Julian of Norwich: A Mystic for a Monday

I was drawn to an article today from The Writer’s Almanac blog.  Here is an excerpt –

Julian of Norwich

It was on this day in 1373 that the mystic Julian of Norwich (books by this author) received the last of her divine visions… 

Julian was born in England, probably in 1342, just before the worst outbreak of the Black Death in Europe. During that time, the Late Middle Ages, England was fighting the Hundred Years’ War with France, the Black Death killed at least a third of England’s population, there had been widespread famine and crop failures, and peasants were in revolt. In addition to all that, the Catholic Church was falling apart…

This was the context in which Julian of Norwich, whoever she might have been, decided to withdraw from society for a life of religious solitude. She spent her days in contemplative prayer, and when she was 30 years old she became seriously ill. She was so near death that the priest was called to administer the last rites, when suddenly she began experiencing visions. She had 16 visions of God, and was healed. She wrote: “All this blessed teaching of our Lord was shown to me in three parts, that is by bodily vision and by words formed in my understanding and by spiritual vision.” 

In my years of pastoral ministry, I was blessed to witness some people who experienced dramatic healing after very traumatic and, in a few cases, life-threatening illnesses.  At times, they experienced this a divine blessing and came away with a profound sense of gratitude, eager to love and serve God as best they could throughout their remaining days.  Occasionally, however, people reacted almost the opposite way.  Instead of cherishing the precious gift of life, they clung to it as a possession, attempting to ward off anything that might make them vulnerable to death again.

When Jesus healed people in his ministry, it was not so they could preserve their lives like pickled bologna on a shelf, it was so that they might invest life in the work of the Lord.  Like when Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and she immediately started serving them.  Like the one leper out of ten who came back to thank Jesus for his healing touch.  Like the demon-possessed man beside the tombs whom Jesus sent back into the village to share the good news.

Julian of Norwich had visions of God and was healed not because she was so special, but because God had a special purpose for her life which shines through in so much of her writing.  Here are just a few examples –

“[God] said not ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased’; but he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.” 

 “The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.” 

“…the goodness of God is the highest object of prayer and it reaches down to our lowest need.”  

“And I saw that truly nothing happens by accident or luck, but everything by God’s wise providence. If it seems to be accident or luck from our point of view, our blindness and lack of foreknowledge is the cause; for matters that have been in God’s foreseeing wisdom since before time began befall us suddenly, all unawares; and so in our blindness and ignorance we say that this is accident or luck, but to our Lord God it is not so.”   Revelations of Divine Love

(image above “Julian of Norwich” from Donna Knostman in People I Admire)

5 thoughts on “Julian of Norwich: A Mystic for a Monday

  1. Snort–pickled bologna on a shelf! Sorry…I do digress.
    I took a couple of classes a while back in which we had the pleasure of reading about folks like Julian; it is fascinating to me what the mystics experienced. I would love to know more about the society that surrounded them, particularly in the age of the witch-hunts…

    • Yeah, I haven’t studied much mysticism. From what little I know, it does seem like some were fortunately able to belly dance under the “orthodox” bar (and later be celebrated as “blessed”, even as “saints”) while others less fortunate were burned for heresy.

      I guess the lesson is, if you are a mystic, you need be careful what spirits you speak for.

      • Yes, so weird how some were welcomed/celebrated as mystics while others were seen as complete loons. I suppose the distinction comes down to the time at which said mystic became a mystic and as you so aptly put it, what spirits he/she spoke for…I wonder what a mystic would “look” like today, and if he/she would be seen as such.

      • Mystics today are often medicated with psycho-tropics. It’s a lot safer to treat voices and visions as chemical delusions than run the risk of having them lead you astray.

      • Hmmm…interesting observation! I get that, sad as it may be, especially when there are more un-medicated folks and folks with voices and visions who are safer than so-called safe people 😯

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