I can’t believe it is nearly seven years since I sat in Norwich Cathedral, passing the statue of Mother Julian (the photograph forms the picture above) in order to listen to Rowan Williams lecture on her. That lecture can now be found in a collection of his essays, here. One point which struck me then, and does now as I read the Lent book, The Way of Julian of Norwich, is his comment that Mother Julian has, for some, become a a ‘cuddly’ symbol of a God of easy Grace. One can see why this has been so when we take this from chapter 46:
I saw truly that our Lord God was never angry, not ever shall be, for he is God. He is goodness, life, truth and peace. His love and his wholeness cannot allow him to be angry. For I saw truly that it is against the nature of his strength to be angry, and against the nature of his goodness. God is the goodness that knows no anger, for he is nothing but goodness. Our sole in joined to him – unchangeable goodness – and there is neither anger nor forgiveness between our soul and God in his sight.The Way of Julian p. 41
How nice, one might say. Super, fine, then “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”. No wonder a time like ours should choose to read Mother Julian superfically. But it is a superficial reading
One of the themes we shall be considering in the Lent readings is the unpopular one of judgment. I can’t recall the last time (or perhaps even the first time) I heard a sermon on the subject. It’s unpopular for obvious reasons, but also for less obvious ones. The obvious ones are the facts we don’t like talking about judging in this society, it makes us uneasy, and we shy away from it. From the point of view of a priest I could see that it might also make God look like a grumpy old killjoy who, the moment we seem to be enjoying ourselves, steps and and says no – a kind of celestial Ian Paisley! But what we see from Mother Julian’s “showings” is something far beyond that, deeper and more profound.
God’s “anger” is the longing of a father and mother that their child should wake up from the stupor of sin and selfishness which lead only to ashes and dust – whatever they seem to promise at the beginning. It is the longing of the father to see the Prodigal returning to where he will be received with love.
Christ rejoices in our happiness. He wants to know that we are made happy by His sufferings. He is human and he is divine. He suffers because we make him suffer, and yet as God he does it because of his love for us. He is not trying to settle some great legal debt which we owe him, he is trying to overcome our pride and the contrariness which makes us divide ourselves from Him. We cannot begin to imagine, or exhaust, God’s love. As my beloved Mar Isaac put it:
In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the one who has preformed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.
We are called to forgive as we hope to be forgiven. We are called to repent and reform. How natural that, in our pride, when we fall, we should, like the Prodigal, wallow in the mud of our sin and suppose that the best we can hope for is to be the spiritual equivalent of a swineherd. But the message of God’s love is there if our stubborn, hard hearts will receive it. Oh but how stony that soil is sometimes – and no wonder that at times our hearts need to break before they can receive it.
It is not fear of God which draws us, it is love
One of the key texts in the Revelations of Divine Love is this:
Then said our good Lord Jesus Christ to me: “Are you well satisfied with my suffering for you?” And I said: “Yes, good Lord, in your mercy. Yes, good Lord, may you be blessed for ever!” Then said Jesus, our kind Lord: “If you are satisfied, I am satisfied. It is a joy, a bliss and an endless delight to me that I suffered my passion for you. And if it were needful or possible that I should suffer more, I would suffer more.”
What Christ did he did for love. Have we the humility to respond?
It is easy to see why for many years Mother Julian’s book was not published, and why even when it was, churchmen had their doubts about it. But it raises such important questions for us, that it will make the ideal Lent Book.