Words from the 14th century’s Julian of Norwich offer comfort and hope.
Posted in , Mar 16, 2020
A few days ago, amidst the tumultuous news around Covid-19, I was at a Bible study led by our son, Tim. He asked everyone who their favorite saint was. “Julian of Norwich” was heard more than once. Yes, I thought, she would know what to say to our times.
She herself lived in tough times. Born in 14th century in England, she saw her own hometown of Norwich suffer terribly from the plague, losing as much as 50 percent of its population.
She herself suffered from some mysterious illness and was so close to death that she was given last rites. But then, there on her sickbed, someone brought her a crucifix and as she stared at it, Jesus seemed to come alive and in a matter of hours gave her 15 visions, that she later wrote down.
Her subsequent book, Revelations of Divine Love, is the first book written in English by a woman. And what a reassuring book it is, because of what Jesus told her, reassuring her in God’s redeeming love.
Her beloved prayer, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well…” feels timely today. But it’s worth remembering—something that adds to its power—these were not her words, but the words of Jesus speaking to her. A bit like the Lord’s Prayer itself. The prayer takes us up to a heavenly viewpoint. Not that there won’t be times of trial, not that we should escape suffering—look at what Jesus faced. But in the midst of it, and always, God is with us.
In her vision the world looked no bigger than a hazel nut lying in the palm of her hand, that small and that fragile. But then she is reassured that it has three properties: “The first is that God made it. The second, that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”
She spent most of the rest of her life living as an anchorite, in a small cell attached to a church. She might have had a cat for company—one of the Julian of Norwich lovers at that Bible study mentioned Julian’s fondness for cats.
She also had God’s company in prayer. “Prayer is a new, gracious, lasting will of the soul united and fast-bound to the will of God by the precious and mysterious working of the Holy Ghost,” she wrote.
So in these tumultuous times, how comforting I find it to remember this woman who discovered long ago—in times that were unimaginably miserable—that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”