Julian of Norwich, Part I

Mysticism: Week 2

Julian of Norwich, Part I
Sunday, October 1, 2017

We who seek to grow spiritually are like children ushered off to school for their education and personal growth. God is the principal or headmaster, and the saints and mystics are the various teachers and coaches who will interact with us on a day-to-day basis. Our goal, therefore, is to learn: to learn the curriculum of a truly spiritual life . . . grounded in love, mercy, tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, hope, trust, simplicity, silence, peace, and joy. To embody union with God is to discover these beautiful characteristics emerging from within and slowly transfiguring us to remake us in the very image and likeness of God. —Carl McColman [1]

Lady Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) is one of my favorite mystics and teachers. I return to her writings again and again, every few months, and always discover something new. Julian experienced her “showings,” as she called them, all on one night (May 8 or 13, 1373) when she was very sick and near death. As a priest held a crucifix in front of her, Julian saw Jesus suffering and heard him speaking to her for some hours. Like all mystics, she realized that what Jesus was saying about himself he was simultaneously saying about all of reality. That is what unitive consciousness allows us to see.

This was such a profound experience that Julian eventually asked the bishop to enclose her in an anchor-hold, built against the side of St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England. Julian was later named after that church. We do not know her real name, since she never signed her writing. The anchor-hold had a window looking into the church sanctuary that allowed Julian to attend Mass and another window so she could counsel and pray over people who came to her on the street.

Julian felt the need to go apart and reflect on her profound experiences. It took her twenty years to find a language that the larger Church could understand, and then it took us over 600 years to finally take her seriously. People like Julian don’t want to engage in oppositional thinking, and they don’t need to prove they’re right, so they often become hermits. They go apart to find a way to experience their truth in a healing, transformative way for others. They look like they are alone, but exactly the opposite is the case.

Julian first wrote a short text about the showings, but feeling it did not do justice to her experience, she rewrote it as a longer text some years later. Her writings are usually called Revelations of Divine Love or sometimes Showings. Julian is thought to be the first known woman to write a book in English. Her spirituality is unlike the religious views common in her time. It is not based in sin, shame, guilt, or fear of God or hell. Instead, it is full of delight, freedom, intimacy, and cosmic hope.

Gateway to Silence:
We are all one with You.

References:
[1] Carl McColman, Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages (Hampton Roads: 2016), xix.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gate: Seeing God in All Things, disc 7 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), CD, DVD, MP3 download; and
Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 7 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: 4th and Walnut Streets, Louisville, Kentucky, looking south, 1956.

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