No source of academic study whether it be scriptural, historical or mythological has been able to come up with a definitive answer as to who Mary was, what her exact relationship was with Jesus or what her specific role may have been during the time that Jesus lived or what her specific role may have been following his death. As such, all I can share here is what has come out of my own reflection and prayer.
For me, Mary, the Magdalene, was a close, intimate companion and disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. Said to be “healed of seven demons,” I believe that Mary underwent a process of spiritual transformation and initation, facilited by Jesus that allowed her to be released to live as her most authentic self, integrated and whole, and which then allowed her to receive Jesus’ highest teachings.
I believe that Mary became a leader among the community of men and women that followed Jesus. Due to cultural constrictions, it was perhaps the women to whom Mary most closely ministered. Unlike the male disciples (who stayed hidden in the upper room), Mary had the courage, along with Jesus’ mother and some of the other women, to accompany (at least to the best of their ability) and bear witness to Jesus’ execution. She, along with the other women, anointed his body and tended to his burial. Mary, perhaps due to her previous spiritual preparation, was the one person to whom the resurrected Christ was revealed. She was the first witness and was then commissioned to deliver the news of the resurrection to the other disciples. She delivered the message that was at first rejected until the disciples saw the evidence for themselves.
I believe that Mary played an integral role in the evolution of the early Christian communities, bearing witness to Jesus’ teachings. I sense that Mary’s reception of the Jesus message was rooted in meditation and contemplation. Therefore, her experience would not have been dogmatic or doctrine-driven, but would have been intuitive, experiential and integrated. She did not just know about Jesus’ teachings, she had lived experience and knowledge of the truths that he came to reveal. As such, her method of delivering the Jesus message would have been centered in helping others to find their own path and experience of these truths, rather than dictating law or doctrine.
Whether or not Mary and Jesus were married and/or had children is irrelevant to me. What is important is the truth that Jesus came to reveal and Mary’s role in being a vessel through which this truth could continue to be revealed in the world. It is for this reason, that I choose to honor Susan Haskin’s theory about her second name of “Magdalene.” I believe, as Susan Haskins suggests, that Magdalene was not a name, but a title. She theorizes that Magdalene is not in reference to a town (Magdala) which may or may not have been in existence during the time of Jesus, but is in reference to the Magdal-Eder, one of the towers of Herod’s castle, and is translated as “tower of the flock.” Mary, tower of the flock. Mary, the Magdalene. Magdalene, then, is not a surname, neither is it in reference to a birthplace, but is an honorific title designating Mary’s importance in the Jesus movement. Jesus, the shepherd of the flock, and Mary, the tower of the flock. HHHMMM something to consider!
All this being said, I hold Mary, the Magdalene, in great esteem. I honor her as a symbol of the contemplative, interior experience of the Jesus movement. And, it is for this reason that I love the image of Mary created above. Her eyes draw us in and hold us in rapt attention as we allow ourselves to be open to the message she wishes to convey. Her posture suggests an authority that has been empowered from within and a confidence in her role as vessel and messenger. The egg she holds in her hand (based on a legend of Eastern Orthodox origins) invites us along the path of experiential knowledge which facilitates true belief. I humbly look to Mary as an example of how I may be able to provide the vessel in which the compassion and love of God continue to be revealed in our world.