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"...And All Shall Be Well. "
Our Lord's message to Lady Julian of Norwich
(Julian's Showings as a beginning to this Lent of 2017)
I would guess to some, if not many, Julian might seem an odd choice to begin Lent. She is so hopeful and joyous, in this time of great anxiety and fear, how can Julian speak to our present day? What did she know of great suffering and anxiety?
In 1974 I was just 24 years old and teaching art and theology at Regis High School in Denver, living in a small Jesuit Community only a stones throw away, up a small hill, to the high school itself. The house just happened to be on Julian Street. I received a gift of a book from my mentor Fr John J. Walsh, SJ about the "Revelations of Divine Love" to a medieval Anchoress named Lady Julian of Norwich. What I remember most about the letter he sent with the book, is he considered Julian the most joyful and hopeful of all the Christian Mystics. After reading the book I sent it to my dear friend Fr Jim Janda, SJ and so began a series of inspired events that would lead J Janda to begin to research and immerse himself in the writings of Lady Julian. He had seen the play about the New England poet Emily Dickinson, with Julie Harris as the enigmatic, reclusive Emily, called "The Belle of Amherst" and was intent on writing a one woman play about Julian.
Since that time of my youth, I have returned to Julian consistently, and in January of 2003 taught a one semester course in Women's Studies at the University of New Mexico - Taos on the short text in the original Middle English, of Julian's Revelations or "Showings". In 1978 Paulist Press published its first book on a series of Christian Spirituality and chose a new translation of Julian's Showings. I think it was also the arrival of Julian's theology into the mainstream culture. Since 1978 there have been countless translations and books about Julian, I am partial to my friend Mirabai Starr's recent translation, as a graceful and beneficial beginning to Julian's theology (Hampton Roads Publishing Company). This edition also has a beautiful,and most unusual painting on the cover of Julian in her anchorhold, while the busy townsfolk of Norwich walk by her one open window. From this one painting you get the idea of how Julian became such an important, comforting spiritual guide to her own city of Norwich but also to pilgrims like a contemporary, Margery Kempe who travelled to seek Lady Julian's wisdom.
Fr Walsh was right in that, I have found in Julian a steady, and loving guide to God for over 40 years. Thomas Merton was full of admiration for her, along with John Henry Newman, as the greatest of English theologians, he said "Julian is without doubt one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices. She gets greater and greater in my eyes as I grow older... "this was a woman who lived through three outbreaks of the plague in England and knows well our human anguish and suffering. She contemplated the visions given to her by Jesus in her 3 day near death experience at age 30, until her death over four decades later. Julian was shown, in one vision, a small hazelnut in her hand, telling her this was All that was made ...
"I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought :
What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding : It lasts and always will, because God loves it ; and thus everything has being through the love of God...The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it ...God is the Creator and the Protector and the Lover...
The mother may sometimes suffer the child to fall and to be distressed in various ways, for its own benefit, but she can never suffer any kind of peril to come to her child, because of her love. And though our earthly mother may suffer her child to perish, our heavenly Mother Jesus may never suffer us who are his children to perish, for he is almighty, all wisdom and all love, and so is none but he, blessed may he be ..."
May we find deep peace this beginning of Lent in Our Lord Jesus, with Lady Julian of Norwich as our guide.
Fr Bill McNichols