling to me,” the image speaks.

In striking contrast, The One Sent images not a Gospel scene but a vision, a vision of the Wisdom-Word that dwells in the deep of John’s Gospel. From the opening words “In the beginning” to its climactic return to a garden, the fourth Gospel evokes a new creation, worked and signed upon the world by the Word-Made-Flesh. For those eyed to see by John’s Gospel telling, the image set before us speaks, not “Do not cling to me,” but “Come and see.” [2]

Spend a few moments simply gazing at this painting. Is it possible that “Do not cling to me” may not have been a rebuke but an invitation for Mary Magdalene to see her beloved rabbi and friend from a new perspective? Could it be that the same invitation applies to us as well?

References:
[1] Janet McKenzie, Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: The Art of Janet McKenzie, ed. Susan Perry (Orbis Books: 2009), 102.

[2] Susan Calef, “The One Sent: Mary Magdalene with Jesus, the Christ,” Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: The Art of Janet McKenzie, ed. Susan Perry (Orbis Books: 2009), 102.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene with Jesus the Christ (middle panel of the triptych The Succession of Mary Magdalene) (detail), Janet McKenzie, 2009, Collection of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. Used with permission of the artist. www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on—and Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God. —Richard Rohr
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Mary Magdalene

Great Love
Thursday, July 23, 2020

One of the lessons we might learn from the Gospel stories of Mary Magdalene is that, in the great economy of grace, all is used and transformed. Nothing is wasted. God uses our egoic desires and identities and leads us beyond them. Jesus’ clear message to his beloved Mary Magdalene in their first post-resurrection encounter is not that she squelch, deny, or destroy her human love for him. He is much more subtle than that. He just says to her “Do not cling to me” (John 20:17). He is saying “Don’t hold on to the past, what you think you need or deserve. We are all heading for something much bigger and much better, Mary.” This is the spiritual art of detachment, which is not taught much in the capitalistic worldview where clinging and possessing are not just the norm but even the goal. In her desire to cling to Jesus and his refusal to allow it, we see ourselves reflected as in a mirror. We are shown that eventually even the greatest things in our lives—even our loves—must be released and allowed to become something new. Otherwise we are trapped. Love has not yet made us free.

Great love is both very attached (“passionate”) and yet very detached at the same time. It is love but not addiction. The soul, the True Self or Whole Self, has everything, and so it does not require any particular thing or person. When we have all things in Christ, we do not have to protect any one thing. The True Self can love and let go. The separate, small self cannot do this. I am told the “do not cling to me” encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is the most painted Easter scene. The artistic imagination knows that a seeming contradiction was playing out here: intense love and yet appropriate distance. The soul and the spirit tend to love and revel in paradoxes; they operate by resonance and reflection. Our smaller egoic selves want to resolve all paradoxes in a most glib way. We only have to look around at all the struggling relationships in our own lives to see that it’s true. When we love exclusively from our small selves, we operate in a way that is mechanical and instrumental, which we now sometimes call codependent. We return again and again to the patterns of interaction we know. This is not always bad, but it is surely limited. Great love—loving from our Whole Selves connected to the Source of all love—offers us so much more.

The ego would like Mary Magdalene and Jesus to be caught up in a passionate love affair. Of course they are, in the deepest sense of the term, but only the True Self knows how to enjoy and picture a love of already satisfied desire. The True Self and separate self see differently; both are necessary, but one is better, bigger, and even eternal.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 153‒154.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene with Jesus the Christ (middle panel of the triptych The Succession of Mary Magdalene) (detail), Janet McKenzie, 2009, Collection of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. Used with permission of the artist. www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on—and Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God. —Richard Rohr
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Mary Magdalene

Faithful to the End
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Feast Day of Mary Magdalene

Diarmuid Ó Murchú is an Irish poet, author, friend, and member of the Sacred Heart Community. This poem highlights the presence of Mary Magdalene and the women at Jesus’ death and resurrection and invites us to question why we have not honored their role more fully. Poetry is so much better heard than simply read, so for full effect, read these words aloud, perhaps several times.

What happened [to] the women on the first Easter Day
Breaks open a daring horizon,
Inviting all hearts to discern.
Mid the grieving and trauma of loss,
The horror to stand at the foot of a Cross.
A body we think was buried in haste,
And a tomb that was empty but restless in taste.
Empowering a strange group of women. [stanza 2]

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

What happened to those on the first Day of Easter,
The faithful disciples by Magdalene led?
A subverted truth the patriarchs dread.
Beyond all the theories that time has construed,
Beyond the oppression we have too long endured.
The first ones commissioned for Easter proclaim
A woman-led mission we’ve brutally maimed.
But we can’t keep subverting empowerment. [stanza 5]

Resurrection still flourishes and always it will,
Imbued with a truth that time will fulfil.
What women empowered at the dawning breakthrough
will bear fruit in season
despite all the treason.
’Cos justice will render what deserves to endure. [stanza 6] [1]

Ó Murchú reflects:

Of all the Gospel material related to women, none is more enigmatic and empowering than the role of the women in post-Resurrection space . . . I [wrote of] the women on Calvary remaining faithful to the end. For those women, it was anything but an end. Even when the male disciples fled in fear, they remained to await a new frightening dawn that would propel them into a mission transcending all other missionary endeavors recorded in Gospel lore. The early church seemed unprepared for the archetypal breakthrough and proceeded to consign the women to historical invisibility.

