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Mechthild of Magdeburg
Mechthild of Magdeburg

Unraveled by Love

Friday, October 27, 2023

Mechthild of Magdeburg lived independently as a beguine until she could no longer care for herself. James Finley highlights what we can learn from Mechthild as she approached her death:

She continued on in this way, writing and living with the beguines, into old age. She reached a point of fragility when she became blind and wasn’t able to dress or feed herself. She moved to a monastery of Cistercian nuns who took care of her. Not only did she go blind, and not only could she not do anything for herself, but God took away all traces of the felt sense of God’s love. She comes to the end of her life in a state of powerlessness. She says that if God wishes her to live this way, then she wishes it too. She begins to express deep gratitude for the nuns and the way they care for her as a way she experiences God’s love for her in her powerlessness.

Here is Mechthild’s prayer expressing her gratitude to God for her powerlessness:

Thus speaks a beggar woman in her prayer to God:

Lord, I thank You that since in Your love You have taken from me all earthly riches, You now clothe and feed me through the goodness of others, so that I no longer know those things that might clothe my heart in pride of possession.

Lord, I thank You that since You have taken my sight from me, You serve me through the eyes of others.

Lord, I thank You that since You have taken from me the strength of my hands and the strength of my heart, You now serve me with the hands and hearts of others. [1]

Finley continues:  

Her life comes full circle, where the places of the ecstasy in her heart, and the places of utter poverty and brokenness form a circle, and the brokenness and the ecstasy touch each other and she becomes utterly ordinary. She becomes utterly ordinary, falling away from the ability to gain footing by her own power to do anything at all. The last two books of The Flowing Light of the Godhead are dictated because she couldn’t write anymore; she dictated it and she died writing it. She ends her book with a dialogue between her soul and her body in death:

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. [2]

How can we learn then to be unraveled by love, as Mechthild was? I’ll put it another way: the very fact that we are being touched by the beauty of these mystics means that we are being unraveled by this love. It’s already unfolding. It’s already being laid bare in the unresolved matters of our heart. Mechthild then mentors us in this love and is unexplainably trustworthy throughout our days.


[1] Mechthild, The Flowing Light of the Godhead 7.64, in Meditations from Mechthild of Magdeburg, ed. Henry L. Carrigan Jr. (Brewster MA: Paraclete Press, 1999), 126.

[2] Mechthild, The Flowing Light of the Godhead 7.65, trans. Frank Tobin (New York: Paulist Press, 1998), 336.

Adapted from James Finley, “Mechtild of Magdeburg: Session 3,” in Turning to the Mystics, season 8 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2023), podcast, MP3 audio. 

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.

Story from Our Community:  

The night my granddaughter was born, I found it hard to sleep. Wave after wave of gratitude kept washing over me, and tears kept flowing. I felt that I was spiraling, being pulled deeper and deeper into love. This experience reminded me of being a little girl, lying in my bed on Christmas night, reluctant to let go of the joy, happiness, and love of that day. Love has accompanied me all my life and it now walks with me as a grandmother. —Patricia S.

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