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An Explorer's Guide to Julian of Norwich
by Veronica Mary Rolf
An Explorer's Guide to Julian of Norwich
by Veronica Mary Rolf
"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."
Starred Review in Publishers Weekly, April 9th, 2018:
"In this exquisite book, scholar of medieval studies Rolf (Julian’s Gospel) introduces medieval mystic and Christian theologian Julian of Norwich in all her astonishing brightness. The quote “all shall be well” is popular on bracelets and inspirational cards, but rarely given the context intended by its original author, Julian. Veronica Mary Rolf argues that Julian’s 16 mystical revelations (or “shewings”) from Christ should be studied alongside Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales—not least because she was the first woman to write a book (let alone a spiritual autobiography) in the English language. Rolf guides readers through the English Peasant Revolts, the Hundred Years’ War, the Great Papal Schism, and the Great Plague’s destruction of one-third of human life on Earth to establish the political and ecological collapse in which Julian prays and writes. She makes her case for why Julian was probably the daughter of a cloth merchant, educated in the public system of the time, and likely a mother and wife whose husband and child had died. Julian’s remarkable visions with Christ as mother, birthing his children, and the intricate cosmos revealed to her as a “common hazelnut” carry explosive spiritual power. Rolf plumbs Julian’s spiritual audacity in this must-read for those interested in medieval Christianity and literature." (June)
Review by Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation, New Mexico:
"The grand and optimistic vision of Lady Julian is fully presented and profoundly supported in this excellent guide by Veronica Mary Rolf. I have been fed for many years by Julian, but this is a new and generous feeding. It can serve as a first-time introduction to this marvelous mystic or a fifth-time deeper journey."
Review in Catholic San Francisco, July 12th, 2018:
Author and scholar Veronica Mary Rolf delights in her subject, Julian of Norwich, the medieval mystic who was an anchoress enclosed for 25 years. Rolf’s just published book, “An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich,” brings us into the world of a woman who counsels us not just to love God, but “to clothe ourselves in the love of God.” Julian is deeply personal. She is both down-to-earth and mystical, and fascinating to so many. Her “Revelations of Divine Love,” written in both a Short and Long Text from the 1370s to her death in about 1416, is also the first book in English by a woman.
A medieval woman who was considered “unlettered” because she didn’t read Latin, Julian has caught the imagination of a wide public that longs for a personal relationship with God. Most of us know her from the quotation “All Shall be Well,” which appears on bookmarks and posters. A Google search brings up meditations, daily readings, statues and novels about Julian. “I fully expect an app on your phone,” said Rolf. But concerned that it might be her strangeness that attracts the public to Julian, Rolf wants us to know her, understand her mystical theology, and let her move us to intimate faith, not just fascination.
Rolf has both a scholarly and a personal knowledge of the 14th-century mystic. Julian has been in her life since high school. She spent years researching her previous book, “Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich.” “When I first read Julian 40 years ago, it was the first time I heard the Gospel in a woman’s voice,” said Rolf. “But Julian has become a bit of celebrity,” she said. “I’m trying to get to the real Julian in my book. Until you have studied the whole of her writings, she could be misinterpreted or too easily modernized.”
Rolf wrote “The Guide” at the invitation of her publisher, InterVarsity Academic Press, to lead a young audience to understand Julian’s life and to put her writings in a historical and theological context. “The Guide” is also excellent for readers of every age who want to begin a companionship with Julian. This extraordinary woman lived during the Hundred Years War and survived the Great Plague, which devastated Julian’s community and probably her family as well. When she was near death at the age of 30, she experienced visions of Christ on the cross that answered her burning questions about sin, suffering and salvation. She meditated on and wrote about these “Revelations,” seeking understanding for the rest of her life.
Rolf herself is a guide who knows so much about her subject that she can explain it simply. She answers basic questions about Julian: What is an anchorage? Was Julian a wife and mother? What is the significance of the hazelnut? How did Julian gain her theological knowledge? The heart of the book is Rolf’s comments on each of the “Revelations of Divine Love.” She explains each one for the impact it can have on our faith, choosing specific passages to highlight that she calls “Julian’s Gems.”
Although Julian focuses on God’s powerful and all-embracing love, Rolf is insistent that Julian is not a simple, happy saint who always sees only the bright side of life. “She was not your little dancing flower. She had been through the worst of human suffering and she understood that Christ on the cross transforms all of it.” “Julian realizes that Christ is in the ditch of life with us,” Rolf said. “He is not judging us. There is no wrath or blame; there is only compassion for the suffering we undergo for our mistakes – personal, familial, communal or global. He is not ‘sending’ suffering. Julian’s message to our age is that God is unconditionally loving and merciful.”
