Learning from Julian of Norwich

It feels as though we are living through unprecedented times — the divisions of Brexit, storms, gales and floods, conflicts and war, and now a pandemic sweeping the globe. But let me take you back to the 14th Century: a time of turbulence and disaster, Black Death, the Peasants’ Revolt, the Hundred Years War, and the start of the Little Ice Age.

During that time a woman named Julian voluntarily chose to retire from the world and be permanently secluded and enclosed in a cell attached to a church in medieval Norwich. She was an anchoress, who spent her life in solitude, contemplation and prayer. Her cell had a window to the church to take part in Mass and to give spiritual advice to visitors. She lived frugally, with a servant bringing her food and water.

Does this sound in any way familiar to our current enforced and not so voluntary social distancing and even isolation? Those of us confined to our homes with our nearest and dearest may by now be envying Julian her solitude and silence!

When Julian was 30 years old, she became seriously ill and close to death. She received a series of wonderful visions of the Passion of Christ. Thankfully she made a full recovery and spent the next 20 years praying and thinking through the meaning of her visions. The result was the earliest book in English written by a woman — the Revelations of Divine Love.

I could quote so many lines from this beautiful book, but I will leave you with words that speak directly to us today, “He [Jesus] did not say, ‘You will not have a rough time; you will not be burdened; you will not have to face difficulties’, he said, ‘You will not be overcome’.”

Be sure of one thing, that as we face troubled times, hardships and dis-ease, God is with us and remains with us always.

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

(First written 29 March 2020)