All Shall Be Well: Revelations of Divine Love
Julian of Norwich
Written in modern language by Ellyn Sanna
Julian of Norwich is one of my favorite writers and saints. Julian was an English anchoress who lived from 1342–1412. An anchoress was a person who chose to be imprisoned for Godde. Anchoresses were nuns, already devoted to a life of prayer and contemplation, who decided to go a step further in their spiritual discipline. They chose to be a living burial, radically living dying to the world in a very visceral and practical way. Anchoresses lived in rooms attached to the church, which they never left; in fact, their rooms had no doors. An anchoress’ room had three windows: one looking into the church where she could hear services and receive communion. The second window opened to her servant’s room where she received her meals. The servant would also run errands and clean for the anchoress, who devoted herself exclusively to prayer and spiritual counsel. The third window opened out to the world, and to this window people would come to ask questions and receive wisdom from the anchoress. People of walks of life–rich and poor, peasants and royalty–would come to anchoresses for guidance and spiritual counsel. This was how Julian lived.
Julian lived in a very tumultous time in England during the Middle Ages. Bubonic plague (The Plague) swept through England three times during her life. It is estimated that Norwich lost half of its population to The Plague. England was also embroiled in the 100 Years War with France, which lasted through all of Julian’s life. It was a time of religious upheaval in England. In 1384 Wyclif translated the first Bible from Latin into the vernacular English, so that the laity could read the Bible themselves. The pope condemned him as a heretic, and the local clergy did not believe people could know Godde and have a relationship with her without the mediation of the church. One group of Wyclif’s followers were burned in a pit within a mile of Julian’s cell. The Church zealously believed the only way to Godde was through the clergy, and that there could be no way for the people to relate directily to Godde. In the midst of all this upheaval and violence, Julian received a vision from Godde where she was told: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” These words Julian held onto for the rest of her life and lived.
In 1373 Julian fell ill and was so close to death a priest came to administer last rites. As she thought she was dying, Julian had a series of mystical revelations she called showings. She spent most of her life meditating on and writing about these showings. She wrote them in the English of her time instead of Latin because she believed her showings should be passed on directly to people. Julian’s Showings (or Revelations) were the first book written by a woman in English. After her death, nuns found her writings and kept them hidden because of the charges of heresy they could bring along with death to those who held such inflammatory writings. Julian’s book was finally printed in 1670, well after the Protestant and English Reformations had taken hold, and common people having direct access to Godde was no longer a heretical belief.
This new edition pays tribute to Julian’s belief that her writings be in a language people can read and understand. Ellyn Sanna’s new translation in modern English is a gift to those of us who love Julian’s Showings, but did not like slogging through the previous translations that kept in tact most of the Middle English the book was originally written in. You can see a huge difference in the opening two paragraphs:
THIS is a Revelation of Love that Jesus Christ, our endless bliss, made in Sixteen Shewings,or Revelations particular.
Of the which the First is of His precious crowning with thorns; and therewith was comprehended and specified the Trinity, with the Incarnation, and unity betwixt God and man’s soul; with many fair shewings of endless wisdom and teachings of love: in which all the Shewings that follow be grounded and oned.
Here is Sanna’s updated language:
This is a revelation of love that Jesus Christ, our endless joy, made in sixteen showings (sixteen particular and unique revelations).
The first of these showed me that His crown of thorns was precious and valuable, and along with this image came a unique understanding of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the unity that exists between God and human beings. This showing and all the others that followed contained many lovely perspectives and lessons on God’s wisdom and love; all sixteen showings are grounded and unified by this same viewpoint.
Sanna also takes words that no longer have the meaning they carried in Julian’s time and replaces them with the equivalent in today’s English. The big word she replaces is passion. The Passion of Christ refers to the suffering, torture and death of Christ on Good Friday. Today passion no longer means long-suffering and enduring through trial. Sanna replaces suffering with endurance, which carries for us the same meaning passion carried with Julian. The thing I like the most about this updated translation is when Julian speaks of Godde or Jesus as Mother, Sanna uses the pronoun “she.” In the original text Julian speaks of Godde’s and Jesus’ motherhood using “he,” but I think “she” adds consistency and gives the modern reader the same shock that Godde and Mother gave Julian’s original readers.
I am a great lover of Julian because she first showed me it was OK to call Godde Mother. I resisted calling Godde Mother even when I experienced her as that. When I discovered Julian’s writing and discovered both Godde and Jesus referred to as Mother since the 14th Century, my resistance melted. I later discovered medieval writers often referred to both Godde and Jesus as Mother, and this terminology was nothing new. Here are two of Julian’s Mother passages from Divine Revelations. The first describes the Trinity using both Father and Mother language, and the second describes Christ as Mother.
Our High Father, God All-Strong who is Being, knew and loved us before time existed. This Divine knowledge, alongside a deep and amazing love, chose with the foreknowledge of the Trinity the Second person to become Mother. This was our Father’s intention; our Mother brought it about; and our Protector the Holy Spirit made it firm and real. For this reason we love our God in whom we have our being. We thank and praise our Father for our creation; we pray with our entire intellects to our Mother for mercy and understanding; and we ask our Protector the Holy Spirit for help and grace.
* * *
Our Mother by nature, our Mother by grace, wanted to become our Mother in all things, and so Christ planted the seeds of Divine action in the humble and gentle soil of the Maiden’s womb. (Christ showed me this in the first showing, where I saw how humble this girl Mary was when she conceived the Divine.) In other words, the High God, Sovereign Wisdom, put on flesh and mothered us in all things.
…The word “mother” is so sweet and intimate that it cannot truly be used to describe anyone except Christ. Motherhood is the essence of natural love, wisdom, knowledge–and motherhood is God. God is as much in the physical process of labor and delivery as God is in the process of our spiritual birth.
This new translation of Julian’s Revelations is both a wonderful resource and devotional reading to have on your shelves. Now there is a translation for modern people which follows Julian’s true intent: that anybody be able to read her words and experience Godde’s love and grace for themselves. I love this new edition, and it will be sitting on my shelves for years to come.
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