Tag Archives: truth

Patient and Brave and True

My husband and I drove from one micro-climate to another this morning as we headed to our local church, from valley sun to coastal fog. I entered the Sunday School rooms, switched on the lights, and leaned the welcome sign against the front door.

I inflated balloons – red, blue, yellow, green – and tied them to white ribbon, making a Sunday School bouquet, and hung them next to the sign outside. The sign read, “Summer Sunday School, Saints of God, All Welcome.” I left the door ajar in spite of a cold breeze that had found its way through the July fog and into our church.

All was ready – the Attendance Chart with its stickers, the circular rug for Circle Time, the organ accompaniment downloaded into my smart phone for “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” Small pails, pink and blue, waited for seeds and soil, the beginnings of new life, one of our summer projects.

I Sing a Song of the Saints of GodThe teachers arrived, followed by the children. We sat around the circle and read the story about the Saints of God (based on the hymn).  I tapped my phone and the organ accompaniment began. We stood, singing and illustrating the words with hand movements and twirls. As we sang (and twirled) I pondered the words of this classic hymn (243):

I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
 
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God – and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
 
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
The whole of their good lives long.
 
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
And there’s not any reason – no, not the least –
Why I shouldn’t be one too.
 
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
 
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too. (Lesbia Scott)
 

I love this hymn for it defines a saint as practicing ordinary virtues. Saints are patient, brave, and true. Saints simply love God and because they love him, they try to do his will. They are “just folk like me.” They may not always succeed (saints are not perfect) but they try.

Patience and bravery are clear enough. But true? The saints were true to the truth. They believed God became man and died for us, rising again. And they were martyred, rather than deny this vital truth. They were martyred for witnessing to it, for telling folks the good news.

Mary MagdaleneMy recent novel, The Magdalene Mystery, is about truth and its telling in the media, in academia, and in the Church. It is about the truth of Saint Mary Magdalene, who she was and who she wasn’t. It is about how we know what we know about the stunning events of that first century, events that changed our world, indeed, saved our world.

Tomorrow, July 22, is the Magdalene’s feast day, and we celebrate this woman who knew Christ Jesus, was the first to see the risen Christ, and preached his resurrection in Provence. With Bishop Maximin, she traveled the roads east of Marseilles, sharing the good news with this Greco-Roman culture. Some years later, she died and was buried in the area of Aix-en-Provence. Today, some of her relics rest in the cathedral in St. Maximin and some in the Grotto of La Sainte-Baume nearby, where legend says she lived her last years. Other relics are venerated in the Vézelay cathedral and some relics rest in her Paris basilica, La Madeleine. 

A group of American pilgrims are traveling to La Sainte-Baume for the annual Dominican pilgrimage from the town to the cave (Dominicans care for the grotto). They will pray for blessings, for patience, for bravery, for truth, and continue praying a novena, a nine-day prayer cycle. And, according to many, Mary Magdalene is a powerful saint and will hear these prayers. Paula Lawlor, a mother of seven from San Diego whose intercessory petition was answered some years ago, is leading the pilgrimage. She believes Mary Magdalene saved the life of her son, pulling him from an abyss. She believes this was a true miracle, and is now committed to witnessing for this saint. It is clear that Mary Magdalene changed Paula’s life.

Our Gospel today told of Christ’s warning against false prophets, “Ye shall know them by their fruits…”. We know the saints by their good fruits, by the lives they led, and lead among us today. As I sang with the children this morning, I knew Mary Magdalene would have done the same, teaching the next generation the truth about God and his mighty acts among men. She would have shared her love of God. She would have encouraged them to be saints too, to bring forth good fruit. Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection, and she witnessed throughout her life, just as we do today.

This morning at church, after coffee and conversation, my husband and I stepped outside. The fog was gone, the sun shone brightly, radiantly burning away the mist, allowing us to see the leafy greens and the blues of the sky. A dim curtain had been parted, lifted, burned away, just as it was parted two thousand years ago in that Easter tomb-garden when Mary Magdalene saw her risen Lord.

(To follow Paula’s pilgrimage, visit http://magdalenepublishing.org/blog/.)

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Magdalene and the Search for Truth

A summer fog rolled in early this morning, blanketing the Bay Area and threatening misty rain to the north. Temperatures plummeted. The gray damp seeps into the skin and the spirit, and, as we entered the Caldecott tunnel on the way to church this morning, the white swirls slipped alongside the highway, creeping on little cat feet as the poet Carl Sandberg once wrote. The sun is hidden up and away – still there, I’m told, but hidden.

