“Very happily and gladly our Lord looked into his side, and gazed, and said these words, ‘Look how much I have loved you.’”
The life of Julian of Norwich hinges on the events of May 1372, when she would have been 30 years of age. Stricken with a very serious illness, after three days she seemed close to death. A priest at her bedside presented a crucifix to her, and as she contemplated the
Crucified Jesus she received 16 visions, or ‘showings’. Although she was ‘unlettered’, she recorded her visions in a book, likely the first written in English by a woman, for which she is regarded as the “mother of English prose”. She called the book ‘The Revelations of Divine Love’. However, for Julian these events were only the point of departure for an entirely new journey. For while the word revelation might suggest to us a moment of light or inspiration which brings a brilliant and decisive clarity, for Julian they were the entry into a gradual and unfolding process of reflection and growth.
Julian never stopped contemplating her visions. Embracing the life of an ‘Anchoress’ – that is a solitary Christian hermit or recluse – she chose to live in a single stone cell alongside the Church of St Julian, from which she most likely took the name we now know her by. The two windows in her cell reveal the nature of her calling; one looked inwards into the Church, the other outwards to the world around her, from which she would offer prayer and counsel to her visitors. A life of continual prayer and study, yet still intimately connected to those around her, allowed Julian to develop a refined sensitivity both to God and her fellow human beings. Some fifteen years after receiving her showings, she was ready to set down in writing a second, longer version. The fruit of her long contemplation; seeking clarification, refinement and deeper understanding, by this point we see the full flowering of her awareness; always warm, intelligent, all-embracing, deeply humble and down-to-earth. She is keenly aware that the message she has received is not one she can keep to herself; it is for everyone, and it must be shared.
At the centre of the revelations, above all else, is the unfathomable depth of the love of God for each of us. With the encouragement of Julian, we must allow our faulty conceptions about God to be overturned.
“‘Are you well pleased that I suffered for you?’ I said, ‘Yes, my good Lord, thank you. Yes, my good Lord, blessed may you be!’ Then Jesus, our kind Lord, said, ‘If you are pleased, I am pleased. It is a joy, a delight and an endless happiness to me that I ever endured suffering for you, and if I could suffer more, I would suffer more.’”
The two windows of her cell are an image of a uniquely Julian perspective in which the divine on the one-hand, the human on the other, are united in binocular vision. We see this in her life of divine contemplation and human accompaniment and intercession. We see it also in the way the divine revelation she received is only gradually unfurled through a very human process of exploration and questioning. Finally we see it in her striking acceptance that she will remain between the two windows, even when this involves a state of tension. For Julian accepts to remain in the presence of mysteries beyond the limits of human understanding, rather than attempting to fully resolve that which cannot be resolved. Thus, she is able to accept, when God tells her: “I will make all things well, I shall make all things well, I can make all things well; and you shall see for yourself that all things shall be well”