by Carole Reardon
It was one of those long pandemic days when, in my privilege, I couldn’t find a project immediately commanding my attention, so I was flipping channels on the TV. How can we have so many channels and streaming services and still I couldn’t find anything to watch? I’m not sure I knew what I wanted but as sometimes happens, I got what I needed. By pure chance a film I’d never heard of, Mary Magdalene, starring Rooney Mara as the compassionate, contemplative titular character, and Joaquin Phoenix as a tormented Jesus, was just beginning. Attentive to detail, gorgeously filmed, compellingly told, it is a feminist reclamation of the Apostle so long wrongly deemed a prostitute, and well worth seeing.
Among my pandemic blessings is an Enneagram class, through Life in the Trinity Ministries and taught by the delightful Susanne Stabile. Early in the course, she warns us against too quickly Enneagram number-typing everyone in our lives, but of course I can’t help myself and have been pondering the Enneagram number of everyone I know as well as fictional characters on TV and film. David Tennant’s DCI Hardy of Broadchurch? Oh, he’s an Eight for sure, while Olivia Coleman’s Ellie Miller strikes me more of a Two with a strong One wing, but when I heard Susanne say Fours were deeply attuned to the suffering of this world, I knew the Mary Magdalene of the film was written as a Four.
It is the very first thing we learn about her, as she stays with a young mother struggling through her first childbirth; extraordinary empathy is her gift and is noticed by Jesus as he instructs his chosen to minister to the growing crowds around him. Mary’s ability to connect with, share, and thus alleviate spiritual agony, her welcoming embrace of the least attractive of the followers Jesus excites, prepares us for the moments when Mary stays through the crucifixion, and even finds compassion for Judas Iscariot.
It has been posited civilization goes through a violent upheaval every eighty or so years. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, when I saw him a few years ago, said he believes the Earth is desperately trying to shake off human civilization. Lately, I find myself wondering if our tired old Earth wakes up every day feeling like I did the morning after a bad car accident: as if I’d been beaten with a baseball bat over my entire body. Whatever the reason, it sure feels like we are in the midst of a world-wide primal scream of anger and agony, and I’ve been wondering what is my role, what are our roles as people of faith in the midst of this pain? At the very least, I believe we Christians must bear witness to this moment, we cannot look away, and we must not be silent.
Being not silent sounds political, certainly I have a hard time not making what’s happening in our country and the world not political, and this is when I most appreciate and need simple wisdom and clear instruction, lost as we can become in today’s whirlwind of misinformation, obfuscation, and comfortable avoidance. Where is the through-line, the true North, the one perfect, whizz-bangy rule to which we can cling in all circumstances?
Closing his sermon on the sin in the Garden last Sunday, our parish priest, Fr. Tom, ended his sermon by reminding us of Jesus’ New Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). Stick to these, Fr. Tom told us, and you’ll probably stay on the right side of sin but, he went on, “Remember, your ‘neighbor’ includes the people you don’t like.” Always a catch!
There is a wonderful scene in Mary Magdalene, hoards have gathered, desperate, dirty, some maybe mentally ill, people in great need of hope and blessing. Jesus sends the Apostles out to bless them, and we follow them and especially Mary as they move among a crowd of humanity, blessing, never asking political affiliation, if they’d led blameless lives and where thus worthy, or how much money or social standing they had. They simply moved among their neighbors, listening, praying, and blessing. Being present, and bearing witness. It feels like a good example to me.
Carole Reardon is a blogger, photographer, and Episcopalian in North Central Texas.