love was our lords mening
(A Revelation of Love by Julian of Norwich, trans. Marion Glasscoe)
In the darkened room, the slides of the Hubble photographs radiate like jewels. There are perhaps a dozen or more, each dancing onto the large screen, then disappearing, each one stunning in its play of light on darkness, its brilliant colours, its unimagined beauty. One image imprints itself deeply on my memory, so strongly that now, years later, I recall it vividly. It is a segment of sky somewhere in the universe where the black darkness is pierced with uncountable rose-pink lights. “This photo shows an expanse of some trillions of miles in space,” the speaker tells us. “Look at the rosy colour that fills the darkness. This is the LOVE that fills the Universe.”
Julian of Norwich would never have seen a photograph, could not have imagined deep space or the wonders that the Hubble telescope offers us for our enchantment. Yet she too knew from her mystical experience that it is love that pervades the universe. She knew this absolutely. She trusted it despite her own experience of intense suffering in 14th Century England, a time of plague, endless war, religious persecution.
Julian does not give us this news of the centrality of love lightly, as one might share a passing feeling, a response to a moment of spiritual bliss. This is Julian’s carefully considered understanding of what she learned from her dialogues with Jesus, the Presence of Love in her life. She tells us clearly that it took fifteen years of reflection for her to finally know that love is at the centre of all that has been revealed to her, that love is her lords mening.
As Julian writes the final Chapter of her book, she seeks to summarize for us all that she understands from her visions over the two decades she spent reflecting on them. She asks (as each one of us does when we look at our life): “What does it all mean?”
Here are the closing words in the Colledge and Walsh translation (Paulist Press 1978) of her Showings:
This book is begun by God’s gift and his grace, but it is not yet performed, as I see it. For charity, let us all join with God’s working in prayer, thanking, trusting, rejoicing, for so will our good Lord be entreated, by the understanding which I took in all his own intention, and in the sweet words where he says most happily: “I am the foundation of your beseeching.”
For truly I saw and understood in our Lord’s meaning that he revealed it because he wants to have it better known than it is. In which knowledge he wants to give us grace to love him and to cleave to him, for he beholds his heavenly treasure with so great love on earth that he will give us more light and solace in heavenly joy, by drawing our hearts from the sorrow and the darkness which we are in.
And from the time that it was revealed, I desired many times to know in what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: “What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end.”
So I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning. And I saw very certainly in this and in everything that before God made us he loved us, which love was never abated and never will be. And in this love he has done all his works, and in this love he has made all things profitable to us, and in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had beginning, but the love in which he created us was in him from without beginning. In this love we have our beginning, and all this shall we see in God without end. (Showings Chapter 86)
In Anne Baring’s magnificent book, The Dream of the Cosmos : A Quest for the Soul (Archive Publishing, Dorset, England 2013) there is an account of a mystical experience. It gently weaves together Julian’s awareness of love at the heart of the Universe with our present day visual awareness of a Universe birthed and bathed in love. Baring offers Richard Bucke’s account of returning from a poetry reading and discussion with two friends on a night in 1872:
My mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images, and emotions called up by the reading and talk, was calm and peaceful. I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind. All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-coloured cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe.
Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain. (Baring, p. 443)
This experience, recorded six centuries after Julian wrote her Showings, echoes two of her great mystic teachings: “love is his meaning” and “all manner of thing shall be well.”