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Word from Wormingford

01 April 2016

Ronald Blythe finds delight in the writings of Julian of Norwich

MOTHER JULIAN’s revelations of divine love remind me a little of those bones that emerged from a council car-park and on which a pile of later belief has been heaped. They had to be translated to be understood. She comes to my mind as I leave the garden and it’s springtime. She lay dying, just when she wanted to be the first woman writer in English. Such is life. And God was holding out to her “a little thing, the size of a hazelnut”.

It was the Cornish climate that held out life to a sick woman I knew long ago. We went to see her in what was really a kind of furnished cave under a waterfall — an unconsidered place littered with library books and nice food. She sold camomile lawns to make a living, and advertised them in a magazine, The Countryman, which was edited by John Cripps, the son of Sir Stafford Cripps. A deep brook flowed past her to the sea.

Julian gave sensible and holy advice to Norwich. What would England have done without these wonderful women? “And he showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully and wondered, ‘What is this?’ And the answer came ‘It is all that is made.’

“I marvelled that it continued to exist and did not disintegrate, it was so small. And again my mind supplied the answer. ‘It exists, both now and for ever, because God loves it.’ In short, everything owes its existence to the love of God.

“In this ‘little thing’ I saw three truths. The first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; and the third is that God sustains it. . . We have got to realise the littleness of creation and to see it for the nothing that it is before we can love and possess God who is uncreated.”

And then she saw, which I always love, God as a gardener, and Christ as his servant. God was a gardener, and his servant was digging and banking, toiling and sweating, turning and trenching the ground, watering the plants all the time.

Gradually, by great labour, the servant and the master are to be discovered neither in deserts nor in nature, but at rest and peace in their own city — not the countryside, however well cultivated it is. In the years before this, St Augustine had seen the Church as the city of God, and St John had seen heaven as a new Jerusalem.

You don’t have to read very far into Julian’s revelations to realise that its author, who had lived a long life in this world, saw everything in it with a delight and comprehension that are unparalleled in devotional literature.

However reticent Julian is on the beauty and wonder of what had been created, it is impossible to read her without recognising that her joy and vitality, her sanity and her spiritual energy, were partly a response to the physical world. Like most recluses, she treasured every minute of sunshine, the tenderness of bindweed finding its way into her soul, the ways of her famous cat, and the contrasting sense of the winter and summer fields in Norfolk.

That single view of the outside was due to the seasons and her own trained gaze, which did, indeed, become “all that is made”.

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