Julian on Living through Wellness and Woe

Julian of Norwich tells us that in life we “experience a wondrous mixture of well and woe” and that “this mingling of both well and distress in us is so astonishing that we can hardly tell which state we or our neighbor are in—that’s how astonishing it is!”

Tear Gas Outside the U.S. Capitol, 1/6/2021. Photo by Tyler Merbler, on
Wikimedia Commons

The last ten days have been deep in astonishing woe carried out in our nation’s capitol, a symbol we look to of a hoped-for democracy where violence and hate yield to debate and compromise. For hours, hate ruled and five died, sixty police officers were seriously injured, while white supremacists, flags a flying—Confederate, American, Jesus flags—and chants of “Lynch Mike Pence” and “USA, USA, USA,” and “Jesus Rules” filled the air while the rampage raged on.

What does Julian say about evil?  She defines it this way: evil is “everything that is counter to peace and love.”  Yes, “it is in our nature to reject evil,” and evil is “unnatural.” 

Plenty of evil was in the air and on the ground on January 6, 2021—which became a real epiphany—not of a child promising peace for all people of good will—but for those exhibiting profound grievances and bitterness in their hearts while storming the capitol. 

Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman diverts an angry pro-Trump mob away from the open Senate Chamber on January 6, 2021. Uploaded to YouTube by Yahoo.

Amidst the woe, however, there were also many stories of wellness.  Many of the police were heroic in holding their ground long enough for the congress people to get evacuated and also shielding one another; one in particular, Eugene Goodman, stands out for steering the mob by the opposite direction from the senate chambers that, as it turned out, gave the congress people the precious minute to escape.  Vets gathered the next day to clean the trash and signs of hate that littered the city; and there was bravery manifested by some in congress who came to the aid of one another—and courage is wellness. 

There were also congress people who, while politicking as “pro life,” chose to shun wearing masks in close quarters where congressional refugees fled.  This resulted in at least six congress people getting COVID. That is moral woe of the lowest kind.  That plus whichever congress people aided and abetted the mob by their repeating publicly the big lie that trump won the election by a land slide and by actually engaging with the white supremacists before their invasion.

Popular meme: batting away all forms of negativity. Created for J.C. Penney.

So, like Julian tells us, life is wellness and woe.  We have choices to make: choose the direction of wellness?  or a direction of woe?  Some flunked the test on January 6. 

Life itself holds plenty of woe: There is sickness and death and loss and sometimes there are pandemics and plagues.  Humans are called to dance with the woe by way of a strong wellness.  We are not asked to add to the woe by refusing to look inside and thereby project our own resentments, ignorance, lies, shadow, denial (which is lies) or hypocrisy (also lies) onto others.  That way lies folly and more woe.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 88-99.

See Lawmakers introduce bill to honor officer who led Capitol rioters away from Senate

Also see Vets Clean Up Capitol Siege

Banner Image: A replica of ancient Greek masks for tragedy and comedy. Photo by Phil Shirley on Flickr

Do you see what Julian sees in terms of wellness and woe playing out in life and in human history?  How do we best develop our capacity for wellness?  How best assist others to do the same?

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3 thoughts on “Julian on Living through Wellness and Woe”

  1. Avatar

    From England.
    Following on with the theme of Julian of Norwich I offer this:
    A big movement in England is the Circle Dance community where 1000s of peace loving people come together to dance in a circle, having a candle as a centre piece. Cindy Kelly one of our leading dance facilitators gives us the dance ‘Bells of Norwich’. There is a song as well as a dance with a chorus of ‘Ring out bells of Norwich, let the winter come and go, All shall be well again I know’
    Try youtube.com/watch?v=QOEPVoHkBOw
    published on 12th May 2020

  2. Avatar

    I love the lyrics to this song:
    “You’ve got to accentuate the positive
    Eliminate the negative
    Latch on to the affirmative
    Don’t mess with Mister In Between
    You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
    Bring gloom down to the minimum
    Have faith or pandemonium”

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