This year instead of following a set of Bible readings during Lent, I led a series of studies thinking about the spirituality of Julian of Norwich.
Julian was a remarkable woman who lived 1342 –1416. She is one of the most important of the English Mystics, though not much is known about her, not even her real name before she entered holy orders. She lived on her own in a small room attached to a parish church in Carrow just outside Norwich.
Julian had a series of visions on what she believed was her death bed when she was in her early 30’s about the depths of God’s unconditioned love for us. She wrote them down, though they were not read widely or considered important, and it is believed they were forgotten about for around 600 years.
One of her most famous lines was the focus of our thinking in holy week. ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’.
If you come to this though, without knowing something of Julian’s very positive all-encompassing vision of God’s love and grace for all creation, then it makes no sense at all. It sounds hollow – another ‘don’t worry be happy everything will be ok’ bland throwaway line, but this is anything but that. This is Julian’s faith – whatever happens to us we remain enfolded in love and cherished by God.
For Julian the struggles pains and sorrows of life are not ignored, but they are seen through the prism of faith in a God who is love. Suffering is not a punishment inflicted by God – God loves and saves – ‘All shall be well’ reflects this theology.
Julian wrestled with real life just as we do, she lived in difficult times and experienced deep sadness, but she also knew the depth of God’s love and His faithfulness. Julian’s positive outlook does not ignore suffering, but her complete picture of God is big enough to hold suffering and pain in tension with faith and hope.
One of the most important things we have talked about during our time this Lent has been the nature of God; Julian referred to God as Mother as well as Father, she called Jesus Mother too. We thought long and hard about how difficult that was, but also about how important it is to move beyond just using traditional strong male images to describe God like Father, Lord or Almighty.
The Easter story reminds us so powerfully that if our imagery and language is to be whole then it has to contain too something of the vulnerability of our God and the lengths to which Love goes that we might know we are never alone. Part of the revelation of God brought to us in and through Jesus is that God is willing to walk steadfastly toward Jerusalem, towards suffering, rejection and death; His life laid down so that we might know God’s love now and forever.
Of course that vision of Saviour and Messiah was at odds with the Messiah imagery back then for many and remains difficult for some now, but how can we ever enter into relationship with God if we cannot know He is present in the humiliation of the cross?
‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ is embedded in the knowledge of the faithfulness of God suffering and dying, so shamefully crucified. It is a wisdom that has brought encouragement to me in difficult days and it will I am sure do so in the future.
God is love and His love is ours in Christ; in the light of that we all can know that all shall be well. I pray that if you are walking in difficult paths today that you would know with a real profound certainty that God holds you and always will.
God bless you