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A lifeline from Mother Julian

30 August 2013

Was the mystic so up to date, Alexander Lucie-Smith wonders

The Greening
Margaret Coles
Hay House £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use code CT842 )

JOANNA MEREDITH is a journalist working for a national newspaper, and a pretty soul-destroying job that is. Not only is she involved with a married man who happens to sit in the Cabinet: the government of the day is intent on destroying a whistleblowing academic whom she respects and likes. It seems that there is no way to be a journalist and save your moral fibre.

Then she comes across a book, a journal kept by a woman, Anna Leigh, whose life is as complicated as Jo's own. In the journal, Anna describes how she by pure accident encounters the figure and work of Julian of Norwich, and how this enables her to escape from the maelstrom of her life. Intrigued, Jo follows where Anna has led.

Julian, as an afterword to the novel tells us, really came to the fore only in the 20th century, and the author clearly thinks (with some reason) that the present age is one that can benefit hugely from the medieval mystic's vision of life and of God. It must be true that how we picture God will determine how we relate to him, and Julian's picture is arresting: God is unconditional love, unmixed with anger. It certainly helps Jo through difficult times to do with love and loss, and brings her in the end to the promise of a safe haven.

The Greening is a work of fiction and, at the same time, a self-help manual, tinged with a soft spirituality. The book has little doctrinal hardness about it, and as such may be exactly what the modern age wants to read. But is God really like that? Was Julian so ahead of her time? But, if reading Coles makes us want to revisit Julian, that can surely be no bad thing.

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith is the author of Narrative Theology and Moral Theology (Ashgate, 2007).

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