So there was neither honour nor praise, love nor detraction, shame nor contempt, that might draw her love from God (p.213).
Margery Kempe was an extraordinary mediaeval woman who although illiterate left behind her the first surviving autobiography in English of her life as wife, mother, traveller, pilgrim, penitent, visionary and above all her struggle after her conversion to be faithful to her Lord at all costs. She was a mystic in the true sense, which means within her life "infused" virtues are predominant over "acquired ones". What this really means is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit predominate over human efforts. Her life illustrated that the earthiness of one's being can become holy through sanctification in union with Christ. Margery is therefore a person with whom we can identify as she struggled against the temptations of the flesh and the spirit to stay faithful to her lord.
She spent long times in fasting and praying in order to know God's will, often in conversational style. It was during her meditative and prayer times that she experienced many visions not only with our Lord, but also with our Lady and some of the saints. Much of her days were given over to weeping and sobbing, being blessed with "the gift of tears" which according to St. John Damascene is among the forms of Baptism. St Simeon the New Theologian calls them the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. In fact he believed that sins committed after Baptism cannot be forgiven without tears.
So it is not all that surprising in this light to discover that on every Good Friday for a period of ten years she would weep and sob for a period of five to six hours, and crying out many times as she could not restrain herself from doing so leaving her very weak and feeble. On Good Fridays she wept for an hour for the sins of others, her own sins, another hour for those in purgatory; another for the souls in misfortune, in poverty, or any other distress and finally another hour for the Jews, Saracens, and all false heretics, that God out of his great goodness should set aside their blindness, so that they might through his grace be turned to the faith of Holy church and be children of salvation." (p. 179) Indeed she sought mercy for the sins of others just as she sought it for her own.
If I could, Lord, give the people contrition and weeping as good as that which you gave me for my own sins and other men's sins also, and as easily as I could give a penny out of my purse, I should soon fill men's hearts with contrition so that they might cease from their sin. I wonder very much in my heart, Lord, that I - who have been so sinful a woman, and the most unworthy creature that you ever showed your mercy to in all the world- should have such great charity towards my fellow Christian souls.
Such was her contrition that she prayed:
And therefore, Lord, I shall not cease, when I may weep, to weep for them abundantly, prosper if I may. And if you wish, Lord, that I cease from weeping, I pray you, take me out of this world.(p. 180)
What we know of Margery Kempe's life comes from her autobiography written by two scribes from her dictation. A primitive attempt had been was made by her son but it was so poorly written that the priest who read to Margery had great difficulty in deciphering its contents unto he sought inspiration from the Lord. He was probably the first scribe covering c two-thirds of the book and the second scribe completed it. Afterwards he made a copy of the complete work.
Margery tells us that when her life was being written, she was directed by her Lord not to worry so much about saying her prayers as about concentrating on "getting written down the grace that I have shown you pleases me greatly, and he who is doing the writing as well." (p.257) Even the writing of her life was accompanied by many holy tears and much weeping, and visions of her Lord and His mother and the saints.
She was born c.1373 into a prominent burgess family in Bishop's Lynn, now King's Lynn and a contemporary of Julian of Norwich whom she visited according to her writings, She was married at twenty and after the birth of her first child underwent a period of depression. During this period she experienced her first vision of Christ. She bore her husband fourteen children, even though after the birth of her first she intimated how she longed to live a chaste life and long struggle before she achieved this desire.
In one of her visions our Lord assured her that He "loves wives also, and specially those wives who would live chaste if they might have their will."(p.84) Nevertheless in many ways before her true conversion she was a worldly figure. She loved ostentatious clothes and ventured into various enterprises such as brewing before her conversion. Nevertheless she regrets not having loved God all her life:
Ah, dear God, I have not loved you all the days of my life, and I keenly regret that; I have run away from you, and you have run after me.( p. 86.)
Although her husband demanded his conjugal rights, for quite some time, he nevertheless seemed a loving and protective husband. On many of Margery's travels, he would look after her, when she was spurned by everyone else because of her oddity. He accompanied her on visits to the likes of the bishop of Lincoln. During her life she knew not only the bishop of Lincoln but she was acquainted with Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, the Dominician anchorite at Lynn, Richard of Caister, and the Carmelities Alan of Lynn and William Southfield. Her confessor was Robert Spryngolde, and she was on friendly terms with an unnamed priest who read mystical writings to her. It was through "listening to holy books and holy sermons, she was always increasing in contemplation and holy meditation" (p. 183).
She had a wonderful memory as she knew her bible well and also the writings of some of the great contemporary mystics such as St. Bridget. She was familiar too with the Stimulus Amoris, and Vita of Mary of Oignies who died in the early part of the thirteenth century and who too gave way to much weeping and hysterical behaviour. She knew Hilton's work The Scale of Perfection, Rolle's Incendium Amoris. It would seem that in most of the mystical works read to her there were passages about weeping and sobbing as a mystical experience. Thus Margery came to see weeping as a vital expression of her Christian life and devotion. When being examined by the Archbishop of York once, he roughly said to her "Why do you weep so, woman?" She replied, "Sir, you shall wish one day that you had wept sorely as I" (p.163).
Margery spent much of her life on pilgrimages that took her to all parts of Europe and to the Holy Land. When she travelled she always wore white as she believed this was her Lord's wish and so was often known as the woman in white. When travelling no-one wanted her in their travelling party with all her idiosyncrasies. Often she was ridiculed for not eating meat, for outspokenness of the Gospel's teaching and her loud announcements of her experiences. Thus it is not surprising that these traits at various times made suspected of, and arrested for heresy, especially Lollardism.
In defending herself, even before bishops she was fearless. So in Leicester we hear her saying: "There is no man in this world that I love so much as God, for I love Him above all things, ... and I love all men in God and for God." (p.153) She always insisted fervently she was no heretic at these time of trials and tribulations, even when imprisoned she prayed at great length for "our Lord God Almighty to help her and succour her against all her enemies both spiritual and bodily" (p. 162).
Nevertheless she was much disproved of by her fellow man, as many felt her visions did not come from God but were the work of evil spirits tormenting her (p.75). This Margery felt "was a joyous thing to be reproved for God's love".(65) When she was being much maligned in the Humber region, she said:
I do not suffer as much sorrow as I would do for our Lord's love, for I only suffer cutting words, and our merciful Lord Jesus Christ - worshipped be His name - suffered hard strokes bitter scourgings, and shameful death at the last for me and all mankind, blessed may he be. And therefore, it is truly nothing that I suffer, in comparison to what He suffered(p.168).
Indeed "it was great solace and comfort to her when she was chided and scolded for the love of Jesus, for reproving sin, for speaking virtue, for conversing about scripture, which she learned in sermons and by talking with clerks"(p.65).
However she did feel "much shame and hurt" when rebuked by what she considered "very good men" (p.97). She remained faithful to her Lord through her many trials before bishops and pilgrims on her many travels.
There is no record of her death. Her husband and son died c.1431.
She was an ardent pilgrim as she believed that this was what her Lord wished it as He always provided the means, guidance and support for her to undertake them. Once when she wondered where she would find the necessary money for the journey, He chided her: "Don't concentrate on getting money because I shall provide for you, but always concentrate on loving and remembering me, because I shall go with you wherever you go." (p.143) During her times of travelling He promised many times that she and those who travelled with her would not come to harm (p. 137).
These took her far afield to Jerusalem, Rome, Assisi, Venice, Santiago to name but a few. Her pilgrimage to the Holy Land reveals how this mystic was able to relive the events of the via Dolorosa as if she was actually with her Lord on that first journey. She relates how she was overcome when she visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and in walking the way of the Cross she was overcome with so much compassion for her dear Lord, especially when they came to the mount of Calvary "she fell down because she could not stand or kneel, but writhed and wrestled with her body, spreading her arms out wide, and cried with a loud voice as though her heart would have burst apart, for in the city of her soul she saw truly and freshly how our Lord was crucified" (p. 104). When in the holy land she visited all those places connected with here Lord's life. She even climbed the mountain associated with our Lord's temptation (p.110).
She was in Assisi for Lammas day on which day "there is great pardon with plenary remission, in order to obtain grace, mercy and forgiveness for herself, for all her friends, for all her enemies, and for all the souls in purgatory" (p.115).
HER LIFE IN CHRIST
"Therefore I command you, boldly call me Jesus, your love, for I am your love and shall be without end" (p.51). This He spoke to her when she took her vow of chastity. For that she had a ring made and engraved with Jesus est amor meus.
Throughout the book she refers to herself as "this creature", "the most unworthy creature that you ever showed grace to on earth" (p. 85) and in it she shows how Our Lord "moved and stirred a sinful wretch to His love" through endless proddings of the Holy Spirit. Through many fasts and acts of penance she eventually bowed to Christ in stillness and long hours of prayer (p.33). Her contrition was such she spent many hours in weeping, and led to her wearing a hair shirt until directed by her Lord not to. Instead he gave her a "hairshirt of the heart", that was to give up what she loved most in this world, the eating of meat.
At a further time her confessor directed her as an act of obedience to eat meat and drink wine. She reluctantly did for a while, and then asked to be excused which displeased her confessor and others.
Margery desired to know how best to serve our Lord. "Ah blessed Lord, I wish I knew in what I might best love you and please you, and that my love were as sweet to you as I think your love is to me."