Rolf focuses on how the mystical dimension can illuminate our faith, if we allow it to do so. As a longtime teacher of Christian meditation, her mission is to bring the mystical experience into our lives today through the practice of contemplative prayer. Rolf even offers a chapter on making a retreat with Julian’s “Revelations.” As she begins the explanation of the “Revelations,” Rolf links them to the present. “If we examine our lives carefully, we may realize that we have had spiritual experiences of our own, revelations or sudden insights we cannot explain … These encounters with God … become powerful sources of strength in hard times – that is, if we remember them.”
“Julian’s message is one of confirmation and affirmation. That is why she is so relevant to our times.” Women have joined men on the mystical path for centuries, but now is a time particularly in need of a woman’s perspective. Julian’s voice speaks to us across 600 years. It is a voice we need to hear.
“With an encyclopedic knowledge unfolded with the lightest of touches in a beautiful, soigné text, Veronica Mary Rolf enables us to travel back in time and vividly inhabit Julian’s fourteenth-century Norwich as well as her remarkable life and writings. Rolf’s guide is so brilliant that when we reluctantly return to our equally troubled twenty-first century, Julian travels with us and intimately inhabits and transforms our world and outlook. Stunning, unforgettable, and life changing.”
-- Right Reverend David Wilbourne, Honorary Assistant Bishop of York, England
"Rolf’s work is more than an informative guide by an expert in Julian scholarship. The reader begins to feel the heartbeat of this great mystic as the author works around key texts and highlights choice quotations. This could only have come from someone who is intimately acquainted with her. Whether one is a first-time or seasoned explorer, this book will not disappoint." -- Simon Chan, PhD, Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology and Dean of Studies at Trinity Theological College, Singapore
"Veronica Mary Rolf skillfully reveals the historical significance and contemporary relevance of Julian of Norwich. In our renewed interest in the writings of Christian spirituality, Lady Julian can instruct us in the centrality of the Trinity, the nature of sin and grace, God’s providence, and suffering and prayer. Rolf serves as a wise and gentle guide to illuminate both first time and seasoned readers. This book is deeply learned and highly practical." -- Tom Schwanda, PhD, Associate Professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College, Illinois
"Taking on the role of tour guide, Veronica Mary Rolf leads us on an engaging, vivid, and historically rich journey with Julian of Norwich. A figure both familiar and mystifying, Julian comes into view with gentle clarity through Rolf's accessible and deeply researched voice. I highly recommend this book to spiritual seekers, retreat leaders, and scholars alike."
-- Jennifer Davidson, PhD, Associate Professor of Theology & Worship, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA
"Julian of Norwich is among the most radiant of Christian mystics. The radiance is all the brighter for Julian's frankness in questioning the darkness she experienced in her culture and in herself in a deeply troubled time. The unequivocal and insatiable love of God for all his creatures rings in her words throughout her book. Veronica Mary Rolf is a scholar with a deep heart that probes the mysteries Julian probes and uses her historical and textual research to shed clarity and light on Julian's teaching that speaks to our own time with increasing urgency." -- Andrew Marr, OSB, Abbot of St. Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan
"Julian of Norwich is an underappreciated gem—she belongs alongside Augustine and Aquinas as one of the greatest of Christian spiritual guides. Thanks to Veronica Mary Rolf, the life and teachings of this great mystic are more accessible than ever. An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich offers a clear and insightful introduction to Julian, one of the treasures of our faith." -- Carl McColman, author of Befriending Silence and Answering the Contemplative Call
Also by Veronica Mary Rolf
Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich
Orbis Books: Maryknoll, NY
Julian's Gospel is an award-winning study of the Life and Revelations of Julian of Norwich, the beloved and highly influential fourteenth century Christian mystic. This is the first book to combine a detailed historical reconstruction of Julian's life in medieval Norwich with a comprehensive commentary on her Revelations in a new and faithful translation from the Middle English. Unlike other brief summaries of Julian's life and times, this book goes in-depth to uncover the political, cultural, social, and religious milieu that formed and deeply influenced her development as a woman and a mystic. Also unlike other textual companions to Julian's work that provide only short explanations of Middle English words, or merely footnote theological terms, this work gives the reader a detailed analysis of her writings, illuminating her ground-breaking mystical theology with extensive scholarship. Throughout, the book creates a strong dramatic arc for Julian's Revelations that interweaves her personal sufferings and burning questions with her visionary experiences, producing a compelling spiritual biography.
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"It is possible that Veronica Mary Rolf’s book will become the definitive work on Julian of Norwich. Her book is a masterpiece of scholarly historical research and amazing theological insight into Julian’s Revelations, one of the classics of medieval spirituality." Catholic Library World Quarterly