Contemplation of Julian of Norwich’s Six Understandings

From the Abbey of Iona--Time of Pilgrimmage

This blog is a condensed version of the contemplative prayer session facilitated at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church during Sunday School in West Huntington.

To be a mystic is to be a person who wants to connect more deeply with God, the Mystery. Read the following excerpts from Revelations of Love.  Then follow the instructions for the time of contemplation:

“Let us first be clear what is a mystic. We can define such a person as having heightened perception of God and receiving thereby direct tangible communication from him. It is my belief that we ought not to set the mystic apart from ourselves, as somebody peculiar or star struck. Rather is there mystic in us all, if only we will attend. Certainly that is how Julian felt: all our common calling in this life is to come to know God and experience the touching of his love.”  A Revelation of Love, Julian of Norwich edited and translated by John Skinner. New York: Doubleday Image Books. 1997. Preface: xi

All the while I saw this copious bleeding, I cold not cease from saying, “Benedicite, Domine!” In this revelation I understood six points: the first is the signs of his blessed [1]passion and the plentiful shedding of his precious blood; the second is the Maiden that is his own dear Mother; the third is the blissful Godhead that always was, is, and every shall be, almighty, all wise, and all love; the fourth is all that he has made–I know full well both heaven and earth and all things he has made are great and large, fair and good: only it seemed so little in my sight because it was shown in the presence of him who is the Maker of it all. When a soul sees the Maker, all that he made appears as a very little thing. The fifth is the Maker of all that made it for love: and by this same love is it kept[2], and shall be without end, as I have said earlier; the sixth is that God is all that is good, and the good that is in all things, that is he, as I see it.  A Revelation of Love, Julian of Norwich. P. 17.

Six Points for Contemplation from Julian’ of Norwich’s understanding of the first showing she received from Jesus.

Select One,

read it several times.

Pray for God to give you fresh insight.

Sit for twenty minutes perhaps repeating the whole sentence you chose, or a word from it, drawing your mind into focus, or picture the image the sentence you chose brings to your mind’s eye.

1. the first is the signs of his blessed[3] passion and the plentiful shedding of his precious blood

2. the second is the Maiden that is his own dear Mother

3. the third is the blissful Godhead that always was, is, and every shall be, almighty, all wise, and all love

4. the fourth is all that he has made–I know full well both heaven and earth and all things he has made are great and large, fair and good: only it seemed so little in my sight because it was shown in the presence of him who is the Maker of it all. When a soul sees the Maker, all that he made appears as a very little thing.

5. The fifth is the Maker of all that made it for love: and by this same love is it kept[4], and shall be without end, as I have said earlier

6. the sixth is that God is all that is good, and the good that is in all things, that is he, as I see it

[1] Blissid: “blessed” in the sense of bringing bliss. Yet the first blessing (Exodus 12: 13) was in blood; thus Julian identifies Christ’s passion as the source of future bliss.

[2] Julian’s notion of keeping is again a key concept. The Maker is both our creator and initiator yet—like a gardener who sows in order to tend–he too keeps and nurtures us. This she describes as God’s working with which she would have us collaborate continually

Once you have finished sitting silently contemplating, journal what this experience was like.  Expect to gain insight in some way. 

The word God is a term for Mystery: The Hebrew Bible contains great wisdom around the mystery of God. It uses two names for God: Elohim/Eloah, and Yahweh. Elohim has the form of a masculine plural, Eloah has the form of a feminine singular. Both are translated into English as God. Elohim and Eloah emerge from a great melting pot of cultures and civilizations stretching from India to Ethiopia (Esther 1: 1-2), where many gods are honored, both male and female. ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord’ is not a pointless tautology, but the radical proclamation that all the gods are one. The continued use of Elohim/Eloah throughout the Hebrew Bible acknowledges a reality that is complex and mysterious, unconstrained by gender, often appropriately plural, containing and embracing all goodness, all divinity, and ultimately all existence. God Without God. Michael Hampson. www.tikkun.org. May/June 2008.

