Dame Julian

When I began the series of pages on the remarkable Dame Julian of Norwich I expected to complete it in June. This was an under-estimate but there is a good side. Having been out of internet and even pen and paper reach for a while (or at least not having time available for good fun reasons!) I need to write this to keep you up to date, which gives me the chance to explain a few things.

Why am I doing it? Dame Julian, or whatever her true name was, was a remarkable woman. Not counting her reputation as probably the first woman to write a book in the English language she lived in one of the most fear filled and accusatory times in history when stepping out of line brought terrible retribution. The time of the Black Death, the only known time when the world’s population fell – and not only fell, it plummeted by up to a quarter (in Britain by up to a half)- fear, suspicion and accusation made it very much a time for keeping your head down, particularly in matters of religion and those two enemies, Heresy and Justice. It was often not easy to say which was worse.

Julian steered a careful course between obedience to the teaching of Holy Church and an intense compassion arising from a series of powerful ‘shewings’ or revelations received during a severe illness in which she received the last rites. Unlike many of her time she survived, which suggests it was probably not the Black Death itself. Also the date of her illness did not coincide with the worst outbreaks in East Anglia at the time.

Mention of the terms shewings and revelations brings me to the problem I faced in what to call them. In these chapters and their headings which are still being written and rewritten I have flitted between ‘shewings’, ‘showings’, ‘visions’ and ‘revelations’. Currently there is an untidy and illogical mix of the terms simply because until I am sure which to use I am keeping them all out there. ‘Shewings’ is the old term and ‘showings’ would fit and mean the same in modern writing, but she also called them revelations which is current today. My only problem with that was a fear of mistaken confusion with the New Testament Book of Revelation. I tried ‘visions’ but that fails on several counts: she had a number of shewings but they were by no means all visual. Julian distinguished between them as rational, spiritual, and as things seen. Visions will have to go. In the meantime take your choice.

None of this truly explains why I am doing it. Not because of the drama of the Black Death, nor that of the trials and accusations of heresy and devil worship that were so heightened by those times. The reason is that in the worst of times she saw the best. In a time of fear and hate they speak more of our Father’s love than anything else I have read. I don’t even write them for you to read, or at least not yet, but they are such a rich source of inspiration that I want them there to draw upon for later posts on this site.

Read them if you will, although I shall revisit and change words and phrases here and there where it seems to represent her meaning better. Regard it as a journey we are taking together.

Sea Waves

How shall we describe the world?
With what shall we compare it?

The world is like a sea
over which the wind blows.
Its ripples chase the wind and one another,
‘I am a standing wave!’
‘I am a running wave!’
‘This sparkling expanse is our world!’

None know of the depth beneath,
and little of the wind above,
or unbounded space and time
where other waveforms speed.
All fear the shore where they will die.

They are each a focus of the whole:
the depth below, the wind above,
the sea, the shore, the great beyond;
that symphony in which their echoes carry,
which makes the world ring,
where their souls sing
in harmony.

Harmony

On a clear still morning beside a pond
with clouds and trees mirrored in its face,
and rushes, and a lonely fishing place,
I watched a single dewdrop fall.

It fell from a leaf tip, back into its element
like a tiny buddhist soul.

Lost, I thought, lost in its destiny,
one with its own infinity
and all is still again.

And yet the surface trembled with its ring,
spreading, shimmering the clouds, the leaves,
the rushes and the fishing place;
spreading, reaching for the farthest shore.

And was it felt in the darker depths?
and echoed in that tiny ‘plop’ in my ear?
and in the air, and in the woods,
spreading forever to the farthest star,
seeing eternity
through the eyes of God?