Perhaps the most maligned person of the Christian scriptures has been Jesus’ disciple and apostle, Mary, the Magdalene. When Pope Gregory confused her character with that of the sinful woman, 15 centuries of Christian people falsely believed her to be the “repentent whore”. This could not be further from the truth. Through modern-day scripture scholarship, along with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library and other non-canonical sacred texts, Mary, the Magdalene has been redeemed. We now know that she was NOT the sinful woman as Gregory would have had us believe, but the Apostle to the Apostles – the one person chosen by Christ through which the resurrection would be revealed.
Mary was one of Jesus’ closest followers and while the male disciples deserted Jesus and hid from the authorities, Mary, along with other women disciples, Jesus’ mother, Mary (and perhaps the disciple, John) courageously bore witness to Jesus’ execution and burial. Legend also tells us that on the third day, Mary was also chosen by Christ to carry the message of the resurrection.
We know very little about Mary following the death and resurrection of Jesus. Only the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) offer us a glimpse into the post-resurrection life of this amazing woman. In both these non-canonical texts, Mary is depicted as teaching the disciples and that conflict arose between her and Peter. Legend places her in faraway places such as Egypt and Southern France sometime after these depictions, Other than that, we know nothing.
Mary, the Magdalene, has been a model for me of the witness of women in the early Christian communities, but more than that, she has represented for me a model of Contemplative life. Early writings about her focus on the intimate relationship she had with Jesus and the “secret” teachings Jesus imparted to her. Jealousy arose among some of the male followers who could not comprehend these teachings, or could not grasp that Jesus would give these hidden teachings to a woman! I believe that this apparent conflict was real and metaphorically illustrates the conflict that arose in the early church between the external and internal experiences of God. The institutional church, it seems, arose out of the external experience of the Divine, whereas the gnostic or contemplative communities arose out of the interior experience of God. This contemplative model of the Christian experience has grown up alongside the institutional church and provided the inspiration out of which the monastic communities arose – The Benedictines, the Franciscans, The Carmelites, etc. These monastic communities have been the ones to maintain the importance of the inner relationship with God and have guarded the spiritual practices that facilitate this interior awareness.
I believe that Mary, the Magdalene, along with those who found their way into her presence, provided the foundation upon which contemplative life could be valued and maintained. It is for this reason that I dedicate my efforts in holding space in which contemplative community may emerge to Mary, the Magdalene. As this process unfolds, I carry her image of contemplative witness in my mind, my heart and on my person. As Mary was healed of “seven demons”, may we too be healed of our fears, false perceptions and ego-attachments so that we remember the truth of our Oneness with God and with one another. Amen. Amen. Blessed Be!