It’s a story that should begin, “Once upon a time.” It has that ageless storytale quality. Once upon a time there was a woman who was born on the 8th November 1342 (and how do we know that so definitively?), in or near the English town of Norwich.
When she was still young, this woman fell gravely ill and was on the point of death when she had a series of visions, after which she recovered. So intense had these visions been that she became an anchoress, that is, someone who lives as a hermit, in her case, walled into a cell attached to a church.
This particular church was Saint Julian of Norwich, and so this otherwise unknown woman became known as Dame Julian of Norwich. The anchoress may have isolated herself from the world, but the world did not remain isolated from her. People came to her for — what? — wisdom, objectivity, serenity, encouragement, perhaps above all for a glimpse of another world. Because thanks to these “showings,” which is what she called the visions during her grave illness, Dame Julian had a mystical understanding that was like the peace that passeth all understanding. And just as that peace brings comfort, so did her showings and the book in which she gathered them, her Revelations of Divine Love, bring comfort to her visitors.
I was thinking of Julian because of the snow.
For weeks and weeks now it has snowed so hard that old bones dare not venture out. It’s impossible to make plans to do anything outside of the house. Day follows day with little to delineate one from the other. I have nothing to write about in my blog, nothing to photograph, nothing to look forward to. How dwindled is my world, I thought. What a sad diminishment have I come to. And that’s when I remembered Dame Julian.
The first of her showings was of a little nut (I remembered it as a walnut), so small it fit in the palm of her hand. But what that little nut contained was — the whole world.
“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.”
I had to look up these lines, because I remembered only two things from Julian’s visions. The first was the walnut in the palm of her hand. Well, it turned out to be a hazelnut, but I didn’t have any hazelnuts to hand! A walnut would do. And I took heart from it, for itself, and also because my world — thanks to television and computers and the Internet — is far larger than the palm of my hand, even when I can’t get out and about. It approaches infinity. All I need to adjust is the angle of my vision. And it will not snow forever.
And then I was reminded of the second memorable saying of Dame Julian of Norwich, English anchoress and mystic and Anglican saint. She said, “Sin is behovely, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
My mantra. It has served me in bad times and worse times, and even, contentedly, in good times. I trust Julian, who was content in her little cell within the walls of a church. I trust her, and she has never failed me. She died around 1413, seven centuries ago. But she still speaks to me, Julian and her walnut/hazelnut and her confidence in ultimate goodness, with the immediacy of this morning.
I hope she may speak to you as well.