The most basic religious question of all is what it is God wants from us. The Scriptures’ answers to this question were the major focus of the Sunday readings during the season of Epiphany this year, inspiring reflections here on receiving the summons, on the various summaries of the Law from Deuteronomy, Micah, Ecclesiastes and the Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount, and on the need to make the choice, daily, of how we are going to respond. At the end of her visions, Julian is faced with the similar question of understanding what she is to do with it all, and what it all means. And the answers she came to will be the focus of the final two posts in this series, Keeping Lent with Julian.
The last thing Julian sees is a vision of divine light, which she describes as “light in our night, which light is God, our endless day” (Ch 83). She then writes:
This light is charity, and the measuring of this light is performed for us to our profit by the wisdom of God; for the light is not so generous that we can see clearly our blessed day, nor is it all shut off from us, but it is such a light as we can live meritoriously, with labour deserving the the honourable thanks of God. … So charity keeps us in faith and in hope. And faith and hope lead us in charity, and in the end everything will be charity. (Ch 84)
As a matter of clarification, we tend to think of ‘charity’ in terms of gifts of money or service; but in older writings like this, it is a more general idea, which is more or less synonymous with ‘love’, with a possible added connotation of being a principled, rather than passionate, love. So it wouldn’t be misleading to replace all the instances of ‘charity’ above with ‘love’: “This light is love … So love keeps us in faith and in hope. And faith and hope lead us in love, and in the end everything will be love.”
So what is the response such love requires? She continues in the next chapter:
And we can please him best of all by wisely and truly believing it, and rejoicing with him and in him. For as truly as we shall be in the bliss of God without end, praising and thanking him, so truly have we been in God’s prevision loved and known in his endless purpose from without beginning. (Ch 85)
The best response to God’s offering of love is to receive it with trust, joy, and gratitude. But this is not all. She continues in the next (and final) chapter: “This book is begun by God’s gift and his grace, but it is not yet performed, as I see it. For charity, let us all join with God’s working in prayer, thanking, trusting, rejoicing, for so will our good Lord be entreated …” (Ch 86). The book, as she saw it, was undertaken in response to God’s gracious revelation, but it wasn’t meant just to be understood and written down or read, it was meant to be “performed,” lived out, acted upon. As the Epistle of James put it, she, and we as her readers, are to “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers” (James 1.22).
So, we have a two-sided response to mystical experiences (and the reading about those of others): To receive them with gratitude and joy, and then to live them out in the world. And so, we — quite rightly — end up in exactly the same place as the Scriptures. It’s worth quoting them all again:
- “Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.” (Deuteronomy 10.12-13)
- “….but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19.18)
- “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? … To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6.6, 8)
- “The end of the matter; all has been heard: Fear God, and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of everyone” (Ecclesiastes 12.13).
- ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22.38-40)
So, we are called to respond to whatever God does, whether in the Scriptures, in mystical revelations, or in our own lives, in praise and faith but also in real-world action. As always, God’s faithfulness calls us to faithfulness in all our relationships and God’s grace calls us to be gracious in everything that we do.
In the end, it’s not that complicated. It’s just easier said than done.
* 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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