The Ground of Prayer
In the Fourteenth Revelation, Julian of Norwich teaches us what the Lord told her about prayer:
“I am the ground of thy beseeching. First it is my will that thou have it, and next I make thee to will it, and next I make thee to beseech it—and thou beseeches it! How should it then be that thou shouldst not have thy beseeching?”
In an astounding moment, the Lord completely inverts the idea that prayer is initiated in any way by Julian (or us!) with the Revelation that it is entirely his own idea. He identifies himself as the instigator and basis of all prayer. First, in his great goodness, Christ wills to give her some grace, then he makes her conscious of the desire for it. Next, he inspires her and gives her the desire to enter into prayer in order to beseech it. And then, she actually does beseech it in her prayer. Finally, Christ asks Julian the all important rhetorical question: “How could it then be that you would not receive what you were beseeching me for?” (since it was Christ himself who conceived the grace he wanted to give Julian in the first place!). Of course, this Revelation assumes that what Julian will be led to pray for will be to her most immediate benefit, as well as her eternal salvation, and will bring the greatest blessings upon those for whom she prays.
Julian became convinced that when we pray it is in response to God’s desire to grant what we most urgently need. Our prayers of beseeching do not cause graces and gifts to come to us from God. It is God’s own goodness, the ground of all that is, that initiates every good thing he ever chooses to give us. He is ready to give before we even ask.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
In addition to petitionary prayer, Julian stresses the prayer of thanksgiving. This is “a true, inward knowing,” whereby we dedicate all our energies to the good work that the Lord directs us to do, “rejoicing and thanking inwardly.” Julian reveals that sometimes this prayer of thanksgiving is so overwhelming that it breaks out in full voice saying: “Good lord, grant mercy, blessed may thou be!” And at other times, when the heart feels dry and empty, or else is undergoing temptations, then prayer “is driven by reason and by grace to cry aloud to our Lord, remembering his blessed passion and his great goodness.” Either way, the strength of the Lord’s own word will enter into the soul, enliven the heart, begin a new spiritual work by means of grace, and enable the soul to pray more blissfully and to rejoice in him. “This is a very lovely thanking in his sight.”
Three Aspects of Prayer
Julian summarizes three aspects that should determine our understanding of prayer. The first, as already mentioned, is to know from whom and how our prayer originates. Christ made clear that he is the instigator of prayer when he said, “I am the ground.” And he revealed how prayer develops because of his goodness when he said, “First, it is my will that thou have it.” The second aspect concerns the manner in which we say our prayers. Our will should always be turned entirely toward the will of the Lord, not in fear but in great enjoyment. Christ clarified this for Julian when he said: “I make thee to will it.” And the third aspect focuses on the fruit and goal of our prayer, which is “to be oned with and like our lord in everything.” “And to this meaning and for this end was all this lovely lesson shown. And he will help us, and he shall make it so, as he says himself. Blessed might he be!”
Additionally, Julian suggests that both our prayer and our trust should be equally “large,” which in Middle English implies generous and ample, even ambitious. “For if we do not trust as much as we pray, we do not give the fullest worship to our lord in our prayer, and also we hinder and trouble ourselves.” Julian considers that the reason we become hesitant and lacking in trust is that we think the impetus to pray is coming from ourselves instead of from Christ. If we were absolutely certain that Christ is the “ground in whom our prayer springs” and that prayer is itself “given to us by grace of his love,” then we would naturally trust that we would have “all that we desire.”
This Thanksgiving Day (and every day) let us have confidence that the deepest desires of our heart really do arise from “the ground” of our being. And that it is Christ himself prompting us to pray for them, preparing us to receive them, and encouraging us to trust “mightily” that he desires to fill our hearts to overflowing. And let us “give thanks-in-advance” for all that the Lord is accomplishing in and through us, though we know not how.
Many Blessings and a very Happy Thanksgiving to all!
NOTE: Excerpts above and translations from the Middle English are from my book, Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books).
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All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.