 

What is a Mystic?

The All Seeing Eye, Aachen Cathedral Germany

Mystics are people who have a direct connection to God–but they aren’t different from anyone else; rather they are people who practice the religious tenets of love and compassion, trying to purify their hearts and do right by others and be respectful of all life, aware nothing is created by themselves, but all is grace. They are also steeped in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and meditation.

Such disciplines open up a communication to an inner realm where rational knowledge ceases, where human achievement is passé, and where a place of connection to the mystery of God is attained.

The practice of mysticism leads to deeper awareness of oneself and of the connectedness of all of humanity and nature. It leads to the understanding that we are all One and are all eternal, that we need not fear death but can trust the uprising of Spirit to guide us in ways that are for our good and the greater good of all life.

The unknowable, according to  Schopenhauer,[27] mystics arrive at a condition in which there is no knowing subject and known object:

… we see all religions at their highest point end in mysticism and mysteries, that is to say, in darkness and veiled obscurity. These really indicate merely a blank spot for knowledge, the point where all knowledge necessarily ceases. Hence for thought this can be expressed only by negations, but for sense-perception it is indicated by symbolical signs, in temples by dim light and silence, in Brahmanism even by the required suspension of all thought and perception for the purpose of entering into the deepest communion with one’s own self, by mentally uttering the mysterious Om. In the widest sense, mysticism is every guidance to the immediate awareness of what is not reached by either perception or conception, or generally by any knowledge. The mystic is opposed to the philosopher by the fact that he begins from within, whereas the philosopher begins from without. The mystic starts from his inner, positive, individual experience, in which he finds himself as the eternal and only being, and so on. But nothing of this is communicable except the assertions that we have to accept on his word; consequently he is unable to convince.

Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. II, Ch. XLVIII

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mysticism

Aachen Cathedral
Aachen Cathedral, Germany

Quit your day job to become a writer?

This is an icon of Julian of Norwich. She was purported to be the first woman to write a book–back in the 1300s. It is a classic of mysticism. I don’t believe it ever earned her a penny, and even if it had, she wouldn’t have needed it since she became an anchoress (a hermit) who lived in a ten by ten cell attached to a little church.

Fortunately, we writers of today don’t need to live in such a small place, or do we!

Should you quit your day job? I did!

Over twenty years ago, I quit my job to become a writer. I wanted an authentic new way of life. People told me not to do it. My husband was angry that I gave up a $40,000/year job which back then was quite a lot of income. We later divorced–not entirely the outcome of my deciding to be a writer which was a symptom of wanting a more vital life.

Has becoming a writer been more meaningful than being a chemist, the job I chucked?

I have had a lot of freedom. I have never missed mixing chemicals. I got specialized training in ministry and spirituality which fascinate me, subjects I never would have had the energy or time to study before. I have never starved, but had I needed to provide for children, my choices would have been more difficult and different.

The plusses outweigh the negatives, but my income has been seriously low for a long time and I’ve had to live off the guy who is my second husband. I hate being dependent, but luckily my guy is also a writer, so he understands. He also worked as a professor, a job he enjoyed, which paid our bills.

I do not regret having left a job I never felt much passion for, and I have learned so much on this writer-journey. I have learned the first flow of writing is a wonderful high, but doesn’t last. Kindof like that guy or gal who is so perfect. You must have him or her. But then…

Creative moments need to be honed, shaped, and rewritten from an analytical rather than subjective point of view. That first flush of words seems marvelous, but upon a deeper look, those words are in need of serious revision. In relationships, you gotta hang out with the other, get to know him or her, give selflessly to him or her, forget about yourself, learn new things, be open to fresh possibilities. It’s the same with writing novels.  You make a commitment to do the work, try to forget your presuppositions and dig deeper for something worthwhile, something others might enjoy or find useful.

An editor/publisher suggested to me long ago I ought to take a class in how to write. I was not deeply offended, but I didn’t get it. I thought I could write. Sure, I had down grammar and sentence structure, which aspiring writers had better understand, but I hadn’t yet opened a creative artery. It took me years to develop the skills necessary to write creatively. It’s true of relationships and of writing–if it’s to be worthwhile, don’t give up, work on it…

Hopefully, in the twenty years or so I’ve been struggling to write meaningful prose, I have become a fairly decent writer.

You decide.

Buy my books!

 

Empowered to Write: Indies

To write simply is as difficult as to be good. – Somerset Maugham

When I first encountered the term “Indies,” I had no idea who or what this meant. I soon learned this was the shortened version for Independent Publishers, meaning the people who self-publish their books.

Amazon and other big Internet companies have made it easy for writers to create e-books and make them available to a large market.

Vanity Publishing is the term used for those who pay someone to publish their work. In general, vanity publishers do not discriminate because their goal is to make money for themselves, not serve a selective public. Same with Print on Demand companies–they are out to earn their keep, not yours!

Indies need to be discriminating too about just what they put online. It is folly to think your work is awesome, amazing and about to hit the big time. It is quite natural, though, to believe your work is astounding, important, and full of meaning because it is your “baby.” We always think our infants are incredibly attractive and if anyone tells us they aren’t, we are offended. When it comes to our writing projects, perhaps we ought to be grateful for honest opinions from professional editors when they are kind enough to tell us what they really think.

Yet, over the years, it has become clear to me that opinions about my books are like tax returns prepared by different accountants. The answers are never the same twice and often contradictory.

Most full time writers do not earn more than $10,000 a year. And those are the lucky ones. I’d hoped to achieve that modest amount when I became a writer over twenty years ago. I have earned just about nothing. 

George Ella Lyon, a well-known Kentucky writer, gave a keynote address about writing for children at the Carnegie Center in Pittsburgh. It was over fifteen years ago, but I’ve always remembered her humility and wisdom. She said the most important thing about writing is to be deeply engaged in the process. Satisfaction must arise from the writing not the hoped for outcome. Validation may never come. It has taken me years to live into that idea. I have struggled with hundreds of rejections, near-misses, and a desire to throw in the writer-towel.

Independent publishing has been a blessing for me and could be for any serious writer. I never thought I’d enjoy putting my books on Kindle, but as it turns out, it has been an enormous amount of fun, and also empowering. I have even sold a few books which is in itself surprising to me after all these years, plus I get a seventy percent royalty. Of course, seventy percent of nothing is still zero.

The satisfaction of seeing your books available to the public is an encouragement. I am inspired to keep on writing stories and essays because I have a surefire way to make them available to people who might just find them interesting and worthwhile.

So get to it–put those books online–but make sure they are your very best and you’ve taken the time to edit, copy-edit, revise, and rewrite. Don’t expect the moon. Simply enjoy the process.

Julian of Norwich: Vision of Jesus

 

Julian received sixteen showings from Jesus. Revelations of Love, the record of her experiences, upon which she contemplated for many years, grew into a longer book, full of fresh insights about the nature of God that are relevant today.

Sometimes she actually saw bodily visions of Jesus.

Visions are similar to dreams except the person having the vision is aware of normal everyday events surrounding them and also that what they are seeing is real but not actually within the physical realm. It seems possible that because Julian was close to death, she had one foot in this world and one foot in the next.

An important question to ask oneself or a person claiming to have visions of God is what is the fruit? What good comes from this vision? If it is truly of God, then it will be something that is not damaging but helps in some way. Psychotic delusions might seem real but they cause damage to the recipient and can result in harm to others.

Julian’s fruit was not only that she survived what seemed certain death, but she lived long enough to write down her experience and interpret it for others so that many might understand that God is a force of love and goodness, which radiates through even the ugliest and most difficult of circumstances.

