The most important teaching Julian takes from the Fifteenth Revelation of Divine Love is that Christ wants us to find comfort in the transcendent joy he is preparing for the soul. She understood this from his words:
And thou shalt come up above, and thou shalt have me for thy reward, and thou shalt be filled with joy and bliss.
Julian tells us that we must focus “the point of our thought” on this beholding as often as possible, and for as long as the Lord will lead us into such exalted contemplation, by his grace. In other words, Julian urges us to learn to meditate not on our sufferings but on the glorious love and compassion of Christ who will release us from them forever. Here she goes directly counter to the usual medieval recommendations for
meditations on death that detailed the excruciating torments awaiting the soul in hell, should it die in mortal sin. Urging a totally different approach, Julian suggests that we concentrate less on our wretchedness and fear of damnation and more on the future joy of our salvation. If we do, she says it will be greatly to God’s honor and our own reward.
Julian reassures us (as she often had to reassure herself) that
even in the midst of agony and doubt, God never forgets us. This is what Christ meant when he said that we would be released “suddenly” from our pains and realize that he had been with us during the time of our suffering. We must believe in his promise and his abiding comfort as completely and confidently as we possibly can. And we must try to endure the long years of waiting amid the dis-eases and emotional distresses of our lives as “lightly” as possible, even counting them as nothing.
For the more lightly that we take them, and the less price that we set on them for love, the less pain shall we have in the feeling of them, and the more thanks and reward shall we have for them.
Julian never suggests that this way of living will be easy (as it was not easy for her), but it must have become her graced way of alleviating her own melancholia. Her approach was the very opposite of the cultivation of sadness and self-loathing that many medieval mystics espoused. . . and Julian never encourages ascetic disciplines or increased suffering for its own sake. Instead, she recommends the cultivation of joy. She encourages us to set less importance on how much we undergo and to trust in the Lord who is continually working through what we suffer to prepare our eternal reward.
Chosen by Love
And thus I understood that any man or woman who willingly
chooses God in this lifetime for love, he may be seker that he is
loved without end, with endless love that werks in him that grace [of choosing God]. For [God] wills we recollect this trustfully, that we are as seker in hope of the bliss of heaven while we are here as we shall be in sekernesse [certainty] when we are there. And ever the more pleasure and joy that we take in this sekernesse, with reverence and humility, the more it delights him.
Here, Julian maintains that we are offered “endless love” by
God, and if we choose to accept it by living a life of love, then we
may be sure that we have been “chosen.” This, at last, seems to indicate Julian’s personal interpretation of the doctrine of predestination: it is none other than human love responding to Divine Love. We may recall Christ’s words: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” (Jn 15:16). According to Julian, the fact that we choose to love God, and try to express that love through our love of each other, is itself proof that the love of God dwells within us. How could it be otherwise?
St. John writes: “Whoever does not love does not know God,
for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). And again: “So we have known and
believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who
abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 Jn 4:16).
The natural expression of this love of God is love of neighbor: “The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 Jn 4:21). Julian advises that we reflect on God’s love often and gain confidence from it, even to the extent of being as certain of the hope of heaven now as we will be when we are in heaven.
Julian’s leap of sekernesse echoes her earlier belief that she “would be saved by the mercy of God." She is convinced that
God wants us to believe firmly in our own salvation, for it pleases him that we do so. This is not presumption on Julian’s part. Medieval devotion promised that the blessed ones would receive their eternal “dowry” from God: “For they shall be there seker and certain / To have endless joy, and nevermore pain.”
Imagine how the world would become transformed if every one of us Christians cultivated “transcendent joy” in every aspect of our lives? We would be full of enthusiasm for giving as well as the hope of receiving God’s love, no matter what transpired in the world. As a result, the darkness of hatred and fear, anger and animosity, so prevalent in our societies, would be illuminated by the individual lights of Christ that we are meant to be!
Every Christmas, Christ is born into our lives to bring us his heavenly joy, even now, even amidst the sufferings of our lives and our aching world. Let us receive this gift at Christmas and make every effort to cultivate joy in the New Year. And then we may watch with awe as miracles happen.
May your Christmas be full of God’s gifts of unconditional love and transcendent joy to the whole world.
PLEASE NOTE: Quotations above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013, 2014), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the written permission of the author.
Guns don’t keep us safe. Grace does. Giving does. Compassion does. Peace does. Trusting does. Loving does. Good works of all kinds are the one and only “protection” we can possibly have against arbitrary acts of violence. When we reach out to help or comfort or encourage another we spread grace from our hearts and those we touch in turn are inspired to pass it on from their own hearts. One act of peace becomes two and three and so on, into infinity. There is no violence that can impede or permanently stop the onslaught of multiple Acts of Peace. There is no gun that can truly kill a loving heart. Even in death, the souls of the just are immortal:
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality. (Wis 3:1-4)
Julian of Norwich wrote of the "many evil deeds done in our sight and such great harms suffered, that it seems to us that it would be impossible that it ever could come to a good end." Yet in deep contemplation, she also experienced being "led down into the sea ground, "and there she saw "green hills and dales, seeming as it were overgrown with moss, with debris and gravel. Then I understood thus: that if a man or woman were there, under the broad water, and he might have sight of God—since God is with a man continually—he should be safe in soul and body, and take no harm. And even more, he should have more solace and comfort than all this world may or can tell." In other words, Julian understood that even in a threatening situation (such as drowning), God keeps us safe in soul and body.
If Julian were alive right now, I wonder what she would say to those who incite others to buy and carry weapons? Most likely, she would point out that they are deluding themselves into thinking that firearms mean freedom from harm. Will they slip them into church? Sling them over their shoulders at the mall while shopping? Set them down on the table when they go out to eat? Keep them on their laps in a movie theatre? Hold them in one hand at a sports or music event? Place them next to their computer at work? Have them at the ready beside the kids’ car seats? Carry them in their backpacks at college? The whole idea that anything physical can keep us safe -- especially a weapon destined to inflict grave harm on others -- is in itself preposterous. Only Divine Love can keep us truly safe. Even when there is "great harm" done, as to the victims of the recent shooting rampages in Paris, Colorado, and San Bernadino, God takes the victims as martyrs to heaven and comforts the wounded and bereaved with divine grace and mercy. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” That’s a promise, not wishful thinking!
I think Julian would tell us us that the way to make our communities safer is not to shun or ostracize those whom we may consider “different” in some way from ourselves, whether racially, culturally, or religiously. That kind of fear and isolation only breed mistrust and anger, a volatile mix that inevitably lead to violence. The way to protect ourselves is to reach out in loving efforts, however small, to protect the other person. Get to know your neighbors, talk to strangers on line at the supermarket, go out of your way to help someone in need. Fear is dispelled when we say a kind word or make someone smile. Reaching out to the other is like buying grace-filled insurance that the other will not harm you. Practice that day after day and you will begin to feel safer in every environment. And you will make the world a safer place for those you love. Guns won’t keep us safe. Grace-filled actions will.
For more information on how to counteract gun violence with grace-filled actions, please visit: www.onethousandactsofpeace.org and share it during this holy season with family and friends!
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.