Julian’s first advice about surviving a pandemic is not to deny the suffering that accompanies it. No denial!
But her second advice and medicine for rough times is to remember the good—the goodness of things and experiences, the goodness in nature, the goodness of being alive. As she sees it, God is all that is good. . . . God says “I am the sovereign goodness of all things.” Another word for goodness is beauty.
Aquinas taught that goodness and beauty are parallel in meaning with a slight nuance whereby goodness is more directly related to the sense appetite and beauty to the intellectual appetite. For Julian, goodness is another name for the divine. Beauty is also, according to Aquinas. Both are saying therefore that our search for goodness is a spiritual practice.
While Julian begins her book with a lengthy meditation on the suffering and death of Jesus—suffering that she recognizes as common to all humanity–her showings went beyond that of death (the via negativa) to what matters most: goodness, joy, and awe (the via positiva).
She spends years—decades, even—turning over her experiences and visions in her head and heart. And she lives a long life in service to others by her work as a counselor and spiritual director to many, both in person and, of course, through all three versions of her book. In the process, she becomes a healer for others, mirroring the motherly, compassionate dimension to divinity that she writes about so convincingly. She births light into a world ravaged by darkness and anxiety, and she instructs us in doing the same.
As much as Julian speaks directly to deep pain and suffering and invokes the experience of Jesus on the cross as an archetype of such pain, she spends far more time teaching us to pay attention to experiences of joy and goodness and awe.
Why? She 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 combating 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.
Derek Walcott, a Caribbean poet who won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, declared in his acceptance speech that “the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world in spite of history.” To fall in love is to acknowledge goodness; goodness is about love, and love is about goodness. The goodness we must acknowledge in a time of pandemic and of human malfeasance is the goodness of nature itself and existence itself.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 20f.
Banner Image: Revelations of Divine Love (Add MS 37790) f. 97r: “There es A Vision Schewed Be the goodnes of god to Ade/uoute Woman and hir Name es Julyan that is recluse atte/Norwyche and 3itt ys onn lyfe.” Mid-15th century, from the British Library Manuscript. On Wikimedia Commons.
Are you a hunter-gatherer after goodness? In rough times, are you upping the ante?
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.