Daily Reading for May 8 • Dame Julian of Norwich, c. 1417
The uniqueness of Julian’s writings includes her incredible optimism in the face of the cultural chaos and confusion of her day, and her ability to transcend that confusion. Her phrase “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” is not a Pollyanna-esque blindness to reality, but the result of a deep faith that God is indeed in control of all, even in the midst of apparent evil. Julian repeatedly states that there is no wrath or anger in God, a proposition that is upsetting to Puritans and biblical literalists. And preceding modern psychology by centuries, she points out that the wrath we think we see in God is really in ourselves.
Julian may be most famous for her unapologetic treatment of Christ as Mother, no doubt the finest and most sophisticated treatment of the subject in all of Christian literature. What is absolutely unique in Julian is her protestation that it is not that Christ is like a mother, but that all mothers are like Christ: Christ is the protomother and all earthly motherhood is an imitation and reflection of Him.
Sin, which so absorbs so many ecclesiastical writers of her day, is given short shrift by Julian when she declares with the Scholastics that sin has “no manner of essence nor any portion of being,” that it is “no deed,” but is rather an absence of goodness. She declares that all human beings have a “godly will” within them which “never consented to sin nor ever shall” and “is so good that it can never will evil, but always good.” She frequently uses “blindness” as the analogy for human weakness.
As great a spiritual master as Thomas Merton has written: “Julian is without doubt one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices. She gets greater and greater in my eyes as I grow older.”
From Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy, with Supplementary Readings according to the use of The Order of Julian of Norwich by Fr. John-Julian, OJN (Outskirts Press, 2009).