Julian of Norwich, 1343-1416, A Message For Our Time
Updated: Apr 9, 2021
"Born in 1343, Julian of Norwich is one of the most treasured anchoresses of her time — a role that kept her closed off from the world for decades until her death.
Julian of Norwich was an anchoress and mystic of the Middle Ages. For much of her life she lived in a single room that was anchored against the wall of a church — the Church of Saint Julian in Norwich, England. Historians and scholars estimate that she lived for 75 years and spent more than half that time in the anchor-hold. [During her lifetime, the city suffered the devastating effects of the Black Death pandemic of 1348–50; the Peasants' Revolt, which affected large parts of England in 1381; and the suppression of the Lollards.] There were no doors in an anchoress' cell, but one window looked out into the village square and another window looked into the church. Though they lived as hermits, anchoresses were the centre of village life in many ways. There are accounts of anchoresses and anchorites (their male counterpart) acting as a modern day post office and providing spiritual counselling through their window. Anchoresses and anchorites followed the liturgy of the hours. They prayed at specific times of day and took a vow of stability, which meant they would not leave their cell until they died. Julian of Norwich is best known for a book called Revelations of Divine Love, which is the first book written by a woman in English. The book describes a series of visions that she had while sick and her encounters with God and Jesus. The book also contains what is perhaps her most celebrated message: that "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love)*
The following is an excerpt from Julian’s Showings, which is also aptly called Revelations of Divine Love, Long Text, chapter 52:**
During our lives here on earth, we experience a wondrous mixture of well and woe. We hold inside us both the glory of the Risen Christ and the misery of the Fallen Adam. Christ protects us in our dying and, through his gracious touch, uplifts us and reassures us that all will be well. . . . We are so fragmented, afflicted in our feelings in so many ways, that we hardly know where to turn for comfort. The various pains and transgressions of this life fill our hearts with sorrow and cloud the eyes of our souls.
But we cultivate our intention and wait for God. We have faith in his mercy and grace, and trust that he is working within us. In his goodness, he opens the eyes of our understanding and gives us insight. Sometimes we glimpse more, sometimes we see less, depending on what God gives us the ability to receive. Now he elevates us; now he allows us to come tumbling down.
The mixture of sorrow and joy is so powerful that we cannot figure out how to handle it all, let alone assess how our fellow spiritual seekers are doing. The diversity of feelings can be overwhelming. And yet, in those moments when we sense the presence of God, we surrender to him, truly willing to be with him, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength. This holy assent is all that matters. It eclipses all the wicked inclinations inside us—physical and spiritual—that might lead us to miss the mark.
Sometimes, however, that sacred sweetness lies deeply buried, and we fall again into blindness, which leads to all kinds of sorrow and tribulation. So we must take comfort in the essential article of our faith that teaches us not to give into our negative impulses, but to draw strength from Christ, who is our defender against all harm. We need to stand up against evil, even if to do so causes discomfort—even pain—and pray for the time when God will once again reveal himself and fill our hearts with the sweetness of his presence. And so we remain in this muddle all the days of our lives. But our Beloved wants us to trust that he is always with us.**
April 8, 2021
*CBC Radio· Posted: Feb 12, 2021 2:34 PM ET
**Quoted from Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation From the Center for Action and Contemplation, Week Fourteen: All Will Be Well, contemporary translation by Mirabai Starr.