Hi Friends -
According to Wikipedia, Julian of Norwich (c. 1343 – after 1416), also known as Juliana of Norwich, was an English anchoress of the Middle Ages. Her writings, now known as Revelations of Divine Love, are the earliest surviving English language works by a woman, although it is possible that some anonymous works may have had female authors. They are also the only surviving English language works by an anchoress.
What I have to offer this morning is a PDF and transcript of a web page published by the Vatican (yes, the official Roman Catholic Church website). The page title is “God is our Mother” and its content is an excerpt from Juliana. She writes:
“It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good. Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His Maternity starts. And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us. Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.”
My hope is that by the end of this post you will no longer think of Unity’s use of “Father-Mother God” as unusual or anything less than orthodox Christianity.
Eight hundred years ago western Europe was struggling with three calamities which are very similar to the ones we struggle with today: population shifts, pestilence and war. The feudal system had broken up, forcing people to the cities. Outbreaks of the Black Plague occurred over a 50 year period, causing a death rate some times as high as 50% of the population. The Hundred Years War between England and France was raging.
Juliana said then, as we in Unity declare now, All Shall Be Well. Here is a short video of St. Julian's Church in Norwich, England, courtesy of English Cabaret: Telling Ideas in Story and Song:
A quick Internet search will turn up many introductions to Julian and the life of an Anchoress. My favorite is by Anna Wilde, Project Support Officer at Caring for God’s Acre. She writes:
“The modern idea of anchorites in the medieval period is that they were recluses who were bricked up into a cell, never to see light of day or have any conversation with humans again. The truth is surprisingly different, in that certainly by the fourteenth century, anchorites – or anchoresses as I will refer to them here, as there were many more women than men – actually were at the heart of community life. Their cells were usually attached to the parish church, overlooking the graveyard, a social place in medieval times where people met to chat and attend markets and fairs. The anchoress had a small window, covered with a curtain, and anyone in need of prayer or spiritual advice would approach her to ask her to intercede with God on their behalf. On the inside wall she had a window into the church where daily services were held, and a maid or two would either live with her or come every day to see to her needs such as cooking, bringing food and cleaning – and emptying the chamber pot. There was a door provided for all this to-ing and fro-ing and some anchoresses also had an enclosed garden where they could sit and sew, or read the Bible or the lives of the saints. The food was plain and there was fasting, but fortunately by the time the fourteenth century came the worst of the self-punishments (flagellation, sleep deprivation, eating of mouldy food) were discouraged by the Church.
By the early part of the fifteenth century, there were known to be 110 female anchorites in Britain with 66 males and 29 whose sex was not known. Women from all strata of society were permitted to apply to be an anchoress, in contrast to entering a nunnery which had a high financial cost to it. The would-be anchoress needed to find a sponsor who was required to pay for her upkeep; they provided the money to keep the anchoress in clothes, food, and accommodation. The sponsor would expect, in return, that he would be foremost in the prayers of the anchoress with a view to shortening the time he spent in Purgatory, the place between Heaven and Earth where the dead did penance for their sins. Finally, the Bishop needed to approve the anchoritic vocation and to carry out a service of committal, saying the Last Rites over the candidate and leading the procession to the cell where they were ceremoniously immured. No anchorite was ever bricked up alive to die.
So why did the women choose to become an anchoress? In an era were women were expected to marry and produce children, it was one way of avoiding the domestic sphere and being assured of a roof over your head, some food and ample time to spend in contemplative pursuits. There was an associated rise in status too; anchorites were revered because they were effectively set apart from society, on a holy quest for God, whilst simultaneously expected to be of service to their community. Their fasting and praying led them to highly spiritual experiences where many saw visions. England’s best-known anchoress, Julian of Norwich was an anchoress in St Julian’s Church for around twenty years; she wrote A Revelation of Divine Love, a text describing her vision of Christ and His love for humanity. This was in sharp contrast to most of religious works of the time which emphasised sin and death.”
Unity people should take note of Juliana of Norwich. She will, I believe, get people back into the Christian church, or at least into Christian churches that teach her theology. Why? Because she spoke a different meta-narrative. The traditional Christian meta-narrative is four words: creation, sin, judgment and redemption. For most of Christian history, people interpreted life as unfolding along a story line of sin, judgment and, hopefully, redemption. The entire focus of life was sanctification: how to get into heaven, back to our natural state of creation.
That narrative ceased to work with the rise of modern thinking and it is breaking apart the Christian church with the emergence of our digital world. People are leaving the Christian church because people are no longer believe the meta-narrative of creation, sin, judgment and redemption is a realistic explanation of how the world works and how we can again progress as a human race.
