Christ's Birth in the Soul
As we draw near to the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, let us reflect on a Revelation that was given to Julian of Norwich:
Our good lord showed himself to his creature in diverse manners, both in heaven and on earth. But I saw him take no place but in the human soul . . . He has taken there his resting place and his worshipful city, out of which . . . he shall never rise nor remove himself without end. Marvelous and solemn is the place where the lord dwells, and therefore he wills that we readily attend to his gracious touching, rejoicing more in his holy love than sorrowing in our frequent fallings.
Julian is speaking here of the birth of Christ in the soul. She suggests that if we pay attention to God’s gracious presence in the very ground of our being, where he delights in resting, we will not be able to entertain thoughts of our sins (or of our sufferings). We will desire only more of God’s goodness, God’s infinite compassion, God’s overwhelming tenderness and courtesy. And this is what God wants for us, not eternal self-recrimination, but eternal loving and joy.
Julian adds that the greatest honor we can give to God is that “we live gladly and merrily for his love,” even while undergoing our earthly penance. God in his infinite tenderness sees that our lives are full of suffering and pain. In fact, our natural longing for God is itself a form of penance and God knows this is a great trial for our souls, not yet to be united with him. We must believe that God’s love continues to long for us, while his wisdom and truth, along with his rightfulness, permit us to endure here a while longer. This is how God wants us to view our lives. For we will never be free of penance until we are finally made perfect in heaven, “when we shall have him as our reward.”
And therefore he wills that we set our hearts on the overpassing [transcending]: that is to say, from the pain that we feel into the bliss that we trust.
In the quiet of meditation, we may begin to fathom Christ's words to Julian and to us: "I love thee and thou lovest me, and our love shall never be separated into two, and for thy profit I suffer”: and all this was shown in ghostly understanding, saying this blessed word: “I keep thee full securely.”
Julian realizes that this is the incomparable “lesson of love” Christ desires to teach us: that we should live in “longing and enjoying” of God. And all that is contrary to this teaching, Julian declares “is not of him, but it is of the enemy.” Julian frankly remarks that if there is anyone alive “who is continually kept from falling,” such a soul was never shown to her. What was shown was “that in falling and in rising we are ever preciously kept in one love.”
Julian revealed that this gift of love is bequeathed to us through the working of grace and enables us to “love God for himself, and our self in God, and all that God loves, for [the sake of] God.” She marveled greatly at this virtue of love because she realized that even though we live foolishly and blindly here on earth, yet God always beholds our efforts to lead lives of love. And he takes great joy in our good deeds. Julian reiterates that the best way we can please God is by wisely and truly believing that we please him, and “to rejoice with him and in him.”
For as truly as we shall be in the bliss of God without end, praising and thanking him, as truly have we been in the foresight of God, loved and known in his endless purpose from without beginning, in which unbegun love he created us. In the same love he keeps us, and never suffers us to be hurt by which our bliss might be lessened. And therefore when the final judgment is given, and we are all brought up above, then shall we clearly see in God the privities which now are hidden from us.
We will not understand how it is that each soul is given plenteous grace to rise again after every fall, or how even the most hardened sinners are converted into saints, until at last we come up to heaven and see in God’s eyes the hidden mystery of the magnificent process of salvation. But we can be sure of one thing: we will see that all has been done by God to perfection. This will be the Great Deed that Julian understood would only be revealed at the end of time.
And then shall none of us be moved to say in any thing: “Lord, if it had been thus, it would have been well.” But we shall all say with one voice: “Lord, blessed may thou be, because it is thus, it is well. And now we see truly that every thing is done as it was thine ordinance to do, before any thing was made.”
This Christmas, may your soul take joy in being the humble “resting place” where the Child will be born. May you feel his "gracious touching" as you embrace him. And may you rejoice in his tender love that is with you in every aspect of your life and "keeps you full securely."
Many blessings and Happy Christmas to all!
NOTE: Excerpts above and translations from the Middle English are from my book, Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books. 2013). Copyright © 2013 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.