Early February, thirty years ago. I’m standing before a carved oak door beside the sanctuary in St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England. I press my thumb down on the iron latch. When the door swings inwards, I enter the reconstructed anchorhold where Julian lived for the last forty years of her life.
The sense of her presence is so powerful that I have to sit down on the wooden bench beneath the mullioned window. I commune with this wise and kindly woman. Only later do I take in other aspects of the room. On the wall just inside the door, there is a small white card on which someone has printed in careful calligraphy Julian’s words: prayer oneth the soul to God.
What did Julian understand about prayer? Diid Julian, like us, wonder if there was anyone there to listen to her longings? What was revealed to her in the sacred intimacy of her night of “Showings”? Julian writes a great deal about prayer in the Longer Text of her Revelations of Divine Love. She writes for us, to us, that we might know the confidence and joy that she knew.
For many years, I found Julian’s writing difficult to read. I felt as though I were being spun around in circles. Until the invention of moveable type by Johann Gutenberg in 1450 (thirty years after Julian’s death), the compression of thought we associate with the written text was undeveloped. People wrote as they spoke, expressing an idea, repeating it, then underscoring it to be sure it was understood. Julian was writing at a time when the English language was just coming to birth. Her words and expressions are fresh, sometimes invented for her purposes.
I was slow to read and appreciate the full richness of her thought. In reparation, I offer Julian’s own words on prayer. From among the several different translations of Julian’s Showings, I choose Not for the Wise (Darton, Longman and Todd, London 1994), by Ritamary Bradley, Professor Emerita at St. Ambrose University in Iowa. This translation is based on Marion Glasscoe’s Middle English edition of A Revelation of Love. Julian leads into the theme of Prayer by offering us assurance of how much we are loved:
Then I understood truly that all manner of thing is made ready for us
– by the great goodness of God
To the degree that whenever we are ourselves in peace and love
-we are, in fact, saved.
But since we may not have this in fullness while we are here
it behooves us always to live
– in sweet prayer
-in lovely longing,
with our Lord Jesus.
For he longs to bring us to fullness of joy…
God is love and teaches us to do as he does.
He wants us to be like him
-in wholeness of endless love
– for ourselves- and for our even-Christians.
Just as God’s love for us is never broken because of our sins,
In the same way God wills that our love
– for ourselves
– and for our even-Christians
Should never be broken.
This word that God said is an endless comfort:
“I keep you securely.”
(Chapter Forty: Fourteenth Showing)
After this, our Lord showed me about prayer.
In this showing I saw there are two conditions our Lord intends for it.
– one is that we pray aright;
-the other is that we have unwavering trust.
But oftentimes we do not trust completely,
for we are not sure that God hears us, as we think
– either because we are unworthy
– or because we feel absolutely nothing.
– for we are as sterile and dry oftentimes after our prayer as before.
And this, in our feeling and our folly, is the cause of our weakness.
At times I have felt this way myself.
Our Lord brought all of this (about trust)
suddenly to my mind, and said:
“I am the ground of your beseeching.
– first, it is my will that you should have it;
– and since I make you to want it
– and you do ask for it,
How should it then be that you should not have what you ask?”
….where he says: “And you do ask for it”,
he shows a very great pleasure,
and the endless reward he will give us for our petitioning.
And in the part where he says:
“How should it then be that you should not have what you ask?”
he is indicating that this is impossible.
For it is a most impossible thing that we should ask for
– mercy and grace
and not have it.
For all these things that our good Lord makes us to ask for,
God has already ordained to give us from the beginning.
Glad and merry is Christ over our prayer.
He awaits it, and he wants it.
For with his grace
– he makes us like to himself
– in our hearts
-as we already are in our humanity.
This is his blessed will.
Here is what Christ says:
“Pray earnestly -though you have no taste for it, as you think.
“For it does you good
– though you do not feel that it does;
– though you see nothing;
– yes, even though you think you are powerless.
“For when you are dry and empty, sick and frail, then your prayer is most pleasing to me
-though there seems to you to be little pleasure in it.
And thus all your living is prayer in my sight.”
Thanking also belongs to prayer.
Thanking is a new, inward, knowing
Accompanied with great reverence and loving awe
– inclining us to do, with our whole strength,
what the good Lord draws us towards;
– and inwardly
– to give thanks
– and to enjoy.
Sometimes, in its abundance, thanking breaks out into
words, and we say:
“Good Lord, grant us mercy. Blessed may you be!”
… (Chapter 41 Fourteenth Showing)