Creation Spirituality: Lineage of Julian of Norwich

Julian and her spiritual insight did not just drop out of the sky; her theology did not come out of nowhere.  Though she was original and substantive in her own right, she is not a spiritual or theological loner.  She is very much a part of a lineage, one hears in her writings echoes of great creation centered mystics before her including Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Meister Eckhart.  Indeed, in Julian’s day Norwich was a hotbed of theological and mystical energy and she drew from many sources that no doubt were being shared and fiercely debated all around her. 

Sacred wheel of creation by Hildegard von Bingen. This photo was originally posted here. For more works by Hildegard see Matthew Fox’s book; Illuminations.

The Dominicans for example had a very strong presence in Norwich (their large Gothic church still exists though it no longer serves as a church).  With a very strong presence of Dominicans surely Julian knew basics of Aquinas’ and Eckhart’s teachings and probably Mechtild as well since her spiritual director was a Dominican.  Furthermore, the Benedictine tradition was very visible in Norwich also and that tradition was basically creation-centered (Hildegard of Bingen after all was a powerful Benedictine abbess).  And Francis and the Franciscans were about as well.

Joyful cat smiling. Photo by Jae Park on Unsplash.

The themes that Julian presented so wonderfully of the Goodness of God and creation, the motherhood of God, trust, earthiness, cosmic awareness and more were all treated by these other creation mystics of the Rhineland movement.  In many ways, Julian represents a sort of apogee in the CS tradition—not only because she stands on the shoulders of these other mystical and prophetic giants but also because she dared to offer so reassuring and positive and hopeful a message during the waves of the Black Death plague that washed through her lifetime.  None of these other CS mystics had to endure the dark times that she endured.  Her trust—which is her faith–was truly tested.  She never backed down.

But sad to say, in many ways she was the end of the line for cs both because Eckhart had been condemned in 1329 and also because the Black Death, with no science to comprehend it, replaced respect for the sacredness of creation that had dominated the spiritual consciousness of her predecessors in the Middle Ages with fear of nature. 

Image of Julian of Norwich created by Iconographer, Julie Lonneman.

Indeed, witch burnings and often destruction of cats accompanied some of the frenzied responses to the pandemic including anti-semitism—making Jews into scapegoats. It is interesting that in a famous stained glass window of Julian of Norwich her cat is prominently displayed.  Might that be a not-so-subtle critique of the witch burnings and cat killings resulting from the fearful response to the Black Death that projected blame not only on Jews but also on peasant women and healers as “witches” and their cats too?  How ironic since cats could have killed many of the rodents who were carrying the disease.

It seems pandemics bring out the best—but sometimes the worst—of human nature.

See Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 75-104. 

See Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 294f., 390-398.

Banner Image: Rays of light shining on Daytona Beach, FL. Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Meditate on Hildegard or Francis or Aquinas or Eckhart teachings that parallel those of Julian.  Allow such teachings—including the “original goodness” of creation—to develop the spiritual warrior in yourself to resist such responses as resentments and scapegoating and to cultivate compassion instead of resentment born of fear.

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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7 thoughts on “Creation Spirituality: Lineage of Julian of Norwich”

  1. Avatar

    I agree that this pandemic, like all widespread crises, can bring out the best and the worst in people. It is well to remember the experience in Germany, which I can see happening in the U.S. with all the scapegoating and blaming that is going on that poses a real and present danger to democracy. I pray that the original goodness will be drawn upon by the majority of people, who learn to see that this is a great opportunity to grow spiritually and to make a stronger community based on love and respect for one another.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      We pray that we all do all that we can to ensure that we do not scapegoat, as others have and still do.

  2. Avatar
    Anne Marie Raftery

    These meditations on Julian have inspired me with courage, hope and amazement.
    The Laughing Cat is not only darling, but also exudes a distinct happy energy!
    Thank you for inspiring Oneness in your daily meditations.

  3. Avatar
    enrique brieba

    It is so heartening to read about times, even at the worst of a pandemic that discussion on theological issues were at the very center of concerns for many if not for the few different groups in society that partook of them.Nowadays there is no interest in issues of that nature, very much perhaps because clericalism has reduced and decreased their concern for this as part of living in society. Pope Francis has advanced into a way of thinking that involves respect for nature, perhaps not so demanding as it should be. Neverytheless it is a start from where we can go on and and break away from technocratic economic thinking that has brought about damage and concentration of economic power.

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