But he wills we take heed thus: that he is the ground of all our whole life in love, he is our everlasting protector, and mightily defends us against all our enemies that are extremely dangerous and terribly fierce towards us.
This theme of Christ as “the ground of our whole life in love” colors and highlights every aspect of Julian’s theology. Christ is not the unapproachable “other,” the distant God-man whose anger must be appeased by every extreme means possible. He is, in a very real sense, what we are, in our flesh and blood and bones, having taken on the fullness of our human nature, save sin, in order to help us combat the suffering of temptation and guilt, and to show his sublime peace and love. Christ knows exactly how our minds work, what our failings and compulsions are, and longs to teach us how to reorient our attitudes and desires toward the highest good. And he has endured every possible physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual agony we go through. This is the Christ Julian knows to be at the foundation, the very ground, of our being. This is where the “godly will” resides, that never completely wills sin: in our Christ-redeemed nature.
And this is the supreme friendship of our courteous lord, that he keeps us so tenderly while we are in our sinne. And furthermore, he touches us most intimately, and shows us our sinne by the sweet light of mercy and grace.
Julian is convinced that even when we are in the midst of harming ourselves or others, and seem to be abandoning God, he does not abandon us. Instead, he whispers in our heart and mind, moves our conscience to feel remorse, and leads us to ask forgiveness, guiding us by his own “sweet light of mercy and grace.” However, Julian is acutely aware that when we sin, “we see ourself so foule,” that we think (indeed, we assume) that “God is wroth with us for our sinne.” Here, Julian is describing her own sense of personal guilt, with a keen understanding that Christians persistently harbor a wrong view of God as being wrathful.
She explains that though we may remain convinced that God must be angry at us while we are in sin, it is precisely his ever-present mercy and grace which enable us to turn back to him, confess our failure, and ask forgiveness. Christ gathers us up like his prodigal son (or daughter) and encloses us in the royal robe (the restored innocence of our baptism), calls his servants to kill the fatted calf and prepare a banquet (the Eucharist), and invites all the saints to join in the celebration: “because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (Lk 15:32). What Julian is describing here is not only the parable of the prodigal son, but also the never-ending story of the exorbitant love of the prodigal Father.
And then our courteous lord shows himself to the soul merrily and with the happiest possible expression, with friendly welcoming, as if it had been in pain and in prison, saying thus: “My dear darling, I am glad that thou art come to me. In all thy woe I have ever been with thee, and now see for yourself my love, and let us be oned in bliss.” Thus are sins forgiven by grace and mercy, and our soul honorably received in joy, exactly as it shall be when it comes into heaven, as often as it comes back to God by the gracious working of the holy ghost and the power of Christ’s passion.
In contemplating Christ’s mercy and grace in never leaving us alone, even in our sin and suffering, Julian understands how “all manner of thing” is already being prepared for us in heaven, “by the great goodness of God.” This is so true that, whenever we feel ourselves “in peace and in charity, we are truly safe.” And we are, by implication, already saved.
Julian reports exceptionally intimate terms in this passage, such as “My dear darling” and let us “be oned in bliss,” more often employed between earthly lovers than between the sinful soul and God. She remembers the depth of personal feeling Christ showed her as he conveyed this Revelation about sin. He was not only joyous, friendly, welcoming; he was also deeply loving and all-embracing. His ardent desire for unity is that of a lover for the beloved, not in a sexual sense, but in that of complete spiritual oneing. Just hearing words like these spoken by Christ in one’s heart would be enough to convince the soul of his unconditional love.
During this time of global pandemic, fear, anxiety, and isolation, let us open our hearts to Christ the Lord who longs to forgive, heal, reassure, and comfort us so tenderly. Let us trust “mightily” (as Julian would say) that nothing can separate us from the loving care of our Lord—not sickness, sadness, or the loss of those we love. On the contrary, Christ is completely “in with us” in all our suffering, constantly strengthening us to bear our cross. All he asks is that we turn to him and ask for help. Then he will embrace us and tell us: “My dear darling, I am glad that thou art come to me. In all thy woe I have ever been with thee, and now see for yourself my love, and let us be oned in bliss.”
May Julian bless you abundantly on this, her very special day! And please join us in making “A Virtual Retreat with Julian of Norwich”—in my ongoing "Life, Love, & Light" podcasts: https://lifelovelight.buzzsprout.com/
Note: Quotations and excerpts above are from Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books, 2013). Copyright © by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved.