Book Excerpt: The Expected One

For such a small man -- he was shorter than Maureen, who was herself uncommonly petite -- he moved very quickly. Short legs propelled him through the belly of the basilica, past the line where pilgrims waited to be admitted to the Tomb of Christ. He kept moving until they reached a small altar near the rear of the building, and stopped suddenly. The area was dominated by a life-size bronze sculpture of a woman holding outstretched arms to a man in a beseeching pose.

"Chapel of Mary Magdalene. Magdalena. You come for her, yes? Yes?" Maureen nodded cautiously, looking at the sculpture and down at the plaque that read:

IN THIS PLACE, MARY MAGDALENE WAS THE FIRST TO SEE THE RISEN LORD. She read aloud the quotation from another plaque beneath the bronze:

"Woman, why weepest thou? Who is it you are looking for?"

Maureen had little time to contemplate the question as the odd little man was pulling at her again, hurrying at his unlikely pace to another, darker corner of the basilica.

"Come, come."

They rounded a corner and stopped in front of a painting, a large and aged portrait of a woman. Time, incense, and centuries of oily candle residue had taken their toll on the artwork, causing Maureen to move close to the dark portrait, squinting. The little man narrated in a voice grown deeply serious.

"Painting very old. Greek. You understand? Greek. Most important of Our Lady. She needs you to tell her story. This is why you come here, Mo-ree. We have waited a long time for you. She has waited. For you. Yes?"

Maureen looked carefully at the painting, a dark, ancient portrait of a woman wearing a red cloak. She turned to the little man, intensely curious now as to where this was taking her. But he was gone -- he had vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

"Wait!" Maureen's cry rang out in the echo chamber of the massive church, but it remained unanswered. She returned her attention to the painting.

As she leaned closer to the portrait, she observed that the woman wore a ring on her right hand: a round copper disk, with a pattern depicting nine circles surrounding a central sphere.

Maureen lifted her right hand, the one with her newly acquired ring, to compare it to the painting.

The rings were identical.

... Much will be said and written in time to come of Simon, the Fisher of Men. Of how he was called the rock, Peter, by Easa and myself while the others called him Cephas, which was natural in their own tongue. And if history is just, it will tell of how he loved Easa with unmatched power and loyalty.

And much has already been said, or so I am told, about my own relationship with Simon-Peter. There are those who called us adversaries, enemies. They would have it be believed that Peter despised me and we fought for the attention of Easa at every turn. And there are those who would call Peter a hater of women -- but this is an accusation that can be applied to no one who followed Easa. Let it be known that no man who followed Easa did ever belittle a woman or underestimate her value in God's plan. Any man who does so and claims Easa as teacher speaks a lie.

It is untrue, these accusations against Peter. Those who witnessed Peter's criticism of me do not know of our history or from what source come his outbursts. But I understand and will not judge him, ever. This, above all else, is what Easa has taught me -- and I hope he taught it as well to the others. Judge not.

The Arques Gospel of Mary Magdalene, The Book of Disciples

Copyright ©2006 by Kathleen McGowan

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