David Paladin and Julian of Norwich on Suffering and Initiation

In yesterday’s DM artist-shaman David Palladin taught us that suffering teaches us something profound–we learn “that our wounds are not ours but the world’s and Mother Earth’s.” 

The deathbed vision of Julian of Norwich. Icon by Father William Hart McNichols.

How important is that?  Is that a lesson Jesus taught us also, whoever we are?  So often Christians fall into sentimentalizing Jesus on the cross and in doing so often miss the point.  Julian of Norwich resisted such sentimentalizing.  She too went through an excruciating near-death experience but after she came out of it she had much to teach us, just like David Palladin.  Clearly, hers too was an initiatory experience.  

Interestingly, Julian’s near-death experience was not focused on an experience of light as such—but on death.  She explicitly tells us that Jesus’s death and suffering stands for “everyman” or humanity as a whole. This suggests that her experience with death around her due to the plague from the age of seven was the starting point for her awakening.

We learn things in the via negativa that we don’t learn anywhere else. Compassion is one of them.

Julian offers some blunt advice about dealing with pain:

It is God’s will that we do all in our power to keep ourselves strong, for happiness is everlasting and pain is passing and will end.

“All Shall Be Well.” Short narration of selected lines from chapter 27 of the Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich. Uploaded to YouTube by Lloyd Ezra Fortune

All pain comes to an end, she advises.

Therefore it is not God’s will that we pine and mourn over feelings of pain, but that we get better and continue to enjoy life.

She resists all temptations to victimhood. She advises us to

…take our trials and dis-eases as lightly as we can. For the more lightly we take them and the less price we set on them, for love, the less pain we will have in feeling them and the more thanks and refreshment we will have for them.

Julian also talks candidly about meditating on the pain and suffering that Jesus underwent at the hands of the Roman Empire. After all, her visions occurred at the time of Good Friday, the commemoration of his torturous death on a cross. That death, of course, was a political act of spreading terror not unlike lynching, one that was meant by its very cruelty to alert all citizens to the ignoble punishment due anyone who dares to challenge the empire.

About Jesus’s “dark night” Julian writes:

Unimaginable sufferings of humanity and the Divine: CNN’s Sam Kiley reports from a Delhi cemetery. India’s total number of COVID-19 cases surpasses 18 million, with 379,257 new cases on April 29, 2021 alone. Uploaded to YouTube by CNN

The divinity leapt from the Father into the womb of the maiden, descending into form to take on our human nature, and in this descent he was mortally wounded. His wounds are our own flesh, in which he was to experience unbearable anguish and fatal suffering.

She makes explicit that she is not just talking about Jesus, but about all who suffer. Nor is she thinking of just Christians, but about the whole of humanity when she says, “Christ himself embodies all humanity.” Jesus suffered “all the pains associated with the human condition, and [God] did not spare him from any suffering.” He did not escape “the conditions of misery” that most humans undergo.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 7, 9f.

Banner Image: “File:Estatua de la crucifixión. Cristo crucificado.jpg” by Pixabay user ‘Ruali’ is marked with CC0 1.0 From Creative Commons.

Have you had serious “initiations” in your life by way of suffering and loss?  Did you recognize them as that at the time?  Or much later?  Have you learned in life “that our wounds are not ours but the world’s and Mother Earth’s”? 

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.

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3 thoughts on “David Paladin and Julian of Norwich on Suffering and Initiation”

  1. Avatar

    I went though plenty of suffering: physical, emotional, and spiritual throughout my entire life. Unfortunately I was brought up with the belief that if I suffered, it meant that God loved me! So, as a nun, I would look to the cross and felt that I shared Jesus’ suffering, and felt comforted that way.
    I don’t remember exactly when or how there was a turn-around for me, but for years now, probably since I received the “gift of healing,” I’ve used this gift nor only for others but for myself, to the point that when I experience pain, which is an ongoing thing at my age, I can easily see it disappear by simply fully accepting it, not dwelling on it, and with the words: “It’s OK. It’s all right, It is what it is,” I can do my daily exercises, take care of my house and garden, and enjoy my life.
    Reading Matthew’s book on Julian, has further opened my eyes on dealing with inner struggles, as I’m learning to dwell not on my shortcomings but on the “Goodness of God within and without me. ” Thank you, Matthew! blessings, and Namaste!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Vivian, Suffering and asceticism aren’t all there is to the spiritual life. There is also “Sheer Joy” as Matthew titles, his book on Aquinas. On the other hand, as we get older, the aches and pains come more, and things wear out, so we must learn to adapt and “adjust our sails” as my wife says. May God bless your life that has been a testimony to God’s grace.

      1. Avatar

        Thank you, Richard! And your wife is right on . . . one needs “to adjust sails ” as we go along. Blessings and Namaste.

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