Through this parable, Julian understands that “our soul may never have rest in any thing that is beneath itself.” And when the soul rises above all creatures in a state of contemplative prayer, it cannot even rest in beholding itself. It must set its concentration on the vastness of God’s presence within the soul. “For in man’s soul is his [God’s] true dwelling,” and “the highest light and the brightest shining of the city” within that soul is God’s glorious love. And what could make the soul happier than to know that God “delights in us, the highest of all his works”?
For I saw in the same shewing that if the blessed trinity might have made man’s soul any better, any fairer, any nobler than it was, he [God] should not have been fully pleased with the making of man’s soul. But because the trinity made man’s soul as beautiful, as good, as precious a creature as it might make it, therefore the blessed trinity is fully pleased without end in the making of man’s soul. And he [God] wills that our hearts be mightily raised above the depths of the earth and all vain sorrows, and rejoice in him.
This was a delectable sight and a restful shewing that is without end. And the beholding of this while we are here, it is very pleasant to God, and a very great benefit to us. And the soul that thus beholds, makes itself like to him that it is beheld, and [God] wonneth [unites] it in rest and in peace by his grace. And this was a singular joy and bliss to me that I saw him sit, for the sekernesse [security] of sitting shewed endless dwelling.
Julian takes great comfort in this final Revelation that God dwells in her soul. And she is certain that God wants us all to take the same comfort through the practice of “beholding.” This type of contemplative prayer (waiting on God, in stillness, without asking for anything) gives God great pleasure and the soul great profit. Such silent prayer forms the soul into a truer image and likeness of the very One who is being contemplated.
Julian is especially delighted that she saw the Lord seated in her soul (rather than standing or moving), because sitting symbolizes the familiar rest one takes at home, in complete contentment, peace, and love. God is not going anywhere. It is we who rush about, too busy with our lives and too distracted by our sufferings to take time to experience his inward presence. He thirsts for us to “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Ps 46:10). And if we come to him with our labors and our heavy burdens, he promises to give us true rest (Mt 11:28). Julian rejoices that God’s true dwelling is forever in the soul. As Christ said to his disciples: “the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21).
Each of us is personally invited to spend time in silence and stillness to “behold” the presence of the Lord within. Every morning and evening, we are called to stop all other activities, let go our worries, fears, and even our hopes, in order to rest in the Lord. There, in silence, we become aware of our breath, allowing it to move through our body gently, without forcing or controlling its rhythm in any way. As the breath calms the body, we experience a sense of equanimity. We become aware of the many thoughts passing by in our mind, as if playing on a movie screen in front of us. But we do not let ourselves become distracted by anything that appears. We do not get involved with the movie! Instead, we simply observe our thoughts arising and fading out, not latching on to any of them. We do not try to understand or change or fix anything. We simply become aware that we are, indeed, aware. And we remain silent in the stillness of this awareness. With practice, we may become aware that the ground of our own awareness is not separate from the ground of Christ’s awareness: God our Father and Mother. Then we allow Christ’s own awareness to enfold and embrace us. As we go deeper and deeper into a state of contemplative prayer, beholding the vastness of God’s loving presence within the soul, we begin to realize what Julian did: that “the soul that thus beholds, makes itself like to him that it is beheld, and [God] wonneth it in rest and in peace by his grace." Blessings to all!
NOTE: Excerpts above and translations from the Middle English are from my book, Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf.