In her Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich affirms again that there is absolutely nothing that God will not do for us, nor is there anything that God disdains about our body and soul. He knows what we need before we ourselves do. We cannot escape God’s love. For we are “clad and enclosed in the goodness of God.”
Yet why do we find it so hard sometimes to take refuge in that love and goodness? To trust that God is always there for us, whether we are in great joy, great sorrow, or great distress? Why do we ever think God must be far away or not listening to us when, in fact, God is the very source and foundation of our very ability to be aware of anything at all! God is the Reality in whom “we live and move and have our being,” as Luke the Evangelist writes (Acts 17:28). We are truly clothed and enclosed in Christ Jesus.
Then why do we find it so hard to feel we are loved by God?
Is it because we feel mired in our sins – past or present? Does shame keep us from throwing all our cares upon Divine Mercy? Are we afraid of being judged . . . and cast out? Do we think of ourselves as the worst of sinners – sinners Christ couldn’t possibly forgive? Or do we feel forgiven, but still harbor the memory of our misdeeds and feel ashamed for what we have done or failed to do? And assume that therefore Christ must be ashamed of us, too?
This great remorse for sin is a necessary phase on the path of purification in the spiritual life. It moves us to ask pardon, seek forgiveness, cry out for mercy. But then – and this is all-important – we must (like all those Christ forgave so freely in the Gospels) trust that we are truly forgiven, move on, and sin no more.
Julian herself, when her excruciating pain returned at the end of her extraordinary revelations, admitted that she had betrayed the truth of Christ’s twelve hours of appearance and words to her by telling a priest that she had “raved” that day. Then she was smitten with remorse. But she admitted her sin and moved on . . . to write her Revelations so that her fellow Christians might experience and be comforted by them.
What Julian learned – and what we also must learn – is that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8) -- not when we were already made perfect! Christ came to save us poor sinners, not the saints. And if we believe Christ is truly God as well as human, dare we doubt his divine power to forgive sin?
Look at Peter – because of fear of being arrested, he denied even knowing Christ three times, yet he was forgiven and went on to lead the church and become a martyr for Christ. And look at Paul – by his own admission, he persecuted the church of Christ and was responsible for the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Yet he went on to become an indefatigable evangelist for Christ and also died a martyr. And look at the woman taken in adultery – although the Pharisees wanted Jesus to condemn her so that they could throw stones at her and kill her, Jesus cried out: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Remarkably, one by one, the Pharisees walked away, beginning with the oldest, because each one of them knew he was a sinner. “Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:9-11)
We also must go and not sin again. And not look back. Sometimes we can become obsessed by our own sinfulness. It casts us down, makes us doubt God’s love for us, and may even cause us to turn away from Christ because we think we are the worst of the worst -- unforgivable. That is a great danger in the spiritual life. In fact, it can even be a temptation, a sort of “pride in our sins” that leads us to wallow in our sinfulness. We start to think of ourselves as “lost” or at least not liked or loved very much by God. And then we fall into a pit of our own making.
Christ did not come to cast us down, but to lift us up out of the muck and mire of our past lives. Once we have acknowledged our sins, confessed, and asked for divine mercy, we must trust we are truly forgiven and let them go. The great mystic Teresa of Avila declared that “God does not revisit the sin.” Neither should we.
This is why our daily practice of meditation is so crucial to rising out of the pitfalls on our spiritual path. As we sit in silence and stillness, and as memories of the past rise up in front of our mind’s eye, we practice letting them go – whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral – like a puff of mist in the sunlight. We breathe in the pure love of God for us and in us and breathe out that love upon the world. As negative or self-destructive memories arise again, we do not allow them to invade Christ’s loving presence within us. We let them go again and again, without dwelling on them for even a moment.
As many of you know, this is not an easy practice. But it must be done faithfully, daily, and as often as necessary to dispel the demon within us that wants to grab our attention and tell us we are such sinners we cannot possibly be loved – or saved – by Christ. This is an essential work! For if we allow ourselves to be cast down by our thoughts, memories, and misdeeds, we will never be able to rise up into the sweet awareness of which Julian writes: That “our soul is so loved by him that is highest, that it overpasses the knowing of all creatures.”
In meditation we simply practice beholding God beholding us. And loving us, unconditionally. And not allowing anything to interfere, even our sorrow for sin. Eventually, in that silence and stillness, our tortured spirit will find the deep rest and peace for which it longs. And yes, like Julian, we will begin to allow ourselves to feel forgiven -- and loved -- by Divine Love itself. And that changes everything.
PLEASE NOTE: Translations from the Middle English above are from An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich (InterVarsity Academic Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. Available from the Publisher and Amazon worldwide: