In this state of affairs, the first flames of revival spread as itinerant preachers proclaim the gospel and call nominal Christians into a personal relationship with Christ. The spiritual climate changes rapidly as hundreds and then thousands of laypeople repented of a worldly lifestyle and committed themselves to Jesus.
In order to grow, many of these vibrant believers form new Christian communities to cultivate their faith and provide meaningful spiritual fellowship. After coming to Christ they are profoundly in love with Jesus, and they long to know him better. Thirsty for more than church membership or religious ceremony, they seek to nurture intimacy with the Lord by living with likeminded followers of Christ.
In particular, middleclass women across Belgium, the Netherlands, northern France and Germany pool their resources to buy houses where they can live in community. Known as Beguines, these laywomen pulsate with spiritual vitality in their pursuit of inner growth. The households they establish provide these women with friendships and a safe place to live and work.
In addition, they form communities to learn God’s Word. When the Beguine Movement begins, few resources are available for spiritual formation outside of such a community. Only portions of the Bible are accessible in the local language (for them, medieval Dutch and German); families and individuals seldom own a copy. Local priests give few sermons and are often known for their immorality rather than a life of godliness. Devotional materials are nonexistent except in Latin—in fact, some of the very first writings in German and Dutch are spiritual formation manuals written by the Beguines. Therefore, these godly women gather each morning and evening to hear Scripture read. The Beguines then meditate on passages throughout the day as they work at sewing and spinning.
One of the early Beguines, Mechthild of Magdeburg, expresses her deep, personal love for Jesus, “I delight in loving him who loves me, and I long to love him to the death, boundlessly, and without ceasing.” Mechthild then exhorted us, the readers, to pursue the Lord in the same way: “Love him so fiercely that you could die for him. Thus you burn ever more without ever being extinguished as a living flame in the vast fire of high majesty.”
That is the invitation of the Beguines—to love Jesus so fiercely that we are on fire for him and that we would be willing to die for him. These women were radical believers in their day, and they summon us to genuine faith and deep communion with the Lord today.
As an evangelical, reading about the Beguines is so interesting and so encouraging. We are not the first Christians to emphasize conversion and to nurture a personal relationship with Jesus. These women were so radical in their commitment to Christ and their cultivation of an intimate relationship with him!
For further reading about Mechthild’s deep desire for the Lord, see Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, translated by Frank Tobin, in The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1998), 134.
 Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, trans. Frank Tobin, in The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1998), 53.
2009 © Glenn E. Myers