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Archive for April 24th, 2020


Friday, April 24, 2020

Blessed Julian of Norwich

Van der Weyden: Portrait of a Young Woman Wearing a Coif

Psalm 73: The Trial of the Just

This psalm speaks to a state of mind that each of us has likely experienced once or even more than once, at a time when we lost our balance and our feet all but slipped.

As we have spent time this week reflecting on the traits of a disciple and the work that discipleship entails.  We have re-affirmed that following Christ requires not only love but also intense labor.  Disciples suffer.  They lose heart.  They become enmeshed in a world they do not welcome.   Yet they also experience great joy.

As we read this psalm today we find that each of us is Israel, wondering why the arrogant . . . suffer no pain; their bodies healthy and sleek . . . violence adorns them like a robe Some of us may say to ourselves, as the psalmist does: It is in vain that I have kept my heart clean . . . I was stupid and did not understand.   Discipleship calls for meekness.  Discipleship delivers heart-break.  The ancillary experience of discipleship is suffering . . . and yet great joy.

What is the solution to handling our angst and jealousy so that our mourning might become dancing?  We must dialog with the Lord and offer our questions along with our petitions for those who are far from [God] perish.  We must declare all [God’s] works, remembering that despite our feeling that we are lost and alone we always will be accompanied.

I have taken up again a little book of reflections on the writings of Julian of Norwich, a medieval English mystic and spiritual writer to whom God spoke in a series of revelations.  (Kirvan)  This woman lived a hermetic life in a worldly way, juxtaposing solitude and community in a manner that gives her words a universal resonance.  She speaks of the humility we learn when we bring God our sufferings and failings.  And it is through this humility, this meekness, that we find God.  She writes that we run the danger of carrying our faults so heavily that we consider ourselves “suited only to hell” and that this would be an egregious error for no matter what we do or where we go, God wants to “raise us high in grace”.  She also writes that when we allow our pain to bring compassion to ourselves and others, we will be better prepared to receive God.  This compassion heals any shame or brokenness and transforms all suffering into joy.  She tells us that our failure does not prevent God from loving us.  Peace and love are always present within us, living and laboring, but we unfortunately do not always abide in peace and love.

When we find ourselves deep into our work as disciples we are certain to be worn down and worn out; we will find that our hearts have been broken.  So rather than fight against our pain and suffering, let us offer our brokenness to God as we withstand the trial of the just.  Let us cease comparing ourselves with the wicked and instead open ourselves to God’s grace and compassion.   And let us no longer rail against our imperfections . . . for we must allow ourselves to remember that God is always close to the broken-hearted.

And so the psalmist writes:  How good God is to the upright, the Lord, to those who are clean of heart!

Tomorrow, with God . . . possibilities . . .

Although often attributed as a portrait of Julian of Norwich – the first woman to write and publish a book in the English language – there is no evidence that she sat for the artist, Roger Van der Weyden.  It is lovely, however, to imagine a meeting between the two.


Kirvan, John. All Will Be Well: Julian of Norwich. 2008. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2005. Print.

First written on August 9, 2009. Revised and posted today.

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