Note Taking on Julian of Norwich pt3

Julian of Norwich (1342-1430)  ‘Love was His meaning’

The metaphors flood the imagination as Julian describes the blood flowing/pouring from Christ’s head as He hung on the Cross.

Beads; Herring scales; Rain drops.

What are we to make of this?

Does Julian revel or even enjoy seeing/describing this event?

Julian asks a question after reflection, that is meant to take one by surprise:  ‘What is sin?’

What gives God pleasure?

God gave us blood.  A liquid in copious amounts, created so as to please God who gave it to us.  It is so abundant and plentiful and is part of us and shares our nature. The thing which Christ shed for the salvation of the world – blood – we have; he lost; he died; we live.

Julian sees the devil as “malicious and impotent.”

God told her:  “In this way is the devil defeated:  in Christ’s passion.”

This is how Julian shows she is not fixated on theories of the atonement as such, but the absurdity of the devil’s predicament.

We need to notice the word “nothing” that repeats.

“I saw the Lord scorn his malice and discount him as nothing and wants us to do the same.”


Extended quote from Stephen Cherry:

“What does it mean for us to take evil seriously?  There’s a good question! It does not mean we take it on its own terms.  Don’t let the devil determine what seriousness is.  Don’t let sin call the tune . . . we’re getting into moralism territory a little bit . . . but this is what Julian is up to; It’s the victorious – we don’t know how; it is nothing but the loving, transcending, the delight in God that should set the tone, set the agenda.  And it’s that context which makes things “laughable”.  Do we see what she is saying here?  Challenging at many levels.  I’ve always liked that line in the hymn,

With salvation’s walls surrounded,

Thou mayest smile at all Thy foes.

I’ve often wondered what sort of smile that was meant to be, but I think it’s this kind of smile really.  This kind of “Oh well, that’s very interesting.  You have an evil project there, intended to undermine all that’s good and loving and positive, how interesting that you should waste your time in that regard!”

That’s not to fix your eyes on the damage that will be caused, but to fix your eyes on the longer, more distant future.  This connects up, of course, with anxiety [mentioned yesterday], because it’s very hard to laugh when you’re anxious; and you might, if you’re thinking about how the devil works, you might say, the devil works by a lot of threat, and sucking you into the devil’s way of thinking and being – which is, as it were, the wrong kind of nothingness.  The nothingness that is futility and without purpose, a human cul-de-sac.  That’s the kind of thinking for Julian that is going on at this laughing out loud at the devil here.

So what does that mean to how we should respond to the actual evil that we see perpetrated or known to be going on.  Does it have any strategic consequences for us, or it it just “pie-in-the-sky” theology? Julian doesn’t tell us any detail of practise, but it gives us the sense of the context, the framework in which we should try to hold on to things.  Not being diminished by those who attack you! Quite a tricky thing, in institutional life, for instance. So I’ve been trying very hard recently to be a grown up.  So when I get home and my wife asks me what I’ve been doing today, I say, “I’ve been trying to be a grown up.”  And this is apart of what Julian is encouraging us to do – rise above, transcend this, don’t get sucked in, don’t answer people back on their own terms.  It’s terribly hard not to do all that, because in a way, as soon as you have, you’ve lost it, as it were. But don’t think for a minute that I’m successful at being a grown up – it’s not my particular forte, but I at least see what one should be trying to do, even if there are proper ways in which one should be childlike as well.”


Julian teaches that God wants to be:  Seen; Sought; Awaited and Trusted, categories which reveal a little of her doctrine of God.

In stark contrast to the rivers of blood from Christ’s face (as we saw earlier), Julian also describes the drying out of Christ, based on a rare quotation of Scripture from John 19:28 “I thirst.”  She takes us from the life flowing out in very liquidy terms, into the death of a dry, lifeless Christ with blood stained face.

Which images or metaphor do I find most appealing, and repellent?

Why does Julian emphasise the familiarity and courtesy of God?

What about the problem of compassion?  Why should two suffer instead of one?


These quickly scribbled notes (which will contain my mistakes) come from my recent retreat at the Mary and Martha Society (Sheldon) in South Devon, led by Rev. Dr. Stephen Cherry.  The book we used was Revelations of Divine Love by Barry Windeatt.

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