In the time of the Black Death sweeping England in 1373 an unknown woman, aged about 30 asked three things of God: "to understand his passion"; "to suffer physically while still a young woman"; and "to have as God's gift three wounds." With the first, although by God's grace she "had some experience of the passion of Christ" she wanted to enter more fully into it as "Mary Magdalene and the others who loved Him, and with my own eyes to see and know more of the physical sufferings of our Saviour." (Ch.2)] Shortly after this she lay dying, and received the last rites from her parish priest. On the 8th May, the third Sunday after Easter, and the day after the festival of St. John of Beverley, whilst gazing upon a crucifix left by her priest, the Lord revealed to her fifteen revelations of divine love in the space of 5 hours, from 4 - 9pm (Chs. 3 &65) and a sixteenth at night, which was a confirmation of the others (Ch.66). "All the blessed teaching of our Lord God was showed by three parts; that is to say, by bodily sight, and by word formed in my understanding, and by ghostly sight" (Ch.73).
The first of the showings was "the suffering Christ" from whose face "I saw the red blood trickling down from under the crown of thorns, hot fresh, and plentiful, just as it did at the time of his passion." The viewing of that holy but bloody face was like Pandora's box; it opened up an entire framework of Christian theology for this woman, so that she could see Adam and all creation, the effect of sin, and the story of salvation, beginning with our blessed Lady, as "a simple humble girl", who "reverently marvelled that he should be born of his own creature, and of one so simple". All these showings manifested the goodness of the Trinitarian God and how much He loves us (Ch.4). Sometime after these showings, this woman became an anchorite, living in a cell attached to the church of St. Julian, Norwich, which belonged to the Benedictine community at Carrow. Consequently she has been remembered by posterity as Julian or even Lady Julian of Norwich. Yet very little is known about her; perhaps she had been a Benedictine nun at Carrow or she may even had been a widow. What is important is that she spent her remaining life as a mystic (she died in 1417), contemplating upon the meaning of these showings in order to understand better our Lord's teaching and His will for her. What we know as The Revelation of Divine Love is thus a writing of a mystic experience, which was deepened by many years of prayerful reflection. As she writes at the beginning of the book: From the time these things were first revealed I had often wanted to know what was our Lord's meaning. It was more than fifteen years after that I was answered in my spirit's understanding. 'You would know our Lord's meaning in this thing! Know it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Hold on to this and you will know and understand love more and more. But you will not know or learn anything else ever!'
So it was that I learned that love was our Lord's meaning. And I saw for certain, both here and elsewhere, that before ever he made us, God loved us; and that his love has never slackened, nor ever shall. In this love all his works have been done, and in this love he has made everything serve us; and in this love our life is everlasting. Our beginning was when we were made, but the love in which he made us never had beginning. In it we have our beginning (Ch.86).
The centre for Julian's theology is that suffering face of Christ from which radiates all her thinking and teaching. As with all mystics, Julian's main concern is with God and the Christian's relationship to Him. Like all theologians she wants to be able to understand God's attributes and that relationship between Him and His redeemed creation. As with the Cappadocian Fathers she saw all of God's functions as trinitarian. "The Father may, the son can, the Holy Ghost will." She saw this Trinitarian God as Maker, Keeper, Lover, Might, Wisdom, Goodness (Chs 5,8) and above all Life, Light and Love (Ch. 83).
Blessed be you, Lord, divinity, who always was, and is, and shall be, almighty, all wisdom and all love; everything you have made, heaven and earth and all creation is great and generous and beautiful and good, for you created everything for love, and by your love it is preserved, and always will be, without end.
Lord, you are everything which is good, and the goodness which is in everything is yourself, our God (Ch.8).
So everything is an expression of Love.
You are Love, and you are the Maker, and everything which is made endures, and will always endure, because you love it; and thus everything has being through your love (Ch.5).
Undoubtedly it is God's love that dominates her writing. In that same essence of longing of Augustine she states:
Lord God, before you made us you loved us ; your love was never abated, and never will be.
And in your love you have done all your works, and in your love you have made all things profitable to us, and in your love our life is everlasting.
