The ever-contemporary hope of Julian of Norwich

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2023

The Ascension of the Lord

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The ever-contemporary hope of Julian of Norwich

I experience my world when I move about in it. It seems small, somewhat ordered and contained. I feel contained within it, and more or less safe.

Jesus told his disciples, “You will receive power … you will be my witnesses” … and when he had said this he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

Then there is another world, the world of Jesus’ ascending into heaven, the world Henri Nouwen calls “the world of spiritual beauty, invisible in large measure, but which is more real, has more density, more mass, more energy, and greater intensity than physical matter” (from You Are the Beloved).

I look to relax into that infinity, a few minutes at a time. Just as at the rural railroad track, I will stop, look and listen. Relax. Open the windows and listen to the birds. For me I usually move into the spiritual beauty via the birds, via the sky, the morning dew and the rainbows – via the physical.

All you peoples, clap your hands, shout unto God with the voice of gladness, for the Lord Most High, the Awesome, is the great king over all the earth.

The church of St. Julian in Norwich was rebuilt after German bombs destroyed it, nearly a thousand years after it was built. In the fifteenth century a woman perhaps called Juliana lived there for a few decades as an anchoress, confining herself to a single room with only an opening into the church. She was not well, she had nearly died. Yet her most famous words inspired T. S. Eliot hundreds of years hence, when he needed them most.

And all shall be well and … All manner of thing shall be well

You may not have time just now to read Eliot’s entire poem, but take a moment to read the last couple stanzas (just around his picture), and notice his rediscovered hope, his excitement for creation and energy for life – life which begins and ends and begins and ends and begins again. Juliana helped him get back there, and she wants to help us all.

Here’s a poem which a contemporary friend wrote about this hero of hope:

Pilgrim visits Julian of Norwich, April 1410

Through a tight window, Julian

crouches over a bit of handwork.

Known for going nowhere

she has redefined the words home,

here, prison, exile. Your eye,

single, beholds her face. Her eye

never leaves her needle.

Unlike you, she knows where

she will die. She breathes eats

sleeps a seamless meditation.

Her chair is every chair,

her bed, every bed, her cell,

a wilderness, the first garden,

a temple of the spirit, the city

of God. She sets her face to go


Forever chaste, she greets you

like her own firstborn, Confesses

to you, as to a priest, that sometimes

shuffling about her tiny cell

she forgets where she is,

where she’s going,

who she even is.

– Scott Dalgarno

In Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love she tells of Jesus saying, “Sin is necessary. But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Fr. Dwight Longenecker calls her “almost a universalist and certainly an optimist and firm believer in the ultimate goodness of God. She suggests that wrath is part of the fear in our own hearts, which we project onto God.”

Could that be so? Could we be free to turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full in his wonderful face, and know how much he loves us? No fear? Right now?

May the eyes of your heart be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.

(Acts 1, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1, Matthew 28)

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