Patron Saint of Showing Up

mary magdalene

Several years ago, some friends met with the minister of a local church. They told him because of some damaging experiences in their lives, they weren’t sure if they even believed in God. But they believed in community. They wanted their children to have a community of faith, so they could decide for themselves what they believe.

They asked if they could join the church for this purpose. They expected to be turned away. I suspect many churches would have sent them packing. But this minister told them they were welcome and loved. He said if they didn’t understand God or even believe in Him, this was exactly the place they should be.

He invited them to try to figure this out with a bunch of other people who also didn’t understand or believe all the time. He thanked them for the willingness to be honest about where they were. So many people are afraid to say those things out loud…especially to a preacher.

So they began the ritual of showing up on Sundays. They still don’t really know what to think or believe. But they show up.

I doubt they ever thought about this way, but they are practicing one of the most difficult disciplines: just showing up.

My former bishop Allan Bjornberg once said that the greatest spiritual practice isn’t yoga or praying the hours or living in intentional poverty, although these are all beautiful in their own way. The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up. And Mary Magdalene is the patron saint of just showing up. Showing up, to me, means being present to what is real, what is actually happening. Mary Magdalene didn’t necessarily know what to say or what to do or even what to think when she encountered the risen Jesus. But none of that was nearly as important as the fact that she was present and attentive to him.
~Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix

Mary Magdalene is one of the most interesting people in scripture to me. I understand her better than most others who have been included in these stories. Her behavior makes sense to me.

Historians can’t agree if she is the same Mary who is sister to Martha and Lazarus. But I like to think she was. The irony of some traditions celebrating the Feast of Mary Magdalene is so rich. The woman who didn’t help her sister with food gets a feast! How can you not love that?

We know that Jesus cast out seven demons from her. For many years, the church believed that had something to do with sexual immorality. Some traditions went as far as calling her a prostitute. Many now believe that “demons” were a way the culture viewed mental illness. It’s entirely possible she was given relief from crushing depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or any number of other terrible illnesses. We don’t really know.

But it makes sense to me that people understood those things to be demonic. Anyone who’s ever suffered from mental anguish knows the excruciating pain of being trapped in a mind that seems to be constantly bent on torture. That kind of thing really must come from the devil himself.

By the way, I believe Jesus is still in the healing business. He sends a lot of people to doctors who give them medication so they too can be set free of such demons.

We also know Mary Magdalene was with Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the cross.  She was the first person who saw Christ after the resurrection. I’ve always imagined her lying in bed thinking things through over and over, then getting up while it’s still dark because she had to go to the grave to try to make sense of it all.

She was named fairly early on in church history as the patron saint of hairdressers, perfumers, contemplative life, converts, glove makers, penitent sinners, people ridiculed for their piety, pharmacists, and women. But it’s the “showing up” that really rings true to me.

I have this ongoing issue of trying to separate my employment from my vocation. Showing up seems to be what I do for a living. I’ve had any number of jobs that pay the bills. But there’s not really a salary for what I do best: sitting, talking, not talking, crying, holding hands, sewing things, hugging…. You get the idea.

The recent revelation that showing up is what I do, it’s my thing, has been really transformative for me. To know that I don’t need answers or brilliant words or really anything, releases me from so much anxiety about how to live. I just show up and try to notice God’s presence in the room. Sometimes I don’t show up because that would just make things worse. Then I pray.

I want to model Mary Magdalene. I want to show up, demonstrate extravagant love, soak in all I can from those who have more wisdom than me, be the last one standing with friends and family when the shit storm really hits, and be available for coffee or drinks or whatever when people need to talk or not talk.

I will show up this Sunday to Easter services. Because I need the reminder of light that always, always, always overcomes darkness. I’ll keep showing up when I believe and when I don’t. One day I may know what to say or do, but I’m not counting on it. I’ll just show up and figure the rest out as I go.


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