At the beginning of her account of the Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich explains that she already had some feeling for the passion of Christ, but she wanted to experience more, “by the grace of God.” She longed to be like Mary Magdalene and the other women whom she described as “Christ’s lovers,” standing at the foot of the cross, so that she “could have seen bodily the passion that our lord suffered for me, that I might have suffered with him as others did that loved him.”
And therefore I desired a bodily sight, wherein I might have more knowing [greater understanding] of the bodily pains of our savior, and of the compassion of our lady [Christ’s mother] and of all his true lovers that were living at that time and saw his pains. For I would have been one of them and have suffered with them.
Surely Julian did not make such a request because she thought she deserved a vision for being devout. She was quick to add that she never asked for another shewing (her word for a visionary experience) until she would see God at her death, for she believed firmly she would be saved by God’s mercy. She simply wanted to have a physical sight of Christ on the cross in order to share his sufferings more intimately and to love him more deeply. She was convinced that after such a bodily vision she would have a truer understanding of and sympathy for all that the Lord had endured for our sins. This was “the mind of the passion” Julian longed for: to undergo in some measure what Mary Magdalene and the other “true lovers” of Christ saw, heard, and felt at the crucifixion. In other words, like so many of us, she didn’t just want theoretical knowledge; she craved real experience. . . .
In Julian’s fourteenth century, meditation manuals proliferated, not only for parish priests and cloistered nuns and monks, but also for the laity. They urged the faithful to enter deeply into the scenes of Christ’s passion and death through imagination and recollection. . . . All these manuals were designed to arouse in the soul a deep repentance for sin, a profound identification with the sufferings of Christ on the cross, and a burning desire to devote one’s life to God. . . . As a result of this practice of “affective devotion” every true Christian, like the early martyrs, was supposed to be ready to suffer anything and everything in imitation of Christ—even death.
Meditating on Julian’s Revelations of her visions and locutions from Christ on the cross is a grace-filled way to enter into the sufferings of Jesus during this Lenten season. With Julian, we, too, might ask for “the mind of Christ” in order to understand what he suffered for us and why he did it. Then we may receive the extraordinary understanding that Jesus gave to Julian:
“It is a joy, a bliss, an endless liking to me that ever I suffered my passion for thee. And if I might suffer more, I would suffer more.”
Think of it! Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to suffer even more for us than he did on the cross. Like a mother who is willing to suffer anything for her child, Christ our Mother wants us to know he will do anything to free us from our self-destructive mental patterns, our deliberate misdeeds, our human tendency to self-loathing, depression, even despair, and our lack of trust in divine love! Christ on the cross longs to help us carry our own crosses in loving union with him, if only we are willing to be still and silent enough to experience the depths of his love in the practice of meditation. Can we not commit to spending quiet time every single day during this Lenten season to contemplate what Christ endured for our salvation? And to thank him for loving us so much? What a Lenten resolution that would be!
PLEASE NOTE: Excerpts above are from "An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich" (InterVarsity Academic Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved.
Julian of Norwich and Divine Love
Across six centuries, the voice of Julian of Norwich speaks to us about love. She communicates personally, as if she were very much with us here and now. Even more than theological explanations, we all hunger for love. Our hearts yearn for someone we can trust absolutely—divine love that can never fail. Julian reveals this love because, like Mary Magdalene, she experienced it firsthand. Julian tells us about her mystical visions of Christ’s love on the cross and how that love totally transformed her life. Unlike other medieval mystics (who may appear sometimes too extreme, too ascetic, or too intellectual for our postmodern taste), Julian comes across as a flesh and blood woman, thoroughly sympathetic to our human condition. And in heartfelt terms she expresses her profound awareness of God who became human like us, suffered, died, and was transformed into glory.
Why is Julian so appealing today? I think because she is totally vulnerable and transparently honest, without any guile. She is “homely”; in medieval terms, that means down-to-earth, familiar, and easily accessible. She is keenly aware of her spiritual brokenness and longs to be healed. So do we. She experiences great suffering of body, mind, and soul. So do we. She has moments of doubt. So do we. She seeks answers to age-old questions. So do we. Then, at a critical turning point in her revelations, she is overwhelmed by joy and “gramercy” (great thanks) for the graces she is receiving. We, too, are suddenly granted graces and filled to overflowing with gratitude. Sometimes, we even experience our own divine revelations.
Again and again, Julian reassures each one of us that we are loved by God, unconditionally. In her writings, we hear Christ telling us, just as he told Julian: “I love you and you love me, and our love shall never be separated in two” (58:13-14.307). Indeed, Julian’s teachings have greatly endeared her to Christians and non-Christians alike. Everyone can relate to her as a spiritual mentor because we sense that, even though she lived and wrote six hundred years ago, Julian the mystic, the seeker, and the theologian is very much “a woman for all seasons.” Julian’s voice of prophetic hope, speaking to us from the fourteenth century, is one that we in the twenty-first century desperately need to hear.
As we approach St. Valentine's Day and hear a wide range of talk about human love, let us turn to Julian's Revelations to learn about unconditional divine love. Then we may begin to fathom what real love is all about.
PLEASE NOTE: The excerpt above is from "An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich" (InterVarsity Academic Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.