Mary Magdalene: The path of the heart

by Sharon Abercrombie

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July 22 is the feast day of Mary Magdalene.

When Mary Busby, co-founder of Sagrada Sacred Arts, an interfaith book store in Oakland California, tried to a find a children’s story about Mary Magdalene, she discovered that young readers’ collections “just didn’t include her at all.”

So Busby wrote one herself. Magdalene, the Path of the Heart is a saga based on traditional scripture accounts, oral tradition, the Gospel of Mary and other Gnostic texts. Beautifully illustrated by Holly Sierra, a Vermont artist, its sweet message will captivate both children and the adults in their lives. Magdalene,Path of the Heart weaves the simple tale of a little girl who would come to be known the world over as “the apostle to the apostles”, -- a strong compassionate woman who clearly articulates the teachings of her beloved friend, Jesus, for all times and places.

The Russian Orthodox Church, progressive Catholics and other Christians with feminist leanings view her this way, while traditionalists tend to dismiss Magdalene as the penitent prostitute, Busby noted.

Busby self-published the story last year under the pen name of Mary Loughman, to honor her Irish grandmother.

According to the author, Mary Magdalene’s first name means ‘drop of the sea.’

In the story, a village wise woman gives Mary her name, foreseeing that “one day, by the seashore, she would hear a voice that would change her life. She is destined to one day become Jesus’ dearest friend, and the one who will understand his teachings best of all.

“Until then, Mary grew into a strong radiant child and she loved to sing and dance. Her squirrel friend watched her from a nearby tree. Her favorite thing was walking along the seashore gathering shells, feathers, and stones. Mary of Magdalene listened to nature in all the ways it spoke to her. She paid close attention and never ignored the inner secrets she perceived.”

The story relates Mary and Jesus’ joyful meeting of instant recognition at the seashore of Magdala, and the subsequent deepening friendship between student and teacher. In Busby’s story, Jesus does not drive out seven demons from Mary’s soul. Instead He initiates her with seven learnings involving the way of holiness. Mary “wears a strand of seven pearls to remind her of seven arduous lessons she had completed with Jesus as her teacher.”

In one of his teachings, Jesus tells Mary, “Acquire my peace within yourself. For the child of true humanity exists within you. Follow it. Those who seek for it will find it.”

After Jesus returns to his Abba, Mary tenderly comforts Jesus’ followers assuring them, “do not be afraid, for Jesus is with us.’” Finally convinced, they are able to enthusiastically go forth with the Master’s message.

The book parallels Mary Busby’s own spiritual journey along “the path of the heart” -- the way of bringing wholeness, goodness, kindness and love into the world, to every sentient being,” she reflects. This, she believes is the message Mary Magdalene brings to us today.

As a Catholic kid growing up in Long island, New York, during the Cold War, Busby recalls seeing a “fracture in the wholeness of the world,” a lack of compassion for anyone different. “I used to love to look at National Geographic Magazine, especially the photos of Russian children. I would see their rosy cheeks and wonder, ‘how can they be bad?’ Busby longed to meet those little kids. “Later I realized this is the path of the heart, the desire to find restoration, to mend the rift.”

Busby believes the desire lives in everyone. “It transcends all religious boundaries”

As she moved into her teens, Busby became aware of patriarchy in the church. “It sparked as “a little ember of flame in my heart that asked the question, who, where, was the illusive She?” Eventually the young woman’s search brought her to the Goddess tradition. “A lot of healing took place for me here,” she reports.

But her journey was not over. “Sometimes I felt like I was following a continuous trail of breadcrumbs.” The trail finally ended at the world of Mary Magdalene. Busby said she cannot pinpoint one definitive ‘aha’. “In looking back, I know the Magdalene has always been with me, although I wasn’t aware of this. I feel that she has been present in numerous forms, revealing herself in many sacred names and images.”

“She appears in nature, in the rustle of the wing of birds overheard, in the eyes of every creature, in the voice of the waves of the sea and in the mystery of ordinary things. So I am not sure I can say I ever ‘discovered’ her but that my awareness of her has at times been subtle and at other times tangible.”

After college when Busby was hired to direct a Catholic parish choir, in Albuquerque, she wanted to honor Mary Magdalene without disturbing the male status quo. She solved the problem by designing a white choir robe for herself. Busby embroidered four different lines from scripture, also in white thread, so only she knew they were there: ‘Master, it is I,’ ‘Go tell the brothers,’ ‘Our eyes are opened in the breaking of the bread,’ and ‘I am with you always.’

“From a distance, no one could really see the embroidery so I felt it was a subtle and safe way for me, a woman, to carry the gospel message without disturbing anyone.”

Schmidt spent several fulfilling years as a choir director – music being her chief gateway into spirituality. After completing a master’s program at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, she became music director at the UC Berkeley Holy Spirit /Newman Center. During the early 90s, she married Carlo Busby, Newman’s former Paulist pastor. The couple opened Sagrada Sacred Arts a few years later on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland.

Busby’s Path of the Heart is the latest newcomer in a special section devoted to the saint. Other offerings include “The Gospel of Mary,” by Karen L. King and “The Sacred Embrace of Jesus and Mary” by Jean-Yves LeLoup. King is a professor of ecclesiastical history at Harvard University’s, Divinity School and LeLoup is founder of the Institute of Other Civilization Studies and the International College of Therapists.

Sagrada’s shelves also contain healing balm, reminiscent of Mary’s anointing Jesus’ head and feet, and sandalwood Magdalene rosaries, created by Busby.

The balms, made by Busby’s beekeeper sister, Beth, are popular with area hospice chaplains and other pastoral caregivers, she said.

The Magdalene rosary “Just naturally came forth.” It features a series of seven meditations on the mysteries of love written by Busby and her husband, Carlo.

One of them is entitled “Madness” and reads in part “Love that has eyes to see injustice leads to a sort of madness at the state of things. This mystery reveals the inner struggle, the urging toward liberation and freedom from all the ways that injustice weights down the human spirit. Magdalene is in the thrill of a vision of a world renewed by love, her passion is Christ’s mission, guiding us to the deep recognition that we are created for one another, to love and serve our neighbor, to create the community of the beloved.”

A few years ago, Busby brought her rosary’s social activist message to the East Bay community. She and a friend, Dr. Apela Colorado, professor of the Indigenous Mind at Wisdom University, organized an interfaith musical evening of “Vespers with Mary Magdalene.” The evening draws upon the wealth of musical talent in the Bay Area.

Concert proceeds have benefitted “Katrina Tree Recovery,” which provides seedling trees for neighborhoods ruined by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and St. Mary’s Center, an organization which offers services for low-income and homeless senior citizens in Oakland.

This past March, the concert raised $8,000 to help the Little Sisters of St. Therese in Haiti to build a classroom for one of their schools. Ever since the earthquake, children have been attending classes under a tarp, said Busby.

To find out more about Mary Magdalene go to

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