The following poem was written by a medieval woman mystic, Mechthild of Magdeburg (c. 1208-c. 1282). I am in the middle of a research paper on her book, The Flowing Light of the Godhead for my historical theology seminar. I hope to post something more substantive in the future about her and her mystical theology. For now, its helpful to know that Mechthild (pronounced Meck-tild) was a German woman from a noble background who was a member of a lay community of women called beguines, who lived together to pursue the holy life outside of formal ecclesiastical structures (like convents).
Her book was in the vernacular German of her day, but translated into Latin by Dominican priests soon after her death. Apparently, despite Mechthild's status as a laywoman, The Flowing Light of the Godhead was revered as sacred theology for some time. Scholars have only recently re-discovered her text and begun to do extensive research on her life and work.
Mechthild's mystical writings are strange to most contemporary readers because she uses blatantly romantic and erotic language to describe her relationship to God (the following poem is very, very mild--I plan to share more interesting pieces later). She draws on the language of courtly love from her day to describe the soul as the bride and lover of the Godhead. Readers will recognize in her work the language of the Song of Solomon, as well, which was interpreted almost universally in Mechthild's day as an allegorical poem depicting God's love for the Church.
I would be interested to hear your reflections, if you have any, on the way this dialogue depicts the soul and God as lovers.
The Flowing Light of the Godhead
Book V, Chapters 17 & 18
Greetings to you, living God.
You are mine before all things.
I am endlessly glad
That I can speak to you without guile.
When my enemies pursue me,
I flee to your arms
Where I can complain about my suffering
While you incline yourself to me.
You well know how you can pluck
The strings of my soul.
Ah, begin at once
That you may be ever blessed.
I am a low-born bride;
And yet you are my lawful husband.
I shall ever rejoice about this.
Remember how well you can caress
The pure soul on your lap
And do it, Lord, to me now,
Even though I am not worthy of you.
Ah, Lord, draw me up to you.
Then I shall be pure and radiant.
If you abandon me to myself,
I shall remain dark and sluggish.
Thus does God answer:
I respond to your greeting with such a heavenly flood:
Were I to give myself to you in all my power,
You would not preserve your human life.
You well know I must hold back my might
And hide my splendor
To let you remain in earthly misery
Until all my sweetness rises up
To the heights of eternal glory,
And my strings shall play sweetly for you
In tune with the true value of your patient love.
Still, before I begin,
I want to tune my heavenly strings in your soul,
So that you might persevere even longer.
For well-born brides and noble knights
Must undergo a long and intensive preparation at great cost.