Saturday, June 11, 2011

Julian's Prologue

This post is part of a journal I'm keeping as I prayerfully read through Julian of Norwich's Revelation of Divine Love during my renewal leave.

By way of prolegomena, Julian briefly describes each of the sixteen showings. She then pulls back and describes the things she asked God for that occasioned the revelation. She asked to “enter into the spirit of Christ’s passion”, a “bodily sickness so severe it would bring (her) to the point of death”, and the “three wounds” of “true contrition, natural compassion, and full-hearted longing for God”. It is the second of these “gifts” that she elaborates on before describing the first showing, which is also the one that intrigues me the most.

Julian became very ill when she was about thirty years old. She languished for several days and was then given last rites, which meant that she and everyone else thought she was done for. She mentions that she forgot that she asked God for this, because I guess if she remembered that if she asked to go the brink of death without actually dying, it would kind of defeat the purpose. Being sick to the point of dying would make one truly let go of all earthly things and focus solely on God. Some of the most inspiring interactions I have had as a pastor have been with people who knew they didn’t have long to live. They knew what was really important.

The skeptical side of me wonders about how much of her own vision Julian determined beforehand. She appears to have had a really awful fever, and when that happens, the things people see are tied to what is on their mind or buried in their subconscious. Since she lived in a cell on the side of a church and dedicated her entire life to prayer and contemplation, Jesus is the foremost thing on her mind, so it’s not surprising that it’s what she sees in a delirious state.

A possible psychological explanation of her vision doesn’t mean that God was not involved, of course. But the modern reader does have this extra difficulty that a contemporary of Julian’s would not have had.

I’m hoping this won’t continue to be an obstacle, and I’m guessing it won’t since Julian has remained very popular and influential even into modern times.

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