That Incomprehensible Silence, The Screwloose Letters, Vol 1, #9
I am a silence incomprehensible.... Lady Thunder, in Thunder, Perfect Mind
Most of us have by now become familiar with the recent emergence of the enigmatic figure of Mary Magdalene onto center stage, even as the drama of Christian Origins assumes its almost daily escalation in popular interest. We thought we knew all about her, having listened from childhood to all those sermons about the repentant prostitute, the seven demons cast out of her by Jesus, the weeping figure at the foot of the cross, first to the empty tomb at the crack of dawn. The woman with the alabaster jar. More recently, she became the property of the new gnostics and the feminists. We learned from Dan Brown’s iconoclastic novel to place her in a yet more audacious role: she was now the consort of Jesus himself, the mother of his children, escaping with him into southern France, dying of old age as the mother of myriad malcontents, yet to appear in the history of heresy. The end of this evolution, it now appears, is nowhere in sight. She may yet have the last laugh. Or rather, shed the final tear, as it may yet turn out, in the ironies of time, on this our doomed planet of exile, where silence on the really large issues, the infamous Big Questions of Philosophy 101, still prevails. I don’t know about you, but I find that incomprehensible. But maybe that’s why I went on to Philosophy 102.
Who was she? Was she really there, at the beginning? Where did she go, what has time wrought? Could she have known what was to become of her visions, her inner voices that once were heard as thunder? Did she know even then that there would follow the louder thunder of an already gathering newer kind of Jesus storm destined to drown hers out: much lightning wind and hail, and then Christendom's two thousand years of murky rain and darkness…? Has she been hiding somewhere in that incomprehensible silence, waiting for this our very own moment in time? Yes, I find it all incomprehensible.
She is our Mary now, the migdal, the Tower, the original Rock., come alive again, thanks to another new wave of scholarship. We know now that she simply dropped out of sight, replaced by Paul the apostle and his revamped version of things. But how, why? No, she did not “invent Christianity,” as S. P. Laurie would have it, except maybe unwittingly, for what we have in her earliest Jesus sayings as set out for us in what they tell us became the Gospel of Thomas is unlike anything apt to be found in anybody’s religion, let alone Paul’s. Or even in the now familiar varieties of gnosticism that surely surrounded her.
Pick it up, this misnamed Gospel that does not really belong in that literary genre, this Thomas thing, and start reading. See what I mean? The atmosphere here is rare indeed, even unique. For me, it feels post-everything else. Post-religion yes, but even Post-gnostic. Post-postmodern, if you will. But no, even post-that. Its Jesus, in sync with Mary, is, as Harold Bloom has said, unsponsored and free. He is a Wisdom Teacher, yes, but much more. He wants to heal you, help you to get your head straight, so that you too can be set free, experience a full and abundant life right now, not after you're dead. Remember those hippies who used to talk about getting “liberated?” We are to become whole and undivided, achieve the kind of unified consciousness that prepares us for reunion with Spirit, lost somewhere in the shuffle. In the Thomas Gospel, Spirit is what’s real, and not the body or even the soul, unless it’s joined to Spirit—but the Good News is that, once reunited with Spirit, even these tired old bodies we inhabit get an unexpected new boost, a battery charge for the remainder of our time on Earth! A kind of super-mind seems to be what we’re after, and at this point it is worth recalling the etymology of the Greek word for “repentance.” Metanoia means just that: a superior level of awareness, an elevated way of looking at life. Break it down: Meta (big, large) plus nous (mind). To “repent” meant for gnostics (the earliest Christians) just that, the achievement of---dare I say it—a higher consciousness. What was the title of our Early Christian poem? What did the turtle tell us?
Thunder, Perfect Mind.
And now you know. Just for you, courtesy of our new scholars--for me led by S P Laurie--the silence has been broken. This Mary, an extraordinary young woman of ordinary appearance (sans eyeglasses of course), this woman who was to become known as the migdal or Magdalene, this towering figure in the early Jesus Movement, started it all, almost single-handedly. She didn’t just hang out with Jesus, she invented Jesus! Mind you, not the familiar religious figure that was to follow all this (“Mark” would indeed invent that one, some fifty years later, in reaction to Mary by the way, and for the purposes of her competition, the burgeoning new Roman Church--a quite different sort of Jesus) but rather she served to introduce to the world initially Jesus himself, a “visitor from heaven” whom she as a shaman was channeling, so to speak.
