Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mary Magdalene. Favorite Calendar Girl

Today on most all church calendars this day is the day we are to honor the person, ministry and holiness of Mary of Magdala.

She is my favorite calendar girl.
I’m always disappointed this feast falls in mid-summer and that most parishes do not honor it on a Sunday. After all her day is designated a white day, an Easter day, a day when the church dresses up for hope. July 20 was suffragette and author of a women’s bible, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s, day; July 22 is Mary Magdalene’s day; August 15 is Mary the Mother of Jesus’ day. Everyone’s on vacation!

The Episcopal church calendar is a wondrous thing. It is the richest and most diverse of all church calendars currently in print. On it we designate days on which we remember holy women and men. Our saints are not appointed by fiat or according to how many miracles happen in their name. (The miracle criterion, in fact, seems unnecessary to me because today’s miracle may be tomorrow’s unquestioned accomplishment. What’s miraculous may simply be the capacity and willingness to live a good life full of flaws, forgiveness and renewed effort.)

The Episcopal calendar girls and boys are selected according to their holiness of life, miracle or no miracle. Someone nominates, a task force researches the life and work of the nominee and the General Convention , our legislative body, also elected, votes them into the calendar—or not.
I love our calendar because it honors many cultures and many professions and callings that manifest holiness, the goodness of the Divine recognized in human life and work.

Mary Magdalene is a biblical holy woman. She doesn’t have a clear story all her own though she is present at Jesus’ passion and on other important occasions. Although she doesn’t have her own narrative, many stories have accrued to her name. Mary Mag is famous for having had seven demons from whose power Jesus liberated her. Seven is a big number, also a symbolic number meaning generative.
How many people out there either did or do think that Mary was a prostitute, a sexual sinner or at least a penitent woman laden with sin and needing absolution as her healing? This is not in the bible but a later interpretation of her big seven. How easy it was, maybe is, to assume that her “demons” were sexual. It could have been metastatic cancer, or multiple personality disorder from trauma, or multiple birth defects. Ah!

What I love about Mary Magdalene is that she is in me spiritually:

-She is familiar with Jesus. They know each other. It’s mutual. Mary calls him my Lord, not the Lord. Recognition is an astonishing gift, a sign of intimacy, especially when you recognize the holy in another and in yourself.
-Her tears. She stays at the tomb after the other have gone. Lot’s wife in an earlier story is turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at Sodom and Gomorra, her former home. God had told the family to leave before it was burned because of sin. Mary turned back to the tomb to peer in, let herself grieve, sob, wonder, search, remember. It’s important not to hop too fast over and beyond your grief. Tears are a spiritual gift. Follow them. Magdalene was not punished but rewarded with a powerful vision.

-Mary was the only biblical woman to be commissioned as an apostle. In John’s gospel, written as late as 100 CE this story is remembered. Mary is told to go and tell the others what she has seen of resurrection life and hope. She told.
-Mary according to tradition started her own community of Christians and wrote her own gospel. Bits of it have been retrieved. Scholars pieced together her message about things Jesus told her that the others didn’t hear, chiefly that the working of God’s spirit are internal. Mary witnesses in her gospel to the immanence of God not just the transcendence. (In fact there is a humorous scene in her writing about a dispute with Peter who is angry at her insights and her uppity woman nerve telling what Jesus said to her that wasn’t what Peter heard. Peter was told to go feed the sheep. Mary was told to witness to the powerful inner working of divinity. Levy comes to Mary’s defense and Peter goes off to sulk.)


Both commissions are of equal importance for us today. Know and care for your inner religious/spiritual life and know how to take it forth to manifest goodness and compassion in whatever you say and do.

How is Mary Magdalene in you?