Mary Magdalene

    I first learned about Cynthia Bourgeault almost two years ago when I started looking for scholars and thinkers to contribute to the BE section on goop. Her words have been a powerful inspiration ever since. In her new book, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, through biblical research and analysis of several forgotten Gospels—including the Gospel of Mary Magdalene—she is able to show this often reviled character as another apostle and a companion of Jesus’. In their relationship, she posits the possibility of a true and mystical love and through it, forgiveness and salvation.


    Interview between goop and Cynthia Bourgeault on her new book, The Meaning of Mary Magalene.

    Q: What is the book about?

    Cynthia Bourgeault:

    A: Obviously, it’s about Mary Magdalene, but in her three interlocking roles as apostle, intimate friend of Jesus, and purveyor of sacred Wisdom. The point of my book is that you can’t separate these roles, as people have been trying to do for centuries. And when you put all the pieces back together into a single person, what emerges is not only an astonishing new portrait of Mary Magdalene, but an astonishing new portrait of Christianity as well: a portrait that promises healing and forgiveness for Christianity’s notorious wounds in the areas of human intimacy and relationships, and a bold new Christian vision of enlightened consciousness.

    Q: What's the one thing you want people to take away from this book?

    A: A renewed hope that, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, “Christianity isn’t a failure; it just hasn’t been tried yet.” If we can just cut through two millennia of doctrine and dogma to the living heart of Jesus’ teaching, we find here relational health, an astonishing vision of love as a transformational path, and profoundly empowering models of women and women-and-men-working-together in spiritual leadership roles. To reclaim Mary Magdalene is to reclaim Christianity. Without her, our understanding of what Jesus was really teaching is incomplete — in fact, it is significantly distorted.

    Q: Read with an open mind and heart, your book has the potential to save two struggling institutions, the Church and marriage, yet from the title I suspect some might think it's just a "religious book" and pass it by. Why shouldn't they? How does this book help us improve our own personal relationships?

    A: It’s a sad commentary on the state of institutional religion that many, many people, particularly younger adults, have simply given up hope that the church might ever have something useful to say about the most important personal issues of our lives. That phrase you’ll so often hear these days—“I’m spiritual, not religious,”—carries a good deal of this disappointment.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way. In essence, the path at the heart of all the great religious traditions is about equipping us with the insights, the skills, and the support to live our lives in skillful and deeply satisfying ways, not through a stiff moralism applied from the outside, but from rediscovering the intrinsic nature of love. This was certainly at the heart of Jesus’ own teaching, particularly as he walked it with Mary Magdalene, and it is for the sake of this love that I’ve written this book.

    Q: How is this different from The Da Vinci Code?

    A: The Da Vinci Code did some very good work, pointing its finger directly at the place from which so much of the denial and dysfunction in Christianity arises. But the Da Vinci code is itself a product of the same reactive and stereotypic thinking about human sexuality that it’s trying to debunk. Its most urgent agenda is all about whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married; whether they had sex; whether the church has a “deep, dirty secret” to hide. There is no attention given to any sense of Mary Magdalene as a fully qualified apostle; no sense that an intimate relationship with Jesus might be a valid path of spiritual transformation; and a simplistic (to say the least!) and even mean-spirited understanding of both the teaching and integrity of Jesus.

    What’s more, The DaVinci Code is based on speculative and highly questionable scholarship by a team of British investigative journalists with an axe to grind, and is not taken seriously by virtually any reputable Biblical and historical scholars.

    Q: What does the Church think about what you're saying? Does this perspective create a conflict for you as an Episcopal priest with the Church?

    A: For more conservative Christians, I suspect that this book may cause conflict and even consternation. But the fact that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, has offered a cover endorsement lends strong support to the fact that this book is not heretical, and that among open-minded and thoughtful Christians its deeper intentions will be both understood and respected. My goal all along has been to open a conversation whose goal is healing and deeper understanding.

    Q: How do you think this book can help Christians who are looking for spiritual fulfillment but not finding it in churches these days?

    A: These are the very people I would most like to reach. A lot of the people who are not finding fulfillment in the churches are turned off by what they perceive as hypocrisy, denial, and knee-jerk defense of antiquated and damaging theologies. I offer this book as an alternative to throwing out the baby with the bathwater, by showing how all these oppressive aspects of institutional Christianity are DISTORTIONS of the original message, not intrinsic to it. At the heart of the gospel is a message of love and relational wholeness; if we can only hear it, it can be a source of healing and new beginning both for Christians and for those whose hearts have been broken or alienated by Christianity.

    Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest, writer and retreat leader. She is founding director of the Aspen Wisdom School in Colorado and principal visiting teacher for the Contemplative Society in Victoria, BC, Canada.

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