Margery Kempe (1373 - 1438) had fourteen children before weeping became her new passion. Until then she had been a buxom and fashionable woman who took immense pride in how she looked. In her own words: “She wore gold pipes on her head and her hoods with the tippets were dagged. Her cloaks were dagged also and laid with divers colors between the dags that it should be more staring to men’s sight and herself be more worshipped.”
Clearly then, before her new intimacy with God, Margery was a fashionista and knew what it was to be admired.
There was, however, an obstacle to her new career as mystic and weeper: those fourteen children and a husband…who may or may not have wanted more. But as we know, God removes all obstacles. In Margery’s words:
I was praying to God to let me live chastely with my husband's permission, and I heard Christ say to me inwardly, 'On Fridays you must go without both food and drink, and your wish will be granted before Whit Sunday, for I will suddenly strike your husband dead.'
I don’t doubt that Margery fasted every Friday or even that poor John was in complete ignorance of her motives. Fortunately for him, however, he was not struck down. He survived a good few decades more. There was a reason for this, as Margery explained. John agreed to abstain from sex with her and in return she prayed for him to be spared out of Divine mercy.
From that point on there was no stopping her. Margery went on pilgrimage after pilgrimage, weeping profusely on the way. She also made a point of dressing in virginal white, her fourteen children now living in a parallel dimension. She had become a bride of Christ. The fact that such attire caused controversy and drew men’s attention to her was, no doubt, an unfortunate coincidence.
On her first pilgrimage, Margery flooded Jerusalem with her tears because of her “great compassion and such great pain at seeing the place of Our Lord’s pain.” From that moment on it crying became habitual. And we’re not talking about the occasional discreet sob. Margery was prone to ‘crying and roaring’ sometimes collapsing on the ground in her grief. No where was safe from this woman’s despair. She did it in churches and cottages, highways and lanes, in woods and in fields – usually I suspect when two or more people were present.
Margery had some inkling of the effect it had on people. In a rare moment of insight she wrote that she sought to:
“Keep it in as much as she could, that people might not hear it to their annoyance, for some said that a wicked spirit vexed her or that she had drunk too much wine. Some banned her; some wished her in the sea in a bottomless boat.”
It is hard to imagine what Margery was like had she not been trying to keep it in. And it is hard to believe she is telling the truth. Other passages in her autobiography (which she dictated in-between tears) allow us more insight into what might be termed her default position:
“On Sundays I received the sacrament wherever time and place allowed, and I wept and sobbed so violently that many people were struck with amazement that God had given me so much grace.”
“I realised the truth of what God had told me before I left England: 'Daughter, I shall make all the world wonder at you.'”
In Assisi a famous scholar was rapturous: “…he had never heard of anyone in the world living as close to God in love and intimate speech as I did.”
Margery was born before her time, a Medieval Diva. She would have been a natural for Reality TV a natural accepting an Oscar or Bafta. But Margery had an answer for those who accused her of mere attention seeking. The Lord had spoken to her privately:
'Daughter, don't be afraid. I shall free you from vainglory. For those who worship you worship me; and those who despise you despise me, and I shall punish them for it…. those who hear you hear the voice of God.'
This is what I would term a ‘Special Relationship.’