Mary Magdalene remains a mystery in religious and spiritual traditions. Some say she was young and unmarried, others say she was widowed or divorced. Some say she married Jesus and had a child, others say she lived as a hermit in a cave in France. I’ve even read a book that maintained she was Jesus’ chief anointer and healer.
We will never really know for sure.
We do know some things about her. We do know based on the Bible that she was a disciple of Jesus, and she was a witness to the risen Christ. Because her name was specified in all four New Testament Gospels, we can determine that she was of special significance.
Historians also provide some contextual information. We can assume that since she was not tied to her father’s or her husband’s name, she held a degree of independence. We also know that Magdalene wasn’t her last name — “Magdalene” is a possible reference to the town of Magdala, which was a fishing town on the Sea of Galilee.
Can we just live with that? Can we live with the questions rather than needing a definitive answer?
It’s interesting how speculation, such as whether Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus, has produced much controversy. If the answer is not currently available to us — and might never be — why argue over what is not known?
We have a tendency, an impatience, to “need to know.” We rush to find definitive answers with our limited evidence. We hate ambiguity.
However, faith is about acceptance without evidence. It’s about living in that pregnant moment of pure potentiality. It’s embracing the mystery.
The Tao Te Ching recognizes the mystery, the nameless.
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
In other words, the manifestations are what we see, the “evidence” of God, or the Tao. The mystery is the precedent — the question — the essence behind the “name.” In our case of Mary Magdalene, her name might point to what we know about her, but her name cannot describe what it was like to know and experience her. In our desire to know the answers, the “seen,” we can’t open our hearts to the potential.
Buddhism also teaches us about living in uncertainty. Even if an answer is known, we remain open to the possibility that the answer might not be the correct one. Living in this fluid sense of uncertainty can be uncomfortable because we are attached to control.
Pema Chodron, in her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, describes this discomfort as a warrior’s path. “But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty,” she writes. “This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It is also what makes us afraid.”
This fear, however, is a starting point for contemplation. We look at what we do know then continue to pose questions, opening ourselves to new possibilities. We can accept the manifested things for what they are rather than what we want them to be. We also can accept the uncertainty of the hidden, knowing that all answers are possible.
In our desire to know the answers, the “seen,” we can’t open our hearts to the potential.
Richard Rohr often writes about the paradox of the mystery and the manifest. He suggests that our questions and contradictions can call us deeper into the unknowing, yet also find a groundless ground.
When you can lend yourself to it and not fight it or explain it, falling into the abyss is ironically an experience of ground, of the rock, of the foundation. This is totally counterintuitive. Your dualistic, logical mind can’t get you there. It can only be known experientially.
Our logical mind wants the answers about Mary Magdalene, but the contemplative mind can consider her a source of creative inspiration. Rather than seeking answers about her that are grounded in manifestation, we can ask a different question: What is the experience of Mary Magdalene to you?