In 2020, we witnessed a worldwide pandemic, police killing black people, long-term high unemployment, business failures, rising homelessness, a country profoundly divided, organized campaigns of misinformation, lies, assaults on the press, and on Wednesday we will see if the Constitution can survive yet another challenge.
How do you orient yourself in hard times? I think Julian of Norwich can teach us. During her childhood three-fourths of her hometown died of the black plague. Multiple waves of this terrifying, contagious disease continued throughout her lifetime. She lived during the Hundred Years' War under some of England's worst kings and highest taxes.
Out of this era, religion and culture developed a sense of alienation from the natural world. Preoccupied with sin, they sought redemption out of this world, making life after death more important than life before death.
Not Julian. Deathly ill at age 30, she received last rites in the late 14th century. In a liminal place between life and death, she experienced the living Christ in 16 revelations. Julian described him as "friendly" and "merry," warm and welcoming, filled with a maternal unconditional love which "feeds all living things."
Julian survived, and later that year published the short version of her "Showings: Revelations of Divine Love," becoming the first woman of English literature. For more than 40 years she lived in a cell attached to her church with a window opening onto a busy city street of England's second-largest city. She gave spiritual counsel and friendship as she pondered and revised her writing about the visions, publishing her long version 20 years later.
I'd like to share some of her wisdom and spirit. I suggest Julian offers a needed perspective in our time of trials. If we could but see how glorious and good creation and life is, maybe our hearts would be moved like Julian's toward gratefulness and love.
"The first thing is the goodness of nature. God is the same thing as nature. The goodness in nature is God. God feels great delight to be our Father. God feels great delight to be our Mother."
Julian used feminine imagery of God's divine womb enfolding and nurturing us into fullness of life. Julian was convinced that "in our essence we are in God, and God in us." She declared that God is One. Everything is in God. God is in everything. God transcends and encloses all that is made. "To the eyes of our soul, our heavenly Mother is good and tender; to the eyes of our heavenly Mother, the children of grace are precious and lovely."
She wrote, "I could see no blame or anger in God. God is the goodness that cannot be angry." Julian believed that God loves us so much that "God cannot forgive, for he cannot be angry. ... We are joined to him in love for ever." The only cause of all our suffering is our failure to love as God loves. And when we suffer, Christ in his passion and compassion suffers with us. Christ "does the work of a kind nurse who has nothing to do but to occupy herself with the salvation of her child."
In the midst of decades of plague and war, Julian heard Christ answer all her questions and doubts saying, "I may make all things well, I can make all things well, and I will make all things well, and you shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be made well."
She is especially famous for a vision that helps humans see reality from God's perspective. "In this vision he also showed a little thing, the size of a hazelnut in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind's eye and thought, 'What can this be?' And the answer came to me, 'It is all that is made.' I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly have disappeared. And the answer in my mind was, 'It lasts and will last forever because God loves it; and everything exists in the same way by the love of God.'"
Near the close of her book, she quotes the Divine Voice: "Do you want to know what your Lord meant? Know well that love was what he meant. Who showed you this? Love. What did he show? Love. Why did he show it to you? For love."
In our days of plague and suffering, can we also see the love that can make all things well?