To this our Lord replied, "Daughter, if you knew how sweet your love is to me, you would never do anything else but love me with all your heart. And therefore, do believe daughter that my love is not so sweet to you as your love is to me. Daughter, you do not know how much I love you, for it may not be known in this world how much it is, nor to be felt as it is, for you would fail and burst and never endure it, for the joy that you would feel" (p. 196).
When she first felt the fire of love burning within her she was frightened. Her Lord came to her and said,
"Daughter, don't be afraid because this heat is the heat of the Holy Spirit, which will burn away all your sins, for the fire of love quenches all sins. And you shall understand by this token that the Holy Spirit is in you, and you know very well that wherever the Holy Spirit is, there is the Father, and where the Father is, there is the Son, and so you have fully in your soul all of the Holy Trinity. .... Your soul is more sure of the love of God than of your body, for your soul will part from your body, but God shall never part from your soul, for they are united together without end. Therefore daughter, you have as great reason to be merry as any lady in this world" (p.125).
Margery earnestly desired not to be weighed down by any earthiness. So she prayed to her Lord. "And all manner of worldly goods and dignities, and all manner of loves on earth, I pray you, Lord, forbid me, especially all those loves and possessions of any earthly thing which would decrease my love towards you, or lessen my merit in heaven. And all manner of loves and goods which you know in your Godhead should increase my love towards you, I pray you, grant me for your mercy to your everlasting worship" (p.177).
In her yearning to be delivered from this world, Our Lord instructed her that "she should remain and languish in love, For I have ordained you to kneel before the Trinity to pray for the whole world, for many hundred thousand souls shall be saved by your prayers" (p.54).
Margery was convinced that all she believed and did was directed by her Lord through her many visions. At the end of one Advent she tells us that after the Lord had heard her much crying and seeking forgiveness He assured her she will never enter hell, but will know "the bliss of heaven". Yet He warned her of the mockery and ridicule she will receive from her enemies, but assured her His grace will be enough to overcome these. "I shall help you and protect you, so that no devil in hell shall ever part you from me, nor angel in heaven, nor man on earth" (p.51).
Nevertheless our Lord instructed Margery that there will be times when He will not be visible to her as He will lie hidden within her, so that she will truly know the pain of separation from Him. Our Lord explained, "And therefore, daughter, I am like a hidden God in your soul, and I sometimes withdraw your tears and your devotion, so that you should think in yourself that you have no goodness of yourself, but all goodness comes from me; and also, so that you should truly know what pain it is to be without me, and how sweet it is to feel me, and that you should be the more busy to seek me again. ... And you may not daughter, do without me for one day without great pain. Therefore, daughter, you have great cause to love me well, for it is not because of any anger, daughter, that I sometimes withdraw from you the feeling of grace and the fervour of devotion, but so that you should know for sure that you cannot be a hypocrite for any weeping, for any crying, for any sweetness, for any devotion, for any thought of passion, or for any other spiritual grace that I give or send to you" (p.246).
He also directed her "to give up your praying of many beads", and instead to "think such thoughts as I shall put into your mind." For this He would give "high meditation and true contemplation" (p. 52).
She was particularly sensitive to the manhood of Christ, and saw Him in all creatures. When in Rome for instance, "she sobbed bitterly for the manhood of Christ as she went about the streets of Rome" and in every male from infant to the handsome youth she saw Christ. While there it was said of her, "This woman has sown much good seed in Rome since she came here; that is to say, shown a good example to the people, through which they love God more than they did before" (135).
Her commitment to Christ was evident in this conversation with the archbishop of York when she appeared before Him on a heresy charge. He demanded that she leave his diocese immediately. To this she retorts she cannot, as she must visit her friends and converse with holy people. He gives her permission to this on the understanding that she would not talk to them on the faith; this she refused. "No, sir, I will not swear, for I shall speak of God and rebuke those who swear great oaths wherever I go until such time that the Pope and the Holy Church have ordained that nobody shall be so bold as to speak of God, for God Almighty does not forbid sir, that we should speak of him" (p.164).
HER DEVOTION TO CHRIST IN THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
She wept copiously when it came to receive the Blessed Life of Christ "for she could not bear the abundance of love that she felt in the precious sacrament, which she steadfastly believed was very God and man in the form of bread" (p.177). Furthermore, "When she saw the precious sacrament borne about the town with light and reverence, the people kneeling on their knees, then she had many holy thoughts and meditations, and then she would often cry and roar, as though she would have burst, for the faith and the trust that she had in the precious sacrament" (p. 212).
Our Lord commended Margery for her devotion to His Sacrament, and comforted her when she was rebuked for her fervour by others. "Daughter, for as many times as you have received the blessed sacrament of the altar with many more holy thoughts than you can repeat, for as many times you shall be rewarded in heaven with new joys and new comforts" (p.250).
