God is Entirely Intimate
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Lie down in the Fire
See and taste the Flowing
Godhead through thy being;
Feel the Holy Spirit
Moving and compelling
Thee within the Flowing
Fire and Light of God.
—Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead 6.29
Mechthild of Magdeburg (c. 1212–c. 1282) was a member of the Beguines, lay women who lived communal lives of Christian devotion and service in the Low Countries of Western Europe and in France and Germany. Her book The Flowing Light of the Godhead is said to be the first book written in German. Scholar Carol Lee Flinders writes:
Describing the soul’s relationship with God, [Mechthild] marvels at “the powerful penetration of all things and the special intimacy which ever exists between God and each individual soul.” (Flowing Light 3.1) . . . The paradox enchants her: God is everywhere and surely, therefore, impersonal; and yet in relation to the individual soul, God is entirely intimate and surely, therefore, personal.
Richard here: When we get to the more mature stages of mystical union everything becomes a metaphor for the divine, and we grab for metaphors to make concrete the mystery that is now in everything and everywhere!
“Our redeemer has become our bridegroom!” Mechthild exults. Others had said as much, but in a relatively formal, allegorical mode. 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. “Thou art my resting place,” God tells her, “my love, my secret peace, my deepest longing, my highest honour. Thou art a delight of my Godhead . . . a cooling stream for my ardour” (1.19). God is there, Mechthild insists, for every one of us, not in a general, impersonal sense, but there—so exquisitely right for you it’s as if you’d made him up. He “whispers with His love in the narrow confines of the soul” (2.23). Her language is almost shockingly erotic at times; for Mechthild, the sweet goings-on between God and the soul are the reality—all-consuming and exquisitely fulfilling—of which human sexuality is only a pale shadow.
Perhaps we need to emphasize this. The astonishing concreteness of Mechthild’s imagery—its unembarrassed physicality—is somewhat deceptive if she is read casually. One might think she was celebrating the senses, the body, and even sexuality in and of themselves. In a way, she is, but readers of her time would have understood unequivocally that she conjures up the pleasurable experiences of the physical realm as presentiments, or intimations, of an awakening into supreme joy—joy that is interior and immaterial and unending. Rather than distinguish sharply between the physical and spiritual realms, then, and reject the physical, she joins them in a natural continuity and progression. We are led inward by way of everything in this life: everything in this life, therefore, has its own sanctity.
Carol Lee Flinders, Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics (HarperSanFrancisco: 1993), 44–45. Quotations from The Revelations of Mechthild of Magdeburg; or, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, trans. Lucy Menzies (Longmans, Green: 1953).
Story from Our Community:
I find unstoppable salty tears tracking over my cheeks as I realize how well the language of these meditations articulates a deep inner Yes. Somehow in this mystical meeting of Truth and awareness comes this irresistible, resounding affirmation buoyed by copious gratitude. And with this grateful gratitude comes new life, comes everything. —Shawn B.