A new series is beginning in the community: a book circle revolving around The Meaning of Mary Magdalene by Cynthia Bourgeault. Wisdom Waypoints is offering smaller groups each facilitated by a single postholder for this Foundation II book series, as well as a Spanish book practice circle with two able postholders.
These gatherings meet for the first time Tuesday, February 8, 2022. We know from experience that there will be people outside of the circles themselves who are following along, individually or in groups of friends around the world. Welcome to all of you! The Preface and the first three chapters are the focus for February, and we will take up Chapters Four, Five, and Six the second Tuesday in March.
Please listen below to the poignant chant created by Elizabeth Combs for The Meaning of Mary Magdalene Wisdom Practice Book Circles.
Reflection by Laura Ruth
This book cut close to my heart when it first came out; I pretty much devoured it, several times, and returned to it frequently. The text illumined some of my earliest experiences in memory, relating to Mary Magdalene’s “raw immediacy,” presence and capacity for love and witness. Personal, intimate, is part of Mary Magdalene’s signature. It is her nature to come in like that, right under the skin.
This reading, a dozen years later, and I am astonished anew. I can sense how the book has been doing its work, subtlety forming and guiding my life. It has changed me. I see that the presence of Mary Magdalene has been called in these times; listening to the experiences of others, many feel this way. We are not alone. When the postholders got together to meet before the book circles convene, we began to share how Mary Magdalene touches each of us in one way or another: grounding, embodiment, fierce presence, healing, deep questions, subtle awaking sensibilities, attention, longing, witness, growing compassion, aligning with truth, surrender to the alchemy of transformation, the capacity to love and the willingness to remain, to stay—to not turn or run. To not run from our own pain, breaches, failings, and loss; and to not turn from that in others and in the world around us.
Here it is. There was a quiet in the spaces during that sharing, something we can feel in the tender presence of beginning to meet one another in love. A sparkle happens in that deep. Maybe you have an idea of what I am trying to put into words. Coming close to these qualities and capacities, these fruits of the spirit, engenders adab – a wise, awake courtesy. We begin. “‘Inter-cosmic’ fluidity”…Cynthia says, “is the real legacy of the love between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the basis on which we are able to meet her, and through her, Him.” (p. xi)
At the outset, Cynthia shares her own personal awakening to the power of Mary Magdalene during a Holy Week ceremony at Vezelay (p. 5). As one who knew the gospels well Cynthia was stunned to realize that, yes, the words are right there: Mary Magdalene was at the tomb in silent witness—she stayed. The force of love that compelled her to remain, her courage, the fact that she was named—all this began to add up to a very different picture of Magdalene herself and of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The abandonment, betrayal (with its ally shame)—and the resulting separation of Jesus from every-living-human-one which by extension includes ourselves—no longer holds up.
Turning these stories on their heads, in this case, “Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity,” has the potential to heal deep cultural wounds and schism in the Church, as well as in ourselves. Magdalene shows up in the intention of the book itself, born out of Cynthia’s “deep love for the Christian path and yearning for its reconciliation and wholeness.” (p. xii)
Mary Magdalene’s presence and undying witness does not falter as she accompanies Jesus—like no other—through his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. She does not falter in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene when she meets Jesus in the Imaginal, when she shares her experience and is met by disbelief and judgement. In the gospels of Thomas and Philip she is also present at the center of the inner circle around Jesus. She has done the work of integrating the teachings, is portrayed as intimate and awake. And is first apostle to the apostles and completely relatable, in a very contemporary way. Cynthia brilliantly loosens the traditional grip held tight around these early writings—in the Bible and in those gospels recovered later—carefully combing them out and braiding them together in the search for the real, the true, Mary Magdalene.
