Julian of Norwich – a beacon of hope for us today.

Sunday 23rd August.

God is love

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever ” (1 Peter 1:24). This holds true for those words given to God’s faithful people over the years, as well as to the words in the bible. Life’s basic joys, sorrows and challenges do not change that much, however sophisticated we have become. The worldwide covid pandemic has brought this home to us. And people have always turned to God when looking for security, comfort and help in troubled times.

Revisiting the revelations given to Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), I’ve been struck by the parallels between her time and our own. Each day this week, I will take some of Julian’s words, show how they were based on scripture (though her theology was quite revolutionary at that time) and consider their relevance for us, today.

Julian ended her “Revelations of Divine Love” by concluding  “I learned that, in all things, LOVE was His meaning”. Moreover, “God created all things, He loves them, and so He will sustain them”.  Julian saw that, to God, everything and everyone has ultimate worth and is precious. God has no room for prejudice or superiority.  Her revelations of God was not of a harsh, judgemental God, but one who loves all, more than we could possibly grasp or imagine.

Consider “God saw all that He had made and saw it was very good” (Gen 1:31) and “God is love” (1 John 4:16).

How much we need to hear these truths today, as we are reconsidering whether people really are being treated equally in our world, and also we desperately need that perfect love that overcomes all the fears around currently.

God is love.

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Monday 24th August 

How God sees us

Julian (1342-1416) lived during a time of huge social, religious and political upheaval, incessant wars and sweeping epidemics. England was in the middle of the 100 years war with France and millions had died during the Black Death. This created a big decline in farming and trading, which along with instability within the leadership in London, led to the Peasant’s revolt of 1381, calling for more equality and an end to serfdom —  ‘unfree’ labour. What echoes there are with today! Even the church couldn’t provide stability as it was the time of the Great Schism between the Catholic west and Orthodox east.

As Julian reflected on the words our Lord had given her and started writing them down, many would have been making their way to the street window of her anchorhold for advice and prayer. (This was a small room built on to the wall of St Julian’s church in Norwich).

Julian wrote that it is not God’s will for us to live with guilt for He has infinite compassion. “The Lord looks on His servants with pity, not with blame.  In God’s sight, we do not fall, in our sight we do not stand”.

Consider “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us” (Psalm 103:12).

We know how hard it can be to forgive ourselves (and to forgive other people) and so we get “stuck”.  Only God can release us from this destructive thinking and guilt and enable us to “move on”.  Jesus came to set us free.

God does indeed look on us “with pity not with blame” and through His eyes of love.

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Tuesday 25th August.

God alone suffices. 

Julian wrote;

“God, of Your goodness, give me Yourself,

for You are enough for me, and

I can ask for nothing….less

which can pay You full worship.

And if I ask for anything….  less

always I am in want;

but only in You do I have everything.”

This echoed the conviction that only God can satisfy our deepest longings.  In the words of St Augustine from the 4th century,  “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds it’s rest in Thee”. It was echoed later in the words of St Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Spanish Carmelite nun:

“Let nothing disturb you,

nothing cause you fear;

Though all things pass

God is unchanging.

Patience obtains all:

Whoever has God

Needs nothing else,

God alone suffices.”

Teresa had a totally different life than Julian – she was a woman of letters, a theologian, of the Catholic Reformation movement. She was involved in politics and established a new, reformed order of Carmelite nuns in 1580. She was opposed by the Spanish Inquisition but not formally charged by them.  However, like Julian, she, too, had revelations from God when she was in bed, critically ill. Following this, she spent some years in seclusion, praying and writing down what the Lord had given her. Like Julian, during this time people would come to speak to her through her convent grille, for counsel and prayer. So, the knowledge that “God alone suffices” came to each of them from personal experiences.

Julian also wrote, “He says, ‘I am He, the unity, the supreme goodness in everything; I make you to love, I make you to long, I am the fulfilling of all true desires’”.

Consider; “The Lord is my shepherd, So I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1) and

Paul in Philippians (3:7-10) “All I want is to know Christ as Lord and Saviour”. And Psalm 42:1. “As the deer pants for cool clear water, so my soul longs for You, O Lord”.

God alone suffices!

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Wednesday, 26th August. 

God is our Mother

Julian experienced dramatic revelations from God and so her theology was quite revolutionary for her day. That is why I’m showing how it was all firmly rooted in scripture. She dared to suggest that God is our Mother as well as our Father.

She wrote,  “in our making, God almighty is our loving Father, and God all wisdom is our loving Mother, with the love and  goodness of the Holy Spirit, which is all one God, one Lord…”  and ” In our Father, God almighty, we have our being and in our Mother of mercy we have our reforming and restoring…”. (Chapter 58).

She had introduced her revelations at the beginning, as “words of comfort, greatly moving for all those who desire to be Christ’s lovers” and said “comfort yourself with this and trust in it, and you will not be overcome”. (Chapter1).

How WE need truths, that comfort and, that by which, WE will not be overcome by all that is going on in OUR day.

We are taught that God made us and then we spend the rest of our life learning how to respond to that love. Julian is teaching us about this “forth spredying” increasing our understanding.  Always, she suggests that God is far greater than anything we can imagine.

Consider “underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27) and  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37) and many other references to the Motherhood of God in the bible.

