“Love me passionately, love me often, and love me long.” The appeal might grace the cover of Cosmopolitan. The one, big exception? That it is addressed to God…in the thirteenth century…by a “virginal” nun named Mechthild de Magdeburg.
These days I am reading Mechthild’s strange, quirky yet wise The Flowing Light of the Godhead and finding there what she (or at least her male confessor, Heinrich) promises in the Prologue: “an increase in solace and spiritual grace.” For me, the “solace” consists in the reassurance that the Holy Spirit was alive and well in speaking authoritatively through women writers and theologians as far back as the thirteenth century. The “grace”- in the presentation of a God who longs jealously after my soul the way a stricken lover does, and from whom separation is as necessary as “togetherness” if our love is to be real.
This depiction of the spiritual life as one of Love wooing the human soul in an erotically laced, wrestling contest of sorts is one that we would do well to recover in an age when sexuality has become so untethered from spirituality. That God’s Love in a sense seeks to “devour” us, so that even our best virtues burn away when we find ourselves in the refining fire of God’s jealous love, is, I suspect, an important component in any conversation about the nature of love, sex and spirituality. I am grateful to Mechthild for giving it voice. In the days and weeks to come, you will probably be hearing more from Mechthild and other women writers and theologians as I, thanks to Emory theologian Wendy Farley and her seminar on women’s theology, survey their contributions to the Christian tradition. I hope you’ll join us for the ride!