Our Lord added, "And often, on the day that you receive my precious body, you ask for grace and mercy for all your friends, and for all your enemies who ever caused you shame or rebuke, either scorned you or jibed at you for the grace that I work in you, and for all this world, both young and old, bitterly weeping many tears and sobbing"(pp.253-4). The Lord also conveyed, "And therefore daughter do not be afraid, though people wonder why you weep so bitterly when you receive me, for, if they knew what grace I place in you at that time, they should rather wonder that your heart does not burst assunder, ... when you have received me into your soul, you are in peace and quiet, and sob no longer"(p.254).
In carrying out our Lord's will, the Lord makes it clear to Margery what is the foremost aspect of that. This is of course to obey the command to love.
" I pray you, daughter, give me nothing but love. You may never please me better than to have me always in your love, nor shall you ever, in any penance that you may do on earth, please me so much as by loving me. And daughter, if you will be high in heaven with me, keep me always in your mind as much as you can, and do not forget me at your meals, but always think that I sit in your heart and know every thought that is inside, both good and ill, and that I perceive the least thing and twinkling of your eye."
She replied to our Lord, `Now truly, Lord, I wish I could love you as much as you might make me love you. If it were possible, I would love you as well as all the saints in heaven love you" (p.224).
Time and time again Margery was reminded that the only important thing in life was to do God's will. She is chided by our Lord when she expressed a wish to know that our Lord would save her soul from endless damnation through his mercy. To this Our Lord replied, "I wish you to have no will but my will. The less price that you set on yourself, the more price I set on you, and the better will I love you, daughter"(p.196).
In due time Margery did firmly believe that everything she did came from God. When He commanded her to do anything she promptly obeyed despite dangers and difficulties. For instance during a time of pestilence she was commanded to go to Abbess of Denny, "for when she was commanded in her soul to go, she would in no way withstand it, but in spite of anything she would set off, whatever happened. And when she was commanded to be at home, she would not go out for anything" (p.243),
During her life Margery encountered so many events connected with the lives of our Lord, His holy Mother and many of the blessed saints through her visionary experiences. These included: the birth of our Lady; the visitation, the birth of John the Baptist and our Lord, the visit of the magi, and the flight into Egypt (pp.52-3).
Those with our Lady
The Mother of Mercy assured her of her seat "in heaven before my son's knee, and those] you wish to have with you." (p.55) She further assured her that she is "your mother, your lady and your mistress, to teach you in every way how you shall please God best"(p.86).
* Our Lady appeared to her in Jerusalem and spoke to her this way: "daughter you are greatly blessed, for my son Jesus will infuse so much grace into you that the whole world will marvel at you. Don't be ashamed, my beloved daughter, to receive the gifts which my Son will give you, for I tell you truly they will be great gifts that he will give you. And therefore, dear daughter, don't be ashamed of him who is your God, your Lord and your love, any more than I was ashamed when I saw him hang on the cross - my sweet son Jesus - to cry and to weep for the pain of my sweet son, Jesus Christ. Nor was Mary Magdalene ashamed to cry and weep for my son's love. And therefore, daughter, if you will be a partaker in our joy you must be a partaker in our sorrow" (p.109).
* Our Lady commanded her what to say to the bishop of Lincoln (pp.70-1) and her visit to the Vicar of St. Stephen's in Norwich unto whom she unfolded all that God had revealed to her. While conversing with him on the passion she heard "so terrible a melody she could not bear it," and swooned. She unveiled that in her visions it was not only Christ whom she saw and spoke to her, but the other persons of the Trinity, and sometimes all three together. Other times it was our Lady, "sometimes St. Peter, sometimes St. Paul, sometimes St. Katherine, or whatever saint in heaven she was devoted to. .... These conversations were so sweet, so holy and so devout, that often this creature could not bear it, but fell down and twisted and wrenched her body about and made remarkable faces and gestures, with vehement sobbings, and great abundancy of tears, sometimes saying, 'Jesus, mercy,' and sometimes, 'I die'" pp. 74-5).
* Mary commanded her to go to the white friar William Southfield in Norwich to reveal to him the grace God had given to her. He tells her not to have any fear about her manner of life "for it is the Holy Spirit plentifully working His grace in your soul." His advice was "to dispose yourself to receive the gifts of God as lowly and meekly as you can, and put up no obstacle or objections against the goodness of the Holy Spirit, for he may give his gifts where he will, and the unworthy he makes worthy, the sinful he makes righteous" (pp. 76-7).
* She commanded her to see Julian to whom she also relates the grace God has been put into her heart. Julian advises her "to be obedient to the will of our Lord and fulfil with all her might whatever he puts into her soul, if it were not against the worship of God and the profit of her fellow Christians. If this were the case it would be an evil spirit for the Holy Spirit never urges anything which is against his nature, that is, love"p.78.
