The Magdalene Mystique
That’s an excerpt from a beautiful new book, The Magdalene Mystique: Living the Spirituality of Mary Today, by Betty Conrad Adam, an Episcopal priest in Houston. I found this little treasure at the Cathedral Bookstore in Atlanta, and I find that it captures perfectly my own feelings about Mary Magdalene. I have been very drawn to Mary lately, at times feelings a very real and sacred sense of her presence. I’m drawn to Mary Magdalene not as “Mrs. Jesus” or as “the holy grail” but as a visionary prophet in her own right.
The Magdalene Mystique provides a historical overview of how Mary Magdalene has been perceived through the centuries: how she was originally portrayed as the Apostle to the Apostles, then later seen as a prostitute; how parts of her story were replaced by some theologians (including Ephrem the Syrian) by the Virgin Mary; how Mary Magdalene was portrayed in the canonical gospels as well as in the writings of the medieval mystics Marguerite Porete and Theresa of Avila. But this is no dry historical text: the Rev. Adams weaves in her own personal journey into Magdalene spirituality, telling the story of the Magdalene Community that meets each month at an interfaith chapel in Houston. (I’m honored that this community chose to use one of my own writings to open their circle on March 25th.)
The Rev. Adams writes very movingly about finding Mary Magdalene in unexpected places, including an excavated wall-painting in Syria that dates back to the year 232. She writes of the resonances between Mary Magdalene and Miriam the Prophetess (from the Torah) as well as the even older archetype of Psyche. She returns several times to Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis’ masterful retelling of the Psyche story.
The Magdalene Mystique also looks at the Coptic Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the sacred text upon which the Magdalene Community in Houston is based. The Rev. Adams shows how this and other texts from early Christian communities portray Mary Magdalene as a reconciling presence, as an apostle of love and mystical experience. She references the Magdalene scholar Esther de Boer, who “has demonstrated that a Stoic perspective stands behind the Gospel of Mary. This view gives a positive view of the material world and the body. The Stoic perspective of the interconnectedness of all things in the cosmos is brought together with a Christian understanding of Jesus as the Human One that now dwells within the disciples.”
One especially valuable feature of The Magdalene Mystique is the appendix that contains three different translations of the Gospel of Mary, side by side in parallel columns. The versions included are by Esther de Boer; the rather scholarly version by Karen L. King; and my favorite, from the French Orthodox priest Jean-Yves Leloup. This parallel translation is worth the price of the book all by itself.
But this book is valuable in so many other respects, too. If you’d like to understand why so many people today, including me, are drawn to Mary Magdalene – not because of The Da Vinci Code or “the lost tomb of Jesus” but because of Mary’s visionary wisdom and healing presence – The Magdalene Mystique is a great introduction to “living the spirituality of Mary today.”