In a world of discord, violence, and strife, amidst crises in our families and in our personal lives, we yearn for God to “speak” to us – to bring justice and mercy, to heal and forgive. Julian of Norwich felt the same way. She longed for meaning to the suffering and persecution in her own world. She ached for clarity in a sea of doubt and questions. That is why her Revelations of Divine Love “speak” to us at such a profound and reassuring level. Julian sought “sekernesse” – security, safety, certainty. So do we. She longed for a love that would never fail. So do we. She learned to trust the Christ who told her “alle shalle be wele”—in spite of how bad things looked all around her. So must we.
What gave Julian the foundation of her faith and hope and love? She was steeped in sacred Scripture. She did not own a Bible; only a few wealthy aristocrats did in her time. And anyway, the Bible was in Latin which, by her own account, she could not read. The Lollard Bible translations into English were considered heretical in her lifetime and forbidden by the church. Anyone who read or discussed them was subject to trial and severe punishment.
Then how did Julian imbibe the Scriptures? By hearing. By listening to sermons, by being drawn in to the Corpus Christi mystery and passion plays of her time, and by praying the psalms (there was a Lay Folk’s prayer book that included translations of the psalms for daily practice). Throughout her sixteen Revelations, Julian makes numerous references to sacred Scripture. She may misquote the exact texts, but she knows the true meaning “by heart.” She also references St. Paul in many of her teachings. And in writing of God as our life, love, and life, she echoes John the evangelist.
The Great Deed
Precisely because she was steeped in stories of the Old and New Testament, especially the Gospels, she trusted that God had a plan of salvation and vindication that would be fulfilled—no matter how many evil deeds seemed to thwart it. She was given a revelation about a “Great Deed” that gave her immense comfort:
For this is the great deed that our lord God shall do, in which deed he shall save his word in alle thing and he shall make wele all that is not wele. But what the deed shall be, and how it shall be done, there is no creature beneath Christ who knows it, nor shall know it, till it is done, according to the understanding that I took of our lord’s meaning at this time.
Julian also took comfort in remembering all the great deeds that Christ has done in the past. She believed it is God’s will “that we have great regard for all the deeds that he [Christ] has done” already and in such profusion, because then we will more readily “know, trust, and believe all that he shall do.” Yet she warned that we must not try to conjure up what the Great Deed will be. Instead, we must become more like the saints in heaven who want nothing but what God wills.
Then shall we only rejoice in God and be well apaid [satisfied] both with hiding and showing. For I saw truly in our lord’s meaning, the more we busy ourselves to know his privities in that or in any other thing, the further shall we be from the knowing.
A Second Deed
Julian also understood that there will be a “second deed’ that will be known sooner (that is, when we die and enter heaven), while the Great Deed will not be revealed to anyone in heaven or on earth until it is accomplished at the end of the world.
Let us also steep ourselves in the vibrant revelations of sacred Scripture, since we are blessed with the ability to read and meditate on it in our own language. Let us draw strength from the promises made to Abraham and Moses, to Mary and Joseph, and to countless other characters in the divine-human drama of sacred Scripture. Let us see in the stories of Scripture parallels to the story of our own lives. Then, like Julian, we will be fortified in hope and in secure trust that God’s will cannot and will not fail.
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.