On this Feast Day of Mary Magdalene, Lynn Beisner salutes to all the defiant women of the past, present, and future.
Every year on July 22, I celebrate the Feast of Mary Magdalene. For those of you who do not know the story of Magdalene, she was one of the key leaders of the early Christian church following Jesus’ death. Male church leaders burned and banned her gospels and discredited Magdalene using patriarchy’s all-time favorite way for discrediting women: They claimed that she was a sex-worker. The Church made Mary Magdalene the patron saint of scarlet women and her feast day became a time of penitence.
I celebrate the Feast of Magdalene in defiance of those who would slut-shame and silence us using religion. More importantly, I celebrate in honor of the countless female religious leaders who have been silenced or had their work diminished. I celebrate to honor women like my friend Sharon who went to seminary and was ordained even though she knew that her chances of serving as a pastor were almost non-existent. I celebrate in memory of women who have died trying to speak their truth, their knowledge of the non-patriarchal divine.
At this year’s celebration, I will raise my glass in salute to Melinda Gates and the Nuns on the Bus. These courageous women are challenging the Vatican, declaring that they know more about what is just, Christ-like, and Catholic than the Pope himself. The holy truth they teach is that women deserve equal access to birth control, that we all deserve a living wage, that access to healthcare is a human right, and that caring for children after they are born is at least as important as protecting them prenatally. They are the daughters of Magdalene, continuing her gospel despite efforts to suppress or besmirch them.
The Feast of Mary Magdalene is also a day of mourning. We have lost so many wonderful feminist leaders, both religious and secular. Many have been silenced in the same way that Mary’s truth was squelched: by slut-shaming. Others have been forcibly silenced and have had their names erased from the books of history in the same way that they tried to eradicate Mary’s gospel. It is a day of sadness because women have actually lost ground in religious circles. In some denominations, there are fewer women serving in ministerial roles than there were 30 years ago, and that is a crying shame. I mourn those who are still under the oppression of religiously sanctioned gender apartheid.
But the Feast of Mary Magdalene is also a hopeful time for me. There is a great tradition in the Jewish Passover meal of reserving a place at the table for the returning prophet. At the Feast of Mary Magdalene, I will be saving a seat for the return of Magdalene, not as a person, but as a spirit of gender liberation. I believe that there is coming a day when women’s knowledge of the divine will be honored, when calling a woman a whore will not silence her, and when gender apartheid will be the sin for which we are penitent. Celebrating the Feast of Mary Magdalene is what keeps that hope alive for me.