Today’s blog is Part IV of a series exploring the role of Mary Magdalene in the early years of the Jesus movement, its retreat under the shadow of orthodoxy and the invitation to restore her (and her movement) to its rightful place in the light.
Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are…..
So, if we are resurrecting the church of the Magdalene…..how did it die and where did it go? Again, based on 20+ years of research, study, reflection, prayer, meditation, daydreaming and discernment, I have a few theories. And yet again, don’t ask me to provide proof for the accuracy of these theories because a) good luck finding any and b) it quite could just as likely be the working of my overly active and overly romantic imagination. Nevertheless…..indulge me and see if any of this might resonate as truth with you.
- Peter (the disciple, later given credit for being “the first pope.”) didn’t like women and certainly didn’t like Mary. He was jealous of her and refused to hear anything that she had to say (even after some of the other disciples supported her and encouraged Peter to listen to what she had to say.) Mary was saddened by this.
- Somewhere, somehow, Mary came to realize that her understandings of the Jesus message would not be accepted by the Jerusalem community, so she left. (I doubt she waited as long as the fall of Jerusalem in 70 something) Mary was saddened by this.
- I have a strong sense (based on very limited supporting information that interestingly now seems to elude me), that from Jerusalem (or Bethany….or somewhere in Israel) that Mary went to Egypt.
- While in Egypt, a small community of people open to Mary’s views on the Jesus message gathered around her to learn, to take in and to continue the Jesus message (hence, the discovery of the Gospel of Mary in Egypt…..written in Coptic, the language of Egypt during the time of Jesus)
- Sometime after establishing a community (most likely contemplative) in Egypt, Mary journeyed on to the South of France.
- Because of the deep and enduring tradition of the Magdalene in Southern France, I sense that Mary spent a great number of years in that area; teaching, preaching, building communities of prayer and contemplation. Many churches in the area bear her name and her icons.
- Mary may have spent some time in England as well……Glastonbury claims this tradition to be true as do other communities in England.
- We do not know where Mary died or where her tomb lies (if there is such a tomb).
But What About the Mary Movement?
Somewhere in the first 300 years of Christianity, the interior, intuitive, contemplative expression of the Jesus message got overshadowed by law, hierarchy, dogma, doctrine, institutionalization. With Ireneaus anything related to gnosticism (a perspective on religion that favored “direct knowledge” of God over doctrine) got wiped out…and I sense that the Mary Magdalene thread of Christianity got wiped out with it. It did not really die,however. Instead, it went underground only to resurface in the various expressions of Christian monasticism…most notably: St. Francis of Assisi, Clare of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, St. Dominic, Hildegard of Bingen, etc. My sense is that the church of the Magdalene never really died, it only retreated into the contemplative, mystical church, recognized as Western monasticism, waiting for the time that it could once again be brought out into the open for all to appreciate, experience and enjoy. Albert Nolan reflects on this in his book, Jesus Today:
I have always felt that there were two histories of the Christian Church- the history of the institution with its popes and power struggles, its schisms, conflicts and divisions, its heresy hunting and bureaucracy; and the parallel history of the martyrs, saints, and mystics and their devotion to prayer, humility, and self-sacrifice, their freedom and joy, their boldness and their deep love for everyone and everything.
(Jesus Today; Albert Nolan, pg. 73)
Let Them Eat More Than Cake
The monastic, contemplative communities have done a fabulous job of preserving, maintaining and upholding the intuitive, inner, mystical, expression of the Jesus message. I believe that this expression of the Christian path is reflective of the work Mary Magdalene accomplished in the first century and that this path is calling to be brought forth into the light so that all (not just the men and women called to religious life) may benefit from its inherent ability to nourish and sustain. In following the path of the mystical church, what I refer to as “the church of the Magdalene” we find our nourishment within in the intimate connection with God…we are sustained, we know peace, love and joy and we find true fulfillment in the knowledge of our gifts and how God is calling us to share these gifts in the world. Perhaps this is the life giving bread and saving cup to which Jesus so frequently referred and if so, transcends any Institutional limitations on our ability to receive God through the Eucharist(who can or cannot received communion, what it does or doesn’t mean, who can preside over Eucharist or not). I like to think so anyway.
Authentic Freedom Ministries