Saturday, May 09, 2020

Inspiration in Isolation from Julian of Norwich

“All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Julian of Norwich

The year before I retired from pastoral ministry I offered a midday Lenten series which included a brief reflection on four different Christian contemplative "heroes", some time in the quiet, and some reflective music and prayer. We advertised it this way:

For four Wednesdays in Lent we will listen to the voices of those who through the ages have borne witness to God and to Christ in ways that have been both faithful and challenging and imaginative. Julian of Norwich  Francis of Assisi Therese of Lisieux Thomas Merton.

I thought these oases of calm were a good idea, but nobody came, or at least only a handful of people showed up. It seemed that music was a strong draw at Bridge St. UC but anything to do with contemplation and prayer was a tough sell. 

Yesterday was the Feast Day for Julian who lived much of her life in seclusion as an anchoress in her tiny cell which was attached to St Julian's Church, Norwich. We aren't really sure of her birth name but we do know she wrote a treatise on her mystical experiences called Showings, which may be the oldest surviving book written by a woman. She lived in the 14th century and survived the Black Death, one of the grim manifestations of the plague. She did provide a form of spiritual companionship to people who sought her out, but mostly she was alone with her cat.

Not surprisingly, there has been an increased interest in Julian during our own plague/pandemic times, and rightly so. As we attempt to make sense of the isolation imposed upon us, and COVID-19 related anxiety, we can look to the example and inspiration of our spiritual forebears.Where is God in all of this? 

  To mark the occasion the always thoughtful British poet and priest , Malcolm Guite, posted a sonnet, found in his book The Singing Bowl (Canterbury Press)  under the heading, Finding Christ in Isolation, and here it is:

Show me O anchoress, your anchor-hold

Deep in the love of God, and hold me fast.
Show me again in whose hands we are held,
Speak to me from your window in the past,
Tell me again the tale of Love’s compassion
For all of us who fall onto the mire,
How he is wounded with us, how his passion
Quickens the love that haunted our desire.
Show me again the wonder of at-one-ment
Of Christ-in-us distinct and yet the same,
Who makes, and loves, and keeps us in each moment,
And looks on us with pity not with blame.
Keep telling me, for all my faith may waver,
Love is his meaning, only love, forever.
Julian of Norwich.jpg
The statue of Julian of Norwich on the West Front of Norwich Cathedral
creater by sculptor David Holgate in 2014.

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