Monday, January 4, 2016

The Year of Living Julianly: Part II


Of course I'm not literally living Julianly. To do that I would have to have an anchorhold (anchorage) built for myself attached to my church with just one window giving in to the sanctuary and one giving out to the street. The first window would allow me to receive the Eucharist; the other window would allow me to advise the many faithful Christians who would seek my advice. That is how Julian lived for 20 years, from age 50 to her death at about age 70. It was not an uncommon life choice in the 14th Century. It is pretty much unheard of today, although there are a few solitary monks and nuns.

I am about a quarter of the way through with Julian's Revelations of Divine Love as well as being about a quarter of the way through my year, which began in mid-September. The chapter I am reading now (Chapter 27 of 86) is the famous one, the one with the quote that everyone always uses: "all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well." T.S. Eliot quotes it several times in "Little Gidding," without attribution. My last rector quoted it often, with attribution.

Jesus says this to Julian as a way of comforting her. People too often quote it dismissively or with an unfounded idea of Julian's optimism or, even worse, her "sweetness." Julian was not an optimist, nor was she sweet. This woman lived through three bouts of bubonic plague in her town. She doubtless lost many loved ones. She lived at a time of great political and religious unrest. She nearly died herself from an unnamed illness. A life like that toughens you. She had no reason to think there was anything but suffering in this life and certain punishment in the next. "Sin is behovely" (necessary) Jesus tells her, but "all will be well."    What?

Julian was down-to-earth and methodical. She wanted her theology to make sense, for the pieces to fit logically. If we were perfectly made without sin, why must sin exist? Why pain or suffering or evil? Surely God chose to allow these things to be, but why? Wouldn't God be happier if we were sinless?

Julian saw sin and pain and suffering everywhere. But what she also saw was Jesus. It was this sight of our Lord that gave her hope because what she saw was love. This was not a partial love or a conditional love or a love that had to pass through a lens or required any testing. This was a love that was not like anything we know on earth....or only know through a glass darkly.

For Julian, however, the glass was not dark at all. Jesus told her that all would be well - not that she would end up in heaven, which was what a 14th Century Christian would want to hear, but that ALL would be well. Every last thing in creation would be sorted and everything would be just fine, thank you very much. Needless to say, that was not the teaching of the Church in the late Middle Age.

I often wonder why Julian was never censured in her lifetime. How did she escape the scrutiny that other theological outliers endured? Julian was loud and clear about her devotion to the teachings of the Church. She had no issue with any of it. She certainly did not lobby for Scripture in the vernacular or in the hands of lay folk. She took no controversial stand on anything. She made no argument, but simply stated what she knew.

And what Julian knew and preached and wrote was that God loves us, that there is really nothing in the world but God's love. This was the revelation that she had. that she tinkered with over the 20 years between her visions at age 30 and her final writing of them at age 50. It was this revelation that covered everything, every worry, every doubt, even every last behovely sin.

*This picture was on the wall of Julian House Monastery, the erstwhile home of the Order of Julian of Norwich.