Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Year of Living Julianly Part V: End Times

Was Julian of Norwich ready to meet her maker?

I have just about come to the end of my Julian Year. For nearly 12 months, I have read in depth all of Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love as translated by Father John Julian, founder of the Order of Julian of Norwich, an order with which I am affiliated. A year's worth of days divided by 86 chapters means I have spent an average of four days on each chapter; I've also kept an extensive journal along the way. I have read Father J J’s (as he is known to us) notes as well as his helpful introduction and appendices. And yet, I am barely a beginner in understanding these magnificent words. Today, as this is the final report of my Julian Year, I will share some of Julian’s revelations about eternity. 

Significantly, our Lord did not show Julian “heaven”. Considering all that he did show her, this is very telling. She was shown hell which was uninhabited, by the way. How can this be, given the utter sinfulness of human kind and out utter depravity?

Funny thing about sin - it has no substance.

“And all this pain [of the world] was shown in one stroke and quickly passed over into comfort… But I saw not sin; for I believe it has no manner of essence, nor any portion of being, nor can it be known except by the pain caused by it.” Chapter 27

It’s like dust on a book jacket, crumbs on a place mat. Gone in an out breath. Yes we sin; sorrow and repentance are called for, but forgiveness is waiting. Should we expect punishment? Isn’t the pain and sorrow that we experience by sin enough punishment? 

“For it shall be seen before God by all his holy saints in joy without end that human nature has been tested in the fire of tribulation and no lack, no flaw found in it.” Chapter 63

The fire of tribulation renders us lacking nothing, flawless! I had to let that sink in for a moment. But this is how we were created, our true selves, image bearers of our creator, made in the likeness of God. It is our journey back to God through all our sin and pain that tests us, not as students are tested, but as silver is tested.

Moreover, by faith in Jesus, we share in his Passion. His suffering is our suffering. We share everything with him because he shares our humanity with us.

“I understood that, in our Lord’s meaning, we are now on his cross with him in our pains and our suffering, dying; and if we willingly remain on the same cross with his help and with his grace until the last moment, suddenly he shall change his appearance to us, and we shall be with him in heaven…and then all shall be brought to joy.”  Chapter 21

Oneness with Christ is a salient theme in Julian’s writing and this is the ground of all of her theology. We are one-ed to God by the act of creation. We are one-ed to God by the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection. We are one-ed to God by the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  And, at the last day, we will be one-ed to God forever.  But there is a secret in this final act.

“There is a Deed which the blessed Trinity shall do on the Last Day, as I see it, and what that Deed shall be, and how it shall be done, is unknown to all creatures that are beneath Christ and shall remain so until when it is done." Chapter 32

"This is the Great Deed intended by our Lord God from without beginning, treasured and hidden in his blessed breast, known only to himself by which Deed he shall make all things well.” Chapter 32

Julian’s most quoted words are:
“Sin is inevitable [original text says‘behovely’}

but all shall be well

and all shall be well
and all manner of thing
shall be well” Chapter 27

I bristle when I hear these words quoted lightly as they so often are. People latch onto Julian as some sweet little optimist, a sheltered innocent woman, who has only ever sat in her room and prayed and never wrestled with doubt or despair. She was not that person. She was not an optimist; she was a person of faith who struggled with every vision she was given, who, even after this experience of Christ, had, at times, to force herself to pray. 

What seems simple at first can be the most convoluted, the most daunting. The soul, for example.

“And then our Lord opened my spiritual eye and showed me my soul in the midst of my inner self. I saw my soul as large as if it were an inner world and as if it were a blessed kingdom…” Chapter 67

Are our souls united to each other? Are we all one soul? Did Jung have it right? In this world of our soul resides our Lord Jesus. He will never remove himself. We may move away from him, but he awaits us always. The soul was created from love and joy and that love and joy is relentless, overpowering. This is “god with us” and is probably all we need to know. She is told:

“’Take this generally and see the graciousness of the Lord God as he reveals it to thee; for it is more honor to God for thee to see him in all things than in any special thing.’” Chapter 35

For Julian to content herself with partial knowledge was most difficult. She had questions and she wanted answers, but she didn’t always get them. What she did get, however were some promises.

