Cynthia Bourgeault has been leading a Lenten e-course from Spirituality & Practice titled, “Becoming Truly Human: Gurdjieff’s Obligolnian Strivings”. As Easter approaches, we offer a brief excerpt of Cynthia’s commentary from that course in the midst of Holy Week. To purchase the entire e-course (available on-demand soon), please visit Spirituality & Practice.
The fifth Obligolnian Striving: “the striving always to assist the most rapid perfection of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred ‘Martfotai’; that is, up to the degree of self-individuality.”
It’s one thing to be willing and able to help a fellow being: to send them strength, reassurance, even an energetic boost. But is it possible to actually change places with them so that we take the weight on our own shoulders and they are permanently set free?
Painting by Brian Kershisnik
Definitely not, most spiritual traditions say. In the words of my Sufi teacher, a butcher’s son: “Every mutton hangs by its own leg.” Assistance, yes; baraka, blessing, clarity, counsel, and strength: in all these ways we can help. But spiritual liberation itself is non-transferable. You can’t become conscious unconsciously, by someone else doing it for you. It is the fruit of your own inner work.
I raise this point, obviously, because we are now less than a week out from the beginning of Holy Week. And during that week, Christians universally will be staring straight into the face of the claim that Jesus did precisely what most of the other sacred traditions see as impossible: that he is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World.”
The usual way in which Christians have come to hear this statement, however, is through the distinctly dark filter of “atonement theology.” In its starkest version, God is seen as being angry with the people of Israel for their repeated backslidings; He requires a human substitute to pay the price. (In Christian fundamentalism this is often languaged as “Jesus died for your sins”.) The roots of this theology lie in the Old Testament temple ritual, where each year a compulsory scapegoat was sent out into the desert, carrying on its back the collective sin of the Hebrew people. Early Christians simply took over this metaphor and Jesus became the cosmic scapegoat.
The English mystic Charles Williams was working from a whole different model when he brought forward his notion of substituted love, a teaching which had actually been present all along in Christianity, but under-emphasized. Essentially, it overrides the idea of victimhood, that punitive mainstay of atonement theology. Rather than passively enduring a victim’s death at the hands of an angry God, Jesus steps up to the plate and voluntarily offers himself in an intentional act of “lightening the burden of our Common Father” – i.e., taking on his own shoulders a bit of that collective burden of suffering that weighs so heavily upon the human condition.
Fundamentally, for Williams, it’s all about carrying another’s burden. It can be as simple as carrying the shopping bags for an elderly neighbor or as wildly fantastical as taking upon yourself an attack of black magic aimed at your companion (the plot of his own spiritual masterpiece, All Hallows Eve.) It is widely celebrated in C. S. Lewis’s well-loved fantasy, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when the innocent lion-king, Aslan, voluntarily offers his life in payment of the debt incurred by the wayward Edmund. But it is also as concrete and historical as civil rights activist Jonathon Myrick Daniels stepping before the gun of a deputy in Haynesville, Alabama, and taking the bullet aimed at his black companion.
These actions make no sense in the world of formal cause and effect. Nothing really changes; the carnage still goes on. And yet, from each of these examples, there rises a certain fragrance, a deeper and more mysterious scent of what it might mean to be a human being. Precisely situated on the line where kenosis (self-emptying love) crosses “exchange” (“love your neighbor as yourself”), they speak powerfully of a love which is deeper than human origin, and hence, not bound by finitude.
When a candle is snuffed out, it sends up a final plume of smoke, bearing the fragrance of all it has been. When Jesus died on the cross, according to the gospels, the fragrance of his being, rising like incense, knocked the Roman centurion on guard right off his feet. “Truly, this man was the Son of God,” he proclaimed. And the strength of that fragrance still lingers in our world to this day; in fact, it continues to rise.
My friend Kabir Helminski once observed, “Two stones cannot occupy the same space, but two fragrances can.” I offer that image as a way of picturing, perhaps, how this fragrance of substituted love at the heart of the Paschal Mystery might mysteriously intertwine, interpenetrate, and ultimately enfold our sorrowful planet in the at-ONE-ment of its embrace.
https://www.contemplative.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/smoke-rising-scaled.jpg25601667TCS Adminhttps://www.contemplative.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/logo-new-2021.pngTCS Admin2017-04-13 10:19:562021-09-30 09:27:00Substituted Love
I watched them disappear this morning into the snowstorm, making their way home through the Maine winter after an extraordinary weekend of prayer, tears and laughter, teaching, stories, and conversation. My tiny, plucky “conscious circle”…how it tugged at my heart to see them go.
