And after this, I saw with bodily sight in the face of the crucifix that hung before me, in which I beheld continually a part of his passion: contempt, spitting, soiling, and buffeting, and many languring [exhausting] pains, more than I can tell, and often changing of color. And one time I saw how half the face, beginning at the ear, was spread over with dried blood till it beclosed the middle of his face. And after that the other half was beclosed in the same way, and thereafter it vanished in this part, even as it came.
Julian is full of gratitude for what she sees, but also feels unbearable longing for what she cannot see.
For I saw him and sought him. For we are now so blind and so unwise that we can never seek God till that time that he of his goodness shows himself to us. And when we see anything of him graciously, then we are stirred by the same grace to seek with great desire to see him more blissfully. And thus I saw him and sought him, and I had him and wanted him. And this is and should be our common working in this life, as to my sight.
It strikes Julian that, because of human blindness and lack of wisdom, even the initial desire to seek God must come through his goodness already revealing itself to the soul before the soul knows how to ask. This is the work of what has been called “prevenient grace.” And then, when the soul “sees” a little, it may be stirred by grace to see and seek even more. Julian must have known that Christ had said to his followers: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Mt 7:7–8, Lk 11:9–10). What she had not realized before was that it is God’s own goodness that impels the soul to ask, to search, to knock.
Julian understands that this is the way the spiritual path must always proceed: forever seeking and seeing, then not seeing (or losing), and seeking again. She admits that even in her vision when she “saw him,” she continued to seek him. And when she “had him” visibly before her, she “wanted him” even more . . . She feels paralyzed, not by her illness, but by the very nature of the vision itself. She can only look on her Lord and receive as much or as little as he wishes to reveal to her. She is so close to seeing him totally, “to have and to hold,” as in the marriage vow. Yet she knows the vision may disappear momentarily and she will not have seen it well enough to last a lifetime. Will he appear to her again? Will she ever touch him?
Julian realizes that she must not cling to her deepest heartfelt desire to experience, to see, to hold onto her Beloved Lord. She must now and always walk in the semi-darkness of faith:
For he [God] wills that we believe that we see him continually, though we think that it be but little, and in this belief he makes us evermore to gain grace. For he will be seen, and he will be sought, and he will be abiden [waited for] and he will be trusted.
In reliving this extraordinary inner journey years later, Julian feels compelled to tell the reader (as if speaking to us, face to face) that it is God’s will that “we believe we see him continually” in every aspect of our lives: in this blessed event, in this hard labor, in this triumph, in this disappointment, in this falling in love, in this birth, in this betrayal, in this illness or accident, in this tragic occurrence, here and now. Under normal circumstances, we do not do this by having extra-sensory visions, but only by the inner sight of persevering faith. She explains further that even though we may think our faith is “but little” and wavering, fragile and sometimes sorely tested, yet through the constant practice of daring to believe in God’s presence when it is hardest to do so we will gain great grace. Julian is adamant that God wants to be seen (implying an eternal desire to reveal himself), and he wants to be sought (suggesting that he wishes us to find him), and he wants to waited for, longed for, and expected. And, perhaps most of all, he wants to be trusted. Every day Julian had prayed in the Pater Noster: “Thy will be done.” Now she is beginning to understand what that Divine Will really desires.
During this holy and grace-filled Season of Lent, may we seek the Lord in every aspect of our lives, taking time daily to be still and be in his presence in silence, becoming attentive to his wishes, his warnings, his loving will. And all the time, may we allow ourselves to be healed, forgiven, and most of all, loved. And may we be fully willing to accompany Christ on his own journey to Calvary. No matter the cost.
Please Note: Excerpts above and my translations from the Middle English are from my book: Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books), copyright © by Veronica Mary Rolf.