Monthly Archives: July 2022

On Mary of Magdala and James the Pilgrim – 2022

 I hope St. James the GreaterPatron Saint of Pilgrims, will guide me this September…

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

The Book of Common Prayer* says that by sharing Holy Communion, Christians become “very members incorporate in the mystical body” of Jesus. The words “corporate” and “mystical” are the key. They show that a healthy church has two sides. The often-overlooked “mystical” side asks, “How do I experience God?” This blog will try to answer that.

It has four themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (See John 6:37.) The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance. (John 10:10.) The third is that Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind. As Luke 24:45 said: “Then He [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” The fourth theme – and most often overlooked – is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12.)  

And this thought ties them together:

The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: Read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

Last Friday, July 22, was the Feast Day for “Mary from Magdala.” I covered that feast day last year in “Saint” Mary Magdalene – 2021, and the year before in Mary Magdalene, 2020 – and Week 19 of “the Covid.” And just for the record, we are now in Week 124* of the Covid pandemic, with no end in sight. (Plus we now have Monkeypox to worry about.)

Three days after Mary’s feast, Monday, July 25, we remember James, son of Zebedee. He’s one of several New Testament “Jameses,” but he’s also “St. James the Greater.” And this James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims. As such, he’ll be my patron saint this September when I start an 18-day, 154-mile hike on the Way of St Francis, from Assisi back to Rome.

And speaking of pilgrimages, that post from two years ago, “2020 … Week 19,” talked about an earlier one. That was a four-day canoe pilgrimage on the Missouri River, 115 river miles, from South Sioux City to Omaha Nebraska. That was one of a series of journeys-of-discovery leading to this September’s Way of St Francis. But getting back to Mary Magdalene

St. Augustine called her the “Apostle to the Apostles.” See also Mary … FutureChurch:

Mary of Magdala is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood figure in early Christianity…  Since the fourth century, she has been portrayed as a prostitute and public sinner…   Paintings, some little more than pious pornography, reinforce the mistaken belief that sexuality, especially female sexuality, is shameful, sinful, and worthy of repentance.  Yet the actual biblical account of Mary of Magdala paints a far different portrait than that of the bare-breasted reformed harlot of Renaissance art. [Emphasis added.]

2015’s Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles” noted that this particular Mary – a common name at the time – has long had a rotten reputation. “In Western Christianity, she’s known as ‘repentant prostitute or loose woman,” but the consensus now is that these claims are unfounded.  For one thing, Isaac Asimov said this Mary would be more accurately considered “a cured madwoman rather than a reformed prostitute.” (A subtle distinction.)

Yet – notwithstanding that “sordid past” – it’s clear that Mary Magdalene showed far more courage than the original 11 disciples. (Not counting Judas.) See John 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” Thus the one indisputable fact is that Mary was both the first person to see the empty tomb of Jesus, and one of the first – if not the first – to see the risen Jesus. And that may have accounted for the stories about her “sordid past;” jealous males trying to sully her reputation and cover up their own cowardice.

So her story could be one long pilgrimage to eventually see the risen Jesus. By and through that journey she was able to escape her sordid past and move on to become something greater, the “Apostle to the Apostles.” (A good life-lesson to be sure.) And speaking of pilgrimages, July 25 is the feast day for the Patron Saint of PilgrimsJames, son of Zebedee.

Going back to 2014, On “St. James the Greater” spoke of this James being not only the patron saint of pilgrims. He’s also the patron saint of Spain and Portugal. Which is why the Camino de Santiago* traditionally ends in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.

Tradition says that James traveled to Spain to spread the Gospel there:

[T]he Virgin Mary appeared to James on the bank of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta, while he was preaching the Gospel in Iberia. She appeared upon a pillar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, and that pillar is conserved and venerated within the present Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain. Following that apparition, St. James returned to Judea, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44.

All of which is well and good, but raises the question: “Why do such a pilgrimage at all?” One answer comes from the book Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today, by James Roose-Evans. The book noted that a healthy sense of ritual “should pervade a healthy society,” but that a big problem in today’s world is that we’ve abandoned many of the rituals that used to help us deal with big change and major trauma. The book added that all true ritual “calls for discipline, patience, perseverance, leading to the discovery of the self within.”

More to the point, the book said a pilgrimage – like an 18-day, 154-mile hike on the Way of St Francis – “may be described as a ritual on the move.” And that such a moving ritual often includes the “raw experience of hunger, cold, lack of sleep.” But through such an experience we can get a sense of our fragility as mere human beings. (Compared with “the majesty and permanence of God” and His creation.) Finally, the book noted that such a pilgrimage can be  “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.