* Our Lady informed Margery that all in St. Bridget's writing was true (p.83).
From the Father
She also had visions from God the Father who on one occasion informed her: "Daughter, I will have you wedded to my Godhead, because I shall show you my secrets and my counsels, for you shall live with me without end." (122)
"And then the Father took her by the hand in her soul, before the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the Mother of Jesus, and all the twelve apostles, and St. Katherine and St. Margaret and many other saints and holy virgins, with a great multitude of angels, saying to her soul, `I take you Margery, for my wedded wife, fairer, for fouler, for richer, for poorer, provided that you are humble and meek in doing what I command you to do. For, daughter, there was never a child so kind to its mother as I shall be to you, both in joy and sorrow, to help you and comfort you, And that I pledge to you." (p.123) She in turn thanked God for all the spiritual comforts, for the sweet smells, for melodies she heard each day and for all the other blessings.
On various aspects of our Lord's life
These are very intense and draining experiences for Margery; and were the ones accompanied with much weeping and outbursts of anguish.
* One Holy Thursday she describes this experience as she processes with other pilgrims:
"She saw in her soul our Lady, St. Mary Magdalene, and the twelve apostles. And then she beheld with her spiritual eye how our Lady took her leave of her blessed son, Jesus, how He kissed her and all His apostles, and also His true lover, Mary Magdalene. Then she thought it was a sorrowful parting, and also a joyful parting. When she beheld this sight in her soul, she fell down in the field among the people. She cried, she roared, she wept as though she would have burst. She could not control herself or master herself, but cried and roared so that many people were astonished at her. But she took no notice of what anyone said or did, for her mind was occupied with our Lord." (p.214).
And then ,
"She saw her Lord ascend into heaven, yet she could not do without Him on earth. Therefore she desired to go with Him, for all her joy and all her bliss was in Him, and she well knew that she would never have joy or bliss until she came to Him." (p.214)
* The Passion
One Palm Sunday when meditating in front of a crucifix during Mass she saw the events leading to it so vividly.
"Then she beheld, in the sight of her soul, our blissful Lord Christ Jesus coming towards His Passion, and before He went, He knelt down and received His Mother's blessing. Then she saw His Mother falling down in a swoon before her Son, saying to Him, `Alas, my dear son, how shall I suffer this sorrow, and have no joy in all this world but you alone? Ah, dear son, if you will die at any event, let me die before you, and let me never suffer this day of sorrow, for I may never bear this sorrow that I shall have for your death. I wish, son, that I might suffer death for you, so that you should not die -if man's soul might so be saved.
Now, dear son, if you have no pity for yourself, have pity on your mother, for you very well know that no man can comfort me in all this world but you alone.'
Then Our Lord took up his mother in his arms and kissed her very sweetly, and said to her, `Ah, blessed mother, be cheered and comforted, for I have very often told you that I must needs suffer death, or else no man would be saved, or ever come to bliss. And mother, it is my Father's will that it be so, and therefore, I pray you, let it be your will also, for my death shall turn for me to great worship, and to great joy and profit for you and all mankind who shall trust in my Passion, and act in accordance with it.
And therefore, blessed Mother, you must remain here after me, for in you shall rest all the faith of Holy church, and by your faith Holy Church shall increase in her faith. And therefore I pray you, beloved Mother, cease from your sorrowing, for I will not leave you comfortless. I shall leave John, my cousin, here with you to comfort you instead of me; I shall send my holy angels to comfort you on earth; and I shall comfort you in your soul myself, for mother, you well know I have promised you the bliss of heaven, and that you are sure of.
Ah, beloved Mother, what would you wish better for than, when I am king, you to be queen, and all angels and saints shall be obedient to your will. And whatever grace you ask of me, I shall not deny your desire. I shall give you power over the devils, so that they shall be afraid of you, and you not of them. And also, my blessed mother, I have said to you before that I shall come for you myself, when you shall pass out of this world, with all
my angels and all my saints who are in heaven, and bring you before my Father with all manner of music, melody and joy. And there I shall set you in great peace and rest without end. And there you shall be crowned as queen of heaven, as lady of all the world, and as empress of hell.
And therefore, my blessed mother, I pray you, bless me and let me go to do my Father's will, because for that I came into this world, and took flesh and blood of you.'
When the said creature beheld this glorious sight in her soul, and saw how He blessed His mother, and his mother Him, and then His blessed mother could not speak one more word to him, but fell down to the ground, and so they parted from each other, his mother lying still, as though she were dead - then the said creature thought she took our Lord Jesus Christ by the clothes, and fell down at his feet, praying Him to bless her, and with that she cried very loudly and wept bitterly, saying in her mind, `Ah, Lord, what shall become of me? I had much rather that you would slay me than let me remain in the world without you, for without you, I may not stay here, Lord.'
