Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Vis-Kari: The Norwegian Mystic

A large oil painting of Kari Pedersdatter (of Sevre) hangs in the narthex of the church in Flaa (mid-19th century). How cool is that? One normally finds paintings displayed in a church narthex of Jesus in the Garden or with the little children. It is indeed compelling because Vis-Kari (Wise Kari) was not only, God Forbid, a female, but she was a lay preacher even to kings, long before it was acceptable for such unheard of practices. Her preaching brought about great religious fervor against the backdrop of the Pietistic Haugean lay movement that swept Scandinavia. Kari spoke out strongly against the use of alcohol and such frivolities as music and dancing.

But the tale gets stranger still: Kari was called Vis or Wise because she was a mystic: Norway's only known mystic. Kari had "spells." When she awoke from one of her spells or unconscious periods, she spoke of visions. And the crowds became quiet; they listened to words speaking truths that they were were not accustomed to hearing. Hundreds of men (get that????) obeyed her call to give up drink and to burn their musical instruments.

Reading about Vis-Kari brings to mind mystics ranging from Hildegarde of Bingen, St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross - to Dag Hammerskjold, one of our modern day mystics. What exactly is the definition of a mystic? Wikipedia: "A mystic is one who believes in the existence of realities beyond human comprehension." I suppose the same can be said for schizophrenics. Not all mystics have visions either; some speak of an existential experience of the immanent or transcendent God that is life-transforming; yet, words fail them as they try to describe an encounter with "Something." They don't hear words or see visions, but they comprehend and grasp the deeper realities of God's presence among us in wondrous ways.

Kari's story is intriguing to me as a Lutheran clergywoman who witnessed the difficulties women faced entering ministry in the first ten years following the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church. Yet, here is an uneducated farmer's daughter who experiences "call" to ministry over a hundred years earlier than the ordination of women in the US and she is not only accepted, but she walks hundreds of miles to preach to the king, and he not only receives her, but he listens to her. She preaches to men and they obey as though God Almighty was speaking directly to them. She has visions at a time it was certainly not politically correct to hear from God apart from the written word (in Norwegian). And the people are so amazed they call her Vis-Kari. Who can help but stand in awe and wonder at the mystery of God using a young woman to bring such changes?

Vis-Kari lived at the same time and in the same place as my great grandmother, Brynhild Engebretsdatter; no doubt they knew each other because Brynhild's aunt Kristi was Kari's stepmother. She was a Sevre - as was her mother-in-law, Anne Olsdtr. Sevre/Sefre.

While I cannot agree that her fervor against dancing or burning musical instruments was the Word of the Lord- I can rejoice to see her image displayed in the church at Flaa knowing she was a community treasure.

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1 comment:

Wendy Stevens said...

While doing online research about my family and the country they came to America from I stumbled across your blog. Kari bears a resemblance to my grandmother who's family was from Trondheim. This blog has been very informative and I learned much from it. Keep posting I want to learn more about my Norwegian heritage.