Song of the Senses
The Magdalene's Gospel is the Body
Collage featured by Priya Roo (@priya_roo)
(As I approach the publication of my fictional retelling of the Magdalene’s story The Madonna Secret I am sharing some of the exercises, writing, and research I did alongside the project. You can read more about the book and pre-order here.
The Song of the Senses: An Embodied Gospel
Let’s begin with your hands. Lightly resting on your thighs. Your hand is composed of 17,000 different mechanoreceptors (touch receptors) and nerve endings. Each one is uniquely tied to a different type of sensation: texture, temperature, pain, etc. Your fingerprint’s whorl, its spiraled ridges, serve the purposes of detecting minute differences across features and surfaces. Dynamic touch, characterized by moving and feeling and manipulating, can take in even more sensory data, feeling differences and shifts with the precision of 0.2 mm (two eye-lashes width). Slowly, slowly, I invite you to you rub your fingers and palms down your thighs. Then again. Pet yourself as you would a beloved animal. And realize, slowly, noticing each minute gradient in feel and texture that as you move your hands you create minute vibrations that the ridges and receptors in your skin pick up and “hear”. Your hands don’t just see the world. They hear the world. They are a portal into music beyond ears, beyond the human. The music of texture and bodies and sensual symphonies.
Now, with your hands rooted on your thighs, on your own body, breathe in again. Close your eyes. What is that? Do you feel hot breath on your shoulder? Something that stinks like rotten meat. But with an undertone of bodily musk. Something so alive it makes your spine prickle. The velveteen brush of something fur-slick, huge, muscular, and warm against your arm.
A black bear. A mammoth. A wolf. Another human being. An entire landscape prickling with thunder and fireflies and midsummer electricity.
As you tap into your body, begin to ask your body questions. First, put a hand on your lower belly. Feel the dark curl of potential there. The tidal suction of appetite and repletion, desire and release, urges we are taught to despise and control. But what if it was our microbiome counsel? Our compass? What if our gut, our womb, our compassionate root system, showed us a way home?
Let us ask our senses and our body to summon our lover. A lover bigger than human beings. A landscape as lover.
First…what do they smell like? Think of the scents that wake you up. Make you shudder and turn when you walk by them. Think, not of roses, but peppery mildew. Lightning strikes. Armpit odor. Write down four smells.
Now place a hand on your chest, feel your ribs, your collarbones, your body’s exquisite ability to encase and capture breath. To produce song. To alchemize oxygen into embodied awareness. Feel your ribcage like twinned butterfly wings, ready to open up into pulsating flight.
What is the texture of your lover? Their sensation? Smooth? Cold and glossy like quartz? Humming with blood and warmth? Stubbled? Furred? Slick and inviting as lake water? Write down two textures. Then….write down two received sensations. What does your lover feel like to inhabit? What do they make your body feel? Do they satiate you? Anger you? Prickle you? Can you feel her like a hand cupped around your ear, amplifying the ocean of your blood? A finger touching the button at the bottom of your spine?
Now, gently press your lips. Your hands and your lips, besides your sex organs, are some of the most sensorially primed parts of your body. Feel the marriage of these two sensitivities. Feel the groove and curve of your lips. Now….tell me what your lover tastes like? Pine needle bright? Are they bitter? Briny? Do they taste like ash? Like citrus? Like someone else’s mouth? Sea spray? Write down three tastes.
This list is a portrait. It is the portrait of a place that uses the tools modern Christianity has demonized. It is a portrait made with your body. With its innate draw towards certain flavors and textures. Its proclivities and appetites. It is embedded in your very cells. You cannot erase or burn this portrait. You can’t cut it down like a tree. It is the dark matter that science tells us makes up most of our bodies. It IS your body. It is both absent and present. Yearning. A void that longs to be filled with smell and taste and touch and song. The open portal of all your senses to …. the gospel that does not belong to human words and stories.
Mary Magdalene, across the Gospels, the Gnostic texts, and widespread folklore is identified by two things: the pungent odor of spikenard and the anointing with oil. She is connected with smell, with oil, with texture, and with bodies.
The apostles and the Christianity wedded to empire we owe to Constantine, have done their best to erase the sensual information at the heart of the Gospels. But they didn’t realize that the Magdalene didn’t need a book or a church to keep her message alive.
It lives in the body.
My first novel The Madonna Secret arrive August 15th. You can read more about the book here and pre-order from any online bookseller.
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