“In one startling dream, I heard the doorbell ring, and went to answer the door and there was Mary standing before me – her long brunette hair curling over the back of the deep crimson cloak she wore across her shoulders.”
I first “met” Mary Magdalene in seventh grade music class when Miss Klosterman played for us the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. This was the soundtrack of the original London cast featuring Ian Gillan as Jesus (later played by Ted Neely in the movie version) and Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene. To say this soundtrack changed my life would be an understatement! Up to this point, Jesus was sitting up on a pedestal, the “Son of God” who we could pray to and whose grace we sought, but who in truth felt very far away and unapproachable.
Having been raised Catholic and attending Catholic schools, Jesus was presented as the image of perfection. How could we, lowly humans, even presume to approach him except by gazing up to “heaven” where he sat on a throne, the image of perfection and holding up the standard of perfect human behavior? Well, Jesus Christ Superstar changed all of that. For the first time in my life, Jesus was HUMAN. He was vulnerable, afraid, got frustrated and angry, grew impatient and tired – just like the rest of us. Now this was a Jesus I could relate to. What I didn’t know at the time is that this Jesus – the human, approachable Jesus was the very Jesus that every Christian mystic had come to know in very personal and intimate terms for upwards of 2000 years. The awareness of Jesus as a living, breathing, flawed human being opened the door for the development of a deeply personal and intimate relationship with Jesus that continues to this very day.
The second thing that Jesus Christ Superstar did for me was to introduce me to an example of female discipleship. Mary Magdalene stood beside Jesus, equal to, or perhaps even more equal, than his male disciples. She stood so close to Jesus, in fact, that it was to Mary that he turned when tired and worn out from preaching, healing and ministering to a stiff-necked people.
“Mary presented a model of presence, nurturing, support and comfort that seemed to be lacking in the male disciples.”
Although Andrew Lloyd Webber didn’t go there, the tenderness and intimacy portrayed in both the theatrical and movie versions of this “rock opera” seemed to hint at the possibility that Jesus and Mary had more going on than just being teacher and student. Again, while neither the play nor the movie portrayed it, whispering under the dialog, the interactions, the tenderness and tension, one had to wonder if there was in fact a romantic love between Mary and Jesus. This question remained in my consciousness as a very real possibility in spite of the Catholic insistence that Jesus was single and celibate, like the priestly celibacy they were trying to uphold.
Jesus Christ Superstar continued as the model of a Jesus I wanted to know and the female disciple that stood at least equal if not more intimate than his male disciples.
I turned to the soundtrack over and over and over again in search of the connection with Jesus that Mary seemed to enjoy and to come to know Mary more fully. To this day, I can sing the entire soundtrack from beginning to end without pause.
Fast forward fifteen years, past high school, college, work in the corporate world, and to where I was standing in the choir at the Newman Center at UW Oshkosh. The homily that particular Sunday was about “call.” I heard the priest say, “If there is something you have always wanted to do, but haven’t done it yet….get off your butt and do it now.”
I will swear to this day that at the utterance of these words, a brick flew through the air and hit me square between the eyes. I called a meeting with the priest, “I hate what I’m doing. I’ve never been happy in corporate work. I know I’m supposed to be doing something else. I think it has to do with God, but I don’t know what that means.” I consider this encounter my “call to active ministry” which began seven years of education and training as a Pastoral Minister and Spiritual Director and ten years of employment within the Catholic Church. Not only did this encounter change the trajectory of my life, but through the class Integrative Spirituality with Sr. Marie Schwan, I discovered Christian Contemplative Prayer through which I found the intimate, personal, fulfilling, informing, guiding relationship with Jesus that I first glimpsed through Jesus Christ Superstar.
I discovered not only validation, but support for my inherently intuitive and contemplative nature and through these practices found tools for discernment, comfort, healing and guidance. What I did not know in all of this was that not only would Jesus become deeply important to me, so too would Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene presented herself to me through my course in Christology.
I wrote my final paper on Mary Magdalene and discovered centuries of misinformation that maligned Mary Magdalene and placed her in the role of repentant whore. What I discovered in this research (though I think I already intuitively knew this), was that there is NO SCRIPTURAL SUPPORT for Mary as a prostitute. Instead, every single scriptural reference regarding the Magdalene places her in intimate proximity to Jesus as devoted student, companion and supporter. Even more important than all of her supporting roles, it is to Mary that the resurrected Christ appears and SHE is the one first commissioned to share the good news of the resurrection. (read John’s gospel account of the resurrection closely and you will see where the text was altered to give Peter a more prominent role in the discovery of the resurrected Christ). Also in this research, I discovered that even the early church gave credit to Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection and honored this truth by referring to her as “the Apostle to the Apostles.”
What I did not know in writing this paper was that this act would open the floodgates to everything Magdalene. I suddenly found that every single book written about Mary Magdalene soon found its way into my hands. Literally falling off of bookstore shelves, jumping off the shelf at me, one book led to another until I had soon devoured nearly a hundred texts on the subject. Through both fiction and non-fiction, reflective and scholarly texts, I discovered the many faces of Mary Magdalene. I was also confirmed in my understanding that as writers, we all present through our own lens, informed by our own perceptions and (sometimes) hidden agendas. In sorting through all this literature, I found representations of Mary that deeply resonated with me, some that confronted my own personal sensibilities and others that I just simply could not embrace. Out of this plethora of information, a clear image of Mary emerged that I could make my own.
Of all the resources that crossed my path related to the Magdalene, there is one that stands out – The Gospel of Mary Magdalene by John-Yves Leloup.
One of those books that jumped off the bookstore shelf and into my hands, this book was more than transformational; it was familiar – deeply familiar. As I read LeLoup’s beautiful translation of the Coptic text of the Gospel of Mary and immersed myself in his spiritual commentary, I felt as if I was reading something I had once known long ago and was now being reminded. The timing of this book was equally miraculous as it showed up to me at the very time I was praying through the awarenesses that would eventually become Authentic Freedom (my trademarked protocol for supporting the human journey toward self-actualization). Leloup’s words provided the validation, confirmation and affirmation of what until then had only been intuitive glimpses of a protocol for true spiritual transformation leading to human empowerment.
“When he suggested that the seven demons Mary was said to be released from represented a formal process of initiation that she completed under Jesus’ guidance, I knew I had found the key that was missing from the biblical accounts of Mary.”
I believe that in receiving Authentic Freedom, I had also been given, through Mary, the content of the missing pages from her gospel.
Accompanying this literary exploration, Mary also began showing up to me in my dreams and in my prayer. In one startling dream, I heard the doorbell ring, and went to answer the door and there was Mary standing before me – her long brunette hair curling over the back of the deep crimson cloak she wore across her shoulders. In her hand she held a hand-carved, jeweled box which she handed to me. I opened the box and inside was my heart – beating, vibrant and full of life. I knew that in this giving, she was returning my heart to me – the heart that had been broken by life and deeply in need of healing.
Mary continued to appear in similar imagery while I was in prayer, during yoga, in spontaneous visions and conversations, and when allowing her to speak to me through my pen in exercises of automatic writing. When Mary showed up, I learned to pay attention and when she spoke, I listened. And never, not once, was Mary there simply for her own glory, it was always for the sake of leading me closer and closer to myself. You can learn more about Lauri’s Resurrecting the Magdalene work here. As Jesus did for her, she now does for the world – leading us deeper and deeper into our truest selves – one within ourselves, one with the Divine of our understanding, one with each other and one with all of creation. It is in this wholeness (which Authentic Freedom supports us in finding) that we become self-actualized and it is in this that we know peace, contentment and joy. As Mary did, so shall we do.
Lauri Ann Lumby, OM, OPM, MATS is the founder and spiritual director of Authentic Freedom Academy and the Order of the Magdalene. Lauri’s mission is to do what Jesus and Mary Magdalene did – supporting women and men in becoming self-actualized – coming to know their own unique giftedness and being empowered to live out those gifts for the sake of their own fulfillment and in service to the betterment of the world. In support of this mission, Lauri offers online courses, training programs and one-on-one mentoring. Lauri is also the author of seven books, including Song of the Beloved – the Gospel According to Mary Magdalene and Authentic Freedom – Claiming a Life of Contentment and Joy. You can learn more about Lauri and her offerings at www.authenticfreedom.love.
Compliment this reading with the interview with Mary Magdalene researcher and author Wencke Braathen on what Mary Magdalene would want you to know today.