Eve and Mary
“Transformative images are engaging and even arresting metaphors. To live through the transformational processes they often engender is a special experience. From the moment these images appear, they take possession of one’s consciousness, and at least temporarily, change it, sometimes dramatically. Dream images, for example, sometimes will haunt a person for days and continue to draw out emotions and memories, incite desires, and even stimulate plans for the future. Occasionally, a poem, a painting, a film, or a concert has the same effect. The major symbolic experiences of this kind we call religious. For a moment, one almost becomes another person; in the long run, one actually does. If these powerful, archetypal images are strong and impressive enough, the whole fabric of a person’s life can be transformed. Their effects are not momentary. Over time, they become irreversible. This is because these images reflect psychological content that is emerging in a person’s life and give it shape. They are metaphors with profound underlying structural support and meaning.
Transformation: The Emergence of the Self, Murray Stein
Eve, the symbolic mother of humanity, from the Old Testament and Mary Magdalene, the first person to report Jesus’ empty tomb to the men who also followed Jesus are unlikely focal points for transformative images. Their stories both inspire and concern me. For in them, I see myself and many of my sisters, and their narratives shape our collective conscious.
Although she is mentioned by name twelve times in the canonical gospels, more than most of the apostles, and although her gospel, The Gospel of Mary, is excluded from the New Testament of the Bible, Mary Magdalene’s story and her likeness serve a transformative image for strong, active, financially stable, women.
James Carroll, in his article published in the Smithsonian entitled, “Who Was Mary Magdalene” writes,
“For many centuries the most obsessively revered of saints, this woman became the embodiment of Christian devotion, which was defined as repentance. Yet she was only elusively identified in Scripture, and has thus served as a scrim onto which a succession of fantasies has been projected. In one age after another her image was reinvented, from prostitute to sibyl to mystic to celibate nun to passive helpmeet to feminist icon to the matriarch of divinity’s secret dynasty. How the past is remembered, how sexual desire is domesticated, how men and women negotiate their separate impulses; how power inevitably seeks sanctification, how tradition becomes authoritative, how evolutions are co-opted; how fallibility is reckoned with, and how sweet devotion can be made to serve violent domination – all these cultural questions helped shape the story of the woman who befriended Jesus of Nazareth.
Mary, unlike the male apostles of Jesus, remained with Jesus through his glory years of teaching and preaching the synagogues, street corners and pastures, all the way to his time abandonment by his male followers and his ultimate crucifixion. She was present at his tomb and the first person to preach the “Good News” of His resurrection. This is documented in in the canonical gospels and thus gives her the status of “apostle”. Scholars have implied that her popularity may have even rival Peter, for whom is the “rock” upon which the Christian church was established. There are Christian documents dating as early as first and third century CE indicating that indicated that she and Jesus shared an intimate relationship with accounts of them kissing, although it does not indicate if the kiss was a holy kiss or a lingering kiss shared between lovers. It is also suggested that she was a repentant prostitute, which according to the research “is almost certainly untrue” (Carroll). Therefore, her image (itself) has gone through quite a few transformations for me, as my education and exposure to truth broadened. And as Carroll suggests, “On that false note hangs the dual use to which her legend has been put ever since: discrediting sexuality in general and disempowering women in particular” (Carroll).
Why has Mary Magdalene’s symbolic image gone through so many transformations, and why has her powerful image been used support female disempowerment and discredit sexuality? Some would say it is because they symbolic representation of women as wives and mothers is celebrated because it reinforces a functional space in the world, and it is pragmatic in the command to be fruitful and multiply. The function of women in the space has not only been stamped as appropriate, for most of the recorded history of women, it has been preferred. This has not only been a religious or societal preference. It has actually helped to continue the evolution of the human species. There is only one issue. Prehistoric women worked along with men to support their homes and they offered more than their ability to take care of a husband and reproduce.
In human history due to the need for survival, men, naturally stronger and physically faster, than women, needed to have a place of dominance in the home. Women, had their place too. After collecting genealogical data from two hunter-gatherer groups from the Congo and the Philippines, scientists found that sexual equality may have been needed through human evolutionary process, and it was a key factor in pair-bonding, which is the precursor to our version of marriage and romantic partnerships. In fact, in the Paleolithic Era, Anmatyerre women of Australia’s Northern Territory will tell you that they regularly go “hunting”. On a day’s hunt, equipped with crowbars and axes, they will take game like goannas, lizards, snakes, scrub fowl and other small animals, as well as collecting larvae, eggs, honey and, depending on the season, an array of seeds, nuts, fruits and bush medicine. Energy is not wasted in lugging food about. It is cooked and eaten there and then. Some might be taken back to the men’s camp if an adult male relative is known to be sick. Women took care of themselves and men were expected to do the same in order for the species to survive.
The transformative image of Eve, helps us understand exactly how the symbolic representation of women as “temptresses”, “easily tempted”, “evil”, “unruly”, “disobedient”, “un-submissive”, “free-thinking”, “not smart”, “weak-minded” “weak-willed” representations came to be.
