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

Margery Kempe vs. Brother Lawrence

  • Brother Lawrence (81%, 5,776 Votes)
  • Margery Kempe (19%, 1,364 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,140

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124 comments on “Margery Kempe vs. Brother Lawrence”

  1. For a poetic take, read "Soliloquy in a Spanish Cloister;" I am not sure Margery
    would approve of these lines by Robert Browning
    "Grrr! There goes my heart's abhorrence...."

    1. "If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
      God's blood, would not mine kill you!"
      At odds now 80/20, one might imagine Margery's bile to rise. However, she seems like a pious if garrulous goodwife. Browning's Protestant zealotry seems to be invested in some pretty lurid projections here in this poem. Browning appears to have little insight into the monastic life. And since he's about 300 years after the anxieties of the Spanish Armada, his anti-Spanish sentiment seems anachronistic. I'm guessing some anti-Catholic animosity permeates his poem. Perhaps the Non-conformism in which he was raised means he finds all religious systems repugnant. Ironically, this becomes a factor in Margery's favor; as socially repellent as her fervor was (someone mentioned braining her with an omelette pan), and I think it possible she may have had some form of Asperger's making her obtuse to all manner of social skills, she appears to have been genuinely sincere, even if she had NO filters on her forms of expression. One must take her in small doses, but presumably she is in heaven, if allowed out only for small periods of a few minutes each "day" in eternity, wearying even the angels with her exuberant floods of tears, and then kindly put back in a "quiet room" so that the saints and angels can get on with the task of adoration without being exhausted with her relentless, and loud, rectitude.

      1. I'm the one who was afraid she might brain Margery with Brother Lawrence's omelette pan. I loved your post, St. Celia. You always have something wise and witty to say.

      2. Interesting observation about Margery St. C! I know people like her, and I've wondered the same about them. I give her my Southern benediction: Bless her heart.

  2. Brother Lawrence is the saint of little things, little things that are big things, the great paradox that I discover and rediscover daily. I think I will go wash the dishes in the spirit of love.

  3. Margery all the way. Who are we to say how one should or should not worship? The woman experienced the love of Jesus in every part of her being. That the priest came to silence and not comfort her....isn’t that what we do all too often. Her response won my vote.

  4. I hope and pray that I would have the patience to sit and talk to Margery at coffee hour. I'm sure she would have much to teach me. It is too easy to write someone off because they annoy us. I remember sitting next to an apparently disturbed person at a diner many years ago. I remember turning her way and she seemed to be having a very animated but silent conversation with me when I wasn't looking. She quickly looked away and so did I. Should I have bridged the gap? I could have tried. In spite of her painful oneness with God, I think Margery must have been very lonely at times.

    1. I would have a hard time spending any time with Margery at coffee hour. If that makes me unworthy, so be it. I don't want to be harangued about my personal means of faith expression, and I'm afraid that I'd end up doing what her fellow pilgrims did, and walking away from the loud Mistress Kempe.

  5. As much as Margery raised her voice, she competed with those offering their own private prayers. So, Larry gets my vote today.

  6. Susan, I'm sorry that you see this as a contest between males and females, and not as choices between equally worthy candidates. The sex of the saint doesn't matter because, after all, in Christ there is no male or female. Try looking at them as individual servants of God and vote for the one who best exemplifies your understanding of that role.

    Here is an under-16-minute sermon for pandemic times. A major theme of this priest's teaching is the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the "false reality" of the "Empire of Death." Here he explains what he means, and if you listen in you will see immediately how it applies to today.

  8. I voted for Margery because she makes me uncomfortable with her loud, personal evangelism. I am by nature more drawn to Brother Lawrence and a more contemplative relationship with Jesus, but am focusing on evangelism in EFM this year. Stepping outside of my comfort zone, I appreciate Margery who traveled the world spreading witness of her very personal relationship with Jesus. "Well behaved women don't make history"

  9. Thank you for your comment, Rene. I almost dropped out of Lent Madness the last couple of years because of the comments about voting due to gender not discernment after careful reading of the write-ups. If LM is truly meant to help us learn about and revere church history and saints, voting based on gender and names seems to me to undermine that. Perhaps I am taking it too seriously....

  10. Thank you for your comment, Rene. I almost dropped out of Lent Madness the last couple of years because of the comments about voting due to gender not discernment after careful reading of the write-ups. If LM is truly meant to help us learn about and revere church history and saints, voting based on gender and names seems to me to undermine that. Perhaps I am taking it too seriously....

  11. What a contrast--two people I've never heard of before who left interesting written testimonies of their deeply held faith. I agree with the above commenter's astute observations that Margery would've been hard (for me) to be around, probably did lack a filter/social skills, and that her faith expression and response to her priest was awesome

    But Brother Lawrence's practices sound like something I need in my life and can hopefully work towards. So I'm going to buy a devotional based on his book on Amazon today and give it a go-- And vote for him.

    Also Rene/Lucy/Lucinda--so agree!

  12. Voted for Margery because she'd enjoy the attention more than Brother Lawrence.
    Sadly she's not doing very well in the polls. Too bad. She deserves better than World's Worst Travel Companion, as strong as a contender as she might be for that title. Her book tells a fascinating story. It would make a heckuva movie. Hey - if Chaucer could parlay his pilgrimage people into an entertainment for his time, why not Margery for ours? I nominate Jennifer Coolidge for the title character. Read the book. She'd be perfect. (Margery also used her loud voice to call out injustice, and there was more to her than people initially realized.)

  13. I love reading all your comments! So many thoughtful, or humorous comments. I can only say I am glad both types are appreciated, and, thankfully, we need the variety they both represent. Seems like more of us relate to the quieter, humbler Lawrence, but also many point out there is a place for both. I, too, vote for the quieter, smaller, humbler acts of Lawrence, but completely recognize God may equally appreciate the louder cries of Margery. They may have reminded him of David’s loud cries.

  14. Brother Lawrence; I am reminded of another saint, George Herbert: who sweeps a room/as for God’s laws/makes that, and th’action fine”

  15. Normally I read the comments before voting, but Brother Lawrence's writeup was just what I needed today.

  16. As we come to terms with the lock down in Britain, at Lawrence is the saint for our times. Do small things with great love is such a joyful message today. As someone who gravitates to the kitchen at social events, my heart is with Lawrence anyway. And his write up was beautifully judged.