Julian’s Revelations

Yesterday was the third session of the Fall Reflection Series on Praying the Mystics we are offering at UST Law School this fall.

As always, we began the session by giving participants time to share in small groups their experience of prayer during this past week with Thomas Merton. Following the sharing and question and answer period, I offered a reflection on this week’s mystic – Julian of Norwich.

Following a medical crisis, Julian had a series of “showings” (her term) – dramatic revelations of God’s love. These visions led her to decide to live the life of an anchoress – a person who lived a life of prayer and contemplation. My talk focused on Julian’s emphasis on God’s love and her understanding that God is all we need, which she talks about in the one book she wrote, Revelations of Love (sometimes called A Book of Showings.

You can access a recording of the talk I gave here or stream it from the icon below. (I accidentally hit stop before talking about the prayer material for the week, so the podcast is missing the brief remarks I made about those.) The podcast runs for 22:07. You can find the handout I distributed (which I refer to near the end of the podcast) here.

Note: Although our reflection series has two remaining sessions, I will not be present at those, since I leave Tuesday for my Camino walk. Jennifer Wright will be facilitating and offering the reflections at those last two sessions (Marjorie Kempe and The Author of the Cloud of the Unknowing). You will be able to access the podcasts of those two talks here.

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Julian of Norwich

This week, the participants in my Retreat in Daily Living are praying with Julian of Norwich, one of the great mystical writers of the 14th Century. After an illness that almost took her life, Julian had a series of “showings,” dramatic revelations of God’s love. (The book she subsequently wrote elaborating on these “showings” is called Revelation of Love.)

God’s love was not the emphasis of the Church at the time of Julian. Rather, the Church at the time was preaching sin and damnation, viewing the plague as the punishment of an angry God for the evil of the people. In contrast, Julian’s emphasis was on God’s mercy and goodness, on God’s love, because that was her experience of God. In an extraordinarily moving passage that I invited my retreatants to pray with during one of their prayer periods this week, Julian presents to us the fruit of her years of pondering and reflection, writing:

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.

Thus I was taught that love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw quite clearly in this and in all, that before God made us, he loved us, which love was never slaked nor ever shall be. And in this love he has done all his work, 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 a beginning. But the love wherein he made us was in him with no beginning. And all this shall be seen in God without end.

This is the core of Julian’s teaching: Love was God’s meaning. The message is a timeless one an a crucial one for us to embrace: God’s love is always the meaning.

During our retreat meeting on Tuesday, I recorded my introductory talk on Julian. Although my technical adviser (aka my daughter) is not happy with the sound quality and insists that we re-record a version of the talk, for the time being you can find it here.

Julian’s Hazelnut

Julian of Norwich was one of the great mystical writers of the 14th Century. She understood that all that exists was created and is sustained by God’s love. For Julian, the hazelnut was an important image of this and it is an image I love. She describes God’s revelation to her in a book called Revelation of Love (sometimes called A Book of Showings) like this:

“And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has been through the love of God.

“In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it. But what did I see in it? It is that God is the Creator and the protector and the lover. For until I am substantially united to him, I can never have perfect rest or true happiness, until, that is, I am so attached to him that there can be no created thing between my God and me.”

For Julian, the hazelnut was a sign of hope, a sign of the power of God that sustains us. What are the signs of hope in your life?