(See topics below for RCWP Canada Newsletter)
|Bishop Jane Kryzanowski, RCWP Canada|
"This winter I am taking an on-line course from the Center of Action and Contemplation on Mary Magdalene led by wisdom scholar, Cynthia Bourgeault. Through years of study and practice in contemplative prayer, Bourgeault has come to know a depth of spiritual wisdom and insight into the meaning of Mary Magdalene in her day and for us today.
With the canonical gospels in one hand and the wisdom writings of the Nag Hammadi and the Gospel of Mary in the other she peels back layer upon layer of suppression, distortion and misunderstanding of Mary Magdalene, not just as “Apostle to the Apostles” but the deep river of conscious love that flowed between Mary Magdalene and Jesus that brought her to stand at the cross, remain in vigil at the tomb, and be the one to witness the resurrection.
She shows how systems and attitudes of patriarchy, sexism and misogyny have been at work from the early days of Christianity to create a “master story” that eroded the place of women in the mission and ministry of Jesus. Contemporary biblical, archeological and historical scholarship, especially that undertaken by those who adopt a feminist hermeneutic, are revealing much of what has been hidden as evidenced by the expansive end-notes for each chapter of her book, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the woman at the Heart of Christianity, which we are using as a resource.
As she breaks open for us the story of early Christianity that has marginalized Mary and other women in the gospels a Path of Conscious Love is revealed – like putting together pieces of a puzzle. The relationship between Jesus and Mary of Magdalene is the story of the soul drawn into a sacred oneness – the feminine and the masculine made whole. In her considerations, Bourgeault dares ask the question: “Was the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene one of voluntary celibacy or Eucharistic sexuality? This is an eye-popping question! How could one even think that Jesus wasn't celibate? That has been the premise of Christianity from its earliest days.
Bourgeault was introduced to the startling term of Eucharistic sex by an Australian priest and filmmaker, Michael Bernard Kelly. She writes, “Once I got over my initial shock, I realized he had hit the nail on the head. ‘Eucharistic sex’ basically equates to: ‘This is my body, given for you.’ Along a Fifth Way path, sexual expression is characterized by two overarching qualities: total transparency and total self-outpouring” (143).
It is hard to think about Jesus being anything but celibate. The ingrained thinking is that had he known erotic love, Jesus could not possibly have also been the full embodiment of divine love and would been disqualified as the divine redeemer. Bourgeault points out that the celibacy of Jesus is not a tenant of faith, although we tend to think so, but rather an assumption superimposed over the centuries (86). Celibacy's evolution during the early centuries of Christianity corresponded with the movement of leadership from charismatic elders to the threefold sacramental ministry (bishop, priest, deacon). By this time women had already come to be viewed negatively and increasingly both Jesus and the apostles came to be seen as the prototype of a celibate priesthood. This idea became a justification for a male, celibate, priestly theology which gained credibility as this view was passed from generation to generation by the male, celibate, priests and became the tradition of the church.
Bourgeault explores what she calls “Myths of Celibacy” as a superior way to holiness. Then, Weaving threads of singleness (unitive being), kenosis (self-emptying), and abundance, into a “wedding garment” (125), Bourgeault reveals the path of conscious, “substituted love” (148) as the most inclusive of all spiritual paths leading to ultimate oneness with the Divine. These elements can be experienced in both a genuine celibate life and a committed marriage relationship. At the heart of mysticism, the feminine and the masculine come together in an alignment and a purity of heart that allows for unitive consciousness whereby one “sees” God.
She offers that this is a path of “mystical marriage” which Jesus and Mary Magdalene knew, in which two souls experience in their relationship total transparency and total self-outpouring which nourishes one another and propels each of them hastening their personal spiritual journey. Human love is not inherently different than divine love. In describing “Conscious Love,” Bourgeault uses the term “Love” to emphasize the life-affirming and implicitly relational nature of the path, and the word “conscious” make clear that the touchstone here is transformation, not simply romance. Conscious love is “love in the service of inner transformation – or if your prefer, “inner transformation in the service of love.” This is exactly what Jesus is about. (112)
Allowing ourselves to consider various possibilities regarding Jesus and Mary Magdalene, we can come to know the Path of Conscious Love as the true nature of their relationship. This also opens for us new ways of seeing our personal relationships as means of growing into the fulness of divine love. Bourgeault quotes John Welwood (Journey of the Heart, 13): “Embracing relationship as a path also gives us practice: learning to use each difficulty along the way as an opportunity to go further, to connect more deeply, not just with a partner, but with our own aliveness as well.”
I find Bourgeault work intriguing. It will take me a lot more time to contemplate what she says. Following are some resources for your own exploration, if you wish. They give you direct access to some of her writings and presentations. "
Article in parabola.org: The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
Article in contemplative.org: Cosmic Intimacy
Youtube video: Meaning of Mary Magdalene
Youtube video: Way of the Heart
Latest articles at cynthiabourgeault.org
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010)
John Welwood, Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love (Shambhala: 1990)
[Jane Kryzanowski, Regina, SK, is bishop for RCWP Canada\
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