Here is an excerpt from Julian, followed by reflections/meditations

Background: Julian of Norwich sees a bodily vision of Jesus with the crown of thorns around his head:

“And all the while this bleeding was still visible, I came to see and understand many things. Yet there was nothing like its vivid, lifelike quality.

For the sheer flow of blood was like drops of water coming from thatch eaves after a heavy shower of rain, when they come so thick and fast that you may not chance to count them.

Again, as they spread all rounded across the forehead, I was reminded of herring scales.

In fact, I could not rid my mind of these three homely images–pellets, so round were the droplets as they first appeared, herring scales for their same roundness as they spread; raindrops from the eaves of a house so countless were they in number.

This showing was vivid and lifelike, hideous and dreadful, sweet[1] and lovely. But of all the things I saw, this was my greatest comfort: that our good Lord, who is so holy and so much to be feared, is at the same instant so homely[2] and courteous.

This warmed me full of love and comforted my very soul.

…But on this earth no one can know this marvelous homeliness, unless our Lord shows it specially, or with some excess of grace it is given inwardly of the Holy Spirit.”

from Revelations of Love. Julian of Norwich, edited and translated by John Skinner. New York: Doubleday Image Books. 1997. p. 15.

        In a sense, all human being are wearing a crown of thorns. Julian calls the crown imposed upon Jesus a garland, recognizing that even the most bitter of times and circumstances can become illumination of God’s radiance.

        She understands that even herring scales, a smelly waste from a common domestic chore, does not diminish the light of God.

These bony protective scales when scraped away reveal a healthy high-protein fish, one that’s been a source of food to people for thousands of years.

Thus, Julian teaches that God’s love moves through even the most common, the most ordinary, to become a source of spiritual nourishment. 

Reflections:

1. Read Julian’s words several times. What does she seem to be saying to you? Are there any words or phrases or images that get your attention? Think about them. What do you associate with them?

2. What is a common experience in your life that might be illuminated by God to make it extraordinary? What teaches you fresh awareness? What moves you to action for the greater good of others?

 


[1] Sweet means to be savored, to be tasted; used of spiritual salivation that quickens the soul’s appetite; especially belonging to the person of Christ.

[2]  Homely means belonging to the home, domestic; hence familiar. It bears the same insight when used in this context as Christ bidding his disciples call his Father Abba, which they immediately knew as the most familiar address possible.

 

Forsythia Wisdom

We planted this forsythia years ago at the side of a grassy strip on the top of our “mountain” where the land falls off, giving way to a cliff, overgrown with weeds, pine trees, and saplings.

We fed it with humus and kept the honeysuckle at bay, but season after season it sat there never seeming to grow much. Occasionally, we’d notice a single blossom–not exactly thrilling but at least a sign of life. We didn’t blame it–our gardening skills are not great and the soil is only inches deep hardly covering the rocky substratum. Plus it is in a shady spot. Not exactly a promising setting for this shrub to thrive.

Yet, this year, the forsythia, though still not a massive shrub, seems to be shining with life–and we are pleased to see its many little flowers on its sparse but distinguishable branches.

Perhaps this particular forsythia is a teacher of patience: never give up, for one day you will blossom, perhaps not in an amazing display that everyone applauds, but perhaps on a lonesome hillside where you are the only brightness in a difficult place, and though no one will ever award you prizes, nevertheless there are some whose hearts and senses are brightened by your persistent presence.

Books for Sale

 
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Wisdom of Julian of Norwich

As I continue my reading of Revelations of Love by Julian of Norwich, I continue to learn from this amazing fourteenth century mystic.

This woman is only thirty years old, sure she is going to die, and so are those at her bedside. The priest is there to give her the last rites.

Even as she feels her body failing–her lower extremities are completely dead, and a numbness begins to overtake her upper body, making it hard for her to breathe, unable to feel anything–she fearlessly approaches death.

