Julian (1342-c.1429) develops a feminist theology that includes the Motherhood of God the Creator, God the Liberator, and God the Spirit more fully than any writer before the late twentieth century.  She is a feminist 700 years before feminism–not only for her in-depth development of the theme of the motherhood of God but also because she deconstructs the dualisms of patriarchy—dualisms between nature and grace, God and nature, body and soul. She celebrates body and soul much as Thomas Aquinas does for their “glorious union”—spirituality and sensuality. “God is in our sensuality” she insists; matter and spirit. 

Icon of Julian of Norwich. Photo originally posted to Flickr by Nancy Torsen.

Indeed, renowned feminist Catholic theologian Rosemary Reuther insisted that the essence of patriarchy is dualism—and Julian utterly lays dualism to waste (bye-bye, Plato) and thus deconstructs patriarchy from the ground up.  She also comments that, while the church teaches about the wrath of God, she sees neither wrath nor vengeance in God.  No wonder she has been largely ignored for six hundred years!  You can’t do empire-building on a theology like that!

In developing the concept of the Motherhood of Jesus and Christ, Julian offers a substantive teaching on Advent that very much parallels that of Eckhart such as we discussed in yesterday’s DM.  She writes: Jesus is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly carried and out of whom we will never come. 

We meditated yesterday on Meister Eckhart’s Christmas sermon and advent teaching that God is awaiting our coming alive and coming more fully human at Christmas time—therefore the fuller birthing of the Cosmic Christ in us as sons and daughters of God.  Advent then is a gestation period–it was for Mary waiting for the birth of Jesus; it is for us awaiting our own birthing as Cosmic Christs (or Buddha natures or images of God).  Unlike other creatures, we humans are not fully formed yet.

What Julian is saying in her profound redoing of the Advent/Christmas story is that we are always in a state of being in the womb of the Divine, a place of utter interdependence and compassion (since the word compassion derives from both the Hebrew and Arabic words for womb).  We leave the womb of our literal mothers to enter the world and prepare for the fray that awaits us, but when it comes to the womb of God and the Cosmic Christ, we do not leave.  We swim in it our whole lives long.  That is what panentheism means–in Julian’s words, “The high Goodness of the Trinity is Christ in whom we are all enclosed and he in us.”

An awareness of this reality constitutes a true awakening—what Aquinas calls our “first resurrection.”  Such an advent prepares us not just for a new Christmas but for a new Easter.  It also prepares us for a new adulthood, one that leads with compassion—the work of the mammal brain—and not self-pity and fits of power-over—the work of the reptilian brain and patriarchal consciousness.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 52, 40-44, 59-71.
Banner image: “The Star of Bethlehem, 1887-1891. Sir Edward Burne-Jones *Nativity scene. To the left, Joseph, Mary and the infant Christ to the right, the three kings, Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar. Commissioned by the Corporation of Birmingham, 1887” Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

Does Julian shed light for you on a deeper meaning of both Advent and Easter?  Be with her teachings in this essay and let them wash over you.

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond

Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.”  –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.

Upcoming Events

Mirabai Starr and Matthew Fox teach a 7-week course: Julian of Norwich: A Bold Gentle Visionary on Living in a Time of Pandemic. Beginning Wednesday, December 2, 2020 and running through January. On The Shift Network, Wednesdays at 8pm ET and 5pm PT (GMT/UTC-8). Registration is open until December 15: enroll HERE.

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2 thoughts on “Julian of Norwich on Advent”

  1. Avatar

    Wonderful! This book is a enournously helpful in discovering my UK roots. I,m 80 miles from Norwich so plan to visit when able soon. As a man I am inspired by this call to embrace the femine and mother in me -what am I birthing? It s also a healing book as someone who suffered abuse early in life from my parents. I find it reassuring to know I am eternally loved by the real Divine Mother. Thank you. A guide book for Covid…

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