“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” -Luke 6:22-23
Today is the feast day of Julian of Norwich. Julian was an anchoress and mystic who lived in Norwich, England from 1342 to c. 1416. Anchorites were women and men who retired from the world to focus on prayer and worship. They lived alone, often in small cells attached to the church with a window facing the altar and a window on the world outside.
Julian (and we aren’t even sure that’s her name) provided spiritual counsel and insight to people who visited her. She is known to us through her book The Revelations of Divine Love, recalling a series of visions she received. While living in a world of political unrest, rampant poverty, and the plague, Julian experienced a God of compassion, grace, and love for us and shared this mystical experience in two writings, a short form and a longer form of Revelations (also called Showings of Divine Love).
Her quote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” is likely her most familiar quote, her plea for us to remember God will always end the story with love floats a bit too freely in the mists of feel-good theology without being grounded by the reality of her other writings.
She understood life was unfair and hard. We can imagine people who came to her window to seek her counsel shared stories of fear, illness and death, and suffering. A reading of the totality of her writings leads me to believe she didn’t offer them a feel-good response and send them on their way.
Instead, she reminded them (and us) of what God does say in Holy Scripture and in the lives of saints, that we are not alone in all the changes and chances of our lives. One of my favorite Julian quotes is as follows:
You will not be overcome. God did not say you will not be troubled, you will not be belaboured, you will not be disquieted; But God said, You will not be overcome.
Julian reminds us suffering and hardships are not punishments from God, nor or they indications we are living an aberration of the Christian life. They are, as Julian recognized, a part of life. Sometimes they come because we make poor life choices or others make poor life choices that impact us. Sometimes suffering enters our lives because life is unpredictable and changeable.
Sometimes suffering and hardship come into our lives because we are following Christ, because we are acting in love for the marginalized and down-trodden, unsettling the comfortable lives of others. Our reward for acting in love is not popularity or prestige. Quite the contrary, loving our neighbors as ourselves will cause conflict in our lives. It has for centuries, even millennia.
Jesus implores us, “Keep loving, in spite of it all.”
Love lavishly and fully and inclusively. Yes, you will be troubled. You feel overwhelmed, and you will be uncomfortable.
But love will not be overcome.
The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.