Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project.
Part of my Lenten discipline this year is reading Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love. What with all the other life stuff that has got in the way the first week has been less than successful, but I hope that next week I can throw myself into it fully. At first I was feeling disappointed in myself for not having stuck to my goal – I felt as though I had failed some kind of test, but then I realised that really isn’t what Lent is about, and it’s really not what Julian is about. So rather than being a reflection on what I’ve learnt from reading Julian of Norwich this week, I thought I’d write about what my motivations for doing this.
It will come as no surprise to those who know me that one of my favourite shows is Call the Midwife. It manages to build me up, break me down, then build me up again within the course of a single episode and is unfailingly moving while never feeling preachy or saccharine. In the first episode of the current season, one of the sisters is about to start treatment for mental illness, and she asks ‘what was it that Julian of Norwich wrote? Not the thing about ‘all shall be well’. Not that, because I can’t believe that anymore.’
The reply comes with one of my favourite bits of the Revelations:
‘God did not say thou shalt not be tempested,
thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be diseased.
But he said, thou shall not be overcome.’
This is a beautiful part of the episode and a beautiful part of the Revelations. The problem with reading Julian of Norwich is that her words are so wonderfully written that it is hard to write about them and add anything to them – nothing I say about the nature of God’s love for us can add to that short phrase. Much of the text deals with this idea, and I think it is something to hold onto during Lent. Often in Christian circles there’s an emphasis on perfection and it can be easy to see Lent as either a way of striving for perfection or beating ourselves up because we can’t reach that. There are many churches which are full of smiling faces hiding fear and vulnerability – churches where people are told ‘if you accept Jesus into your life, everything will be perfect!’
What Julian of Norwich reminds us is that sometimes things aren’t perfect. Sometimes we struggle and life throws things at us we can barely handle. ‘Accepting Jesus’ doesn’t stop bad things from happening – but God is there, in the midst of it.
My hope for Lent is that by reading words of Julian daily I will be reminded of this. Perfection is not what I should be striving for (though try telling that to my Hermione complex!) – re-orienting myself towards God is.
Debbie is a PhD student at the University of Glasgow researching feminist and queer approaches to Anglo-Saxon nuns. She is a member and former trustee of SCM and is interested in theology, cats and cinema (among other things). Debbie tweets about her research and life as a PhD student at @medievaldebbie.