Julian Norwich Both Margery Kempe and the Thesis

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Julian Norwich

Both Margery Kempe and the woman who can be called her mentor, Julian of Norwich, highlight the roles that women have played in Christian history. Although the Roman Catholic Church has officially canonized neither of them, the Anglican Church recognizes and honors both. Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich both wrote extensively, and their writings have survived as testimony of the hardships women especially endured given their low social status, and how religion helped women to attain personal power and peace. Moreover, their writings reveal a mature theology that can be considered humanist as well as feminist. Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich both share in common experiences of hallucinations related to near death experiences. Their both having near-death experiences linked the two women and anchored them to Christ as well. Kempe eventually came to visit Julian of Norwich, and the two shared in common a visionary love of God that permeates their writing. A common theme in Margery Kempe's and Julian of Norwich's work is that pain can trigger visionary experiences of God, and those visionary experiences bring one closer to the truth and to God.

Both Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe led extraordinary lives for medieval English women in part because they were both from middle-class as opposed to poor families. Class plays a role in how these two women perceived and reacted to their spiritual experiences. It is likely that a poor woman experiencing spiritual visions precipitated by pain might not have had the opportunity to express herself in writing. In The Book of Margery Kempe, the author writes her autobiography in third person, referring to herself as "she." The effect is to create more of a narrative and engages the reader in her story. Among Kempe's primary motifs include childbearing and motherhood, which she endured fourteen times before vowing to walk away from the mundane life of a medieval wife. Kempe claims that her husband loved her, but that she felt a spiritual calling that was precipitated by great physical and psychological pain. She declares herself forever a servant of Christ, and indeed lives her life honestly devoted to spiritual practice.
Before Margery Kempe embarks on her ambitious religious pilgrimages, she dabbles in entrepreneurial activities. These activities show how women negotiated power within their personal lives, in a time when women were systematically denied access to social, economic, and political power. Brewing was an activity open to women in medieval England, which is one reason why Margery Kempe became a brewer. She claims that her beer was known to be excellent, but that a setback with the yeast culture led to low worker morale. Finally, the business failed, and Margery blamed herself and her own sins.

The psychological pain from the failure of the business caused Margery Kempe to devote herself more deeply to her spiritual practice. Likewise, Julian of Norwich drove herself to experience deep spiritual revelations after tiring of the dissatisfaction in daily life. It is impossible to say whether patriarchal social structures were a definitive or conscious cause of these two women dropping out of their respective social circles to be closer to God. It is, however, reasonable to assume that their relatively privileged backgrounds did facilitate their transition from a mundane to a purely spiritual life. Both women had the opportunity to choose their destinies in ways that poor women were most likely prohibited from doing either due to economic need or social constraint, or both. Kempe's entrepreneurial activities is one proof that her financial position was strong enough to allow her to pursue activities independent from her husband. Yet her worldly travels are further proof that….....

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