We are undergoing—again—a presidential impeachment which the constitution refers to as “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
This is following on a mob scene at the nation’s capitol that we witnessed on live television and that resulted in the deaths of 7 people and physical injuries to over 140 policemen and mental scars of trauma that will last for a very long time to hundreds of congress people.
These were events left a deep scar on American democracy. “A near-death experience” to American democracy, Stacey Abrams called it.
A sacrilegious despoiling of the nation’s capitol, as honored a symbol as America has for its democratic experiment. An apocalyptic event that was also a moment of revelation of the anger and hostility burning in many Americans’ souls that threatened many and killed others.
Julian, while building her theology on the goodness in nature (including human nature), and our need to cultivate that goodness in ourselves, also speaks directly to evil. First, she insists on not lying, on telling the truth, on resisting the temptation to denying the suffering that we undergo—especially in a time of pandemic.
A pandemic is physical evil. How humans respond to suffering is part of our capacity to choose good over evil. That is moral evil. In her day there were scapegoating going on (as there is today and as there was in Germany in the 1930’s). Julian said No to that.
Julian also teaches that by cultivating our powers of love we can overcome evil. Indeed, in her experience love conquers evil and even laughs at evil. This teaching seems to parallel the work and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and MLK, Jr and their many imitators. Non-violence returns love for hostility and evil.
Evil is bigger than the term ‘sin’ which has often substituted for a serious discussion of evil in religious circles. Just as a fine book from decades ago spoke of how “your God is too small,” so too we can say today that often our souls are too small and our understanding of sin is too small.
The term “high crimes and misdemeanors” captures some of the largeness of evil. As does the creator of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer’s quoting the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” as he witnessed the fireball of the first nuclear test.
Physicists had tasted evil. The world has not been the same since. Now many countries make and possess hydrogen bombs whose capacity for destruction is many times that of the atomic bombs.
Julian speaks directly to deep pain and suffering and invokes the experience of Jesus on the cross as an archetype of such pain. Yet 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.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 20-33, 88-99.
Banner Image: “Los Angeles: Looking for Peace (Olhar a Paz),”covering a 4300 square-foot wall at 1220 North Highland Avenue, was painted by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra in 2013. Instead of painting full portraits as he usually does, Kobra instead opted to focus on just the eyes of his subjects—Nobel laureates Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.
Do you understand a “largeness” to evil? What follows from that? How big must goodness be to take on evil?
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.