When I give talks or retreats on the Revelations of Divine Love of Julian of Norwich, I am repeatedly struck by how relevant her teachings are to our nation’s situation and to our world crises. What is it about this fourteenth century mystic that speaks so directly to us in the twenty-first? Why should we read and ponder Julian’s Revelations now?
Perhaps the best answer to the question “Why Julian now?” is that in our age of uncertainty, inconceivable suffering, and seemingly perpetual violence and war (not unlike fourteenth-century Europe), Julian shows us the way toward contemplative peace. In a time of rampant prejudice and religious persecution, Julian inspires us to non-judgmental acceptance and universal compassion. In a world of deadly diseases and ecological disasters, Julian teaches us how to endure pain in patience and trust that Christ is working to transform every cross into resurrected glory. In a generation of doubt, cynicism, and disbelief, Julian offers a radiant vision of faith and hope— not in ourselves, but in the Lord who created us, loves us, and will never, ever abandon us.
Moreover, across six centuries, Julian’s voice speaks to us about love. She communicates personally, as if she were very much with us here and now. Even more than theological explanations, we all hunger for love. Our hearts yearn for someone we can trust absolutely—divine love that can never fail. Julian reveals this love because, like Mary Magdalene, she experienced it firsthand. Julian tells us about her mystical visions of Christ’s love on the cross and how that love totally transformed her life. Unlike other medieval mystics (who may appear sometimes too extreme, too ascetic, or too intellectual for our postmodern taste), Julian comes across as a flesh and blood woman, thoroughly sympathetic to our human condition. And in heartfelt terms she expresses her profound awareness of God who became human like us, suffered, died, and was transformed into glory.
Why is Julian so appealing today? I think because she is totally vulnerable and transparently honest, without any guile. She is “homely”; in medieval terms, that means down-to-earth, familiar, and easily accessible. She is keenly aware of her spiritual brokenness and longs to be healed. So do we. She experiences great suffering of body, mind, and soul. So do we. She has moments of doubt. So do we. She seeks answers to age-old questions. So do we. Then, at a critical turning point in her revelations, she is overwhelmed by joy and “gramercy” (great thanks) for the graces she is receiving. We, too, are suddenly granted graces and filled to overflowing with gratitude. Sometimes, we even experience our own divine revelations.
Again and again, Julian reassures each one of us that we are loved by God, unconditionally. In her writings, we hear Christ telling us, just as he told Julian: “I love you and you love me, and our love shall never be separated in two.” Indeed, Julian’s teachings have greatly endeared her to Christians and non-Christians alike. Everyone can relate to her as a spiritual mentor because we sense that, even though she lived and wrote six hundred years ago, Julian the mystic, the seeker, and the theologian is very much “a woman for all seasons.” Julian’s voice of prophetic hope, speaking to us from the fourteenth century, is one that we in the twenty-first century desperately need to hear.
PLEASE NOTE: The excerpts above are from "An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich" (InterVarsity Academic Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 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.