Cynthia Bourgeault on Mary Magdalene #1

 This post was originally published in Christopher Page’s blog, In A Spacious Place.

March 18 – 22, 2011: Poet’s Cove Resort on Pender Island BC, Canada – Contemplative Retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault


The church has typically given a fairly one-sided presentation of Holy Week through its customary liturgies. The focus on Jesus as victim, abandoned, sheep to the slaughter, and us as the bad guys is only one side of the story. There is another side which is seeing the crucifixion as an act of conscious love – that Jesus on the cross maintained the position of an open heart and that this open heart had nothing to do with the fact that he knew he was coming back.

Even if Jesus had believed that God had finally abandoned him and the whole thing was a failure, he would still have kept an open heart. His death was an intentional act – an act of conscious love. If we can really come to know this in our deepest knowing, we too can see our way through our personal terrors and fears including our fear of death. Jesus’ death was entirely held in love.

The open heart is an absolute gesture. It has an intelligence of its own. Mary Magdelene is one who understood this.


There are 2 different strands of how Christianity has looked at the crucifixion:

  1.  The “hard core” atonement theology which is familiar
  2.  A “soft core” atonement which cuts the angry God bit but retains the cosmic debt that has to be paid – still a justice issue

#2 says it hurts God as much as it hurts us. Tries to soften the first a bit.

Marcus Borg says that very early on there was human sacrifice which moved to animal sacrifice. But beginning with the prophets there was a shift to “mercy not sacrifice” and then in the Psalms to “a contrite heart”. Finally there was Jesus who did away with the sacrificial system all together. The church misses this in its Eucharistic theology.

Augustine was about Jesus coming to clean up the mess.

But the Franciscans beginning with Bonaventure started saying that the ultimate revelation is love. Sin and the Fall are the how not the why – the way it was set up.

Ephesians: God had planned from the beginning to reveal his love. This is about substituted love. The crucifixion was a demonstration of love followed to its completion.

Charles Williams talks about “a theology of romantic love” – carrying someone’s burdens so they don’t have to carry them.


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  1. […] stay with this pose and see where it leads.  Serendipitously, random online reading led me to an article by Cynthia Bourgeault that nicely connects a heart-centered practice, Jesus, and Holy Week.  She […]

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