Mystery of God

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The mystery of God’s existence has been a crucial element of many religious studies and traditions, through the centuries. The question of who, what, and where God is has been addressed by numerous theologians, religious and philosophers through the centuries. This essay looks at the writings of one these thinkers, Julian of Norwich and outlines and discusses some of her central ideas on the mystery of God. Julian of Norwich was a medieval mystic, who lived in Norwich, England between 1342 and 1416. Not much is known about her. She is thought to have been an anchoress, who lived a solitary life of prayer and meditation for many years in a cell in the grounds of St. Julian’s Church Norwich.[1] Julian lived in difficult times. Crusades, plagues, in particular the Black Death, poverty, high taxes and religious divisions and persecution were prevalent.[2] At the age of thirty, while suffering from a life threatening illness and believing she was on the point of death, she experienced intense ‘bodily and intellectual visions of the passion of Christ and the Trinity.’[3] On her recovery, she dedicated her life to prayer and contemplation of these visions and wrote ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ or ‘The Showings,’ her spiritual dairy, in which she revealed her sixteen mystical visions of Christ and his Passion. Many years later, she wrote a more detailed systematic and objective account of these revelations. This book as the title indicates is a presentation of her experience with the love of God, the firmness, depth and personal character of this love, its unselfish nature and willingness to suffer for loved ones are themes, which she stresses, while also reflecting on the mystery of the Trinity, sin, suffering and evil in the world. Julian wrote in English, the language of the ordinary people of her time, ensuring that divine love is accessible to everyone. In her writings, Julian shares with the reader how Jesus showed himself as a joyous Saviour, who looked with love and compassion on all of creation. This theme of love is presented at the very beginning during her account of the first showing. ‘In that account she mentions three truths which give significance to all her subsequent reflections. They are God’s love as expressed in the Passion of Christ; this love as expressed in his creation and providence; and his response which God’s love evoke in the creature.’ [4] This image of God as love is the central message in Julian’s revelations. To get the image across of a loving God, she portrays God in a nurturing and motherly fashion. In one image, she saw God as our clothing, wrapping us and holding us tenderly in his love. I saw that he is everything that is good and comfortable for us: He is our clothing that for love wrappeth us, claspest us, and all encloseth us for tender love, that he may never leave us; being to us all-thing that is good, as to mine understanding.[5]

In this particular part of her revelation, she shows Christ in a nurturing and motherly fashion. His love she describes as “homelike’ and she uses words that are associated with a mother looking after her children and the home. Julian uses these familiar personal images to portray a God that is available to all. She takes the universal God and places him into an everyday setting that is familiar to all. Just as the child trusts his mother, we are encouraged by Julian to trust God. Ritamary Bradley tells us that this insight into an open loving God can be related to ‘the scripture lines about God’s enrobing of the flowers, a passage that also urges trust: and she quotes Luke 12:27 ‘Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of them.’ Bradley also points out that this image is favoured by other mystics, notably St. John of the Cross.[6] Julian goes to great lengths to bring Christ into a more personal dominion. Another example of this is when Julian also claimed...
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