Let me explain a historical fact: Along side the Christian theological narrative, there has always been a philosophical narrative, originated by the Greek philosophers and adopted by some Christian theologians. That meta-narrative is Mind, Idea and Expression. Much of Christian theology is built on the philosophical narrative, particularly the Trinity.
The work of Christianity’s greatest theologians, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, was laid on the foundation of the philosophical narrative of Mind, Idea and Expression. Many church historians, perhaps most, would agree that without Greek philosophy and its meta-narrative Christendom would never have had Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the foundational theologians of the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches.
My sense is that while people no longer have confidence in creation, sin, judgment and redemption, they do have confidence in Mind, Idea and Expression. It is that meta-narrative which will get them back into Christianity. I am not advocating abandoning creation, sin, judgment and redemption, but I am advocating proclaiming Mind, Idea and Expression as the primary foundation for practicing the Christian faith. And I am saying that those who do will be recognized, not as Catholic or Evangelical Christians, but as Metaphysical Christians.
Julian is best known for her theology of motherhood, which I will get to further down. But first we need to understand how radically different Julian's meta-narrative is from that of traditional Christianity. Much of what I will say about her comes from Frodo Okulam's work. Scroll to the end of this post for more info about Frodo and her book. Frodo Okulam writes,
“Julian saw salvation not as being redeemed from our human nature, but as being fulfilled in it. She says ‘For in nature we have our life and our being, and in mercy and grace we have our increase and our fulfillment. Being made in God’s image, we seek our fulfillment ‘oneing’ with the Love that created us. In this unity we will ‘know ourselves clearly.”
Take a moment to study that. Where is the sin, judgment and redemption? It’s not there. What is there is life and being, mercy and grace, and increase and fulfillment. That’s a trinity, or, more precisely, Julian’s meta-narrative of Trinity. Life and being is Father, mercy and grace is Mother, increase and fulfillment is Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Julian’s meta-narrative has a process she calls “oneing”-We find salvation by seeking unity with Love that created us and arriving at knowing ourselves clearly.
What is new is the imagery of Christ as mother. Julian refers to Jesus as birthing, nursing and nurturing. Several passages are quite explicit. In chapter 57, Julian writes “Our savior is our true Mother, in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.” She writes in chapter 60, “The mother can give her child suck of her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and does, most courteously and most tenderly with the blessed sacrament, which is the precious food of true life.” Finally, in chapter 61, she writes, “that love which cannot and will not be broken because of offenses and though our earthly mother may suffer her child to perish, our heavenly Mother Jesus may never suffer us who are his children to perish, for he is almighty, all wisdom and all love.”
What also is new comes from a vision Juliana describes as the Parable of the Lord and the Servant. The story goes that the nature of the servant is to desire nothing more than to please his Lord. After receiving instruction the servant runs off with excitement and accidentally falls into a pit. He is weakened and unable to recover. What’s more, he is ashamed and unwilling to face his Lord, who is broken-hearted to see his beloved servant incapable of recovery. Such is the human condition.
That is not human depravity. It is imperfection, but the imperfection is human, not a moral deficiency. Juliana came to understand a few things about this vision many years later, prompting her to write Revelations of Divine Love. First, the servant’s inability to rise up was caused by misunderstanding his true task of tilling the soil he had fallen into. That is, I think, a lesson we can use today given the mess we have made of our environment.
Second, Christ’s assuming a complete human nature with all its limitations is God descending into the pit, “oneing” with Adam and raising him up to a higher place. Christ is not only fully human, but also fully one with us—he has, as Athanasius declared, “become human so that humans may become God.” Frodo Okulam writes, “In understanding the servant as the second person of the trinity, Julian sees the son, Christ’s divinity, united with his humanity, the true Adam as ‘only one man.’ This is classic Christology, two natures in one person.”
Frodo also repeatedly ties Jesus to Wisdom and refers to the Book of Wisdom, which is in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant Bible. Frodo concludes,
“In the face of change, Julian give us a theology that is grounded in the entire Christian tradition, yet centered in the experience as a woman. ‘The deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enclosed.’ Living in the womb of the Mother, what can harm us? It is a deeply reassuring image. In the midst of her violent age, Juliana speaks words of wisdom: ‘All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.’ Too many people today have exactly the opposite impression. Seeking death becomes seductive, since too often we feel all is doomed. Julian’s words of well-being, uttered in the midst of her own century’s pessimism, speak to our hearts today.”
Wisdom is not explicitly defined in Unity’s understanding of the twelve powers, but it is commonly associated with either judgment or spiritual understanding. I have spent quite a while pondering possible connections of will to love and understanding to judgment. I believe they are related in some way, perhaps love as a perfection of will and judgment as a perfection of understanding. If the powers have genders it is not clear what they are, but I do question the notion that judgment, if it has gender and if it be wisdom, is masculine.
