As the title of this book states, this is a study of Mary Magdalene as the “woman at the heart of Christianity”. This is a contentious issue for many, popularised most recently by the controversy generated by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Personally, I have been fascinated by the figure of Mary Magdalene and the shadowy conspiracies of the Church, and what they mean to us now, for many years. I do believe that Mary Magdalene had (and still has) a more prominent role than we have been ‘officially’ told, and that is why this book piqued my interest.
But this book isn’t about conspiracy theories; it is about love. All-encompassing, universal, divine, human love as the beating heart of true Christianity.
In a compelling, insightful and persuasive argument, Cynthia Bourgeault proposes that Mary Magdalene was, quite literally, at the heart of Jesus’ ministry: not necessarily because she was Jesus’ lover (though Bourgeault does believe this is a key component), but because Mary Magdalene had attained the same level of spiritual evolution as Jesus. For many, particularly those who still believe Mary Magdalene to be a reformed prostitute, this will undoubtedly be a highly contentious claim! Yet, Bourgeault’s arguments are intelligent, well-researched, intuitive and thought-provoking. As an Episcopal priest herself, her thoughts merit some consideration.
What struck me most profoundly, however, was not so much the prominence given to Mary Magdalene but Bourgeault’s discussion of the nature of love: what it actually is, how it relates to God, Christianity, spirituality in general, and our existence. This goes beyond debates over bloodlines, Church secrets, Goddess worship or feminism (though Bourgeault does present some interesting points on what it is to be a woman within the Church). This is about how love IS God, and how our human expressions of love are simply expressions of divine love on the material plane. Allowing all-encompassing love to drive our actions will power our spiritual ascension, and reaffirm our intrinsic, undeniable connection to God (or whatever your Higher Power is).
Looking at both the ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ gospels, Bourgeault argues how Mary Magdalene was a key teacher of this in early Christianity, and how the deliberate obfuscation of her presence robbed future Christians of the powerful transformational wisdom at its core.
Whether or not you believe in Mary Magdalene, this book raises some very interesting questions about institutionalised teachings, the true message of Jesus, and our notions of masculine and feminine archetypes. Be prepared to be challenged! It also forces you to consider your own beliefs regarding love, and how deep your capacity for love is.
As a believer in Jesus but not a follower of the Church institution, I believe that Christians and non-Christians alike should consider the arguments Bourgeault presents about accepting Mary Magdalene and revolutionising Christian teachings. Whether you are persuaded by her argument fully, in part, or not at all, it is always good to shake up the status-quo once in a while! And I really do believe she has some important points that any reader should take note of.
If you have read this, or are inspired to read this, let me know what you think! I am very interested to hear your thoughts and start a discussion!