I had called them together, impromptu, about a month ago: a baker’s dozen of the most experienced and steady folks in the Wisdom network, to join me for a weekend here in Stonington (in February, utter madness!) to see if we could collectively begin to discern what the cosmos seems to be up to in the wake of this traumatic election upheaval and what Wisdom might expect of us in response.
The conversation around this topic has of course been flowing nonstop on the social media since well before November 8th, but so much of it has been at the horizontal level, driven by historical and political analysis – and, of course, from the perspective of the now duly-chastened secular intelligentsia. Shock, trauma, disorientation, and/or denial have been the dominant modes in the circles I mostly travel in, a still-dumbfounded inability to fathom what happened and why.
In times such as these, it is a traditional Wisdom practice to convene a small gathering of Wisdom “elders” to assess the situation from a deeper spiritual perspective, and to re-establish contact – through prayer, spiritual practice, sohbet (spiritual conversation), and sincerity of heart – with what Gurdjieff calls “the conscious circle of humanity”: that broader bandwidth of guiding presence always encircling our globe in its compassionate embrace and helping keep the course steady even in the midst of these periodic cavitations. The invitation – in fact, the imperative – to connect with this source of assistance is strongly underscored in Wisdom teaching, and it seemed to me that it was the one stream of input not being heard in our present anguished state of national soul-searching.
And so our small cohort of “conscious circle” postulants convened at the Stonington Town Hall on February 3rd, having arrived from all over the country. We deliberately chose to meet there, both because of the obvious civic tie-in (yep, the red, white, and blue voting booths still line the east wall), and because the light there happens to be beautiful, streaming in right off the ocean through glorious, ten-foot-high windows. Thanks to the generous underwriting of Northeast Wisdom, we were able to partially subsidize the costs of everyone’s lodging and meals, but the response to my invitation offered by our thirteen participants was an instantaneous “Yes”, long before any funding was secured. It was that pure spirit of “Hineni” – “Here I am, Lord” – that really launched us into orbit and was both the modus operandi of our being together and ultimately the marching orders received.
The first two days were devoted mostly to teaching, as we collectively explored some of the major resources at our disposal for reframing and enlarging perspective. We reviewed the resources in Teilhard’s evolutionary vision, particularly the reassurance that deep hope flows over deep time. We affirmed that the evolutionary imperative toward the higher collectivity (the next level of “complexity consciousness” manifest as the one body of humanity) was still flowing serenely and strong beneath the surface setbacks.
We then explored Gurdjieff’s Five “Obligolnian Strivings” (an exploration I’ll be offering more widely in a Spirituality & Practice e-course coming right up this Lent), and in particular, his conviction that there is a certain cosmic expectation laid upon the human species as part and parcel of our participation in a dynamic cosmic web of “reciprocal feeding”. Our human contribution is made in the form of those higher energies of compassion and clarity generated as we submit ourselves to the practices of “conscious labor and intentional suffering”. The fruits of this transformed Being-energy are qualities such as peace, love, joy, forbearance, patience, compassion – traditionally known in Christian language as “the fruits of the spirit”. What makes Gurdjieff’s take so interesting is that these qualities are not only moral virtues but actual energetic substances needed for the feeding and building up of our common planetary (and interplanetary) life. When we fail to produce these qualities – or worse, produce the opposite, the “false fruits” of entitlement, greed, deceit, violence, and fear – then the whole cosmic equilibrium is thrown out of whack.
We then took an extended pass through the Ken Wilber “Trump and a Post-Truth Era” article and found both the scale (from the perspective of the evolution of consciousness) and the general analysis helpful. Ken’s ability to zero in on the progressive dysfunction of the “green” or pluralistic level of consciousness, the leading edge of social conscience and evolutionary change, hit home for many of us and offered valuable cues as to how to begin to work with the circumstances now on our plate.
On Monday afternoon the conversation started to flow as we broke into triads and then reunited for deep, searing, imaginative, and energy-filled exchanges. While it would be premature to say that any “charter of action” emerged from our deliberations, a remarkable consensus emerged that whatever the long-term political outcome may be, the instructions remain the same: to hold the post, stand with courage and equanimity, and be able to maintain a resilient space for third force, staying close to that “light within” that is already shining brightly in the midst of this tunnel, not just waiting at the end of it.
