Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Julian of Norwich- Eighth Showing

This post is part of my meditative reading of Julian of Norwich's Revelation of Divine Love during my renewal leave.

Julian’s eighth showing is an extended meditation on the suffering and death of Jesus that includes a lot of very specific (some might say graphic) detail and the effect it has on the one who contemplates this image. My knee-jerk reaction was not positive, mostly because of the negative associations I’ve had in the past with those who talk endlessly about the suffering of Jesus (as a friend of mine likes to say, “swimming in the blood”) and never talking about the Resurrection. I think that negative reaction deserves its own post.

My experience of this showing began to change, however, when I quit reading the text like I would a work of systematic theology and tried instead to slow down and hear it in my head as if Julian was speaking these words out loud. Imagining the tone of her voice made these words sound very different in my head. Instead of laboring the point of Jesus’ suffering to make the reader feel guilty and get them to pray a magic prayer, Julian is meditating on this ugly, horrifying image and finding incredible beauty in it.

I am particularly struck when she talks about feeling Mary’s pain and how her suffering was worse than that of any of the disciples. As a parent, causing me physical pain would be infinitely preferable to seeing my child in pain for even one second.

Just when the reader begins to imagine Julian inhabiting some other plain of existence where masochistic love of pain and suffering is totally normal, she says several times how she regrets asking to experience the pain and suffering of Christ because she didn’t know what she was asking for. At this point, perhaps she’s thinking there would have been an easier way to get such insight into the mind of God.

Many people I know who take their faith very seriously and have made major life decisions based on their best understanding of God’s will for their life have said that they are glad they didn’t know what they were in for when the signed up for this, because they probably would have said no!

Since Julian has a strong sense of God orchestrating all these things ahead of time, perhaps she’d say God keeps us from knowing what we’re asking for for our own good.

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