Revelations of Divine Love – The Beginning

I am excited to begin our reading of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love (Short Text) this Tuesday. Please read pages 3-11 where we find Julian’s introduction and her first revelation or showing. As you read, allow her to draw you into her world and into a deeper understanding and relationship with Jesus. Julian has a deep theology, but an even deeper intimacy.

Julian’s Religion:

In the late medieval period, there are different strands of Christianity (not unlike today). There were the Scholastics who sought a more philosophical and logical understanding of God such as Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) or Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and his Summa Theologica. On the other hand, there are the Mystics who sought a more immediate personal and relational understanding of God, such as Meister Eckhart (1260-1338), and those who sought a more devotional faith such as Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ that we looked at several years ago.

One of the teachings of the mystical and devotional strands of Christianity is imaginative Scripture reading. The idea is that to fully understand the events of the New Testament, we need to imagine ourselves within the story. Julian begins her work with this imaginative desire to “relive Christ’s Passion in my mind.”

This period also saw the birth of the Dominican (1216) and Franciscan (1209) religious orders. One of the primary missions of both of these orders in the medieval period was preaching and evangelism, particularly among the commoners. The monks would travel between towns and preach in the vernacular for hours on a particular gospel lesson. These sermons would take the text and break it down into the literal, allegorical, moral, and mystical senses. These sermons would have given Julian a very deep knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures.

Although Julian had no formal theological education (she says that she did not know Latin), nonetheless, she would have had a very rich theological background and knowledge of the Scriptures and of her faith.

Her Introduction: (pp.3-5)

Before Julian relates her revelations or “showings” to us, she tells us of her desires that led to her receiving these revelations. She writes that as a young girl, she asked God to give her three things: (i) to personally experience Christ’s Passion, (ii) bodily sickness, and (iii) to receive the three “wounds” of contrition, compassion, and a longing for God. She realized that the first two requests go beyond normal prayer, and therefore her request was conditional that this also be God’s will. She tells us that she eventually forgot about the first two requests until she was thirty years old.

At age thirty and a half, after having survived three waves of the plague, she takes severely ill. After three days of her sickness, she received her last rites, and on the third night after the last rites, she believed she was going to die. Her pain increased, she began to experience progressive paralysis, and her eyesight began to fail.

At this moment, however, Julian relates that she experienced an overwhelming will to live. She wanted to live, not because she did not want to die, but so that she could love God better and longer in this life. The only thing she could still see was the image of the cross being held by the priest at her bedside which glowed. She writes that suddenly her pain left her and she felt herself to be dead. It was only at this moment, that she received her first revelation. She received the first fifteen that day, and the sixteenth on the following evening.

Julian’s Lesson:

Throughout his teachings, Jesus speaks of being prepared. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus speaks of the different types of soil upon which the seeds being sown fall – the path, the rocks, the thorns, the good dirt. Matt. 13. Julian gives us a living example of how that good dirt becomes receptive to the seeds. Julian never asked for her revelations, she only asked to know Jesus better. In this desire, she was not looking for intellectual insight or eternal salvation, but only to become part of Jesus’ life and experience in the same way that Mary Magdelene (the first one to show up on Easter morning) had. This desire prepared the ground for the revelations of divine love that she passed along to us.

In her preparation, Julian ultimately placed her trust/faith in God. Julian prayed to God to experience the pain and suffering of the Passion and to experience her own sickness unto death. However, Julian did not actively seek out pain and death (that had surrounded her through the three waves of plague and the ongoing Hundred Years War). Rather, she asked that God’s will be done and not hers. Mark 14:36.

So it should also be with us. Think about what it is that you truly desire. Even if you reduce your desires to religion or spirituality, what is that desire? What do you wish or pray for in order to have that desire fulfilled? How do you prepare yourself to be the good soil?

I have attached the Introductory Notes from the Translation we are using along with pages 1-12. Here is chapter one of Veronica Rolf’s book The Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich. Rolf gives a very accessible introduction to Julian herself and to the first pages of Julian’s work.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is enchilada casserole. Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8. Hope to you here, and please bring a friend. All you need to have read is pages 3-11.

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

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