Use of the Third Person
Throughout the Book, Margery speaks of herself in the third person, as “this creature.” On one level, doing so is a simple act of humility on Margery’s part: her purpose is simply to tell her story, not to make herself famous. But this act of humility is deeply significant for Margery, who comes to see herself truly in terms of her created nature, her “creaturehood.” All of the conflict in Margery’s life—within her family, her society, and even herself—has its resolution in Margery’s commitment to place Jesus’s purposes for her life above all others’, including her own. Many of the most dramatic moments of Margery’s story come when she is publicly forced to honor Christ’s will over the will of her husband, the secular or religious authorities, and even, in the case of her inconvenient tears, her own will. In the end, Margery gladly embraces her status as “this creature” of God.
Conversations with God
Margery has several extended conversations with Jesus (and other heavenly persons) over the course of her life. Indeed, she tends to express most of the workings of her mind in terms of a conversation with God. Where one might ordinarily say, “I became suspicious of him,” Margery will typically say something to the effect of, “The Lord warned this creature in her thoughts about this man.” Margery means for the reader to take these statements literally—she is reporting what are for her actual discussions with, and revelations from, God. This is especially true with the extended visions in which Margery witnesses scenes from the gospels. But Margery is also trying to teach us to see our thoughts as being in constant dialogue with God (and the devil), and to be open to prompting from above (and wary of temptation from below). Again, she is trying to emphasize—to provide an image of—the activity and presence of God in everyday life as well as in intense mystical experience.
One of the most striking elements of Margery’s story is the intense physicality she ascribes to what we generally consider un-bodily, spiritual experiences. One example is Margery’s tears, the most typical physical expression of her religious emotion. Margery also sees visions, hears music, smells delightful odors, and feels a pleasant warmth when she is in the midst of one of her mystic reveries. She also has a long sequence of visions in which she describes herself as embracing Jesus physically, culminating in her “marriage” to Christ. The point of this is both to make Margery’s abstract, spiritual experience concrete and comprehensible and to make Margery’s physical experience spiritual. Margery wants us to feel that the effects of Jesus’s contact with her soul are made visible to others through her bodily reactions. Although it is impossible to know for sure, the teaching of Margery’s confessor and other mentors may have guided her interpretations and descriptions of what was happening to her. As Margery is careful to say, in the very last chapter of Book One, visions are often hard to interpret, and “sometimes, what she understood physically was to be understood spiritually.”
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