Julian of Norwich: Mystic of Surprises

One of our courses here at the Centre for Faith Enrichment this term (“Cosmic Vision of the Mystics”) draws on the wisdom of the 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich. Julian is a mystic full of surprises. To begin with, despite what her name may make you think, she is actually a woman! In the May of 1373, when she seemed to be on her deathbed, the woman who came to be known as Julian experienced a series of visions. To the surprise of everyone, Julian regained her health and, at some point, became an anchoress (a kind of hermit) in an enclosure attached to the Church of St Julian and St Edward in Norwich. She became known as “the lady at St Julian’s,” and has come down to us as simply “Julian of Norwich.”

Julian devoted the rest of her life to contemplating what she had seen and heard in her visions. She eventually wrote a book called Revelations of Divine Love – the first book to be written in English by a woman. Julian’s book contains surprisingly wonderful spiritual insights. Here are three of my favourites:

The Intimacy of God’s Love
Julian understands the love of God to be profoundly intimate and homely. The intimacy of God’s love is like the familiarity of the very clothes that cover and protect us. Julian wrote,

He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us” (Revelations of Divine Love, chapter 5). Isn’t that beautiful!

God is NOT Angry
Many religious authorities of Julian’s day taught that the wrath of God was behind the plagues which frequently ravaged England and Europe. But Julian says that in her visions she never saw any anger in God. She wrote,

And from all that I saw it seemed to me that it was necessary for us to see and to acknowledge that we are sinners; we do many evil things which we ought not to do and leave undone many good deeds which we ought to do, and for this we deserve punishment and anger. And in spite of all this I saw truly that our Lord was never angry and never will be angry, for he is God: goodness, life, truth, love, peace… God is the goodness that cannot be angry, for he is nothing but goodness” (Revelations of Divine Love, chapter 46)

The Motherhood of God
Finally, Julian surprises us by speaking of the motherhood of God. “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother,” Julian writes in chapter 59 of her book. She especially focuses on the motherhood of Jesus (I told you Julian is surprising!). Here is a passage in which Julian speaks of the daily care which Jesus our mother gives us:

In our spiritual birthing, he shows tenderness and care beyond any other mother in so much as our soul is of more value in his eyes. He kindles our understanding, he directs our ways, he eases our consciences, he comforts our soul, he lightens our heart and gives us, in part, knowledge and love of his blessed Godhead… If we fall, hastily he picks us up in his lovely embrace and touches us graciously… A mother may allow her child to fall sometimes and feel distress in various ways to be a lesson, but she will never, out of love, allow any kind of danger to come to her child. And though it is possible for our earthly mother to allow her child to perish, our heavenly mother Jesus will not allow us who are his children to die” (Revelations of Divine Love, chapter 61).

If you’d like to be surprised more by Julian of Norwich, check out Through Julian’s Window, by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard

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