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Monday, 9 May 2016

Discover & explore: Julian of Norwich

For today's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook I used material from Dan Graves to reflect on Julian of Norwich as an example to inspire us in the Week of Prayer for the Diocese of London:

"On 8th May in the year 1373, when Julian of Norwich was thirty years old and suffering from what was considered to be a terminal illness, she experienced a series of sixteen visions, which revealed aspects of the love of God. Following her recovery, she spent the next twenty years of her life pondering their meaning and recorded her conclusions in what became the first book written by a woman in English, The Revelations of Divine Love. At an unknown point in her life, she became an anchoress attached to the Church of St Julian in Norwich. She died around the year 1417."

"As an anchoress, she was a woman who had set herself apart for God and lived isolated in a cell. Recognizing her need for a deeper love of Christ, she appealed to God for three things: a stronger understanding of Christ’s passion; a sickness unto death while still young, allowing her to experience all that a body and soul experience in death but without actual death—so that she might learn to live more mindful of God; three “wounds:” absolute contrition, kind compassion, and steadfast longing toward God.

It seemed her unusual prayer was being answered, as Julian became deathly ill. Everyone around her despaired of her life. She also believed she was dying. The last rites were administered to her. Then a wonderful thing happened: Julian experienced what a future generation might describe as a near-death experience. At the crisis of her sickness, between four and nine one afternoon, she received fifteen “showings,” or revelations. She reported that heaven opened to her, she beheld Christ in his glory, and she saw the meaning and power of his sufferings. She also saw Christ’s mother, Mary, exalted and beloved.

In her thirteenth showing, Julian received a comforting answer to a question that had long troubled her: “In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'

“These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”

In this she recognized the compassion she had prayed for. She was impressed with her need to be joyful in all circumstances, however adverse, and for no particular reason, except this: that all things will ultimately be put right by Christ.

The following night Julian received a final, sixteenth showing while she slept. In it Satan and his hosts assailed her, but God gave her grace, and she fixed her eyes on the crucified Christ and trusted that because of his suffering and victory over sin he could protect her, and he delivered her from the demonic jeers and mutterings."

"This week is the fourth consecutive Week of Prayer in the Diocese of London in preparation for the great Feast of Pentecost. This year we join with Christians around the country, responding to the encouragement of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to spend focused and dedicated time in prayer for all Christians to deepen our relationship with Jesus so that we may have confidence to share our faith that all may respond to the call of Jesus Christ to follow Him."

Julian of Norwich is a wonderful example to us of prayer leading to revelation and understanding. She says to us: “Our Lord is most glad and joyful because of our prayer; and he expects it, and he wants to have it, for with his grace it makes us like to himself in condition as we are in nature, and such is his blessed will. For he says: Pray wholeheartedly, though it seems to you that this has no savour to you; still it is profitable enough, though you may not feel that. Pray wholeheartedly, though you may feel nothing, though you may see nothing, yes, though you think that you could not, for in dryness and in barrenness, in sickness and in weakness, then is your prayer most pleasing to me, though you think it almost tasteless to you. And so is all your living prayer in my sight.” (14th Revelation, p. 249)

Julian encourages us to persevere in prayer because: "Prayer unites the soul to God, for though the soul may always be like God in nature and in substance restored by grace, it is often unlike him in condition, through sin on our part. Then prayer is a witness that the soul wills as God wills, and it eases the conscience and fits us for grace. And so he teaches us to pray and to have firm trust that we shall have it; for he beholds us in love, and wants to make us partners in his good will and work." (14th Revelation, p. 253)


Merciful God, who gave such grace to your servant Julian that she served you with singleness of heart and loved you above all things: help us to forsake all that holds us back from following Christ
and to grow into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss. In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother, and Saviour. In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvellous and plenteous grace. You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us. You are our maker, our lover, our keeper. Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

O God, of your goodness, give us yourself, for only in you do we have all. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.


Most holy God, the ground of our beseeching, who through your servant Julian revealed the wonders of your love: grant that as we are created in your nature and restored by your grace, our wills may be made one with yours, that we may come to see you face to face and gaze on you for ever; and may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

The Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields sang: Trenney, Tom (arr.) Mothering God, you gave me birth; Larsen, Libby Flee we to our Lord; Mathias, William As Truly as God is our Father; and Urquhart, Craig All Shall be Well.


Tom Trenney - Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth.

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