Contemplative Life

Book Review: The Meaning of Mary Magdalene

magdalenebookIt took me some months to read Cynthia Bourgeault’s book on Mary Magdalene. Not because I was slogging through mud, just the opposite. It contains such richness that I read just a few pages in each sitting to give passages time to digest. There are many books out there giving evidence, laying down arguments for and against, as well as historical references on the identity of Mary Magdalene and her role relative to Jesus and the apostles. This book goes deeper and harvests the fruit in a down-to-earth, often humorous, way. No stuffiness here.

The points for us today rest in the title of the book – The Meaning of Mary Magdalene – where we can understand the true significance of who she was, the effect she had then and what her spirit carries through time. Consider that, in 2017, the Dalai Lama said women playing a key role in this century would ensure peace and “promote basic human values of compassion and love.” Truly this is what we need.

Central here is the Gospel of Mary Magdalene discovered in an antiquities market by a German collector in the late 1800s. It essentially languished until it was published in German in 1955, then in English in the mid 1970s. It is but 19 pages, essentially of dialogue, with pages 1-6 and 11-14 missing. Bourgeault also draws heavily on the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Philip from the Nag Hammadi findings, which she says are of the same “spiritual stream” as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. These three gnostic gospels were not controlled by the politics of the time, as the sanctioned New Testament. The author does make reference to statements in the New Testament, but this is more to get beneath the surface of what was stated or inferred and how it balances out with the the gnostic writings.

However Mary and Jesus met, whether or not they were married in the everyday sense, it is clear they were joined in a holy, sacred marriage as part of a conscious path. Each was equally important to the other in the process of deepening, equality, love and integrity in service of wholeness and purity of heart. They entrusted each other – created the safe haven – to do the shadow work necessary to deliver them. Reading here we sense the intensity in which it all took place, an alchemical process of transmutation to something greater than either could be on their own. This in the midst and mess of humanness, but not all. There is also the imaginal realm, another dimension where chaos is swept aside and the light gets in.

I also appreciated the attention given to kenosis in so many paragraphs. Twenty years ago I used that word to name the work I do and still abide by it.

Kenosis comes from the Greek verb kenosein, which means to empty oneself…

self-emptying is the touchstone, the core reality underlying every moment…

The letting go of kenosis is actually closer to letting be…

first and foremost a visionary tool…its primary focus is to cleanse the lens of perception…

the direct gateway into a divine reality that can be immediately experienced as both compassionate and infinitely generous…

I originally began reading The Meaning of Mary Magdalene as a deepening for my [now recent] spiritual travel program in Provence where Mary figured prominently. By preparing in this way, it took me to places I hadn’t previously been in meaning and depth when I actually walked the land once more where she also put her feet.

This is an important book for our times.

Available in print, e-book and audiobook on Amazon and widely elsewhere.

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

To Be Caught

I had the overwhelming pull to get out on the land. To place my feet solidly and walk. To be conscious of placing each footstep. I did…for some miles. I found it imperative. That – even though I was exhausted, arriving home just the night before from a very long journey. Writing now, a few days later, I recognize – by surrendering to that draw – I began my integration process, and I hold a new awareness.

I was summoned by the wild land where I live – not some random thought of my mind. Having learned what I’d learned in the land over the ocean, Re-entry required this physical act. It’s about engagement, like introducing a new friend to an old one who needed no explanation when both had claimed me. Neither were jealous, and I’d allowed myself to be caught. Somehow this recognition has further solidified my grounding. The giving over. Surrendering. Whatever you want to call it, know that it had nothing to do with the mind and everything to do with the heart.

♦♦♦

We sat in circle, having settled into this spacious, high-ceilinged room in a 16th century building, now a small family-run hotel in Arles. I began to lay some initial groundwork for entry into our journey in Provence. I talked to the women about the land. There are certain places in the world that hold a form of magic. Hard to articulate, it comes out through its attraction and what it produces. Provence is one of those places. To feel such depth, it must be welcomed through pure immersion. As that happens, it touches aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed. Then we can begin to understand the beauty the Provençal land produces, attraction to artists, other makers…and the currents that brought Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobi, Mary Solomé and Sarah – also known as Sara-la-Kali, adopted by the Romani people as their patron saint – to land on its shores.* We can also begin to sense its effect on us.

I acknowledged the controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene’s role, who Sarah may have been and the question of whether they and the other Marys had been there at all. I invited the women to sweep it all away – all that chattering distraction – and just be present to what their own experiences tell them.

The next day we drove to the small Camargue village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer where the Marys and Sarah landed. We were to visit Notre Dame de la Mer. This is the church venerating Sarah, Mary Solomé and Mary Jacobi who chose to live there.  It holds their relics and has an underground crypt especially designated to Sarah. It’s said many healings have taken place through prayers that are left.

This is sacred ground. To enter carelessly doesn’t do it justice. We first went to the shoreline where I invited the women to find their place, connect with the land and put themselves back in time, to the time when the boat rode the waves onto the beach. Some were overcome there. Others as we went through the doorway of the church. Some while leaving their prayers with Sarah. Not one was untouched.

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Saint Sarah’s crypt in Notre Dame de la Mer, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Stained glass window above the main altar in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene, St. Maximin. Photo: Carla Woody.

