Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Write-Up: Julian of Norwich, A Contemplative Biography

Amy Frykholm.  Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography.  Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2010.

Julian of Norwich was a fourteenth century English Christian mystic.  She was an anchoress, which meant that she spent time in solitude, where she allegedly received her revelations from Jesus Christ.  The Jesus she encountered had love, not wrath.  When she asked Jesus if she could see hell and purgatory, what she saw was a blank.  Her Jesus was patient with her amidst her struggles, and she began to see her struggles as things that brought her closer to God rather than alienating her from him.  The revelation she received of God’s love taught her to love humanity.

Julian’s visions of God were not all cheerfulness and optimism, for she spent a lot of time with the suffering Christ.  She lived in a world of suffering, where plagues took the lives of even some of her close family members.  At first, she attributed that to sin on her part, but she changed her mind in the course of her visions, as she attributed the condemning voices to the devil rather than Jesus.

Julian was hesitant to write down her visions because they would challenge the prevailing Christian emphasis on sin.  There were also some who were not receptive to teaching that came from a woman.  Julian did write down her visions, however, and, while they did not have a significant impact in her own lifetime, they would eventually after her death.

I did not always follow this book’s meanderings, but I did have a good feeling after reading it on account of what it says about God’s love.  The thing is, I then open up my Bible for some prayer time, and, being in the minor prophets, what I read about is God’s wrath!  Are the God of Julian and the God of (say) Micah or Nahum the same God?  Are elements of both part of the character of God?

Did Julian truly receive revelations from Jesus?  Perhaps her revelations can be explained as psychological or on a secular basis (see here).  Maybe she had those visions because those were her way of coping with and resolving her own pain and feelings of guilt.  I should also point out that there are others who supposedly received visions, and their visions were not as positive as those of Julian.  Some did not see a hell that is blank.

I do like the idea of God patiently guiding and instructing people.  I one time heard a preacher who was questioning those who claimed to have a relationship with God, yet their God never contradicted them.  He wondered if they truly had a relationship with God or were merely worshiping the product of their own minds, for, in real relationships between real parties, one person is bound to contradict the other!

Does my God need to contradict me to be real?  Well, if so, I would like for God to contradict me while being patient and gentle with me and respecting who I am and where I am.  He does not have to be an inflexible jerk to contradict me, to lead me in the right direction, or to give me a constructive way of looking at people and things.  That is what the God of Julian did, or so she narrates.

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