In chapter seven of her powerful book MARY MAGDALENE – Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity, “Reclaiming the Path of Romantic Love,” Episcopal minister Cynthia Bourgeault paints a much different picture of the spiritual path Jesus walked than the one painted by Christian orthodox interpretations of the four gospels. Continuing from where we left off in the previous post, Cynthia speaks to the question “Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene lovers.” I will let you read directly from the final two pages of this chapter.
Having described Jesus’s spiritual path as being anything but celibate, an “enstatic” path of conserving pranic energy, Cynthia makes her case against traditional Christian concepts and beliefs to the contrary.
By contrast, the path that Jesus himself seems to teach and model in his life, and particularly in his death, is not a storing up but a complete pouring out. His pranic energy is quickly depleted; on the cross, as all four gospel account affirm, he does not hold out even until sunset, but quickly “gives up the ghost.” Shattered and totally spent, he simply disappears into his death. The core icon of the Christian faith, the watershed moment from which it all emerges, is not enstatic but ecstatic — love completely poured out, expended, squandered. In contrast to clarity, it is the archetypal image of purity, the complete self-giving of the heart.
THE PATH JESUS WALKED
And right here, I believe, we come to the fundamental problem with these celibate models of transformation. It’s not merely their monochromatic viewpoint or the implicit devaluing of a whole other stream of Christian spiritual wisdom whose roots are in passionate human love. Rather, it is the fact that at key points they seem to be slightly out of kilter with the path of transformation that Jesus himself walked and taught. One might say that this model points us toward John the Baptist rather than Jesus: toward those ancient and time-honored practices of renunciation, asceticism, and self-concentration through abstinence, whereas if we really look closely, we see that Jesus himself seemed to be constantly pushing the envelope in the opposite direction — toward radical self-abandonment, reckless self-outpouring, and the transmutation of passion in complete self-giving.
But it is right there, at the center of that cognitive dissonance, that a window of opportunity opens up. Rather than trying to smooth it over and pretend it does not exist, as the church has done for nearly two thousand years, we need to tune in and listen to it very carefully, for it gives us exactly the tool we need to proceed.
Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene lovers? To date, nearly everyone seems to be trying to solve that riddle from the outside, like good investigative journalists. It’s all about finding new evidence: secret documents and societies, new gnostic gospels, purported lost tombs, hidden mathematical messages embedded in the lines of existent texts — some new piece of data that would settle the issue one way or another. Equally, those who are appalled by the very notion of a romantically involved Jesus build their case by recourse to doctrines and templates that did not exist until three or four centuries after he had left the planet. It’s all external logic.
But there is another possibility, which has been sitting there right under our noses all along yet so far seems to have been consistently overlooked. That is to evaluate the evidence from the inside, on the basis of the path itself. For Jesus was, after all, a teacher, and the teaching itself is there to be consulted. Once one has compensated for the negative set and drift of the celibate current, it is merely a matter of asking a single question: In the light of what Jesus actually seems to have been teaching, is there anything in the teachings themselves that would have precluded such a love relationship?
If Jesus were indeed walking the path of classic monastic brahmacharya, then the answer is obviously yes; celibacy is an essential requirement of this path, and to diverge from this requirement would violate his integrity and sabotage his spiritual power.
But what if in fact he was walking a different path? A path difficult to identify because it was so close to its own headwaters that it was missed by nearly everyone both then and now? What if he was not an ascetic at all, but was in fact following a whole new trajectory, previously unknown in the West and with its own ways of understanding integrity and purity? Along this other trajectory, it might indeed be conceivable for him to be in a human love relationship, although that love would probably not look like what most of us are familiar with.
Let’s see what the teachings themselves have to say.
Thus ends chapter seven with a segue to chapter eight, and to the rest of Cynthia’s provocative treatise, for that matter. The title of chapter eight is “The Great Identity Theft.” Who was Jesus and how was his presentation of himself perceived by the world he came to save from itself? There are two brief paragraphs midway through this chapter that speak to these questions.
In the Aramaic language of Jesus’s immediate followers, one of the earliest titles given to him was Ihidaya, “the Single One,” or the “Unified One.” In context, it speaks unmistakably of this state of inner oneness; it designates the anthropos, the fully realized human being: the enlightened master of Eastern tradition, or the monad or “undivided one” of hermeticism.
The “great identity theft” to which the title of this chapter refers is that in remarkably short order this term, which was so clearly intended to designate Jesus’s attained state of inner oneness, should come to be interpreted as “singleness” in the sense of being unmarried, “the celibate one.”
Jesus was not necessarily monastic nor ascetic, which leaves him available to a romantic relationship. Actually, according to Islamic scholar Ibrahim Gamard, monasticism was not mandated by the Koran. In a letter to the author in 1998, Gamard shared the insight that “in the Islamic tradition monasticism was disapproved of in the Qur’anic verse which states that the monasticism of the followers of Jesus was invented by them and was not something commanded by God.” As I said, this leaves Jesus with the option at least of having a romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene as his wife and partner in a shared service to Humanity: personal transformation via a path of romantic love.
I will leave it there for now and continue with “The Path that Jesus Walked” in my next post . . . . or not. This series seems to be complete, so I may let this be the concluding post to the series on Human Relations. We’ll see what the Current of Inspiration brings us for exploration. Thanks for sharing this consideration with me. As always, your comments are welcome. Until my next post,
Be love. Be Loved
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