The morning I write this, religion is all over the morning paper, and not in a good way. Muslim extremists cast a shadow over Islam and the world, French Jews feel unsafe and are considering emigrating to Israel, Mormons are threatening to excommunicate yet another church member who supports ordaining women and same-sex marriage, Scientology has a full page ad decrying an upcoming HBO documentary with a story in the business section describing the controversy, and Duke University withdraws support for Islamic calls to prayer from their chapel tower due to threats. The only positive religious story is Pope Francis visiting the Philippines.
I felt so overwhelmed I couldn’t imagine writing another post for this blog as I intended. My work here seems so inconsequential.
But then I continued reading The Complete Julian of Norwich, a new book and translation by Father John-Julian, OJN, and specifically the 14th century Dame Julian’s “showings,” the Middle English word for “revelations.” She lived and wrote confined by choice in a one-room anchor-hold which was about the size of my office, and yet she speaks to me and countless others seven centuries later. Her era like our own looked for a personal experience of the sacred.
The past few days I’ve been dawdling over a couple of sections, each about the length of a blogpost, which have profoundly moved me, prompting me to read them again and again. Though I could never hope to write with such authority, I can unapologetically offer readers the insights of this contemplative and mystic.
In one of her “showings,” God holds up something about the size of a hazel nut, explaining, “It is all that is made.” You may grimace at the stretch, but my mind went immediately to the cosmic marble that exploded into the multiverse; in others words, the Big Bang.
She continues, “In this little thing I saw three characteristics: the first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third, that God keeps it. But what did I observe in that? Truly the Maker, the Lover, and the Keeper, for, until I am in essence one-ed to [God], I can never have full rest nor true joy.”
About the world’s distractions, she writes,“For this is the reason why we are not fully at ease in heart and soul: because here we seek rest in these things that are so little…” She concludes, “All that is less than [God] is not enough for us.”
Wow, I thought, this is not only the spiritual quest, but the scientific quest as well. “All that is less than God is not enough for us.” We can’t be satisfied with insufficient metaphors for God, as we have in religion; we can’t be satisfied with incomplete explanations of all that is, as we have in science. Our lifelong quest is for the hidden God, the unknowable, the mystery from whence all that is, is.
According to Father John-Julian, she follows the insight of Thomas Aquinas “that the soul naturally seeks the Good, but is diverted by not perceiving the true good, and settling for less.”
In the section that follows, Julian explains that intermediaries—whether saints, sacraments, even Christ himself—are only efficacious because their source is “the goodness of God,” which is what makes us, loves us, and keeps us. Even so, religion is only efficacious when sourced by God’s goodness.
Some might think it presumptuous to assume benevolence of God or if not God, the cosmos, but giving us life, time, and place, as well as a magnificent outer space to glimpse, is surely not anything less than good.
I doubt she knew the teachings of the fourth century Desert Fathers and Mothers, yet she also understands prayer as changing us, not God, “for the goodness of God is the highest prayer, and it comes down to the lowest part of our need.” It is in this context she describes God as our “Lover.”
To think how I winced when I first heard LGBT Christians pray to God as “Our Lover”!
Because we cannot fully comprehend God, we “remain in spiritual contemplation, with everlasting wonder at this high, surpassing inestimable love which Almighty God has for us...”
She offers a prayer:
God, of Thy goodness, give me Thyself;for Thou art enough to me,and I can ask nothing that is lessthat can be full honor to Thee.And if I ask anything that is less,ever shall I be in want,for only in Thee have I all.
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