To speak of wisdom is to demonstrate another direction humanity can move beyond the patriarchal stuckness of raw knowledge alone. Wisdom is what happens when one becomes “stripped to the literal substance of oneself before God,” as Howard Thurman put it. It is what follows after a great trial or loss or a trauma such as what occurred in the American psyche on January 6, 2021. It is a breakdown that results in a breakthrough. It is what the mystics call the “via negativa,” a hard lesson of letting go and letting be.
Letting go of what? Maybe of patriarchy. Of that philosophy of life that puts domination ahead of cooperation and control ahead of letting be and pessimism ahead of hope.
But what to take its place? What about wisdom? “But wisdom is feminine,” you say, “and I don’t want to be a sissy.” Wisdom is feminine but she is keen on looking at the big picture, not just the partial picture. She is also keen on looking at the goodness in things, indeed the Hebrew Bible says that “Wisdom is the mother of all good things.” Wisdom would be a new start for our educational systems that our professional elites from lawyers to judges to politicians to educators to scientists and medical professionals pass through; and a new start for a civilization that has run on patriarchal principles for long enough. Among them being empire-building. And “might makes right.” And “I win, you lose.”
Julian of Norwich explores how wisdom as the “mother of all good things” transforms the way we live and look at the world. Let us consider some of her observations.
Says Julian: “God is all that is good. . . . God says ‘I am the sovereign goodness of all things.’” Notice how this offers a new starting point of our understanding of God as Goodness. Not reward or punishment that a punitive father God dishes out, but goodness such as mother wisdom lays out.
“Wisdom is the mother of all good things” is an invitation to seek out and remember our experiences of goodness. Even when—especially when– the world is suffering and struggling with chaos, trauma and hurt.
Julian tells us that Goodness “is the quality of God that meets evil with good.” For her, retrieving and remembering goodness and recovering a sense of goodness, is at the heart of combatting suffering and evil.
Julian advises us that when it is hard to see the goodness of things, when one is mired in the darkness and chaos is everywhere, it is all the more important to remember the goodness of things.
The goodness we acknowledge in a time of pandemic and of human malfeasance is the goodness of nature itself and existence itself which is deeper than history; far deeper than journalism, and which reaches down to being itself. Julian knew this. What is needed in times like ours is a love of creation, a love of being itself.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 20f.
Do you find yourself going deeper into yourself and being itself in times like ours when brokenness and chaos abounds? What are you finding there in your foundations?
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.