Although mystic, spiritual guide and visionary Julian of Norwich died 600 years ago, her writings reveal a powerful message for us today – God looks on all of us with great love.
“Julian of Norwich saw in God only love and in the context of this wrote her famous quote, ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,’” Sr. Elissa Rinere, CP, told participants during a recent virtual workshop on the 14th century hermit, sponsored by the Diocesan Office of Faith Events.
Julian was born in 1342 and died 74 years later. She spent the last 40 years of her life confined to a cell attached to the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England, becoming known as Julian of Norwich. Her real name is unknown, Sr. Elissa said. The mystic lived during a time when life was difficult for most and daily life revolved around religion which taught that God inflicts punishment on sinners and should be feared.
The first wave of the bubonic plague killed Julian’s father in 1349, when she was six years old. She married at age 16 and gave birth to two children. In the span of 11 years, she would lose her husband and children to the second wave of the plague. These tragedies formed Julian’s prayer as she sought to discern if it was God’s wrath over sin that brings about suffering.
When Julian was 30, she became deathly ill and spent six days in a coma. While unconscious she saw and heard revelations from God which she wrote about when she recovered, becoming known as The Revelations of Divine Love. Widowed without any male relative to care for her, she asked permission from the local bishop to live in solitude as a hermit. A cell, described as a living grave, was built for her attached to the local church. There she lived for the next 40 years praying and meditating on the revelations she received forming the basis for her second collection of writings known as The Long Text.
“Julian integrated her faith with her life,” said Sr. Elissa. “In her prayer and her contemplation, she saw and came to know God through the lens of her own life and suffering.” The fruit of her contemplation was an understanding that all of creation is made and loved by God and therefore held in God’s loving and protective hands. “She understands God as love and everlasting bliss,” Sr. Elissa said.
“All that is exists due to love,” said Sr. Elissa paraphrasing one of the pillars of Julian’s spirituality. “Creation is the manifestation of Divine Love…All creation leads to love of God. Love leads to joy, and joy leads to service of God and neighbor.”
Sr. Elissa noted that Julian concluded from her meditations that God does not get angry when we sin, as anger is a human emotion. Therefore, God does not cause suffering. Pain is the fruit of sin. Sin punishes, not the Lord. Julian understood God’s love as all encompassing; it does not change or lessen when we fall prey to sin.
“The greatest challenge of our Christian faith is the acceptance of the infinite love that God has for each of us,” said Sr. Elissa. “Julian knew that God did not inflict suffering…God does not inflict punishment. God is love.”
By Mary-Jo McLaughlin