Mary Magdalene—A Narrative Meditation
In an earlier time, the anguish and grief that she had endured on that Friday and Saturday would have unhinged her. Yet in the midst of this agony, she discovered that the Teacher had so healed and restored her that even this crushing sorrow could not undo his work.
At dawn on Sunday, she’d gone to the tomb and to her shock and confusion, she’d found it empty. Two men in white clothes were inside the tomb. She was too numb to wonder who they were. They asked her why she was there. Before she could answer them, a Voice spoke from behind her.
“Who are you looking for?”
Again, she tried to explain, but her words came out all confused. At that, the Voice spoke her name, just that, nothing more, simply and without elaboration, just her name. The Voice was at once both familiar and indescribably strange; it was at the same time both ethereal as if speaking from the far reaches of eternity and yet as solid, earthy, and real as the gravel of the footpath that now painfully gouged her knees. Just the sound of this voice speaking her name, and the fog of her anguish and grief had begun to clear, and with a jolt of realization, she knew it was him.
For her, it had always been about the voices. Distant, long silenced voices. She could still just barely remember them. Her father singing. He had loved to sing. She remembered that. All kinds of songs he would sing. Psalms and hymns from the synagogue. Strange and beautiful songs. She had only been able to pick out a word here and there. It was Hebrew, her father had told her, the language of the Scriptures and of heaven. Some day he would teach her, he had promised.
But not all of the songs had been hard to understand. She remembered singing along with him children’s songs with silly words. Sometimes he would dance with her, singing and spinning and whirling in circles around the room until they fell together in a tumble and lay laughing on the floor.
Other songs, too, she remembered. She, lying on her childhood sleeping mat in the curtained corner of the room, her mother and father sitting by a lamp on the other side of the room. Her mother mending or sewing while her father sang to his wife. Sometimes her mother would hum along. Sometimes her mother would pick up the song, and her father became the audience. At the time, she hadn’t really understood quite what these songs meant. Later, when she was grown, she understood. They were love songs between a husband and his wife. The memories of these songs had warmed her, and they broke her heart.
Just before she had entered her teen years, the fever has swept through their village and others nearby. It had struck her father first but soon her mother also. She had tried as best she could to care for them, but in less than a week they had both faded into a weak and babbling delirium then silence and then they were gone. She could still see the sight them lying together in their bed as life faded from their eyes.
The weight of guilt had borne down upon her slim shoulders. She remembered it still. The weight of her failure. She had not been able to save them. She had failed to preserve them from death. The weight of that failure bent her small body down.
There had been few neighbors left who were able to help her bury her mother and father—fewer still who were willing. There had been a heated argument in the street outside her little house. She could still hear the sounds of their angry voices. Some women were berating the few able-bodied men left in the village, berating them for their unwillingness carry this little girl’s mother and father to the large and growing burial ground just outside the town.
Eventually, the men had reluctantly relented. She could still hear the sickening sound of her mother then her father being roughly dropped into the pit and quickly covered with dirt. She had shrieked, and some women had dragged her away from the burying.
Something had broken in her at that moment. She had felt it. The quilt of her failure. That shriek had been the sound of her horror tearing a gaping hole in her soul. And that, she now understood, had been when the first of the foul ones had slipped into her soul through that gaping tear. It’s slimy voice never gave her a moment of peace after that.
At first, some of the neighbors had taken her in. Others in the village had suffered the same sorts of losses and griefs as she had, and so they were kind—at first. But the slimy voice of that foul one that had invaded her tormented her constantly. It muttered and chattered in her mind. It accused her of killing her parents. It inflamed her anger at every little irritation. It planted very unchildlike desires in her.
Her behavior became more and more erratic, unpredictable, bizarre, and intolerable for the neighbors who had taken her in. Soon, she was being passed from neighbor to neighbor until finally no one would have her.
She remembers feeling shame, and the foul one inside her had liked that and had begun whispering, “Shameful, shameful, shameful—you are only shamefulness.” She hated herself and her life, and the foul voice inside her liked that, too. “Vile! You are vile!” the voice had told her. “You are worthless, worthless, worthless.”
Some noxious men had come to town and said that they would take her. And the neighbors of her mother and father had turned back to their homes as these noxious men had led her away. That was when she had entered hell.
The foul one inside of her seemed very much at home with these noxious men. It seemed to play with them, and it used her as the toy. The foul one would sometimes stir her into a rage toward the men. Then they would beat her until all she could do was crawl weakly into a corner and collapse in a heap. Sometimes the foul one inside her would stir up unchildlike urges in her. Then the men would satisfy themselves with her and bring others to do the same.
Through it all, other foul things began to penetrate her soul and join the first foul one there. In time, there was a flock of foul things living inside her, always muttering, chattering, screaming, laughing, arguing. Her life became one of noise, constant noise. Never was there a moment of silence, of quietness, in her soul and mind.
She began to lose herself. More and more she found she couldn’t distinguish her own thoughts from the jabbering voices inside herself. She was lost in the filthy, foul, babbling bedlam that was her mind and soul. She, who had once been a dancing, singing, beloved child, now slouched from beating to bedding and back again. There was now no music. There was no quietness. There was only, always noise.
She remembered the day she met him—the One who would change everything for her. She had been sitting at the edge of the marketplace, aching from the beating she’d received the night before. As always with her, she sat in a daze, staring blankly at the ground in front of her with the mutter and fuss of voices fogging her mind with cotton wool. Then suddenly she had bolted upright. The mutter and fuss had abruptly become a pandemonium of squeals and shrieks, a writhing of the maggots in her mind. The foul ones inside her seemed to be clawing at her to escape some approaching terror.
He was standing right in front of her, looking intensely into her eyes, looking through her eyes at the things inside. The chaos of voices there was demanding, pleading, commanding, begging her to run, to flee from this man. But she couldn’t move.
For a moment more this one whom she would come to know as the Teacher had seemed to peer through her eyes into the deep corners of her soul as if counting. Then quietly, powerfully he had simply said, “Be gone, all of you!”
There had come something like a gasp that echoed in her mind for the briefest moment, and then silence, quietness, peace. Something she had not known since the days when she had lived in the safety and love of her childhood home.
She had followed this man stupefied, as he led her back to his people. There almost immediately some women had surrounded her and swept her away. Gentle hands had peeled away the filthy rags that she wore as clothes. They washed her as if she were a little child. They tended her wounds. They dressed her in clean clothing for the first time since . . . since she had entered hell. The Teacher and his people had begun the long process of restoring her to herself.
And so, when she heard his voice speak her name there by the empty tomb, she not only knew who he was, but she also understood somehow that he had begun to make everything new. She never wanted to leave him again. But instead, he gave her a mission. It was a great honor. He had chosen her—she who had once carried those foul voices within her. He had chosen her to be the first to preach this Good News.
“Go,” the Teacher had said. “Go tell the men that I have risen.”
© 2021 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved; use with permission.