Having grown up as a good Catholic girl, throughout my youth I lived the embodiment of soulful contact in the best sense of the word – loving, kind, spiritual, open-hearted. Still, I was always bothered by the stories of the supposed “bad” girl called Mary Magdalene, who Jesus publicly forgave for her sins – at least that was the way she was positioned at the time.
Somehow I felt that I knew her, and when I read between the lines, she seemed a lot like me. That was confusion to be sure.
It was never clearly stated why Jesus spent so much time with her, but we all know he did. Was he being kind to sinners? Tolerant of ones best efforts? Perhaps Mary was just the Biblical shill to show how forgiving Jesus was. We were taught that he was the archetype of love, but what about Mary? Mary Magdalene is one of the great women of the Bible, yet attitudes toward her in the Church and in art, history, and society have wavered between veneration of her as a saint and curiosity about her sinful past.
In Mary Magdalene, author Ingrid Maisch stresses that reflecting on Mary means not only looking behind the history of the influence of the woman from Magdala, but also inquiring about women in general, for the image of Mary Magdalene in every era is an indicator of the image borne by women at the time.
Walking with Jesus into town as an equal must have been frightful given the times.
We see her being shunned – being ridiculed for being a woman – for sexuality – for service – for resourcefulness – for her drives – for her wisdom – for her very nature. In much of the “forgotten” or buried materials related to Mary, we can also see she was maneuvered right out of being the 13th apostle, silenced and written out of the Bible, denied as the wife of Jesus – a helpmate – an adviser – a teacher of teachers and a protector of all.
What a powerful archetype she is for women, and what woman has not played her role? Since we live in a world that has a long endured a history of suppression, which of us has not been suppressed? I recommend reading the work of Swedish researcher Berit Aas and her Techniques of Suppression to truly grasp how insidious and unrecognized it can be when the power of the feminine is systematically overlooked. When we routinely misinterpret love for sex and sex for love, which of us has not been misunderstood? When we see a loving passionate child labeled “black sheep” when it is the family itself who lacks understanding to devotion and truth, which of us has not been a black sheep within the family of mankind?
Perhaps if we see Mary Magdalene as the symbol of all that is feminine that has been misunderstood, demeaned and forced into the background throughout time, we can recognize a symbol of enduring strength relating to power-with rather than power-over.
I look at the above rendition of Mary kissing the feet of Jesus, and I wonder how many of us see it as a depiction of submission, or one of enduring power and strength.
I recognize I am at my most powerful when I am serving without ego. She is me when I sit at the foot of my son’s hospital bed while he is on life support, a mother guarding her young for weeks on end. She is me when I am the unpaid caregiver to my elderly uncomprehending father during his last days. She is me when I serve my Mother as she navigates dementia and failing strength. She is me when I serve humanity. She is me when I serve.
I quote Marianne Williamson who reminds us
“It is not our darkness we fear most, but our light…”
We are a mass of contradictions when we don’t get this straight, with anger the final boundary in protecting the ways in which we serve. We will be angry and perceive ourselves as powerless in the larger world unless we ourselves recognize deeply the value Mary brings. Embracing the darkness we must, as Anna Fedele beautifully illustrates in her book Looking for Mary Magdalene. We can see her as a symbol of forgiveness, along with Black Madonna’s in all their wildness, and the Crone in her knowledge of strength, vulnerability and death. We can give a name and a face to what is most dark in humanity, but I am left to wonder what might we gain by embodying the Light?? A giant inside out from what we’ve been trained to experience as power into a pure recognition that it looks like us. It starts this day with recognition in me.