Archive for the ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ category

Apostle to the Apostles

June 14, 2009

Then Mary stood up. She greeted them all, addressing her brothers and sisters, “Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts be irresolute. For his grace will be with you all and will shelter you.  Rather we should praise his greatness, for he has prepared us and made us true human beings.”

~Mary Magdalene, Gospel of Mary


I remember the first time someone told me to “walk my talk”.  I loved that statement.  It was pithy, real and simple.  Or so I thought ‑ being young enough not to know how complex and difficult those three words could get.  It is not easy to become an authentic being; a person whole enough within herself so that outer actions reflect inner integrity and wisdom.  Such becoming requires both fierce light and deep darkness.  Neither state is easy to endure.  Either can make one mad.

One of the first things we hear of Mary Magdalene is that she suffered the madness of possession.  Seven demons tormented her.  Seven has been accepted since ancient times by diverse cultures and religions1 as a magic and mystical number.  The Hindu tradition describes seven Chakras or power centers of the human body.  In the eighth chapter of the Gnostic, Gospel of Mary, the Magdalene describes the journey of the soul through seven “powers of wrath.” 

During my ordination process, I participated in a group study of this gospel and we women were excited to discover a parallel between Mary’s seven powers and the symbolic attributes attached to each of the seven Chakras.  To me, Mary Magdalene’s description in her gospel2 of the soul’s journey through “the seven powers of wrath” represents seven stages of initiation in which the human psyche moves through different levels of experience and attachment, separating out who she truly is from all the accretions, beliefs and misconceptions, which have gathered around each Chakra.  Each step brings her closer to becoming an authentic being.

Meeting the extraordinary teacher Jeshua was transformational for Mary.  She understood what he taught.  His words guided her on an inner journey of transformation.  Jeshua called the place of transformation, The Kingdom of Heaven.  Other teachers have called it “Enlightenment”, “Nirvana”, “Tao”… It is the place of all knowing- the heart of the paradox where we “gno” ourselves as the one in the many; the many in the one.   It is a place beyond words and description, which can only be approached through parable, metaphor and myth.

All the great teachers tell us that their wish and desire is for their students to become like them.  They all say it is possible and in fact easy; one must simply see and hear in a new way.  The word, “apostle” like the word “epistle” means, “messenger”.  These teachers saw themselves as messengers, carrying the information that there is another way of living and of being, another way of sensing the world.  Mary Magdalene learned what her teacher taught and she in turn taught her wisdom to others.

 And the disciples asked about Mary Magdalene,  “Why do you love her more than all of us?”2 

The answer: “Why do I not love you like her?” seems to speak to Mary Magdalene’s understanding of the Teacher’s message.  Mary has achieved gnosis- she understands the teachings completely with mind, body and spirit.  Over and over various gospels, be they Gnostic or Christian, show the Magdalene paying attention, understanding, teaching, and interpreting. 

The Eastern Orthodox Church has always honored Mary Magdalene as the Apostle to the Apostles.  Ostensibly this refers to her carrying the news of Christ’s resurrection to the other apostles.  Embedded in the story is the acknowledgement that this greatest honor was hers.  But why was she chosen above all others?  That question is never addressed.  Given the restrictions of their dogma, the Christian Church finds it almost impossible to admit that anyone, particularly a woman, could become as enlightened as Christ but clearly, as we see from the teachings ascribed to her in the Gnostic gospels, this is what happened.  Her authority as a leader, as a teacher came from the inner journey – into and back from madness where she faced her own demons and overcame them with the guidance and teaching of her beloved messenger.

So what does it mean to us?  How do we assume her title, follow her example and become an apostle to the apostles?  I think it means that the work of becoming is not an end in itself.  To what purpose do we undertake that inner journey, brave the dark night of the slog through slough of despair, find our voice, face the demons and learn to love ourselves?  We undertake it in order to enlighten others.  After we learn to “walk our talk,” after we begin to integrate and embody our wisdom, we must return to the beginning, turn the teaching around and begin to “talk our walk”.  This is the message of the Apostle to the Apostles – this is the Magdalene’s message to us.  The learning, the knowledge is the beginning of service.  Now that we “gno” what we “gno” it is our turn to teach, to inform, to carry the news, to relay the message.  The Magdalene invites us, by her example to share the harvest of our wisdom.

                                                                                                 Christine Irving©2007

 1 In almost all cultures the number seven represents:

completeness and totality

2 The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (Bg 8502,1)

3  The Gospel of Philip (NHC II 3.63.32ff)