Margery Kempe vs. Brother Lawrence

Welcome to the big, giant, full week of sacred Saintly Sixteen action! Monday through Friday our collection of saintly souls will be scratching and clawing their way into the Elate Eight. Today we kick things off with a matchup between Margery Kempe, who easily defeated Eustace, and Brother Lawrence, who stunned St. Patrick in the opening round.

Just to keep everyone updated, on Friday Joseph visited defeat upon Elizabeth 76% to 24%. He'll join Herman of Alaska as the first two saints to achieve the Saintly Sixteen.

As you wait expectantly for another episode of Monday Madness, go cast today's vote!

Margery Kempe

Margery Kempe is only known to us through her writing, The Book of Margery Kempe. From the book, we have a plethora of quotes from her, a woman of the 14thcentury dictated her experiences and devotion to Jesus Christ to a priest.

The opening of her book, in her time, looked like this: Here begynnyth a schort tretys… wherin thei may have gret solas and comfort to hem and undyrstondyn the hy and unspecabyl mercy of ower sovereyn Savyowr Cryst Jhesu, whos name be worschepd and magnyfyed wythowten ende, that now in ower days to us unworthy deyneth to exercysen hys nobeley and hys goodnesse.

Margery’s yearning to share her faith and her deep spiritual experience in writing is an extension of her love to share her faith through words. Margery was most likely illiterate; she paid a priest to write her story. But Margery was, by her own admission, quite chatty. She was a committed evangelist. On one particular pilgrimage, her fellow pilgrims asked her to remain silent during meals.

Margery, of course, could not.

She is compelled to share about Jesus: Afterwards it happened, as this creature sat at a table with her companions, that she repeated a text of the Gospel which she had learned before with other good word, and then her companions said she had broken her undertaking. And she said, "Yes, sirs, indeed I can no longer keep this agreement with you, for I must speak of my Lord Jesus Christ, though all this world had forbidden me."

They left her there.

Evangelism, it seems, is hard sometimes.

Along with her prolific verbal evangelizing, Margery also has the gift of tears; that is, the response of wailing and crying at the sight of images of Jesus being crucified. While she is praying with the image of the Pietà, we read:  [my] mind was wholly occupied with the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the compassion of our Lady, St. Mary, by which [I] was compelled to cry out very loudly and weep very bitterly, as though she would have died.

In another instance, Margery is so moved during the Good Friday service, she weeps bitterly at the image of Jesus’ crucifixion. Her priest, troubled by her emotional spirituality, comes to silence her. She shares:  Then the lady's priest came to her, saying, 'Woman, Jesus is long since dead.' When her crying ceased, she said to the priest, 'Sir, his death is as fresh to me as if he had died this same day, and so, I think, it ought to be to you and to all Christian people.'

Margery, quirky as she was, embodied a passionate, committed faith we are fortunate to have with us in her quirky, quotable words.

--Laurie Brock

Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence is embarrassed. He is a self-effacing, homely, and “so ordinary you could forget about him” kind of individual. Fame and accolades and VOTES are foreign to him as usually, he is the butt of the other monks’ jokes. Brother Lawrence is known for breaking plates, not breaking records. This new-found fame in this odd thing called Lent Madness has left him a little nonplussed.

In fact, the fame is kind of counter to all his beliefs laid out in Practice in the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence sees greatness not in winning a saintly “competition” but in God alone. However, Brother Lawrence is conflicted. On the one hand, his popularity in Lent Madness is both surprising and quite nice (“likes” feel good). On the other hand, it’s very distracting to his prayer life and his belief in the simple things. Brother Lawrence confesses to God that he would very much like for you to vote for him again, but ONLY if you take to heart his teachings and ponder them and apply them in your ordinary life.

Here are Brother Lawrence’s top six lessons on living a God-centered (extra)ordinary life:

1. You need not cry very loud: He is nearer to us than we think.
2. We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.
3. We ought to propose to ourselves to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity.
4. The more we know Him, the more we will desire to know Him. As love increases with knowledge, the more we know God, the more we will truly love Him. We will learn to love Him equally in times of distress or in times of great joy.
5. And it is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God.
6. He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him.

Go. Make an omelet. Live an ordinary life with God.

-- Anna Fitch Courie

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124 comments on “Margery Kempe vs. Brother Lawrence”

  1. Under normal circumstances, I'd vote for Br. Lawrence (anyone over The Weeper) but he beat out Patrick! Now that is tough for me. I'm sure that in the end it will be Lawrence for me but I can't do it quite yet.

  2. Lawrence for us today, after we had oatmeal for breakfast this morning. I made a stockpot full of cabbage beef soup as we worshipped online. The little ordinary things that help us stay in the routine, in this time of uncertainty and disease. The little ordinary things of keeping in touch with neighbors, family, and friends through technology when person to person isn’t possible.

  3. This morning, my dear, loving husband surprised me with a delicious omelet and a croissant for breakfast! He always cooks breakfast, as he wakes up much earlier than I do, but this morning was even more special than usual. Years and years ago, we were introduced to Brother Lawrence in a course on Christian mysticism taught by our beloved pastor, Evelyn Newman. Fast forward to my less-than-contented years of could I forget Brother Lawrence's teachings, just when I needed them most? Thank you for bringing him back into my conscious life, and especially for this inspiring writeup of him! He gets my vote, today and always. May God bless each one of us with contentment, "practicing the presence of God" in whatever form this life brings us, even in the isolation of a "desert island" in the midst of a pandemic!

