"Julian of Norwich expresses herself in a woman’s voice that sounds decidedly different from the exclusively male voices in which she would have been accustomed to hearing the gospel proclaimed. Her voice is not that of a celibate cleric, nor a canon law expert, nor an ecclesiastical judge. Nor does her writing have a monastic tone to it. Julian’s book is full of a distinctly feminine sensitivity, along with incisive, analytical reasoning, rich imagery, and down-to-earth common sense. It is neither a treatise nor a catechism, nor is it a systematic guide to the spiritual life, yet it is full of rich teachings on prayer, the practice of faith, hope, and love, as well as personal advice on how to deal with one’s own sense of sinfulness, recurring depression, life’s suffering, and the fear of death.
Julian employs a circular, rather than a strictly linear, method of examining and interpreting Christian truths. She chooses favorite themes, words, and phrases, and returns to them again and again, layering them each time with ever-deeper meaning. This circularity does not in any way undermine her ability to analyze, argue, and categorize her teachings in a rational, linear mode when she so chooses. She allows intuition to inspire her logic and rational explanations to support her mystical insights. Throughout, her moral angst drives her to probe relentlessly, to dare to make astounding theological leaps of thought and faith, but she has no desire merely to be clever, to impress, or to compete with the authoritative reasoning of the scholastics or the didactic sermons of the churchmen. In fact, she cuts through theological hair-splitting and well-accepted religious attitudes, “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12), revealing the hidden marrow of meaning. As Thomas Merton wrote of her in the twentieth century:
Julian is without doubt one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices. She gets greater and greater in my eyes as I grow older . . . I think that Julian of Norwich is with [John Henry, Cardinal] Newman the greatest English theologian. She is really that. For she reasons from her experience of the substantial center of the great Christian mystery of Redemption. She gives her experience and her deductions, clearly, separating the two. And the experience is of course nothing merely subjective. It is the objective mystery of Christ as apprehended by her, with the mind and formation of a fourteenth-century English woman.
Besides being a mystical theologian, Julian is willing to reveal her own inner battles, to admit her personal failings as well as her deeply felt longings. . . . Julian may not tell us a lot of intimate details about her day-to-day life, but she does much more: she opens and entrusts to us her mind and heart. She discloses her mighty struggle to integrate her faith in the God she has been taught to believe in with the God of her mystical Revelations. She confronts her confusion head-on. One might even say she writes the first-ever spiritual autobiography in English.
Julian addresses the reader directly. She wants each of us to see as she saw, to hear as she heard, to understand as she came to understand. She speaks as a daughter, wife, mother, and concerned friend on every page of her work. . . . She is, by turns, frankly emotional and searingly self-critical, profoundly tempted by doubt and buoyed up by hope. Julian’s pressing questions are not limited to her time; they resonate in every age. They are the same metaphysical questions we keep asking, over and over again. Julian’s asking of these questions, our questions, and her way of telling us how the Lord answered them, reveal a woman passionately concerned about the salvation and ultimate happiness of people she dearly loved. She also shows herself to be a woman of deep prayer, extraordinary faith, and prophetic powers. Julian grows on us. For every man or woman, young or old, believer or skeptic, Julian has a gift. It is the gift of her questing spirit, her daring conviction. It is the gift of her personal witness to Christ’s immense and incomparable compassion. Julian’s Revelations were not written just for the evencristens of her time. Hers is a timeless gospel, composed over six hundred years ago, by one woman for all women and all men who long for the assurance of a love that can never fail."
I sincerely hope that you will draw close to the wisdom of Julian of Norwich by listening to my weekly Life, Love, & Light podcast series on this website that goes in-depth to explore her sixteen Revelations. I also examine how each Revelation is directly relevant to the very plague and protests, sufferings and fears, struggles and hopes of our own time. There is a Guided Meditation at the end of each podcast for you to make your own. May Julian bless you all abundantly!
Please Note: The excerpt quoted above is from the Introduction to my book,
Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich
(Orbis Books). Copyright © 2013 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.