Walking with the Saints
How does one exactly distill Julian of Norwich into a short reflection? It may very well be an impossibility. More wizened and learned people have given their lives to journey alongside Julian in their spiritual paths. I say this to offer this reflection as a very brief entry point, because in my week journeying with Julian, I am thirsty for more.
Let us start with what we do know about Julian. Julian of Norwich was an Anchorite, a person who for religious reasons has removed themselves from secular life to devote their lives to an intensely prayer-oriented life. This was an early form of monasticism, in which Anchorites would vow to be confined to a certain place, certain cell or something of the like. Julian took her name from the church that resided in for most of her life: St. Julian’s Church in Norwich. We know almost nothing about her, other than what is revealed to us in her book “The Revelations of Divine Love”. In that book, she describes 16 of what she called “shewings” (read ‘showings’) that God revealed to her on what she thought would be her deathbed when she was about 30 years old. Julian wrote these revelations down shortly thereafter, having recovered from the illness after 5 days. A longer version came 20 years later that added more from her own meditations on that experience. Julian would live to sometime between 1416 - 1429, based on wills of people donating shillings to “a Julian reclus a Norwich”.
Little is known about the life of Julian outside of this, however her work has touched countless people in the last 646 years. She was a well-known counselor in her community and sought out by many for spiritual advice. The Mystic Margery Kempe writes about visiting Julian in her book and says “dame Jelyan showed her the grace that God put into her soul, of compunction, contrition, sweetness and devotion, compassion with holy meditation and high contemplation”. However, Julian was almost forgotten to time. It would have been copied after her death, but then remain hidden as ownership would have been heretical. In 1670, thanks to his zeal, Serenus de Creesy would published the work and attribute it “Mother Juliana, an Anchorete of Norwich”.
The 16 “shewings” that God revealed to Julian were immensely beautiful and awe-inspiring. There is a moment where Jesus speaks to Julian and says, "Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." There is a great reflection on this quote by a former Monk in the Order of Julian, in which he talks about how difficult it is for us to release ourselves into this idea, that “All shall be well”. In fact Julian, herself argues about how this cannot for part of her book. But the very idea that all things that are good flow through God and that God is apart of all of us, is a simple and yet so difficult thing to parse and fully accept.
It is hard to look at the news, the world and how we treat each other and believe that “All Shall be Well”, but Julian inspires me to try and look at the world and at people and seek the God inside each of us.
I implore you to seek out the works and reflections on Julian. There are some great and life-giving things to read and hear!