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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
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).