Then our Lord answered to her, `Be still, daughter, and rest with my mother here, and comfort yourself in her, for she that is my own mother must suffer this sorrow, But I shall come again, daughter, to my mother, and comfort both her and you, and turn all your sorrow into joy.'
And then she thought our Lord went forth on his way, and she went to our Lady and said, `Ah, blessed lady, rise up and let us follow your blessed son as long as we may see him, so that I may look upon him enough before he dies. Ah, dear Lady, how can your heart last, and see your blissful son see all this woe? Lady, I may not endure it, and yet I am not his mother.'
Then our Lady answered and said, Daughter, you have heard that it will not be otherwise, and therefore I simply must suffer it for my son's love.
And then she thought that they followed on after our Lord, and saw how he made his prayers to His Father on the Mount of Olivet, and heard the beautiful answer that came from His Father, and the beautiful answer that He gave His Father.
Then she saw how our Lord went to His disciples and ordered them to wake up - His enemies were near. And then came a great multitude of people with many lights. and many of them armed with staves, swords and pol-axes, to seek out our Lord Jesus Christ - our merciful Lord, meek as a lamb, saying to them, `Whom do you seek?'
They did not spare to spit in His face in the most shameful way that they could. And then our Lady and she, her unworthy handmaid for the time, wept and sighed keenly because the Jews so foully and so venomously treated her blissful Lord.
At another time when experiencing the passion, "this piteous sight", she relates how "she wept and cried very loudly, as if she would have burst for sorrow and pain." In this vision too, our Lady was there too but the suffering for His Mother was asphyxiating as she watched Her son bear the heavy cross.
She fell down and swooned, and lay as still as if she had been a dead woman. Then the creature saw our Lord fall down by His mother and comfort her as He could with many sweet words. When she heard the words and saw the compassion that the mother had for the Son. and the Son for the mother. then she wept, sobbed and cried as though she would have died, for the pity and compassion that she had for that piteous sight."
Later she went forth in contemplation, through the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the place where He was nailed to the cros. And then she saw the Jews with great violence tear off of our Lord's precious body a cloth of silk, which had stuck and hardened so firmly and tightly to our Lord's body with His precious blood, that it pulled away with it all the skin from His blessed body and renewed His precious wounds, and made the blood to run down all around on every side. Then that precious body appeared to her sight as raw as something that was newly flayed out of its skin, most pitiful to behold. And so she had a new sorrow, so that she wept and cried very bitterly.
When our Lord commended His spirit into the care of His Father, Margery thought "that she ran all around the place like a mad woman, crying and roaring. And later she came to our Lady, and fell down on her knees before her saying, `I pray you Lady, cease from your sorrowing, for your Son is dead and out of pain, and I think you have sorrowed enough. And Lady, I will sorrow for you, for your sorrow is my sorrow.'"(pp.233-4).
Her vision continues with the taking down of Christ's body.
"Then she thought she saw Joseph of Arimathea take down our Lord's body from the cross, and lay it before our Lady on a marble stone. Our Lady had a kind of joy when her dear son was taken down from the cross and laid on the stone before her. And then our blessed Lady bowed down to her son's body and kissed his mouth, and wept so plentifully over his blessed face, that she washed away the blood from his face with the tears of her eyes.
And then this creature thought she heard Mary Magdalene say to our Lady,`I pray you, Lady, give me leave to handle and kiss his feet, for at these I get grace.'
At once our Lady gave leave to her and all those who were there, to offer what worship and reverence they wished to that precious body. And Mary Magdalene soon took our Lord's feet, and our Lady's sisters tooks his hands, the one sister one had and the other sister the other hand, and wept very bittely in kissing those hands and those precious feet. And the said creature thought that she continually ran to and fro, as if she were a woman without reason, greatly desiring to have had the precious body by herself alone, so that she might have wept enough in the presence of that precious body, for she thought she would have died with weeping and mourning for his death, for love that she had for him" (pp.232-235).
When our Lord was buried, our Lady fell down in a swoon as she would have come from the grave, and St. John took her up in his arms, and Mary Magdalene went on the other side, to support and comfort our Lady as much as they could. Then the said creature, desiring to remain still by the grave of our Lord, mourned, wept, and sorrowed with loud crying for the tenderness and compassion that she had of our Lord's death, and the many mournful desires that God put into her mind at that time (p.235).
" Margery's vision continued with a dialogue between the blessed Mother and Peter:
"Then this creature thought, when our Lady had come home and was laid down on a bed, that she made for our Lady a good hot drink of gruel and spiced wine, and brought it to her to comfort her, and then our Lady said to her, `Take it away, daughter. Give me no food but my own child.'