Richard again: I think this is a perfect example of how we cannot see what we aren’t told to look for! For most of history, Christians glossed over the presence of the women at Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. We weren’t wrong; we were simply paying attention to what we were told to look at—the men—by other men (priests, theologians, and even the Gospel writers themselves). We skipped over the faithfulness of the women and focused instead on the faithlessness (and the Easter morning foot race) of the men. Mary Magdalene and the other women were the first witnesses to the resurrection because they remained present for the entire process, from death unto new life, exactly what is necessary to witness resurrections in our own lives as well.

References:
[1] Diarmuid Ó Murchú, “Risen Empowerment,” Inclusivity: A Gospel Mandate (Orbis Books: 2015), 163‒164. Poem used with permission of the publisher.

Diarmuid Ó Murchú, Inclusivity: A Gospel Mandate (Orbis Books: 2015), 162–164.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene with Jesus the Christ (middle panel of the triptych The Succession of Mary Magdalene) (detail), Janet McKenzie, 2009, Collection of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. Used with permission of the artist. www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on—and Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God. —Richard Rohr
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Mary Magdalene

She Does Not Run
Tuesday, July 21, 2020

One of my favorite things about Cynthia Bourgeault is the way she poses questions that get right to the heart of the matter. Her brilliant scholarship comes from the fullness of her being—body, heart, and mind. Her study of Mary Magdalene is no exception, as evidenced by the questions she asks at the end of this passage. Bourgeault writes:

[After seeing the risen Christ,] Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord, and this is what he said to me” (John 20:14–18).

It is on the basis of this announcement that Mary earned the traditional title of “Apostle to the Apostles.” The first to witness to the resurrection, she is also the one who “commissions” the others to go and announce the good news of the resurrection. . . .

All four gospels witness to Mary Magdalene as the premiere witness to the resurrection—alone or in a group, but in all cases named by name. Given the shifting sands of oral history, the unanimity of this testimony is astounding. It suggests that among the earliest Christians the stature of Mary Magdalene is of the highest order of magnitude—more so than even the Virgin Mother (mentioned as present at the crucifixion in only one gospel and in none at the resurrection). Mary Magdalene’s place of honor is so strong that even the heavy hand of a later, male-dominated ecclesiology cannot entirely dislodge it.

All four gospels insist that when all the other disciples are fleeing, Mary Magdalene stands firm. She does not run; she does not betray or lie about her commitment; she witnesses. Hers is clearly a demonstration of either the deepest human love or the highest spiritual understanding of what Jesus was teaching, perhaps both. But why, one wonders, do the Holy Week liturgies tell and re-tell the story of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus, while the steady, unwavering witness of Magdalene is not even noticed?

How would our understanding of the Paschal Mystery change if even that one sentence that I finally heard at Vézelay was routinely included in the Good Friday and Palm Sunday Passion narratives? What if, instead of emphasizing that Jesus died alone and rejected, we reinforced that one stood by him and did not leave?—for surely this other story is as deeply and truly there in the scripture as is the first. How would this change the emotional timbre of the day? How would it affect our feelings about ourselves? About the place of women in the church? About the nature of redemptive love?

And above all, why is the apostle to the apostles not herself an apostle? [1]

Richard again: Let’s hold Cynthia’s questions in our minds and hearts that they might stir us to “epiphanies” of our own on the nature of steadfast love. Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus shows what it means to have one person hold fast to us in our hour of need, despite the apparent hopelessness of it all.

References:
[1] Though it may seem like a small victory to some, I think it’s significant that in 2016 Pope Francis decreed that Mary Magdalene’s feast day, July 22, is “to be ‘celebrated’ liturgically like the rest of the apostles.” See https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2016/06/10/160610c.html.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala Publications: 2010), 8, 15–16.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene with Jesus the Christ (middle panel of the triptych The Succession of Mary Magdalene) (detail), Janet McKenzie, 2009, Collection of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. Used with permission of the artist. www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on—and Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God. —Richard Rohr
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Mary Magdalene

Go Back to the Gospels
Monday, July 20, 2020

Today, Cynthia Bourgeault, a member of the CAC’s teaching faculty, shares an epiphany she had about the significance of Mary Magdalene’s presence at the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

I was spending Holy Week 2005 on a “working retreat” with the Fraternités monastiques de Jérusalem, the innovative young monastic order in residence at the basilica in Vézelay [France]. This mixed community of men and women monks is well known for the imagination and beauty of its liturgy, and toward the end of the Good Friday liturgy I witnessed an unusual ceremony that changed forever how I understood my Christianity.

