Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor
For the past several weeks, a group has been gathering on Zoom to read and discuss a classic of English literature and Christian mysticism, Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.
Julian lived in the late 14th and early 15th centuries in East Anglia, an area of England which was hit hard by the Bubonic Plague.
Scholars estimate that England lost at least 40 percent of its population during these outbreaks.
As if widespread illness and death weren’t enough, Julian and her contemporaries were also dealing with the instability of the British monarchy at the time, which waged the Hundred Years’ War in a power struggle for control of France.
As a result of many years of war, taxes went up to finance it.
The result was the Peasants Revolt of 1381, an uprising of the common folk in response to conditions of poverty and increased taxation.
Bleak times indeed.
In the midst of all this upheaval and death, a 30-year old Julian fell ill and came close to death.
As the village priest was administering last rites, she began to have visions in which the crucifix the priest held before her face began to bleed and speak.
Miraculously, Julian recovered and spent the following decades meditating on and praying about her visionary experience.
She shared her experience in writing (the first known and so-credited female writer in the English language), first in the “short text” not long after her recovery, and then in the “long text,” written a couple of decades after her visions.
In the long text, Julian gives more detail as her discernment and understanding increased.
The result is a gift of writings from Julian that speak profoundly to our own time.
Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love, as scholars have come to call her work, brings a profound message of encouragement and hope – a positive word for us in the midst of negativity, anxiety, suffering and death.
The phrase “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well” was an assurance she received from God in the midst of her illness.
It is a message she passes on to the reader of those words in the hope that in the midst of death, we can hear that “all will be well” in God.
There are many other gems in Julian’s work, but there is one in particular that has strongly resonated with me in the last few weeks.
“God reminded me that I would sin; and because of my pleasure in contemplating him, I was slow to pay attention to this…At this I began to feel a quiet fear, and to this our Lord answered, “I am keeping you very safe”…[F]or just as it was shown that I would sin, the help was also shown…”*
We live in a time in which we are offered the opportunity to take a look at our sin – both collectively and individually.
For white folks, we have the chance to take a good hard look at how we benefit from systems and institutions that harm and kill persons of color.
Individually, these days of shelter-in-place offer the space to take a good hard look at our own compulsions and emptiness.
It is enough to bring one to despair:
If I take a real hard look at my sin, I will surely fall into the abyss…..I may be broken and not be able to recover…..I may have to admit that I was wrong……
The Divine word in response to this is, “I am keeping you safe.”
The Triune God who created each and every one of us has chosen to love each and every one of us, and as we do the hard work of reckoning with our own “stuff,” God will not let us fall into the abyss.
We are held close by God, who assures us all will be well. We have nothing to lose but the sin that “clings so closely.” (Hebrews 12.1)
*Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love: Penguin Classics, 1998, p. 93.