Part of the empowerment of the whole gathering was to be able to hold those “unimaginable” conversations, standing lucidly as we stared right into the face of that nameless, paralyzing dread that has so much of our nation in its grip. We discussed with strength and lucidity such mind-bending scenarios as the collapse of democracy, global conflagration, and spiritual resources for self-protection when operating in the presence of unleashed forces of evil.
The greatest reassurance – and I admit, frankly, surprise – came for me in our times of spiritual practice and in a Sunday morning Eucharist which palpably exploded with the presence of the risen Christ. (In fact, it detonated so powerfully that the explosion was picked up all the way in British Columbia by one of our Wisdom intuitives there, who emailed me, “What just happened?”) It was an unmistakable confirmation and teaching from that very conscious circle to which we had humbly presented ourselves for guidance.
While the courses of action that emerge from each one of us may differ, what was eminently clear to each of us was that this protective field of tenderness and responsive concern to our planetary anguish is alive and well, and that we can and MUST turn to it…daily, hourly, with every best. In best of Wisdom fashion, our hope shifted away from outcome and back to source.
Others in the circle will no doubt offer their own takes, on the Wisdom [School] Community Facebook page, and in blogs of their own. And of course, the real reverberations of the work we did this past weekend will reveal themselves only gradually, as they percolate out through the “circles within circles” in our Wisdom network both by direct transmission and through quantum entanglement. But for me, the heart of what we were about this weekend and where we got to spiritually hovered closely within the words of the haunting melody that Laura Ruth sang for us on our final night:
Though my soul may set in darkness,
It will rise in perfect light.
For I’ve loved the stars too fondly
To be fearful of the night.
Thank you, one and all, who made this gathering possible. I am more than ever convinced that wherever our times have landed us and whatever may be in store, this is indeed Wisdom’s finest hour.
Meanwhile, I invite you all to collectively ponder these powerful words from Connie Fitzgerald, from her paper From Impasse to Prophetic Hope, delivered in 2009 before the Catholic Theological Society of America. I believe it frames the window of opportunity for all of us, while not mincing words on the challenge:
Any hope for a new consciousness and a self-forfeiture drawn by love stands opposed by a harsh reality. We humans serve our own interests, we hoard resources, we ravage the earth and other species, we scapegoat, we make war, we kill, we torture, we turn a blind eye to the desperation and needs of others, and we allow others to die. Our ability to embody our communion with every human person on the earth and our unassailable connectedness with everything living is limited because we have not yet become these symbiotic “selves”. We continue to privilege our personal autonomy and are unable to make the transition from radical individualism to a genuine synergistic community even though we know intellectually we are inseparably and physically connected to every living being in the universe. Yet the future of the entire earth community is riding on whether we can find a way beyond the limits of our present evolutionary trajectory.
Wow! What an amazing heart-outpouring from all of you! I feel the energy, the strength and, most important, the clarity. I believe that in the space of merely a week we have already become a “morphogenetic field” out there in the cosmos. And the space which the “conscious circle of humanity” needed to have occupied is now activated and beginning to make its presence felt.
I see that many of you are already gearing up for the deep dive into Beelzebub’s Tales, so I did want to briefly share with you these few clarifications and tips. Teaching and reading groups are already starting to self-organize, both formally and informally, on the ground and in cyber space. I hope that by shortly into the New Year we will be able to put together a resource directory helping our keen band of wisdom seekers find their way to the most appropriate venue. But meanwhile…
First, you should all know that I will, myself, be offering a Lenten e-course with Spirituality and Practice on “The Obligolnian Strivings”, the heart of Gurdjieff’s brilliant vision of human purpose and accountability, and the ethical climax of the first book of Beelzebub’s Tales. So stay tuned! The course begins with an orientation on February 27, then kicks off on Ash Wednesday, March 1. Shortly after the New Year it should be available for sign-up on the S & P website.
Now, if you’re determined to forge ahead on your own, know that what you’re dealing with here is Gurdjieff’s sprawling cosmological masterpiece: brilliant and outrageous in equal measures – and definitely not an easy read. Beelzebub’s Tales is also the reason Gurdjieff is sometimes hailed as one of the founding fathers of modern-day science fiction! Set in a vast, intergalactic universe and narrated by the now-nearly-redeemed fallen angel Beelzebub, this cosmological epic unfolds the “tragical history of the unfortunate planet earth”, gradually revealing how human conscious development went so badly off course here. It lays out an alternative history which may at first appear totally mad – but it’s curious how many cosmological facts first “spun” by G in this epic yarn have subsequently been scientifically confirmed…So, caveat emptor here!
