Nature and Grace Are of One Accord

Yesterday we saw how, in the midst of her first vision (of the blood streaming from Jesus’ head under the crown of thorns), Julian saw the image of all of creation as a sphere no bigger than a hazelnut, from which she concluded that all things are created by God, loved by God, and sustained by God. Three chapters later, she returns to what she learned from this image:

[E]verything which he has made, for I know well that heaven and earth and all creation are great, generous and beautiful and good. But the reason why it seemed to my eyes so little [in the vision of the hazelnut] was because I saw it in the presence of him who is the Creator…. [H]e who created it created everything for love, and by the same love is it preserved, and always will be without end. (Ch 8)*

A consequence of this, as she saw it, is that God’s creative intent (what we might call ‘nature’), God’s loving activity, and God’s providence (what we might call ‘grace’), amount to the same thing. They share the same purpose, namely, love.

This is a theme to which Julian returns often throughout her writing. In Chapter 49, she concludes: “[O]ur life is founded and rooted in love, and without love we cannot live.” She then connects this love to peace: “God is our true peace; and he is our safe protector when we ourselves are in disquiet, and he constantly works to bring us into endless peace.” This is a lovely idea, that also happens to mesh well with the idea of Shalom, or what Randy Woodley calls ‘the Harmony Way’, as the expression of God’s heart, an idea that’s recurred here quite a bit over the past couple years.

Because being “wholly in peace and love” is God’s ultimate desire for us and for all of creation, we don’t need to be concerned about “any kind of hindrance,” because “our Lord God in his goodness makes the contrariness which is in us now very profitable for us” (Ch 49). Here she is saying that even the things that most get in our way in the life of faith, whether this opposition is external or internal, can be worked together for good and for God’s ultimate purposes in our lives. Julian revisits this theme powerfully in chapters 62-63, writing:

For at that time he revealed our frailty and our falling, our trespasses and our humiliations, our chagrins and our burdens and all our woe, as much as it seemed to me could happen in this life. And with that he revealed his blessed power, his blessed wisdom, his blessed love, and that he protects us at such times, as tenderly and as sweetly, to his glory, and as surely to our salvation as he does when we are in the greatest consolation and comfort, and raises us to this in spirit, on high in heaven, and turns everything to his glory and to our joy without end. For his precious love, he never allows us to lose time; and all this is of the natural goodness of God by the operation of grace. (Ch 62)

And so, “Here we can see that we are all bound to God by nature, and we are all bound to God by grace” (Ch 62), which leads her to conclude in the next chapter:

So are nature and grace are of one accord; for grace is God, as uncreated nature is God. He is two in his manner of operation, and one in love, and neither of these works without the other, and they are not separated (Ch 63)

To my mind, this is an important message for any of us on a spiritual path. There is a tendency to oppose God’s grace with who we are. So often the spiritual life is made out to be a war with ourselves. But, speaking from personal experience, that’s a war we’re always going to lose. But, if we remind ourselves that nature and grace are not in opposition, but are different operations — energies in both the traditional language of theology and contemporary pop spirituality — of the same divine love, this opens us up to a far more fruitful spiritual struggle. For it is in those places where our hearts are wounded, bruised, scarred over, or hardened where God most longs to be at work. They are not our opponents; they are the arenas where our salvation is worked out. And because both nature and grace are expressions of divine love, the end result is not some sort of righteous purity, a perfect score on a cosmic checklist, but our own expression of divine love towards others.

If there’s an ‘action step’ to take from today’s reflection, I think it’s this: to go easy on yourself; to stop warring against yourself but to see who you are right now as the greatest ally you have in becoming who you want — and who God wants — you to be. Nature and grace are of one accord.


* Unless noted, all quotes are taken from the long text of Julian or Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love as translated and set in Julian of Norwich, Showings, translated by Edmund Colledge and James Walsh. The Classics of Western Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978.

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