Reading Julian, knowing all will be well.


Something mysterious happens when I read Julian of Norwich’s Showings.  Somehow, despite more than six hundred years and an ocean separating us, I hear her voice.  Her visions, those vivid, living, sense- and image-drenched encounters with Jesus Christ, have a body of their own, and it finds its breath through Julian.  Her voice, speaking them into existence at God’s urging, permeates the text.  Sitting with her words, they reverberate through me as though she sits nearby, hand on my cheek, speaking directly to my life.  That is one of the powers of Julian’s words: they are at once available to every person and personally transformative.
Because of this sense of Julian’s real presence in these texts, I wondered what it would be like to hear them read aloud.  I imagined the way breath, time, and the rhythm of the human voice, a woman’s voice, would change the meaning and influence of the words.  Indeed, it seemed to me that the Showings are only truly accessible when lined out into a less prosaic form, allowing Julian’s own pauses and inflections to bubble to the surface.  Her text is musical, and so I have also set it to music, hoping that the setting will bring forward new meanings and opportunities for new meditation.  As the first female writer in the English language, the fact and being of Julian’s language itself seems intrinsic to its meaning and purpose, and to ignore this significant fact misses some important aspect Julian’s reflections.  They are, after all, not simply a sharing of unalloyed words from God, but filtered through twenty years of personal reflection from a very particular cultural and personal context.  Julian as an individual, as a woman in 14th century Norwich, as an anchoress, as a survivor of a difficult political, economic, and social reality, as a representative of the Church, as a mystic… all of these parts of her personality influence the meaning of her words.  They are personal, and meant for persons.
So many of these words focus on sin and salvation that I chose, in the spirit of Julian’s own concern with the very immediate pastoral dilemma of how we are to have hope in this world of obvious brokenness, to explore and choose texts for the reading that will guide us, her listeners, through a wandering in the wilderness toward the other side, to where all is well.  We begin with sin, with pain and suffering.  We end with the mystery of all being well, with God’s comfort, with not only the possibility of but the guarantee of God’s love, of healing and wholeness.  Human beings find love in relationship.  It is my hope that in hearing Julian’s words rather than merely reading them, we will be in relationship with her and feel the love she had for her “even Christians,” her fellows on the journey.  More than that, I hope that through Julian’s words, set to music and read to us as a story, as though we were her children, we will know ourselves once again to be children of God, looking to our Mother Christ for comfort under Julian’s guidance.

To listen to this half-hour podcast, click here or follow the link at the top of this post.


1 Comment »

  1. Robin Dillon Said:

    Wow, this was beautiful. Enjoyed the podcast, too.

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