It’s largely Book I we’ll be concerned with in this study, which basically lays out the mythic narrative. I am interested in it chiefly because it furnishes some important alternative concepts and images as we engage the work I envisioned in my former post: i.e., exploring the ley line (or is it a fault line?) of causality that runs through 800 years of Western intellectual history. The serious questions I want to explore this spring will be easier to grasp if you already have under your belts:
some idea of what a real Wisdom School is (i.e., the ancient Society Akhaldan of Atlantis versus the later Babylonian “talking heads”);
the roadmap of human purpose laid out through “the saintly labors of the holy and Essence-loving” Ashiata Shiemash; and,
the destruction of those saintly labors by the “democratic” reforms of the “Eternal Hasnamuss” Lentrohamsanin (chapters 25-28). That in and of itself will furnish more than we need to get ourselves to 2020, the year of perfect vision.
That’s what you’ll find in Book I. Meanwhile, a few more tips:
Unless you’re already a diehard Gurdjieff fan, I’d recommend skipping the Introduction, “The Arousing of Thought”. Begin with Chapter 2.
Forget “analytical mode”. This is middle-eastern story-telling in flavor, extended to epic scope. Gurdjieff’s father was an ashok, a local bardic poet who could recite the oral history of the world back 1000 years. Think in this mode: playful, mythologic, humorous; not “buttoned down” mental/esoteric.
Take it little at a time. Reading out loud with a partner, at least in certain sections, can extend and awaken the range of meaning.
Remember that there is some method in my madness here. If this big unwieldy tome doesn’t speak to you, don’t feel obligated to wade through it just to get to some concepts that I’ll be unpacking in my own teaching in due course. But since many of you are itching to get underway, I thought I’d at least throw you these few leads.
This post was originally published at Parabola.org on January 29, 2015.
It is amazing that something so tiny could pack such a punch. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is tantalizingly brief—and, frustratingly, two major sections are missing, reducing the original seventeen manuscript pages by more than half. Yet what remains is more than enough to radically overturn our traditional assumptions about the origins of Christianity. In four tightly written dialogues, the gospel delivers powerful new revelations on the nature of Jesus’ teachings, the qualifications for apostleship, Mary Magdalene’s clear preeminence among the disciples, and the processes already at work in the early church that would eventually lead to her marginalization. Since it also contains a unique glimpse into the actual metaphysics on which Jesus based his teachings, this is a foundational text not only for devotees of Mary Magdalene but for all students of sacred wisdom.
The manuscript was not recovered among the Nag Hammadi trove. It first came to light in 1896, nearly half a century before the Nag Hammadi find, when it was discovered by a German collector in an antiquities market in Cairo. But, due to a series of lengthy publication delays, the first German scholarly edition did not appear until 1955. It would be twenty years longer before an English version appeared and still another twenty years before popular editions became available.
For all practical purposes, therefore, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene entered public awareness at the same time as the Nag Hammadi material, and since they clearly belong to the same spiritual stream, it makes sense to consider them together. Particularly with the Gospel of Thomas, there are striking overlaps in both content and theology.
The manuscript itself is a fifth-century Coptic (i.e., Egyptian) version of what had almost certainly been an earlier Greek or even Syrian text.1 In 1917, and then in 1938, two Greek fragments dating from the third century were indeed discovered, confirming the antiquity of the original text and the esteem in which it was held by the earliest Christian communities (only important manuscripts are recopied)…Karen King assigns the original text to the first half of the second century. If her argument is correct, this would place the Gospel of Mary Magdalene within the earliest strata of Christian writings, roughly contemporaneous with the Gospel of John.
Unfortunately, the Greek fragments did not yield any new material to fill the holes in the Coptic version; barring some unforeseen miracle, what was written on those ten missing manuscript pages (pages 1–6 and 11–14) is lost to us forever. But, because of the thematic and structural tightness of the remaining material, the second of these two holes lends itself easily to imaginative reconstruction and, depending on how closely one assumes that this text echoes the Gospel of Thomas, the first six pages of Jesus’ introductory metaphysical discourse can also be fairly well construed.
