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WHAT MARY KNEW BY HEART

How The Gospel of Mary Magdalene Reveals Secret Teachings We Need Now More Than Ever

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Artwork by Lisbeth Cheever Gessaman
Artwork by Lisbeth Cheever Gessaman

The most intimate and gripping passage from the gospel of Mary Magdalene is an exchange between Mary and Christ where she asks him the most significant question I think any of us could ever know the answer to; she asks, “Does a person who sees a vision see it with the soul or with the spirit?” And Christ answers, “A person does not see with the soul or with the spirit. Rather the mind, which exists between these two, sees the vision and that is what…” (Mary 7:7)

The translation of this passage from ancient Greek into English obscures the power of what Christ is revealing to Mary here in her gospel. The word translated in Mary 7:7 as “mind,” is actually a word best left in the Greek in order to fully comprehend. The word “mind” in English moves most of us into the realm of thought, or reason. The word that “mind” is referring to in the gospel however is “nous,” a Greek word meaning, the spiritual eye of the heart. It’s the aspect of the soul that can be sensed, and experienced while were here, embodied. It’s what the founders of Christian contemplative prayer, the Hesychasts, referred to as “the soul’s pilot.” 

How I translate, or comprehend Christ’s answer to Mary in this passage is that he’s telling her (and us) that it’s Mary’s heart that perceives the vision of him. It’s not the disembodied soul. It’s not the mercurial, and ephemeral spirit that allows her to see him. It’s Mary’s heart that gives her the vision to know him. Vision here then has nothing to do with the eyes, with what Mary might see on any given day. Vision is not about what we can look at outside of us. Vision here in Mary 7:7 is about what we can perceive, and know from within. 

Why is this question about vision so important right now in 2020? Two reasons: how we see anything, changes everything; and vision is power.

Let’s go back to the “nous.” What if we’ve been relying far too much on what our eyes tell us? What if what Christ is conveying here is that the heart can see in ways we’ve never fully realized, or practiced? What if Mary’s gospel has finally been recovered, translated, and published now for us to be able to begin to shift or correct the direction of our gaze? What if the answers to the suffering we see around us have to do with our own capacity to see as Mary did with the “nous,” with the spiritual eye of the heart? 

In the gospel of Mary, god isn’t sexed or gendered. God is the Good. And the Good isn’t separate from us. The Good is the unrelenting truth of who we are. Each of us, at our core. That we are Good is not something any of us, ever, have the obligation to prove. It simply is. And when we can see each other and ourselves as good, as the Good that is among us, embodied, here with us, we fundamentally shift the focus of what and how we see. This truth that we are Good, that others are Good, it comes from within. It isn’t based on what the eye can validate or what the ego can judge. It isn’t based on what someone looks like, or who they love, or how they spend what tremendous little time we each have here. What’s Good in us is intrinsic. 

This is vision. And vision is power because it’s sourced from within. This whole magnificent, mystical, metaphysical conversation that Christ and Mary have in her gospel takes place from within her. This Q & A session about vision is happening in a vision! What she can know about Christ, she has to know by heart. And, alone. She has to know it for herself as her truth even or especially when no one else believes her. What she can know about Christ can’t be once removed, through a text, or one of his ardent disciples like Peter or Paul. 

What she can know about Christ, she has to know by heart. And there’s an immense teaching or two coiled within this. By revealing to Mary how to receive a vision from within a vision, Christ is teaching Mary where true power rests. 

Mary can’t ultimately learn from anyone outside of her the message of Christ’s love. She has to know Christ herself, from the Greek “gnosis” meaning the knowledge acquired from direct experience. 

Peter, and Andrew, at the end of Mary’s gospel don’t believe that Christ would reveal secret teachings to her, “a woman.” The hierarchical systems of power entrenched in the Roman Empire in the 1st century placed Mary far beneath them as two educated, Roman-born men. 

Levi though comes to her defense and says, “If the savior considered her to be worthy, who are you to disregard her? For he knew her completely and loved her steadfastly.” (Mary 10:10)

How brilliant I’ve always marveled, how absolutely sneaky genius. In order to believe Mary, Christ’s male disciples would actually have to put into practice the truth Mary says Christ revealed to her. If we all possess this “nous,” this spiritual eye of the heart, then we all have the potential and the power to know the Good equally from within us. Even, “a woman.” 

Power, and who has it, wouldn’t be dictated by the eyes, and the ego. Power would be dictated by the truth that we all contain it in equal measure. We all contain this same vision, this same power to know what’s true for us. 

And the disbelief, the doubt that Peter and Andrew express at the end of Mary’s gospel is the other significant lesson. Because we will all have to face it. It’s the greatest obstacle to doing what we know is true for us, or telling the truth in our own lives. We doubt, we disbelieve that quiet, unassuming voice inside us. We doubt, we disbelieve that we are Good, that we are worthy of living in the bliss of such integrity, such alignment and simplicity of just speaking directly from the heart. 

These times for me in 2020 scream it’s time. It’s time we listen, inward. It’s time we believe, not in what we see outside of us, but in what we can perceive is true from within. It’s time we call back all the power we’ve given over to the people and places and institutions in our lives that have promised us what in truth we can only give back to ourselves. It’s time to remember where true power rests. 

This is what Mary knew by heart. 

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