Over the years, Julian of Norwich received additional illuminations about three characteristics of God, which were shown in all the Revelations: life, love, and light. By life, she understood God’s “marvelous homeliness” or intimacy in the very ground of our being; by love, God’s “gentle courtesy” and unceasing care for souls; and by light, God’s “eternal being,” which never changes in its attitude toward us. She also marveled at the fact that our faculty of reason functions within God and that it “is the highest gift that we have received, and it is grounded in nature.”
She further realized that, in addition to the gift of reason, we have been given the most precious gift of faith:
Our faith is a light, naturally coming from our endless day that is our father, God; in which light our mother, Christ, and our good lord, the holy ghost, lead us in this mortal life. . . . And at the end of woe, suddenly our eye shall be opened, and in clearness of sight our light shall be full, which light is God our maker, father and holy ghost in Christ Jesus our savior. Thus I saw and understood that our faith is our light in our night, which light is God, our endless day.
For Julian, the deep source of both our faith and our light is none other than divine love, which continuously pours itself out to us in the exact measure that we need, and that we can bear to receive, at any given moment. This pure, spiritual love that flows to us from God, which Julian calls “charity,” keeps us firm in our faith and in hope; and faith and hope lead to ever greater charity. This charity is never a selfish love, which would seek its own good. On the contrary, charity loves God, and loves itself in God, and loves all that God loves, solely for the sake of God. Echoing St. Paul, she concludes: “And at the end alle shalle be charity.”
Julian reflected that in spite of our simplicity and our blindness, our courteous Lord constantly beholds us and enjoys doing his will in us, though we know not how. She counsels us once more that the thing that pleases Christ Jesus most is for us to believe that he enjoys working out our salvation and to “rejoice with him and in him.” Julian attests that in the same way that we shall truly be in the bliss of God in heaven, thanking and praising God, likewise, in the foresight of God, have we always been “loved and known in his endless purpose from without beginning, in which eternal love he created us.” In other words, God sees us now as we shall be then.
Moreover, when the final judgment is given, we shall discover in God the hidden reason for everything that has happened in our lives, and how truly we have been loved. Finally, we will understand how God has saved us.
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.”
At this holy season of Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of divinity into humanity, may we each be filled with the spirit of life, love, and light, in these, their most sublime meanings. May we kneel in the straw with the shepherds by the Child’s manger, breathless with awe that God has so loved us as to become one of us. And may we rejoice and give thanks that, through this Child, we are privileged to become sons and daughters of God.
Please Note: Translations from the Middle English and excerpts above are from my book, An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich (IVP Academic Press) © Copyright by Veronica Mary Rolf.
Some of you may wonder why I entitled my podcast series on the Revelations of Julian of Norwich: Life, Love, & Light. The answer is simple. I love this trilogy! They are Julian’s own words to describe her understanding of the Blessed Trinity. Near the very end of her Revelations, she tells us:
I had a partial touching, sight, and feeling of three properties of God, in which the strength and effect of all the revelations stand. And it was seen in every showing . . . The properties are these: life, love, and light. In life is marvelous intimacy, in love is gentle courtesy, and in light is endless being.
By God’s “life,” Julian means his familiarity, gentleness, and enduring closeness to us in the ground of our being, out of which he will never come. By God’s “love,” she understands his all-embracing and courteous care for our souls. And by God’s “light,” she sees his everlasting Being that will never change or alter its expression toward us. She recognized this trinity of properties as the one goodness of God, to which her mind wanted to be united and her heart wanted to cleave “with all its powers.” She marveled at the sweet feeling of unity she gained from realizing that our human reason exists in God. She appreciated, with much greater depth after many years of contemplation, that this reason “is the highest gift that we have received, and it is grounded in nature” – our human nature.
In addition to our reason, she writes:
Our faith is a light, naturally coming from our endless day that is our father, God; in which light our mother, Christ, and our good lord, the holy ghost, lead us in this mortal life . . . And at the end of woe, suddenly our eye shall be opened, and in clearness of sight our light shall be full, which light is God our maker, father and holy ghost in Christ Jesus our savior. Thus I saw and understood that our faith is our light in our night, which light is God, our endless day.
