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Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich

A Perennial Wisdom

Monday, May 11, 2020

Julian of Norwich

A Perennial Wisdom
Monday, May 11, 2020

Although Julian of Norwich is an anonymous woman who lived over 600 years ago, seekers and scholars return to her “showings again and again. Author Veronica Mary Rolf describes why Julian’s wisdom is perennial, valuable, and needed whenever there is confusion and suffering, which is to say, in every time and place. Rolf writes:

Perhaps the best answer to the question “Why Julian now?” is that in our age of uncertainty, inconceivable suffering, and seemingly perpetual violence and war (not unlike fourteenth-century Europe), Julian shows us the way toward contemplative peace. . . .  In a world of deadly diseases and ecological disasters, Julian teaches us how to endure pain in patience and trust that Christ is working to transform every cross into resurrected glory. . . .

Moreover, across six centuries, Julian’s voice speaks to us about love. She communicates personally, as if she were very much with us here and now. Even more than theological explanations, we all hunger for love. Our hearts yearn for someone we can trust absolutely—divine love that can never fail. Julian reveals this love because, like Mary Magdalene, she experienced it firsthand. . . .

Precisely because she had the courage of her convictions, Julian of Norwich became the first woman ever to write a book in the English language. . . . Even more, this “unlettered” woman developed a mystical theology that was second to none during the fourteenth century and that continues to break barriers in our own time. . . .

Julian is also emotionally raw, often tempted by self-doubt and discouragement, yet constantly renewed in hope. She does something extremely dangerous for a layperson living in the fourteenth century: she discloses her conflict between the predominant medieval idea of a judgmental and wrathful God and her direct experience of the unconditional love of Christ on the cross. . . .

Why is Julian so appealing today? I think because she is totally vulnerable and transparently honest, without any guile. She is “homely”; in medieval terms, that means down-to-earth, familiar, and easily accessible. She is keenly aware of her spiritual brokenness and longs to be healed. So do we. She experiences great suffering of body, mind, and soul. So do we. She has moments of doubt. So do we. She seeks answers to age-old questions. So do we. Then, at a critical turning point in her revelations, she is overwhelmed by joy and “gramercy” (great thanks) for the graces she is receiving. We, too, are suddenly granted graces and filled to overflowing with gratitude. Sometimes, we even experience our own divine revelations.

Again, and again, Julian reassures each one of us that we are loved by God, unconditionally. In her writings, we hear Christ telling us, just as he told Julian, “I love you and you love me, and our love shall never be separated in two.” [1]

[1] Julian of Norwich, The Fourteenth Revelation, ch. 58 (Long Text).

Adapted from Veronica Mary Rolf, An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich, (IVP Academic: 2018), 18-21.

Image credit: Revelations of Divine Love (detail), mid-15th century, (Add MS 37790) f. 97r from The British Library Manuscript, The British Library, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Julian [of Norwich] experienced . . . sixteen visions, or “showings” as she called them, all on one May night in 1373 when she was very sick and near death. As a priest held a crucifix in front of her, Julian saw Jesus suffering on the cross and heard him speaking to her for several hours . . . then she patiently spent twenty years as an anchorite in contemplation and prayer, trusting God to help her discern the deeper meanings to be found in the visions. Finally, she wrote a long [text] titled Revelations of Divine Love. —Richard Rohr
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