Dame Julian of Norwich (d.1416) is one of the most celebrated English mystics, and her collected writings, Revelations of Divine Love, form the first book written by a woman, to be published in English. It contains her sixteen “shewings” or visions/revelations.
Prior to these revelations, she stated, “I wished I had been there at the crucifixion…I longed to be shown him in the flesh so that I might have more knowledge of our Saviour’s bodily suffering.” Later, when she became ill and gazed upon the image of her “Maker and Saviour”, when “everything except the cross was ugly to [her],” Julian seems to have stepped through the veil and entered the place St. Paul speaks of when he says to us, “I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven”; or the place similar to what John experienced on the Island of Patmos, “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet”, and from there, he gives his revelation. As with Paul and John, it is in this place where the Lord blesses Julian with many showings and answers her wish to participate in his crucifixion. Through this blessing, her soul unites with God, and her thoughts cross to Jesus and his crucifixion, and for a time, her aim and her “whole strength is set entirely on beholding God.” It is at times such as this that Julian states, “through his special grace we behold [Jesus] plainly, seeing no other need, then we follow him and he draws us into him by love.” By being drawn into His love and then blessed with the showings, Julian provides for us a unique and true spiritual journey that helps us to draw into union with our God.
How the process of being drawn in is made possible is shown in her interpretation of her second revelation where we are instructed to seek and behold. Julian tells us that our “search should be committed and diligent, with no laziness, as it may be through his grace, glad and cheerful without unreasonable depression and unprofitable misery.” Who is it that we seek when we are drawn in? Julian answers: “Our Lord Jesus said repeatedly, ‘It is I, It is I; it is I who am highest; it is I you love; it is I who delight you; it is I you serve; it is I you long for.” The Lord is the center of all that we are and He is who we are to seek, so that we may be brought “into eternal peace” and be “united to God.”
This desire of Julian to see God is expressed by many throughout Holy Scripture. Moses said to God, “Show me your glory, I pray.” David, in our Psalm today:
One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
To behold the fair beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
And even the disciples say to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” If it were easy, we would all be mystics. Fortunately, there is another way. Jesus “took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”
As with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus is made known to us and we are united to him through the breaking of bread, the Holy Eucharist. And in that sacrament, if we will truly see him in the bread and the wine, then we will achieve an even greater union than Julian was able to experience in her revelations.
“So I say to you… seek, and you will find.”