Margery’s writing reveals how spirituality is centered in her life. What do you find to be significant about her and her work? How does she make her spiritual experiences physical and make her physical experiences spiritual? She seems to often suffer for Christ; what is Margery’s relationship with suffering (whether it be her own or her views on the suffering of others)?
What’s significant about Margery’s work is that, though it is an autobiography, it is written in the third person all throughout. Not only that, she refers to herself as “the creature,” like she’s some loathsome thing to be pitied and looked down upon. This helps with the autobiography’s view on the concept of suffering for God, as even the text’s rhetoric reflects how she views herself as some wretched, loathsome being.
Margery regards suffering as the ultimate medium with which to express one’s love for God. She says, “And so, from that time forward, knowing it was our Lord’s will that she suffer more tribulation, she received it willingly when our Lord wished to send it, and thanked him greatly for it, being truly glad and merry on any day when she suffered any misfortune.” Her views on suffering is that it is God’s will for mankind to suffer on earth, as “every sorrow will turn to joy” when they “come home to heaven.”
From Margery’s writing, we can tell that her life is Christ-centered. From the beginning of The Proem, we can see that she sees herself as lowly and refers to herself as “a sinful wretch” (and in the third person throughout, as Michael pointed out) (366). But through her suffering, we can see that her relationship with God is much more complex. This is how she “feels” God, so to speak. Margery states that she was used “to being chided and rebuked by the world on account of the grace and virtue with which she was endowed…that it was a kind of solace…when she suffered any unhappiness for the love of God” (366). So, it is clear that her suffering is more of a way to feel God’s presence and closeness to him. To her, her suffering sort of defines their relationship.
I find Margery’s work significant because, her visions of magic and mystical acts seem to gain an extreme amount of attention. She makes her spiritual experiences physical and make her physical experiences spiritual by, calling herself the “creature” of God. Her tears, hearing music, visions, and feeling warmth are all physical attributes that add to her physical experience. Margery’s relationship with suffering for God is almost natural. She feels that one has to suffer in order to show their true devotion to God.
I think Margery’s idea of suffering as worship is one of the most significant parts of her narrative. As seen throughout the narrative, she walks a fine line between appearing as devout or a heretic due to her relentless expression of pain and discomfort. The most outwardly visible manifestation of her worship is the way she “could only lament and weep” whilst praying for mercy (371). Margery also fasts on Fridays to inflict suffering which causes a strain on her relationship with her husband. These are all outward manifestations of her internal struggle to repent for her sins and prove her love and devotion. However, as much as the public believed she was exaggerating her worship, I believe the majority of Margery’s pain was invisible to the public eye. She used her physical suffering to induce emotional pain through the use of her haircloth and chastity. Margery’s suffering brought her closer to God because it provided her with an outlet with which to show her devotion.
Margery devotes herself to God after her near-death experience, and expresses that devotion through suffering. Suffering as worship is a common thread in Christian theology, from Jesus himself to Francis of Assisi. By leading an ascetic life, removed from luxury and desire, she makes her spiritual beliefs a physical, tangible thing. In addition, others’ mockery of her makes her stronger as well, as she says “the more shame and contempt I suffer, the merrier I am in out Lord Jesus Christ” (Kempe 379). The suffering that Margery undergoes shows her devotion to God and also leads to recognition of her authority, as she gets a letter and seal from the Archbishop proclaiming her authenticity.