Julian further identifies the source of our light as none other than “charity” or spiritual love, which is measured out as is most profitable to us, according to the wisdom of God. The light of divine love is never allowed to be quite bright enough for us to be able to see our salvation clearly, nor is the heavenly light kept completely hidden from us, but it is enough light in which to live and work productively, thereby earning “the honorable thanks of God.”
Thus charity keeps us in faith and in hope, and faith and hope lead us in love. And at the end alle shalle be love.
Julian was also shown three ways of understanding this light of love: uncreated love (which is divine love), created love (which is the soul within divine love), and love given (which is the virtue of love). This gift of love that is bequeathed to us through the working of grace enables us to “love God for himself, and our self in God, and all that God loves, for the sake of God.” Julian 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 uncreated 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 secrets 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.
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.”
Let us take these reflections by Julian of life, love, and light into our hearts -- to strengthen our faith, encourage our hope, and deepen our love. That we might become bearers of God's own light, love, and light to our dark and saddened world!
NOTE: Excerpt 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
The love, longing, and pity of God for souls has been a theme of
the Revelations since Julian witnessed Christ’s great thirst on the cross. “Therefore, this is his thirst: a love-longing to have us all together, wholly in himself to his endless bliss.” This
is the divine longing of the lover to be united with the beloved in the Song of Songs: “For I am faint with love” (Sg 2:5).
Near the end of her Revelations, Julian returns to this theme and recognizes three forms of God’s own love-longing (in
which human beings also share). First, God longs for us to know him and love him more and more, and if we do, it will be greatly to our profit. Second, God longs to bring us to heaven, removed from all the pains and sufferings of this life. Third, God longs to fill us with bliss on the Day of Judgment. And not only shall we receive the same bliss that souls before us have had in heaven, but also we shall receive a new bliss, which plenteously shall flow out of God into us and fulfill us. And these are the good things which he has ordained to give us from without
beginning. We shall be given resurrected bodies, reunited with our perfected souls, and we shall finally see the fulfillment of all Christ’s promises. These sublime gifts are still hidden in God because, until the end of time, the human creature is not empowered or worthy to know the privities of salvation.
In this we shall see truly the cause of all the deeds that God has
done. And, furthermore, we shall see the cause of all things that he hath suffered [permitted to happen]. And the bliss and the fulfillment will be so deep and so high that, by wondering and marveling, all creatures shall have so great a reverent dread for God--overpassing that which has been seen and felt before—that the pillars of heaven shall tremble and quake.
Julian becomes apocalyptic in her certainty of receiving a complete answer to all her persistent questions about sin, the value of suffering, and the Great Deed that will “make alle thing wele.” She believes firmly that everything good will be accomplished in the Parousia, when, in the words of the Book of Revelation, there will be “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rv 21:1). She has been granted a glimpse of this exquisite glory in her visions. In a true and mystical way, she has experienced not only the “mind” of the passion but also the “mind” of the resurrection! Now she seeks to make this
reality an ardent hope for her readers, against all present sorrow.
Julian assures us that the trembling and reverent dread of seeing the Face of God in heaven will not involve any terror; it will be a “trembling and quaking for greatness of joy, endlessly marveling at the greatness of God the creator, and at the littleness of all that is created.” This is the same wonder Julian had experienced at the littleness of the hazelnut that appeared in her hand at the very beginning of her Revelations. She stresses to the reader, as she must have stressed to those who came to seek her counsel, that God wills that we know, and our own natures need to know, that this ultimate fulfillment will truly happen.
Furthermore, we should ardently desire the sight of it and the completion of it. Thus we must cultivate reverent dread that is “the beautiful courtesy that is in heaven before God’s face.” For just as God will be eternally known and loved in heaven, far surpassing the way we know and love him on earth,
so much more will he be reverenced, high above the still-imperfect reverence we give him now. For Julian, “reverent dread” is the complete and intimate contemplation of divine power, wisdom, and love; the satisfaction of the heart’s desire to behold the Face of God.
Imagine what Christians we would become if we lived every day, no matter the circumstances, with Julian's ardent desire and absolute certainty that everything we experience, suffer, rejoice in, love, and give thanks for will find its culmination in the bliss of heaven?
PLEASE NOTE: Quotations above are from Chapter Twenty-four of 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.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.