Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich is a good example of how we read texts selectively, imposing on them our own interests and preoccupations. To some she is a feminist theologian, defying male authority with her delicate understanding of the motherhood of God and her optimistic view of human nature. To others, she is the great seer of the Passion, whose lively imagination and homely turn of phrase brings Calvary before our eyes in painful detail. To others still, she is one of those gifted women who transcend conventional categories but whose prayerful quest for understanding has produced a theology of great subtlety and beauty. I would not myself call Julian a feminist, any more than I would call her a mystic (a term used in its current sense only since the seventeenth century). I think she is something much more interesting than that. She is a unique and challenging voice from the Middle Ages. Her Revelations of Divine Love are not meant to be merely read or commented on; they are meant to be engaged with, taken to heart, lived. We are not to be mere spectators of the Passion; we are to feel the drops of blood falling from Christ’s head, the drying wind that blew across Calvary; we are to meet him in his ‘stained and dirty kirtle’ and know him for our Saviour. Julian is much more systematic in her writing than might at first appear, and it is only gradually that her purpose unfolds. She is worth taking time and trouble over because her theme is Life itself.

Note: if you do not yet know this book by Professor Turner, I thoroughly recommend it:

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3 thoughts on “Julian of Norwich”

  1. Thanks for this. I recently read a biography of Julian of Norwich for the first time (by Amy Fryckholm) and it was a complete revelation. Previously, I had only read a very few quotes from her, and I had viewed her as neither mystic nor feminist but (I must confess) a little bit bonkers. It was really helpful to have a biography to contextualise her writings. I’ll put this one on my wish list too. 🙂

  2. I have and refer to a book by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard called “Introducing Julian – Woman of Norwich”.

    Which I often refer back to in prayer. It was commended to me by my Spiritual Director and I haven’t found it wanting.

    I like your take on her, which accords with one that I hold.
    And it’s a way of life unique to her time as described by Sr Obbard in her epilogue to the book “A true searcher after God”.

  3. I must agree that there is a tendency (fallen foul of this myself on many occassions) to cherry pick texts and use them to reinforce our existing ideas rather than allowing them to shape new ones.

    There is something compelling and urgent about Julian’s words that I find hard to define. They evoke strong emotion and depth of feeling whether I study them at length or dip into parts foe inspiration when praying. Well worth the effort of looking for her words.

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