Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Year of Living Julianly

In this, my second year of affiliation with the Order of Julian of Norwich, I decided to up the ante on my commitment to my vows and to the study of Julian's Revelations of Divine Love. Affiliates of the Order of Julian are expected to make a life-long study of Julian's writings. This is both an easy and a hard thing to do.

Julian wrote only one book, the above said Revelations. They are 86 mostly short chapters detailing showings received by Julian after a serious illness over the course of a day and a half. It's not very much.

But it is. There is such a depth and tangle of theology in the showings that it can truly take a life time to master. Moreover, written in the late 14th Century, in late Middle English, Julian's writings, even through a careful, scholarly and loving translation are grammatically, syntactically and stylistically challenging. It is too easy to get bogged down in all the adjectives and the continual citing of God's great love. A reader could think she understands the broad strokes and dismiss the whole thing as "sweet" or "quaint" and never grasp the fierce truth that was revealed to Julian.

So, I decided to stretch out this my fourth reading the the Revelations over an entire year. After some mathematics, I confirmed that about 4+ days for each of the 86 chapters would make it to a year. This allows a day here and there for skipping the reading. It also allows more days to be spent on the very lengthy Chapter 51.

I am also keeping a journal with my commentary on each chapter. My journal is a handsome dark blue leather one with heavy lined pages and a ribbon bookmark. It is itself a commitment. I am currently on Chapter 14, having begun in mid September.

The translation I am using is by Father John-Julian, the founder of our Order. He is a man we love dearly and whose scholarship and intellect are, to me anyway, boundless. His translation is both accessible to the modern reader and observant of Julian's voice. In his The Complete Julian of Norwich, each chapter is annotated as well. Bonus!

Taking so much time over each small bit of writing has been itself a revelation to me. I have the luxury of pausing over a particular sentence or even one word that I passed over in earlier readings. Consider this statement from God to Julian,

See, I am God. See, I am in everything. See, I do everything. See, I never lift my hands from my work, nor ever shall, without end. See I lead everything to the end I ordained for it from without beginning by the same Power, Wisdom and Love with which I made it. How could anything be amiss? Chapter 11

The repeated use of the word "see" is crucial. God asks that Julian see this which it is not easy for her to do. Nor is it easy for us. God never lifts his hand from his work. This is hard to believe, hard to see. It is also easy to believe. God created from Power and Wisdom and Love. Of this we have no doubt. But is God in everything? In terrorist attacks? In terminal illness? In addiction and suicide?

Julian lived through three bouts of the bubonic plague in her town of Norwich. She lived at a time of terrible historic and religious upheaval as well. If we have reason to ask where is God in all this trouble, she had reason as well.

God did not explain himself to Julian. He revealed himself. This was enough. The knowledge of God, the grace that brings that to us in any way, even for a split second, is enough. Julian did not need a rational explanation, not should we. Seeing is believing. May we have eyes to see.

More in the coming weeks and months.