Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Ground of Your Beseeching

Julian of Norwich by Pomona Hallenbeck

Today is the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich, in the Anglican and Lutheran churches.

As I began my studies into Christian spirituality, Julian's Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love was one of the first overtly mystical works that I came across. On my first read, I was somewhat dismissive of it. First, it is an easy read with direct language, unadorned with philosophical nuance. By my training, this was a sign of inferior thinking. Honestly, if you can't manage a single quiddity, then what good are you?

Second, the universality of Love, the infallibility of Hope, and the root of sin being ignorance, these all mark Julian as a "proto-hippie" in my eyes. And "hippie-ness" is a BAD thing. Seriously, where was the scourge of pain to punish evil? Where was Wrath and Damnation? And what's this about God as Mother??? What is this, a classic of Western Spirituality or some New Age mumbo jumbo?

A few years later, I was studying the apophatic mysticism of the Cloud of Unknowing, another work of 14th century English spirituality. An article that I was reading made repeat comparisons between the Cloud and Julian. I thought "I don't remember Julian being anywhere as interesting as this writer makes her sound." So, I gave her a reread, something that I rarely do. (Life is too short to reread books.)

In the intervening years, I had transcended by biases in regards to theological technical lingo and "hippie-phobia". Therefore, I encountered Julian with an open mind. And she was well worth it. Her mystical vision is brave, unique, and beautiful.

The line that really caught me was "Sin is necessary, but all will be well", which sums up her belief that sin is not born out of evil, but of ignorance. This ignorance is natural and the process of sinning is how we learn. By making mistakes, we discover the right way to do things. Once this wisdom is obtained, we can move on into the perfection of God's Love.

That's an amazingly modern thought. Julian's forming this spiritual worldview in 1373, a time in which crazy superstition is rife throughout all aspects of society. Sin is the work of the DEVIL!!! There are demons and imps and monsters all over the place, tempting humanity into Eternal Damnation. And although God is "loving", he's more than ready to actively devastate the world with manifestations of his Wrath: the Black Death, famine and war.

Yeah, this is a time lost to ignorance and fear, but Julian sees an underlying reason for Hope. "Do not accuse yourself that your tribulation and your woe is all your fault. . . this life is penance, and he wants us to rejoice in the remedy." In other words, our pain is not a punishment for sin, but rather is the purgation of our sin. By the simple process of living our lives we are automatically engaged in penance. The everyday situations that face us brings us closer to perfection.

"And then you will truly see that all your life is profitable penance." That's a liberating spirituality.

I can go on and on about Julian, but I think that's something that can fill up many a post.

Here's an interesting vid:

Julian of Norwhich's Wikipedia page is here

Pomona Hallenbeck is the artist of the lovely image at the top of this post. Her website can be found here.


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