One of the interesting things about the Christian faith is that it is neither an individual matter of personal salvation, nor a matter of membership in a people, club or community. Rather, it is both at once; the two are inseparable, and — when things are working right (and of course we know they rarely are), mutually reinforcing: that the community forms and shapes us as individuals, but the community also sees and respects who we are and allows us to change it as well. By the nature of the visions she received, the focus of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love tends to be more on the personal side of things. But, she never loses sight of the fact that if God has acted for her, it means that God has acted for everyone (and, in some passages, everything) too. Today I’d like to look at one place where she explicitly talks about the implications of this work of God for everyone.
She says this in so many words while reflecting on her fifteen vision:
It is God’s will that I see myself as much bound to him in love as if everything which he has done he had done for me; and so should every soul think with regard to his lover. That is to say, the love of God creates in us such a unity that when it is truly seen, no man can separate himself from another. (Ch 65)
She is called to see that God has acted for her out of love. And that means that every soul should see this too. Thus, we are all not only in the same state before God, but by extension in the same state before each other, a state which binds us together in love. We can think about this on a couple levels. First, there is the general sense of the ties we feel to anyone who has shared a similar experience — think, for example, of meeting someone and discovering you grew up in the same town, cheer for the same baseball club, or went to the same university. This is only natural. But, if we think through what Julian is saying, I think it’s clear that she sees this working on a deeper level too. It’s what I’ve elsewhere called God’s economy of flow: We aren’t filled with grace, love, and the Holy Spirit to hoard these up for ourselves — any more or less than material wealth (see, Luke 12.13-21) — but to be a conduit of them for others, for all of the blessings of God to flow through us into the wider world. We aren’t created to be cisterns, but fountains. And so, inasmuch as we see and understand all that God has done for us, we will be bound to others by virtue of sharing in that same economy of flow.
This in turn means that we should all be ‘as Christ’ to one another. On the one hand, this is obvious. But on the other hand, it’s also really hard and important to remember. Let’s be honest, life in community is hard. And, for whatever reason, for many of us, the Church has been the hardest community of all, far more likely to test our faith than support it. But again, this is far from the way things are supposed to be. Julian puts it beautifully: “For … all the power of our enemy is shut in the hand of our friend …” (Ch 65). Yes, ultimately, ‘our friend’ first and foremost will always be Christ; but that doesn’t change the vocation for us to be good friends to one another and that in our friendships, we hold the power to “shut” the power of anything or anyone that would sin against our friends, or induce them to sin. If we think about sin as breaking faith, then friendship itself could be the antithesis of sin.
This has been a short reflection, but I think an important one, particularly as we are in that ‘tough slog’ part of Lent. We are not alone in this life of faith. Let’s be good to one another, rely on one another, and be reliable for one another, understanding that we are all in this together, and participate together in the divine economy of flow.
* 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.