Julian of Norwich knew from her own experience that while we are sojourners on this earth, “we have in us a marvelous mixture both of wele [well-being] and of woe.” We hold the resurrected Christ in our hearts, but we are also marked by the “wretchedness and the harm of Adam’s falling.” We are, in a very real way, “double” in our own existence. In our living and dying with Christ, we know we will be everlastingly protected, and by his most gracious inspirations we are encouraged to trust in our salvation. Yet because of Adam’s [human nature's] falling, we are so deeply “broken in our feelings” that our minds and hearts have become darkened and “so blind that we can scarcely take any comfort.” However, in our purest intention, at the core of our being, we still dwell in God, trusting in his mercy and his grace.
And this is his own working in us, and in his goodness he opens the eye of our understanding—by which we have sight, sometimes more and sometimes less, according to which God gives us the ability to receive. And now we are raised into that one [more sight], and now we are allowed to fall into the other [less sight].
Julian is keenly aware of the constant oscillation of our minds, our moods, our views, from the highest joy to the most wretched despair. And because of this medolour, or mixture, she admits we can scarcely know, at any given moment, what state of soul we are in, much less the state of any of our evencristens [fellow Christians]. All we can do is simply assent to God when we feel him, “truly willing to be with him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength.” Acts of love such as these lead us to hate our evil thoughts, our conflicted desires, and anything that could be an occasion of sin, either spiritual or physical. Yet even when we receive spiritual sweetness, it passes, and then “we fall again into blindness and so into woe and tribulation in diverse manners.”
But then is this our comfort: that we know in our faith that by the virtue of Christ, who is our keeper [protector], we never assent thereto [to sin]. But we complain against it and endure it in pain and in woe, praying until the time that shows himself again to us. And thus we stand in this medolour all the days of our life.
Julian had no illusions that because of her extraordinary visionary experiences, her life was, or could be, any different from the lives of the rest of us. This mixture of “wele and woe” is our common lot as long as we are in this human condition. But Christ wants us to trust that “he is continually with us.” Julian sees this is so in three ways:
He is with us in heaven, true man in his own person, drawing us up; and that was shown in the ghostly [spiritual] thirst. And he is with us on earth, leading us; and that was shown in the third revelation, where I saw God in a point. And he is with us in our soul, endlessly wonning [dwelling at home], ruling and governing us; and that was shown in the sixteenth revelation, as I shall say.
What Julian tells us she saw “in an instant,” or felt “in a touch,” is that by becoming man, the Son of God took on our human nature unconditionally. When Christ was dying on the cross, he was fighting against evil not just for us but for his own dear life. God looks upon us and sees Christ, his Son, suffering like this. He “saves” Christ from death through resurrection, and in so doing he saves us. Julian attests repeatedly that no matter how marred and mutilated by sin our souls may have become, no matter how blind and afflicted our minds, no matter how weak and disordered our wills, the truest essence of who we are as human beings is, now and forever, Christ’s own human life.
In spite of our sin, we are lights of Christ that can never go out. We are flames of love that do not have their source in ourselves, but in God’s eternal fire. No matter how much we fail or how deeply we fall into the ditches of life, we are still and always infinitely precious to God. As our Creator/Father, he stands over us with pity and compassion for our sufferings as well as great joy in their ultimate value. As our Savior/Mother/Christ, he falls into the ditch of life with us and gives rebirth to our fallen human nature as himself. As our Sanctifier/Lover, he raises himself, and us, out of the grave of death, into everlasting life.
During this Easter Season, let us rejoice in Christ's triumph over sin, suffering, and death, even if we ourselves still feel mired in a daily reality that is full of these. Let us take heart from Julian's Revelations that Christ is "at work" in us and in others to make "all things well." "He is risen" and is always and everywhere transforming darkness into light and death into eternal bliss. In that lies our hope and the source of our true joy.
Please Note: Excerpts above and my translations from the Middle English are from my book: Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books), copyright © by Veronica Mary Rolf.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.