Kempe, born around 1373, is among the most famous and important of medieval English
mystics. Her Book is the first autobiography written in English and one of the earliest
works in English by a woman. It recounts her long and variegated life, first as a wife and
mother of fourteen children, then as a religious mystic and pilgrim who communed with the
Lord, wept uncontrollably and wore the white habit of a virgin (despite the kids).
The excerpt from Margery’s Book presents a familiar situation: a wife denying
her husband sex, claiming to have no interest, when in fact she has a lover on the side who gets
all her attention. It’s a Hollywood storyline, but Margery Kempe’s version has a few twists.
The first is that the piece was written in the beginning of the fifteenth century; the second is
that her paramour is no ordinary man, nor does he use ordinary means for the seduction of the
The lover, the reader soon discovers, is the Lord, and he’s got the moves. It was not
uncommon in the Middle Ages for religious mystics to have forms of spiritual union with the
Man, but what is particularly interesting about Margery’s tale is that God does not simply arrive in
a visitation (like Zeus in the golden rain), but speaks to Margery in her soul and gets her to fall for him. But I, for one, can’t help feeling for the poor husband — talk about being outmatched!
So, in the Christian spirit of trinity within unity, you should read the piece below for* * *
the humor, the sexiness and to see the Almighty’s unique version of the
flowers/chocolates/sweet-nothings approach to the age-old art of MacDaddyism. God can
definitely make time.
From Margery Kempe’s Book
(translated by B.A. Windeatt)
One night, as this creature lay in bed with her husband, she heard a melodious sound so sweet
and delectable that she thought she had been in paradise. And immediately she jumped out of
bed and said, “Alas that ever I sinned! It is full merry in heaven.”
. . . And after this time she never had any desire to have sexual intercourse with her
husband, for paying the debt of matrimony was so abominable to her that she would rather, she
thought, have eaten and drunk the ooze and muck in the gutter than consent to intercourse . . .
[And then] it happened one Friday . . . that her husbund asked his wife this question:
“Margery, if there came a man with a sword who would strike off my head unless I made love
with you as I used to do before, tell me on your conscience whether you would allow my head to
be cut off, or else allow me to make love with you again, as I did at one time?
“Truly I would rather have you killed than that we should turn back to our
“Then you are no good wife.”
[Some time later] as this creature was in the church of the Holy Apostles at Rome, the Father
of Heaven said to her, “Daughter I am pleased with you . . . I will have you wedded to my
Godhead, because I shall show you my secrets and my counsels, and you shall live with me
[Following these words] our Lord also gave her another token which lasted about sixteen years
and that was a flame of fire of love — marvellously hot and delectable and very comforting,
never diminishing and ever increasing; for though the weather were cold she felt the heat
burning in her breast and at her heart, as veritably as a man would feel the material fire if he
put his hand or his finger into it.
When she first felt the fire of love burning in her breast she was afraid of it, and then
our Lord answered in her mind and said, “Daughter, don’t be afraid, because this heat is the
heat of the Holy Ghost . . . And therefore you have great cause to love me well, and yet you
shall have greater cause than you ever had to love me, for you shall hear what you never
heard, and you shall see what you never saw, and you shall feel what you never felt . . .
[And then the Lord spoke in her soul:] “It is appropriate for the wife to be on homely terms with
her husband. Be he ever so great a lord and she ever so poor a woman when he weds her, yet
they must lie together and rest together in joy and peace. Just so must it be between you and me .
. . I must be intimate with you, and lie in your bed with you. Daughter, you greatly desire to see
me, and you may boldly, when you are in bed, take me to you as your wedded husband, as your
dear darling, and as your sweet son, for I want to be loved as a son should be loved by the
mother, and I want you to love me, daughter, as a good wife ought to love her husband.
Therefore you can boldly take me in the arms of your soul and kiss my mouth, my head, and my
feet as sweetly as you want . . . ”
© Penguin Books