We know from all four of the gospels in the New Testament that Mary Magdalene was a close and loyal follower of Jesus: her presence at the cross and the tomb testify to both her devotion and courage. She was the first to encounter the risen Christ. In the Gospel of John, she calls Jesus "Rabboni", meaning "My teacher". He, in turn, commissions Magdalene to go and teach the other males disciples about her experiences. Her title, "Apostle to the Apostles" can be translated as " Teacher of the Teachers".
In other early Christian scriptures, rediscovered and translated in our time, Mary is actually depicted as the disciple who best understood Jesus's message, an inner initiate who had the greatest insight and wisdom. In the Gospel of Philip (a third century Christian text discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945), Magdalene is described as Jesus's koinonos, a word that can have many different interpretations. One translation is spiritual companion. In the Celtic tradition, it might be called an anam cara, a person with whom you share the most intimate matters of your soul and trust with the inmost reaches of your heart. These "soulmates" hold a common life purpose. The intimacy of their shared inner life gives each one strength, insight and joy.
St. Francis and St. Clare, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are just a few of these spiritual companions that leap immediately to my mind.
John O'Donahue, in his wonderful book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, writes:
The heart is the inner face of your life. The human journey strives to make this inner face beautiful. It is here that love gathers within you. Love is absolutely vital for a human life. For love alone can awaken what is divine within you. In love, you grow and come home to your self. When you learn to love and let yourself be loved, you come home to the hearth of your own spirit. You are warm and sheltered.
I suspect that this is one of the healings that occurred for Mary Magdalene when she had seven demons cast out of her ( a topic I will return to in a later post): she came home to herself, knowing herself to be loved and understood by her teacher. In so doing, she awakened to the divine fire within her, and was empowered to become a source of strength for all of those around her, including the males disciples huddled in fear in the upper room after the crucifixion, and even, I imagine, for Jesus himself as he hung on the cross.
In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is asked, "When will the kingdom of heaven arrive?". He responds, "When you make an image to replace an image". The image of Jesus as the tortured man on the cross bleeding and dying alone did not become the dominant image of Christianity until the second millenium. Instead, early icons focused on his role as a healer, teacher and Good Shepherd or as the child tenderly cradled by his mother. Our world today desperately needs to reclaim those images as the central images of Christianity- but also to offer images like the one above, that Janet McKenzie has created of Jesus and Mary Magdalene as spiritual companions. Images of men and women working side by side for the healing of the world, sharing a vision that is greater than themselves, who see the profound depth of each other's inner beauty . The archetype of Jesus and Magdalene as spiritual companions who teach and heal and bless together, affirming and strengthening one another's gifts, is an archetype that could bring inspiration to the world and expand our imagination about the relationship possibilities between men and women.
If you know of other pictures that speak to this archetype of soulmates, will you please share? And if you are an artist out there reading this, will you please create one?