Archive for April, 2021

A Wisdom for Our Time

April 8th, 2021

I believe it is a loss to our Christian heritage that Julian’s mystical teachings have not received more widespread hearing. Matthew Fox points out that she was in many ways ahead of her time. Her voice and writings were sidelined by a patriarchal church and culture unable to hear her nondual message of “oneing” and her celebration of embodiment as an extension of the Incarnation itself. Perhaps we are finally ready to hear Julian’s wisdom today. Matthew Fox writes:

We learn about ourselves, our history and society by asking questions that expose the shadows in which we still live. To me it is obvious why [Julian’s] work was ignored, and in naming the obvious we name the shadows we have inherited from our ancestors.

First, she was ignored because she was a woman. . . . Julian found her voice—and wrote the first book in English by a woman. She speaks out about womanhood and about mothering and about the Divine Mother. She insists on the feminine side of God as imbuing not only God the Creator, but God the Liberator, and God the Spirit. . . .

She bakes into her entire book the constant theme of nondualism and of “oneing.” Sensuality and substance are one thing. . . . She talks of the “glorious mingling” of body and soul, matter and spirit. She insists on the marriage of nature and God, on panentheism [God in all things and all things in God] as the very meaning of faith, and on the marriage of God and the human (for we, too, are part of nature): “between God and the human there is no between.”. . .

We were not ready for her. We were too engrossed with the masculine projects of empire building and “discovery” doctrines of raiding and destroying indigenous cultures of “mother love”; we were too busy chasing knowledge, at the expense of wisdom, for the power it brings to buttress our empires through science and technology, too preoccupied with creating capitalist behemoths that demanded we extract whatever goods we could from Mother Earth without asking any questions about paying Mother Earth—or future generations—back. . . . Julian’s feminism did not fit the patriarchal agenda at hand . . . and she stands up to patriarchy (including the institutional church) in many instances. But subtly so—as a lover, not as a prosecutor.

The second principal reason Julian has been ignored for so many centuries, and why we were not ready for her, is that she is so thoroughly creation-centered in her theology that people did not understand her insistence that “God is in nature,” that nature and grace are one, and that goodness is everywhere but “first of all in nature.” When the agenda is to exploit nature for all the profits it can deliver, who wants to hear about the sacredness of nature?

A Sacred Sweetness

April 7th, 2021
–> Today, treat yourself to reading directly from Julian. I am using Mirabai Starr’s wonderful translation of Julian’s Showings, which is also aptly called Revelations of Divine Love. This is from her Long Text, chapter 52. God rejoices that he is our Father. God rejoices that he is our Mother. God rejoices that he is our Beloved and we are his true lover. Christ rejoices that he is our Brother. Jesus rejoices that he is our Savior. These are five supreme joys and he wants us to rejoice in them, too, and praise him, thanking and loving and endlessly blessing him. During our lives here on earth, we experience a wondrous mixture of well and woe. We hold inside us both the glory of the Risen Christ and the misery of the Fallen Adam. Christ protects us in our dying and, through his gracious touch, uplifts us and reassures us that all will be well. . . . We are so fragmented, afflicted in our feelings in so many ways, that we hardly know where to turn for comfort. The various pains and transgressions of this life fill our hearts with sorrow and cloud the eyes of our souls. But we cultivate our intention and wait for God. We have faith in his mercy and grace, and trust that he is working within us. In his goodness, he opens the eyes of our understanding and gives us insight. Sometimes we glimpse more, sometimes we see less, depending on what God gives us the ability to receive. Now he elevates us; now he allows us to come tumbling down. The mixture of sorrow and joy is so powerful that we cannot figure out how to handle it all, let alone assess how our fellow spiritual seekers are doing. The diversity of feelings can be overwhelming. And yet, in those moments when we sense the presence of God, we surrender to him, truly willing to be with him, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength. This holy assent is all that matters. It eclipses all the wicked inclinations inside us—physical and spiritual—that might lead us to miss the mark. Sometimes, however, that sacred sweetness lies deeply buried, and we fall again into blindness, which leads to all kinds of sorrow and tribulation. So we must take comfort in the essential article of our faith that teaches us not to give into our negative impulses, but to draw strength from Christ, who is our defender against all harm. We need to stand up against evil, even if to do so causes discomfort—even pain—and pray for the time when God will once again reveal himself and fill our hearts with the sweetness of his presence. And so we remain in this muddle all the days of our lives. But our Beloved wants us to trust that he is always with us. With such deep and tender wisdom, is it any wonder that Julian is one of my favorite mystics—and human beings?

