Several of Julian’s showings touch on aspects of Christ’s Passion – copious bleeding from the crown of thorns and from the whipping, discoloration of his face and the drying of his body. It’s not imagery I’m accustomed to spending much time with. In my tradition, we tend to focus on Christ’s life and on the resurrection – our crosses are bare. We move seamlessly from the hosannas of Palm Sunday to the alleluias of Easter, with a nod towards the Last Supper and the handing over of Jesus and his abandonment by his friends if we attend a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service.
But we don’t – I don’t – spend much time suffering with Jesus on the cross.
Julian does, along with many other medieval mystics, though her visions of blood and of suffering are always interwoven with a vivid awareness of God’s love. She suffers as she watches Christ suffer, for the pain he felt and for her awareness that he who suffered is God. And she experiences a mix of sorrow and of joy.
And in this he partly brought to my mind the exaltedness and nobility of the glorious divinity, and at the same time the preciousness and tenderness of his blessed body united with it, and also the reluctance that there is in human nature to suffer pain. For just as he was most tender and most pure, so he was most strong and powerful to suffer. And he suffered for the sins of every man who will be saved; and he saw and he sorrowed for every man’s sorrow, desolation and anguish, in his compassion and love. … And now he has risen again and is no longer capable of suffering; and yet he suffers with us, as I shall afterwards say. p 213, Showings.
I wanted to find a photo of a 14th century English crucifix, such as Julian might have gazed upon. This is Welsh, but the right century, and though it is broken and faded, perhaps that can also carry some of the sense of Christ's suffering.
Julian goes on:
“And as I watched with all my might for the moment when Christ would expire, and I expected to see his body quite dead; but I did not see him so, and just at the moment when by appearances he seemed to me that life could last no longer, and that the revelation of his end must be near, suddenly as I looked at the same cross, he changed to an appearance of joy. The change in his blessed appearance changed mine, and I was as glad and joyful as I could possibly be. And then cheerfully our Lord suggested to my mind: Where is there now any instant of your pain or of your grief? And I was very joyful; I understood that in our Lord’s intention we are now on his cross with him in our pains, and in our sufferings we are dying, and with his help and his grace we willingly endure on that same cross until the last minute of life.” p 214-5, Showings.
And in these words: If I could suffer more, I should suffer more, I saw truly that as often as he could die, so often should he die, and love would never let him rest till he had done it. And I contemplated with great diligence to know how often he should die if he would. And truly the number so far exceeded my understanding and intelligence that my reason had not leave or power to comprehend or accept it.
p 217, Showings
I find Julian’s words resonating with experiences from Gestalt Pastoral Care, where people have found suffering transformed through recognition of ways Christ is present with them, whether in present sorrow or in painful memories. (See Tilda Norberg’s Consenting to Grace for vivid stories from her work with people suffering deep pain and trauma.)
He suffers for us, we who are part of the Body of Christ suffer with him, and he suffers for all who suffer.
On this Good Friday, I am pondering this, and hearing the ringing refrains of Carl Daw’s hymn, “How shallow former shadows,” especially the last verse:
Yet deep within this darkness lives a Love so fierce and free,
that arcs all voids and – risk supreme! – embraces agony.
Its perfect testament is etched in iron, blood, and wood.
With awe we glimpse its true import and dare to call it good.
#251 in Hymnal: a worship book
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"