Lately it seems there are mysteries everywhere, as if you’ve only just opened your eyes. ― Stewart O’Nan
What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them. ― John Lubbock
I am sitting under a sycamore by Tinker Creek. I am really here, alive on the intricate earth under trees. But under me, directly under the weight of my body on the grass, are other creatures, just as real, for whom also this moment, this tree, is “it”… in the top inch of soil, biologists found “an average of 1,356 living creatures in each square foot… I might as well include these creatures in this moment, as best as I can. My ignoring them won’t strip them of their reality, and admitting them, one by one, into my consciousness might heighten mine, might add their dim awareness to my human consciousness, such as it is, and set up a buzz, a vibration…Hasidism has a tradition that one of man’s purposes is to assist God in the work of “hallowing” the things of Creation. By a tremendous heave of the spirit, the devout man frees the divine sparks trapped in the mute things of time; he uplifts the forms and moments of creation, bearing them aloft into the rare air and hallowing fire in which all clays must shatter and burst. ― Annie Dillard
When referring to the earliest followers of Jesus, the Gospel writers often speak of two groups of disciples: the Twelve and the Women. The Twelve refer to the twelve Jewish men chosen by Jesus to be his closest companions and first apostles, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Women refer to an unspecified number of female disciples who also followed Jesus, welcoming him into their homes, financing his ministry, and often teaching the Twelve through their acts of faithfulness and love. Just as Jesus predicted, most of the Twelve abandoned him at his death (John 16:32). But the women remained by his side—through his death, burial, and resurrection. — Rachel Held Evans
Singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples. Like Mary Magdalene, the reason we stand and weep and listen for Jesus is because we, like Mary, are bearers of resurrection, we are made new. On the third day, Jesus rose again, and we do not need to be afraid. To sing to God amidst sorrow is to defiantly proclaim, like Mary Magdalene did to the apostles … that death is not the final word. To defiantly say, once again, that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it. And so, evil be damned, because even as we go to the grave, we still make our song alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber
SONGS about SEEING:
SONGS of MARY MAGDALENE
The Magdalene’s Blessing
— Jan Richardson
You hardly imagined
everything you ever loved
suddenly returned to you,
looking you in the eye
and calling your name.
you do not know
how to abide this ache
in the center
of your chest,
where a door
and swings open
at the same time,
turning on the hinge
of your aching
and hopeful heart.
I tell you,
this is not a banishment
from the garden.
This is an invitation,
This is your life
calling to you
from a place
you could never
but now that you
have glimpsed its edge,
you cannot imagine
choosing any other way.
So let the tears come
let them go.
Let this blessing
gather itself around you.
Let it give you
what you will need
for this journey.
You will not remember
they do not matter.
All you need to remember
is how it sounded
when you stood
in the place of death
and heard the living
call your name.
A Poem for Reflection (excerpt)— Maren C. Tirabassi”
Do you see what I see? … Do You Hear what I Hear?” by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne
God … once came in hearing and seeing …
God, we thank you that Christ
comes alive through the extravagant gifts
of people who do not see starlight
but can explain it to a child,of those who do not hear
a voice as big as the sea,
but understand what heart-song means,
of those who known in different ways,
like the unconditional kindness
often found among people
with the Down syndrome,the quick perception and sustained focus
now attributed to autism spectrum
and long ago to angels,and those whose specific memories
limited by dementias,
let them pray for peace every,and for everyone.
Far from being easily deceived, women were the first to make the connection between Christ’s teachings from scripture and his resurrection, and the first to believe these teachings when they mattered the most. For her valor in twice sharing the good news to the skeptical male disciples, the early church honored Mary Magdalene with the title of Apostle to the Apostles. That Christ ushered in this new era of life and liberation in the presence of women, and that he sent them out as the first witnesses of the complete gospel story, is perhaps the boldest, most overt affirmation of their equality in his kingdom that Jesus ever delivered. — Rachel Held Evans
Who was she? From the New Testament, one can conclude that Mary of Magdala (her hometown, a village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee) was a leading figure among those attracted to Jesus. When the men in that company abandoned him at the hour of mortal danger, Mary of Magdala was one of the women who stayed with him, even to the Crucifixion. She was present at the tomb, the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection and the first to preach the “Good News” of that miracle. These are among the few specific assertions made about Mary Magdalene in the Gospels. From other texts of the early Christian era, it seems that her status as an “apostle,” in the years after Jesus’ death, rivaled even that of Peter…
Again, it helps to have a chronology in mind, with a focus on the place of women in the Jesus movement. Phase one is the time of Jesus himself, and there is every reason to believe that, according to his teaching and in his circle, women were uniquely empowered as fully equal. In phase two, when the norms and assumptions of the Jesus community were being written down, the equality of women is reflected in the letters of St. Paul (c. 50-60), who names women as full partners—his partners—in the Christian movement, and in the Gospel accounts that give evidence of Jesus’ own attitudes and highlight women whose courage and fidelity stand in marked contrast to the men’s cowardice.