Entering the Text
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is in many ways much closer to drama than to narrative. It is constructed entirely in dialogue, and the exchanges are so lively that they lend themselves easily to a staged reading or even a full-fledged reenactment…2
The manuscript’s four dialogues (or “scenes,” if you prefer to think of them that way) lay out as follows:
(Pages 1-6 missing.) 1. Jesus’ final teachings and instructions to his disciples (Manuscript pages 7-9). 2. Mary Magdalene’s words of encouragement to the disciples (page 9). (Pages 11-14 missing.) 3. Peter’s invitation to Mary Magdalene to share with them some of the “secret” teachings of Jesus, and her visionary recital of “the soul’s progress” (pages 10, 15-17).3 4. The dispute among the disciples and its resolution; Levi’s charge and words of dismissal (pages 17-19).
There are several translations now available to choose from…I will be working from The Luminous Gospels, a new translation of the gospels of Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Philip prepared by Lynn Bauman, Ward Bauman, and myself, published in 2008.4
…”[T]ell us about matter. Will it survive or not?”
The Savior answered:
“All of nature with its forms and creatures exist together and are interwoven with each other. They will be resolved back, however, to their own proper origin, for the compositions of matter return to the original roots of their nature. Those who have ears, let them hear this.”
Then Peter said to him:
“Since you have explained everything to us, tell us one more thing. What is the sin of this world?”
The Savior replied:
“Sin as such does not exist. You only bring it into manifestation when you act in ways that are adulterous in nature. It is for this very reason that the Good has come among you pursuing its own essence within nature in order to reunite everything to its origin.”
Then he continued:
“This is also the reason for sickness and death, because you embrace what deceives you. Consider these matters, then, with your spiritual intellect.
“Attachment to matter gives birth to passion without an Image of itself because it is drawn from that which is contrary to its higher nature. The result is that confusion and disturbance resonates throughout one’s whole being. It is for this reason that I told you to find contentment at the level of the heart, and if you are discouraged, take heart in the presence of the Image of your true nature. Those with ears, let them hear this.”
Having said these things, the Blessed One addressed them:
“Peace be with you. May my peace reside within you. Guard carefully that no one misleads you saying, ‘Look, he is here,’ or ‘He’s over there,’ for the Son of Humanity already exists within you. Follow him, for those who seek him there will find him. Go forth, now, and proclaim the Good News concerning the Kingdom. Beyond what I have already given you, do not lay down any further rules nor issue laws as the Lawgiver, lest you too be dominated by them.”
Having said this, he departed.
As we enter this dialogue, we are literally joining a conversation in midstream. From textual clues in this dialogue and the one following, it appears that the conversation takes place in temporal history sometime between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension—the Gospel of Mary Magdalene’s version of the “upper room” appearances in John and Luke.5 In this energy-charged encounter, Jesus gathers his students around him once again to reflect on the meaning of his passage through death and to leave them final instructions and encouragement before his departure from physical form.
The teaching style is clearly sohbet: “spiritual conversation” between a master and his students. This is a classic Near Eastern teaching style that even today is a mainstay in many schools of Sufism. In contrast to the “Socratic” method more familiar to those of us in the West, sohbet is not merely intellectual discourse, but rather it is a deep meeting of hearts and minds that also includes a direct energy transmission. For those familiar with the art form, the context of this first dialogue is unmistakable and speaks once again to this gospel’s probable Semitic origins.
As manuscript page 7 opens, a student is clearly asking Jesus a question about the permanence of matter, and Jesus responds with a brief but remarkable metaphysical statement—something that occurs nowhere in the canonical gospels and offers a fascinating glimpse into the theoria (theoretical knowledge) on which his practical wisdom rests. The student’s question is probably not theoretical; it follows directly from the resurrection appearance itself with all its inherent paradoxes and consternation. Is Jesus really here? Is this material body in which he stands before them a solid reality or merely a veil that will soon dissolve? Jesus responds by affirming very strongly that the origin of nature (i.e., the material world) does not lie within this earthly plane. What we take for solid reality is a mixtus orbis, a “mixed” (or “mixed up”) realm in which everything is “interwoven” (a statement that contemporary physicists and metaphysicians would heartily applaud). At the end of their physical term, the forms of matter return to the original “roots of their nature.” But by this, we will learn shortly, he does not mean they dissolve into their component atoms, quarks and/or humors. Instead, they return to an original template—or “image”—whose place of arising is in another realm.6
Peter immediately jumps in with the next question. What is sin? This is, of course, the classic Jewish philosophical preoccupation; you will find it vividly imprinted on nearly every page of Old Testament prophetic and wisdom teaching and as the driveshaft of the Pauline metaphysics upon which orthodox Christian theology rests. Whose fault is it that suffering and evil came into the world? Who is to blame? How is it atoned for? Jesus rejects that question out of hand: “Sin as such does not exist.”
