I've had this icon card pinned just above my computer for years and this year for Lent, I’ve been reading and ruminating on the Showings of Julian of Norwich. Julian was a 14th century Englishwoman, a devout woman who lived the secluded, prayer-filled life of an anchoress in a two-room suite attached to the small church of St Julian’s in Norwich.
It sounds peaceful, but her times were as troubled as our own. The Black Plague visited Norwich at least three times during Julian’s lifetime, killing about a quarter of the population. France and England were caught in the seemingly endless battles of the Hundred Year war, controversy over the papal succession created two Popes, and there were ever-increasing taxes and the Peasants’ Revolt in England.
When Julian was 30, she fell so ill that she received last rites and her mother and friends gathered round to say farewell. Instead of dying, she received a series of visions, recovered, and spent the next 20 years ruminating on these showings, eventually writing up her account of what she saw and what she had come to understand about them.
In her first vision, she is sure that she is on the verge of death as the room darkens around her, except for ordinary light falling on the crucifix that the curate holds in front of her. Then blood begins to fall in round drops from under the crown of thorns; she has a strong sense of the presence of the Trinity; she sees Mary as a young, simple maiden full of wisdom and truth, aware of her Creator’s greatness and her own littleness; she understands that Jesus is everything that is good, wrapping and enfolding us, surrounding us with his love.
And Jesus shows her something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, as round as a ball. She writes,” I looked at it and thought: What can this be? And I was given this general answer: It is everything which is made. I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that it was so little that it could fall suddenly into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that he loves it, the third is that God preserves it.”
Several of Julian's visions touch on aspects of Christ's Passion. As Julian recounts her visions and shares her reflections on them, she repeatedly works with the themes of God’s love and the gift of Christ’s suffering for us, wrestling with how this foundational love that she has been shown connects with the pain and suffering in the world.
Life and death, light and shadow.
I have found it meaningful reading for this year’s Lent, and I’ll be sharing some of the ways it has connected for me in these coming days of Holy Week.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"