But by phase three—after the Gospels are written, but before the New Testament is defined as such—Jesus’ rejection of the prevailing male dominance was being eroded in the Christian community. The Gospels themselves, written in those several decades after Jesus, can be read to suggest this erosion because of their emphasis on the authority of “the Twelve,” who are all males. (The all-male composition of “the Twelve” is expressly used by the Vatican today to exclude women from ordination.) But in the books of the New Testament, the argument among Christians over the place of women in the community is implicit; it becomes quite explicit in other sacred texts of that early period. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the figure who most embodies the imaginative and theological conflict over the place of women in the “church,” as it had begun to call itself, is Mary Magdalene. — Smithsonian
In 1969, Pope Paul VI removed the identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the “sinful woman” from the General Roman Calendar, but the view of her as a former prostitute has persisted in popular culture. Mary Magdalene is considered to be a saint by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. In 2016 Pope Francis raised the level of liturgical memory on July 22 from memorial to feast, and for her to be referred as the “Apostle of the apostles”. Other Protestant churches honor her as a heroine of the faith. —wikipedia.com
In 597 pope Gregory the Great delivered a homily on Luke’s gospel in which he combined Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany (Martha’s sister), suggesting that this Mary was the same woman who wept at Jesus’ feet in Luke 7, and that one of the seven demons Jesus excised from her was sexual immorality. The idea caught on and was perpetuated in medieval art and literature, which often portrayed Mary as a weeping, penitent prostitute. In fact, the English word maudlin, meaning “weak and sentimental,” finds its derivation in this distorted image of Mary Magdalene. In 1969, the Vatican formally restated the Gospels’ distinction between Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the sinful woman of Luke 7, although it seems Martin Scorsese, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Mel Gibson have yet to get the message. — Rachel Held Evans
Easter Egg Miracle —Whitney Hopler
The tradition of using eggs to celebrate Easter began soon after Jesus was resurrected since eggs were already a natural symbol of new life. Often, ancient Christians would hold eggs in their hands as they proclaimed “Christ is risen!” to people on Easter.
Christian tradition says that when Mary met the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar at a banquet, she held up a plain egg and told him: “Christ is risen!”. The emperor laughed and told Mary that the idea of Jesus Christ rising from the dead was as unlikely as the egg she held turning red in her hands. But the egg did turn a bright shade of red while Tiberius Caesar was still speaking. That miracle caught the attention of everyone at the banquet, which gave Mary the opportunity to share the Gospel message with everyone there.
Confusions attached to Mary Magdalene’s character were compounded across time as her image was conscripted into one power struggle after another, and twisted accordingly. In conflicts that defined the Christian Church—over attitudes toward the material world, focused on sexuality; the authority of an all-male clergy; the coming of celibacy; the branding of theological diversity as heresy; the sublimations of courtly love; the unleashing of “chivalrous” violence; the marketing of sainthood, whether in the time of Constantine, the Counter-Reformation, the Romantic era, or the Industrial Age—through all of these, reinventions of Mary Magdalene played their role. Her recent reemergence in a novel and film as the secret wife of Jesus and the mother of his fate-burdened daughter shows that the conscripting and twisting are still going on. — James Carroll
A Litany of Women for the Church —Sr. Joan Chittister
Dear God, creator of women in your own image,
born of a woman in the midst of a world half women,
carried by women to mission fields around the globe,
made known by women to all the children of the earth,
give to the women of our time
the strength to persevere,
the courage to speak out,
the faith to believe in you beyond
all systems and institutions
so that your face on earth may be seen in all its beauty,
so that men and women become whole,
so that the church may be converted to your will
in everything and in all ways.
