About eleven years ago, Mary Magdalene intruded into my life. She came to me in a dream where she told me that if I wanted to find true Christianity, I would need to follow the trail from France to Wales. I woke, unable to shake the dream. My spiritual director at the time, the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress, suggested that I draw the primary image I had encountered: a redwood shack with an orthodox dome. A few months later, I went to Taize in France to meet Brother Roger Like the thousands of pilgrims who gather every week, I sang my heart out for four hours of sung prayer a day, allowing my soul to be cracked wide open as tears and trust began to flow. On the second day of my pilgrimage, i meandered down to the waterfall known as La Source, and there I found a simple redwood shack with an orthodox dome. Taking this very seriously, I returned home to California to begin leading Taize services, integrating the beautiful contemplative chanting into weekend Benedictine workshops, labyrinth walks, even seminars on Jungian psychology. And, indeed, it felt as if I had discovered a vital stream of living spirituality , for Catholic, Protestant, Jewish , Agnostic, New Age and even Atheist participants all told me that they felt a profound sense of peace, belonging and nourishment in these communal evenings by candlelight.
I've returned three times to Taize, but my queries about Wales met with puzzlement. Wales? No, there was nothing the brothers could offer me about that enigma from my dream. Still, it niggled my mind. After speaking at Oxford one summer, I even took the train out to the fair green country, searching for traces of Mary Magdalene on St. David's Island, in the Black Mountains and in one monastery after another. It was a fruitless (though lovely) quest.
Meanwhile, I read book upon book about the history, legends and lore of Magdalene. I collected hundreds of images from art galleries all around the world, I tromped through Cathar castle ruins and researched the early liturgies devoted to her. I taught classes at three colleges on Mary Magdalene, lectured on her for the San Francisco Opera and at an art festival in New Orleans, and had the honor of leading workshops and seminars and delivering Easter sermons in an astonishingly diverse array of venues. Along the way, I wrote a Jungian-oriented PhD dissertation on the mythology of the Magdalene through art and music of the centuries and produced a Passion Play from her perspective for Good Friday. But there was no further revelation about Wales.
Until this summer. The red thread of revelation is slender. My favorite book on Mary Magdalene is by the French theologian and psychologist Jean Yves Leloup. His translation and commentaries (beautifully rendered into English by Joseph Rowe) are both a spiritual and a poetic revelation. Last year, I discovered from a bookseller in Avignon that Jean Yves is now a FrenchOrthodox priest. While he travels the world lecturing (mostly to Brazil), his home base is only about an hour away from the caves of Mary Magdalene in La Baume.
i went this year on Pentecost to see this monastery in the hopes of finding Father Seraphim, as Leloup is now called. He wasn't there, but what I did find took my breath away: image after image of the most joyous evocation of the Book of Genesis I had every seen: creation as celebration. On one wall, the legendary arrival of Mary Magdalene on the shores of France in the Boat of Bethany accompanied by Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The iage that most opened my heart, however, was the fresco of Magdalene, figure of towering spiritual authority, spreading out her red cloak to shelter the centuries of saints who later followed the contemplative path she forged. There, nurtured under her gentle and motherly wing, were all the saints who have meant the most to me in my life: Saint Benedict, Dionysus the Areopagite, John Cassian, Saint Francis, Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen.
I learned later from the extraordinarily vibrant Monsignor Martin that the French Orthodox tradition (and this church in particular) holds Mary Magdalene as not only the Apostle to the Apostles, but also the originator of some of their most cherished traditions, a tradition they believe goes back to the first century when she taught and preached in Provence. The French Orthodox embrace a non-dualistic and very Jungian orientation to the world, seeking to find Anthropos, or the balance between masculine and feminine, something they believe that both Jesus and Mary taught and embodied. Like the Eastern Orthodox, the French Orthodox never embraced the notion of Original Sin: the emphasis in their teaching is on remembering the goodness inside each one of us, staying awake and attuned to beauty and joy and learning how to let your light shine. Their church stands in communion with the Celtic Orthodox church, which has chapters in England. And Wales.
Near the lake of St. Michel du Var is a small redwood shack with the motto "Mon joie, mon joie" painted over the doorway. Its roof is crowned with- what else?- an orthodox dome.
Like so many things on my journey, there are now only more questions, but they are ones I intend to live into in the next few weeks as I return back to France.