But he wills we take heed thus: that he is the ground of all our whole life in love, he is our everlasting protector, and mightily defends us against all our enemies that are extremely dangerous and terribly fierce towards us. And our reward is so much greater if we give him occasion to love and heal us by our falling.
This theme of Christ as “the ground of our whole life in love” colors and highlights every aspect of Julian’s theology. Christ is not the unapproachable “other,” the distant God-man whose anger must be appeased by every extreme means possible. He is, in a very real sense, what we are, in our flesh and blood and bones, having taken on the fullness of our human nature, save sin, in order to help us combat the suffering of temptation and guilt, and to show his sublime peace and love. He knows exactly how our minds work, what our failings and compulsions are, and longs to teach us how to reorient our attitudes and desires toward the highest good. And he has endured every possible physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual agony we go through. This is the Christ Julian knows to be at the foundation, the very ground, of our being. This is where the “godly will” resides, that never wills sin: in our Christ-redeemed nature.
And this is the supreme friendship of our courteous lord, that he keeps us so tenderly while we are in our sin. And furthermore, he touches us most intimately, and shows us our sin by the sweet light of mercy and grace.
Julian is convinced that even when we are in the midst of harming ourselves or others, and seem to be abandoning God, he does not abandon us. Instead, he whispers in our heart and mind, moves our conscience to feel remorse, and leads us to ask forgiveness, guiding us by his own “sweet light of mercy and grace.” However, Julian is acutely aware that when we sin, “we see ourself so foul,” we think (indeed, we assume) that “God is wroth [angry] with us for our sin.” Here, Julian is describing her own sense of personal guilt, with a keen understanding that Christians persistently harbor a wrong view of God as being wrathful. She explains that though we may remain convinced that God must be angry at us while we are in sin, it is precisely his ever-present mercy and grace which enable us to turn back to him, confess our failure, and ask forgiveness. Christ gathers us up like his prodigal son (or daughter) and encloses us in the royal robe (the restored innocence of our baptism), calls his servants to kill the fatted calf and prepare a banquet (the Eucharist), and invites all the saints to join in the celebration: “because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (Lk 15:32). What Julian is describing here is not only the parable of the prodigal son, but also the never-ending story of the exorbitant love of the prodigal Father.
Do Not Despair
Julian makes very clear that when we feel we are being “punished” here on earth with sorrow and suffering, it is not because of God’s “wroth” but as the inevitable result of our personal and collective sinfulness. And God will not allow us to lose one degree of spiritual value from what we must bear, for God sees sin not as a cause for casting us out but “as sorrow and pains to his lovers, in whom he assigns no blame for love.” Julian assures us that as long as we take ourselves to the Lord and ask forgiveness, we need never despair over our failures. On the contrary, we shall be greatly rewarded for our frequent repentance and for whatever we have to suffer as a result of our own sins.
The reward we shall receive shall not be little, but it shall be high, glorious and honorable. And so shall all shame turn to honor and to more joy. For our courteous lord does not want his servants to despair for often falling nor for grievous falling. For our falling does not hinder him from loving us. Peace and love are ever in us, being and working. But we are not always in peace and in love.
PLEASE NOTE: The 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.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.