God is our Mother.

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Thursday 27th August. 

God can sometimes seem absent.

Julian had said from the beginning that “though I am a woman, ignorant, weak and frail”, she was sharing what God had given her to encourage others who were trying to understand God’s love and purposes.  She knew that most of us live between doubt and hope, and between sensing God’s presence and feeling His absence.

She writes, “I saw Him and I sought Him, I had Him and then lacked Him, that is how life is”.  In the meantime, “a wise heart abides in Christ, in sorrow and in joy…for steadfast prayer will keep our hope alive…our Lord is most glad of our prayer…pray wholeheartedly, even when it has no savour for you and when you feel nothing “.  For He says, “I AM the endless fulfilling of all true desires”.

Yet, we know how easy it is to take our eyes off the Lord when life is really tough.  We are most vulnerable when we’re exhausted, or fearing the future, or when circumstances are against us. Of course, this is when we need to trust and look to God even more. It takes an act of will and courage to do this. God is always present to us, but we are not always present to God.  Julian wrote that to only seek God when He, in His goodness, shows Himself to us is “so blind and foolish”.  She, herself, admits to moments of doubt, when God seemed absent. She understands, and so her writings help us realise the truth.  Her strength to trust in God’s presence, whatever, came from “steadfast, wholehearted prayer” and from completely saturating herself in the light she had received. No wonder her writings have spoken to so many over the years!

Consider “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1) and “The God of hope fills us with joy and peace, as we trust in Him, so that we abound in hope….hope that doesn’t disappoint us as God’s love has been poured into our hearts through His Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 and 5:5).

God can sometimes seem absent.

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Friday 28th August. 

All shall be well. 

Julian wrote “Our good Lord answered all the questions and doubts that I could raise, saying most comfortingly:

‘I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I will make all things well, and you will see yourself that every kind of thing shall be well’ …. God wishes us to be enclosed in rest and peace .”

How CAN we have such hopeful expectations when the reality of life is that we just don’t know what the future holds?  People sometimes try to comfort someone in distress by saying such things as “don’t worry, it will all work out in the end”.  Such platitudes are no comfort to the one who is suffering and who knows that things may actually get worse!  Julian was not speaking in platitudes.  She wrote at a most tumultuous time in history, as we discussed on Monday.  Life was tough.  And God had given her these revelations at a time when she, herself, was critically ill, at 30 years old.

Julian tells us we won’t be spared suffering, but the way to meet it is with trust.

“God did not say ‘you will not be assailed, you will not be disquieted’, but He did say ‘you will not be overcome’…He loves us and delights in us and wishes us to delight in Him and trust greatly in Him, and all shall be well”.

To trust that “all shall be well”, doesn’t mean feeling no fear but trusting that God won’t let us down and that our suffering is never the last word!

Consider Jesus’s words in John’s gospel  “in this world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world”.  (John 16:33).  When Jesus says, “do not be afraid”, that is a command, and so a choice we can make. We cannot choose how we feel but we can choose what we think about. How we think affects our emotions, our attitudes, and the choices we make in life.

We can ask the Holy Spirit to “help us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26) and to bring to mind relevant scriptures, promises in the bible that we can count on, for God is truth. We know that God is always working in us and for us and meeting our needs.

Let us pray for courage to trust and to look to THE light that penetrates ALL darkness.

All shall be well.

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Saturday 29th August. 

God wills that we seek Him and receive His gifts.

Throughout her writings, Julian tells us that God longs for us to seek Him, in humility, and to receive His love.

He is infinitely more ready to give than we are to receive (as we say in the collect for the 12th Sunday after Trinity) and the only obstacle to our enjoying His blessings is in our inability to receive.

“The blessed Trinity wills my heart to be lifted above the depths of the earth and it’s sorrows, so to delight in and rejoice in Him”.  Julian knew that there are times when it’s hard to keep trusting, and life has many tribulations, but He said to her “Comfort yourself with My words and trust them and you will not be overcome “.

Julian encourages us to be as open as we can to receiving whatever the Lord has for us. “The greatest honour we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of His love” and when we fail to acknowledge and receive His love “in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love”.  We are most content when we are “at one” with God.  That is how St Paul was able, in grim conditions in prison to write “All I want is to know Christ as Lord…. I have learnt the secret of being content in any and every situation..I can do this through Him who gives me strength” (Phil 3:10 and 4:12).  Both Paul and Julian found that God’s gifts only became real when they could receive them.

Julian called this divine union or at-one-ment  “oneing” and when we achieve such moments, we often realise that  “You were here all the time, O God, and I never knew it”, like Jacob in Genesis 28:16.

Consider “Woe to those who do not trust in the Lord and do not draw near to God….be glad and rejoice with all your heart….the Lord your God is with you, a Mighty Warrior who saves…He takes great delight in you, and in His love no longer rebukes you…”(from Zephaniah 3).

Yes, Julian speaks to us today as she is a model of honesty in her relationship with God, she understands human frailty, but roots all experiences in the faithfulness of an ever present and loving God,  whose will and gift is LIFE.

She is surely one of the “great cloud of witnesses that surround us, and cheer us on, so we can run the race of perseverance, our eyes fixed on Jesus…and not lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2).   Alleluia!

God wills that we seek Him  and receive His gifts.