Celebrating Julian of Norwich

On a February day in 1992 in the reconstructed anchorhold within the tiny Church of St. Julian in Norwich. I read : Thou art enough to me.

Looking back to that moment now, I wonder that I did not immediately turn around and exit by the door through which I’d just entered. Those five words struck me to the heart, challenging me to make a complete turn-around in my life, to let go of what I had until that moment considered necessary. I had left a place, a ministry. a friendship that had been the threefold source of my life’s happiness. Now I faced a future without all three. There was no way that I could accept that Julian’s unseen “Thou” could be enough.

I see now that I understood almost nothing of the One Julian addressed as “Thou” and even less of the meaning of “enough”. Yet in the year that followed, as I prepared to offer Julian’s words to others through James Janda’s play, I found the context for both:

For this is the loving yearning of the soul through the touch of the Holy Spirit, from the understanding which I have in this revelation: “God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough for me, and I can ask for nothing which is less which can give you full worship. And if I ask anything which is less, always I am in want; but only in you do I have everything.” (Colledge and Walsh, Chpt. 5, p. 184)

Let’s look at the same passage in a different translation. Marion Glasscoe’s Julian of Norwich: A Revelation of Love is my personal favourite among the dozens of newer renderings of Julian’s “Showings” because it comes closest to the Middle English of Julian’s time (making my spell-check go into orbit!): For this is the kinde yernings of the soule by the touching of the Holy Ghost, as be the understondyng that I have in this shewing: “ God, of thy goodnesse, give me thyselfe; for thou art enow to me and I may nothing aske that is less that may be full worshippe to thee. And if I aske anything that is lesse, ever me wantith, but only in thee I have all.” (Glasscoe Chpt.5 pp.7-8)

Julian is not asking us to set aside our desires; she is not saying that to find God we must relinquish everything that we long for. Quite the opposite. Julian is saying that the deepest yearning of our souls will only be satisfied when we know the One who both made us to yearn and can alone fill that yearning. What Julian found for herself, she wants us to know:Only in you (the one to whom we entrust our longings) do I have everything, or in the Glasscoe translation: only in thee I have all.

This is a startling revelation for Julian, for each of us. As she says in Janda`s play:

Some of us believe that God is Almighty

And may do all,

And that God is All-Wisdom,

And can do all,

But that God is All-Love and will do all…..

There we stop short.

The second week of May holds two days that celebrate Julian of Norwich. A dispute over Roman numerals dating her night of visions of the Risen Christ led to this happy outcome: the Anglican Communion celebrates this amazing 14th century woman on May 8th (VIII) while the Catholic Church honours her on May 13 (XIII). ( I celebrate both!)

In her Revelations of Divine Love, Julian writes to us, her readers, as “kindred spirits.” How could she have imagined that it would be half a millennium before her writings became widely known!

Artwork of Julian by Jane Joyner

The Presence of Love that we in the 21st Century are coming to know as permeating all of life in the metaverse, as well as in the depths of our own souls, our very being, may be differently imaged for us than it was for Julian. Yet our experience of that all-pervading Love within our lives is very like Julian’s. However we name that Love, however we call upon it, we can know ourselves held safe in its embrace. Our deepest yearnings are for Love, for knowing our life has meaning, that we matter to that Love, that our longings are not only understood, but even prompted by that same Love. Our task then, is to journey within those longings to find how they are drawing us into the embrace of the One who can satisfy them, who can fill us with the kind of joy that might lead us one day to say with Julian: Thou art enough to me.

In that same passage, Julian goes on to say:

And these words of the goodness of God are very dear to the soul, and very close to touching our Lord’s will, for his goodness fills all his creatures and all his blessed works full, and endlessly overflows in them. For he is everlastingness, and he made us only for himself, and restored us by his precious Passion and always preserves us in his blessed love; and all this of his goodness.

(Colledge and Walsh, Chpt. 5, p. 184)

We know that, for Julian, the Love “that moves the sun and all the other stars” (as Dante writes) was contained in the person of Jesus. I trust that Julian would allow me to rephrase her references to “God” in the way I now understand the Presence of Love in its feminine form as Sophia, the one who tells us in the Hebrew Scriptures:

“Yahweh created me, when his purpose first unfolded;

before the oldest of his works….

The deep was not, when I was born;

there were no springs to gush with water….”

(excerpts from Proverbs 8 in The Jerusalem Bible)

Kathleen Duffy writes that Sophia “seeks to capture our attention as she peers out from behind the stars, overwhelms us with the glorious radiance of a sunset, and caresses us with a gentle breeze.”

(Sophia) wishes to be seen, and She wishes to be sought,

and She wishes to be expected, and She wishes to be trusted.

If we have a desire to honour Julian on her feast days, perhaps the best way is to grow in awareness of the Love that holds us, even as it held Julian as she lived through outbreaks of black plague, religious and political wars, and yet trusted in that Love. These are the first words I read from Julian, on that same visit in February, 1992: “He did not say: ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed; you shall not be work-weary; you shall not be discomforted.’ But he said, ”You shall not be overcome.’ God wants us to heed these words so that we shall always be strong in trust, both in sorrow and in joy.” (Enfolded in Love: Daily Readings with Julian of Norwich)

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