Sunday, March 15, 2020

Julian of Norwich, The Showings


Opening Passage:

This is a revelacion of love that Jhesu Christ, our endles blisse, made in xvi shewynges, of which the first is of his precious crownyng of thornes. And ther in was conteined and specified the blessed Trinitie with the incarnacion and the unithing betweene God and man's sowle with manie fayer schewynges and techynges of endelesse wisdom and love, iin which all the shewynges that foloweth be groundide and joyned. (p. 3)

Summary: On May 8, 1373, Julian, having prayed for union with Christ by recollection of the Passion, bodily sickness to endure with Christ, and three 'wounds' (contrition, compassion, and longing for God), became ill and began receiving a series of sixteen spiritual experiences in a variety of modes:

1. A vision of Christ's crown of thorns, by which she understood better the ways in which Christ's Passion was a divine act.
2. A vision of the the discoloration of Christ's face, through which she saw that we ultimately need nothing but God.
3. An awareness of God 'in a point', i.e., by pure intellectual understanding, showing that God's providence includes all things.
4. A vision of the scourging of Christ's body, indicating the efficacious plentifulness of Christ's blood.
5. A revelation that the devil is overcome by Christ's Passion.
6. A revelation in which the Lord thanks all of His servants, including Julian, for their service; the Lord's combination of 'homeliness', i.e., intimate approachability, and courtesy, i.e., lordly nobility, being a considerable part of the honor bestowed on those who, as part of His house and court, serve Him.
7. A series of alternating feelings of security and weariness, to indicate that it is necessary for us to experience both.
8. A vision of Christ's painful dying, which can only be understood properly by a combination of pained compassion and calm joy.
9. A brief conversation with Christ, in which Christ emphasizes that He is glad to suffer for us.
10. A vision of Christ's heart broken evenly in two, showing His love for us.
11. A spiritual awareness of the soul of the Holy Virgin as a model of humility and charity.
12. A vision of Christ glorified, saying, "I it am"(p. 39), indicating that He is "all sovereyn being" (p. 4).
13. A revelation in which she is made aware of her sins. It is in this context that we have the extensive discussion of how, despite the wrongness of sin, "alle shalle be wele, and alle shalle be wele, and all maner of thynge shalle be wele" (p. 39).
14. A revelation of God as the foundation of prayer, which will lead to the extended discussion of image of the Lord and the Servant.
15. An assurance that pain and sorrow will be taken away. In this context we have her most developed discussion of Christ as Mother, an idea found also in the Ancrene Wisse; a mother's work is most natural, most loving, and most true, thus making it "nerest, rediest, and suerest" (p. 94), a solid foundation for comfort.
16. A revelation on the following night of how the Trinity indwells the soul, so that the faithful will not be overcome.

While The Short Text primarily focuses on the content of the revelations and what Julian immediately or shortly thereafter learned from it, The Long Text, which I read, is the fruit of long years of reflection on the underlying themes, and makes especially clear that these revelations are not separate, and not understandable individually, but are a unity. Julian regularly uses one showing to help explain another. Even if you were to bracket the highly interesting and often excellent theological discussion, Julian's Showings is an extraordinary look at the nature of interpretation, showing how much depth of meaning you can find when you don't just take images and ideas to exhibit themselves individually, but read them together as mutually interpreting.

But, of course, the theology is precisely the greatest attraction of the work, and the source of much of its beauty, as its obviously intelligent author in simple but vigorous language, and with a poetic knack for parallelism and metaphor, draws on a long history of anchoritic spirituality to argue that Christ through His Passion provides a sure basis for life.

Favorite Passage:

And fro the tyme that it was shewde, I desyerde oftyn tymes to wytt in what was oure Lord's menyng. And xv yere after and mor I was answeryd in gostly understondyng, seyen thus, "Waht, woldest thou wytt thy Lordes menyng in this thyng? Wytt it wele, love was his menyng. Who shewyth it the? Love. Wherfore shewyth he it the? For love. Holde the therin, thou shalt wytt more in the same. But thou schalt nevyr witt therin other withoutyn ende." (p. 124)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Julian of Norwich, The Showings of Julian of Norwich, Baker, ed. Norton (New York: 2005).