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Mechthild of Magdeburg
Mechthild of Magdeburg

Mechthild of Magdeburg: Weekly Summary

Saturday, October 28, 2023

An infinite God seeks and desires intimacy with the human soul. Once we experience such intimacy, only the intimate language of lovers describes the experience for us: mystery, tenderness, singularity, specialness, changing the rules “for me,” nakedness, risk, ecstasy, incessant longing, and also, of course, necessary suffering. This is the mystical vocabulary of the saints. —Richard Rohr

Mechthild shares this deepening love between herself and God, but she doesn’t share it by talking about it. She lets us in on it with the language of intimacy and bears witness to it. —James Finley

When Mechthild writes of the soul’s romance with God, she is no allegorist: in the depths of her being, she has found a lover who is fully, deliciously responsive.
—Carol Lee Flinders

Beguines exhorted their followers to recognize that there existed no impediment to a deep and meaningful prayer life. No matter what a person’s station in life, be they educated or uneducated, poor or wealthy, it did not impede or deny them awareness of God in their lives. God yearned to draw close to all. —Laura Swan

Love of God and of humanity are not two separate things, as if one could love God but shun humanity. Compassionate action reflects and mirrors the divine image. Love is not an emotion or obligation but is God present in the soul. —Wendy Farley

Then we shall no longer complain. / Then everything that God has done with us / Will suit us just fine, / If you will now only stand fast / And keep hold of sweet hope.
—Mechthild of Magdeburg

Holy Simplicity

The beguines, like their Franciscan contemporaries in Italy, chose to live in poverty, simplicity, and service to those in need. Father Richard points to how we might embrace a life of “poverty,” even in times of sufficiency and abundance:

Letting go of our own small vantage point is the core of what we mean by conversion, but also what we mean by Franciscan “poverty.” Poverty is not just a life of simplicity, humility, restraint, or even lack. Poverty is when we recognize that myselfby itselfis largely powerless and ineffective. John’s Gospel puts it quite strongly when it says that a branch that does not abide in Jesus “is withered and useless” (see John 15:6). The transformed self, living in union, no longer lives in shame or denial of its weakness, but even rejoices because it does not need to pretend that it is any more than it actually is—which is now more than enough! [1]

Mechthild of Magdeburg echoes this teaching:

Those who wish to know but have little love 

Remain forever at the beginning of a good life…. 

Those who simply love and know very little 

Are opened to great things. 

Holy simplicity is the physician of all wisdom. 

It causes the wise [person] to see [themself] for the foolish person [they are]. 

When simplicity of heart dwells in the wisdom of the mind,  

Much holiness results in a person’s soul. [2]


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 71.

[2] Mechthild, The Flowing Light of the Godhead 7.43, trans. Frank Tobin (New York: Paulist Press, 1998), 312, 313. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Alma Thomas, Snow Reflection on Pond (detail), 1973, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Loïs Mailou Jones, Jeune Fille Français (detail), 1951, oil on canvas, Smithsonian. Loïs Mailou Jones, Textile Design for Cretonne (detail), 1928, watercolor on paper, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image.

Mechtild looks into our eyes with peace and knowing of the Beloved – we look back into her eyes having beheld the same Beloved.

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