We call on the holy women
who went before us,
channels of Your Word
in testaments old and new,
to intercede for us
so that we might be given the grace
to become what they have been
for the honor and glory of God.
Saint Esther, who pleaded against power
for the liberation of the people, –Pray for us.
Saint Judith, who routed the plans of men
and saved the community,
Saint Deborah, laywoman and judge, who led
the people of God,
Saint Elizabeth of Judea, who recognized the value
of another woman,
Saint Mary Magdalene, minister of Jesus,
the first evangelist of the Christ,
Saint Scholastica, who taught her brother Benedict
to honor the spirit above the system,
Saint Hildegard, who suffered interdict
for the doing of right,
Saint Joan of Arc, who put no law above the law of God,
Saint Clare of Assisi, who confronted the pope
with the image of woman as equal,
Saint Julian of Norwich, who proclaimed for all of us
the motherhood of God,
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who knew the call
to priesthood in herself,
Saint Catherine of Siena, to whom the pope listened,
Saint Teresa of Avila, who brought women’s gifts
to the reform of the church,
Saint Edith Stein, who brought fearlessness to faith,
Saint Elizabeth Seton, who broke down boundaries
between lay women and religious
by wedding motherhood and religious life,
Saint Dorothy Day, who led the church
in a new sense of justice,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who heard the call of God and answered,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who drew strength from the woman Elizabeth,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who underwent hardship bearing Christ,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who ministered at Cana,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
inspirited at Pentecost,
Mary mother of Jesus,
who turned the Spirit of God
into the body and blood of Christ, pray for us. Amen.
Magdalene—The Seven Devils — Marie Howe
“Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out” — Luke 8:2.
The first was that I was very busy.
The second—I was different from you: whatever happened to you could
not happen to me, not like that.
The third—I worried.
The fourth—envy, disguised as compassion.
The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too—its face. And the ant—its bifurcated body.
Ok the first was that I was so busy.
The second that I might make the wrong choice,
because I had decided to take that plane that day,
that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early
and, I shouldn’t have wanted that.
The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street
the house would blow up.
The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer
of skin lightly thrown over the whole thing.
The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living
The sixth—if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I
touched the left arm a little harder than I’d first touched the right then I had
to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.
The seventh—I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that
was alive, and I couldn’t stand it.
I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word—cheesecloth—
to breath through that would trap it—whatever was inside everyone else that
entered me when I breathed in.
No. That was the first one.
The second was that I was so busy. I had no time. How had this happened?
How had our lives gotten like this?
The third was that I couldn’t eat food if I really saw it—distinct, separate
from me in a bowl or on a plate.
Ok. The first was that. I could never get to the end of the list.
The second was that the laundry was never finally done.
The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.
And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was
The fourth was I didn’t belong to anyone. I wouldn’t allow myself to belong
The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn’t know.
The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.
The seventh was the way my mother looked when she was dying,
the sound she made—her mouth wrenched to the right and cupped open
so as to take in as much air… the gurgling sound, so loud
we had to speak louder to hear each other over it.
And that I couldn’t stop hearing it—years later—grocery shopping, crossing the street—
No, not the sound—it was her body’s hunger
finally evident—what our mother had hidden all her life.
For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.
The underneath. That was the first devil. It was always with me
And that I didn’t think you—if I told you—would understand any of this—
Magdalene— Marie Howe
You know it was funny because he seemed so well the night before
I stayed over to meet a student before class
—sitting at the picnic table…already so hot so early.
I must have been looking for a pen or something
when I thought of the car keys and, rummaging through my bag,
couldn’t find them and was up and walking across the grass when
I heard myself say, I feel as if I’m going to lose something today,
—and then I knew, and ran the rest of the way.
MARY MAGDALENE Quotes
If you have the courage to imitate Mary Magdalene in her sins, have the courage to imitate her penance! — Pio of Pietrelcina
It is important to note that when Mary Magdalene and other women were chosen by Jesus to bring the important news to the men, the men did not believe the women. Today 2,000 years later men still don’t believe women when they say “We are also chosen by Jesus to be leaders in the church— Roy Bourgeois
Mary Magdalene beat her breasts and sobbed,
His dear disciple, stone-faced, stared.
