Reflections of a Pilgrim
By Jennifer Ristine
As the Coordinator for the Magdala Visitors Center and the Director of Magdalena Institute, I meet thousands of people every year. One simple lesson I have learned is, “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” One day I saw what to me looked like a joyful young and beautifully innocent pilgrim. I later learned that beneath the surface, was a woman whose heart was still bleeding from stolen innocence. I only discovered this when she shared her personal reflection with me and courageously allowed me to share it with others. The following is a revised and edited testimony of how God spoke to this young woman through the Mosaic Chapels in our Duc In Altum worship center that depict transforming encounters with Jesus:
Testimony of a pilgrim:
When I visited Magdala, I was drawn to pray in two chapels: The raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead and the chapel of Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus expelled seven demons. To me, they are two dimensions of one process: The process of healing wounds and the restoration of a wounded and broken person.
As I sat in the Mary Magdalene chapel I began to identify with her. She must have suffered tremendously. She was haunted by devils. They had full access to her mind and emotions because of her past. They affected her behavior and her relationships with other people. I had always associated Mary of Magdala with the prostitute, according to a long tradition, so for me the story was like this: she could not get away from her sinful past. She was feeling constant humiliation and was lost in the labyrinth of her memory. She had let men treat her badly, feeling that she wasn’t loved, so who cared? Then she lost her dignity and felt like nothing. She probably wanted to change but felt powerless to do so.
But here in the chapel, I met the Mary Magdalene who has escaped that prison. When Jesus set Mary Magdalene free, he touched her life with hope. Once she is set free from the seven demons, she has yet to live a full life. There is still a spiritual agony within her. She is overloaded with bad memories and she cannot breathe, cannot live. The horror of her past was threatening to destroy her. The devils were like a gate to her past. Perhaps they were the devils of shame, of fear, humiliation, lack of self-worth, self-hatred, hatred to her body, anxiety of other people who will judge her. She may feel death in her body, death in her soul. The bad memories of herself trump her memories of herself as a lively, good and innocent girl. Yet, here is Jesus, ready to help her start a new life.
But, who she is now? How will men treat her? How will she treat herself? Who will respect her? What can she do and what shape will her life take from her on out?
Two choices are before her: Regret the past and wallow in self-pity — OR — allow herself to be a child, raised from the dead by Jesus.
I moved to the chapel of Jairus’ daughter. Like Mary Magdalene, I must die to the old self. But I must also rise to a new life as a child of God. I am the woman who is set free. But I am also the woman who is raised up.
I need to be healed in two dimensions: as a child and as an adult woman. I need to be set free and healed of my own sinfulness and the violation against me as a woman. But I needed to feel myself as a little girl in the protection of a good Father. Kicking out the devil is not enough. It is just the beginning. The task is to raise up the innocence, the joy, the hope in the dead child that remains in a grown-up woman’s body.
I needed to experience the pure goodness of Jesus’ love as a woman, and the unconditional love of the Father as a child. That was my path, a path just beginning, and a path where I finally attained some hope.
Having read this young woman’s testimony, I invite you to take a moment to pray for her and other young women who deeply need to receive and believe in the merciful and unconditional love of Jesus. Join our Magdala prayer family to pray for our visitors, that they may experience a transforming encounter with Jesus.