Paraclete Press has just published a book of daily devotions edited by Carmen Acevedo Butcher, A Little Daily Wisdom: Christian Women Mystics. I'm not a fan of the devotional genre, though I've written two such books myself. But this one is unusual. There are no canned prayers, no chirpy little inspirational thoughts, no Scripture texts taken out of context, and no thanks be to God application questions. Instead, each day offers a few lines, freshly translated, from a woman writer who lived sometime between 1098 (the birth year of St. Hildegard of Bingen) and 1582 (the death year of St. Teresa of Avila).
When I first picked up the book, I narcissistically turned to my own birth date and read words by Gertrude the Great that seem to turn today's common wisdom on its head. Acknowledging the close relationship between body and soul, she sees an inverse relationship between them:
When your body is touched and troubled by pain, it's like your soul is bathed in air and sunlight, coming to it through the painful body, and this gives the soul a wonderful clarity. The greater the pain, or the more general the suffering, the more purification or clarification goes on in the soul.
I've long been familiar with the slogan mens sana in corpore sano, "a healthy mind in a healthy body" I think it was the motto of a school I once attended that goes back to the Roman poet Juvenal. I've always thought it meant that the healthier the mind (and the soul), the healthier the body, and vice versa. Want to increase your resistance to disease? Practice gratitude! Want to lift depression? Exercise!
But Gertrude the Great turns this relationship around. I doubt if she ever suggests that a sick soul produces a healthy body (though ...1