Going through the current trouble times, we can be reminded from those that came before us, how their example through their Christian lives, shows us the way forward.
There can be few better examples of this than one of the most contemplative of Christians, a woman, a Christian mystic known as ‘Julian of Norwich’. We may never know her real name (she is named by her association with St Julian’s church in Norwich), but we know that she was in her 30’s and she lived in the 14th century.
Julian lived through the most fatal pandemic in human history – the ‘Black Death’- which like COVID-19 originated in China, but which it is believed killed up to 200 million people from 1347-1351 and around a third of the population of Europe died from it.
Like us, Julian self-isolated but she had become an ‘anchoress’, that is someone who withdraws from society and leads an intensely prayer-oriented life – a religious hermit if you will. In fact, it is believed that she lived much of her adult life in a room next to her church which would not have been much more than 10-foot square. She had a window in which people would seek spiritual guidance from her, but apart from that she lived in what was little more than a cell, so she could be alone with God.
Why though is Julian so important to us some 600+ years later?
Well, during her life she became seriously ill, so much so that the last rites were administered to her as she waited to die. However she held a crucifix in front of her and as she gazed at it, she saw the figure of Jesus beginning to bleed, and over a number of hours she had a series of visions that affected her gently but profoundly, and she recovered.
Julian, after great prayer, contemplation and understanding, wrote these experiences down in what is regarded as the first ever book written by a woman in the English language, entitled Revelations of Divine Love, and what she saw are as relevant today as they were then.
She spoke about seeing in her visions not an angry masculine God, but revelations revealed to her “very tenderly, indicating no kind of blame for me or for anyone who will be saved”. Her most famous passage in the book is when she says “And it seems to me, this suffering is something that exists for a while, because it purges us and makes us know ourselves and ask for mercy. For the Passion of our Lord is a comfort to us against all this and that it is His blessed will for all who shall be saved. He comforts us readily and sweetly by His words and says, “But all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”.
These are familiar, well known and comforting words indeed. We all want the current situation to come to an end, for us to see our loved ones again and to smell ‘freedom’ once more- although that is likely to still take more time in self isolation.
What Julian continues to show to us today, is that God loves us, that He delights in us and He “will make all things well”. Yes, there will be times like now (and in the future) when we will be “perturbed, troubled and distressed by things”, but God’s promise to us is “You shall not be overcome”.
Through her revelations, Julian was shown a fundamental and profound Truth. That God made us, that God loves us, and that God cares for us. He will not let us down and right now we need to stick with Him. He will get us through this difficult time.