Revelations of Love, Chapters 1-3

Julian’s introduction to what is to follow.

These first three chapters outline the whole book:

  • first, a summary of the chapters to follow (omitted for brevity).
  • second, how when younger, she prayed to share or understand more of Christ’s pains.
  • third, her  serious illness in 1373, in which, during receipt of the last rites, she received the ‘shewings’ or visions which occupy the rest of the book.

In fact she survived. The last record of her still living was in 1413.

What follows is far more than I originally intended. Two or three years ago I began a free verse précis of her book, promising completion in a few months, then a year. But I found such richness and compassion in her writing that the précis became a fuller translation and the timescale grew.

Although written in English it is that of the early middle ages. Spelling was elastic then, not only from writer to writer but within a writer’s own work, hence it is very much a translation into modern English. Fortunately I did not have to work from the original mediaeval alphabet or, worse, from handwritten originals. This has been done by far better writers than myself, particularly Georgia Ronan Crampton.

I have kept Julian’s chapter introductions in her Middle English wording in italic, but using our modern alphabet. Her book, as mentioned in an earlier post, was written in a dangerous and unforgiving age; a time of post- Black Death fear of heresy. The shewings should be read in order.

Revelations to one who could not read a letter. Anno Domini 1373.

A Particular of the Chapters, Of the tyme of these revelations, and how shee asked three petitions, and Of the sekenese opteyned of God be petition.

Chapter 1.

 A Particular of the Chapters. The first chapter, off the noumber of the Revelations particularly.

This is a Revelation of love that Jesus Christ, our endless bliss,
made in sixteen Showings or special Revelations.

I have omitted this chapter’s summary of her sixteen revelations as, in the light of the historical background in which they were written, they are better read in in order.

Chapter 2

The second chapter. Of the tyme of these revelations, and how shee asked three petitions.

These Revelations were shown to a simple unlettered creature in the year of our Lord 1373, the eighth day of May, which creature had desired previously, three gifts of God.

The first was to understand His passion.

The second was bodily sickness in youth at thirty years of age.

The third was to have God’s gift of three wounds.

As to the first gift,
I thought I had some feeling of Christ’s passion,
but desired more by God’s grace,
as though I were there with Mary Magdalen
and others that loved Christ;
desiring an actual sight
to know more of our Saviour’s physical pains,
our Lady’s compassion,
and of all His true lovers that saw them,
in that way I would be one of them
and suffer with Him.

I desired no other sight
nor showing of God
till my soul departed from my body,
so that by this showing alone
I should more truly understand Christ’s passion.

The second gift came to my mind with contrition,
freely desiring a sickness so deathly hard
that I might undergo all rites of Holy Church,
believing I was dying,
and that all that saw me might suppose the same,
for I would get no comfort from earthly life.

In this sickness I prayed to have
all manner of physical and spiritual pains
that I would feel if I were dying,
with all the dreads and tempests of the fiends,
except the outpassing of my soul.

By this I meant to be purged by God’s mercy,
afterward  to live more to His worship
because of that sickness;
and that it might speed my death,
for I desired to be soon with my God.

These two desires, the passion and the sickness,
I desired with a condition, saying,
“Lord, you know what I desire.
if it be Thy will, may I have it,
and if it be not Thy will,
good Lord, do not be displeased,
for I want nothing but Thy will.”

For the third gift, by the grace of God and the teaching of Holy Church,
I conceived a mighty desire to receive three wounds in my life:

the wound of full contrition,
the wound of kindred compassion,
and the wound of willfull longing for God.

And all this last petition I asked without any condition.

The first two desires passed from my mind,
but the third dwelt with me continually.

Chapter 3

Of the sekenese opteyned of God be petition. Third chapter.

When I was thirty and a half years old,
God sent me a bodily sickness
in which I lay three days and nights.
On the fourth I had rites of Holy Church
and did not expect to live till day;
but after this I languished
two days and two nights.

The third night I often thought I had passed,
as did they that were with me;
still young, I thought it great pity to die;
not for anything in earth
that might give me pleasure to live,
nor fear of any pain,
for I trusted in God in His mercy.

But to have lived to have loved God better
and for a longer time,
that I might have more knowledge and love
of God in the bliss of Heaven.

For I thought,
the time I had lived here was too slight,
too short to deserve that endless bliss.
It seemed nothing.

I thought,
“Good Lord, may the end of my life be Thy worship?”
And I understood by my reason,
by my feelings of pain,
that I should die,
and assented fully, with all the will of my heart,
to be at God’s mercy.

Thus I endured until day,
and by then my body was dead
with no feeling from the middle down.

Then I was stirred to be set upright,
and was leant back with help,
to have more freedom in my heart
to be at God’s will,
thinking on God while my life might last.

My curate was sent for to be at my end,
by the time he came my eyes were fixed
and I could not speak.