Mary had a house in Jerusalem, before Paul came along, before there was a New Testament, or even any Jesus stories. She had a growing clientele; people came and went. Under her shamanic guidance they received information, sayings of Jesus to ponder, spiritual coaching. Eventually, as they too came to experience their own personal visions of this obscure figure from the distant past (long known to the Churches of God as Jesus, legendary Teacher of Righteousness but now belatedly resurrected and seated in the heavenlies), they were sent out as apostles. The Jesus Movement was underway. Their Gospel, like the Gospel of Thomas itself, was one of integrity and self-honesty, a very much down-to-earth, reality-based proposition. The aim was to build on the earth a new race of men and women who would tell the truth and live by the law of love. Who knows what might have been, had Mary's Jesus prevailed? The Good News then (30-45 a.d.?) was that the Kingdom of the “Father” was here and now, had at last arrived. It was a Kingdom for Now. Not future or political but for improving the quality of life Right Now, here in our place of exile, here where we live in these corrupt and fragile vessels of flesh, destined to die. Yes, the Kingdom was inside them and all around them; they just couldn’t see or hear it, because their minds were fragmented. We are divided beings, no Single Vision. But now we learn from Mary that there is Light in every man and woman, Light that is not part of the created world, and so cannot die. The treasure, the Pearl of Great Price, is hidden within, waiting to be discovered. This Walt Whitman Jesus has some advice for us, doled out from the Tower: no prayer will help you, no fasting, no giving alms for the poor, no church, no religion will do it. It is simply a matter of waking up, getting acquainted with your real Self, who you really are. Learning to live in your body, even. Making the two into One, body and Spirit now married, as were Mary and her heavenly spouse Jesus. Whoever comes to understand these words of mine will no longer taste death. Which is to say that although these bodies of ours are perishing and doomed to die, given the fact that the real in us is Spirit and not flesh, even so our awakening to wholeness will bring with it, promises Mary’s consort Jesus, an unexpected gift: for the rest of our days: our beat-up bodies will be bolstered anew each day with the vitamin B-12 of Spirit! The fear of death will vanish, which is to say that we need no longer “taste” it.
The dead know nothing of life, and the living do not die. logion 11
That which the human eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor human hand has touched, that which is inconceivable (incomprehensible?) to the human mind---that will I give to you! logion 17
Paul will later quote these very words he first heard from Mary, though with a quite different meaning intended. (I Cor. 2:9) Did he ever really understand them?
One day he came knocking at her door, there at her Jerusalem hideout, where because of the mounting persecution from local Jewish misogynists she was passing herself off as a man by the name of Cephas (yet another of her nicknames, for Lady Thunder was not only a Tower but also a Rock). Listen, he said, allow me to introduce myself. I am Saul of Tarsus, who used to go after some of your people. But wait, don’t shut the door! I’ve seen him! I too have seen the risen Jesus! Let me in, I beg of you, and I’ll tell you all about it… I want to join up with you and the followers of The Way. Mary dropped her thunderous gaze and let him in. He stayed fifteen days, there with Cephas, and you can bet they argued a lot. Things would never be the same.
Paul won the argument. Mary was eclipsed, it seems, falling once more into that incomprehensible silence. Paul converted most of her apostles to his way of thinking, his Lord Jesus Christ, faith in his shed blood for the remission of “sins.” Mary moved to Rome, eventually, where she seems to have forgotten or passed beyond what she recorded for us in the Gospel of Thomas (yes, she wrote that too), and to have become caught up in the birth of what eventually would be the Great Church. Was Paul a bad influence on her? Was his vision of the resurrected Jesus more authentic than hers, or than those experienced by the “five hundred brethren” he mentions in his first letter to Corinth? Who’s to say? We are left with her silence. He mentions her in passing, at the end of his Epistle to those new believers over there in Rome, a place, by the way, he had at that time still never visited. (Later he will join her there, and they will both be martyred under the notorious Nero). By now it seems, she's neither Rock nor Tower, and he can address her by her old name. Greetings to Mary, he writes, almost as an afterthought (Romans 16:6b) she has been an enormous help to us all...