The liturgy was long and intricate, performed with meticulous reverence by the brothers and sisters. . . . As sunset fell, one of the monks began to read in French the burial narrative from the Gospel of Matthew. . . . I allowed the sonorous French to float by my ears while I drifted in and out, catching what I could. . . . Out of the haze of words came “et Mary Magdalene et l’autre Marie restaient debout en face du tombeau . . .”

That’s when I did my double take. Mary Magdalene was there? That was in the scripture? Why hadn’t I ever noticed it before?

Thinking that maybe my French had failed me, I went back to my room that evening, took out my Bible, and looked it up. But yes, right there in Matthew 27:61 it read: “And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained standing there in front of the tomb.”

Suddenly the whole picture changed for me. I’d thought I knew the tradition well. As an Episcopal priest I’d presided over many Good Friday liturgies, and as a choral musician, I’d sung my share of Bach Passions. I’d thought I knew the plot backward and forward. How could this key point have escaped my attention? No wonder Mary Magdalene came so unerringly to the tomb on Easter morning; she’d stood by in silent, unflinching vigil the whole time Jesus was being laid to rest there. Maybe she never left . . . Since that moment I have literally not heard the Passion story in the same way. It inspired me to go back to the gospels and actually read the story in a new way. . . .

Like myself, a great many Christians have absorbed most of what they know about Mary Magdalene through the dual filters of tradition and the liturgy, which inevitably direct our attention toward certain aspects of the story at the expense of others.

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala Publications: 2010), 5‒6.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene with Jesus the Christ (middle panel of the triptych The Succession of Mary Magdalene) (detail), Janet McKenzie, 2009, Collection of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. Used with permission of the artist. www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on—and Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God. —Richard Rohr
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Mary Magdalene

Love and Knowing Become One
Sunday, July 19, 2020

This week I’m excited to share another wonderful model of action and contemplation, Mary Magdalene. One of Jesus’ closest disciples, the Catholic Church celebrates her feast day on July 22.  My friend Cynthia Bourgeault tells a story about the moment when she told an older priest friend that she was writing a book about Mary Magdalene. She recounts, “He looked at me long and hard, as only an old friend can, and then said, ‘Go gently. Try not to leave me behind.’” [1] I, too, will try to “go gently” in these meditations on Mary Magdalene, yet at the same time, I want to challenge our preconditioned and possibly mistaken ideas about who this woman was.

For over a millennium, Mary of Magdala was misidentified as the woman with the alabaster jar who was called a “sinner” and who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36–50). While we may never know for certain if those two women were the same or separate individuals, the conflation has confused Christianity’s view of them. Either way, Jesus shows both Gospel women nothing but respect, forgiveness, and love.

What we do know about Mary Magdalene is that she was the woman who was closest to Jesus. She was “possessed by seven demons” and Jesus healed her (Luke 8:2). She is mentioned in the Resurrection accounts by name in all four Gospels, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of other women. [2] She was the first to meet the risen Christ. The fact that she immediately went to embrace him is a testament to the closeness of their relationship, the mutual regard and affection they must have shared. When Jesus said to her “Don’t cling to me” (John 20:17), he was indicating that the time for physical closeness was in the past. Mary’s love had to release the finite in order to reach a more expansive, spiritual dimension.

Mary Magdalene is the person in the Gospel who most needs love to be stronger than death and so she is the first to know it—and perhaps at the deepest level. She is the first one who symbolically comes to “consciousness,” as it were, of Jesus as the risen Christ and thus is the clear “witness to the witnesses.” She is the real knower; in fact, love and knowing have become one in her. Mary is the archetypal name for all those who have been led by love into awareness of their True Selves and know its Source.

Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on. She is a stand-in for all of us who seek an intimate and loving relationship with the divine. Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God.

References:
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala Publications: 2010), ix. In this book, Cynthia does an excellent job addressing the “melding” of Mary Magdalene with the woman with the alabaster jar.

[2] See Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40–41; Luke 24:10; and John 20:1.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 180‒181; and

Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2001, 2013), 73.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene with Jesus the Christ (middle panel of the triptych The Succession of Mary Magdalene) (detail), Janet McKenzie, 2009, Collection of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. Used with permission of the artist. www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary Magdalene is the icon and archetype of love itself—needed, given, received, and passed on—and Jesus’ appearance to her first and alone is the clear affirmation of the wonderful and astounding message that we do not need to be perfect to be the beloved of Jesus and God. —Richard Rohr
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