He set the cross before my face and said,
“I have brought the image
of thy maker and Saviour.
Look thereon and have comfort therewith.”

I thought I needed no comfort
for my eyes were set upward to Heaven
where by God’s mercy I trusted to come,
but I assented to set my eyes, if I could,
in the face of the Crucifix
and so I did,
thinking I might endure longer
looking ahead than right up.

After this my sight began to fail,
the chamber dark as night about me
except in the image of the Cross
which I saw by its own light,
I knew not how.

All beside the Cross was ugly to me
as if greatly occupied with fiends.

The rest of my body began to die.
I had scarcely any feeling,
with shortness of wind;
and believed I had truly died.

And in this, suddenly, all my pain was taken from me,
I was as hale, and sound in body as ever before.

I marvelled at this sudden change,
I thought it was God’s secret work
and not of nature,
yet feeling this ease
I trusted no more in living.

This ease was no full ease to me,
for I would rather be delivered from this world.

Then came suddenly to my mind
that I should desire the second wound
of our Lord’s gracious gift,
that my body might be fullfilled
with mind and feeling of His blessed passion,
I wanted His pains my pains with compassion,
and afterward to belong to God.

I desired neither bodily sight nor showing of God,
but compassion,
as a kindred soul might have with our Lord Jesus,
who for love became a mortal man.
I desired to suffer with Him.

Julian’s visions follow approximately monthly, interspersed with other posts.

In the Beginning

In the beginning God,
who had no beginning,
created waves of darkness;
dark, vital waves of energy,
a vast outpouring constancy,
that streamed beyond all knowing,
powerful, steady, flowing.

His spirit brooding, moving,
stirred eddies in the darkness,
eddies around eddies,
round eddies around eddies,
which were and yet were not.
A sea of possibility,
potential and intensity,
chaotic, void and dark.

God, with no beginning,
created our beginning,
brooding on creation,
until the first conditions
were settled and were right.
God spoke, ‘Let there be light.’

Eddies spinning, lasting, shining,
light and dark in harmony,
light in darkest energy,
and time began.

Then –

In a new beginning,
God who is eternal
entered His creation.
He who is eternal, other,
entered space-time in Christ.
He who created time and space,
who is other than time, other than space,
energy pervading, streaming through creation,
whose spirit brooded over the waves,
in that Trinity revealed in Christ,
celebrated by shepherds,
wise men, kings,
came to a human birth,
to an earthly mother,
to us.

Now –

Near fourteen billion years since first creation,
four thousand years since Abraham,
two thousand plus since Christ,
we celebrate a feast of flesh and wine,
and giving of gifts as a sign
of the greatest gift.

We decorate our darkest hours
with thorn-bearing holly,
poisonous mistletoe,
and a tree.

Dame Julian

Revelations of Divine Love

INTRODUCTION

 ‘This is a Revelation of love that Jesus Christ, our endless blisse, made in sixteen Sheweings or Revelations particular.’

Revelations of Divine Love by Dame Julian of Norwich is a remarkable book; probably the first in English by a woman. Some of its themes ran counter to the church’s teaching – dangerous in the troubled century in which she lived. Her calm and compassionate writing, visionary and mystical, came from sixteen visions or ‘shewings’ in 1373 during a severe, paralysing illness, so severe that she received the last rites.

In Middle-English language, she called them shewings (showings) and revelations. Others have called them visions but they were sometimes visual, and other times intellectual, auditory or spiritual. I use showings to keep the sound and intent of the original.

She describes them as personal revelations to herself by God that she was to pass on to her fellow Christians. She reviewed the first 14 showings with twenty in-depth chapters of comment, preparing the way for the dangerous ground in her 15th and 16th showings.

Her Middle-English is hard to read today. Most translations are  readable but use much original wording and phrasing to keep the mediaeval colour. I have tried to avoid this. Words then can have different meanings to the same words today. In my modern renderings of Julian’s visions I have used Georgia Ronan Crampton’s excellent version of her later, longer book here. This is probably the closest to the original Middle-English but uses our modern alphabet. Another more comfortably modernised version is in the Christian Classics Ethereal library here.

Beware: you may find yourself on a beautiful but long road. Sometimes the meanings of words have changed, sometimes it is our understanding of what underlies those words. For instance, fear in Julian’s day carried far more sense of awe than it does today. Now it has been simplified to mean fright. We use the same word but a sense of wondering caution has given way to one of cowering. To fear God has lost something in the process. Dread carried a combined sense of respect and awe rather than horror.

14th Century Background

Continue reading

Eddies

How long had I been roaming through
cloud-misted lanes that run
where fog-dripped tree and dew-dropped flower
and path behind and path before
glow in an unseen sun?

When my way led me where a bridge
arched a broad dark stream,
a flow from source to unknown sea,
ran dark and wide and strong and free;
dark energy, extreme.

