I’m concluding my journal reflections on the Gospel of Mary by reflecting on some of the teachings of this Gospel that connect to my soul and life. Let me say from the outset that I am no scholar, so this is just a personal response based on my own life and faith.
Not being an expert or scholar, there is a lot in the teaching portion of this Gospel that I don’t understand – language about matter, about nature, and the universe that go over my head. I would not be surprised if I read the history of this text and find out it was with the Gnostics or any number of other Christian groups that were mystics that did not last in part because their teachings were so esoteric that the ordinary believer could not understand them. The value of the canonical Gospels is that they are written in a style where you can go in and get something from them whether you are looking for something deep and mystical or something very down to earth.
There are some messages that connect with me, however.
First, its focus on attachment. The author has Jesus talk about the attachment to matter causing us to fall out of balance and, in so doing, to lose the inner harmony that allows us to be fully human. He calls people to change their relationship to the things in their lives so that they can live as fully human people. This mirrors the teachings of Buddhism which emphasize the need to learn to relate to others, to nature, to work, to things, with enjoyment but not attachment because attachment causes much of the stress, suffering, and pain we face in our souls producing in us a desire to control things out of our control. This is also the message of Christian mystics down through the ages – to learn to see beauty and love, but also to learn not to hold onto it but trust one’s self into the hands of a loving God. This message is in many ways, like so much of what mystics have said through history, ahead of its time. Only now modern psychology has found this to be true and it is for this reason has begun to develop mindfulness therapies in which people learn to see life as it is, while also releasing their need to control or judge others, themselves, and situations. Mindfulness therapy has taking many of the techniques of mystics for meditation, stripped them of religious content, and re-tooled them as techniques to help people find the psychological peace and harmony that Jesus invites his hearers in the Gospel of Mary to embrace deep within their souls.
To me a really powerful picture of how this letting go of attachment can function in our personal lives is the prayer written by United Church of Christ theologian Reinhold Niehbur which has been taken up by members of the recovery movements like AA and NA – “God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.” Learning to approach life with the attitude this prayer embraces is the key to mystic abandonment of controlling attachment. Learning that approach frees you to fully embrace life, embrace the moment, and embrace others not as you might wish them to be but as they are.
The second theme that stands out to me is its approach to sin. Jesus is quoted as saying “There is no sin. It is you who make sin exist, when you act according to your habits…” At first glance, this could be taking to be denying the reality of sin, which is an accusation made against the Gnostics. I do not have the knowledge to know if that accusation of them is accurate or not, but I also know it is also an accusation also often made against mystics who historically have made other similar statements when emphasizing the true unity of all of life, unity of God, and how evil and sin are illusions compared to the real reality of goodness and love at the heart of life.
But to me this teaching does seem to hit the reality of evil. In the Scriptures, we are told God made all things and called them good. We are told we are made in God’s image, and called to be children of God. This suggests that evil is not something God made, but in face what (as I had one theology professor say) exactly what God has not made and God does not will. Where does evil come from? It is those very things that go against our true nature, that warp our relationships with others, nature, and God. Sin is something that we are conditioned to do through the choices of others around us as children and which we choose to engage in by continuing those habits. As such, by raising our own awareness through practices like meditation, like prayer, like having spiritual mentors and partners who speak truth into our life, we can begin to make changes in our life, begin to follow Jesus out of these destructive patterns. In the Gospel of Mary, the way out of sin is through the same path out of attachment.
These emphases are powerfully true, and to me very compatible with the understanding I read in canonical Scriptures, although I know I may be hearing beyond what these texts mean reading them as a laymen. For me, I hear a challenge to not use ideas of the devil or some “sin nature” as an excuse to stay stuck in old patterns. I hear a call to deepen my spiritual life, to take time to use practices like the ones I just described to raise my awareness of myself, of God, of my world, while letting go my need for judgment and attachment. In doing so I free myself to truly be present to life and to truly be myself. For, as Mary reminds me, it is these very self- and other-destructive habits that hold me back from truly being who I am called to be.
How does this teaching resonate or not resonate with you?
How have you found ways to let go of controlling attachment and judgment in ways that break destructive habits?