Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 32

Day 32 2nd April Margery Kempe

Mad woman or holy woman? Fool or saint? Such was Margery Kempe that she could be seen as any of these, or perhaps all of them. She was a contemporary of Julian of Norwich (see Day 7) and indeed went on several occasions to see her for counsel. Margery was born in Bishops Lynn (now Kings Lynn) in 1373 into a wealthy family, her father was mayor of the town. Women then had limited options in life, either they got married and cared for their husband and children or they became nuns and spent their life enclosed in a nunnery. Margery was pushed into marriage at 20 years old to a man some years older than her, but her dream was to travel, particularly on pilgrimage to the holy sites around the world. She hoped her husband would take her on pilgrimage, but the furthest she got was a trip to nearby Walsingham. Soon after her marriage she fell pregnant and almost died from a very difficult pregnancy and birth. She was mentally unwell afterwards, and heard voices condemning her and threatening her. This went on for some time until one day she had a profound spiritual experience, where she had a vision of Christ telling her that he was always with her, and this was the beginning of her healing.
This further bolstered her desire to be a pilgrim and visit holy places, as an offering of prayer for the world. Her husband would not hear of it and she went on to have 14 children. This did not deter her from her religious calling and she went on to have many visions and to cause mayhem around Bishops Lynn with her religious devotion. People saw her as mad, as a fool, and ridiculed her constantly. Finally even her husband became exasperated and agreed to let her go on pilgrimage. Margery travelled alone, which was very dangerous for a woman at that time and made her very vulnerable. But she was not deterred and went to Rome, Assisi, the Holy Land, Spain and other shrines around Britain. She continued to have visions and was very emotional, which did not make her popular with other pilgrims; she continued to be ridiculed and laughed at. She also was constantly in trouble with church authorities and on numerous occasions put on trial for heresy which could have resulted in her being burned at the stake. (So much for God’s love!) But she was also kind, loving, prayerful and devoted to serving God and others.
Often God uses what the world classes as fools to be the means of love and grace. We have much to learn from the likes of Margery Kemp.

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Holy Fools

Margery Kempe was of the line of many who were considered to be holy fools – people often scorned, ridiculed and laughed at who, nevertheless were used by God in incredible ways. God regularly uses the foolish, the weak, the vulnerable, those on the edge, because they do seem to be much more open to God’s presence and call.
Of course the original Holy Fool was Jesus himself. The Pharisees, the scribes, the religious authorities of the time, could not believe the things he said and did. His teachings were madness, still are, but instead of being shocked by them today, we just ignore the one’s we think are foolish, or find a way to explain them away.
Love those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. If someone takes your coat give them you shirt as well. Seek the lowest place. Don’t think about tomorrow. Don’t worry about your life. Bring down this temple and God will raise it in three days. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who are persecuted. This is my body. This is my blood. Your sins are forgiven you. And so on.
Without faith, these are the words of a fool, a madman. In the Gospels Jesus draws attention to how they called John the Baptist a madman, because of the way he dressed and acted; also how he himself was called a glutton, a drunkard – basically a clown! Jesus was not afraid of this. He knew the things he said went against the thinking of normal society. He knew that his life and the path he chose would be seen as that of a fool or madman.
The cross, saint Paul said, is pure foolishness in the eyes of many. It is a symbol of defeat, weakness, failure, disaster. It is only to those with the eyes of faith that it is a symbol of victory, strength, salvation and hope. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, Paul went on to say, God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world, and the despised things To make his wisdom known known.
Our Faith stands out in a world that boasts of strength and power. Our faith seeks an alternate route, a route that seems foolish to many. Our faith says, you have seen what happens in a world where humankind thinks too highly of itself, of its strength its power and its wisdom. We are called to live a different story, to walk a different path.
It is the so called fools of this world that so often point the way. May we never be afraid of our foolishness, weakness, and naivety. The likes of Margery Kempe remind us of what a gift such foolishness can be in the hands of God.