So, a month from today (August 27) I’ll be flying to Rome, to get “chastened and liberated…”

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Mary of Magdala – and note the similar pose to James, above…

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The upper image is courtesy of St. James Patron Saint Of Pilgrims – Image Results, and the Catholic Diocese of Calgary. That’s the “Latin Church ecclesiastical territory or diocese of the Catholic Church in AlbertaCanada… Its cathedral episcopal see is St. Mary’s Cathedral, CalgaryAlberta. It is currently led by Bishop William McGrattan.See also Saint James, Patron of Pilgrims (Catholic Education Resource Center).

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see Online Book of Common Prayer. As to “corporate” and “mystic,” it’s like body and soul. Ideally they are a unified whole, but some people lose sight of the one in focusing too much on the other…

Week 124 of COVID. (Or 31 months.) That’s according to my calculations, originally set out in St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that, to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.”

Re: The Way of St. Francis. My brother, his wife and I will fly into Rome at different times, meet up in Assisi, and from there hike “back” to Rome. The 18 days will include three days off, of not hiking, in Spoleto, Rieti, and Montelibretti. The latter is some 32 miles from Vatican City and the end of the hike. For another take on the hike see The Way of St. Francis: Walking 550 Kilometers Along One of the World’s Greatest Pilgrimages.

Re: James’ vision in Spain. Tradition says it happened on January 2, 40 A.D..

Re: Santiago de Compostela. “Iago” is another translation of “James.” As Wikipedia put it, “Santiago is the local Galician evolution of Vulgar Latin Sanctus Iacobus ‘Saint James.””

Re: “Passages of the Soul.” The quotes are from the 1994 Element Books Ltd. edition, at pages 23-25.

The lower image is courtesy of wikipedia.org/wiki/Penitent_Magdalene_(Titian,_1565):

The Penitent Magdalene is a 1565 oil painting by Titian of saint Mary Magdalene, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  Unlike his 1533 version of the same subject, Titian has covered Mary’s nudity and introduced a vase, an open book and a skull as a memento mori.  Its coloring is more mature than the earlier work, using colors harmoni[z]ing with character.  In the background the sky is bathed in the rays of the setting sun, with a dark rock contrasting with the brightly lit figure of Mary.

Also, Titian did a “racier” version in 1533. See Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533) – Wikipedia. For more on this Mary see also MARY MAGDALENE, Bible Woman: first witness to Resurrection, and What Did Mary Magdalene look like?

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity. According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable… Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians. They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…  (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…) Now, about “Boot-camp Christians.” See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by“learning the fundamentals.” But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.” 

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg

However, after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training. And as noted in “Buck private,” one of this blog’s themes is that if you want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*” In other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.” See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001. The related image at left is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.” 

Re: “mystical.” Originally, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.” See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”) See also Christian mysticism – Wikipedia, “In early Christianity the term ‘mystikos’ referred to three dimensions, which soon became intertwined, namely the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative… The third dimension is the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God.” As to that “experiential” aspect, see also Wesleyan Quadrilateral – Wikipedia, on the method of theological reflection with four sources of spiritual development: scripturetradition, reason, and “Christian experience.”

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?  

Catching up from my trip to Dubuque…

Downtown Dubuque, Iowa, as seen from a bluff high above the city…

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I just got back from a 10-day road trip to Dubuque, Iowa. My current lady friend hails from there, and wanted to visit family. (Especially kids, grandkids and a new great-granddaughter.)

I went because I’d never experienced such a lily-white Midwestern Fourth of July. (Not lately anyway, compared to the Black mecca that is the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.) And it was quite an adventure, featuring lots of visits to her family, and my eating way too much food, and getting not nearly enough exercise. (I gained five pounds, and was lucky to limit it to that. One comment at a dinner on the evening of July 4: “That’s all you’re eating?”)

But this blog is about faith and spirituality, so let’s back on track…

To help celebrate the 4th, I went back over some past posts. I came across this, from 2014, On Sunday of the July 4th weekend. I told of another mid-summer trip, taking a train north from New York City to Montreal. On the ride up to the Canadian border I had time to read my passport. That made for some interesting reading, “especially on this holiday weekend,” of July 2014.

