It’s difficult not to be discouraged. There’s no way to escape it. The problems of the world are huge. It seems like many people are hell-bent to make them worse. As records indicate that the Earth gets continually warmer each year and models for climate change prove themselves true, the voices of those who deny global warming grow louder. Around the world, refuges flee from war torn countries fearing for their lives and safety while politicians controlled by the wealthy claim that these people are nothing more than “economic refugees” and face no real danger in their countries of origin. Land, sea, and air are pumped full of contaminants tipping the delicate balance of Earth’s ecosystems, yet the survival of life on Earth as we know it is jeopardized for profit. Yes, it’s difficult not to be discouraged. Many scientists wonder how we’ll be able to maintain life on Earth after 2050.
I know many people share this sense of discouragement. It’s unclear how to save the planet from the dangerous course pursued by the few wealthy individuals who influence or buy control of politicians and governments. But corruption, whether the legalized form of corruption found in the United States where special interests have legal protection to buy elections or in the more traditional form of payoffs in developing countries, has long been part of human history. At times when I am most discouraged, I remember the testimony and witness of one of my heroes of the Christian tradition: Julian of Norwich.
I first read Julian’s writing in the early 1980’s. At that time, I was working as a community organizer and direct care-giver to people with AIDS in the early years of that health crisis. When I first encountered a person with AIDS, there wasn’t a clear definition of the syndrome and people died very quickly. There was horrible stigma and, to be honest, I didn’t know if by caring for others that I’d also develop the disease. At that time, no one knew about the HIV or the mode of transmission. I remember reading Julian’s work, The Revelations of Divine Love, very quickly and eagerly. Her life situation seemed to have so much in common with what I was experienced.
Julian lived from 1342 to 1416, spending her life in Norwich, England. She was an anchoress, a kind of hermit who lived in a single room adjacent to a church. She had a window to the outside. People would bring her food, ask for prayer, and seek her wisdom. Her companion was a cat who would come and go from the hermitage.
Julian lived during the Hundred Years War – a century of continual warfare between England and France. The period of her life was encapsulated by the war. As if this was not enough, when she was 30, she suffered from the plague. In her era, bouts of the plague were very common. Norwich, at that time the second largest city in England, lost approximately one third of its residents due to the plague in a three year period around the time of Julian’s illness. It was during her illness, when others thought she would die, that she has a series of revelations or “showings” of God’s love.
Julian clearly understood the fragility of life, her own life as well as all life around her. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that among her revelations is this often quoted image:
(In my revelation, God) “showed me a little thing, the size and quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. It was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And I was answered in this way, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing because of its littleness. In my understanding I was answered: ‘It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their being because of the love of God.’”
Julian understood that all that existed was really quite puny in comparison to the wonder of the Divine. More importantly, as fragile as life truly is, Julian understood that things exist out of love, from a source of generosity that is greater than we can imagine. She knew that love, the gracious generosity as the Divine who is both Mother and Father of creation. (Yes, Julian wrote about God in the feminine, as a mother.)
Julian also knew pain, disease, and the human treachery that led people of power toward greed and war. Even though her lifetime was marked by both continual war and fear of the plague, Julian had great trust and faith. It’s from that confidence that she also wrote, “All shall be well. All shall be well. In all matter of things, all shall be well.”
While a mystic, Julian was not detached from life. While a woman in her culture and era could do little, she did what she could. She welcomed people who came to her window, encouraged them, and offered hope and consolation. It was not within her power to cure the plague nor could she change the politics of war, but she was able to encourage people to continue on and look at the tapestry of life to find meaning and purpose.
As I read Julian’s writings in the early 1980’s, I knew that I could not cure anyone of AIDS. But I could extend myself as best I could. I could be present and be with others along life’s journey. I could trust that even as I lost hundreds of people I knew in that era, that somehow all would be well.
That brings me to today. Honestly, I don’t have the influence to change the hold greed has on society today and the peril avarice is placing on humanity’s very existence. But I can do what I can and use my writing and speaking out to raise awareness. That’s what we all can do. Perhaps when enough of us trust that change is possible and we do what we can, then the tone of dialogue about Earth’s future will change. It is with that hope that I join Julian in saying, yes….all shall be well.
© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.