During her Revelations from Christ on the cross, Julian learned a great deal about about the nature of prayer. Especially in the Fourteenth Revelation, the Lord told Julian very clearly:
I am the ground of thy beseeching [in prayer]. First it is my will that thou have it, and next I make thee to will it, and next I make thee to beseech it—and thou beseechest it! How should it then be that thou shouldst not have thy beseeching?
In this astounding moment, the Lord completely inverts the idea that prayer is initiated in any way by Julian (or any one of us) with the Revelation that it is entirely his own idea! Jesus identifies himself as the instigator and basis of all prayer. First, in his great goodness, Christ wills to give Julian (or any one of us) some special grace. Then he makes her conscious of the desire for it, deep within her heart. Next, he inspires her and gives her the desire to enter into prayer in order to beseech it. And then, she actually does beseech it in her prayer.
Finally, Christ asks Julian the all-important rhetorical question: “How could it then be that you would not receive what you were beseeching me for?” (since it was Christ himself who conceived the grace he wanted to give Julian in the first place). Of course, this Revelation assumes that what Julian will be led to pray for will be to her most immediate benefit, as well as her eternal salvation, and will bring the greatest blessings upon those for whom she prays. The same holds true for us.
Thus Julian became convinced that when we pray it is in response to God’s desire to grant what we most urgently need. Our prayers of beseeching do not cause graces and gifts to come to us from God. It is God’s own goodness, the ground of all that is, that initiates every good thing he ever chooses to give us. He is ready to give before we even ask.
A Mighty Comfort
Julian experienced “a mighty comfort” in receiving this divine illumination. She realized that the refusal of the Lord to grant our heartfelt prayer would be, in her delightful Middle English word, “unpossible”:
For it is the most unpossible [greatest impossibility] that may be that we should seek mercy and grace and not have it. For every thing that our good lord makes us beseech, he himself has ordained it to us from without beginning.
As a result of this Revelation, Julian experienced prayer in an entirely new and radically hope-filled way. She became certain that Christ wants all his “lovers on earth” to know how intimately he directs our prayer, because “the more that we know, the more shall we beseech,” if we understand this teaching wisely, as our Lord intends.
Frustration in Prayer
Yet how often we beseech God for good things for ourselves, our loved ones, and for all those suffering in our world, yet seem to receive no answer, no clarification, no help! Then we become disheartened, maybe even disillusioned with prayer. And then we stop praying. Julian ascribes our loss of faith in prayer to a lack of trust:
Oftentimes our trust is not full. For we are not certain that God hears us, and we think it is because of our unworthiness, and because we feel nothing at all.
Julian assures us that the feeling (or lack of feeling) we experience in prayer has no bearing on the depth or sincerity of our great longing. And that longing is itself Christ’s own prayer in us. Moreover, Julian became convinced that when we have prayed a long time and yet not received what we have asked for, we should not become depressed. She is certain that "either we must wait for a better time, or more grace, or a better gift." All the while, we must trust "mightily" that Christ is always at work, in us, in everyone we love, in the whole world, even if we cannot see it happening. Julian adds:
For if we do not trust as much as we pray, we do not give the fullest worship to our lord in our prayer, and also we hinder and trouble ourselves.
Indeed, persistent trust in prayer opens our minds and hearts wider and wider so that we may become more capable of receiving the graces that the Lord wants to give us and everyone for whom we pray. Thus we must never give up praying, precisely because we trust that the Lord’s initiation of our prayer is already the guarantee of its answer:
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you (Mt 7:7).
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.