Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beguine Classics: Mechthild of Magdeburg

O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
-Psalm 63:1 (NKJV)

Aching for More of the Lord
Have you ever longed for the Lord so much that you literally ache for his presence, his touch, his love? In Psalm 63 David describes such an inner craving that even his body yearned for the Lord.

This same longing is articulated by one of the godly women known as the Beguines. Mechthild joined a Beguine community in Magdeburg, Germany, in the thirteenth century and spent many years there. Mechthild was passionately in love with the Lord from the time she was twelve years old, and she pursued the Lord continually:

“O Lord, if it could ever happen to me that I might gaze upon you as my heart desires and hold you in my arms, then the divine pleasures of your love would needs permeate my soul to the degree possible for people on earth. What I would be willing to suffer thereafter has never been seen by human eyes. Indeed, a thousand deaths were too little. Such, Lord, is my painful longing for you!” (p. 134)

During the latter half of her life she wrote her work, Flowing Light of the Godhead, describing her walk with the Lord and inviting other thirsty souls to pursue God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. Mechthild writes:

“I delight in loving him who loves me, and I long to love him to the death, boundlessly, and without ceasing. Be happy, my soul, for your Life has died for love of you. 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.” (p. 53)

God’s Flowing Love
As much as Mechthild enjoys the Lord’s presence, however, spiritual experience per se is not the theme of her book. Rather, she focuses on God’s overflowing love that continually pours out toward us.

The Christian life always begins with God. Our story begins with God’s initiative to love us and reveal himself to us. When we receive Christ, it is simply in response to his love for us since before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)! When we pray, we are simply articulating desires that he has placed on our hearts. God is always prior. God is always self-giving and self-revealing. God is love!

God’s unceasing river of love is what Mechthild’s book is all about:

"O you pouring God in your gift!
O you flowing God in your love!
O you burning God in your desire!
O you melting God in the union with your beloved!
O you resting God on my breasts!
Without you I cannot exist.” (p. 48)

In light of God’s overflowing presence that is available to us, Mechthild invites us as her readers to continually soak in that love and pour it out to others. Let her prayer be the prayer in each of our hearts:

“Jesus, dearest Lover of mine, let me approach you . . . with deep love for you in my heart, and never let me grow cold, so that I constantly feel your intense love in my heart and in my soul and in my five senses and in all my members. Then I can never grow cold.” (p. 309)

Mechthild’s Classic
If your heart resonates with such passionate longing for the Lord, you will want to read Mechthild’s Flowing Light. A complete edition in English is available in the Classics of Western Spirituality. All the above quotes are from this volume.

•Mechthild of Magdeburg. The Flowing Light of the Godhead. Translated by Frank Tobin. The Classics of Western Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998.

My book that was just released in IVP’s Formatio Series provides an introduction to Mechthild and the key spiritual formation themes that she explores.

•Myers, Glenn. Seeking Spiritual Intimacy: Journeying Deeper with Medieval Women of Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-8308-3551-5.

Mechthild’s writings can be found in several other collections, including the following:

•Bowie, Fiona, ed. Beguine Spirituality: Mystical Writings of Mechthild of Magdeburg, Beatrice of Nazareth, and Hadewijch of Brabant. Spiritual Classics. New York: Crossroad, 1990. ISBN: 0-8245-0993-5.
•Murk-Jansen, Saskia. Brides in the Desert: The Spirituality of the Beguines. Traditions of Spirituality Series. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004. ISBN: 1-57075-201-X.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

1 comment:

  1. What powerful words!
    It is amazing to think that one can be SO desperate for communion and relationship with the Lord that it is painful!! In a way, this idea sounds absurd, but yet, there is a truth about it that strikes deep within my heart that yes, love to the point of inner ache and pain is good - was that not what our Lord experienced?? There have been a few times in my life where I have experienced such heart wrenching desire for the Lord; in fact, there has been an entire 7-10day time frame where that was all I felt. Nevertheless, outside of that instance, it has not been a continuous thing. However, I often wonder - ought we to experience that desire to the point of pain/ache so continuously that it becomes the norm? Should there be times in our walks of faith in Christ that the pain is lessened in order that when it comes again, there is an even greater sense of appreciation for wanting Christ, needing Christ, and being driven to pursue Him?
    Oh how I do pray that that intensity of love between God and I continues to grow and mature - and in so doing, spread love, encouragement, and discipleship to those around me! Let us be challenged, brothers and sisters in Christ, to pursue wholeheartedly the Lord who loved us first!