Demons of Doubt

April 17, 2022, Easter Sunday

This Easter Sunday I find myself thinking of Mary Magdalene.  Today’s gospel from John (20:1-18) brings us right to her sorrowing soul– waiting outside the tomb.  We meet her the morning after her vigil of grief, of love, of determination to stay, with him, the one of her heart.  When fear caused many to flee, she remained– a tether to the heart of Yeshua, her brother, her teacher, her friend.  She waits for the soul of the one who looked at her all those years ago and really saw her, named her wholeness, called her in– to herself, to God, to the wholeness and holiness of being human.  

Much has been said or speculated about Mary Magdalene.  But if we go right to the gospels, what we see is healing and wholemaking.  We see a woman “possessed by seven demons” (Luke 8:2).  I’ve thought of this in many different ways through the years– Mary the prostitute, driven mad by her wild ways, a woman more sexual than she was supposed to be; a sinful woman terrorized by mental illness; most recently, I made the link that maybe those seven places of healing referred to her seven chakras, the seven energy centers in her body, as taught in the yogic tradition.  That meeting Jesus removed any block present in her energy body until she hummed with healing and wholeness.  

This year, a new layer of meaning around her and her time with Jesus entered my awareness.  Mostly, I think, it comes from my own struggles this past year to fully enter my call as priestess, as a Catholic woman called to sacramental and spiritual leadership.  As I form Sophia Rising with other priestess sisters, as I am invited to baptize and pray over mothers and babies and families, as I lead Eucharistic services, many doubts arise.  At times, I am plagued by inner voices that ask, “who do you think you are?”  I am aware of the threat of “excommunication”– of my many sisters in ministry who have been ordained and cut off from the communion of their heart.  I am a woman steeped in a lifetime of Catholic teaching and theology, in word and action, that says– you cannot.  Because you are a woman, you cannot possibly be what you are– called to preside at table, preach with full voice, anoint in healing, live in service by the authority of baptism and God’s call.  

The doubts are real and relentless, centuries of ancestral trauma and the lies of sexism living in my cells.  It takes tremendous courage to keep moving in– to what I know is the Spirit’s call for my life, meeting the needs of the people of God.  

In this, I can’t help but think of Mary Magdalene, to see her and turn to her as sister.  In a deeply patriarchal time, was she, too, a powerful spiritual woman and leader?  Was she, too, living with a longing that the world around her relentlessly told her was not real?  Was this “crazy making” inside of her?  

What if, in her and in me, at each threshold of energy in our human body sits a ‘demon’ of doubt? Meaning, at each energetic movement into human wholeness, there’s a temptation to turn away, to listen more to the voices of fear that cannot yet imagine this new world that’s happening inside of me, over the truth of my own soul?  

At each chakra, from the first at the base of our spine to the seventh at the crown of our head, there’s a basic human right, a vortex of dignity and sovereignty– the right to be here, to have and to take up space; the right to feel, to be in the creative oceans of our erotic life force; the right to act with self-will and integrity; the right to love and be loved; the right to speak truth and let your voice resonate; the right to know what you know and honor your unique wisdom; the right to connect with all that is, to live and move and have our being in the One Love.   These seven rights and energies weave into a dynamic and sovereign way of being human in the world– in our authenticity and essence.  It’s called the “rainbow bridge” of being human.  

Yet so many of us intuit, perceive, or outright hear messages that are very different from these authentic energies of our human essence.  Throughout our lives, we learn to shut down, to take up less space, to curb our magnificent sexuality, to hold back, to keep quiet, to be less of what we are.  When we know who we are– the luminous rainbow bridge– but we cannot BE it in the world, there is a strong and severe dissonance that can rise in us.  It is literally crazy-making, a split between what our soul knows to be real and what the world says is real.  A longing grows that cannot seem to be satisfied.  We know we are made for more!  We feel the pulse into the power of what it really means to be human and we can’t help but look for ways to be it, to express it, to taste it, to honor it.  

For Mary Magdalene and other women of her time, living in an oppressive patriarchal world, there would have been many well worn patterns of playing small and shutting down.  There would have been many spaces and places for doubt to wave its head and arms and energies– oh don’t do that.  Don’t you dare say that.  Keep it small, keep it quiet, keep it cool.  Or worse– messages that if you say that, you will be ostracized.  If you think that, you will be shamed and shunned.  You must really be crazy!  If you do that, you could be killed.  

What if she was plagued by these doubts, struggling to be herself in a world that constantly, from every side and voice, told her she cannot?  What if she knew who she was, her dignity and authenticity, knew intimately her longing not just for a better world, but possessed the radical and threatening conviction that another world was possible?  What if this made her strange and scary in the eyes of those benefiting from the way things were?  

I imagine this encounter between her and Jesus not so much as a groveling woman desperate for healing meeting a merciful presence, but more as an electric meeting of equals.  Jesus sees her and knows her– knows her capacity, knows her power, knows her gifts, knows the depths of her true humanity.  For the first time in her life, she isn’t judged or shamed or made smaller than she is.  He doesn’t tell her to be quiet or to cover her head.  His eyes, his heart, resonate with hers.  Power unto power.  He sees her, he names her, he meets her, in her wholeness, with his own wholeness.  It is salvific in the true meaning of the word– whole-making.  Every part of her comes alive.  At last, she can be who she really is.  He wants all of her, for her to be all she is.  He wants her to hold nothing back, and he needs her in this incredibly important ministry of creating love and beauty and healing in the world.  They know one another as equals– both children of God, both saved, both determined to find their way home to the center of their authentic souls in a world constantly trying to make them something else, to take them away from the center of love that is both of their names.  

In that encounter– two hands reaching for each other, two souls knowing each other, the center of Love grew.  Each felt less crazy, less alone.  Each was met by the other– healed and home.  

So of course Mary stayed at the tomb, in this mystery of death and resurrection.  Of course she couldn’t believe her beloved could really be gone– his life, his heart, his mind, was too vibrant, too close to hers, too twinned in her own soul.  Of course she was keeping watch, protecting the love that was the most real thing she’d ever known, a love that continued to pierce through the veils of death.  And when he called her name, when he sent her to the others, when he continued to call her into ministry in the Beauty Way that was theirs, of course her whole being resonated in wholeness, in holiness, and in love.  

I wonder if the demons of doubt in Mary were banished forever from her first encounter with Jesus, or if she continued to struggle with them.  Maybe that’s why he said, “remember me”– remember this, when you doubt.  Remember this, when you fear.  Remember who you are.  Remember who I saw you to be.  Keep your eyes on me, and stay in the center of this love.  Maybe he knew it would continue to be hard, that her name would be maligned for millenia.  But she, the Magdalen, like he, the Christ, are risen, and rising now, in our consciousness and in our hearts.  May we rise with them.  May we allow our doubts to be healed and our lives made whole.  May we remember what it means to be human.  

Erin Duffy-Burke is a contemporary Catholic priestess of Sophia Christ. She does powerful sacramental soul work with individuals, small groups and communities. You can find out more about her work at erinduffy-burke.com and sophiarising.org. You can donate to her writing and work at PayPal.me/ErinDuffyBurke

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