Julian of Norwich’s great claim

May 5, 2015 by

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Many of us are all too aware of the brokenness, insecurities, limitations and inadequacies in us and around us. When the women of my congregation got together on Sunday to learn from Julian of Norwich’s “showings” I was reminded of the deeper truth that shines through the brokenness.

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich

Julian was an anchorite, or religious recluse, whose calling was to pray and provide counsel. She spent over 40 years in a stone cell attached to a church building, testing out the “revelations of divine love” that were shown to her. They were mostly about the passion and sufferings of Jesus. She compared the relationship between us and Christ as a mother to child, and she described Jesus’ work on the cross as birthing us to new life.

Even in a time and place of war, disease and deprivation (14th-century Europe), Julian audaciously concluded that in Christ “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” She saw everything that God had made, and that it was good, and that God had made all things for love and keeps them in this love. The whole universe whose cosmic horizon is at least 15 billion light years in every direction looked little to her in comparison to the presence of God.

Because of our connectedness to Christ and our identification with him, she describes sin and failing as part of the learning process of life that brings us to self-knowledge and acceptance of God’s role in our lives. This was a radical departure from the guilt and shame culture of the church at that time. She saw no anger in God, only forgiveness and regenerative power. She saw suffering not as punishment but as opportunity to be closer to the Savior who is always saving us.

Jesus followers today may still be called to make that radical departure from guilt and shame, and turn hopefully to our present rising with Christ — the consent to be risen and not just broken, even as we process and respond to the disasters of our time. This week it is earthquakes and racist systems that claim lives. The world needs the restorative mercy and generosity that flows from regenerated hearts. This is what Julian claims about the Church — the worldwide body of Christ:

He wills that we take ourselves with great strength to the faith of holy Church and find there our most precious mother in comfort and true understanding with the whole communion of blessed ones. For a person by himself can frequently be broken, as it seems to himself, but the whole body of holy Church was never broken and never shall be, without end. Therefore it is a sure thing, a good thing, and a gracious thing to will meekly and powerfully to be fastened and joined to our mother, holy Church — that is Christ Jesus.

What I want to emphasize to my brothers and sisters, especially within my own church, Circle of Hope, is her claim that the Church is not broken. We are regenerated and restored. A new creation together, made for communion with God and one another. It’s an audacious claim that Jesus makes too. Julian claimed her place in that unbroken transcultural, transhistorical community, and her hope for the world was in God’s willingness to do the deep transformative work in us and through us: “For the passion of our Lord is for your comfort, the passion of our Lord is for your peace against all sin . . . the passion of our Lord is for tender love to you.”

May we claim that hope today, too.

Rachel DeMara Sensenig is a pastor with Circle of Hope, a Brethren in Christ church in Philadelphia. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and philosophy from Messiah College and a master’s of social work from Temple University. She blogs at rachelsensenig.wordpress.com, where this post originally appeared.


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