All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.Julian of Norwich 1342-1423 (ish)
Thomas Merton writes of Julian of Norwich ‘I think Julian of Norwich is, with Newman, the greatest English theologian’ : a pretty significant statement in itself. So why on earth did it take me so long to find her? I’m not new to the great mystics, and yet although I’d heard of her, especially her most famous quotation above, I had never actually sat down with her only work ‘Revelations of Divine Love and read it properly for myself.
Julian was one of about forty recluses that lived around Norwich in the Middle Ages. Most began life in reasonably wealthy families, and after a significant time of devotion in a monastery or equivalent, a few were chosen by the Bishop to become ceremoniously entombed in an individual cell attached to a local church or religious house. Julian was an anchoress who, on the thirteenth of May 1373, near the point of death, had a series of sixteen visions centred around the person and sufferings of Jesus and on the Trinity. The revelation from these visions came in three ways; spiritual locutions where God spoke directly to her heart in what she would describe as an ‘unquestioning way’, visions through the corporeal senses as God directly interacted with her imagination, and spiritual visions that she found more difficult to describe. Of course in our now post-Enlightenment age, a similar experience would probably be immediately discounted and be the subject of ridicule, yet her subsequent writings live on as some of the most profound of her time.
The revelation that she brings, her having dwelt upon these visions in prayer for some twenty years, is of a loving and compassionate God, merciful and forgiving. She was one of the first to write of God as our mother, and brought theological opinion that was strikingly different from that of her time; indeed perhaps ours. This is what makes it such a great book for Lent, as although it dwells at length upon the sacrificial nature of the Passion of Christ, it draws out such a depth of love and relationship from that sacrifice to counter any initial discomfort as to the ascetic nature of her approach to life.
Over the forty days of Lent, starting on Wednesday 6th March, these short daily devotionals will be published at 6am each day to simply draw out some areas that I have found significant in my own reading of it, my prayer being that through her writings we may too journey deeper into the revelation of God’s astounding love.