And thou shalt come up above, and thou shalt have me for thy reward, and thou shalt be filled with joy and bliss.
Julian tells us that we must focus “the point of our thought” on this beholding as often as possible, and for as long as the Lord will lead us into such exalted contemplation, by his grace. In other words, Julian urges us to learn to meditate not on our sufferings but on the glorious love and compassion of Christ who will release us from them forever. Here she goes directly counter to the usual medieval recommendations for
meditations on death that detailed the excruciating torments awaiting the soul in hell, should it die in mortal sin. Urging a totally different approach, Julian suggests that we concentrate less on our wretchedness and fear of damnation and more on the future joy of our salvation. If we do, she says it will be greatly to God’s honor and our own reward.
Julian reassures us (as she often had to reassure herself) that
even in the midst of agony and doubt, God never forgets us. This is what Christ meant when he said that we would be released “suddenly” from our pains and realize that he had been with us during the time of our suffering. We must believe in his promise and his abiding comfort as completely and confidently as we possibly can. And we must try to endure the long years of waiting amid the dis-eases and emotional distresses of our lives as “lightly” as possible, even counting them as nothing.
For the more lightly that we take them, and the less price that we set on them for love, the less pain shall we have in the feeling of them, and the more thanks and reward shall we have for them.
Julian never suggests that this way of living will be easy (as it was not easy for her), but it must have become her graced way of alleviating her own melancholia. Her approach was the very opposite of the cultivation of sadness and self-loathing that many medieval mystics espoused. . . and Julian never encourages ascetic disciplines or increased suffering for its own sake. Instead, she recommends the cultivation of joy. She encourages us to set less importance on how much we undergo and to trust in the Lord who is continually working through what we suffer to prepare our eternal reward.
Chosen by Love
And thus I understood that any man or woman who willingly
chooses God in this lifetime for love, he may be seker that he is
loved without end, with endless love that werks in him that grace [of choosing God]. For [God] wills we recollect this trustfully, that we are as seker in hope of the bliss of heaven while we are here as we shall be in sekernesse [certainty] when we are there. And ever the more pleasure and joy that we take in this sekernesse, with reverence and humility, the more it delights him.
Here, Julian maintains that we are offered “endless love” by
God, and if we choose to accept it by living a life of love, then we
may be sure that we have been “chosen.” This, at last, seems to indicate Julian’s personal interpretation of the doctrine of predestination: it is none other than human love responding to Divine Love. We may recall Christ’s words: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” (Jn 15:16). According to Julian, the fact that we choose to love God, and try to express that love through our love of each other, is itself proof that the love of God dwells within us. How could it be otherwise?
St. John writes: “Whoever does not love does not know God,
for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). And again: “So we have known and
believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who
abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 Jn 4:16).
The natural expression of this love of God is love of neighbor: “The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 Jn 4:21). Julian advises that we reflect on God’s love often and gain confidence from it, even to the extent of being as certain of the hope of heaven now as we will be when we are in heaven.
Julian’s leap of sekernesse echoes her earlier belief that she “would be saved by the mercy of God." She is convinced that
God wants us to believe firmly in our own salvation, for it pleases him that we do so. This is not presumption on Julian’s part. Medieval devotion promised that the blessed ones would receive their eternal “dowry” from God: “For they shall be there seker and certain / To have endless joy, and nevermore pain.”
Imagine how the world would become transformed if every one of us Christians cultivated “transcendent joy” in every aspect of our lives? We would be full of enthusiasm for giving as well as the hope of receiving God’s love, no matter what transpired in the world. As a result, the darkness of hatred and fear, anger and animosity, so prevalent in our societies, would be illuminated by the individual lights of Christ that we are meant to be!
Every Christmas, Christ is born into our lives to bring us his heavenly joy, even now, even amidst the sufferings of our lives and our aching world. Let us receive this gift at Christmas and make every effort to cultivate joy in the New Year. And then we may watch with awe as miracles happen.
May your Christmas be full of God’s gifts of unconditional love and transcendent joy to the whole world.
PLEASE NOTE: Quotations above are from 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.