There have been moments when 2020 has just seemed too … much.
I was talking to someone the other day and they mentioned something about the U.S. being on the brink of war with Iran in January and I had completely forgotten that happened. And the fact that Australia was on fire.
It’s just been too much this year, so much bad news, so much isolation, so much pain. It’s just been so … much.
I didn’t bat an eye when I heard that the invasive species, Murder Hornets, had been discovered in the United States for the first time. Of course they had. I mean, why not?
Which is why I am glad that I was reminded that Friday was the Commemoration of Julian of Norwich in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Anglican Church. Because right about now, we need Julian of Norwich.
Julian of Norwich, or Dame Julian, was a mystic who lived in social isolation in a small room attached to the parish church in Norwich, England, during the 14th and 15th centuries.
She lived through the Black Death of 1348-1350 and the Peasant Revolt of 1381. When she was 30, in 1373, she became seriously ill and believed she was on her deathbed. In that state between living and dying, Julian received a series of visions or “shewings” of the Passion of Christ.
After she recovered from her illness, she wrote two versions of her experiences, the earlier one she completed soon after her recovery, and a much longer version, written many years later. That book, “Revelations of Divine Love,” is the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman.
Julian lived in a time of turmoil, death and despair, which she herself knew intimately. Nonetheless, her theology was optimistic and spoke of God’s unlimited goodness and love in terms of joy and compassion. She wrote in the midst of a world filled with pain with complete confidence in the power of God’s transformative love and the assurance of God’s providence and protection.
Pope Benedict once described her writing perfectly:
“Julian of Norwich understood the central message for spiritual life: God is love and it is only if one opens oneself to this love, totally and with total trust, and lets it become one’s sole guide in life, that all things are transfigured, true peace and true joy found and one is able to radiate it.”
Her faith, hope and confidence are summed up in the words she wrote that truly define her theology: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”
And that is a message we need to hear in 2020, when everything just seems too … much.
All shall be well.
She didn’t write those words from a vacuum. She wrote them having been surrounded by despair and having stared death in the face. She wrote them from the depth of understanding of God’s promise.
Sometimes it’s hard to see what is happening around us with anything but a sense of despondency when it just gets to be too … much.
But we have a God who has been faithful from generation to generation, who promises to never leave and abandon us, and who assures us that we will one day dwell in a place where “goodness and mercy shall follow us all of the days of our life.”
In other words, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
I describe myself as a radical evangelical Lutheran mystic. The radical evangelical and Lutheran parts are pretty self explanatory. I believe in the audacious inclusive love of God who wants a personal relationship with me, who has set me free because of Christ’s action and forgiving grace and who wants me to embrace and care for everyone with unbridled passion, especially the last, the lost and the least of these.
But these days, I need to lean into the mystic, the part that connects me to Julian. “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” Heb. 11:1.
2020 may seem like too … much. But I need to move from that 2020 vision to the vision of one who sees the bigger picture, a God who is at work even as the universe seems to be coming apart.
For God’s vision gives me a hope that moves beyond my intellect into my spirit with a truth that defies the present reality. To rely on the mystical truths that helps transcend the here and now and allows me lean into the divine nature of our eternal Lord.
That vision helps me, so that no matter how … much it gets to be, I can be assured that God is faithful and God is true. And God’s vision gives me the eyes to view a broken world with peace and assurance.
And because of that I know, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.’
God who gives us vision, help us to see with your eyes in the midst of the pain. Help us to turn to you when we are overwhelmed. Allow us trust that you are a God who conquered death and that because of that, even as we struggle, we can live in the faith that all shall be well. Amen.