It’s been my guilty pleasure for the summer. Yes, a guilty pleasure: something a bit out of my mainstream that I’ve really enjoyed. I hated to see it end. It was the perfect thing for me to do before bed on these summer evenings.
Over the last two months, I’ve watched the Showtime series, The Tudors. The series is an account of the court of King Henry VIII and his six wives. Yes, it’s been a very hot, steamy, and often violent account that took liberties with the historical record to spice up the story. Perhaps from that you’ll understand why I call it a guilty pleasure. I am guilty of having taken a great deal of viewing pleasure in the series. But it also provided food for thought.
The time span of Henry VIII’s reign is much like our own. The church was corrupt. The political realm was divided. The decadent life style of the upper class rulers led to a serious national deficit as the rich became richer and the poor became poorer. Many of the socio-political divisions in England were wrapped in theological language but, much like America today, the division was a kind of culture war. In addition, there were unwinnable wars, outbreaks of the plague, and a variety of socio-economic problems. Indeed, the realm of King Henry seems not much different from the world we live in today.
What struck me in the series was the way a simple phrase lifted from one of the great British spiritual masters was repeated: all shall be well. This phrase is taken from the writings of Julian of Norwich who lived 200 years before Henry VIII.
Suffering from a severe illness, thought by many to be the Black Plague, Julian had a series of revelations that she referred to as showings. Through these showings, she came to understand the great depth of love the Mother-God holds for humanity. (Yes, Julian describes the Divine as Mother.) Her response to life after the experience of these showings was a simple affirmation: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
In the midst of watching The Tudors, viewing the political intrigue that lead to the beheading and burning at the stake of the enemies of various politicos, I wondered what it could mean in the midst of such treachery to affirm that all shall be well. What does it mean for us today, particularly in the United States, as the economic down-turn continues, with high unemployment, hundreds of thousands forced to give up homes, and countless others swimming in debt while the rich seem to just get richer? Seniors continue to make serious choices between food or medicines too costly for their modest budgets. The rate of infant mortality increases and diseases once thought eradicated have begun to reappear. With a government divided and seemingly unconcerned with the lives of the average citizen, how can one look into the future with the hope that all shall be well?
The affirmation that all shall be well can be a spiritualized statement that ignores the serious problems we face. Yet, I don’t believe that Julian’s initial statement was a sugar-coating meant to make a bitter pill easier to swallow. Instead, by looking at the serious problems of life squarely and recognizing their complexity, to soberly respond that all shall be well was Julian’s profound statement of faith in the resiliency of the human spirit.
In the series, the Tudors, Sir Thomas Moore said to his jailer before he was beheaded: the only difference between you and me and that I know the hour of my death. But our fate is the same. Recognizing that for all of us life ends in death, Thomas Moore also understood that the way in which one lives from moment till moment up to the time of death is what is most important of life. For Moore, that meant living with integrity to self and what he knew to be true.
All shall be well. Julian made that affirmation recognizing that many people around her were dying our a disease no understood in her era. Faced with death, she trusted that life would somehow prevail. In that, she remained true to herself and her sense of vocation to live with reverence towards life.
All shall be well. It’s my conviction that Julian’s affirmation can be true for us today. What will make this affirmation true is not some magical correction of our social problems. Instead, all shall be well as we, individually, live with integrity and work to make the world be better place for tomorrow. Yes, all shall be well, not because a Divine Being takes away our troubles. Instead, all shall be well because we choose to live together with others in ways that cause forward progress in the quality of life for all people.
I’ve now viewed all 38 episodes of The Tudors. The hot, steamy series was great for summer time leisure. Even more importantly, the series caused me to remember that in the midst of complex social and political times, one can say with faith and reverence: All shall be well. Yes, in all manner of things, all shall be well.
© 2011, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.