Margery Kempe’s Tears

kempeIn my final assessment after finishing Margery Kemp’s story, I respect her desire to carve out a new position in society, and her sometimes violent sobbing plays a key role to that end. At a time when women are expected to be silent and subordinate, Margery publicly makes a spectacle of herself causing those who witness her behavior to question her motives. They often wonder if this is evidence of the devil’s possession. Others understand God’s presence in her soul and offer her full support. In this way, Margery draws attention to her piety as commanded by God, dramatically demonstrating how to best serve him, drawing also the support of the clergy for her behavior.

Centuries later, I too question the nature of God’s “dalliance” in her soul although, unlike the people of her time, I do not believe her to be possessed by evil. Granted, to support her fully means that I would have to believe in Christianity myself. Since I am more prone to believe common aspects shared by all religions rather than the rules of one alone, I must speak hypothetically in my support for her, grounding my ideas solely in the context of her environment.

Margery’s story is compelling in that I don’t believe she has the choice of whether or not to cry. Fully moved by the life of Christ, her remorse for sins against him, and her concern for the fate of all souls in eternity, she is truly pained. This is not unlike my personal experience of reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in the same week I rented Anne Frank: The Whole Story. Heavy in heart, I too sobbed the night through for the sins of mankind. For Margery to focus on the life of Christ, his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, the Apostles and all the saints might find its result in distraction or numbness over time, but she keeps these feelings alive and uses them to further grow in love for her heavenly father. The greater her love grows, the more her tears flow.

Beyond her personal reasons for crying, God tells her he has his own agenda as well. He thanks her for making herself worthy and for allowing him to work his will through her, (153) claiming her tears as his gift to her. Even in the moments when Margery pleads with God to ease her public sobbing so as to not annoy her parishioners, nor to be cast away from the sermons she takes such pleasure in, God refuses her request. According to him, to give her the great gift of understanding which causes her to weep this way, Margery becomes the example by which to emulate. When asked why she sobs so, she wonders in return how people could know the suffering of Christ or his mother’s great loss and not be moved to weep. To Margery and God, suffering for Christ in return for what he suffered for humanity is the most worshipful act. In the moments God does withhold tears from her, Margery learns that her heart is quiet in understanding. Realizing the true gift that understanding brings, she wishes it returned to her, regardless of the crying it evokes.

Margery’s gift draws much scorn among the people in her hometown and along her pilgrimages, but this scorn is welcomed by her. To Margery, suffering for God’s will is penance for her sins against him, for which she is truly remorseful even after they are forgiven. The more that people curse her, the more she feels closer to having paid a price for her wrong doings. In welcoming chastising remarks, Margery’s humility pleases God, setting yet another example that God’s will is the only way, regardless of what actions earthly men and women demand. Because she is so willing to pay her penance on Earth, Margery is promised the full reward of an ease in death and prompt entry into Heaven without first visiting Purgatory. She feels that this eternal reward is well worth the hardships she experiences on Earth.

I find Margery to be exemplary in living a selfless life. While she has her bouts with God at times in order to satisfy her own way, she always succumbs to his will. The ending of her first book is interesting, as God thanks her for writing in order that “many a man shall turn to me and believe therein” (157). This is obviously what Margery had in mind. While I am unsure whether I believe any more now than I did before, I certainly find myself raising questions. In an attempt to understand her tears, her reason for them becomes clearer and the possibility of God’s work through her more believable. She is brave to withstand the criticism she receives as well as the truly dangerous positions of imprisonment, thievery, rape, and death which she often encounters along her pilgrimages. The more difficult her journey, the more her faith is proven in a God that is very real and personal to her, a God she hopes will be as real to her reader as well.

Of coure, she could just have a tumor.

Speak Your Mind

*

26