I can’t travel without a supply of books. I guess I should get an electronic reader, but I’ll never believe they’re as satisfying as paper. On our recent trip to the desert I took as many books as I had room for—six—which nearly got me through the seven week trip. If it hadn't been for the hiking, exploring and visiting, games of gin, dominos, and petanque, or evenings of wine and conversation, I never would have made it. I forgot my knitting.
When shopping for books to travel with my criteria includes size as well as content (big, thick books being preferred), which means I often drag around tomes that are less than satisfactory. But I picked pretty well this time, and I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.
Who is Mary?
Who is Mary?
Chosen partly for its large size and many pages (640) was a fictional portrayal of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham, called The Passion of Mary Magdalen. This is book two of a trilogy titled The Maeve Chronicles, and though I didn’t like the early chapters it grew on me and soon I was deeply immersed in the story.
Unless you live under a rock you know that books about the Magdalen (the spelling varies) have been popular for several years. Our local bookstore owner told me that for awhile she couldn’t keep them on the shelves and an Amazon search this morning yielded 849 with Mary Magdalen in the title. Is this a longing for more of the feminine in our lives; a sign than the masculine tide is turning? I like to think so. But it may just be good marketing.
Cunningham is the descendant of nine Episcopal priests, a former Quaker, and an interfaith minister and counselor, so she writes from a solid background of biblical and spiritual knowledge. Her heroine, Maeve, is an outspoken Celt who in the first chapter finds herself being sold in a Roman slave market. Maeve, it turns out, is the Mary of the title and her life and her search for Jesus are the central thesis of the book, which closely follows the four gospels. This is a magical tale, however, and Cunningham blends Maeve’s druidical skills with those of the preacher Jesus, changing the story and the message in sometimes subtle, sometimes overt ways. It’s a good read and when I got home I went to the library and picked up volume three, Bright Dark Madonna. I liked it even better (I didn't read book one). Both are entertaining and thought provoking enough to make you feel you haven’t wasted your time, which is a good thing even when you’re on vacation.
Cunningham also has an interesting blog about writing and spirituality. You’ll find it here.
The Passion of Mary Magdalen, book 2 of The Maeve Chronicles by Elizabeth Cunningham (2007)
The day after I put down The Passion I picked up The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity, by Cynthia Bourgeault. I thought it would be interesting to compare this nonfiction study with the novel and it was.
Bourgeault is a Christian scholar, Episcopal priest and the author of several other books on Christianity. I confess that her deeply-held beliefs and her scholarly terminology combined to leave me behind on occasion but I kept on and was glad I did. Bourgeault is deeply committed to the idea that Mary Magdalene was important to the man Jesus on many levels, perhaps even his wife, and that she “was an equal partner in the teaching and transmission” of the message. Her analysis reveals a Mary sometimes strikingly close to Cunningham’s fictional one, and as a biblical scholar she must have felt she was going out on a limb in writing it.
It was reassuring for me to discover this Mary Magdalene, a woman who’s story has been so distorted and forgotten. The increasing interest in the feminization of our predominant religion is a good thing, whether it comes from Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or Cunningham’s trilogy or any of the hundreds of other Magdalen books circulating at the moment. If you haven’t read any I recommend it. Mary has been too long ignored.
The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity by Cynthia Bourgeault, 2010, Shambala Press.
Does Intention Matter?
I’ve been studying quantum physics for years but—I rush to clarify—only in books intended for nonscientists, and even they frequently confound me. But ever since learning about the observer effect I’ve believed that spirituality and science would eventually meet somewhere in the quantum soup.
In the Intention Experiment, Lynn McTaggart, makes her case for just that. The book offers a survey of current scientific research on whether consciousness and conscious intention can affect living cells. The idea that our thoughts influence reality is one that I love to cling to. My own experience with manifesting and creating seems to confirm my belief, but proof remains ambivalent. Still, if McTaggart’s reporting is correct—and there’s nothing to say it isn’t—research being done at places like Yale, MIT, and Stanford, is slowly shifting scientific consensus in that direction.
McTaggart is a good writer and I enjoyed both the science and the personal stories that were woven through the book. She is an unabashedly biased observer, a believer in the idea that we are all connected through the quantum field and that our thoughts affect everything around us. To help prove it she has arranged for readers of The Intention Experiment to take part in scientific investigations.
The Intention Experiment is one of many popular books linking science and spirituality. I don’t know whether this means we’re getting closer to finding the truth or just more desperate for a connection to the sacred, whatever we perceive that to be. But like the two Magdalene books, this offered food for thought and the comfort of knowing that despite the current desperate state of our world, love, creativity, and the pursuit of knowledge may eventually prevail.
You can learn more by visiting McTaggart’s website at theintentionexperiment.com.
The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World, by Lynn McTaggart (2008), Simon & Schuster
Finally, here's a list of the books I took and the books I've read since returning home:
The Passion of Mary Magdalen, Elizabeth Cunningham
The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, Cynthia Bourgeault
The Intention Experiment, Lynn McTaggart
This Body of Death, Elizabeth George
Manifesting Michelangelo, Joseph Pierce Farrell
Bright Dark Madonna, Elizabeth Cunningham