Posted by: jevcat | May 28, 2011

“Love Is All There Is”

For all my determination to post more regularly this year, I think this is the longest I have ever gone without posting.  There have been plenty of things running around in my head, and I’ve missed having the time to write.  So, while there are plenty of other things I ought to be doing this long weekend, instead I want to spend at least a little time here, putting down some of what’s been in my mind, even if not everything is as current as it might have been.

Since Lent, I’ve been working my way – albeit very slowly – through Julian of Norwich once again.  I’ve read Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love many times since I first discovered them in a college medieval history course, and she has been a guide and mentor to my spiritual life ever since.  Managing somehow to be a mystic while being perhaps the most down-to-earth spiritual writer in existence, she reports what she sees, both the literal and what is sensed (distinguishing carefully between them), tells us what she has figured out about what she has seen, and always follows her conclusions with “as I see it,” inviting her readers to think things through for themselves.  I own at least four translations of the Revelations, three of which I’ve read, mostly multiple times, and the fourth of which is the one I’m working on.  I have read her several times in the original Middle English, as well.

For me, Julian is always both new and familiar, deeply connected to God, but, like me, not always understanding God.  Unlike me, she is at peace with that, which is part of why I need her, especially in difficult times, such as now.  Just the other morning, the end of Chapter 36 brought me:

“He wills that we be not carried overly low because of sorrows and temptations that befall us, for it has ever been this way before the coming of miracles.”  I could use a miracle or two about now, or even just a good break.

Chapter 39 adds:

“Peace and love are always in us, existing and working, but we are not always in peace and love” – a needed reminder that it’s there for us, even when we have trouble grasping it.

(Translations from The Complete Julian of Norwich by Father John-Julian, Order of Julian of Norwich; Paraclete Press.)

This year, the church calendar only mentions Julian as an aside, since her “lesser feast” (as the commemorations of non-apostolic/biblical saints are called) fell on a Sunday.  Her day of May 8 also, this year, happened to be Mother’s Day, and there’s something appropriate about that to my mind.  Julian was a woman of her times, but she also went beyond them, to a space where she could talk about “Jesus our mother,” because Jesus loves and cares for us a mother would.

Given the primacy of love for Julian, I particularly enjoyed the felicitous coinciding this year of the days surrounding Julian’s feast with daily lectionary readings from the first Epistle of John.  Although John’s emphasis is a little different, he just hammers away – if one can use so violent a metaphor for such gentle (if insistent) urging – at the primacy of love, and not just God’s love for us and ours for God.

For John, that circle is not complete – in fact, it doesn’t even exist – without our love for each other.  He says,

“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (I John 3:18, this and following all from NRSV)

He tells us, “God is love,” (4:16) and goes on to lay out part of what that means:

“We love because he first loved us.  Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this:  those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (4:19-21)

John’s audience must have needed to hear this – a lot – or he wouldn’t have said it over and over in different ways (and in the same way) in a letter that spans only five chapters.  Reading his words, it doesn’t feel as though much has changed in a couple of millennia, judging from statements ranging from the merely snarky to the downright vitriolic emanating these days from a goodly number of folks who are pretty emphatic and public about calling themselves “Christian.”

Julian got it.  She never has a bad thing to say about anyone.  For Julian, love was really all there was:  love overwhelming, love all-encompassing that wraps us ‘round as close and intimate as comfortable clothes, love that goes to the heart of  the universe:  “Love was his reason.”  It ought to be ours, too.  As I see it.

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Responses

  1. I have always had trouble with Revelations. There is wisdom and direction and valuable exhortations, but the hocus pocus diminishes its legitimacy for me. When they determined the canon I would have left it out and included a book or two that the Church Fathers left out. On the other hand if your study of Julian’s understandings and the book itself brings you closer to Jesus, well that is wonderful . Things are revealed to different people in different ways. Certainly Julian has the gift of the Holy Spirit. And is certainly more spiritual than me. Blessings.

    • Carl, I agree with you wholeheartedly about the last book of the Bible. The Revelation to John is, a few gorgeous passages aside, mean-spirited and triumphalist enough to do a jihadi proud — and I do not believe for one minute that it was written by the same person who wrote the lovely first Epistle of John, whatever tradition says. Julian’s “Revelations of Divine Love” (sometimes also called “Showings”) is a totally different book, written by the most accessible of a great crop of English mystics from the 14th century and describing both a series of visions she had when in her 30s of Jesus crucifixion and of God’s love for and compassion on us combined with what years spent meditating on the visions taught her. I adore her (but you’ve probably noticed that). She didn’t have a mean-spirited bone in her body, and her love and compassion and good old common-sense have shored me up more times than I can count.

  2. Perhaps you are familiar with “Gnostic Gospels” Elaine Pagels, “Lost Christianities”Bart D. Ehrman, and “The Missing Gospels” Darrell Bock. Throws lots of light authorship, what wrong/right translations, editing for political or theological agenda, other books, other beliefs Christian. Think OT 6,000 years correct original, letters of Paul correct original, but 4 Gospels edited, re-edited, add/delete. Would care to continue such discussion. You won’t regret adding these three to your theo library and knowledge.

    • I read the Pagels book when it was new (boy, is that dating myself!), know something about the second book, and am pretty sure I’ve heard of the last. And, oh my, yes, each canonical Gospel has its own target audience and agenda. And, of course, not all of the Pauline letters were actually written by Paul. The OT is all over the place, albeit in a different way. The whole thing is fascinating, and I’ve never understood why so many people think that understanding the historical background has to be a deterrent to faith. As far as I’m concerned, the miracle is that after all the tinkering and all the agendas it’s been filtered through, the Bible still has so much to tell us of God.

  3. Yes, I see much as metaphor like the healing of the blind man – O now I see, I see the way. And my faith does not need miracles and they should not think less of me for it. Do you ever look at parchment and pen blog. Lotta discussion, small smart edu click. But they keep using scripture to validate arguments which is what we do but they can’t see it as a self validating loop which excludes other thinking. I think God of OT is a pretty nasty fellow esp when He(allegedly) helps Israelites murder people of other tribes. I do not want to know that God. They think I am a heretic.

    • I’m not familiar with that site, but I’m not exactly orthodox, myself. And the church I attend is full of other proud heretics 🙂

  4. Janet–
    what a lovely, gentle post. I have missed you!
    Love, indeed, is all there is…the most challenging garment to wear with ease…
    Oh, to be more Christ-like…
    I can be certain I am loving like Christ…then I realize how far away I am from that kind of agape love–the active, acting, giving, kind, non-judgemental love.

    blessings
    jane

    • Thanks, Jane. It’s nice to be missed. I’ve missed keeping up with you, too.


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