Speaking to the Soul: All Shall Be Well

by

by Sarah Brock

 

Today’s Readings for the Feast of Julian of Norwich:
Isaiah 46:3-5; Psalm 27:5-11; Hebrews 10:19-24; John 4:23-26

 

“…but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Julian of Norwich, Revelations 27

 

One of the more well known quotations from Julian of Norwich, this phrase is often offered as a word of comfort in challenging or stressful times, in times of uncertainty and instability. But, what does it really mean for all manner of thing to be well?

 

Until recently, I would’ve answered this question with very conventional western ideas of well-being: stable income, health care, reliable housing, sufficient food. And then, I spent some time with a group of people experiencing homelessness, a group of people who were ‘unwell’ by my conventional western definition of wellness. A group of people who had every reason to resent me for my privilege, but instead simply acknowledged that they would like to have a house to go home to as well. A group of people who repeatedly heard themselves referred to as ‘Beloved’ by one of their pastors. And, the particular group of individuals that I came to know, I believe, would generally consider themselves ‘well’.

 

One man, in particular, engaged me in a long conversation about what it meant to be wealthy. He shared with me that in his years of homelessness, only twice had he ever prayed to God for money. And, both times, his prayers were answered with unexpected acts of generosity. Not only that, but it’s extremely important to him to only accept what he needs and to help out his neighbors whenever he can. But, regardless of his sometimes overwhelming material need, he considers himself to be extremely rich. He is rich in relationship, rich in spirit, rich in faith.

 

Later in her Revelations, Julian of Norwich seems to answer my question of what it means to be well. “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything,” she writes (chapter 35). We are all much closer to being the poor, the sick, the homeless, or the downtrodden than we may often be willing to acknowledge. However, God is in each person we meet, each task we complete no matter how small or ordinary. The decision to let our hearts overflow with joy and love and generosity is ours to make regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. No matter what, God is there, present in each moment, each person, each task we complete no matter how mundane.

 

All shall be well, because God is in everything. May the eyes of your heart, may the eyes of your soul be open to see.

 


Sarah Brock is becoming a postulant in the Diocese of Massachusetts and lives in Boston.

Image Credit: My own.

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John-Julian , OJN
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John-Julian , OJN

Please notice:
Dame Julian uses a determinative sense in her famous statement's verbs. This has nothing to do with "things will be better tomorrow" or "every cloud has a silver lining." Julian means that in the ULTIMATE end all things will be well—because God's will will then be completely fulfilled.
Dame Julian was not Pollyanna.
She uses a determinative "shall" (carrying a meaning much like an unwritten "indeed!"), rather than merely a future tense "will". She means to say,"Let there be no doubt about it! God's will is ultimately going to prevail, and then all will finally be well."

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

John-Julian, I'll make the assumption that in belonging to the Order of Julian of Norwich you have wrestled with Julian's writings--something your insightful comment certainly suggests. Thank you.

Just by total coincidence, I re-visited the shorter text of Showings during lent just past. Reaching up into the mind and faith of this incredible mystic, attempting to engage her within her own distant historical and cultural horizon, is very demanding, very challenging.

However, like many so many other people (we are legion really, are we not?), who wrestle in faith with concern and anxiety (and sometimes fear) for people we love, the challenge is, in my experience anyway, fruitful and worth the effort. One hopes indeed that all will be well.

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Kate Donahue
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Kate Donahue

No, all will not be well. If you've never watched one of your teenage children suffer horrendously for several years and ultimately die from cancer at the age of 15, despite prayers from entire communities of people, you have no business telling anyone that all will be well.

But I guess it's OK that my life and my family were completely destroyed by this, because a homeless guy prayed for money twice and got some.

Way to make Christians look like superficial simpletons, honey.

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Ann Fontaine
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Ann Fontaine

That is so horrible Kate. I wish there were words for your pain. Probably does not help with the Julian passage but she was writing in the midst of the Plague with people dying all around (up to 60% of people died) - so I have to think she was saying something more that what it looks like on the surface. But yeah--

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

A lovely article, with an incarnational message. Thanks so much!

With regard to, “…but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well", Julian is very Trinitarian . "I will make all things well, I shall make all things well, I may make all things well, and I can make all things well....When he says 'may', I understand this to apply to the Father; and when he says that he 'can' I understand this for the Son, and when he says 'I will' I understand this for the Holy Spirit, and when he says 'I shall', I understand this for the unity of the Blessed Trinity...." --Chapter XV (Shorter Text) Classics of Western Spirituality. trans. by Edmund Colledge O.S.A. and James Walsh SJ.

The trinitarian grammar makes the incarnational focus, noted by Sarah Brock, so hopeful.

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