His answer would initially seem to place him solidly within what we would nowadays identify as an “Eastern” rather than a “Western” mindset: not sin, but ignorance of one’s true nature, is to blame for the sufferings of this world. But we must listen carefully to where he is headed in his comment. He does not go on to state that sin is therefore an illusion, the typical Eastern thought progression. To the contrary, he affirms that sin does indeed come into existence—that is, it becomes objectively real—when one acts in ways that are “adulterous in nature.” And within his particular frame of reference, acting in ways that are “adulterous in nature” will prove to have a very specific meaning. It signifies a failure to stay in alignment with origin: with that mysterious “root” (or template) of one’s nature he has already alluded to, which, while arising beyond this realm, seeks its full expression here.7
He quickly assures his students that this world is valuable and precious; indeed, this is the very reason the Good has come among them in the first place—“pursuing its own essence within nature [i.e., within this transitory realm] in order to reunite everything to its origin.” There is important integrative work to be done here. But it all depends upon keeping a right alignment along what wisdom tradition typically refers to as the “vertical axis”: the invisible spiritual continuum that joins the realms together. Nearly sixteen centuries later, the German mystic Jacob Boehme would express this cosmological insight with poetic precision and beauty:
“For you must realize that earth unfolds its properties and powers in union with Heaven aloft above us, and there is one Heart, one Being, one Will, one God, all in all.”8
When the realms are in spontaneous resonance—“one Heart, one Being, one Will, one God, all in all”—the music of the spheres bursts forth. When they are not, disease and disharmony inevitably ensue. As he quickly points out (again, with a contemporary feeling to the teaching), “Confusion and disturbance resonate throughout one’s whole being,” and sickness and death are the inevitable result…
Seeing with the Heart
The remedy Jesus sets forth for this cosmic malaise is to “find contentment at the level of the heart…in the presence of the Image of your true nature.” The key to deciphering this all-important instruction lies in recognizing that the word “heart” is being used here in a highly specific way. In the wisdom traditions of the Near East, the heart is not the seat of one’s personal emotional life, but an organ of spiritual perception. I have spoken about this extensively…so I will be brief here, but the essential point is that the heart is primarily an instrument of sight—or insight, as the case may be (“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”). Its purpose is to navigate along the vertical axis and stay in alignment with “the Image of one’s true nature.” Itself a vibrant resonant field, it functions like a homing beacon between the realms; and when it is strong and clear, it creates a synchronous resonance between them.
“Those with ears, let them hear this,” Jesus continues—his characteristic “heads-up.” But as we remember our primary topic of interest,…Mary Magdalene, his warning is particularly well-timed: because how well you are able to grasp his teaching is exactly how well you will be able to grasp the basis of their relationship. To say that their hearts are intertwined is not at all to speak sentimentally. Rather, it is to affirm that Mary Magdalene has fully understood this principle of spiritual alignment through the heart and has been able to personally corroborate it within herself. This will directly explain her ability to stay present when he appears to her in visions and her ability to go about her earthly business with the serene confidence of one whose life is always flowing within that greater life.
The Unitive Ground
How would I characterize this teaching of Jesus? It definitely belongs to the wider stream of sophia perennis in its acknowledgment of many and more subtle realms of being whose energies impact our own—a concept traditionally known as “the great chain of being.”9 But it parts company from classic Gnosticism (and even classic sophia perennis) by refusing to claim that this world is illusion, or fall, or error; or that its density places it at the tail end of the chain. We are not in Plato’s cave. Rather, this world is good, worthy, and fully inhabited by the divine energies—“the Good comes among you”—so long as it stays united with its root. The blending of incarnational and Platonic elements is a distinctive mix, which I believe is Jesus’ original contribution to the metaphysics of the West. It presents itself as a profoundly incarnational, warm-hearted, and hopeful path, where the realms support and interpenetrate each other and divine fullness is accessed simply by keeping the heart in natural alignment with its invisible prototype. Unfortunately, his teaching went right over the heads of nearly all his followers, both then and now.
