In the course of her long meditation on the Thirteenth Revelation, Julian became more and more convinced that beneath all human misdeeds, even grave sins, there remained created goodness in every human person. She understood that innate goodness as the "godly will," the image of God in which we are all created.
Our Godly Will
For in every soul that shall be saved is a godly will that never
assented to sin, nor never shall. Just as there is a beastly will in the lower part that may will no good, just so there is a godly will in the higher part, which will is so good that it may never will evil, but only good.
It must be made clear that Julian does not imply that our “lower part,” our animal nature (having to do with our carnal appetites) is of itself beast-like, but that it simply has no will, either good or evil, of its own. (St. Augustine had termed it concupiscence: our non-rational and often unbridled appetites for food, sex, and self-preservation.) Therefore, our lower nature is not able to will higher things. Our mental faculties, on the other hand, which include our reason, memory (with its imagination), and will, being spiritual faculties of the soul, are able to think and remember, imagine and choose. Sometimes, of course, we choose wrongly, or choose a lesser good in place of one that is higher.
We are Good
What Julian is getting at here is that in the very core of our nature, because we are created by God, we are good. And in this ground of our being, we long for the perfect good that alone can satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst. The labyrinth of our minds and the confusion of our wills, however, often lead us down sinful and dark paths away from the pursuit of that ultimate reality. What Christ assured Julian in this Revelation on the “godly will” is that the soul that shall be saved is one that never fully, completely, willfully assents to serious sin. It may have been sorely tempted in its lower nature; it may even have fallen seriously because of weakness of the flesh, a craving for worldly power, prestige, and wealth. But because such a soul returns again and again in remorse to seek forgiveness from the Lord, it never totally rejects (nor will it ever reject) God. And such a soul, however circuitous its route to heaven may be, pleases God in its repeated efforts to lead a good life.
We are loved
And therefore we are those whom [Christ] loves, and endlessly we do what he likes. And thus our good lord showed the holiness of love that we stand in, in his sight: yea, that he loves us now as well while we are here as he shall do when we are there before his blessed face. But because of the failure of love on our part, therefore we have travail.
Most importantly, Julian affirms that our good Lord loves that soul as much now, in the midst of the great ordeal, as he will when the soul comes up to heaven and sees God face to face. Christ’s love never changes. It is only human love that waxes and wanes. And in this is the root of our suffering.
Living in Godliness and Love
Imagine if we lived every day in deeper awareness that we are essentially good and ceased defining ourselves only by our weaknesses, our misdeeds, even our past sins? Imagine if we allowed ourselves to realize how much we are truly loved by God? What would that do to our sense of self-worth? How would it change the way we treat others who are also essentially good and beloved of God? Perhaps we have focused too much on how unworthy we are to be loved, even (and especially!) by God. Perhaps Julian can help us take heart that each one of us, in the ground of our being, possesses a godly will that "is so good that it may never will evil, only good." Let us ask Julian to teach us to become more aware of that "godly will" within and dare to follow its directives. Then we may come to experience more often that "we are those whom Christ loves and endlessly do what he likes." And then we may rejoice more readily in our "godly will" and in our "being loved" by God!
PLEASE NOTE: 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.