His mother stood apart. No other looked
into her secret eyes. Nobody dared.
— Anna Akhmatova
Childlike in ignorance,
her thought athirst
For that diviner knowledge
which the priests
Had never taught in her
Stood earnest listening
to the words that fell
From the firm lips of Jesus.
Day by day
They sank upon her
heart like blessed rain,
Calling the secret powers
that lay within
Deep buried, forth to
beauty and to life.
— Mrs. Sarah Dana (Loring) Greenough
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. ― Confucius
The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love. ― Meister Eckhart
Study me as much as you like, you will not know me, for I differ in a hundred ways from what you see me to be. Put yourself behind my eyes and see me as I see myself, for I have chosen to dwell in a place you cannot see. — Rumi
After all, the true seeing is within. ― George Eliot
Being is seeing in the human dimension. ― Stephen R. Covey
If my vision comes to a halt at the surface of a thing, I have missed the whole of the thing. ― Craig D. Lounsbrough
I trust only you and the dark always to look at me so honestly. ―Meredith Duran
See as much as you can see, I guess. Rachel Carson said most of us go through life “unseeing.” I do that some days…I think it’s easier to see when you’re a kid. We’re not in a hurry to get anywhere and we don’t have those long to-do lists you guys have. ― Jim Lynch
If we can see the little things, we can see the entire universe. ― Donna Goddard
To learn to see- to accustom the eye to calmness, to patience, and to allow things to come up to it; to defer judgment, and to acquire the habit of approaching and grasping an individual case from all sides. This is the first preparatory schooling of intellectuality. One must not respond immediately to a stimulus; one must acquire a command of the obstructing and isolating instincts. ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Young children remind us how to see. ― Wayne Gerard Trotman
What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flourish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality. I want to have things as multiply and intricately as possible present and visible in my mind. Then I might be able to sit on the hill by the burnt books where the starlings fly over, and see not only the starlings, the grass field, the quarried rock, the viney woods, Hollins pond, and the mountains beyond, but also, and simultaneously, feathers’ barbs, springtails in the soil, crystal in rock, chloroplasts streaming, rotifers pulsing, and the shape of the air in the pines. And, if I try to keep my eye on quantum physics, if I try to keep up with astronomy and cosmology, and really believe it all, I might ultimately be able to make out the landscape of the universe. Why not?”
― Annie Dillard
You can’t see what you don’t understand. But what you think you already understand, you’ll fail to look at. ― Richard Powers
Seeing is the property of our eyes. But we also use this word in other senses, when we apply the power of vision to knowledge generally. We do not say ‘Hear how that flashes’, or ‘Smell how bright that is’, or ‘Taste how that shines’ or ‘Touch how that gleams’. Of all these things we say ‘see’. But we say not only ‘See how that light shines’, which only the eyes can perceive, but also ‘See how that sounds, see what smells, see what tastes, see how hard that is’. So the general experience of the senses is the lust, as scripture says, of the eyes, because seeing is a function in which eyes hold the first place but other senses claim the word for themselves by analogy when they are exploring any department of knowledge. ― Augustine of Hippo
We’re so used to just glancing at the environment through the eyes of the past that we’re frequently not certain if we are in fact paying attention or if we merely think that we’re paying attention. Dynamic meditation in everyday existence involves the act of truthfully seeing. Many of us have changed some aspect of our appearance only to have this go unnoticed by friends. Perhaps you’ve shaved off a mustache, added a tattoo, or altered your hairstyle, but your acquaintances failed to initially notice. In such a case, your friends were looking at their environment through the eyes of the past instead of actually seeing what was taking place in the present. ― H.E. Davey
“Imagine you come upon a house painted brown. What color would you say the house was?”
“Why brown, of course.”
“But what if I came upon it from the other side, and found it to be white?”
“That would be absurd. Who would paint a house two colors?”
He ignored my question. “You say it’s brown, and I say it’s white. Who’s right?”
“We’re both right.”
“Non,” he said. “We’re both wrong. The house isn’t brown or white. It’s both. You and I only see one side. But that doesn’t mean the other side doesn’t exist. To not see the whole is to not see the truth.”
― Megan Chance
There are things you can’t reach. But
You can reach out to them, and all day long.
The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of god.
And it can keep you busy as anything else, and happier.
I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
As though with your arms open.