There are many things we cannot see from our vantage on the edge of this tumbling planet we call Earth. Yet we wake in the morning and go about our business of life as though we can see, trusting. We trust that gravity will keep us from flying off the edge and into orbit. We trust that if we eat we shall not be hungry. We trust that the vehicle we enter, start, and maneuver, will obey our commands, although we cannot see the engine or predict the oncoming traffic or crazies who lose control of the wheel. We trust without seeing. We trust and act as though we can see. If we didn’t do this we would be paralyzed, would remain under the covers, perhaps under the bed. (And we would starve.) 

In our daily lives we learn to trust greater authorities than ourselves, and we learn to trust the authority of experience. I use both authorities when I act as though gravity will keep me attached to the planet – the authority of science and the authority of experience, for I have never flown into orbit (yet). I trust both authorities with regards to eating and hunger. And also, I trust both authorities when I drive my car. Even when I pass through foggy patches and dark tunnels buried inside a mountain, I trust I will come out on the other side. Tunnel engineers tell me I will. My experience tells me I will.

This is a theme of my newly released novel, The Magdalene Mystery, which I am happy to say is now in print and available at Amazon and the OakTara Store. It is a mystery, a love story, a cliffhanger. But it is also about truth and trust and how we know what is true and whom to trust. It is about choosing which authorities to believe. It is about the manipulation of truth for profit, for power and the devastating effects of such manipulation in art, the media, the world at large.

Since Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, a story alleging the marriage of Christ and Mary Magdalene, writers and composers have hopped onto his lucrative money train. Did these authors consider whether the claims were true? Did they see themselves as authorities? Were they New Testament scholars? But audiences believe these claims simply because they are in print, or in a movie or opera. The works are reviewed by media, after all!

The blind lead the blind. We live in a fallen world and much is at stake in this propaganda war. Propaganda is not a word one hears anymore, for twisting the truth to one’s own benefit has become common practice, and propaganda has negative overtones. Truth, propaganda says, is relative. But is it? 

Truth is truth. I for one choose the authority of the Church and two thousand years of debate and prayer and councils and scholarly exegesis. I do not have two thousand years to do this, and I am grateful that this is one wheel I do not need to re-invent. We do have expert authorities, at least as expert and as trustworthy as we will see in this world. There will always be fallen authorities, men and women who veer intentionally or unintentionally from what is real, embracing the false. There is simple incompetency. But we also have that vast consensus of history and tradition, Chesterton’s “democracy of the dead.” 

There has been a trend in the last century to profit from attacking large institutions. Big government and organized religion provide giant antagonists, becoming the new dragons to slay. The underdog rises from oppression; the prisoner throws off his chains. This trend developed naturally from the cult of the anti-hero, the folk hero with no princely powers who slays the dragon. The anti-heroes, ordinary folks like you and I, defeat or laud their ordinariness. They are lovable and inspiring. But when such trends cross into lies about the profound nature of life, death, love, God, and misstate the truth about man – who he is, where he came from, and where he is going – the trends become dangerous.

 “It’s just fiction,” I’m told. “It’s just a book, an opera…”

Ah, art, it’s subtle power! And it’s stretchy, flexible boundaries. And this, too, is a theme in The Magdalene Mystery. Is it okay – in art – to mislead, misrepresent, twist history? To rewrite what  has been said to be true for two millennia? To assume that because some don’t believe the Messiah came that the Messiah didn’t come? These are large leaps in logic, and dangerous ones. 

Like the sun behind the fog, God is not always seen, felt, experienced. Does this mean he is not there? We look to our authorities for belief that he is – philosophers, historians, theologians, our own experience. 

How do we know the New Testament claims are true? Did Jesus of Nazareth rise from the dead? If he did not rise from the dead, the Church offers me nothing. If he did rise from the dead, the Church offers me everything. If the Resurrection is true, all falls into place, for all the whys are answered. The fog burns away, the sun comes out. I see it all. I see Mary Magdalene reaching to touch the risen Christ, this Son of God with a resurrected body. I see God. I feel his great love for me.

So I’m celebrating my novel’s birthday. My characters  finally live and breathe, and can speak to you directly, after being cooped up in my brain and in my laptop’s memory. Perhaps they will stop nagging me, trying to escape. Now they join the characters in my other novels, a large family that keeps me sweet company even in the fog. This I know from experience.