Clearly Julian is not tiptoeing through the tulips—even as she says: “All will be well, all manner of things will be well.” This is while living through the most destructive pandemic in European history, the Bubonic plague that killed from 40 to 50% of the population! It comes only after meditating deeply on the crucifixion of Christ and reminding us that his suffering is all of our suffering and it is human to suffer.
Yesterday we considered some of Julian’s teachings on evil and how we dance between wellness and woe, “this mingling all our lives.” Yet love laughs at evil and overcomes it.
Julian resists dualisms. After all, she is a mystic calling us to our deep oneing. While a non-dualist, she is not oblivious that differences exist, and instead of denying those differences or covering them over with sweet talk and sugarcoating, she calls for a mingling. Life demands of us that we necessarily undergo “a wondrous mixture of well and woe,” of light and dark, of via positiva and via negativa. She assures us that God knows all about this need to mingle, in fact “God is our true partner in this weaving and joining.” It is a creative and co-creative process, a dance that we weave with the Holy Spirit, a via creativa to which we give birth.
Julian calls us frequently to develop our dialectical capacities of seeing the world in a both/and way, instead of either/or. “Whether rising or falling, we are always graciously enfolded in one love. In the sight of God we do not fall and in our own sight we do not stand. While both of these perspectives are true, as I see it, the way God sees is the highest truth.” She prefers the glass half-full to the glass half-empty way of seeing the world. She continues: “What is most helpful, I realized, is for us to hold both truths together in this life. The higher perspective gives us spiritual solace and true joy, while the other keeps us humble.” Both opinions have their truth, claims Julian, but God’s, that we are not failures, is better. And from there our joy derives. From our self-doubt a certain humility obtains, however, and that has its place as well.
In a non-dualistic awareness, paradox and humor will always play an important part. Both are reminders that life is not one-dimensional; laughter has its place in a both/and world. Laughing at our condition and circumstances expresses a certain humility. “Both perspectives” can be true at the same time, she assures us.
Julian instructs us that we have two duties to perform in life: One is that “we must reverently wonder and be surprised.” This names clearly the via positiva: reverence, wonder, awe, surprise. “The other is we must gently let go and let be, always taking pleasure in God.” Thus, the via negativa wherein we undergo suffering, loss, letting go and letting be. Be gentle and find the divine there she says.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 67-69.
Banner Image: Water lily from Grace Memorial Chapel, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA. Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash.
Have you experienced what Julian calls the weaving and joining, mingling and wondrous mixture of well and woe, the via positiva and the via negativa? How do they blend for you? How does one instruct the other?
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.