Julian of Norwich: The spirituality of abundance
All shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well.
Julian of Norwich WHEN DAME JULIAN WROTE these words, she was expressing her attitude toward life and her spirituality. I like to think of spirituality as the way we respond to life, the way we live out our vision of faith. Julian’s spirituality is filled with hope and confidence in the God “who loves us and delights in us,” the God who “will make all things well,” the God who created us to live fully the life we have been given. I call this faith vision a “Spirituality of Abundance” because it is a response to life based on what we have rather than on what we lack. It means believing that because the God of life is at the center of my existence, I will have everything I need to live fully this moment in time. This view also means that because the God of Abundance continues to be active in my life, “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
I rediscovered Julian’s writings at a time in my life when I truly needed Julian’s heartfelt belief in a God who loves and graces us with an abundance only God can give. Although I had read her Showings, it was at this time-a time of darkness and deep need– that I truly understood her message. God’s grace was bountiful in my life, placing Julian’s words in my path to lighten my way and fill my heart with hope.
Years ago, when I first read Showings, I remember wondering, as you may have yourself, if Julian would have said those same words after reading our newspapers or watching the evening news. Deep inside my heart, a cry rose up, “Come on, be real! Just look around you and see if you would continue to say that all will be well!” Does this reaction sound a bit negative, a bit cynical? Maybe so, but that is the way I felt at that time. In better moments, I would ask myself whether the images of war, poverty, and violent crime from our TV screens would have changed her outlook. Could Julian have continued to say that “all manner of things shall be well” after seeing hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their homelands hungry and scared? Could she feel the same after watching the horror of children carrying guns to school and killing their teachers and classmates? How could she watch the hatred and violence, the hunger and war, the deceit and corruption in our world, and still say that “all shall be well”? At that time, I truly wondered. Today, with a deeper understanding of my own brokenness and the grace that has come to me because of it, I think differently. I am glad I had the opportunity to read her words again.
I do not believe that Julian was blind to the pain, sorrow, and sinfulness of the world around her. I am sure that she felt the suffering of all those who were touched by the effects of the deadly plague that took a toll in Europe during her lifetime. In fact, as I continued reading Showings, I found that Julian, too, had asked God questions similar to the ones I asked myself:
Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great
harm which has come through sin to your creatures? (227)
This was God’s response to her:
And so our good Lord answered
all the questions and doubts which I could raise,
saying most comfortingly:
I make all things well,
and I can make all things well,
and I shall make all things well,
and I will make all things well;
and you will see for yourself
that every kind of thing will be well.
…And in these words God wishes us
to be enclosed in rest and peace. (229)
Julian’s positive outlook, therefore, did not come from ignoring or being blind to suffering but arose from the clarity she attained as she struggled with her own questions. It must have been this struggle that gave her the ability to see beyond the pain and suffering and to look into the compassionate face of God. Only this gazing could reassure her that-despite such pain, despite such sorrow, in God’s own time-“all shall be well.” Julian touched the core of God’s heart, a warm and hospitable place, filled with life and abundance.
Spirituality of Abundance
You must realize by now that when I speak of a Spirituality of Abundance, I do not mean being blind or denying the dark realities of life, whether in the worldwide community or in our own personal lives. In fact, if I am to live my life to the fullest, it is essential that I not romanticize it. I need to name the brokenness and the evil in myself and around me, to own and claim my part in it. Only then will I be able to respond in faith and live in hope the reality of my daily life. Then, the abundance of God will truly fill my heart.
During the past few years I have come to see, with an ever growing awareness, that fullness of life does not mean being “happy” all the time or having everything go my way. There is always an ebb and flow to life-joy and sorrow, clarity and doubt, courage and fear. It is in this ebb and flow of apparent contradictions that life in abundance is found. It is in those times, when the paradoxes of life seem overwhelming, that the words of Jeremiah quoted above can give us light and hope.
You may note that the words that God speaks to us through Jeremiah do not quite resolve the doubts about why we suffer. Instead, they offer us hope and the promise of blessing, despite and in the midst of suffering. They call us to live with eyes, ears, and hearts attentive to God’s abiding presence in our lives. They call us to continue to choose life. This is a challenge that is no different from the one God placed before the Israelites long ago when God said to them, I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live …. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live. (Dt 30:19-20)
Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). We need to choose life if we are to live fully. We need to choose life if we are to experience the blessings of our loving and gracious God even in the midst of suffering.
Then with Dame Julian I will be able to pray: “God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough for me… [and] only in you do I have everything” (184).
Julian of Norwich. Showings. Translated by Edmund Colledge, OSA. New York: Paulist Press, 1978.
Mercedes Rojo, OSF, a Glen Riddle Franciscan, is a spiritual director and retreat facilitator. She is currently a member of the Renewal and Evangelization team of the Philadelphia archdiocese where she is responsible for organizing and implementing the training and ongoing formation of parish leadership teams.
Copyright Spiritual Life Spring 2001
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