― Mary Oliver
Introduction to Secrets of Mary Magdalene — Elaine Pagels
Who was she, that elusive–and fascinating–woman in the circle around Jesus of Nazareth? For nearly two thousand years, Mary Magdalene has lived in the imagination of Christians as a seductive prostitute; in our own time, contemporary fiction pictures her as Jesus’ lover and wife, mother of his children. Yet the earliest sources that tell of Mary Magdalene–both within the New Testament and outside of it–do not describe either of these sexualized roles, suggesting that the woman herself, and how we have come to see her, is more complex than most of us ever imagined. Was she, then, one of Jesus’ followers, whose wealth helped support him, as the earliest New Testament gospel, the Gospel of Mark, says? A madwoman who had been possessed by seven devils, as Luke says? Or Jesus’ closest disciple, the one he loved more than any other, as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene tells us? Or, in the words of the Dialogue of the Savior,the woman who understood all things?
When we investigate the earliest available records, we find all of these conflicting images, and more. What we discover, too, is that which answer we find depends on where we look. What is probably the earliest story comes from the New Testament Gospel of Mark, written about forty years after Jesus’ death. Mark tells us that while Roman soldiers were crucifying Jesus Mary Magdalene stood among a group of women watching the execution, grieving, although the male disciples had fled in fear for their lives. Standing with Salome and another woman named Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), Mary Magdalene continued her vigil until Jesus finally died; later, along with her companions, she saw his body carefully wrapped in strips of linen, entombed, and sealed into a cave cut out of rock.
Mark explains that Mary, Salome, and the other Mary were among those who followed Jesus and provided for him–probably meals and a place to stay, perhaps money for necessities–when he was in Galilee. The morning after Sabbath, the women carne to offer their teacher the final service, bringing aromatic spices to complete his burial. But Mark’s account ends on a note of confusion and shock: finding the tomb open, the body gone, the women, hearing that Jesus is not here; he has risen, run away, shaking with terror, for trembling and astonishment carne upon them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were terrified. Matthew, who wrote his version with Mark’s account before him, repeats the same story but changes the troubling ending. Mary and her companions did leave the tomb quickly, he says, but did so with fear and great joy. And instead of intending to say nothing, they immediately run to tell his disciples. Then, while they were on the way, the risen Jesus himself appeared before them, and spoke to them.
Luke, like Matthew, has Mark’s story before him, but has something different in mind when he revises Mark. To make clear to the reader that women–any woman, much less Mary–could not be among Jesus’ disciples, Luke initially leaves out Mark’s comment that Mary, Salome, and the other Mary followed Jesus (since saying this could be understood to place them among the disciples). Then Luke deliberately contrasts the twelve –the men whom he says Jesus named as disciples–with those he calls “the women,” whom he classifies among the needy, sick, and crazed members of the crowds that pressed themselves upon Jesus and his disciples. Thus, Luke, unlike Mark, says that Mary carne to Jesus driven by demonic spirits, and as only one among some women who had been healed from evil spirits and from illnesses. Luke identifies these women as “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna….and Susanna, and many others,” who, he concedes, provided for (Jesus and his disciples) from their resources.
When Luke tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, he changes three passages in which Mark had named Mary Magdalene, leaving her nameless in each of these three stories, standing among an anonymous group he calls the women. Only after the anonymous women testify about what they saw to the eleven (the inner circle that Luke had called the twelve until Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, had left them) does Luke name three women. For at this point, apparently, their witness matters to validate their testimony and he now names the three that he sees as the most prominent: Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and Joanna. Although Luke, like John, sometimes speaks positively about the women, we may wonder why, at other times, he denigrates Mary and downplays her role.
Now, thanks to the recent discovery of other ancient gospels–gospels not included in the New Testament, which remained virtually unknown for nearly two thousand years until their recent discovery–we may be able to understand what Luke had in mind. For these other gospels, found translated into Coptic in Egypt, originally had been written earlier, in Greek, like the New Testament gospels. Scholars debate when they were written, but generally agree that most of them come from the first two centuries of the Christian movement. What we find in these discoveries is surprising: every one of the recently discovered sources that mention Mary Magdalene–sources that include the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Wisdom of Faith, and the Dialogue of the Savior–unanimously picture Mary as one of Jesus’ most trusted disciples. Some even revere her as his foremost disciple, Jesus’ closest confidant, since he found her capable of understanding his deepest secrets. We can see that Luke apparently did not want to acknowledge that some of those he had simply called the women previously were actually regarded as disciples themselves. Although in this introduction we cannot discuss these remarkable texts in detail, let us briefly look at each of these gospels in turn.
First, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene pictures Mary taking a leading role among the disciples. Finding the male disciples terrified to preach the gospel after Jesus’ death since they feared that they, too, would be arrested and killed, Mary stands up to speak and encourages them, turning their hearts to the good. When Peter, acknowledging that the Lord loved you more than other women, asks Mary to tell us what he told you secretly, Mary agrees. When she finishes, Peter, furious, asks, Did he really speak privately with a woman, and not openly to us? Are we supposed to turn around and all listen to her? Did he love her more than us? Distressed at his rage, Mary replies, “My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?” Levi breaks in at this point to mediate the dispute: Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the women like (our) enemies. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her? Surely the Lord knew her very well; that is why he loved her more than us. The Gospel of Mary ends as the others agree to accept Mary’s teaching, and the disciples, including Mary, go forth to proclaim the gospel.
Like the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas pictures Mary as one of Jesus’ disciples. Strikingly, it names only six disciples, not twelve, and two of these are women–Mary Magdalene and Salome. Yet like the dispute between Peter and Mary in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, several passages in the Gospel of Thomas indicate that at the time it was written, probably around 90-100 C. E., the question of whether women could be disciples already had triggered explosive controversy. In saying 61, for example, Salome asks Jesus to tell her who he is: Who are you, man, that you have come up on my couch, and eaten from my table? Jesus answers, I come from what is undivided; that is, from the divine, which transcends gender. He thereby rejects what her question implies–that his identity involves primarily his being male, as hers does being female. Salome instantly understanding what he means, recognizes that the same is true for her. Thus she immediately answers, I am your disciple.
Here, too, however, as in the Gospel of Mary, Peter challenges and opposes the presence of women among the disciples. According to saying 114 in The Gospel of Thomas, Peter says to Jesus, Tell Mary to leave us, for women are not worthy of (spiritual) life. But instead of dismissing Mary, as Peter insists, Jesus rebukes Peter, and declares, I will make Mary a living spirit, so that she–or any woman–may become as capable of spiritual life as any man would have been in first century Jewish tradition .
We find yet another account of an argument in which Peter challenges Mary’s right to speak among the disciples in the dialogue called Wisdom of Faith. Here, after Mary asks Jesus several questions, Peter breaks in, complaining to Jesus that Mary is talking too much and so displacing the rightful priority of Peter and his brother disciples. Yet, here too, just as in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of Thomas, Peter’s attempt to silence Mary earns him a quick rebuke, this time from Jesus himself. Later, however, Mary admits to Jesus that she hardly dares to speak with him freely, because, she says, Peter makes me hesitate; I am afraid of him, because he hates the female race. Jesus replies that whoever the Spirit inspires is divinely ordained to speak, whether man or woman.
This theme of conflict between Mary and Peter that we find in so many sources–conflict involving Peter’s refusal to acknowledge Mary as a disciple, much less as a leader among the disciples–may well reflect what people knew and told about actual conflict between the two. We know, too, that since women often identified with Mary Magdalene, certain people in the movement told such stories about her–or against her–as a way of arguing about whether–or how–women could participate in their circles.
Note, for example, that the very writers who picture Peter as the disciple whom Jesus acknowledges as being their primary leader–namely, the authors of the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke–are the same ones who picture Mary as no disciple at all, but simply as one of the women, or, worse, in the case of Luke, someone who had been demon-possessed. What makes their accounts important historically, of course, is that these are three of the gospels that carne to be included in the canon of the New Testament–often invoked, even now, to prove that women cannot hold positions of authority within Christian churches.
Let us note, too, how this works in reverse: every one of the sources that reveres Mary as a leader among the apostles were excluded from the New Testament canon. When these texts came to be excluded–among them the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, Wisdom of Faith, and the Dialogue of the Savior–many Christians excluded as well the conviction that women could–and should–participate in leading the churches.
