Mary Magdalene came to me during a pedicure.
I’ve been remembering that moment today as I sit on my sofa, incapacitated by surgery for two severed tendons in my left foot. Trying not to feel sorry for myself for the fact that, a week ago, a butcher knife I had just sharpened got caught on my apron loop and fell, blade down, on top of my foot. I am staring at my bandaged appendage, elevated on three sofa pillows, and I think my toenails could really use some help.
I got my first pedicure when I was 41 years old. Shamefully late by today’s beauty standards, but the sex appeal of my toes just wasn’t a priority in my life. The warm cream pedicure was a gift from my neighbor, whose young children I had watched a few times, so she could get out of the house and regain her sanity.
You people who have weekly or monthly pedicures know the whole salon routine, but it was new to me. Not just new, revelatory. I sat in a chair while a salon technician gently lowered my feet into a basin of bubbly warm water. For the next 45 minutes, she carefully ministered to my toes, my arches, my heels – rubbing fragrant oils and ointments into the skin and massaging the tension out of muscles I didn’t even know existed. I know she was being paid for this service (not particularly well, unfortunately), but I was moved by the scrupulous attention she gave me. I mean, who was I to deserve such gentle and luxurious treatment of my calloused paws?
Then, out of the blue, as I relaxed into her touch, a biblical story popped into my head.
Let me be clear here. This was, for me, a highly unusual phenomenon. My brain does not ordinarily jump to the Bible. Up to that time, I would have categorized myself as unfamiliar with its sacred stories. I hadn’t gone to Sunday school as a child, and even though I had a graduate degree in English literature, I had somehow accomplished that without ever reading the Bible.
Yet somewhere, somehow – maybe through one of Hollywood’s film versions of the life of Jesus? – I had picked up the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. In this tale (Luke 7:36-50), a “sinful” woman comes to Jesus carrying a jar of perfume, and after her tears rinse his feet, she rubs perfume over his skin and dries it with her hair. The Bible doesn’t identify the woman as Mary Magdalene, but some popular mis-tellings of the story do, because history (wrongly) thinks of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute (thanks, Pope Gregory I).
So Magda entered my brain at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door salon, and she stayed there for quite awhile. I wrote a poem about her in 2010, but she wasn’t done with me. Months later, during the holidays, I was listening to Sarah McLachlan sing “The First Noel.” Her version of that song has a definite Eastern vibe, with sliding strings and a background thrum that I find haunting, even a bit menacing. About halfway through the song, the background drums pick up pace, and the strings and cymbals and guitar get more animated and energetic. Threatening, you might say. The message I get from that song is: Yes, here’s this tiny innocent baby, but look out. You don’t know what he’s capable of.
Those of you familiar with the story of Jesus know that, whatever people might have expected from him at the time, things didn't end well. He didn’t launch Armageddon or the Apocalypse, or even the comparatively more modest revolution that most first century Jews would have welcomed – freedom from Roman occupation.
But Sarah McLachlan’s First Noel gave me the thought that maybe there's more to the story of Jesus. Maybe there's still a revolution to launch. Maybe Magda was sticking around to tell me she has a part in it. I don’t know what Earth looks like from wherever Magda and Jesus hang out, but I know what it looks like from down here. It’s a shitshow. We could use a revolution.
I also know this: If there’s a revolution in the wind, it can’t come in on a breeze, or even a gust. It’s got to be a hurricane.