Very early in her Revelations, Julian of Norwich tells us that the goodness of God “comes down to us, to the lowest part of our need” and that we should pray to the goodness of God for everything – not just the big things, but for the small things, too. She insists that God is intimately present to us in Jesus Christ, and deeply concerned about the very smallest and most mundane of our human need, just as he was concerned about feeding the hungry crowds, healing the sick, comforting those in mourning, forgiving sins. He even taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Precisely because Christ is fully human, he knows exactly what each person’s emotional and spiritual requirements are at every moment. And because he is God, he can give every soul the precise help it seeks until each can know itself fully enclosed, and clothed, in Christ.
Even more astonishing, Julian sees the goodness of God providing for our most basic and intimate bodily needs; namely, digestion and excretion. Julian considers that “a man goes upright, and the food of his body is sealed as in a very fair purse.” When the time of his “necessity” comes, the purse is “opened and sealed again very cleanly.” And it is by the goodness of God that this is done because, as Julian has written above: “he comes down to us, to the lowest part of our need.”
Julian explains further that God does not despise anything that he has made, nor does he disdain to do us the simplest service “that belongs to our body by nature, for love of the soul that he has created to his own likeness.” She refers back to the metaphor of clothing:
For as the body is clad in the cloth, and the flesh in the skin, and the bones in the flesh, and the heart in the chest, so are we, soul and body, clad and enclosed in the goodness of God.
How different this attitude is from that of the medieval “fasting women” who despised their bodies, starved and exhausted, beat and mutilated them, in an effort to induce “out-of-body” experiences. And how diametrically opposed to the tone of the Ancrene Riwle that held the body in contempt as being a vas stercorum, literally a “bag of shit.” Julian’s holistic approach to the body is the polar opposite of extreme self-mortification and self-loathing as a means of reaching God. Rather, she espouses ever-increasing wonder and gratitude for the overwhelming goodness of God that reaches to every part of our bodies and to every natural human function, however lowly it may be. “Yea, and more homely!”; that is, God is even more intimately close to us than our own bodies. For while the body will waste and wear away, the goodness of God will remain forever whole and nearer to us than anything else we can imagine.
For truly our lover desires that the soul cleave to him with all its might, and that we be evermore cleaving to his goodness. For of all things that the heart may think, it pleases God the most, and soonest benefits us. For our soul is so preciously loved by him that is highest, that it overpasses [transcends] the knowing of all creatures: that is to say, there is no creature that is made that may know how much and how sweetly and how tenderly our maker loves us. And therefore we may, with his grace and his help, stand in ghostly beholding, with everlasting marveling in this high, overpassing, unmeasurable love that our lord has for us because of his goodness. And therefore we may ask of our lover, with reverence, all that we will. For our natural will is to have God, and the good will of God is to have us, and we may never cease from willing nor from loving till we have him in fullness of joy. And then we will no more will. For he wills that we be occupied in knowing and loving till the time comes that we shall be fulfilled in heaven.
Thus in the very first Revelation, Julian declares what she will realize fully only in the last chapter: the “lesson of love” that all the following Revelations will show. “For the strength and the ground of all [the revelations] were shown in the first revelation.”
So let us take heart from Julian and dare to ask the Lord for absolutely everything that we need and long for, that we may “pray always” in our hearts. Let us desire all that is good, hope all that is good, and expect all that is good. And let us not forget to thank always as well -- even before we discover God’s loving answer to our prayers!
PLEASE NOTE: Quotations above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich
(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the written permission of the author.