The creature replied, Ah, blessed Lady, you must comfort yourself, and cease from your sorrowing.'
`Ah, daughter, where should I go, or where should I live without sorrow? I tell you, there was certainly never any woman on earth
who had such great cause to sorrow as I have, for there was never woman in this world who bore a better child, nor a meeker to His mother, than my son was to me.' ....
And soon the creature heard St.Peter knocking at the door, and St John asked who was there. Peter answered, `I, sinful Peter, who have forsaken my Lord Jesus Christ.' St. John would have him come in, and Peter would not, until our Lady told him to come in. And then Peter said, `Lady, I am not worthy to come in to you,' and was still outside the door. ... Our Lady told St. John ... to bid him come into her. And then this creature, in her spiritual sight, beheld Peter come before our Lady and fall down on his knees, with great weeping and sobbing, and say, `Lady, I beg your forgiveness, for I have forsaken your beloved son and my sweet master, who loved me so well, and therefore, Lady, I am never worthy to look upon him, or you either, except by your great mercy.'
`Ah, Peter,' said our Lady, `don't be afraid, for, though you have forsaken my sweet son, He never forsook you, Peter, and he shall come again and comfort us all indeed; for he promised me, Peter, that He would come again on the third day and comfort me. Ah, Peter,' said our Lady, `I shall think it a very long time, until that day comes that I may see his blessed face.' ....
Then this creature was left alone with our Lady and thought it a thousand years until the third day came; and that day she was with our Lady in a chapel where our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to her and said, `Salve, santa parens.'
* Then follows her encounter with Mary Magdalene.
"And soon after, this creature was - in her contemplation - with Mary Magdalene, mourning and seeking our Lord at the grave, and heard and saw how our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to her in the likeness of a gardener, saying,`Woman, why are you weeping?'
In this too Margery lives out every detail of the Risen Lord's appearance to Mary Magdalene. "And then this creature thought that Mary went with great joy, and it was a marvel to her that Mary rejoiced ... This creature had such grief and sorrow at those words that, whenever she heard them in any sermon, as she did many times, she wept, sorrowed and cried as though she would have died, for the love and desire that she had to be with our Lord" (pp. 235-38).
For more than twenty-five years she was comforted with holy visitations:
"By this manner of speech and converse she was made mighty and strong in the love of our Lord, and greatly stabilized in her faith, and increased in meekness and charity with other good virtues." (p.256)
GIVING SPIRITUAL ADVICE
As well as receiving counselling and spiritual direction from her own confessor and other learned people, she in turn often did likewise. A couple of examples from her autobiography were:
* When a great cleric in York asked her the meaning of Crescite et multiplicamini, she replied "Sir, these words are not only to be understood as applying to the begetting of children physically, but also to the gaining of virtue, which is spiritual fruit such as by hearing the words of God, by giving a good example, by meekness and patience, charity and chastity, and other such things - for patience is more worthy than miracle- working" (p.159).
*When asked by lawyers did she posses the Holy Spirit on a charge of Lollardy, she replied:
"Yes, sirs,, no one may say a good word without the gift of the Holy Spirit, for our Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples, `Do not study what you shall say, for it shall not be your spirit that shall speak in you, but it shall be the Spirit of the Holy Ghost`" (p. 174) .
During her life she suffered both physically and mentally. After the birth of her first child she went through a period of depression. Her body also endured hardships from much travelling and misunderstanding, and there were times when her body was racked with pain. Yet she always reproached herself for feeling sorry for herself, and reminded herself "what a little pain" was in comparison with our Lord's "great pain". There were times when "the Passion of our merciful Lord Christ Jesus still so worked in her soul that at that time she did not feel her own illness, but wept and sobbed at the memory of our Lord's Passion, as though she saw Him with her bodily eye suffering pain and Passion before her" (p.177).
One of her illnesses extended over a period of eight years when at times she was in acute pain, always "groaning until it has gone." After such agonizing pain (which sounds like gallstones), she would say to her Lord, "A blissful Lord, why would you become man and suffer so much pain for my sins and for all men's sins that shall be saved, and we are so unkind, Lord, to you; and I, most unworthy, cannot suffer this little pain? Ah, Lord, because of your great pain, have mercy on my little pain; for the great pain that you suffered, do not give me as much as I am worthy of, for I may not bear as much as I am worthy of. And if you wish, Lord, that I should bear it, send me patience, for otherwise I may not endure it."
Yet there were times when Margery would have rather felt the lash of the tongue than the knife of pain.
" A blissful Lord, I would rather suffer all the cutting words that people might say about me, and all clerics to preach against me for your love, than this pain that I have. For to suffer cruel words for your love hurts me not at all, Lord, and the world may take nothing from me but respect and worldly goods, and on the respect of the world I set no value at all" (pp.176-7).
