Jessica set out some of the background to Mother Julian in posts a few weeks back, and for those starting afresh on this, I would recommend starting there.
I want to start with the old Commination prayer which, when I was a child, would be said at Morning Prayer on Ash Wednesday:
BRETHREN, in the primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.
Instead whereof, until the said discipline may be restored again, (which is much to be wished,) it is thought good that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God’s cursing against impenitent sinners, gathered out of the seven and twentieth chapter of Deuteronomy, and other places of Scripture; and that ye should answer to every sentence, Amen: To the intent that, being admonished of the great indignation of God against sinners, ye may the rather be moved to earnest and true repentance; and may walk more warily in these dangerous days; fleeing from such vices, for which ye affirm with your own mouths the curse of God to be due.
This would seem rather at odds with what Mother Julian says about the anger of God, but I think Jessica deals well with the seeming tension when she wrote:
Mother Julian saw with insight that if God were to feel what we call “anger” even for a moment, he would cease to be the creator and become the destroyer, and we should cease to exist. Anger is what happens inside us and we attribute it to God. We are, we say in some circumstances, “standing up for God”, as though he needs our anger; well it’s an excuse isn’t it? It was human anger which crucified Christ; it is our own anger which crucifies us. It holds us in an atmosphere of conflict and fear which keeps us from peace – and from atonement and repentance;
It may be indicative of where we are in more than one way that the Commination service seems to be a rarity (though one may be had here) and that the Church, whether Anglican or Catholic, seems reluctant to talk about “wrath”. It is easier to talk about God’s “love”, not least because love is a pleasanter topic for reflection and for sermons than “wrath’. That is, in some quarters, a natural reaction, to be deplored by some of a traditionalist bent, and to be celebrated as “progress” by those of other minds.
Julian of Norwich has become something of a beacon for those who wish to emphasise love and not wrath, and she should not be held responsible for some of the things some of her latter-day admirers load upon her. Her understanding was deeper than a surface perusal sometimes allows for. But that should not be read as indicating that it’s time to go on about “wrath” more than we do. Those who lament the decline of wrath-related preaching might wish to reflect on why it has happened? Here Mother Julian has much to help us with.
“God”, she tells us, “enfolds us in love and will never let us go.” (Chapter 5). How do we react to that? It is easy to say we love God, but this Lent is an opportunity to ask ourselves a question we ought to ask of all our close relationships – how much time to we spend on it?
Our prayer makes God happy (Chapter 41) we are told by Mother Julian. But how often to do pray? I used to have three main reactions to prayer: I prayed when I felt I needed something or wanted help for someone; I didn’t feel in the right frame of mind for prayer; or my prayers felt “dry”. It became an excuse for not praying. A few years back I decided to follow the lectionary and prayed morning, evening and compline prayers – in season and out, however I “felt”. Once it stopped becoming about me, it could become about God. I recommended it to Jess, and others, who seem to have benefitted from it. Praying the Rosary while walking also helps me.
There, I was pleased to see, were among the steps recommended by Sheila Upjohn (pp. 5-8) in the first chapter of our Lent Book. She poses some interesting questions about prayer at the end of the chapter, and to this, I shall turn on the morrow.
But as we enter Lent together, let us remember that: “dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” But into that dust God breathed life, and through His Son He offers us forgiveness for all our sins. As we ponder and wonder what we should give up, let us give ourselves and each other something positive instead – like a break! – And let us take up regular prayer.