Lessons from Julian of Norwich

In 2005, 40 days before Holy Week, I “spent time” with Julian of Norwich by means of the book I Promise You a Crown edited by David Hazard. Julian was an anchoress who lived in England during the Black Plague years (1300’s).  An anchoress or anchorite was one who lived in a monastic cell in a cathedral setting with one window open to the world outside.  Julian spent most of her time in solitary prayer and mediation but it was likely that on one day of the week she opened her window to the world and spoke with those who needed her counsel.  I picture her like the Peanuts comic strip character Lucy, standing behind her “counter.”  But this lady also wrote books about her personal, mystical, near death experiences with God. I was intrigued by her life and her writings, particularly her meditation on a hazelnut!“He showed me something small, about the size of a hazelnut that seemed to lie in the palm of my hand as round as a tiny ball.  I tried to understand the sight of it, wondering what it could possibly mean.  The answer came:  ‘This is all that is made.’  I felt it was so small that it could easily fade to nothing; but again I was told, ‘This lasts and it will go on forever because God loves it.  And so it is with every being that God loves.’

I saw three properties about this tiny object.  First, God had made it: second, God loves it; and third, that God keeps it.  Yet what this really means to me, that he is the Maker, the Keeper, the Lover, I cannot begin to tell. For until I am fully one with him, I can never have full rest nor true bliss, that is to say, until I am so at one with him that no thing created comes between us, my God and me.

We must come to realize this: created things are nothing, and we must turn aside from them to love and have our God who is not made.  This is the only reason why we are not fully at ease in heart and soul: that we look to find our true rest in these things that are so little that they contain no rest.  And we know not our God, who is almighty, all wise, all good.  For he is the very rest.  God will be known; he is pleased when we find our rest in him.  All that falls short of him will never satisfy us.  This is why no soul can be at peace until it is rid of all created things.  Only when the soul turns away and denies itself so as to find him who is All will it be able to receive true peace and rest.”  (1373)

These were my thoughts as I spent time with this saint:

During the 40 days in preparation for Holy Week I found that I needed to be reminded of many truths that Julia very clearly states throughout her work.  I also appreciated Hazard’s reworking of her thoughts, adding prayer and scripture to reinforce what Julian had to say.  Two foundational theological truths have ministered to me in these present days.

The first theological truth is concerning God’s envelopment of all that exists and takes place in this world.  Julian says, “I saw that God is present in all things….God is at work to accomplish everything that is done…everything is done by Him, no matter how small….Nothing occurs by chance….God himself, who is the beginning and end of all things…the endless happiness and rest that come in knowing everything that is done is well done.”  Even in her understanding of pain, suffering, and sin, she operates from an underlying trust that “…all is well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” As she reflects on the “secrets” of God, she sees them wrapped up in “…one marvelous act, He makes all things well.”

I find in these statements of faith a reminder that all that is happening in my life on this earth has a larger purpose and will indeed be “all right” in the larger/eternal picture.  Yes, I know this but I need to hear it stated again in the exciting and hopeful way that Julian chooses.  When I contemplate the “hazelnut concept” of substantiality “in comparison to the eternal nature of God, and in comparison to the love of God,” the more I am able to rest in what He is doing in secret, while being alert to moving further on in my spiritual life with Him.  Julian found great comfort and encouragement in contemplating this truth over and over again, and I am inspired to do the same in these days. I am endeavoring to contemplate the invisible attributes of God with the understanding that even in my numbness and blindness, He is walking beside me.

A second theological truth that has been of particular encouragement to me in this Lenten Season, has been that nothing we experience is outside of Christ.  His suffering took in all that I suffer.  He alone can satisfy.  Christ is my brother who will never make light of my suffering.  Christ had to suffer in order to come into my “estate” which is really a prison in which my soul is condemned.  I am created “to be a courteous gift of love – a gift with which the Father honors the Son….”

I have fallen in love with Him all over again because of his “courteous gift of love.”  During Holy Week, I contemplated the Passion of my Lord and in this time I found that I was dwelling on the three points of contemplation that Julian recommends:  the suffering of my Lord, how He is my heavenly Lover, and the high and noble nature of the Lord as He reigns in my soul.  I am wanting to live with my “face pressed against the face of (my) Lord,” knowing that “He could not be closer if He were holding (me), pressing (me) to himself, (our) two faces touching.”

Julian of Norwich is my encouraging and instructive saint who has gone before.

 

Join the Conversation

What has been your experience of meditating on an object of nature that led you to a deeper truth about God?

If you have Julian of Norwich, what did you think of her mystical experiences?  Were they an influence in your life with Christ?

Pat Russell:
    Pat Russell h as a M asters i n education from Purdue University, a Masters in theology from Fuller Seminary and a certificate in spiritual direction from Denver Seminary. She is currently a spiritual director, mentor and teacher. She and her husband, Larry, live in the countryside near Denver, Colorado.

5 Comments


  1. My favorite object of nature is felt, but not seen; heard, but not seen; seen, but only in its effects on others. It is breath, momentum, refreshment, energy, sometimes terror. It is the wind, which seems to me to be all the vowels of the names of God.

    • Marjorie — how beautiful! I love to listen to the sound of the wind blowing through the Ponderosa pines around our home. “…the vowels of the names of God.” I must dwell on that phrase as I listen to the wind.

  2. Penny-Anne Beaudoin

    You have opened my eyes to the passion of Julian, and for this I am deeply grateful. I am encouraged to read more about her, in particular, “I Promise You a Crown.” Thanks again!

  3. Penny-Anne — I am glad to have introduced you too Julian of Norwich. “I Promised You A Crown: A 40-Day Journey in the Company of Julian of Norwich” “Devotional Readings Arranged and Paraphrased by David Hazard.” Also in Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe’s book “Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion” a portion of Path five: The Right Ordering of Our Experiences of God, is given to Julian of Norwich. Two other books I recommend: “Revelation of Love” — Julian’s writings translated by John Skinner and “The Julian Mystique: Her Life and Teachings” by Frodo Okulam. Enjoy!

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