Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Anointing

Mary Magdalene has become known to us as the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus. Her action in doing this is traditionally interpreted as a gesture of humility and devotion, but if we look beyond the doctrine, then other more meaningful possibilities open themselves to us. 

The Magdalene was a woman who deeply loved. She loved a man who did not just give love, but who was Love: who inspired her on her way to consciousness, to complete incarnation, and so to become his spiritual equal. She loved Jesus with all her heart and soul, and therefore placed something in his being which made him also complete, so that in him also the male and female could connect in their essence and the Kingdom would be revealed to them both.

And then the great turning point came in both their lives: the baptism in the River Jordan, for it was then that Jesus became Christ: the Anointed One. He felt the forces in him extend themselves beyond his own individuality, and he knew that another life awaited him: a life in which he had to leave the personal self behind to be outshone by something unnameable. With the act of baptism the earthly Jesus of Nazareth was united with the pre-existent Christ: the Logos, or Word, and from that moment Jesus the Christ became the vessel of universal consciousness.

Jesus and Mary remained husband and wife, but no longer in the sense of having any conventional partnership. As difficult as it must have been for the Magdalene, she knew that this was how things were meant to be. Her silent strength grew, for not only did she accept all that was, and was to come: she actively stood by – and beside – her husband. In this earthly life she was the only one who understood in depth what he was truly saying, what the innermost meaning of his words were. She knew it, she felt it, it ran through her with force and warmth.

But what equanimity was demanded of her! She sensed Jesus’ coming death, and her heart was filled with grief. How her soul must have been torn apart, how the ground beneath her must have trembled, when she stood in witness to the horrific death of her beloved. But again she stood up to meet him once more. "Hold me not", he spoke to her. And she understood. There was no need to hold him physically, for she knew that he and she were One.

Transformation is everything, and great suffering offers great transformation. Jesus into Christ. And Mary now into an aspect of Wisdom - Sophia. People came to listen to her, but they did not understand what she was telling them. With sorrow she saw the ways in which the words of her beloved were turned into stone – how the deeply-meaningful teachings of the inner mysteries became distorted by all-too literal interpretations, how groups came into being, and how schisms occurred as each group disagreed about what was meant, and what it was correct to believe. Mary/Sophia, the witness to history, saw how a church was formed.

Mary Magdalene in our time shines forth as a symbol of the lost feminine aspect in a male-dominated society – a society to which the church also belongs. But her gentle force has not been lost, for in the cosmos nothing dies, it is only transformed. The Christ-consciousness, the Buddha-nature, and the Krishna-consciousness are present in each and every one of us, and yearn for discovery. And so also the force of the Magdalene is still tangibly present in our own time, if we allow ourselves to be open to it.

And those ‘more meaningful possibilities’ of Mary’s anointing? This most special woman already knew all that was to come. Her act of anointing was notably not done with water, but with precious oil. Even then, in that house in Bethany, she had begun to prepare the body of her beloved for earthly burial, and the one who anoints is as blessed as the one who is anointed. 


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Athena's Remorse

Pallas Athena: we know of her name from Ancient Greece as the great warrior goddess of peerless wisdom. She is often shown with an owl, the all-seeing bird of the night, and by association the owl has itself become linked with the goddess’s own qualities of wisdom. But it is unusual for a goddess to have two names, and we might wonder how this came to be. 

Once in the morning of innocence Pallas and Athena were two individuals. Pallas was the daughter of the sea god Triton, and she and Athena became inseparable friends. Being inclined to a warrior’s way of life, both of them loved to practice combat together, and these shared skills only seemed to bring them closer together. They would engage in mock battles, each vying for the upper hand and the friendly victory which followed. 

One day these fights became just a little too real, as mock fights perhaps inevitably tend to. As Pallas was about to strike the victory blow, Athena’s father Zeus intervened and tripped Pallas, causing her to stumble. Seizing her chance Athena instinctively struck her friend a telling counter-blow. In that terrible moment Pallas lay dead at her friend’s feet.

Overcome with the enormity of what she had done, and distraught with grief and remorse, Athena in that moment decided to take her dear friend’s name and place it even before her own. In such a way the goddess perhaps hoped that her lost friend would live on through her, and that by taking her name Pallas would always be a part of her. And so Athena the goddess became Pallas Athena, and the two became one.

The ancient story speaks powerfully still. Grief, regret and loss are part of the human experience. Like Athena the goddess we might strive in some way to recapture what has been lost to us. And that loss might be felt even more keenly if we feel that in some way we have been to blame, whether such a feeling is truly justified or not. How often we hear stories of someone who has survived some terrible accident or ordeal of survival feeling guilty towards the victims for no other reason than that they have survived while others have not. It is as if we owe a debt to the dead, even when we might not have known them personally.

And perhaps we do. Perhaps what we owe them is an increased awareness of the gift of life as it is lived in every moment. And that is something we owe even more to ourselves. Those who have passed out of our lives can be honoured by our memories of them. As with Athena, who chose to honour her dear friend by absorbing that fundamental part of her – her own name – into her own being, those memories become a part of us. To feel guilty or regretful about things which already have happened, particularly if those things involve loss, is natural. But we need not make ourselves prisoners of that grief. We are alive, and it surely is our duty, like the warrior goddess, to live our lives worthily and with a sense of wonder.

Painting Mourning Athena by Sandro Botticelli