  4. I don't like omelettes, one egg fried welldone is enough.
    I voted for Margery today to honor my mother who could (&did) quote certain chapters and verses of the KJV. Also the Old English took me back to my beloved high school English teacher, Mrs. Holloman who could easily read it. I also had a Chatty Cathy doll.

  5. I want to be a Brother Lawrence. I am much closer to being a Margery--chatty, sometimes loud. I have several friends who are more like Lawrence and I admire them tremendously. Home alone now because of the virus, constantly texting, emailing, wishing I could be with people. A friend texted me about the lovely sunrise. I hadn't noticed because I was busy on the computer. I voted for Lawrence and will really try to learn his lessons.

  6. Learning about Brother Lawrence is really helpful in this time of social distancing and having our worlds shrink to our small homes. His finding God in the mundane is really powerful. I find myself making more time for God as I am trapped in my home. So, I have to give it to Brother Lawrence.

  7. No-brainer! Someone who made even other devout people want to run screaming from the room vs. someone gentle and modest who found God in the most mundane of tasks. I am so happy to have made the acquaintance of Brother Lawrence. We have lovely saints advancing in the 16 - I foresee agonizing choices ahead!

  8. Moved to laughter by Margery, to tears by Lawrence. What to do???

    I want to have those top six in print always before me until they imprint themselves on my heart. It’s Brother Lawrence for me today as I live my ordinary but anchoritic life of solitude.

  9. What to do, what to do? These play-off match-ups are gruelling. Both Margery and Lawrence were saints of great piety, but when it comes right down to it, I'm afraid that I find Margery too over-the-top for my liking, but I can relate to St. Lawrence, in his everydayness. (Besides, I'm afraid that I'd want to pop Margery with Brother Lawrence's omelette pan!) Great public displays of emotion, as sincere as they may be, make me very uncomfortable, but I can understand and enter into Lawrence's ability to be always aware of the presence of God in the mundane, in the daily round and trivial-seeming tasks.

  10. I voted for Margery. She is a woman who refused to be silenced by the men who had power over her and I admire that.

  11. I kinda wanted to vote for Br. Lawrence, but I had to cast my vote for Margery. She reminds me of my late grandmother (who, interestingly enough, comes from a family called Kemp!), a mystic and a rocking-chair preacher.

  12. I really relate to Lawrence, quiet, humble. (Please don't ask my friends to confirm this!) I have to vote for Margery as she is not afraid to be laughed at, scorned, spurned for spreading the good news of Jesus. I am. Trying to do better, though.

  13. I'm afraid that I must follow Margery's way. One thing I am not is silent. I have always talked too much. If I were younger, I would try to follow Brother Lawrence's advice. My father, after all, was a Lawrence, a quiet, shy man who followed Brother Lawrence's way without knowing him. But at 78, it's too late to change my ways, despite the efforts of almost everyone I know to get me to follow the silent Brother.

  14. I am so very happy that I stumbled across Lent Madness! It has been the perfect Lenten discipline and I have learned so much about these wonderful people. Brother Lawrence, you have my vote!!

  15. I will never prep another omelet without thinking of sweet St. Lawerence and his clarity on living a God centered life.

  16. Brother Lawrence's point #2, as summarized by our celebrity blogger Anna Fitch Courie, has swayed my vote today. It is so similar to a saying of Mother Teresa that made its way into my heart many years ago and became one of my spiritual touchstones: "We can do no great things -- only small things with great love." Peace to all.

    1. Yep, Amy. I noticed that, too. I think your comment has clinched my vote for Lawrence. I need to remind myself to be more like him.

  17. Discouraged that the men keep winning.
    Margery found a way to express her love of Jesus, and like most saints, would have been impossible to live with. But women saints tend to the extreme - Julian or Norwich in her cell, for instance. If a woman behaved like Brother Lawrence, no one would have noticed.

    1. " If a woman behaved like Brother Lawrence, no one would have noticed." I'm not so sure about that -- we did, after all, vote for Martha of Bethany to receive the Golden Halo last year. (My Mom's comment: Wonder how many of the voters were women?)

  18. Had to go with Brother Lawrence today,brilliant words by the writer today.Love omelettes too!

  19. Margery is my choice. She reminded me of my parents whose love of Jesus was shared with so many that they met--at the store, in the street, at the church. etc. When they died, I received letters from folks who were touched by their witness and their love of Jesus. Thanks for this choice, a rainy day has been filled with sunshine for me.

  20. Brother Lawrence broke my bracket in the first round as I had Patrick to win that round and the next two. I voted for Margery in round one but had to go with Brother Lawrence today because "Go. Make an omelet. Live an ordinary life with God."

  21. Hm ... Dropping plates. This rings true. I am the clumsy dishwasher at my home. My husband can concoct a most extraordinary, fluffy omelet in addition to a multitude of delicious meals. I am so very blessed that way. People marvel. He is a chef. On the contrary, no one has ever glorified my dish washing. Today, as I scrub the egg pan and kitchen sink, I am okay with it. Thank you, Brother Lawrence. There is glory in what I do. My God is never far.

  22. As I make my daily eggs each morning I will think of Brother Lawrence and the small things that remind us God is with us.

  23. Brother Lawrence's quiet simplicity appeals much more than Marjory's more florid spirituality, even though I've always struggled to practice God's presence in the ways he urges. But what absolutuely won me over was the invitation to make an omelet, which I will do shortly for my lunch.