March 18, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Salvation, as revealed to Mother Julian

Mysticism doesn’t seem to be in fashion these days. I mean real mysticism, not the reading of crystals and animal entrails and other voodoo-of-the-month so readily available these days to seekers of truth.

No, I’m speaking of mysticism that’s never described by words like empowerment or finding one’s identity, but rather by solitude and meditation. Creating a mystical relationship with God is personal, intimate and ultimately freeing from self-centeredness, which may explain why it’s foreign to our me-mine culture. It’s like learning God’s will through osmosis, without a need for exposure on Oprah.

Mother Julian of Norwich was an English mystic of the late 14th- and early 15th-centuries who revealed 16 “Revelations of Divine Love.” She experienced these “shewings” at age 31 in one day following a severe illness.

This might seem suspicious except that, over the centuries, other explanations of her visions, such as fever or hallucinations have been reportedly ­disproven. Lent is a perfect time to consider Julian’s visions because what she saw with her inner eye was in fact the Easter story of salvation, succinctly condensed and illuminated.

It was revealed to Julian that “Our life is threefold. In the first stage we have our being, in the second our growth and in the third our perfection. The first is nature, the second mercy and the third grace.” Julian likened these three “stages” to the Trinity. God the Father represents nature, God the Son is mercy, and the Holy Spirit is grace.

She wrote, “Thus in our Father, God Almighty, we have our being. In our merciful Mother [Christ] we have reformation and renewal, and our separate parts are integrated into perfect man. In yielding to the gracious impulse of the Holy Spirit we are made perfect.” You can see why Julian is a favorite of feminists since she often refers to the motherhood of God, a rare observation in her time.

Often, Julian referred to God as “courteous,” giving many descriptions of his kindness and respect for his creation. For example, “So mercifully does he look on us that he regards our whole life here as a penance. That deep longing we have for him is a never-ending penance to us … and so he wills that we set our heart on that ‘pass-over’—from the pain we now experience into the bliss we trust in.”

Julian’s vision included a kind of road map for our journey back to God. She reported that, “In this life man is able to stand because of three things; by these same things God is worshipped, and we are helped, kept and saved.

“The first is the use of man’s natural reason; the second, the everyday teaching of Holy Church; the third, the inner working of grace through the Holy Spirit. All three come from the one God. God is the source of our natural reason; God is the basis of the teaching of Holy Church; and God is the Holy Spirit. Each is a distinct gift which we are meant to treasure and to heed. All of them are continually at work in us leading us Godwards.”

The last of Julian’s 16 revelations is a summary and confirmation of her visions: “So it was that I learned that love was our Lord’s meaning.” What a timely message on our way to Easter.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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