The Importance of Suffering for Christ’s Sake
The concept of suffering for Jesus’s sake is rooted in the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles, where Christ informs St. Paul that he must “suffer in my name.” Margery does not cite this verse directly, but the idea of undergoing suffering as a form of devotion to Jesus is central to her spirituality. The traditional form of such suffering occurs whenever a Christian believer is persecuted for his or her beliefs, and the hallmark of a Christian martyr is a willingness to turn suffering and death into a “witness” of faith (“martyr” means “witness”). Margery interprets the scorn she encounters in this light—she is being persecuted because of her devotion to Christ, and her suffering is a reminder of the greater suffering of Jesus. Margery’s visions make her a “witness” in a different but related sense—she sees the suffering of Jesus and Mary and in some sense takes part in it. Her tears become a sign of her willingness to share in Christ’s suffering. They are a reaction to, and a reminder of, Christ’s own redemptive anguish. Margery speaks of her tears as “saving” others, and this transformation of suffering into personal union with God places Margery firmly in the tradition of Christian mystics.
Margery Is Vindicated
Margery never misses an opportunity to describe an occasion when something she predicts comes to pass, one of her prayers is answered, or one of her enemies comes to grief. Margery has several motives for dwelling on such moments of vindication. First, she wants to show that her claims of direct contact with God are justified. Despite the accusations of hypocrisy or madness that are hurled at her, in the end she is revealed to be in the right. She offers evidence for her rightness by describing storms that peter out harmlessly, thanks to her prayers, and liars she is able to confound. Margery also wants to protect herself from any charges of heresy, and she makes an effort to describe any occasion that might plausibly be construed as a demonstration of God’s favor. Margery also focuses on moments when she is vindicated by church authorities against those who accuse her of Lollardy. She takes care to emphasize her orthodox answers to the questions put to her by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and to record their willingness to vouch for her. In this sense, Margery’s Book is as much about self-defense as about self-expression.
Desire for God As Life Purpose
Margery is concerned with earthly suffering, but she also has an intense desire for union with God. Margery’s life and life story are organized around her spiritual experiences, and some of her mystical visions receive more attention than even the birth of one of her fourteen children. Margery seeks out spiritual authorities such as Julian, and travels to holy sites as far away as Jerusalem, often at great expense and personal risk, all in order to advance her spiritual journey toward God. Along the way, she treats everyone and everything she meets as either a spiritual obstacle or a spiritual aid, and any aspect of her life that does not fit into one of these two categories generally goes unmentioned. Margery tries to make every detail of her day-to-day life, from the food she eats (or abstains from) to the clothes she wears, an act of devotion. These small devotions help make her larger moments of ecstatic devotion possible. For example, by deferring sexual pleasure on earth, Margery directs that energy into her visions, where sexual union becomes an image of heavenly contact, or “marriage,” with God. In this way, Margery’s mystical desire for God becomes the organizing principle of her life.
More main ideas from The Book of Margery Kempe
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The major theme in the novel is spirituality and one’s love for God. The novel explores the different ways a person can prove his or her faith and love for a spiritual being. The novel was heavily influenced by the spirit of the day so it presents methods deemed proper in the Middle Ages for expressing one’s spirituality. It also includes the customs and rituals a person would go through for religious purposes. People had different ideas about what it meant to be spiritual and manifest faith in the Middle Ages so naturally, some of the behaviors described in the novel may appear at time strange and unusual.
Another major theme is forgiveness, both from God and from Margery’s side. Time and time again, Margery forgives those who treated hear harshly or who criticized her for her behavior and she didn’t held any grudge against them. By doing this, she proved that she had a much more noble character than those around her and that she really followed the principles in the Bible. Jesus also forgives those who have sinned against him and he promises to forgive everyone who gives up their old ways and changes their life around. Margery is also obsessed with forgiveness but not for herself but for those around her. She hopes that through her faith she will be able to make the other sinners give up their wicked ways and return to God and in some cases she is successful and influences other characters for the better.
Another theme explored in the novel is obedience and it is once more linked with spirituality and religion. It is stressed the importance of listening and following orders in order to be saved and Jesus even tells Margery that the best way she can serve him is to be quiet, to listen to him and to follow his orders no matter what. Obedience was required especially from women as they were considered naturally inferior to men and unable to take any important decisions by themselves. Thus, Kempe had to be obedient to God, Jesus, her husband, the church and also other ecclesiastic figures she visited and who advised her on what to do.