Page 1 of the passport said the U.S. Secretary of State personally requested – of “all whom it may concern” – to permit this particular named citizen (me) “to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.” Which I found pretty impressive. (Especially since I’ll be flying over to Rome on August 27, to hike the Way of St Francis.*)

That was followed by the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which also made for some impressive reading. (“We the People…”) That was followed by pages topped with pithy quotations about America and the promise of freedom it stands for. (Mostly.) Pages 8-9 are topped by a saying from George Washington, “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.

But as I wrote back in 2014, we’ve seen “way too often lately” that the stupid and dishonest can also repair to that standard of freedom. And I’d say that goes at least double for the eight years since 2014. But since this is a Christian blog I’ll take the high ground and quote John Steinbeck on the American July 4th sense of freedom that we celebrate each year:

[T]his I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.

Which leads to some questions. Like, “Have we maintained that freedom of the mind to take any direction it pleases?” Are we winning or losing the fight against a religion or government that limits or destroys the individual? Which leads to the quote on pages 16-17 of the U.S. passport. Attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, it reads:  “This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of endless possibilities.” (Get that? “Endless possibilities.”) All of which led me to quote Ellison Onizuka, the American astronaut who died in the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster:

Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds . . . to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.

To free people’s minds. To me, that’s what the Bible is all about…

But of course Onizuka could have said – in a slightly different way – “Sing to the Lord a new song.(As it says in Psalm 98:1 and elsewhere.) He could add that you can’t live up to, fulfill or implement either promise – of America’s endless possibilities or those of Jesus – interpreting the Bible or the Constitution in a closed, narrow, “strict” way. So I’d say our duty as Americans – as Christian Americans – is to foster the endless possibilities of both the American Dream and the promises of Jesus. (That in His name we should live a life of spiritual abundance, and do greater miracles than He did.) Which brings up the miracle in the Bible.

To many people, those miracles are “fairy tales,” stumbling blocks like those Paul mentioned in 1st Corinthians 8:9. But the thing to remember is that they are designed to stretch the human mind, to get that mind out of its conservative, keep-things-as-they-are Comfort Zone.

After all, the English people who first settled America were neither conservative nor “keep-things-as-they-are.” They wanted to sing a new song, to experience the endless possibilities in the New World, to “look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.”On that note see Isaiah 40:31, “those who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.”

It’s your choice America…

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Ellison Onizuka, quoted above on our Fourth of July freedom…

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The upper image is courtesy of Dubuque, Iowa – Wikipedia. The city was named for Julien Dubuque (1762-1810), a Canadian from Champlain, Quebec, who settled near what is now the city. One of the first Europeans to settle in the area, he initially got permission from the Mesquakie Indian tribe to mine the lead in 1788. “Once he had received permission from the Meskwaki to mine lead, Dubuque remained in the area for the rest of his life. He befriended the local Meskwaki chief Peosta – for whom the nearby town of Peosta, Iowa is named.” He is believed to have married Peosta’s daughter.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see The Online Book of Common Prayer.

Re: The Black mecca that is the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. That area that has been my new ome for the past 12 years.

Re: The Way of St. Francis. I’ll meet up with my brother Tom and his wife Carol, and hike the 160-or-so miles from Assisi to Rome.

The Steinbeck quote. See Quote by John Steinbeck: “And this I believe.”

Re: Psalm 98:1. See On singing a NEW song to God, from May 2015. See also Psalm 33:3, Psalm 96:1, and Psalm 149:1.

The Bible readings for July 4 (2014) includes a note about how a group of Anglicans – members of the official state religion of the time – voluntarily gave up their power to guarantee “freedom of religion to people of all religious faiths.” See too The Bible readings for July 4, also from 2014.

Re: “Miracles.” What Is a Miracle according to the Bible? – Bible Answers noted that the most important thing “is not about the miracles themselves but the God who performs them.” But see also Did the Miracles in the Bible Really Happen? – The Honest Skeptic, and/or Are you Skeptical of the Bible Because it Reports Miracles? One quote: “Rather than being a stumbling block, miracles should be expected. If God is who he says he is, then miracles should happen and should be expected.

The Ellison Onizuka quote is on page 28 of my passport. (The ellipses are in the passport original.) Onizuka (1946-1986) was “an American astronaut from KealakekuaKonaHawaii, who successfully flew into space with the Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-51-C. He died in the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger, on which he was serving as Mission Specialist for mission STS-51-L. He was the first Asian-American to reach space.” The lower image is courtesy of Wikipedia.

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