In our creation we had our beginning, but the love in which you created us was in you from without beginning.
In your love we have our beginning, and all this shall we see
In you, Lord God without end.
Thank be to God (Ch.86).
Julian also uses adjectives to describe God which are unusual for her day. God is described as "courteous", "our courteous Mother", "my kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my beloved Mother". She addresses our Lord as "Our heavenly Mother Jesus", "our true Mother in nature; "our true Mother in grace", and the Trinitarian God in making us is "our loving Mother" (Ch. 58-9, 61). The image of motherhood is very important to Julian in her and our relationship with our Maker. God broods ever all his creation, and to grasp its importance she writes: Lord God, I understand three ways of contemplating your motherhood. The first is the foundation of our nature's creation; the second is your taking of our nature, where your motherhood of grace begins; the third is your motherhood at work.
And in that, by your grace, everything is penetrated, in length and in breadth, in height and in depth, without end; and it is all one love (Ch.59).
Similarly to Augustine's "our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you", Julian proclaims "Your will is to possess us". God, our Lover, you desire the soul to adhere to you with all its power and you want us always to adhere to your goodness. For of all things that the heart can think. This pleases you most and soonest profits the soul, so preciously loved. So, with reverence, we ask from you, our Lover, all that we will, for our natural will is to possess you, God, and your good will is to possess us (Ch.6). Julian contemplated on many theological issues, too many to consider in a short homily, suffice it is to touch on a couple of these. One is sin, which always puzzled her. "Lord Jesus, I have heard you say: 'Sin is necessary but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well'." (Ch.27) But this answer does not convince her, and she queries: Ah, good Lord, how might all be well for the great hurt that is come by sin to thy creatures? (And here I desired, as far as I durst, to have some more open declaring wherewith I might be eased.) To this our Lord replied "that the greatest wrong ever done was Adam's sin". More importantly it was for Julian to "see the glorious reparation" as the amending "is incomparably more pleasing and honourable to God than ever was the sin of Adam harmful" (Ch.29). Julian contemplated at length on Adam's fall, sin and evil during her life and concluded that sin is not so much deliberately choosing evil but the consequence of fallen humanity: blindness, weakness and confusion, well illustrated in the parable of the master and servant. The servant is Adam, that is, everyman who then is represented as the second Person of the Trinity who by the incarnation rescues Adam. Adam fell from life to death, first into the depths of this wretched world, and then into hell. God's son fell, with Adam, but into the depth of the Virgin's womb and with a mighty arm he brought him out of hell (Ch.51). It is clear that Julian wanted to believe in universalism that all would be well as all would be redeemed. For Julian God has given another remedy to overcome our failings, He is immanent as he is dwells within us. His goodness never allows us to be alone; may he be with us constantly and tenderly excuse us, and always protects us from blame in his sight (Ch.80). As a mystic, one matter that always concerned her was prayer, especially when it was not spontaneous:
Lord, I want to pray with all my heart even though it seems this has no savour to me; it is profitable for me, even though I may not feel it so.
I want to pray with all my heart though I may feel nothing,
Though I may see nothing, yes, though I think I could not, for in dryness and barrenness, in sickness and in weakness, my prayer is most pleasing to you, though it is almost tasteless to me.
And so is all living prayer in your sight (Ch.41).
In her own prayer life, thanksgiving featured prominently, especially in being granted these showings. Good Lord Jesus, all my thanks to you; good Lord Jesus, blessed may you be because you suffered for me; and it is a joy, a bliss and endless delight to you that ever you suffered your Passion for me; and if you could suffer more, you would suffer more (Ch.22). Her thankfulness also included those revelations granted to her revealing Jesus in heaven. This makes a fitting conclusion: Lord, you taught me to choose Jesus as my heaven, whom I saw only in pain at that time. No other heaven was more pleasing to me, than you Jesus, and you will be my bliss when I am there. And this has always been a comfort to me, that I chose you, Jesus, by your grace to be my heaven in all this time of suffering and of sorrow. And so you taught me that I should always do so: to choose you only to be my heaven, in well-being and in woe (Ch.19).