There are those sacred moments in the illusion of time when you have no doubt that you've encountered someone in your life that feels beyond the scope of the ordinary, that through contact with them or their creations, you find yourself shifting in a profound way. You know on some level you can never be the same. They show you a whole new world that you couldn't have conceived of before, and it warms you, moves you.
Encountering Elizabeth Cunningham, the author of three (and more to come) novels in The Maeve Chronicles: Magdalen Rising, The Passion of Mary Magdalen, and Bright Dark Madonna, felt like a sacred first for me; a moment when the entire universe conspired for me, to give me sustenance through the written word.
Opening her books I began to find pieces of my soul scattered about in her creations, gifted freely, so that I might gather them back to me.
I'll never forget how I came upon The Passion of Mary Magdalen. I rarely if ever browse through the aisles of the library anymore, preferring the efficiency of researching and reserving online. This day, however, I happened to be with my daughter and decided to look for an old book I'd never finished. I couldn't quite remember the author's name, and so I found myself meandering. Next thing I knew I walked right to The Passion of Mary Magdalen, picked it up, and left with it, completely abandoning what I'd come for, almost automatically.
Later when I had the opportunity to sit down and read it, the bottom of my world dropped out. How could I not have known about an author with such depth, beauty, and brilliance; such intelligence and agility with words; so tender, poetic, and yet so brazen, unorthodox even, and may I say sacrilegious; not to mention funny, charismatic, witty, thought-provoking, and brave?
How was it possible that I could read something that burned within me while I read it, feeling as if I had finally found a home that resonated with alien aspects of myself? Her writing had a healing and empowering quality to it that I would have never expected.
The pages of her book were so rich and full, that I found myself pausing often, savoring all the dimensions of thought and storytelling being presented. Her characters were so real and raw, and inspired such attachment, no matter what century or situations they found themselves in.
The main character Maeve was a fiery Celtic rendition of Mary Magdalen, not to be reckoned with, equipped with strident feminist ideals, yet her softness and vulnerability were just as palpable, as if she has no choice but to embrace all of her conflicting parts. I soon realized Maeve was highly omniscient-- aware of my time in her time, and yet, wonderfully stuck in her mortal mess. (You'll even find she comes out to blog in modern times with Ms. Cunningham).
It was a surreal experience to follow Maeve's first-person account of her search for her Beloved Jesus, whom she'd met in her youth (read about this in Magdalen Rising), but had been bereft of when the book began. The meticulous detail, research, and historical intricacies allowed me to feel as though I'd truly time traveled, and was right in the center of the action.
Every character was very memorable, even up against the technicolor of Maeve, but nothing prepared me for meeting Jesus. I actually found myself rewiring every bit of conditioning I'd ever had about him and replacing it by Cunningham's account. Hers was a Jesus I could relate to.
On a transformative level, Ms. Cunningham's writing has had the force to crack me open to be more of myself as a writer and a seeker, giving permission, in her show of authenticity, to break out of structure, and perhaps the most lovely thing, to recognize parts of myself awakening with a sweet yawn: woman, lover, mother, warrior, healer, teacher, friend.
There is a passage in her book when Jesus pardons Maeve publicly, who is being condemned for her sins of prostitution. Maeve's response to her pardon by her husband spoke to me so deeply, that I must include it here.
Jesus Speaking to the Pharisee and pardoning Maeve:
"I came to your house, but you poured no water on my feet, but she has poured her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has been covering my feet with kisses. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment."
His voice broke, and he waited for a moment. I became aware of other people's breathing as their one longing caught in their throats.
"For this reason, I tell you her sins, many as they are," here he paused and smiled at me, "have been forgiven her from her mother's womb, from the time before time, in all the worlds. And so she loves greatly, holding nothing back. And so she loves."
And now Maeve's response to reuniting with her husband Jesus after he has released her from a perception of being guilty, dirty, and condemned:
Before that night I thought I knew all there was to know about lovemaking. I believe now that I knew nothing. Despite the years of loss and longing, the joy of our reunion, the consummation of our wedding, I must have kept some part of myself untouched and apart. After that night, whatever I had held back was gone. Or if not gone, then utterly changed. Where does the water go when the dam bursts and the river flows free? Where is the scent of an open rose? Where does a storm wind come to rest? Until that night I was a virgin.
Afterwords it was strange to feel our bodies become distinct again. We nestled close to each other, and I felt such peace and containment, as if we floated together in the womb, lovers before we were born, like Isis and Osiris.
After reading this, I found myself wafting around in an entirely other realm of consciousness, knowing that somehow Cunningham had captured the essence of awake true love not just between Maeve and Jesus, but between all of us: that opening of spacious love with the obliteration of guilt; an unconditional embrace of all parts of ourselves from another, that when spilled onto us runs so deeply into the fabric of our being, that it trumps all our hard-won stories. It changes us.
My experience with Cunningham's work has exalted the written word to an art form that can transform and heal, perhaps akin to Richard Wagner's desire in music to exalt his musical creations into gesamtkunstwerk or a universal artwork. Wiki says "The gesamtkunstwerk was to be the clearest and most profound expression of a folk tale, though abstracted from its nationalist particulars to a universal humanist fable."
You will have to judge for yourself if what I say about Cunningham is universal to you. Of course, I recommend her with great passion, but I acknowledge that sometimes we just have to wait for gifts like her to drop out of the sky before we fully appreciate them.
If you need just one more thing to bolster you forward to your nearest bookstore, I will give you this to ponder: there is a moment so penetrating between Maeve and her Beloved Jesus when he is hanging on the cross, that perhaps every time this passage is read, you might actually feel what Cunningham has unleashed as a tiny earthquake underfoot.
I felt it as a strange combination of exhilaration and pain that kept me suspended in and outside of time, so much so, that it took a couple days before I could reopen the book to finish it. Now that doesn't happen every day.
Thank you, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart for sharing yourself and Maeve with the world! Thank you for being an exceptional human being, who takes the time to take interest, connect and share from the heart with others; to inspire and encourage. I love your "right on, write on!" You are truly a gift of a wise teacher and mentor as well as someone who leads those of us wishing to walk between the worlds. Thank you for the essence of you.
You can find Elizabeth Cunningham's site here, and follow Elizabeth and Maeve's blog here, and on huffington post. Oh, and did I mention she sings too? Check out Mavensong: A Musical Odyssey Through the Maeve Chronicles.