The subtlety of Jesus’ metaphysics remains largely unknown to Christians—and sadly so, for it is the missing ingredient that makes his path comprehensible and doable. It is no secret that Jesus’ teachings resonate with an extraordinary trust in the divine abundance and generosity, and Christians are asked to emulate that trust. But to try to do so without seeing what it is founded on is a bit like asking an elephant to fly, and Christians find themselves frequently caught in the gap between the incredibly high spiritual ideals of this path and their own ability to carry them out. In reality, the secret is simple. When the heart is aligned with its eternal image, abundance cascades forth from that place of origin, infinitely more powerful than the scarcity and constriction of this world. It is not a matter of believing in flying elephants so much as of purifying the heart.
“Lay Down No Further Rules….”
In the final lines of his discourse Jesus reinforces this teaching yet again. His parting instruction to his disciples opens with the plea that they remain present within themselves rather than chasing after mirages in the outer world, for “the Son of Humanity already exists within you…and those who seek him there will find him.”10 To remain in continuous union—the kind that Mary Magdalene will shortly demonstrate—is a matter of releasing the outer clamor and tuning in again and again through the homing beacon of the heart.
Then, as if knowing already that this is somehow beyond them, he adds a final practical caution: “Do not lay down any rules beyond what I have given you, lest you be dominated by them.” From a textual criticism point of view, as Karen King rightly observes, this instruction situates the Gospel of Mary Magdalene at an early stage in the history of Christianity, when the contours of externally imposed hierarchy are just beginning to become visible in the dawning light of a brave new Christian world. From an artistic standpoint, it moves us directly into the second dialogue while at the same time setting the stage for the gospel’s surprising and decisive conclusion.
His students grieved and mourned greatly saying:
“How are we to go into the rest of the world proclaiming the Good News about the Son of Humanity’s Realm? If they did not spare him, how will they ever leave us alone?”
Mary arose, then, embracing them all and began to address them as her brothers and sisters saying:
“Do not weep and grieve nor let your hearts remain in doubt, for his grace will be with all of you, sustaining and protecting you. Rather, let us give praise to his greatness which has prepared us so that we might become fully human.”
As Mary said these things their hearts opened toward the Good and they began to discuss the meaning of the Savior’s words.
In this second and crucial dialogue, the predictable happens. The subtlety of Jesus’ teaching is lost on his disciples, who return quickly to their conviction that Jesus is gone and that they are in extreme danger. They have completely missed the point of what he has just said.
As Mary Magdalene steps forward to encourage them, she demonstrates that she has fully understood what Jesus is saying and can apply it to her own life. “Do not let your hearts remain in doubt,” she says, cutting immediately to the spiritual chase. For a heart in doubt—in two-ness and self-sabotage—becomes useless as that organ of alignment. To reconnect to the grace he has promised them is as simple a matter of opening to his presence right then and there in their inmost depths—“for those who seek him there will find him.” And as she pointedly reminds them, “He has prepared us for this.”
Becoming Fully Human
In fact, her actual words are, “He has prepared us so that we might become fully human.” “To become fully human” is a modern translation of the words “to become an anthropos,” a completed human being. Both here and in the Gospel of Thomas this notion is at the very heart of Jesus’ vision of transformation.
In modern psychological parlance building on a Jungian foundation, the concept of anthropos is generally interpreted in terms of an integration of the opposites within oneself—specifically, a bringing together of the male and female principles within the individual human psyche…
Obviously, there is far more at stake here than simply integrating masculine and feminine principles within one’s finite humanity. The integration takes place on a cosmic scale and is accomplished through learning how to anchor one’s being in that underlying unitive ground: that place of oneness before the opposites arise. Some traditions would call this the “causal level.”11 However one defines it, its origin is on the vertical axis, in a realm and mode of perception far more subtle than our own. It has less to do with what one sees than with how one sees; it amounts to a fundamental shift in perception.
When this level is attained, either by sudden spiritual insight or by a long, tough slog through the mine fields of ego, a person becomes “a single one” (in Aramaic, ihidaya: one of the earliest titles applied to Jesus): an enlightened or “fully human” being. The union of opposites Jesus is speaking of really pertains to the union of the finite and infinite within oneself, or the bringing together of the vertical axis with the horizontal so that there is “one Heart, one Being, one Will, one God, all in all.” When this happens, the world does not pass away, but one is able to live in it as master, re-creating its external forms (“making one image supersede another”) out of the infinite generativity of the One.
It is important to keep this wider definition of the anthropos firmly in mind because it is the key to everything in this gospel. Mary Magdalene moves among the other disciples as one who has “become fully human.” She does not merely parrot the Master’s teaching back to them, flaunting her specialness. Rather, she serves the situation. Flowing through the spiritual energy of her own alignment is a baraka—a grace that is able to actually shift the other disciples’ emotional state. She is able to “turn their hearts to the good.”
