The Weeping Magdalene
The One Who Cries
One of the identifying features of Mary Magdalene in iconography is a tear on her cheek or a handkerchief pressed to her eyes. Her tear is often visible in medieval paintings and statues, reflecting the fact that the only Mary who cries in the Gospels of the New Testament is the one called “the Magdalene.” This trait is reflected in the term maudlin in English, which means “overly sentimental.” But it is one of the ageold characteristics of the Goddess who cries over the broken body of her Lover in the ancient pagan mythologies. She is the compassionate one, sympathetic and empathetic, moved to tears over the plight of her friends and family.
In the Gospels, while the Virgin Mary “ponders her sorrows in her heart,” Mary Magdalene cries. She cries at the tomb of her brother Lazarus (John 11), and Jesus is so moved by her tears that he raises Lazarus from the tomb. She cries over the feet of Jesus at the banquet in Bethany (John 12) and wipes her tears from his feet with her hair. Here Jesus is moved to protect her from the complaints of Judas about the wasted value of her fragrant ointment. She cries at the empty tomb of Jesus on Easter morning (John 20). First the two angels seated in the tomb ask her why she is crying, and then, a few minutes later, Jesus, whom she mistakes for the gardener, asks her the same question: “Woman, why are you crying?” Mary’s tears recall the prophetic passage addressed to the “Magdal-eder” by the prophet Micah almost seven hundred years before: “Why are you crying? Have you no king? Has your counselor/mentor perished, that you cry aloud like a woman in labor?” (Micah 4:8–9).
There is no mistaking this woman whose emotions are so heartfelt and whose devotion to Jesus is so passionate. She is clearly the Beloved, faithful to Jesus throughout his ministry in Palestine and even to his grave. It is she who is the model for contemplative souls seeking union with the Divine-- one-on-one, heart-to-heart. She is the mirror of Christ’s love for us; her love for him is only a shadow of his love for her! We can imagine her tears of sorrow changing to tears of joy as she encounters her Beloved risen in the garden, reaching out to her, clasping her close, whispering her name, that name, which in its very essence reflects her tears: Mary--“the bitter salt sea.”
In connecting with the tears of Mary Magdalene, we reclaim our ability to live authentically, to express deeply felt compassion, to rejoice in our humanity and the gifts of our five senses, culminating in our mystical union with the Beloved. “Those who sowed in tears shall reap rejoicing, and they shall come home, bearing their sheaves” (Psalm 126:5–6).
REFLECTIONS AND SHARING
Tears happen when we love. In our Christian story the many tears of Mary Magdalene were often misunderstood or criticized by those around her, except Jesus. Perhaps the others had lost awareness that one of the ways the Bride of the Messiah King would be recognized was by her tears.
We believe Jesus knew that he and Mary Magdalene were enacting the ancient pattern of Earth’s spirituality, the pattern of cyclic renewal of life. In those ancient stories, the queen of the land falls in love with a hero and chooses him as king and lover to give her a child; then he dies. The queen’s love for him ensures birth and blessings for her land, and also causes her great sorrow when he dies. This is the pattern of life of our Earth and our bodies, with the cyclic renewal of seed, growth, harvest, death, and seed again . . . on and on in never ending abundance. Love, birth, death. Jesus and Mary the Magdalene lived this pattern.
Tears are natural all along the way, for it is a story rich in feelings, one that is lived by each of us. If there weren’t tears, our hearts wouldn’t be with us, only our head and intellect. Mary Magdalene lived the way of the heart, the way of deep feeling.
Other people questioned Mary Magdalene’s tears, but Jesus was moved by her tears, because he loved her. He protected her tearful reactions, telling others to let her be and to listen to her. In Mary Magdalene’s weeping and the way it touched Jesus’ heart, we see God’s intention that we should include the heart in our life journey. In Jesus, we see the masculine spirit moved emotionally by the feminine spirit’s capacity to feel life deeply and to love.
Mary Magdalene’s weeping lets us know that we are loved for our ability to feel our lives deeply and be guided by our heart.
PRAYERS AND POEMS TO COMPLEMENT LESSON 10
The Weeping Magdalene
In myself I have the wisdom of her.
She has given me bravery
Whenever I need it.
When grief and tears come,
Like her I do not waiver at the sight of dissention, but I
feel and lift myself
In the face of danger.
I have the vision of myself as whole and the ability to
access this wisdom at any time.
Like in each new spring, with each new bud on the
Hallelujah, I am whole and I have risen.
Amen and Blessed Be.