In the Third Revelation, Julian of Norwich heard an outpouring of words from Christ within her soul: And all this he showed full blissfully, meaning thus: “See, I am God. See, I am in all thing. See, I do all thing. See, I never take my hands from my works, nor never shall without end. See, I lead all things to the end that I ordained it to, from without beginning, by the same might, wisdom, and love with which I made it. How should any thing be amiss?”
In an instant, Julian experiences not only that God IS, but that God is the underlying Reality of all things, whether or not she is able to “see” how this could be so . . . that God does all that is done, but that he “does no evil” . . . that God never removes his “hand” from that which he creates, nor ever has, nor ever shall . . . that God leads every single person and every single thing to the ultimate end for which it was created in the beginning . . . that God does all this with the same trinitarian “might, wisdom and love” with which he creates all that is. And finally, since such God-ness eternally IS, “How should any thing be amiss?”
Julian is hearing the Spirit within her mind describe the world as it is forever being created by perfect Wisdom, not as it is falsified and corrupted by the ignorance and sinfulness of humankind. In this ecstatic experience of Divine Reality, everything is immaculate, blissful, perfectly ordered to its appropriate end. All is accomplished through God’s infinite power, wisdom, and love. Every tree is a divine image, every creature reflects its Creator, every human being walks in the garden of God’s love. There is no evil, no sin, no disorder. All is as it was created to be. Such is the kingdom of God.
Yet . . . as sublime an insight as this was, Julian admits that her soul was greatly tested by this vision. “Thus mightily, wisely, and lovingly was the soul tested in this vision.” How could she call such a glorious Revelation “a test”?
Perhaps because the two world views, one of the heavenly kingdom, and the other of the earthly existence Julian knew only too well, could not be reconciled in her mind. The teaching that all that is done on earth is done by God for the best possible “end” was still incomprehensible to her; it was not her normal way of viewing evil in the world. Given her life experience, she could not readily discount the violence and grave injustices she had seen, the sufferings she had undergone, the terrible toll of the plagues on her family and friends, the maimings and deaths of war, the pains of childbirth, the scandals of the papal schism, the Lollard heresies rampant in the church, the violence of the peasants’ revolt, the adultery, brutality, cheating, lying, and corruption of her evencristens in Norwich; the quarrels and jealousies within her own family; her own deep sense of wretchedness. There seemed to be no end to the many faces of cosmic evil and personal sin.
One senses that, in spite of Julian's absolute certitude concerning the truth of this Revelation of “God in all things,” she simply could not fathom how God might be working in and through the evils of sin, suffering, and death to lead all things to a perfect ending, according to his divine purpose. She must have heard the rhetorical question in her mind: “How could any thing be amiss?” with a burst of joy one minute, and, in the next, been hit hard by the realization that obviously so much all around her was sorely amiss. (We may certainly identify with her in our own age of anxiety.) And we must remember that all during this revelation, Julian was still facing Christ on the cross, suffering for the sins of humankind. How could such agony have been part of God’s plan from all eternity?
Julian implies here that she felt deeply mired in the human condition while God was showing her a divine dimension, a transcendent perspective beyond anything she could have imagined. And in this blessed moment she felt she was being tested, in the sense of being challenged to break open her mind to an entirely different plane of reality.
Throughout her Revelations, Julian’s daring spirit will fly directly into the burning sun of divine revelation, only to fall back to earth like a blinded bird. True illumination never happens without a struggle, an intense contest between two versions of reality, human and divine. Julian’s agon was no different. She could not yet grasp the full implications of what God was revealing about the righteousness of all his works. Even so, Julian knew well that it behooved her to assent to the import of the vision “with great reverence,” whether or not she understood it, because she believed it to be true. “Then I saw truly that it behooved me to assent with great reverence, enjoying God.”
The letter to the Hebrews spoke of faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1, italics added). Julian does not see or comprehend. Thus her faith is being tested. She feels called simply to rest for a while, and enjoy God. “Be still, and know that I am God!” sings the psalmist (Ps 46:10). “See! I am God,” cries the Holy Spirit within Julian.
If, in the midst of our own sufferings, doubts, and debilitating fears, we also take time every day to rest a while in childlike trust, letting go and dropping into the arms of our loving Lord, then we, too, could find peace within the divine dimension, “enjoying God.” And then, we, too, might be privileged to experience how (in the divine dimension) everything is already being made well. May Julian be our inspiration to do so!
PLEASE NOTE: Excerpts above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the express 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.