“Bliss” is not a word we use very much anymore. Even “joy,” except in the British locution meaning “result,” has passed from our usage, appropriately, I think, because these words evoke a state that cannot be compared to anything we know in this life, certainly nothing we can attain ourselves.  For C.S. Lewis joy was a momentary glimpse of God’s kingdom.* No wonder there is a ode to it. For Julian it is what awaits us. It has awaited us from the beginning.

“For as truly as we shall be in the bliss of God without end, praising him and thanking him, just as truly we have been in the foresight of God loved and known in his endless purpose from without beginning.” Chapter 85

In Julian's time, Christians were greatly concerned with eternity. It was the promise of happiness, rest and freedom from pain and suffering that focused their hearts on God. To achieve this promise, the faithful Christian had to triumph over sin. He or she feared hell and strove to avoid it. Effort was ceaseless. The need to be ready for death at all times drove faithful people to extremes of self denial. It was in this time that the church began to be accused of corruption, selling "indulgences," the literal means to eternal reward. We don't think very much about these things nowadays. Some say that the church has gone soft on sin. Certainly in the Episcopal Church, a parishioner can go for years without ever hearing the word "sin" much less "hell." 

I think Julian would be very happy in our church. I think our proclamation of the love of God in Christ would suit her well. She would love the words of our Prayer Book. And I think our deep focus on the life of Jesus and its meaning would feed her, as it feeds us. I definitely think she would love our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his loud and bold proclamation of The Jesus Movement.

She might not be tempted away from her anchorage to attend one of our ice cream socials, but I think she would remember us in her prayers .... with a saintly smile.

*Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

Monday, July 4, 2016

I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightening

Sparta rest area
Sparta rest area

Last month, on my way to the affiliates' retreat with the Order of Julian of Norwich, I had an encounter at a rest stop on I 90 in Wisconsin. This was my second time at the retreat. Last year it was a wonderful, beautiful six days of bliss and blessing. It was likewise this year, but the blessing started on the way.

I had stopped to have my packed lunch of egg salad, pretzels and a Diet Cherry Coke. Sitting at a picnic table that happened to be right in line with my rental car, a red Chevy Impala, another Chevy Impala pulled in right next to mine. This one was white, but otherwise identical to mine. A couple, a bit older than I am maybe, got out and did a massive double take when they saw the cars together. They looked over at me and asked, "Is that your car?" I replied that it was and they said, "Ours is just like it." "Mine's a rental, so I can't take credit," I replied."So's ours! Wanna trade?" asked the man. We all laughed. "Better not," I said, "I signed some papers." More laughter. And off they went.

No, this was not a transformative exchange. We did not "connect" in any soulful way. They didn't ask me where I was headed and then have a conversion when I told them. Nothing like that. But as they got in their white Impala and drove off, I thought what a lovely encounter that was. How pure it was! There was no subtext, no positioning, no irony, no assessment.

Then I saw Satan fall like lightening.

OK, I didn't quite see it that way at the time. Hearing Luke's gospel on Sunday* though allowed me to think that maybe my encounter was a bit weightier than I thought. Remembering these lovely people has made me smile many times since we spoke. I have prayed for them.

What I did see was something like a tapestry of all creation, large and blue with many colored threads in patterns that I couldn't make out. Most of it was unspeakably lovely. Parts of it a bit worn. After the people drove off, I saw a tiny part of it rewoven, right there before my eyes.

"We did that" I thought to myself. Just a few nice words, not even rising to the level of kindness. Just middling friendliness had the power to heal something in the world. And then I heard Satan berating himself for a missed opportunity. "She could have looked down on how these people were amused at something so ordinary. She could have seen herself as much more sophisticated. She could have been cold, or at least cool. Why couldn't she have mistrusted them or they her?" Very C.S. Lewis. Very Screwtape Letters.

When Jesus sent his disciples out to minister to the people in last Sunday's gospel account, he sent them to do his very own work. And that's what they did. And the world was better. The tapestry was mended. And Satan hated it. He fell from the sky like lightening. Because the kingdom of God had come near.

We are those disciples today. We are meant to heal, restore, bless and befriend. It seems the tiniest little act can have wide reach. The sending comes from Jesus. We can only consent, and then delight in it.

*Luke 10:1-11,16-20