I have interesting debates at times about the Christian faith, a faith that manifests itself in a commitment to the authority of the Bible, the atoning work of Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is a rational but it is also an experiential faith, not more so than for Julian of Norwich who continues to fascinate many like me who are drawn to Christian mysticism.

In 1373, when she was 30 years old, Julian had visionary experiences during a serious illness. These visions became the subject of her writings. These visions set the course for the rest of her life which was dramatically, irrevocably changed. She wrote Showings or Revelations of Divine Love. 

Her real name is not known. She gained the title Julian of Norwich because she lived in a small cell next to the parish church of St. Julian in Norwich.

Her writing recounts and explains the mental events which began on May 8, 1373. There are sixteen events described as unmediated experience of God, causing her to work for the rest of her life, to understand them and explain them. Some are "bodily sight," others "words formed in my understanding," and finally others are "by spiritual sight" which she "neither can nor may show you . . . as openly or as fully as I would like to."

She is best known for these words of reassurance: "But all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

It is clear that Julian records experiences of God but she also understood attack as well. She records her first attempt to communicate her experiences which she first took for "delusions,"until finally the church took her seriously. She also records her encounter with a "Fiend" which causes her to seek such refuge in the memory of the showings: her divine encounters.

Julian of Norwich fascinates me, her dedication, her passion, the experiential orientation of her faith and particularly this: her theology of true rest, something which I have often been cross with myself for failing to adequately describe. True rest is found in our worship of God. But Julian of Norwich pus it so neatly, I will leave you with her synopsis:


Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel..... Mick Rose here....I'm very fortunate having a visionary gift from the Lord ... Helps me come close to them .... I was interested in you article ... especially ''Rest'' .... Having found the secret of resting in prayer ....sitting around with members of the Trinity ....has become my active contemplation ... and has simply helped me ''come close to God' and ''He will come close to you'' ....I pray you will find Truth in Julian's writtings .... Seek and you will find
God Bless

Rachel Marszalek said...

Thank you Mick. You are blessed indeed. Julian's writings are proving very interesting. It must have been a very difficult life for her as well. There is much misunderstanding about spiritual gifts both inside and outside the church, Julian of Norwich was misunderstood in her day. Mystical experiences still fail to fit into psychological frameworks but then the scriptures do tell us a lot that what seems foolish to the world is, of course, really the wisdom of God. Thank you for your contribution.

Bravo said...

Great post!

What I find most moving about Julian is that her hope comes in the face of the most powerful understanding of sin and suffering. "All shall be well" is now the stuff of cute decorations and small inspirational quote books. But it came from the mouth of a woman who prayed to share in the suffering of Christ, contracted the plague, and said, "Understanding all this, I thought it was impossible that all things should be well, as our Lord showed in this time." We like Julian because she talks about God's love, hazelnuts, and says edgy things like God the mother. But it doesn't come from a cheap place; it comes by way of the cross and passion.

And she had her mystical "shewings," but they weren't exactly private and ineffable as we sometimes imagine mystical experiences to be. She spent the rest of her life, revising and expanding her first account, laboring to articulate and unpack her experiences to the Church (for the Church).

I joined a Christian post-graduate service program called the Julian Year, where we work at church charities and live in community. If we're not entirely faithful to Julian's anchoritic ethos (we get out a little more than she did) we still take inspiration from her. I'm moved by the vigor with which communicates her experiences of God relevantly within the Church's ministry.

Bravo said...

ps- have you happened to read Denys Turner's book, "Julian of Norwich, Theologian"? it's outstanding.


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions