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

Saturnalia

‘During my week the serious is barred,
no business allowed,
drinking and being drunk,
noise and games and dice,
appointing of kings,
feasting of slaves,
singing naked, clapping of tremulous hands
and the occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water.’
–           Cronos, in ‘Saturnalia’ by Lucia of Samosata, 167-175 AD.

When curtained night is closest drawn
and daylight hours are short,
the Yuletide solstice warns of frost
and summer days are long since lost,
and gloves and scarves are bought.

When autumn’s leaves are blown away,
when longest night means shortest day,
and winter deepens, cold and grey,
and dark clouds veil the dawn,
then, in our coldest, darkest times
we light our days with song;
our glasses raise among the show
of holly, fir and mistletoe,
to cheer the days along.

And did you see our seedtime feast?
and in those measures hide your yeast,
and see the harvest grain increase,
and wine-press autumn’s later lease,
a glowing, golden song?

Saturnalia’s grinning orgy,
the High Lord of Misrule,
the prancing, dancing Feast of Fools,
our mingling right and wrong?

Our pagan village feasts and fétes
that close-pursed lips and high-held hates
see as our faults and so mistakes
the courage in our song?

And did you see our courage then?
your children singing in the dark?
And did you give your heart to them
who loved the One they did not know;
and bowed to You they could not see
and gave another name to You?

Did you not know Me then,
my children, singing in the dark?
I who made your solstices, your moons,
who threw the wheeling stars,
the tides, the seasons, day and night.

You who sang the seasons,
named turning stars and constellations,
saw life’s spring and summer,
its autumn and its winter
the zodiac in life’s zoè,
its seedtime, its harvest,
did you not know Me then
and give me many names?

I AM your Father, I AM Mother,
your Sister, your Brother;
I AM Love and I AM laughter.
When My erring son or daughter
turns away and strays to danger.
Though I grieve and there is anger.
Yet in Me there is no turning,
no wrath nor fierce burning,
simply longing and a yearning
watching for My child’s returning.

Though you nailed me to a tree,
from death I’ve broken free,
and follow you through hell
to bring you home.

 

Made in the Image

Cneius Pompeius was the first of our countrymen to subdue the Jews. Availing himself of the right of conquest, he entered the temple. Thus it became commonly known that the place stood empty with no similitude of gods within, and that the shrine had nothing to reveal.
Tacitus, Histories, Book 5, chap. 9

When Cneius Pompeius entered as conqueror
into the Holy of Holies, did he find nothing there?
No Godlike image? No fragment of wonder?
no token of the invisible God?
an empty room?

Did nothing in that empty, holy shrine,
ask the great question of our common daily tasks,
those shared hopes of yours, and mine, and his;
the great perhaps that there might be
something there that speaks beyond desire,
beyond you, beyond me, beyond him,
that knew his name?

No ark, no cherubim, no tablets of the Law,
hidden or lost since that first temple,
destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar
half a thousand years before?
Did holiness remain?
or any thing?

No ark, no cherubim, no tablets of the Law,
Was that image in the seige-towers?
The battering rams?
the hand to hand facing with the enemy?

And were his gods in the victory parade,
passing like a sword through vanquished, sullen-lined streets?
Or in the holy place beyond the double veil?
The Holy of Holies of the only God of this strange race?

Pompey returned to his daily soldier round,
to his home’s embrace, his wife, his children,
and was His image there?
Did he recall in the empty shrine
that image of God seen there,
in himself,
and in the little things of home?

Two thousand years have passed, and more,
since Pompey came as conqueror
into the Holy of Holies.
Did he find nothing there?
No Godlike image? No fragment of wonder?
no token of the invisible God that asks,
as we are asked now,
in our homes, our daily tasks,
our homely shrines, where we,
wives, husbands, children,
each made in the image of God –
are asked to see,
and love and be loved.

Why do we bicker, in and with His image,
with weapons forged of words,
of sighs and glaring eyes,
with those whom we should love?
How, faced daily with His image,
should we do anything but love?

The Law of Love

There was a wise mullah who, at the end of his evening teaching, would ask his four pupils one question, which they would answer one by one, beginning with the weakest pupil and ending with the brightest. It was a good policy which prevented the brightest from wasting time on easy answers which would leave the others with nothing to say.

One evening he said, ‘Our thoughts today have been many and taxing. I do not want to burden you further, so my question this evening is simple: why do we not eat pork?’

After being invited to speak the first pupil replied, ‘Because it is the command of Allah, both in the ancient scriptures and in the Holy Q’uran, and to obey Allah is the greatest aim that man can have in life, which is why our faith is called Islam, which means obedience, and that is why we do not eat pork.’

The mullah praised the pupil, saying, ‘You have spoken wisely and well, and although it is my custom to praise even the poorest answer for whatever kernel of truth lies in it, in this instance I find no need for correction at all.’

He turned to the second pupil who replied as follows:

‘All that my fellow pupil says is true, but I would add that a pig is an animal that eats in the dirt. It wallows in its own slime and where it wallows, it eats. Allah, who gives us life and set our father Abraham to be our guide in all obedience, gave us this command because He only wants good for those who obey His commands and, for those who do not, they alone shall suffer from eating the flesh of this unclean animal. That is why we do not eat pork.’

The mullah gave even higher praise to this pupil, ‘because,’ he said, ‘not only have you shown that obedience to the will of Allah is the highest aim of man, but you have also shown his tender mercy towards those who obey him and his stern justice to those who do not.

The third student now began his answer.

‘I bow before the wisdom of my fellow pupils, but perhaps I may add something; In many countries pigs are now bred in clean surroundings and well fed, and it has been shown that their meat in these conditions can be, I am told, sweet and wholesome. But our forefathers who obeyed the will of Allah in this matter passed this law on to us and we keep it today. In so doing we give honour to them and through them to The Prophet, may his name be praised, and to our father Abraham; and so we stand with them in obedience to Allah, and this is why we do not eat pork.’

The Mullah paused before replying, then praised the third pupil greatly.

‘You have spoken fully and well, for obedience to Allah, understanding of His mercy and compassion, fear of His just wrath and honour to the Prophet, may peace be upon him, and to our forefathers who kept the Law, are what lead to perfection.

He turned then to his fourth pupil who as yet had not spoken, and said, ‘I think your fellow students have answered wisely and well and to add more to such a complete answer may be vanity. there is no shame if you have nothing to add.’

‘Indeed,’ replied the wisest student, ‘there is nothing to add that would not be mere embellishment and vanity, for obedience to Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, and to honour our father Abraham and the Prophet, peace be upon him, is surely the path to that pefection which is our duty.

‘And yet,’ he continued, ‘there is something further I feel I must say.’

The mullah frowned slightly as the student took a deep breath before continuing, ‘This morning the sun rose beautifully over the mountains, it sparkled like diamonds on the sea and now is setting in fiery grandeur in the West. A soft wind blows and the fig and vine leaves tremble at its touch. All this is a gift from Allah like a precious jewel a lover gives to his beloved. How can one so loved not respond? I do not eat pork, but I pray that whatever I do, I shall do it because I love Allah.’

There was a silence for a time; then, without speaking, the mullah slowly unwound his turban, folded it gently and laid it on the fourth student’s head.

Existence is Coexistence

Born during the Second World War, on the edge of London’s East End, too young to be evacuated to the countryside, I have remarkably early memories back into my first year, including my cot, being given snow off my pram coverlet, barrage balloons, the bomb shelter, a doodlebug and a window blown in by blast. My father, unfit for service from a heart condition, joined the ARP in which he volunteered to enter a bombed building at night to comfort a woman trapped in rubble. He was refused permission at first but, having been given no more than two years to live anyway, he went in. Sadly his heart did not stand the strain and he died shortly after.

Those days and my mother’s compassionate attitude, to the Germans and the Allies, probably contributed much to my interest in how we relate to one another, the way the world works and the nature of existence. It set the seed of seeing all existence as co-existence. At school my main interests were in the arts, but my chosen occupation was science based. Nevertheless a foot in each camp gives better balance.

The war ended when I was three years old. With other boys I collected small beads of shrapnel with magnets from roadsides and gardens. I had a number of inspirational teachers in my early years, but there was another component. My first senior school gave boys the morning off if we went to church on the morning of Ascension Day. This made me very religious! I went to St. Mary the Virgin, Ilford, where the vicar, Fr. Alexander Colvin, learning I had not been christened in the turmoil of wartime East End, gave me baptismal classes in the Resurrection Chapel below the Pieta of Mary grieving over Jesus’s body. That image has stayed with me all my life. In spite of, or because of, St. Mary’s High Church position, Father Colvin made a special effort to state the one-ness of the Christian community, describing how the different traditions recognised baptism and Mass but that there was only one Church. Again, though in other words, was the sense that existence was co-existence.

I have a mongrel faith. St Mary’s was High Anglican; I was briefly a Boys’ Brigader in a Baptist Church, then a boy scout in a Methodist church. Since then, mainly for geographical reasons, I have attended Anglican, Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, and Presbyterian churches in ‘traditional’ and ‘evangelical’ forms. I was a Baptist church deacon, and Sunday School teacher for many years.

In my early twenties I edited a Presbyterian Fellowship of Youth magazine, and later a Baptist Church Magazine, Outlook, for which I enjoyed writing a monthly Schultz-style strip cartoon. Later I have written articles for other church publications. I think of myself as an essayist, dipping my pen in a subject to let it flow where it will, contributing off-the-wall articles to church magazines. Increasingly I am drawn to a mixture of poetry and prose and have written plays, articles and short stories.

My thriller, Namestone, builds on the theme of co-existence. Two men, a 15th century monk and a 21st century scientist, are brought together by a series of horrific events which stretch loyalty, trust and friendship to their limits. They become bound up with the enigmatic Hérault – a man with exceptional fighting skills and even more deadly persuasive powers, who seeks power beyond anything else, using evil as a practical tool. Power for him means total freedom, depending on no-one, neither in this world nor any other. There is interplay between age-old faith and a scientific undercurrent. We depend not only on each other, in whom we find the image of God, but on the universe, spacetime, in which we find ourselves.

It is not a simple ‘baddies get their come-uppance’ story. Hérault, makes no excuses or pretence of goodness or of being misunderstood, instead he makes as strong an argument for being evil as possible. I wanted to present challenges we all face one way or another, through the lens of an adventure story of ordinary people under extra-ordinary stresses.

I have always been fascinated by the impact of Quantum Physics on our everyday attitude to life and faith; that the harmonic trinity of energy, matter and observation mirrors that of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Ultimately philosophies that try hardest to understand the way the world is must resemble each other and each contain fundamental truths. The cosmos is a harmony of matter and energy; it has been suggested that matter as we see it does not exist, that it is ultimately the interaction of energy fields; that we are each a harmonic in a greater symphony. Existence is Co-existence: we cannot and should not separate the how from the why.