Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Julian of Norwich- Translator's Introduction

According to translator M.L. del Mastro, we don’t know much at all about Julian of Norwich (or Juliana, as he calls her), and she wants it that way. We don’t even know her real name. She is called Julian because her cell was attached to the church of St. Julian in Norwich.

Julian would completely disagree with the idea that “all theology is biography”. I’ve subscribed to that notion for quite some time and became particularly convinced after reading Jurgen Moltmann’s autobiography, A Broad Place. I believe that God reveals God’s self in very real and powerful ways, but that we communicate these experiences of revelation using words and images that we understand. So when I tell you about God, you’re learning as much about me as you are about God, because you’re hearing about the divine through the means of my own subjectivity.

Julian of Norwich does not share this belief. She wanted people to focus on the message, not the messenger, believing that she would only get in the way of people knowing and loving God more fully. But if she and I were sitting across the table from one another, I’d remind her that the written account of this revelation from God is the product of twenty years worth of meditation on events that occurred over a period of two days. Wouldn’t she have to agree that her own fingerprints are all over the finished product?

Having one’s fingerprints all over the report of a revelation from God is not a bad thing, nor does it somehow cheapen what one can gain from hearing about such an experience. Quite the opposite, in fact. I believe that recognizing the inherent subjectivity that we all bring to the table should inspire even more wonder that God chooses to use highly flawed, imperfect vessels to make the depths of God’s love known to us. I think perhaps Julian would agree with the latter part of that statement.

In any case, it would be a mistake to expect Julian to share this assumption with me, because she is a person of the fourteenth century and I a person of the twenty-first. To expect long-dead authors to share my assumptions about the nature of divine truth as if they were some kind of objective fact would be quite hypocritical!

I’ll have to see if this epistemological tension remains between Juliana and myself as we spend more time together. Hopefully they won't be a barrier to God speaking through the text. If that turns out to be the case, Julian's fear would be realized.

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