Tag Archives: devotion

“Sexy devotion” – C S Lewis, Margery Kempe, and the mystics’ erotic language of intimacy with Christ

Bernini's "Ecstasy of Saint Teresa"

Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa”

The following is from the “affective devotion” chapter draft from Getting Medieval with C S Lewis:

Margery Kempe (c. 1373 – after 1438)[1]

Margery was a middle-class laywoman (mother and business owner) who lived in the late 14th and early 15th century and provided us with the first biography of a woman written in English. This, by the way, was probably dictated to a clergyman, since she was almost certainly either illiterate or barely literate.

Margery is a great example of a layperson with a deep, even mystical piety who became an influence on the clergy and monastics of her day—although plenty of people simply wrote her off as a crazy lady because of the depth of her emotion during church services. But in that very trait, she was a reflection (if extreme) of the late medieval tradition of affective devotion: “Her spiritual life was centered, from the beginning and throughout her life, on the human Christ, the object of her prayers and her love. She identified very closely with the Virgin as woman and mother, and her participation in the Passion was enlarged and inspired by sharing Mary’s grief. Her enthusiasm, her ‘boisterous’ emotion, and her conspicuous humility were borrowed from the Franciscans and legitimated by their authority. And her method of meditation—that is, her personal involvement in the biblical story, placing herself among the holy figures—was exactly the method prescribed by writers of affective devotion.” (ATK, 155)

Margery’s book is earthy at points – even bawdy. She tells a particular story about an episode of sexual temptation in her life that is R-rated. And her language of intimacy with Christ is also direct and frank. When he sees a “comely [handsome] man” in the streets, it sets her to meditating on Jesus. And when she talks about her times of inner dialogue with her Lord, she uses a term usually reserved in her time for the kissing and cooing of young lovers: “dalliance.” We have not moved far from Bernard here! Continue reading

Does evangelical “immediatism,” or direct access to God in Jesus, mean we cannot learn from tradition? No.

One may say: well, if evangelical mysticism/immediatism (direct access to God in Jesus) has stunted our ecclesiology by making everything between the individual and God negotiable according to a sort of pragmatics of piety (see my previous post), then it must also militate against tradition in all senses of that term.

In other words, our tendency to emphasize direct experience of God must be the enemy of a full-orbed understanding and appropriation of the church fathers and other rich theological and spiritual sources from the shared Christian heritage. Yes?

But surprisingly, no. Or at least, not necessarily. And this suggests a program for evangelical renewal today, as I suggest in another section of my paper “Evangelicals and Tradition,” given at the 2007 meeting of the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue in St. Paul:

Lest we think that the Augustinian-Platonic focus on direct inward experience of the divine works only against tradition, however, we need only remember the Reformers’ own deep engagement in the thought of the church fathers. The Reformation was precisely the story of a group of people who saw unacceptable (they would have said, “modern”!) innovations in their church and worked to reform and renew it by reengaging with . . . yes, the Bible; yes, the New Testament church; but also and very significantly, the church fathers. When the late Robert Webber talked about the “ancient-future church,” he was saying only what the Reformers themselves were saying. Continue reading

Eight more days till Advent begins–what’s it all about, and what have you planned?

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, so’s the advent season (November 29 to December 24). These days our family is doing a wreath and even (when we can find all the bits & pieces) a Jesse tree. No more advent calendars with chocolate behind the doors, though (my wife’s mother used to send these): the kids just drag it into a dark corner and extract all the goodies at once!

I just find it interesting that evangelicals are starting to do this “liturgical” stuff at all! This year even the increasingly Calvinist Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary has created a set of faculty-written Advent devotionals. I posted on this phenomenon for Christian History & Biography:

Advent: Close Encounters of a Liturgical Kind
‘Tis the season when even the free-ranging revivalist pulls up a chair to the table of historic liturgy.
Chris Armstrong

I confess: as an adolescent, when my parents tried to impress on my two brothers and me the importance and the intricacies of Advent observance, I could hardly keep from rolling my eyes. In a country that spends its cold Decembers in hot pursuit of food, presents, and parties, the historical niceties of an ancient liturgical season seemed … well … irrelevant. Continue reading