Mystics are comfortable with ambiguity. The world and the church, as we know it, are shifting constantly, and the wisdom of the Christian mystics can give us ways to hold on amidst unknowns. In the coming months, members of the Spiritual Development Committee will offer writings of the mystics and what they can teach us for our time.
Julian of Norwich is one such mystic you may have heard of. Though we don’t actually know her name, she lived from 1343-1416 and spent most of her years as an ‘anchoress’ reclusive, one set apart for God, in a cell attached to her parish church, St Julian of Norwich in England. She served God by looking inwardly to the church, sanctuary, and interior world of faith as well as outwardly to the community, providing spiritual direction through a window from the anchorhold. She lived through three devastating outbreaks of the plague and was herself on, what she thought was her deathbed, when she received 16 visions. Furthermore, she wrote these visions in what is believed to be the first book in English written by a woman: Revelations of Divine Love. They are suffused with hope and trust in a God whose compassionate love is always available for us, even as tiny and complete as an acorn.
I spent time over the summer with Julian of Norwich and her writings, or ‘shewings’, in a book called “A Month with Julian of Norwich,” edited by Rima Devereaux. I will admit that more time is needed with her, but Julian gifts us with three radically optimistic ideas about how we can experience God. Two are God as Mother and God in the Oneness of creation. In the third theme, trust in God is spelled out: “All will be well, all will be well, and every kind of thing shall be well”. These words came back to me time and again and provided comfort during the season of fires and a warming climate, of relational challenges and changing church, of summer rest, garden abundance, and my youngest child moving away for school.
Writer Mirabai Starr, in her book “Wild Mercy, Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics,” tells us that these words are meant to shake us out of our despair. “[Julian] does not ask us to engage in a spiritual bypass by relegating everything that unfolds to the will of God, calling it perfect against all evidence to the contrary.” Like us, Julian struggled with why there is sin, pain and suffering in the world. But Jesus showed Julian that all shall be well anyway. Mirabai Starr writes: “not in spite of our transgressions, but because of them… we cannot know this now, from our limited, pain-drenched perspective. Yet eventually we will awaken to the truth that we are unconditionally adored by God.” Plus!! God’s mercy and love and grace are given to us in every single moment, even when we don’t see them or feel them or trust that all will actually be well. God showed Julian that what is impossible to us is not impossible to God. When we trust that “All Will Be Well” we are trusting God as the ground of our being and the basis of our earnest seeking. With God as the founder of our seeking and ground of our being, how can ‘all’ be anything but exceedingly well?
For those who want to dig deeper, another resource is Mirabai Starr’s modern translation called “Julian of Norwich: The Showings: Uncovering the Face of the Feminine in Revelations of Divine Love.”