Then the “showings,” as she calls her revelations from Jesus, begin.

At the same time, he showed me something small, about the size of a hazelnut, that seemed to lie in the palm of my hand as round as a tiny ball. I tried to understand the sight of it, wondering what it could possibly mean. The answer came: “This is all that is made.” I felt it was so small that it could easily fade to nothing; but again I was told, ‘This lasts and it will go on lasting forever because God loves it. And so it is with every being that God loves.’

I saw three properties about this tiny object. First, God had made it; second, God loves it; and third, that God keeps it. Yet what this really means to me, that he is the Maker, the Keeper, the Lover, I cannot begin to tell.

Revelation of Love, Julian of Norwich edited and translated by John Skinner. New York: Doubleday Image Books. 1997. 9-11

When I think about the significance of Julian seeing a hazelnut, I understand this is a common object from her time, something hard-shelled containing within it a tasty morsel. I remember from my girlhood enjoying Cadbury’s hazelnut chocolate. Very tasty indeed! Hazelnuts are rather small and perhaps that is how Julian viewed life–as something contained. Certainly, her life as a woman in medieval times allowed her only limited choices. Yet, this symbol of the hazelnut reveals God’s immense love, that God is found in the “homely” (this term, used by Julian, means domestic and ordinary things), and also shows that although we are our bodies, there is a greater spiritual reality. God is the ground of our being and much more. God is wholeness and God is mystery. When the hard shell is cracked, the inner morsel is revealed. And it is good!

Following is a meditation to practice the love of God.  

Practicing the Presence of God Meditation

God’s love is awesome, beyond our imaginings, and yet we can and do know it through the love we experience in our daily lives.

Sit quietly listening to meditative music. Bring to mind an experience of love in your life. It can be a time when you felt deeply touched by the love of someone else: friend, mother, father, neighbor, a pet, being in nature, in a choir, etc. Or it can be the sense of love you feel for someone else: child, pet, group, family, the ocean, etc.  The goal is to allow yourself to not only think about this love but to also feel this love.

You are the beloved of God.

Abundance

 I don’t know what these little blue flowers are called, but to me they are a sign of grace and so I’ve named them abundance.

They seem to come out of nowhere long before any other spring flowers show. Their delicate blue petals glow and fill the yard with light.

This year it made me happy to see honey bees coming for nectar. I watched them fly from tiny flower to tiny flower. I could hear the deep strumming of their wings.

This display of plenty makes me appreciate what is so close and so often unnoticed. The photo does not do justice to the experience of standing amongst such sweetness in my backyard. I wonder how often we miss the nearby richness of the earth, searching for something grand like a rare orchid.

 

This cattlea intermedia orchid (Cattleya_intermedia.jpg‎) is exquisite, and to be greatly appreciated, but the nectar of grace is found in the humble moments too.

It makes me glad to be one of many little people struggling through life, not famous, not particularly important, and yet gloriously connected to the tissue of humanity who arise and paint the earth with color, even if only for the fleeting time of spring.

Terrible Toes historical novel, England, 1950s

My latest novel is now on Kindle. Cost is $3.05. Note the amazing cover! I did not do it :-) If you are interested in historical fiction, life in England in the 1950s, you might like this. I wrote it for children but I am hoping people of any age might enjoy it. It’s available on http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007J30JJI

Book Description: Set in 1950s London, this is a historically accurate story about an intelligent girl who wants and deserves a fine education, but is powerless against class discrimination.
The trauma of rejection, especially when it is unjustified against a powerless child, always hurts. People cope in different ways.
Lesley, the ten-year-old heroine in the story, projects her anxiety onto her feet, convinced, while she is waiting to hear if she got into an elite British girls’ school, that there is something very wrong with her toes.
Although written for children, this is a book for anyone interested in the lives of working class people in Britain during the 1950s. The book is 120 pages in length.