The bridge curved high above the flood,
where I stood gazing down,
its ends stretched misting into cloud,
the stream-banks melting in a shroud,
the arching bridge rose high and proud;
the dark stream pouring on.

Below, above a stream-bed rock,
rose eddies in a spin
the handrail melting into mist,
one eddy rose with twirl and twist
and grew, and drew me in.

I found myself within its swirl,
a turning, whirling world,
where, spinning within spinning,
eddies in eddies, singing,
small within smaller, swirled.
And all beyond, more powerful yet,
the stream rolled fast along,
dark and wide, and strong and free,
and though the eddies seemed to be
a mad-cap whirl that I could see,
the dark stream drew them on.

Eddies spun within themselves,
spin within spin in spin.
Each eddy spread from each, to go
turning faster in the flow,
whirled without, within.

I turned and walked on as the mist,
clearing, showed the sky,
and trees and flowers and flowing stream
were no longer what they seem,
but planet, star and galaxies,
spreading in the run
of darker faster energy
beneath another Sun.

Sorry to have been out of touch

We are more or less out of all our new house problems and I am desperate to get back to writing again. That is the good news. The difficulty now is that I find myself deeply involved with a huge study of Paul Davies’ book The Mind of God, in which I have made so many marginal notes over the past few years that, trying to expand them, they nearly make a book of their own. At the same time my work on Dame Julian of Norwich’s fourteenth century Revelations of Love is so absorbing it takes up much more of my time than I had expected.

Here is a promise: I will be back

within two weeks.

Beginning

I have written little poetry for a year or so but I feel things begin to return. The following lines are a somewhat mystical view of creation.

Beginning is a blossoming bud,
	the Spirit’s breath,
	the moment all moments begin.
Eddies spin in the flood,
	billowing, drifting, breathing, brooding
	over shifting uncertain waves,
Gathering, from grain to garden,
	from daisies to chains to garlands,
	as echoes roll into time,
Images of beauty and truth;
	of a stream that flows forever 
	from a Source, Other than this world,
New Earth from eternal Heaven;
	from the spring of being,
	from breathing, brooding, creating Spirit:
New, nothing into everything, 
	moving over the waves
	more than beauty of bud and blossom.
Imagined in that moment and known,
	that Allos, that other,
	that is both hope and home;
Named, I AM, sharing our nature,
Good, glowing, gathering all creation
		Into One.

 

Notes on meanings: Continue reading

The Words We Use

This is something of a ramble through my etymology hobby.

Eternal is from ancient Greek, aeon-ternus, meaning age-lasting. We often use eternal as meaning no more than this, going on for ages, or as long as the universe lasts, but things have changed.

The discovery of the Big Bang in which the cosmos came into being at a finite time in the past, brings the need for a much wider definition as it implies the existence of something other than space-time for which we have no words. This is nothing new; a wider definition has been necessary for some millenia since the earliest descriptions of a being outside, other than time and space, but also from the invention of an obscure, ancient, grammatical concept.

The past, the present and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.

But the aorist tense needs no companions – wherever it is, it is always tense. When God says, ‘I AM.’ it is a single, defining statement. The original is in the aorist tense, implies ‘I was, I am, I have always been and always will be.’ Or if you prefer, ‘I ETERNALLY AM’

This is far more than simply lasting forever; it is something other. It is more than time or space. It may give birth to time and space, but, Oh! Man! it is something else.

The Aorist does not walk into a bar, its spirit is suspended eternally in the optics.

So here is the problem. In an earlier post I wrote about something and nothing and came to the conclusion that we have no true word for nothing because nothing cannot exist. We see this in vacuum physics where it has been found that there is no such thing as the popular idea of a vacuum. Instead the more vacuous the space the more it teems with virtual particles or eddies popping in and out of existence, reacting and responding to each other. The word virtual, unlike its use in ‘virtual reality’ stems from vir, an Old Latin word for potency or Man.

To avoid confusion ‘Man’ above has  a capital letter to identify it as a species word rather than gender. The male of the species Man is homo-man in which homo is Old Latin for humus or earth , not the Old Greek for self.

World comes from the Anglo-Saxon wer-alt meaning the age of a man. we still use wer today to mean man in werewolf (man-wolf).

There is no word for this full meaning of eternal. Eternal simply means ‘lifelong’, but we seek for more, even if life is taken as the life of the universe it takes no account of that Other, the Allos, outwith space-time.

Universe is from unusversus ‘one turned’. It is tempting to think of this in terms of the universe seen as the turning stars, but it means turned into one in the sense, all there is, seen as one. And can we become one with that other One?

Cosmos comes from the Old Greek word for order. The reason I have not posted anything for so long is that for my wife and I the past year has been anything but cosmic. We have had a tough year. My posts will probably be monthly for a while.