A new testimony is revealed through that process. Jesus was not unloved and abandoned. Mary Magdalene did not run from his pain or her own, or turn away from his death. Cynthia is convinced that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were bound together in “a spiritual love…refined and luminous.” (x) “As with all lovers who have lived to the full the wager that love is stronger than death, the faithfulness of their two hearts resonating across time and space forms a particular kind of energy channel through which divine compassion pours itself forth as wisdom and creativity.” (p. xi)
Ladislaus Boros, quoted in Cynthia’s Holy Week Liturgies, echoes this outpouring in love, saying that in the death and descent of Jesus the “whole cosmos opens itself to the Godhead, bursts open for God like a flowerbud.” (p. 68)
“This is the real post that Mary Magdalene has always held
—unacknowledged but irrepressible—…” (p. xi)
How does this love anchored in the center of the Holy Week passage change us? Cynthia asks: “How would this change the emotional timbre of the day?…our feelings about ourselves? …women in the church?… the nature of redemptive love?” (p. 16) These perceptions can reach in and touch the heart of our human experience, be as real and present for us now as they were then. Magdalene faced her fear; our shared fear of pain, loss, and of the unknown. She remained true to her heart, steadfast in her love, anchored in her training and transformation. She can help us do the same. These energetic presences share their aliveness with us, as living text shares itself, as we share ourselves as we do our work together on the planet. It is powerful stuff: the forces in the words, gestures, and the lives and loves that shape us. Those that stand by for us, in this realm and beyond, are teaching us on so many levels.
As I grow into being me I notice more and more what is at work in us, that there is a call, now—and from and through all time. I pray for the inner work of our common humanity as we become more in touch with our own habits and patterns, the places where we act out of cultural, historical, and genetic upbringing—the mental constructs, unconscious expectations, assumptions, and fears that so often govern our actions without our real consideration. Mercifully, many of us have begun, however clumsily, the long process of unwinding. We find the definitions we cling to stripped away through the realities and trials of life—and through our own hard work as we become more and more embodied, compassionate, and awake.
Here it is again. Right here. It is the journey Mary Magdalene made conscious in her healing, and probably again and again as a healer. It is the passage Jesus made to the heart of the earth and it is her witness for His passage. For our own small—but not insignificant—part, it is both our path, and our witness for one another. It is the journey we are all taken on, consciously or unconsciously, a journey that often happens bit by bit, layer by layer. We stand on the edge of our capacity, on the boundary of what we know and don’t know, facing an unknown future. We suffer fears of unbelonging, a diminishment of natural trust, and loss of faith with agency. Crippled in so many ways, and beautifully, poignantly, human. As the earth groans under our weight, we need Mary Magdalene’s presence as first apostle more than ever; we need her knowing, her witness. Her love. Perhaps it is like the body’s natural instinct to heal that— through all this—we begin. Step by step. As Mary Magdalene did, we turn toward; with her blessing we witness, stay present, to the degree that we are capable, and growing that capacity, do not run. We begin to see, to feel and to truly be.
It is precisely what we are being asked to do in our times. Her being continues to be revealed that we may find herself in each of us, in our relationships, in our ways in the world. To re-discover and re-member her at the heart of Christianity is to be witness to her, as she is to us, in our twin and resonant hearts. To notice her presence in our times—to find her here, now, alive with us—free to “burst in…with the raw immediacy of her love…” (p. 29) is to begin to know her.
“When a new infusion of love is needed, Mary Magdalene shows up.
Our only real choice is whether or not to cooperate.” (p. xi)
About Laura Ruth
Laura is dedicated to an embodied, practical Wisdom, awake and alive in daily life in her inner life and outer work, whether it is in her one-with-one private practice or with the Wisdom Waypoints Living Wisdom groups and book circles. She is a member of the Wisdom Waypoints Council, and was Community Program Coordination and Publishing staffperson until June 2021 all of which cultivated in her a particular love for the Wisdom community.
Laura lives in Vermont on the land of the Abenaki people, with her dear husband, near their sons, two grandchildren and her mother.
Blessed by the shuffles and knocks of life, a beautiful brook in the woods with a rugged little path, family meals, gardens and animals, Laura is grateful to have life on this good earth under the eye of those who watch over us.
Well and Flame – chant by Elizabeth Combs
Find more of Elizabeth’s Wisdom chants here.