Here begins a short letter to my friend and most respected mystic, Margery Kempe:
My dear Margery,
It pains me to say that I have not read your Book in quite a long while. The first interaction I had with your magnificent text was a good five or six years ago, and I wasn’t as completely enthralled with it as I am now. This had nothing to do with it being “evil written,” as your second scribe claimed, but entirely with my own lack of knowledge about the time during which it was recorded. As I discovered more about the various Church tensions and politics to which you were responding, I could not help but draw connections to my own experiences.
Margery, I am told by people who know you better than I do that you would not be surprised to hear this, but you have salvaged the best parts of my salvation, and for that I will be eternally grateful. In the next few lines, I will do my best to explain how this happened, but first, let me say that I wish to see you at the resurrection, and I hope you will receive this letter soon.
I was in Middle English literature early in January of this year when I chose to read your Book and perform a presentation on a topic of my choosing. I analyzed your manuscript as a rhetorical work, drawing connections to the fabliau (obscene comedy) genre and Chaucer’s works. I think you would have been pleased even though my presentation did not delve too deep into mystical or spiritual matters.
What I noticed upon reading through your text itself, before I had read any secondary materials, was the way you carried yourself among clerics of all ranks, and the way you carried yourself as you communed with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Among the clerics, you were an exemplar of grace and confidence, knowledge and compassion, virtue and mercy. At every opportunity you demonstrated the sharpness of your wit and the breadth of your firmly-founded theology, even at the humiliation of the clerics. As you communed with, or thought upon, our Lord and Savior, you exemplified the depth of your compassion, devotion, and love for the crucified Christ. And because of your many tears and impenetrable theology you were considered annoying by your fellow Christians, you were thought to be a heretic or a Lollard, and you were put on trial for it.
But despite this, despite the dismissive attitudes of those around you, you persisted. Despite the ways the Church treated you, you still loved the Church, and suffered rejection without wavering from this love. You spoke with conviction, bravery, and confidence.
Margery, I am writing to tell you that I have suffered a similar pain of rejection, but I did not respond to this rejection in the same way you did. I did not persist; I gave up. Your voice, it seems, fell on many more unlistening ears than mine has, but you continued to speak despite your criticisms, and despite the Church wanting to burn you for being a heretic or a Lollard, you still spoke. Somewhere during my two years of self-induced exile, I began to resent the Church and those who would have me worship alongside them as a second-class citizen, and I stopped speaking. I began to resent God as a result.
As it is Easter, it seems fitting to talk about death and resurrections. I’m sure you know there are many ways something dead can be made alive; I’m sure you know your Book is an example of it. Think of the impossibilities! Your body perished in the 15th century, but your Book survived, despite the odds that it would sit in the attic of a house forever collecting air and dust and mildew, waiting to be thrown out with the refuse–think of it. Your bodily death could have been the end of it. And, though I’m sure you’ll agree that Christ is able enough to resurrect my faith from the dead in some other way, your Book is what did it for me.
Reading your Book, your dedication to speaking the truth restored an old version of my faith that was just as confident, just as contradictory, and just as connected to Divine authority as I had once been. For that, I will always be grateful.
Happy Easter, my dear Margery. I hope this finds you with all the joy, happiness, and cheerful tears that accompany the very same closeness of Christ that you enjoyed on Earth.