Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene

Anyone who has wandered by this blog at least has a glimmer that I have an interest in/ obsession with/ fascination about Mary Magdalene. It is a name I have adopted for myself, at least here in blogland. I thought to write about Mary and select an image from the internet to go with my writing. But as I browsed, I realized the sheer diversity/ disconnection of the myriad images of Mary make an interesting topic in themselves.

Take the Donatello above. This statue is related to late mythology about Mary, that she ended her life as a hermit, atoning for her sins. None of which is mentioned in the scriptural accounts, mind you. All of which were attached to her in the early medieval period by a pope who, apparently, thought she needed to be taken down a peg.

The image above speaks, still, to her attached identity as "sinner." Clearly, say "woman" and "sinner" in the same breath and you get: "sex!" Mary has been identified, variously, as having been a prostitute (again, no scriptural evidence whatsoever) or the woman taken in adultery (I repeat myself to the point of becoming tiresome: no evidence, unless you count the interpretation by Franco Zeffirelli).

This anime representation intrigues me because it is so devoid of content. The most I can say about it is: frilly collar? Really? And yet, it appeals to me, because I think Mary has very much become a tabula rasa on which we all project our wishes and hopes (and fears and anxieties).
This much we know about her: She is named as one of the women who followed Jesus (as in, "Follow me") and provided for him and the disciples out of their means. I would posit that this brings her into the circle of disciples. We also know that Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary. (Aforementioned pope draws an equation between these and the seven deadly sins, leading to the idea of Mary as sinner, prostitute, etc.) And, finally, and I think this is what the fuss is really all about, we know that Mary was both at the cross (looking on from a distance) and at the tomb on Easter morning-- it says so in all four gospels. And she is the only person at both those places, in all four gospels. Which makes her the pre-eminent witness to both the crucifixion and the resurrection.
A woman with that much moral/ethical power in the ancient, very male-oriented world? Must be taken down a peg.

Please note: I subscribe to a brand of Christianity which recognizes that we are all sinners. I'm not trying to say Mary was somehow exempt from that bit of being human. I also am neutral as to the subject of her having been a prostitute; I'd have no "problem" with it, if there were a shred of evidence of it being true. Jesus' affect on people, the ways in which he helped them to break out of all sorts of prisons, would make sense for someone who was a sex worker, and such a breaking of chains would be incredibly, poetically beautiful. In fact I'd love it. If it were true for Mary Magdalene. Which, apparently, it is not.
Why do I love her so? Perhaps precisely because she has been so manipulated, and yet the truth of her unique witness still bursts through the muck of the manipulation. Perhaps because smearing a powerful woman is an old, old story, and I appreciate that so many know the truth about her now. Perhaps because of the sexy pictures! Who knows. But I have adopted her, I have taken her on, and she is the apostola apostolorum, apostle to the apostles, and for that, any woman would have to want to follow in her footsteps.


MikeF said...

Beautiful. Thank you!

I too love Mary M., and for much the same reasons you do. She has much to teach us men, now as always.

MaineCelt said...

Also a fan--no, fan isn't the right word. I am a follower of Mary. I understand her as the Eastern Orthodox tradition does-- as a traveling apostle who spoke the truth and spoke it boldly from her own distinct understanding.

Have you seen the modern icon of Mary Magdalene by Fr. Robert Lentz? I think you can find it at this website. It's one of my favourites.

Rachel said...

Just so grateful for this post--LOVE Mary M and needed to remember what you have written, in particular "Perhaps precisely because she has been so manipulated, and yet the truth of her unique witness still bursts through the muck of the manipulation." Amen.