Question of the Week

Julian of Norwich 1342-1429 By Archdeacon Lynne Marchant

All Shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.

I invite you to come with me on a journey back to the mid 14th century. We are going to a town in the south east of England called Norwich, and in this day and age it was a bustling religious centre During the Middle Ages there were twenty-two religious houses in Norwich and sixty-three churches within the city walls, of which thirty-six had an anchorage. (a small cell built onto the side of the church, sealed up except for a window to the church for services and a window to the outside for counselling.)

At this time there was a plague ravaging England and almost 50% of the towns people died of the Black Death; as if that is not enough there was also The 100 Yr war to deal with.

Into this world Julian of Norwich was born over 600 years ago, 1342 – 1429. (87) She was a medieval mystic and anchoress. She believed that God had spoken to her and given her 16 visions. When she was a young girl/woman she actually wished and prayed that she would suffer while she was young, that she would be transported back in time to stand at the foot of the cross. Be careful what you wish for because when she was about 30 yrs old Julian had what we would call a near death experience

On the seventh day of her illness, all pains left her and she had a series of 15 visions and a 16th the next day. She had visions of heaven, and of the crucifixion; she was taken to the bottom of the ocean and shown that even there if you are with God you are safe. She wrote of these Showings in a short from book. Many years later she wrote the long text, Revelations of Divine Love, God’s message to the world. Her book is a tender meditation of God’s eternal and all embracing love, as expressed to us in the Passion of Christ.

In fact Julian of Norwich wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman, Revelations of Divine Love during her years in the cell. After this near death experience Julian became an anchoress, living in a cell on the side of St Julian’s Church for about 60 years.

For me she is a spiritual mentor because she taught us of God’s unwavering love; There is very much a revival of Julian’s popularity these days because many of the issues she faced, that the world faced are still relevant today; not to worry; not to feel guilty about things we do; living during wars and pestilence. She also said God was both male and female! Very controversial now so imagine then! She associated God’s motherhood with all three persons of the Trinity: “I understand three ways of contemplating motherhood in God. The first is the foundation of our nature’s creation; the second is his taking our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins; the third is motherhood at work…and it is all one love. As surely as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.

Probably the most famous saying of Julian’s is “All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” However, when you read the Revelations themselves and get to Chapter 27 we find that it was not Julian who said this, but God who said it to Julian. Then Julian goes on for another 13 chapters about who ALL things could not possibly turn out well!!

Julian’s world in the 14th century was just as volatile as ours is today (if not more so). Knowing Julian argued with God is helpful to us who find it hard to believe that we can ever find a way out of the pickle we have gotten ourselves into! Saying “all shall be well” is a simple devotion that invites us to live more trustingly. . . to let go and let God. Julian argues that if God had not let sin happen in the first place, we would all be more Christ-like and all would have been well. Julian speaks of our sin as an illness or pain, as part of what we suffer. She feels that when we fall into sin we should not hide from God in shame, but rather run to God for comfort and healing as a child would run to its mother when hurt.

Jesus answered thus; “Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. We know very little about Julian – probably not her name but what she came to be called, not sure. When she was very ill her mother was with her but no husband or children – but she writes as if she was a mother It is possible she lost her children to the plague ? Her husband if she had one perhaps died overseas fighting in the 100 years war?

Julian or Julianna, Mother Julian, Dame Julian, Lady Julian – would be very pleased that we have little known facts about her. At the end of her book she says ‘don’t remember me for who I am but for what I said.’ Basically her message was simple and rings true today God is LOVE All shall be well Forgive ourselves – sin is inevitable