The medieval mystics had many amazing experiences of the Divine, and are worth delving into for our own spiritual edification. So, for the next three weeks, we’ll be talking about some of the teachings of Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross and Francis of Assisi.
We don’t actually know the name of the woman we know of as Julian of Norwich.
But the person we call Julian was born in 1342. When she was 30 years old, she had a very serious illness during which she experienced a series of visions – which she called showings. She wrote two accounts of that experience, a short version, probably written shortly after her illness. And a longer version some 20 years later. At some point she became an anchorite attached to the church of St. Julian in Norwich, from which she took her name.
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While Julian had mystical experiences, she was also human, just like any of us and her writings were certainly filtered through her experiences which would have included three sweeps of the plague through Europe, as well as the Peasant’s Revolt in London in 1381, and the burning of heretics who were challenging many teachings of the Catholic Church. I find it truly amazing that Julian wasn’t one of those labeled a heretic. Though she insisted she was faithful to the Catholic Church, her writings were often completely opposite to the God the church was preaching about.
For Julian, God was love, period. And because God was only love and nothing else, God couldn’t be angry. Nor was it that God forgave sins, but that humanity lived in a constant state of forgiveness. Plus, Julian believed that it was against human nature to sin – contrary to the church’s belief in original, inherent sin. For her, the Christian journey was really the discovery of our own authentic selves.
So, there is much about Julian to explore, but I’ve chosen this passage simply because it challenged me:
As we yearn for God,
So God yearns for us.
God thirsts for us.God longs to have union with all humanity.
Until that is fully accomplished, God thirsts.
God thirsts for us
As we thirst for God.
(Translation from: The Essence of Julian, by Ralph Milton)
It is the concept of yearning that snagged me. Yearning means “to have an intense feeling of longing for something, typically something that one has lost or been separated from.”
Do we yearn for God? I believe so. Do we always know that we yearn for God? No.
I believe there is something inherent within us that pulls us, draws us… it’s “an intense feeling of longing for” fulfillment, wholeness.
Wayne Dyer once said, “All my life I wanted to be somebody. Now I am finally somebody, but it isn’t me.” We are born into a state of pure “self” but then our ego takes over and learn to behave certain ways, look certain ways, and achieve certain things to be loved. We spend our lives trying to please others so that we will “be somebody” but we lose our very selves in the process. Our spiritual journey, as Julian would say, is to find our authentic selves and so find God.
It seems to hit us about mid-life when we realize that we’ve become somebody, but it isn’t us, that we experience a void or an emptiness deep within. We long to fill it, but aren’t sure how, so we try to find fulfillment through money, things, power, food, work, exercise, drama, alcohol, drugs, gambling, relationships, religion, meditation, etc.
Personally, I believe that the void cannot be filled by doing things, or getting things, or achieving things, or even by having the perfect person in our lives. I believe the emptiness that we yearn to fill is dependent only upon cultivating a relationship with the Ground of our Being, which (ironically enough) is achieved by finding ourselves.
So this part I get completely. The next part is trickier.
Does God yearn for us?
I tend to shy away from personifying God too much, especially when it implies that God needs anything from humanity – like God needs our worship, or needs our devotion, or needs our prayers or our unity (as Julian’s poem implies) – as if God is incomplete without those things.
So, does God yearn for us?
I think this is where language falls short, but I believe the answer is yes.
Our relationship with God is not a one-way street. The New Testament offers many stories of God’s yearning for us:
- As the Father who yearns and waits for his prodigal son to come home.
- As the shepherd who yearns for the one lost sheep to be back in the fold.
- As the woman who lost her precious coin and yearned to find it again.
And yet it is more. It is a mutual dwelling within – “I am in Abba God and God is in me,” Jesus says.
Thinking about the depth of this connection, I remembered Psalm 42 that says, “Deep calls to deep.”
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your waterfalls;
all your waves and your billows
have washed over me.
By day You lead me in steadfast love;
at night your song is with me,
prayer from the Heart of my heart.
(Psalm 42:7-8 – Translation from Psalms for Praying, by Nan Merrill)
I believe the Divine Essence calls to the deepest part of our souls; we are pulled or drawn back into awareness of the energy of God. It is beyond words or thoughts, it is a heart connection and a soul connection.
It seems that story and metaphor explain this better than words.
Have you ever felt called by the ocean, or a lake, or a body of water? Drawn by the power and the sound. It’s as if the sea has called to us… deep to deep… only to find ourselves distracted by seashells, rocks, little crabs and screaming gulls. Sir Isaac Newton said:
I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself
I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore,
and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble
or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth
lay all undiscovered before me.
Or perhaps you’ve been called by the woods? Drawn by the energy of the trees, by the beauty of the green or the colors or the branches against the snow, or by the silence and solitude that can envelop you like a blanket. It’s as if the woods have called to us… deep to deep… only to find ourselves distracted by running dogs and scrambling chipmunks, or missing it all as we focus on the forest floor to avoid tripping over roots. All the while there is a great forest of truth that pulses and moves around us… unnoticed and undiscovered.
We are part of the whole, but we’ve forgotten. And so, the Universe, Creation, the Divine Essence, the Spirit, the Ground of our Being, the energy of Love, yearns for us to remember that we’re not alone… we are part of all of it. Let us open our hearts and be drawn back into consciousness of oneness. Let us open to the unity that is and be fulfilled and whole.
Love & Light!