JULIAN OF NORWICH IN OUR TIME
We don’t have to look far to see suffering and pain in the world today. Humanity cries out for respite and relief across the globe. Yet, I believe there are pathways into true joy available to mankind, pathways that have been around for a very long time. Julian of Norwich, one of my favorite church mystics, received many visions that the modern person can turn to on their quest for hope and joy. Her parable of the servant is one of my favorites and I believe it has much to offer us today.
In this parable we witness God’s unwavering abiding compassion for humanity alongside Christ’s suffering and oneing with mankind. We eventually come face to face with the fact that God, the creator of the universe who could make any dwelling place he desires, patiently waits from mankind to return to the noble purpose he was created for – to be the dwelling place of God.
In this blog I will take you on a journey with the servant Julian of Norwich saw in her vision in the late 14th century in the hopes that you too will find your pathway out of pain and into God’s joy.
Who is God’s Chosen Servant
In this vision Julian initially sees the lord looking towards his servant with deep love and compassion. She later comes to understand that the lord is God and the servant is Adam. Adam represents all men and woman through all time because this is how God sees Adam. Looking at each other the lord and the servant share the same perfect love, they experience a oneness rooted in perfect love. Then it’s time, the lord sends the servant off to fulfill his divine purpose. His soul is destined to become God’s city and dwelling-place.
In all his excitement and haste to serve the lord the servant leaps forward and falls in a ditch where he is badly wounded. He suffered immense injury and, sadly, he became unaware of the fact that the lord, the source of all his help, was so near. The lord’s heart was full of love and compassion as his eyes gazed upon his beloved servant. The lord was just above the ditch, waiting for him in the barren desert. If only his servant would look up; however, the wounds sustained by the servant called him to look towards his own suffering instead of the lord. So there the servant lay; suffering, hurting, and falsely believing he is all alone.
The Servant’s Wounds and God’s Love
Looking at his own pains the servant realized that he suffered seven immense torments. He couldn’t turn his attention away from them, he was stuck. Too many of God’s children still suffer these torments today, too many are still laying wounded in their ditch fixated on their wounds. Many eyes are still cast down and multitudes have not yet fully turned to our lord. The world is a brutal ditch. There is only one way out of the ditch and into bliss, and it is revealed in this parable (read on – this gets exciting!)
The Suffering Servant’s Seven Torments
- The servant felt terrible bruising when he fell – his body was badly hurt (but not broken).
- His body suddenly felt heavy and burdensome.
- Weakness overtook him.
- He had almost forgotten his deep love for the lord.
- Trapped in the ditch, he believed he couldn’t rise.
- It looked like the servant was all alone in the ditch.
- The ditch was riddled with pain and difficulties.
As God looked at his faithful, hurting servant his love for him never wavered. God, seeing the servant’s pain, proclaimed that he will give him greater glory because his suffering is so profound. The lord will blissfully reward the servant for all eternity. You see, God knows that the servant’s will is good and that he only fell because he was excited to do God’s will. Each and every one of us experiences pain in the ditch, no human being gets a free pass on planet earth.
God Waits For Us
There sat God, the creator of the universe, who could create for himself any abode to live in. Yet there he sat, waiting for his servant to turn to him. Why? Because this servant still holds within him his noble purpose – his soul was created to become the dwelling place of God. The lord sits on his seat in the desert waiting with great sorrow and pity for his servant. If only the servant could see how truly lovable he was and how much the lord loved him then he would become free.
The servant was created to be the lord’s gardener, working and tilling the soil until it yields fresh water and plentiful produce to serve the lord. For now, the lord sits with no food and no drink, waiting for his beloved servant to cultivate the earth. While eternal life and every kind of goodness exists within the lord, there is a special treasure in the earth that, while it has its origin in the lord, it will not reach its full glory until the servant cultivates it fully. The gardener must cultivate it – it is his bliss to do so. Without the lord the earth is pure wilderness, with the lord and the servant working together it becomes a beautiful garden.
One Tunic – Adam and Christ
The servant’s tunic was small, torn, and stained. It was drenched in sweat and it was very worn, ragged and tattered. This seemed odd clothing for the lord’s beloved servant to Julian (and to me). However, the tunic carried its own message. God revealed to Julian that the torn and worn out tunic reveals Adams toil. Then something beautiful happens!
God’s very own Son appears before God. Wearing Adams worn and tattered tunic, burning with love reminiscent of the love the servant had for the lord, he desires to fall into the Virgin’s womb. As Adam fell, so must the Son. They both fell into the earth – the ditch.
The Son’s fall changed everything. God, looking at his servant, now sees both Christ’s humanity and Adam. Strength and goodness from Christ’s humanity exists alongside the weakness and blindness of Adam – all are contained in this one servant. God can no more assign guilt to Adam than he can assign guilt to his very own guiltless Son. Father God looks at us with the very same love he has for his beloved Son. The Son united himself with us when he took on Adam’s tunic. He chose to wear our tattered tunic. He leap from the Godhead, leaping from the Father, into the virgin’s womb all out of love for Adam – for all men.
The oneing of Adam and Christ’s humanity in the servant dictates that they must suffer together. But how could Christ possible suffer? Even though he is in the ditch his eyes are always focused on the Father – the source of all healing. The only way the sinless Son can suffer is to take on Adam’s suffering. Christ’s tunic was tattered, covered in sweat and blood during his Passion, a tunic he would eventually be stripped of as he lay bare on the cross. The blows, the scourging, the thorns, the nails, and the dragging all had to be so that he would become the pathway for the servant to follow. Always looking towards the Father, Christ shows Adam the way to the Father. The one who can heal the servant becomes one with the servant. Out of perfect love, Christ shares our painful ditch experience for one reason – to show mankind the way to the Father.
Christ’s tunic became glorious on Easter morning! Just as the lord promised, he gave the servant more glory because he suffered immensely out of love for him. Jesus Christ took Adam’s old tunic and made it new and glorious. In Julian’s vision his new tunic was even more beautiful and glorious then the lord’s clothing. It is beautiful, white and bright beyond words. On his head rests a crown of immeasurable richness, mankind – we are his crown! And this crown is the Father’s joy, the Son’s glory, and the Holy Spirit’s delight. The Son has become the highest of the Father’s joys and we are invited to follow him into paradise.
The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:22-23
It’s Our Time
Jesus told us that he is the way, the truth, and the life. (see John 4:16) Each and every one of us lives in a state of onening with him – even those who are blind and unaware. It’s up to us to follow Christ and do as he does. He is the only one who can lead us out of the ditch. He will show us the way out of the ditch and into the garden. Every human being is invited to tend the lord’s garden and share in the banquet feast.
We can choose anger, hate, jealousy, revenge, fear, exclusion, and/or unforgiveness and remain focused on the wounds suffered as a result of our fall into the ditch. We can fertilize the weeds and they will certainly grow. Or, we can choose to turn to Christ and follow him. We can choose compassion and understanding over anger, love over hate, gratitude over jealousy, mercy over revenge, trust in the lord over fear, inclusion over exclusion, and forgiveness over unforgiveness. When we do these things the garden becomes full of divine fruit. And then, we become a glorious jewel in Christ’s crown.
God bless all of you – Carolyn
God the Father – hold us in your Fatherly love.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – heal us with your divine love.
God the Holy Spirit – immerse us in divine love.