The prevailing thought in the Judeo-Christian tradition is that women are subject to men because men were created in the image of God, and the first woman, Eve, was created from the rib of Adam, the first man – hand-crafted, by God. Now that I have studied the Bible thoroughly and have an academic and universalized understanding of God, this concept of creationism is challenging because God created Eve, a woman, too. Whether she was created from dirt, clay, or the rib of a man seems irrelevant. The materials used are symbolic and change based upon the religion or culture relaying the story. What is true, at least in the Abrahamic faiths, is that God created the first woman. She did not magically spring forth from the brain of Adam. She is made in the image and likeness of God herself. In Genesis 1, God, referred to singularly in third person, creates and structures the earth with all living things both male and female at the same time and commands them to be fruitful and multiply. However, in Genesis 1:26-27, the point of view changes and the second person pronouns “us” and “our”are included when He says,
“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all of the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female He created them. He blessed them: and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it, rule over it…” (Genesis 1:26-27)
In fact, the creative force used to create her comes from the nature of God himself because the essence and nature of God is both a feminine and masculine side. “Gasp!” Therefore, the woman was not made for a man as the Apostle Paul suggests. She has a role in the regeneration of the species, just as other female animals and organisms. However, this is not her only role. She has an important, dare I say equal role in helping the earth become all it was intended to be. This does not mean that women and men don’t have strengths and weaknesses affiliated with their sex, but what it does mean is that God can use people however he wants regardless of their sex. People should be open interpretation, ministry roles are not only for certain sexes, relationships work however the two people involve deem necessary because gender-roles are fluid based upon the dynamics of the people involved. If God has both a male and female nature, it is likely that we do as well, especially because we are androgynous in the womb.
In fact, theories long-held regarding female sexuality have been the Eve-Out-Of-Adam Rib theory and Freud’s well-known clitoral-vagina transfer theory. Because all embryos, male and female, start life by developing a combined clitoral-penile tubercle, it seemed that all fetuses started as male and by the third month the females gave up trying to grow a penis, the clitoris being the remains. Geneticists have discovered, however, that all human embryos start life as females, as do all embryos of mammals. Somehow, knowing this information makes me more certain that my place as a woman is not really subject to man in a relationship or any other aspect of life. Instead, if I choose to partner with a in any facet of my life, a true team will form where neither my gender nor his will dictate who will lead. Instead, the partnership, if any at all, should be based on natural skills, talents, and strengths. For this creates a level of respect and admiration for the person at human level, not due to an outdated “rule” used to keep women subjugated to men who many times have deficiencies in the areas where they are expected to lead.
One of the places where this new-found knowledge would be helpful is among church leadership. People who believe as my father-in-law and my childhood pastor are effects of a system of thinking. They are not the causes. They are symptoms not the source of misguided thinking. They represent a mis-creation, a thought from an outdated society that no longer stands. If we remain connected to the true biblical interpretation of men and women in pastoral leadership, almost every pastor I’ve experienced would be not the meet the demands of the office of the bishop based upon the fact that many have been divorced and remarried. Others refuse to manage their homes in a loving way and therefore abuse their children and spouses. Others may feel they are untouchable and don’t invest in the communities where they pastor. While others may have addictions they refuse to relinquish, so they risk tarnishing their images in the communities they serve and beyond. To be clear, I am not judging here, for I would be disqualified if I were held to these standards.
What I am saying, however, is that the standard for the “Office of the Bishop” is not as regularly enforced for male clergy. Women, however, are held to this rule in certain denominations even when the pastor of the church is “out of order”. Men have been able to transcend the archetypal image of the “office of the bishop” over centuries of reshaping the Christian mind about pastoral leadership. Yet, when comes to women, the representation of the female image of God, both men and many women have been slow to update the archetypal image of the women in spiritual leadership.
When I was considering marrying my ex, I wanted God to confirm a path that made sense, a path that brought other women ministers success, the path that matched the dream we’d dreamed collectively that created the archetypal picture of acceptable women in church leadership. In this archetypal image in the church, the wife is cleansed of her short comings (being born a woman) and accepted as a speaker of God (through cleansing herself through the covering of her husband). The image of the woman in the church, in the bible, was imbedded in my mind. Being a member and a bible teacher at a church where two very powerful spiritual leaders co-lead as a husband and wife team sealed a foregrounded archetypal image in my consciousness. It changed the entire “fabric” of my consciousness.
Part of my transformation process has been understanding who I was then and who I am at the is point in my life. I understand my life more now that I understand the transformative images that shaped me, the doctrine that guided me, and the people who believed in both.
My mistake was not just that I married for the wrong reasons, my error was in my perception myself, my ex and who we were together. I believed that because I am woman, I am unacceptable single. I would not get invited to speak at churches or have opportunities to grow a ministry, accept that I have a husband to vouch for me, pastors to accept me because they accepted him, and congregations to trust me because of my husband’s ethos. It was an illusion. The truth is that my gift made room for me well before I met my ex. My ex believed what I believed about my needing to be linked together to move forth in ministry, so we shared in collective illusion - along with many other Christians. Thus, we entered a partnership based upon shared goals, confused within the collective illusion. We both wanted the same church leadership roles, our fellow clergy saw us as a potential power couple, our congregants encouraged our union, even when there were clear markers we were either not ready or perhaps not even called as a couple. We shared and participated in a collective illusion – a dream that we all dreamt that was not rooted in truth, but instead rooted in a perception of the truth. A Course in Miracles says,
“You share confusion and are confused, for in the gap no stable self exists. What is the same seems different because what is the same appears to be unlike. His dreams are yours because you let them be. But if you took your own away, he would be free of them, or of his own as well” (IV.6.1-4).
I needed to dream a new dream, and have a singular vision, not a part of, nor entrapped a collective consciousness with my partner nor the church, but I was so steeped in church-based approval that I thought any thought unsanctioned by them would lead me directly to hell. Not only was I confused, I was entangled in “group think”.