All shall be well…
Julian of Norwich
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
No-one knows her real name. She was born in December 1342 into a wealthy family and educated at a boarding school attached to a nunnery. So, after such a privileged upbringing, why did she choose to live her adult life as an anchoress, literally entombed in a sealed cell built into the wall of St. Julian’s Church in Norwich? Hence the name by which she is known: Mother Julian of Norwich.
In May 1373, she suddenly became extremely ill ad was expected to die. This is what she later wrote: –
‘And when I was thirty-and-a-half years old, God sent me a bodily sickness in which I lay for three days and three nights; and on the fourth night I received all the rites of the Holy Church and did not believe that I would live until morning. And after this I lingered on for two days and two nights. And on the third night I often thought that I was dying, and so did those who were with me.’
At the height of her illness, Julian had a series of fifteen visions of Jesus. The following night she had one more.
‘And at this moment all my suffering suddenly left me, and I was as completely well, especially in the upper part of my body, as ever I was before or after. I marvelled at this change, for it seemed to me a mysterious work of God, not a natural one.’
Shorty afterwards, Julian wrote an account of her visions. Later she began a theological exploration of their meaning. Her writings were gathered together into a book Revelations of Divine Love. This is the earliest known example of a book in the English language written by a woman.
One of my favourite passages from the book is this one: –
‘And in this (vision), he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, it seemed, and it was as round as any ball. I looked thereupon with the eye of my understanding, and I thought, ‘What may this be?’ And the answer came to me, ‘It is all that is made.’ I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly disappear. And I was answered in my understanding, ‘It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it, and so everything has its beginning by the love of God.’
In this little thing I saw three properties: the first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God cares for it.’
Julian is also remembered as one of the first people to refer to God as our Mother as well as our Father. And one of her most enduring lines, quoted centuries later by T. S. Eliot in his poem Four Quartets, is: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’
Julian lived until her mid-seventies. No-one knows exactly when she died or where she is buried, but her writings will never be forgotten.
We pray together: –
God of everything, both great and small
We praise you for the rich variety of your creation and for the love and care you lavish on all that you have made. Help us to appreciate your world, to care for it properly and not to damage it
We thank you for the wisdom of the Bible and for the works of Christian thinkers such as Julian of Norwich. Help us to pay attention, to understand and to follow.
We praise and thank you for the knowledge that, despite all the sin and suffering humankind has caused, you are always with us ready to support and encourage us and that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.