Her husband illness -
During his period of illness Margery learns that our Lord can be served and prayed to just as faithfully by caring for the sick as attending Mass each day and praying in the church.
After both of them had taken their vow of chastity they lived apart. When her husband was over 60 years old, he fell down the stairs and seriously injured himself. Margery came immediately. Our Lord came to her and commanded her "to take him home, and look after him for my love". Margery felt this would hinder her devotion to Him. Not so, says our Lord. "You shall have as much reward for looking after him and helping him in his need at home, as if you were in church to say your prayers. ... I pray you now, look after him for love of me, for he has sometime fulfilled both your will and my will, and he has made your body freely available to me, so that you should serve me and live chaste and clean, and therefore I wish you to be available to help him in his needs, in my name" (p.222).
HER COMPASSION FOR OTHERS IN CHRIST
Margery explains that the Passion of her Saviour was so real in her life that she could not bear to look upon the suffering of any person.
"Our merciful Lord Christ Jesus drew this creature to His love and to recollection of His Passion, so that she could not endure to look at a leper or any other sick man, especially if he had any wounds showing on him. Then she cried so and wept, as if she had seen our Lord Jesus Christ with His wounds bleeding. And so she did in the sight of her soul, for through the beholding of the sick man her mind was all taken into our Lord Jesus Christ.
Then she felt great mourning and sorrow because she might not kiss the lepers, for the love of Jesus, when she saw them or met with them in the streets. Now she began to love what she had most hated before, for there was nothing more loathsome or abominable to her while she was in her years of worldly prosperity than to see a leper, whom now, through our Lord's mercy, she desired to embrace and kiss for the love of Jesus" (p. 216).
" So by the process of time her mind and her thoughts were so joined to God that she never forgot him, but had him in mind continually, and beheld him in all creatures. And the more that she ever increased in love and in devotion, the more she increased in sorrow and in contrition, in lowness, in meekness, and in holy dread of our Lord, and in knowledge of her own fraility, so that, if she saw a creature being punished or sharply chastized, she would think that she was more worthy to be chastised than that creature, for her unkindness towards God. Then she would cry, weep and sob for her own sin, and for compassion of the creature that she saw being so punished and sharply criticised" (p.212).
She was "desired by many people to be with them at their dying and to pray for them, for, although they had no love for weeping or her crying during their lifetimes, they desired that she would both weep and cry when they were dying, and so she did" (213),
Our Lord commended her for all her charity and goodness. But He also reminded her that "every good thought and every good desire that you have in your soul is the speech of God, even if you do not hear me speaking to you sometimes" (p.246).
Her encounters with her Lord were very personal. Although she consoled many during her lifetime, her own experiences of the living Christ were happenings she could never speak about but rarely.
" When she believed it was God and no evil spirit that gave her so much grace of devotion, contrition, and holy contemplation, then she had so many holy thoughts, holy speeches and conversation in her soul, teaching her how she should love God, how she would worship him and serve Him, that she could never repeat but a few of them. they were so holy and so high that she was abashed to tell them to any creature, and they were also so high above her bodily wits that she could never express them with her bodily tongue just as she felt them. She understood them better in her soul than she could utter them" (p.242).
Her greatest comfort during her life was that Our Lord had promised her that He would come to her when dying, "with my blessed mother, and my holy angels and twelve apostles, St. Katherine, St, Margaret, St. Mary Magdalene, and many other saints that are in heaven. ... You need fear no grievous pain in dying, ... [nor] the devil of hell, for he has no power over you." He assured her that her chastisements have already been given in "the many great fears and torments that you had with evil spirits, both sleeping and waking for many years. And therefore I shall preserve you at your end through My mercy" (p.87).
Margery Kempe's devotion to her blessed Lord characterized by so much weeping was manifested through her "gift of tears" or "way of tears", a gift of the Holy Spirit for the true penitent. Thus it is not surprising to learn that she offered this prayer unceasingly during her life, "Lord I pray you, let me never have any other joy on earth but mourning and weeping for your love. ... your love sets aside every sort of fear of our spiritual enemy" (p.257).
As Margery lived within the kingdom of God, she was often misunderstood, shunned, despised, hunted, and hated. As a true disciple she manifested in her life that truth must always be spoken in love for Christ. She is not as well known as her contemporary Julian of Norwich, but yet her life witnessed for Christ in circumstances which no anchorite could ever have known. She lived out her concept of holiness in the very ordinary things of life after her conversion. To love Christ and other in Him, to be truly contrite for the sins which crucified Him, and to share His suffering in this world by doing His will were the only things of importance to Margery. Through her visions and prayers and sufferings she was also a a mediæval mystics.
In the Revised English Calendar we commemorate her on the 9th November.