A few days later at the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in the village of St. Maximin, where her relics rest, the pilgrimage continued as did the effect. Before we began the long climb up to Mary’s Grotto on St. Baume, I suggested we pause again to put ourselves through time, ultimately to the time Mary would have climbed this mountain herself. There would have been little path, if any, the forest completely wild, full of feral life we no longer see there. I walked slowly, noticing the stillness of the woods save periodic songbirds and the conversation of others climbing ahead.

I found Mary’s Grotto as I had in my other times there. I wiped away the chapel and altars that had been placed for worship. Instead, listening to the sounds of dripping water, feeling the damp and sensing her presence. Being still.

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Saint Mary Magdalene’s Grotto at St. Baume. Photo: Carla Woody.

Taking a different trail down, it was rocky, more steep, sometimes slippery from previous rains. Much like life. I paid attention to where I placed my feet. Somehow, I felt the place impressing itself upon me. Or maybe it was an exchange.

♦♦♦

Within the safe haven of circles, I invite travelers to share their personal experiences: insights, questions, struggles, if they wish. Not for others to resolve or analyze but to witness. Witnessing is a sacred role we fulfill for each other. It brings things to earth rather than flying around in the ether. In this way, each one’s process is acknowledged as significant and supports an evolutionary unfolding.

When we close our circle at the end, I speak to them on the elements of Re-entry, a phase of the journey that is quite real and continues, sometimes for months or longer. It’s about integration. Something that naturally occurs to bring our learnings to bear upon life at home. Best approached with eyes wide open and embraced, I lead them through a recapitulation of our times together suggesting they pay attention to what comes to the forefront to be carried home. Sometimes words escape us, seeds still germinating. But – always – we feel the presence of something growing.

There were two facets from our immersion in Provence that featured prominently for me this time, at least what I was aware of in the moment. I voiced them. The first was the way the people of Provence spoke about the Marys and Sarah. It was matter of fact. There was no engaging in the controversy flying around elsewhere in academia, religious entities, or popular media. They had existed there, celebrated annually on hallowed ground through festivals and the churches built to them. They are solidly implanted in Provençal cultural memory. The land holds them.

My take-away:

There will always be detractors and distractors. Focus on what you know to be true and hold it in your soul.

The second had to do with the colors in the land and how they’re reflected throughout Provence in the food, art, architecture and geniality of the people. Ochres, blues and greens. They made me happy and something more I can’t yet give words to. I vowed they would find more of a place in my home.

My take-away:

When something touches you deeply, bring it into your home. It’s a visible reminder of what’s become a part of you. We don’t leave things behind. They dwell within the sanctuary of our Core.

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Mt. Sainte-Victoire outside Aix-en-Provence. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Windmill in the village of Goult. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Architecture, Aix-en-Provence. Photo: Carla Woody.

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When we journey in foreign lands, we leave the familiar behind. We enter places that are waiting to be known, many of them for us to re-engage with aspects we’ve forgotten.

Western people don’t belong to the land – unless born into a culture that supports it, or consciously becoming part of it over time. It means being present. To disregard the urge to move on too quickly. It means to linger. It means to return, to know it even more so. To surrender and let go of thoughts that take up space.

Only then can we be caught.

Only then can the secrets that we knew all along be divulged.

*****

* Mary Solomé was the mother of apostles James the Greater and John. Mary Jacobi was the mother of apostles James the Younger (or Lesser) and Joseph. Sarah is said to be the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, in other circles the Egyptian servant to one of the Marys. Also know there are stories of others in the boat including Lazarus, Martha and Maximin. I’m writing of those who are acknowledged in the places we went.

*****

There were so many elements that made up our spiritual travel in Provence. I already know I will be writing more…in appreciation. This is just the first blush.

 

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Mariette in Ecstasy

Mariette-in-EcstasyMost books reach a logical conclusion. After I finished Mariette in Ecstasy, I just sat there attempting to sort through what I even felt. Stunned in some ways, I suppose. Mystified to say the least. But then, the subject matter of this book deals with the interface between religious mysticism and human nature. A pat answer rarely rests in either.

Since early adolescence Mariette Baptiste feels a draw, the need for direct connection with her savior. By the time she enters the convent at seventeen as a postulate, her practices toward that end are well grounded. Many hours of meditation, prayer or other types of spiritual cultivation can make the veil quite thin. She soon goes into trance regularly, professes to speak directly to Jesus and bleeds from great holes in the hands, feet and side.  At the same time, she seems to be stalked by demons.

The author offers quite believable elements in the life of a stigmatic, not only the passion, and suffering but also – surprisingly – eroticism.

Beyond this are other complications. Mariette comes from privilege, and she’s quite pretty. She enters a modest convent in upstate New York in 1906 and severely disrupts its placid life. This is where human nature comes in. The full range of reaction comes out in spades. There are the suspicions, jealousies, hidden agendas, intrigue, attraction, sexual fantasies and worship…wrapped around religious life.

All of this interspersed against the backdrop of the daily tasks, masses and foreshadowing of Mariette’s interrogation.

Rather than a novel, it could just as well be a narrative nonfiction account of religious fervor and typical convent life. Well researched, sometimes graphic, it was provocative and held all the necessary components of a good mystery.

I find it remarkable that the same author who wrote Desperadoes and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford would also write Mariette in Ecstasy.

I found my copy at the public library. It’s also available at Amazon.

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