Maeve (rhymes with rave) the magnificent Magdalen is back! She is ever so welcome.
The third novel of The Maeve Chronicles, Bright Dark Madonna, tells the story of the third chapter in the life of the Celtic Magdalen. It takes us through the formation and establishment of the early church, and it tells the heart-breaking (to me) story of how Mary Mags, as she is known in my house, got written out of herstory.
When I was invited to review the third installment, I decided to give myself the gift of rereading the first two: Daughter of the Shining Isles a.k.a. Magdalen Rising relates Maeve’s marvelous beginnings as the only daughter of the eight warrior/weather witches of an Otherworld Island, Tir na mBan. The Passion of Mary Magdalen delves deeply into the story of Maeve and Jesus. At the beginning of the third book, Maeve—the gentile whore/goddess/widow of Jesus—is pregnant, and none too sure of her place in Jesus’ history.
As the novel progresses, Maeve attains the age I am now, and I was fascinated by her desire for peace. Peace in herself. Peace in her relationships. Peace in her world. And, peace with her own story. Cunningham has her Maeve/Magdalen become a cave contemplative for three years, not the thirty that legend gives the Magdalene.
One of the things that each of us faces as we grow older, and hopefully wiser, is whether to let our story die with us, or to tell our story so that future generations will learn it and learn from it. This Maeve is no exception.
I think somehow that telling the story of one’s life is part of what allows us to make peace with that story—with the parts we played, the parts we didn’t, the parts others played, and those they didn’t. Storytelling is Elizabeth Cunningham’s supreme gift, and as we witness Maeve’s process with raising her daughter, and coming to terms with her true place in the story, we see a vision of a woman lost. Her post-resurrection Christ Jesus speaks to her from the inside out, “Being lost is the way, how else can you be found. How else can you find what you have lost: sheep, coins, love?”
Ah, such wisdom. Wisdom delivered via the mouths of avatars for millennia. The path, anyone’s path, is the path of becoming lost in order that one might find oneself. So to all of us who have ever felt lost, Cunningham delivers through Bright Dark Madonna the supreme advice for the spiritual life: if you feel lost, you’re doing it right. Perfectly right.
That is the lesson of the bright, dark, wild, wonderful, lost-and-found Maeve Magdalen. From Maeve’s hilarious Curriculum Vitae in “A note on reading this book Or this is not your mother’s Mary Magdalen” to the final chord which promises a fourth Maeve Chronicle (Hip! Hip! Hooray!) there is scholarship, whimsy, and delectable fiction so close to fact that it’s tempting to believe Maeve’s story wholesale.
As I wrote on beliefnet.com a few years ago, “let me just put it this way: Were I to write a novel about Mary Mags, this is one I would want to write.” Allow me to rephrase, were I to write a third novel about Mary Mags, this is one I would want to write. I can’t wait for the fourth installment.
P. S. In that same introductory note, Elizabeth Cunningham wrote: “Let your hair down (if you have any: I don’t—the real reason I am a novelist, the vicarious thrill of writing about someone with long, red hair.)” For the record, Elizabeth, I too am a novelist, and I actually have long, red hair. Reading a protagonist as compelling as your redheaded Maeve makes me especially proud to stand in that short line of recessive genes.