Julian of Norwich on Goodness, God and Creation

In contrast to the despair aroused by much of Western religion from the fourteenth century to the 18th century, Julian’s spiritual teachings sing an altogether different tune.  Her writings understandably speak volumes to us today as we too face a plague that endangers our world as we know it.  Even though she lived through the times of plague she did not succumb to pessimism.

Crossing the bridge. Photo by Karolina Bobek ✌ on Unsplash.

Julian’s teachings also hold the power to assist the important work of moving Western religion away from sin (and therefore anthropocentrism) as a starting point back to the experience of awe, gratitude, wonder–namely the Via Positiva.  It has been a long time coming and meanwhile it has been the art worlds but also science that have filled the vacuum of religion’s preoccupation with sin and redemption, a God of dread and punishment.  The creation spirituality tradition underscores how this need not be so and beginning with blessing remakes religion.

Hildegard of Bingen in the twelfth century invoked the goodness of creation when she wrote: “God is the good. And all things that proceed from God are good.” Julian of Norwich, three centuries later, follows up on the same theme. “I know well that heaven and earth and all creation are great, generous and beautiful and good…. God’s goodness fills all his creatures and all his blessed works full, and endlessly overflows in them.”

Bright and glorious rising sun. Photo by Kyle Cottrell on Unsplash.

But Julian goes even further. Meister Eckhart’s transcendental metaphysics had declared that “isness is God”; Julian borrows from this metaphysics to establish a metaphysics of goodness. She writes, “God is everything which is good, as I see it, and the goodness which everything has is God.”

To say that “goodness is God” is to reestablish the nondualistic relationship of Creator and creation. More than that, it is to reestablish a veritable theology of blessing. For blessing is the theological word for the goodness that creation is. As Professor Sigmund Mowinckle puts it in his major study on blessing in Israeli theology, “first and foremost, blessing is life, health, and fertility for the people, their cattle, their fields…. Blessing is the basic power of life itself.”

An abstract painting of the beginning of the cosmic story. Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash.

For Julian the blessing that our lives are goes back a very long way. “I saw that God never began to love us. For just as we will be in everlasting joy (all God’s creation is destined for this), so also we have always been in God’s foreknowledge, known and loved from without beginning.” Julian is celebrating the original blessing that our existences are.

Science today can vouch for the accuracy of Julian’s theology, had the supernova not exploded five billion years ago, had the earth not maintained a certain temperature so that water would flow and life emerge, had the ozone not processed out certain levels of radiation, and the flowers not fine-tuned the oxygen, we humans would not exist. Thus science informs us how we were indeed loved by the cosmos “from before the beginning.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Creation-Centered Spirituality from Hildegard of Bingen to Julian: Three Hundred Years of an Ecological Spirituality in the West,” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 80-81.

Banner Image: Chalices of light. Photo by Mesh on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

“We have been known and loved from the beginning” says Julian.  Can you believe that?  Does today’s science assist you to believe that?  What difference does it make to know and feel that?

Recommended Reading

Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets in profound and hard-hitting essays on such varied topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism and more.

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11 thoughts on “Julian of Norwich on Goodness, God and Creation”

  1. Avatar
    Susan Starkey

    Her words, and your sharing of them are awakening me in a sacred way. I feel quite blessed, thank you, Matthew and Team.

  2. Avatar

    I love it when the truth and reflections of science and the truth and reflections of religion are brought together to show that there is no conflict between the two. To say that science and spirituality are at odds is just silly.

  3. Avatar
    Vivian Franck

    God’s eternal love for me is what I had such a difficult time REALLY BELIEVING for a long, long time. Then he/she came through for me in marvelous ways. But, the old negative thoughts still take over from time to time, and so, he/she has to remind me again and again that “I am loved beyond compare!”
    This past year these very loving words came to me during meditation one day, and I am repeating them here, because I think they are meant for EVERYBODY.
    I have loved you from all eternity
    From when I first breathed you
    And every moment since

  4. Avatar
    Margaret Rose Hess

    Thank you for this morning’s meditation; it has been a blessing to me.
    As a gardener, I am fascinated by how awful dirty matter can fertilize and make verdant stuff that sustains and nourishes; how in a pinch of dirt there are billions of tiny life forms, most as yet unnamed and unstudied, that nurture roots with nutrients necessary for growth; how scraps / rubbish / garbage can become richly precious sweet-smelling compost; and how grass grows thinly and silently through and crumbles cement. Everything, every manner of thing, comes from sun working on celestial matter in eons of time, as geological stuff breaks down to dust, dirt, and mud, which eventually comes to form living matter, including us, both inside and out. Yes, we clean our gowns, scrape our boots and leave our shoes by the door, and now more than ever before we wash, wash, wash our hands. And it is right that we are humble, being just made of clay and other minerals with water, mud, essentially. But of all the creatures who share our earthly home, we know who we are and the honor we have to be alive in the celestial unfolding. This makes me feel very thankful to the One, as Vivian has said, who has loved us from all eternity.

    1. Avatar

      What a lovely reflection Margaret. Your mention of clay makes me think of John O’Donohue who, being Irish with a love of the land, honors the clay from which we come. He mentions the clay in more than one poem. In a romantic one I can’t seem to find, he speaks of the clay wherein two lovers lay before being born and meeting each other. Coming from clay is such a lovely image. Thank you for all your images.

  5. Avatar

    Thanks so much for such a refreshing reminder of the beauty of being loved by the goodness of God. Goodness is God is such a restorative and life-giving truth.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Elaine,
      Such an ironic situation. He was holding clay in his hands,figuratively. He was saying that we were all made of clay. But he could not see the clay as part of God’s sacred creation! He rejected that mix of soil and water as dirty trash, instead of smearing it on and saying “from dust I was born, to dust I shall return!” My response is one of sadness for the little Calvin who wanted to go outside and play in the mud while his mother held him back just to keep his clothes clean. Sometimes theology is barn from the home. What a missed opportunity.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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