31 July 2010

Memorial of St Mary Magdalen (Delayed Post)

Reflection: Memorial of St Mary Magdelen
Redwoods Monastery(Cistercian)
Whitethorn, CA
July 22, 2010

Today's Memorial of St Mary Magdalen is one that makes me wonder. Not least I wonder about why "the Church" has kept it in the calendar. Afterall, it so threatens the clerical and patriarchal status quo! And then I realize once again that I am Church, that many of the women I know are Church, that this monastery of nuns where I am making retreat is Church in the most authentic sense possible, that the Holy Spirit inspires her Church to recognize the sainthood of women like Mary Magdalen, inspires her to call the Magdalen "Apostle to the Apostles." It is actually a bit embarrassing to wonder about such things. It is embarrassing to still have deeply entrenched somewhere in my mind --- and despite my theological education and some of my experience --- the sense that the term "the Church" refers to a patriarchal hierarchy and to strongly suspect that if they only could, they would wipe this challenging and prophetic memorial off the face of the church calendar. And of course, part of the reason it is embarrassing is because this felt sense is also true in many ways. (Even now, for instance, you may wonder why this is only a Memorial and not an outright Feast -- or even a Solemnity. After all, this is the person that first realized and witnessed to the resurrection of the Christ --- the Apostle to the Apostles!) I know I wonder!

But this is a moving and challenging Gospel story and one of the strongest images in it is that of the stone having been rolled away and Mary initially not really quite knowing or having "caught up" to what has happened and the new reality signaled by that open tomb. This few moments in her life mirrors what is true in each of us, and in the Church as a whole more often than not. My own tendency to think of "the church" as the hierarchy, despite official church teaching to the contrary, is a small piece of this in my own life. Never mind that the hierarchy of the church often gives every indication that they believe this is how things are and should be! Apparently the hierarchy also has failed to recognize completely what it means that the tomb is open and the stone has been rolled away! All of us are learning to live with and from this new truth in our lives, I think --- learning, that is, to move and act in the ever more expansive space and freedom of people of the resurrection.

A few months ago I read a story about a man who regularly took walks along a specific walking path. Each time he ran into a man who was walking his dogs. The dog walker let all three of the dogs off the leash and two of them bounded off into the adjacent fields to run free and play together. The third also ran into the field and enjoyed the opportunity, but instead of running free he ran around in a small circle, constricted and cramped by an unseen boundary. The owner explained: "this dog was raised in a very small kennel and was never allowed out. When he ran it was within the confines of the kennel and he became accustomed to moving in this tight, constrained space. Even now, though he is free to run where he will, he continues to run as though he is a prisoner within this kennel." I am sure that I have areas of such unfreedom, areas where I think I am acting with some kind of expansiveness, realms where I think I understand something, or am acting as is natural and authentically human, but yet, which are really signs of my bondage to unChristian perspectives and narrowness of life. These are the places in my life which have not quite realized or "caught up to" the reality and meaning of the open tomb and the fact that the stone really has been rolled away for all time.

The second powerful moment for me today in this Gospel is when Jesus says, "Do not cling to me" and then commissions Mary to go out and tell the world (and especially the other disciples who are cowering in the house in fear) that Jesus is risen and will soon be ascended to his Father. In other words, Go and tell my Brothers and Sisters that death has been vanquished and cannot hold any of us again! Now, I always found this instruction, "Do not cling to me" puzzling, but today I saw in it two bits of important wisdom. The first came from my own meditation where I heard Jesus saying to me: "I am with you always and everywhere. Do not worry and do not cling merely to past understandings or stereotypes of your vocation. You are a hermit wherever you are, and I send you forth to be an eremitical presence in the world." Yes, of course I have to be faithful to my solitary contemplative discipline ---- or I shall be nothing and have nothing to give the world --- but it is a part of the diocesan hermit's charism/mission that she be sent to proclaim the Gospel to her brothers and sisters in her parish, diocese, etc --- even if that is carried out in complete silence.

A related bit of wisdom which echoed all of this came from our homilist at this morning's Mass when he reminded us that "Mary was called to let go of the old and embrace the new life of the resurrection." She could not cling to the old Jesus, the Jesus she knew before his passion and resurrection, for instance, but instead had to orient her life around the Risen Christ who was returning from his pilgrimage among us (and the sin and death that often defines us) to a place in the very heart of God. In other words, she had to come to allow the resurrection to define who she was today, to allow the risen Christ to be the Lord of her life. In short, she had to accept a new life in which nothing at all was really the same any longer. And she had to accept a commission to proclaim this newness to men and women whose old values, perspectives, and ways of living had been God-given under the old covenant! The call to be "Apostle to the Apostles." Hardly a small task!

My own prayer today in light of all this is that both personally and in the Church as a whole, in whatever way we may find ourselves running in cramped or constrained circles with our lives unused to, and perhaps unprepared for, the freedom of Christians, we truly accept the dignity and expansiveness of our Baptisms. I pray especially that I may work to allow those still-imprisoned bits (and habituated hunks) of myself to truly realize the stone has been rolled away and that --- to whatever extent it is still true --- I will no longer settle for living in a tomb. Too, I pray that those within the Church who have built a secure and powerful life for themselves in this all-too-human darkness and narrowness of power and prestige may not only realize they have been called to run freely outside, but that they have been given a risky and costly commission to call the world to such expansive freedom and life --- a commission which cannot be carried out from within this place of narrowness, human constriction, and death. May all of us as Church truly proclaim the gospel of Christ with and for the whole of our lives ---- may we each be an Apostle to the Apostles!!

Note to myself: 32 years ago today I made perpetual vows. These were not eremitical vows (they were made in community), but, except for some slight revisions, they were essentially the same vows I used for perpetual eremitical profession just three years ago on Sept 2, 2007. It has been an amazing journey and I look forward to many more years of the same with Mary Magdalen as a model.