Both Juliana and Frodo have much to say. Would it not be ironic if one hundred years from now, when our current state of affairs regarding gender confusion have become clear, that one source of wisdom and truth wound up being a 14th Century recluse?
Sunday, July 16, 2023
Here is the book I recommend for anyone in Unity who wishes to know more about Juliana. Let me tell you why. If we go into Barnes & Noble today, we’re going to find two bookshelves. We will find the Christian books and Bibles, and typically it’s about five racks of Bibles, fiction and other Christian books. Turn around and walk over a couple of aisles, we will find the “metaphysical books.” It’s about three racks. Together, the two racks represent the ratio of metaphysical Christians to everyday Christians, about 3 to 5. This book by Frodo Okulam bridges both bookshelves and brings everyday Christians into awareness of metaphysical teachings.
Frodo is a self-declared Pagan who has become active in a local Catholic church as well as in the Pagan community (Following Julian, Joan of Arc, Tolkien, etc.). She did something unique and notable back in the 1990s: she studied for a Masters degree at a Catholic seminary. And her reason for the study was so she could understand and communicate with others who do not share her worldview. Frodo is Adjunct Professor of Feminist Spirituality at Portland State University and a member of The Madeleine (Roman Catholic) Parish. Many in Unity will find Frodo’s work and advocacy for full acceptance of all gender identities personally fruitful. I particularly appreciate her willingness to engage the Catholic leadership in constructive and thoughtful ways.
For example, her recent opinion letter to The Oregonian, entitled “Bible Models Gender Identity Acceptance” said, “In many places in the Bible, gender non-conforming people are accepted, including in Jesus’ teachings. We can recall the passage about Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) in which Jesus commends Mary for choosing the better part (learning), rather than serving, as women were expected to do. Jesus asked the disciples to arrange to eat the Passover meal by following a man carrying a jar of water, which was a women’s task (Luke 22:7-13). The early Christian community carried on this tradition of welcome, readily baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). Those advocating for full acceptance of all gender identities are in good company!”
The fruit of her seminary study is the book I recommend you buy and read: The Julian Mystique: Her Life and Teachings, published in 1998 and available many places by an Internet search. We get a glimpse of the fruit of Frodo’s life work as a teacher and spiritual leader at Sienna Newcastle’s recent interview of her available on Youtube. I’m not a Pagan, nor a Catholic, but watching her interview made me a better Metaphysical Christian. You can follow her work at http://www.sisterspiritwomensharingspirituality.org/
Read/Download God is Our Mother from Vatican archives: https://www.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20010807_giuliana-norwich_en.html
Read/Download Revelations of Divine Love from Project Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/52958/52958-h/52958-h.htm
REVELATIONS of DIVINE LOVE
Recorded by JULIAN, Anchoress at NORWICH
ANNO DOMINI 1373
In lumine tuo videbimus lumen
A version from the MS. in the BRITISH MUSEUM
edited by GRACE WARRACK
Methuen & Company
36 Essex Street Strand London 1901
Juliana of Norwich: God is our Mother
“It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good.
Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His Maternity starts And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us.
Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.
And He showed me this truth in all things, but especially in those sweet words when He says: “It is I”.
As if to say, I am the power and the Goodness of the Father, I am the Wisdom of the Mother, I am the Light and the Grace which is blessed love, I am the Trinity, I am the Unity, I am the supreme Goodness of all kind of things, I am the One who makes you love, I am the One who makes you desire, I am the never-ending fulfilment of all true desires. (...)
Our highest Father, God Almighty, who is ‘Being’, has always known us and loved us: because of this knowledge, through his marvellous and deep charity and with the unanimous consent of the Blessed Trinity, He wanted the Second Person to become our Mother, our Brother, our Saviour.
It is thus logical that God, being our Father, be also our Mother. Our Father desires, our Mother operates and our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirms; we are thus well advised to love our God through whom we have our being, to thank him reverently and to praise him for having created us and to pray fervently to our Mother, so as to obtain mercy and compassion, and to pray to our Lord, the Holy Ghost, to obtain help and grace.
I then saw with complete certainty that God, before creating us, loved us, and His love never lessened and never will. In this love he accomplished all his works, and in this love he oriented all things to our good and in this love our life is eternal.
With creation we started but the love with which he created us was in Him from the very beginning and in this love is our beginning.
And all this we shall see it in God eternally.”
From “Revelations of Divine Love” by Juliana of Norwich (1342-1416), (LIX, LXXXVI).
I entrust thee my very dear ‘children’ and I pray, supreme and eternal Father, let them not be orphans.
Visit them with thy grace, so that, dead to themselves, they may live in the true and perfect light.
With the gentle bond of thy love unite them, that they may die consumed by love! (St Catherine of Sienna, “Passions per la Chiesa. Scritti soelti.”, p.192)
Prepared by the “Focolari Movement”