Julian of Norwich attributes every aspect of our spiritual growth to Christ’s tender care for our soul. Our best response is to be malleable, teachable, and fully attentive to the promptings of the Spirit. But when we act in ways that harm ourselves or others, or when we fall into grievous sin, then we may think we have utterly failed to be faithful to Jesus Christ. . . .
And then we, who are not at all wise, think that all we have begun is nothing, but it is not so. Because it is necessary for us to fall, and it is necessary for us to see it. For if we did not fall, we should not know how feeble and how wretched we are in ourselves, nor also we should not so completely know the marvelous love of our creator. For we shall truly see in heaven without end that we have grievously sinned in this life. And notwithstanding this, we shall truly see that we were never hurt in his love, nor were we ever of less value in his sight. And by the trial of this falling we shall have a high and marvelous knowing of love in God without end. For strong and marvelous is that love which may not, nor will not, be broken for trespass.
Once again, Julian reminds us that “sin is behovely” (that is, necessary) because, by the mercy of God, it can show us our weakness and our sheer unhappiness when we try to rely on ourselves alone. Recognition of this frightening human condition can bring us to sincere repentance and reveal our total dependency on the unconditional love of God. Furthermore, Julian is certain that “even if our earthly mother might suffer her child to perish, our heavenly mother Jesus may never suffer we who are his children to perish.” But when we fall, how are we to seek forgiveness? Like a child in distress and dread, Julian envisions us running quickly to our mother Jesus saying, “My kind mother, my gracious mother, my dearworthy mother, have mercy on me. I have made myself foul and unlike to thee, and I may not nor can not amend it but with thy help and grace.” For the child “naturally trusts in the love of the mother in wele and in woe.”
And he wills that we take ourselves mightily to the faith of holy church, and find there our dearworthy mother in solace and true understanding with the whole blessed community. For one single person may oftentimes be broken, as it seems to the self, but the whole body of holy church was never broken, nor never shall be without end. And therefore it is a seker [secure] thing, a good and a gracious thing, to will humbly and vehemently to be fastened and united to our mother holy church, who is Christ Jesus. For the flood of mercy that is his dearworthy blood and precious water is plenteous enough to make us fair and clean. The blessed wounds of our savior are open and rejoice to heal us. The sweet, gracious hands of our mother are ready and diligent about us.
In spite of the papal schism, corruption, and scandals occurring in the medieval church, Julian had a strong sense that the true church is not those who bring disgrace upon it, but Christ himself. By taking refuge in the grace of God that comes to us in a multitude of ways, especially in the celebration of Eucharist, we are healed and reunited in community to the mystical body of Christ. In every situation, Christ, our mother and our nurse, “has nothing else to do but to attend to the salvation of her child. It is his office to save us, it is his honor to do it, and it is his will that we know it.” All our Savior asks for in return is that “we love him sweetly and trust in him meekly and mightily.”
Indeed, in the Thirteenth Revelation, when Christ showed Julian a glimpse of human brokenness, she understood that even in our terrible failures, Christ never ceases to keep us “full sekerly.” Then, in the Fourteenth Revelation, she realized this is because Christ is our mother. He cares for and protects his children no matter what ditch we fall into, and he lifts us out of our degradation by the sheer force of his love. Indeed, this is how Christ saves—by so completely knitting and oneing us to himself that we become who we were originally created to be: the image and likeness of God.
And from this sweet, beautiful working he shall never cease nor stop, until all his dearworthy children are born and brought forth. And that he shewed when he gave the under- standing of the ghostly thirst: that is, the love-longing that shall last till domesday. And I understood no higher stature in this life than childhood, in feebleness and failing of might and of intellect, until the time that our gracious mother has brought us up to our father’s bliss. And there shall it truly be made known to us, his meaning in the sweet words where he says: “Alle shalle be wele, and thou shalt see it thyself that alle manner of thing shalle be wele.”
PLEASE NOTE: Excerpts and translations from the Middle English above are from An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich (InterVarsity Academic Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. Available from the Publisher and Amazon worldwide: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0830850880?
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.