Portrait of Julian of Norwich by David
things shall be well
You shall see for yourself that
All manner of things shall be well 1
of Norwich’s refrain of hope and joy has given comfort to
seekers throughout the ages. Such a hymn to God’s love is
often sung by one who has had a direct experience of that love.
Julian, a fourteenth century recluse, is considered a mystic because
of her intense experiences of the sacred, but she becomes a
witness in her spiritual classic Revelations of Divine Love,
or Showings as she titled it. Her style of contemplating
God’s love may be set in the fourteenth century, but the meaning
transcends time and invites us to share in that same unfailing love.
hope and optimism from Julian’s teaching did not come from
the historical mood of her day. The second half of the fourteenth
century in England was a time of disintegration and chaos. There
was economic suffering, the effects of war, and the devastation
of death and loss rising from the Plague. Because death was so pervasive,
it is no wonder that the themes of death and suffering were a constant
part of the spirituality of the day. Julian’s vivid descriptions
of Jesus’ Passion reflect these themes. Her mysticism, however,
was not the world-denying mysticism that was so popular in fourteenth
century England, but a vision of God’s nearness and ultimate
as the body is clad in the cloth,
And the flesh in the skin,
And the bones in the flesh
And the heart in the trunk
So are soul, and body, clad and enclosed in the goodness of God
gospel of love came to her through a series of visions she received
at the age of thirty in 1373.
visions of Christ on the cross became the touchstone of all her
spiritual understandings. She received these visions when she was
struck with an inexplicable illness and lay between life and death
for several days. When she recovered from her illness, she continued
her life as a contemplative anchorite in a cell attached to the
church. She began to reflect more deeply on the message she had
received, and after twenty years, she compiled her reflections into
a book trusting it would fall into the hands of “faithful
lovers of God.”
is in her reflections that we are blessed with the wisdom of Julian.
She seems to ask many of the same questions that we have today on
the spiritual journey. If God is all goodness, why is there suffering
in the world? What is God like? What is the ultimate meaning in
life? All of her questions are asked in the framework of prayer,
and it is the interplay of mind and heart that makes us trust her
those who struggle with negative images of God, Julian offers a
welcoming image of coming home to a God who is accessible, familiar,
and courteous. God’s familiar love is described as a source
of joy encompassing the unity of all our earthly relationships.
To describe the gentle compassionate love of God, she uses the image
of God as mother.
truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our mother
And he revealed that in everything and especially in these sweet
words where he says,
“I am the power and goodness of fatherhood,
I am the wisdom and lovingness of motherhood.
I am the light and grace which is all blessed love.” 3
at home with God includes being at home with all of creation. One
of Julian’s most famous passages is her surprise when she
sees God’s divine presence and protection in an ordinary hazelnut
in the palm of her hand.
I looked at the hazel nut with the eye of my understanding
and thought, what can this be? I was amazed that it could last
for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly
have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding.
It lasts and always will, because God loves it, and thus everything
has being through the love of God. 4
Julian assures us that in
all things God is the creator, the protector, and the lover.
becomes a true companion to those seeking God’s love in the
midst of a dark night of the soul. She knew what it was like to
experience both consolation and desolation. There are spiritual
questions that remain unresolved. She stands face to face with life’s
contradictions. Yet she moves forward in the darkness clinging to
You will not be overcome.
God did not say you will not be troubled,
You will not be belaboured,
You will not be disquieted;
But God said, You will not be overcome. 5
gone to Julian in many of my own life’s contradictions. At
the time when I learned that one of my dearest friends, my encourager
and guide, was dying of AIDS, I asked God over and over why was
this happening. I struggled for an answer to the meaning of his
life and why he lay alone in a hospital room many miles away. It
was the wisdom of Julian of Norwich that came to me. She herself
struggled with the meaning of her own life experiences. Her answer
became mine and it remains with me today.
What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this
Know it well, love was his meaning.
Who reveals it to you? Love
What did he reveal to you? Love
Why does he reveal it to you? For Love
Remain in this. And you will know more of the same. 6
Julian of Norwich, Showings, translated and introduced
by Edmund Colledge, O.S.A. and James Walsh, S.J. (Paulist Press,
1977) p 231
Ibid. p. 186
3. Ibid. p. 295
4. Ibid. p. 183
Ibid. p. 315
Ibid. p. 342
©2005 Sylvia Maddox.