The Feast Day of Dame Julian of Norwich
The writings of Julian of Norwich, so accessible in this wondrous day of the free online libraries, are some of my favorite things to muse upon. Since she was a contemporary of Chaucer and wrote in English, I have no need of a translation, though it does take some careful work and thought to understand what she is saying.
Julian is the woman who saw in a vision an object the size and shape of a hazel nut lying in the palm of her hand. It was revealed to her that this little thing she held was all of creation. So small and so in danger of harm, it is preserved safe against all odds for only three reasons. In Julian’s words: “. . .the first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it.” She goes on to say,
“But what is to me verily the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover, ― I cannot tell; for till I am Substantially oned to Him, I may never have full rest nor very bliss: that is to say, till I be so fastened to Him, that there is right nought that is made betwixt my God and me.
“It needeth us to have knowing of the littleness of creatures and to hold as nought all-thing that is made, for to love and have God that is unmade. For this is the cause why we be not all in ease of heart and soul: that we seek here rest in those things that are so little, wherein is no rest, and know not our God that is All-mighty, All-wise, All-good. For He is the Very Rest. God willeth to be known, and it pleaseth Him that we rest in Him; for all that is beneath Him sufficeth not us.” (Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 5. Access it online here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/julian/revelations)
The word ‘oned’ (pronounced “one”ed) is Julian’s own, and describes a state in which she and the Divine are not just united but entirely a single entity. If we recognize that everything that has been created, whether it be individuals, objects or institutions, is little and only preserved by God’s love, we will see that the only rest possible to us is this union with God.
We do have these great, restless spirits. They lead us on, with an insatiable hunger, into and out of every created thing that we latch onto in hopes of finding contentment. We think the perfect job will give us rest, or a great and fulfilling relationship will. Some magnificent endeavor might satisfy us – or perhaps the perfect vacation resort. Having children, gaining the esteem of our colleagues, writing the most exquisite poetry, enjoying a tremendous fortune, finding a new soul mate – these things seem like they ought to ease our discontent. But in the long run they don’t.
What we really need – what our souls long for – the true object of all our desires – is God. We are hard-wired to find our rest in nothing, no aspect of the created world at all, but only in the Creator, in God’s self. God is the Very Rest.
I find the intimacy of Julian’s conversations with God not only refreshing but familiar. Her questions come simply and frankly from her heart, and God, who loves her completely, answers her patiently, with words and images that make sense, make things clear, to her and through her, to us. A prayer like conversation is straightforward and simple.
The prayer that finds rest in God also takes resolve and practice, though. It doesn’t often happen right off the bat. Not only that, but contentment in prayer comes and goes as the person praying matures in faith. There can be periods that seem dry and empty or completely confusing and chaotic. In spite of all of this, though, rest in God is the state our spirits yearn for. It’s the real deal, the treasure beyond counting.
Let’s make Dame Julian’s Feast Day a time to think about our prayer life. What is the path of prayer that brings you to rest in God? What Way leads you to being oned with the Creator?
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.