In the Facebook Lent Book Group one member has noted that Sheild Upjohn is very reluctant to take sides in the various theological issues she herself raises. In the chapter on “prayer” this is clearest on two issue which readers of this blog will recognise – praying the Rosary and praying with the Saints.
Our old correspondent, Bosco, was very hot on these issues. Like many Protestants of an Evangelical bent (if that is what he was), Bosco objected to praying the Rosary, reminding us that we had been warned against vain repetition, adding for good measure that we shouldn’t pray to the Holy Virgin (whose virginity he, in rather poor form even for him, denied) or the saints. Ms Upjohn’s delicacy is perhaps understandable. New readers here need only to put “Bosco” into the search bar on the blog to find some prime examples of prejudice uniformed by knowledge, allied to a firm refusual to rethink once informed. It’s a way of being, but not one which commends itself to anyone who does not already hold such views.
Catholic actually pray “with” the Saints, not to them; the same is true of the greatest of the Saints, Our Lady. If you do not believe there is a “great cloud of witnesses” then so be it, but at least do fellow Christians the courtesy of informing yourself what they say they believe. Can devotion be misinterpreted? It can, and those Anglo-Saxons who feel uneasy with overt displays of emotion, may well find themselves feeling that way about some of the devotions practised by those whose culture makes them very easy with such displays; but they might like to reflect that understanding requires more than observation uninformed by knowledge. Empathy matters, and before we rush to judge others, we might think to exercise it.
It raises the issue of what prayer is for? Mother Julian is a good guide here, writing in chapter 41:
Our Lord himself is the first to receive our prayer, as I see it. He takes it, full of thanks and joy, and he sends it up above, and sets it in the treasury, where it will never be lost. It is there before God and all his holy ones – continually heard, continually helping our needs. When we come to heaven, our prayers will be given to us as part of our delight – with endless joyful tasks from God.chapter 41
I have found praying the Rosary whilst walking an excellent way of taking two forms of exercise, and I know Jessica has found it useful after I recommended it to her. In so praying it helps my mind focus on the Scriptural passages behind each part of the Rosary. The idea that it somehow raises Our Lady to divine status could, I suspect, be raised only by one who brought it with them because of a suspicion that Catholics do that. There has been a very long history of anti-Catholicsm in the Anglo-Saxon world, and even though we are now in a more secular age, traces of it linger, and added to that we have the aggressive secularism which finds all religion a survival of what it dismisses as medieval superstition, without ever understanding it.
Here, again, Julian is helpful. In chapter 25, Jesus offers her a vision of the Blessed Virgin in heaven:
And with this very same expression of gladness and joy, our good Lord looked down on his right side and brought my mind to where our Lady stood during his Passion, and he said, ‘Would you like to see her?’ … as if he had said, ‘Would you like to see how I love her, so that you can rejoice with me, in the love that I have for her and she for me? … Would you like to see in her how you are loved. For the love of you I made her so exalted, so noble and of such worth; and this delights me, and I want it to delight you.Chapter 25
Sheila Upjohn’s approach is irenic in the best way. Experience has taught he what it has taught others, which is that you cannot really argue about this issue, all you can do is to try to enter into an understanding of why, for so many of us, Our Lady is so loved. That is not a bad pattern for us during Lent.
#lentbookclub is on Twitter as #LentBookClub, Facebook as https://www.facebook.com/groups/LentBookClub, and is using The Way of Julian of Norwich by Sheila Upjohn which can be bought here rather than Amazon. It runs from Ash Wednesday 20210219 to Easter Sunday-ish 20210404 and we are doing a chapter a week, roughly. Folk who are blogging about this are: Graham, at https://grahart.wordpress.com/, Andrew at https://www.shutlingsloe.co.uk/, Eric at https://sundrytimes2.wordpress.com/, Soobie at https://soobie64.medium.com/, Ruth at https://becausegodislove.wordpress.com/. Come join the pilgrimage with Julian to Norwich!