The Dialogue of the Savior, another ancient text discovered with these alternate gospels, claims to recount a dialogue between the risen Jesus and three disciples he chooses to receive special revelation–Matthew, Thomas, and Mary. Yet here, after each of the three engage in dialogue with Jesus, the Dialogue singles out Mary to receive the highest praise: This she spoke as the woman who understood all things. Finally, before turning to the fascinating studies that are found in this book, let us look at one of the most fascinating sources of all–the Gospel of Philip. This gospel shows how many early Christians saw Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ constant companion. Certain contemporary readers have taken this literally to mean that she was Jesus’ lover and wife. It is true that the Gospel of Philip pictures her as Jesus’ most intimate companion, and that the Greek term (syzygos, companion) can suggest sexual intimacy. Plus, like the other sources we have looked at, the Gospel of Philip attests to a rivalry between Mary Magdalene and the male disciples: The companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene. (But Christ loved) her more than (all) the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her (mouth). The rest of the disciples were offended by this. They said to him, Why do you love her more than all of us? The Savior answered and said to them, Why do I not love you as much as I love her?
This statement, in which the Gospel of Philip pictures Mary as Jesus’ companion, and perhaps even his partner, helped inspire one of Dan Brown’s most controversial plot points in The Da Vinci Code. For the purposes of his fiction Brown tends to take these suggestions literally. But had he gone on to read the rest of the Gospel of Philip, he would have seen that its author sees Mary Magdalene as a powerful spiritual presence; as one who manifests the divine as it appears in feminine form–above all as divine Wisdom, and the Holy Spirit.
When Israel’s prophets and poets spoke of the divine spirit and wisdom, they recognized the feminine gender of Hebrew terms. The Biblical Book of Proverbs speaks of wisdom as a feminine spiritual presence who shared with God the work of creation: The Lord created me at the beginning of his work…before the beginning of the earth; when there were no deep waters, I was brought forth….before the mountains had been shaped, I was there… when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world, and delighting in the human race.
So the Gospel of Philip sees Mary as divine wisdom-hokhmah, in Hebrew, sophia, in Greek, both feminine terms–manifest in the world. Jewish mystical tradition often speaks of God’s presence in the world not only as wisdom, but also as shehkina, as his presence. Over a thousand years after the Gospel of Philip was written, kabbalistic tradition, using the language of mystics throughout the world, would celebrate this feminine aspect of God as his divine bride.
Simultaneously, the Gospel of Philip celebrates Mary Magdalene as manifesting the divine spirit, which this gospel calls the virgin who came down from heaven. When Christians spoke of Jesus born from a virgin, this author agrees–but refuses to take it literally. So some people, he says, take this literally to mean that Jesus’ mother became pregnant apart from any man, apart from sexual intercourse. But this, he says, is the faith of foolS who fail to comprehend spiritual matters (although, as we note, it can be seen in the birth narratives offered in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke). Instead, continues the Gospel of Philip, Jesus was born physically, just as all humans, as the son of biological parents. The difference, says the author of this gospel, that he was also born again in baptism–born spiritually to become the son of the Father above, and of the heavenly Mother, the Holy Spirit.
Many other texts discovered with Philip echo the same language. The Gospel of Truth, too, declares that grace restores us to our spiritual source, bringing us Into the Father, into the Mother, Jesus of the infinite sweetness. The Secret Book of John tells how the disciple John, grieving after Jesus’ crucifixion, went out into the desert, filled with doubt and fear until suddenly The whole creation shook, and 1 saw…an unearthly light, and in the light, three forms. As John watched, amazed, he heard the voice of Jesus coming forth from the light, speaking to him: John, John, why do you doubt, and why are you afraid? I am the one who is with you always; I am the Father; I am the Mother; and I am the Son.” Startling as this may be at first glance, who else would we expect to find with the Father and the Son if not the divine Mother, the Holy Spirit? But this early formulation of the trinity apparently reflects the Hebrew term for spirit, Ruah, as a feminine being–a connotation lost when spirit was translated into the New Testament’s language, Greek, in which the word becomes neuter.
Even this quick sketch suggests the wide range of characterizations and wealth of meanings the early Christians associated with Mary Magdalene, many of which the essays in this book explore and amplify. From the first century through our own time, poets, artists, and mystics have loved to celebrate this remarkable woman who understood all things. Now, through the research presented here, and through discussions now engaged, we may discover new aspects of Mary Magdalene–and, in the process, of ourselves.