This short dialogue is the thematic epicenter of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene: the apostolic moment par excellence. “Apostle is as apostle does,” one might say, and it is clear that in both her words and her deeds—her ability to comprehend, to calm, to convey blessing—Mary Magdalene has just proven herself an apostle: not just “first among the apostles,” but in fact, the only one of them to authentically merit the title.
As we move into the challenging (and decimated) dialogue 3, it is important to keep firmly centered on this point. If Mary Magdalene does, in fact, enjoy a privileged access to the Master, she has certainly earned it: not because she is his special favorite (as Peter will shortly imply), but because she has been able so deeply to absorb and integrate his spiritual methodology. She has learned the secret of unbroken union with him across the realms, and she teaches from the same fount of living water that flowed in him—in fact, still flows in him, only now in a different energetic form. And thus, doing as real apostles do, she is able to lift her brethren out of their psychological paralysis and focus them once again on “the meaning of the Savior’s words.” Dialogue 2 ends on a note of strength and unanimity; for the moment, all is once again well…
1 For more on this point, see Karen King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 2003), 184.
2 We in fact did exactly this as a project of the Aspen Wisdom School during the winter of 2008 and in Collegeville, Minnesota, the following summer. The results were rewarding and in some cases enlightening, clarifying interpretive difficulties that could not be resolved by textual analysis alone…
3 It is more typical of modern editors (including Lynn Bauman) to extend dialogue 2 to include all the text up to the second set of missing pages. But Mary Magdalene’s opening words about meeting Jesus in a vision seem so clearly to belong to the third dialogue—in fact, they furnish its underlying theme—that I have divided the sections accordingly…
4 Lynn Bauman, Ward Bauman, and Cynthia Bourgeault, The Luminous Gospels (Telephone, TX: Praxis Institute Publishing, 2008).
5 These appearances take place immediately after the resurrection and are recorded in John 20:19–29 and Luke 24:36–43.
6 In this idea of the “interwoven” material world unraveling at the end of its term into its elemental components, there are fascinating resonances with the teachings of Empedocles and Parmenides as laid out by Peter Kingsley in his remarkable book Reality (Inverness, Calif.: Golden Sufi Center, 2005). Kingsley proposes a radical revisioning of the origins of Western philosophy as lying not in intellectual speculation, but rather in the sacred practices of a long wisdom lineage of shamanic healing. There are distinctive overlaps between this tradition and the teachings and spiritual practices of Jesus….
7 Jean-Yves Leloup perceptively paraphrases: “when you act according to the habits of your corrupted nature” in his The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2002), 25.
8 Jacob Boehme, Confessions (Kila, MT: Kessinger, n.d.), 41.
9 For more on the great chain of being, see Ken Wilber’s voluminous writings, particularly The Eye of the Spirit (Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 1997), 39–40.
10 This instruction is repeated almost verbatim in the Gospel of Thomas, logion 3. See Bauman, The Gospel of Thomas, 10.
11 That is why one is able to make “one image supersede another”: because one has accessed the level from which the images originally arise….
Unless otherwise noted, all major gospel citations are from The Christian Community Bible (Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications/Claretian Publications, 1995). Short gospel citations and all epistle and Old Testament citations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
https://www.contemplative.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Mary-Magdalene-book-cover.jpg467350TCS Adminhttps://www.contemplative.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/logo-new-2021.pngTCS Admin2016-02-29 16:23:272021-09-30 09:27:03The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (Dialogues One and Two)
Wake up! The season of Lent is like an alarm clock that starts ringing on Ash Wednesday. As we journey through its forty days, we intend to become more and more awake, more and more conscious, more and more alive. Our hope is to be as fully present as we can be for the feast of Easter, the great celebration of the Life That Never Goes Away revealed in the Risen Jesus!
Wake up! That’s the root note in the chord of Lent. It is no accident that in the northern hemisphere, where the church calendar originated, it is also the time of spring. New life is waking from its winter death, the sun’s strength returns, and the natural world begins to vibrate more and more. Read more
https://www.contemplative.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Inventory11.jpg340585TCS Adminhttps://www.contemplative.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/logo-new-2021.pngTCS Admin2012-03-08 09:23:522021-09-30 09:26:13GUEST POSTING – Waking up with Lent! – by Ernest Morrow