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Reflection: All shall be well and all shall be well …

I am, by nature, an optimist. I tend to approach life and spirituality through the lens of hopefulness, which is why I am very fond of these faith-filled words written by someone known to history as Julian of Norwich, probably not her actual name which may have been unknown. These words have the ability to change the atmosphere of faith. They are a reminder of just how important words are in dealing with life’s challenges and circumstances.

 ‘It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.

Revelations of Divine Love, recorded by Julian, Anchoress of Norwich.

Revelations of Divine Love - Hodder Faith

The Lady Julian, an English mystic from the 14th Century, was an anchoress, a type of nun, living in East Anglia. An anchoress (or recluse) was someone who had withdrawn from the world into the life of prayer, often spending that time in solitude. Born c. 1343, Julian lived possibly into her 70’s, a good age for that time. She spent much of her life in a timber or stone cell nearby to the church at Conisford near Norwich, and was a source of spiritual counsel and advice for local people. The Lady Julian was clearly an educated woman with a good understanding of languages and theology. From what we read, she was well regarded in the Norfolk area, but little else is known of her life, except from her own writings which have passed down through the years, and which are still read and widely appreciated today.

The turning point in her life came on 13th May 1373. Whilst seriously ill and very possibly dying, she received sixteen ‘shewings’ or visions over two days, which she attributed to God. She recovered and was restored to full health. These showings became the basis of her own contemplative life. Twenty years later she set down her account of the event. Her book, ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ is delightful; full of spiritual truth, hope and thoughtful reflection. There are shades here of Thomas a Kempis and his ‘Imitation of Christ.’

Incredibly, Lady Julian’s book has the distinction of being the earliest surviving book written in English by a woman. The earlier book – or the ‘short text’ – was later expanded by Lady Julian into a much longer volume, consisting of some 86 chapters and known as the ‘Long Text’. The short text exists in only one 15th century manuscript, copied from an original written in 1413 and now held in the British Library. The first printed version of the long text was made in 1670, and this is the volume that most of us have access to in the updated English editions.

In ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, The Lady Julian tells of how God, ‘our courteous Lord’ showed her,

a little thing, and the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand’. God tells her that, ‘it is all that is made’.

From this, Julian realises that, just as this small object exists because God loves it, so each individual is created and loved by God himself.  She was clearly troubled, as we all are at times, by the mystery of how such a loving God could have allowed sin and evil to enter the world. She came to see that sin is known in our lives through the pain that it causes us. God uses this pain to move us towards him for mercy and to receive his love. In this He assures us that,

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.

When bad ‘stuff’ happens, it will often (not always, I realise) push us closer to God himself. This is surely the essence of Christianity, as summed up by another writer in the final chapter of the Revelation of St John: at the end of time, God will bring all things together under Christ the son; there will be a new reality. All shall be well …

Lady Julian died c. 1420 and was contemporary with another English mystic and eccentric, Margery Kempe, herself the author of the first known autobiography written in English. This was quite an extraordinary period for English literature and for written spiritual meditation.

Hopefulness or a confident expectation is an empowering quality and a Christian virtue. God loves and God forgives. He knows the end from the beginning. No matter what is happening to us, no matter the magnitude or the origin of the disasters around us, ultimately all shall be well. I sometimes think the great sin of our age is the need to know everything, to be like God himself.

Lady Julian reminds us that some things will only be known to us in heaven. It’s a matter of our trust; it’s also a matter of divine love.

Julian of Norwich again;

We hope that God has forgiven our sins, and that is true. Then our courteous Lord shows himself to the soulmost merrily and with a glad expression’.

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