During her many years of contemplation on her Revelations, Julian came to understand that Christ, Mother of our nature and Mother of grace, wanted to become our Mother in all things. He chose as the ground of his divine work the humble and gentle womb of the maiden. Julian comments that she saw this in the First Revelation, when Mary was revealed to the eye of her mind “in the simple stature that she had when she conceived.” Stunningly, Julian interprets the fact of the incarnation as the maternal desire of the most exalted Wisdom of God to become our Mother in physical form. Christ arrayed and prepared himself in our poor flesh in the maiden’s womb precisely so that he could “do the service and the office of motherhood in all thing.”
Yet Julian does not confine Christ’s maternity to the plane of spiritual qualities. She dares to say that there is no aspect of physical motherhood that Christ does not feel:
For though it be so that our bodily delivery is but little, low and simple as compared with our spiritual delivery, yet it is he that does it in the creatures by whom it is done.
This is a remarkable statement: even though the process of giving birth physically is such a small thing (humble and commonplace in comparison with our high spiritual rebirth), Julian claims that it is still Christ who labors to deliver a child in every woman who undergoes childbirth. She imagines Christ as a flesh-and-blood mother experiencing birth pangs, with all the attendant fears, cries, and pouring out of blood and water during childbirth, similar to the agony he suffered on the cross. And then he continues to nurture his newborn to bring it to maturity.
Raising the Child
A natural, loving mother who knows and understands the need of her child, keeps [protects] it very tenderly, as the nature and condition of motherhood will. And even as it waxes in age and in stature, she changes her werking, but not her love. And when it is more fully grown, she allows it to be chastised to break down its vices, to make the child able to receive virtues and grace. This werking, with all that is beautiful and good, our lord does in them by whom it is done.
Julian understands that as the child matures, the mother has to adjust her way of dealing with her offspring so that she does not become over-protective, preventing the child from taking risks, making its own decisions, learning from its mistakes, and reaching adult independence. This was crucial in the Middle Ages when a boy was often sent away to school or to court to become a page at the age of seven, and could be legally married at fourteen. Likewise, as we have seen, girls needed to become fully accomplished in household chores, weaving, sewing, cooking, and caring for servants, so they could be married as young as twelve years old.
Our true mother, Jesus
After a magnificent discourse on the ways in which Christ is the maternal example par excellence for all mothers and nurturers, Julian concludes that our life is grounded in the foreseeing wisdom of “our true mother Jesus,” with the power of the Father, and the most high goodness of the Holy Ghost. By becoming human, Christ himself gave birth to us as does a mother, and by his passion and death “he bore us to endless life.” What more could Christ our Mother do for us? He will never stop nursing, feeding, and fostering us, as his Motherhood demands and as every child needs. And this is the most beautiful of relationships:
Beautiful and sweet is our heavenly mother in the sight of our soul. Precious and lovely are the gracious children in the sight of our heavenly mother, with mildness and meekness and all the fair virtues that belong to children by nature. For naturally the child does not despair of the mother’s love, naturally the child does not presume of itself, naturally the child loves the mother and each one of them loves the other. These are beautiful virtues, with all others that are like them, whereby our heavenly mother is served and pleased.
A Good Mother
Julian must have asked herself many a time what a good mother would do for her child. And she knows that if a human mother would spare nothing to nourish her children and help them grow, heal their wounds, and bless their efforts . . . then our heavenly Mother would not, either.
And I understood no higher stature in this life than childhood, in feebleness and failing of might and of intellect, until the time that our gracious mother has brought us up to our father’s bliss. And there shall it truly be made known to us, his meaning in the sweet words where he says: “Alle shalle be wele, and thou shalt see it thyself that alle manner of thing shalle be wele.”
The Highest Achievement
For Julian, the highest human achievement is to be able to come to Christ as trustingly as a little child. It is the very helplessness of the child that makes it so appealing. And the ignorance of the child will make Christ responsible for explaining everything in heaven: how exactly “alle shalle be wele.” Julian returns to the great theme of the Revelations and realizes that its mystery will be revealed, not to self-reliant and wise adults, but only to the little ones. As Christ himself prayed on earth: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (Mt 11:25).
This Christmas, let us join the youngest of children coming with the shepherds to bring our little gifts to the Baby Jesus in the manger. And as our hearts swell in gratitude for the miracle of this divine Child, let us take time to wonder: Are we giving birth to Christ in our world as Mary did? Or is Christ our Mother giving birth to us?
May we stay very close to the manger throughout this holy season, listening and keeping watch with Mary and Joseph. And may the blessings of the Christ Child fill our hearts to overflowing!