The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dame Julian's Day

The Episcopal Church today celebrates Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), medieval mystic and counselor. She is best known for her Revelations of Divine Love, an account of 16 visions and their meanings. Julian's compassion, good sense, and love of God are tangible in her work; she's brisk, kind, and convinced, to the core of her being, that God's love is unshakeable. What I find so remarkable about her is that she starts off, like so many of the medieval mystics, half in love with death, but becomes so practical and no-nonsense after her visions--her mystical experiences make her a gifted spiritual director and guide for others. The more flamboyant and emotive mystic Margery Kempe, her contemporary, describes her visit to Julian in 1415:
[I] was bidden by our Lord to go to an anchoress in [Norwich] named Dame Julian. And so [I] did. She showed [me] the trace that God put in [my] soul of compunction, contrition, sweetness, and devotion, compassion with holy meditation and high contemplation, and very many holy speeches and fellowship that our Lord spoke to her soul and many wonderful revelations which she showed to the anchoress. [Margery wanted to know if she was deceived in her own visions, and sought Julian] because the anchoress was expert in such things, and could give good counsel...

The anchoress, hearing the marvelous goodness of our Lord, highly thanked God with all her heart for this visit, counselling [me] to be obedient to the will of our Lord God and fulfill with all her right whatever He put in her soul if it was not against the worship of God and profit of her fellow-Christians, for it is were [contrary], then it was not the moving of a good spirit, but rather of an evil spirit.

[omitted passage from original post; interpolated from Julian's Revelations]

The Holy Spirit may never do anything against charity, and if He did, it would be contrary to His own Self for He is all Charity. Also, he moves a soul to all chasteness, for chaste lovers are called the Temple of the Holy Spirit [I Cor 6:19], and the Holy Spirit makes a soul steadfast in the right faith and the right belief. And a person with a divided soul is always unstable and unsteadfast in all his ways. He that is always and evermore doubting, is like to the flood of the sea, which is moved and borne [i.e., carried] about with the wind, and that man is not likely to receive the gifts of God. What creature has these signs, he must steadfastly believe that the Holy Ghost dwells in his soul. And much more when God visits a creature with tears of contrition, devotion, or compassion, he may and ought to believe that the Holy Ghost is in his soul.
(This modern translation gets the sense of The Boke of Margery Kempe, Ch. 18:954-975)

If that's not a textbook example of spiritual direction done right, what would be? Julian, asked by Margery if her voices and experiences are real, asks: Do they lead to peace, stability, charity? Do they lead to security in God's love and a reciprocal love for God, as well as a practical, real world active love toward one's neighbors? For Julian, the gifts of the Spirit are known by their fruit.

Some years I write about Julian's visions--the hazelnut, "all will be well," "Christ our mother"--so much riches there to choose from. But in this time of flux in our nation, in our Church, and even in my own discernment of vocation--Julian's questions as to discerning the will of God speak to me most vividly.


rick allen said...

I think, based on the original text of Margery Kemp directly cited, that, in the excerpt you quoted, the second paragraph comes from someplace other than Margery Kemp's book. There the text goes straight from the end of the second paragraph to the beginning of the fourth. The insertion, I know, isn't yours, but from your cited source for the modernized text.

I much recommend, for those with a liking for Middle English, the Penn State University edition of the Writings of Julian of Norwich. It is extensively annotated, with the text of the Revelation of Love printed above the corresponding text of the Vision.

rick allen said...

"the second paragraph comes from someplace other than Margery Kemp's book."

Or rather, the third.

Difficult, sometimes, to count to four without making an error.....

Anglocat said...

Thanks for the correction, Rick; I recognized the passage and thought it from Margery summarizing Julian, and left in place, after skimming the original at the link--it's not easy to navigate, and I foolishly presumed that I'd just missed it. The perils of posting when tired.