Love Revealed

April 6th, 2021
My dear friend Mirabai Starr, herself a mystic and author, has translated Julian’s Long Text (her second exploration of her visions) in a way that is both faithful to the original and understandable to today’s spiritual seekers. She introduces Julian’s work in this way: What does Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth-century Catholic anchoress, who spent the majority of her adult life cloistered in a small stone cell attached to a church, have to teach us here and now? She reveals the feminine face of the Divine in all its radiance and reminds us to seek God there. She teaches us that God’s love has nothing to do with rules and retribution and everything to do with mercy and compassion. She shows us that our failings and transgressions are simply an opportunity to learn and grow, and should be honored as such, but not dwelled upon. She translates the sorrows of this life as tastes of Christ’s passion and assures us that all passing pain will be transmuted into endless joy. Most of all, Julian of Norwich promises that, in spite of appearances to the contrary, all is well. Not just that creation was beautifully made to begin with, and that it will all work out in the end, but that everything is all right at every moment, if we could only look through the eyes of love. Such a perspective is difficult to sustain, Julian would be the first to admit. In rare moments of unitive consciousness—watching the sun rise, maybe, or giving birth, or singing to God in community—we may have fleeting glimpses of the cosmic design and see that it is good. But then the veil drops again and we forget. [1] Because of our continual forgetfulness, Julian ends her Long Text with an emphasis on divine love. Note that while Julian here uses male pronouns for God, throughout her work she also shows that God is beyond gender by consistently calling God both Father and Mother. Throughout the time of my showings, I wished to know what our Beloved meant. More than fifteen years later, the answer came in a spiritual vision. This is what I heard. “Would you like to know our Lord’s meaning in all this? Know it well: love was his meaning. Who revealed this to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why did he reveal it to you? For love. Stay with this and you will know more of the same. You will never know anything but love, without end.” And so what I saw most clearly was that love is his meaning. God wants us to know that he loved us before he even made us, and this love has never diminished and never will. All his actions unfold from this love, and through this love he makes everything that happens of value to us, and in this love we find everlasting life. Our creation has a starting point, but the love in which he made us has no beginning, and this love is our true source. [2]

A Mystic for Our Times

April 5th, 2021

My friend Matthew Fox published a book during the COVID-19 pandemic about Julian of Norwich. I love Julian’s teachings because she focuses on God’s infinite love, goodness, and mercy. Even during the Black Death (bubonic plague) in which perhaps a third of the world’s population died, even during her own near-death experience when she received visions of Jesus’ brutal crucifixion, Julian trusts that “all will be well.” Matthew Fox shows how Julian is a mystic for our own time. He writes:

A time of crisis and chaos, the kind that a pandemic brings, is, among other things, a time to call on our ancestors for their deep wisdom. Not just knowledge but true wisdom is needed in a time of death and profound change, for at such times we are beckoned not simply to return to the immediate past, that which we remember fondly as “the normal,” but to reimagine a new future, a renewed humanity, a more just and therefore sustainable culture, and one even filled with joy.

Julian of Norwich [1343–c. 1416] is one of those ancestors calling to us today. After all, she lived her entire life during a raging pandemic. Julian is a stunning thinker, a profound theologian and mystic, a fully awake woman, and a remarkable guide with a mighty vision to share for twenty-first-century seekers. She is a special chaperone for those navigating a time of pandemic. Julian knew a thing or two about “sheltering in place,” because she was an anchoress—that is, someone who, by definition, is literally walled up inside a small space for life. Julian also knew something about fostering a spirituality that can survive the trauma of a pandemic. While others all about her were freaking out about nature gone awry, Julian kept her spiritual and intellectual composure, staying grounded and true to her belief in the goodness of life, creation, and humanity and, in no uncertain terms, inviting others to do the same. . . .

Julian’s response to the pandemic, as we know it from her two books, [is] amazingly grounded in a love of life and gratitude. Instead of running from death, she actually prayed to enter into it and it is from that experience of death all around her and meditating on the cruel crucifixion of Christ that she interpreted as a communal, not just a personal event, that her visions arrived. . . .

Our sister and ancestor Julian is eager not only to speak to us today but to shout at us—albeit in a gentle way—to wake up and to go deep, to face the darkness and to dig down and find goodness, joy and awe. And to go to work to defend Mother Earth and all her creatures, stripping ourselves of racism, sexism, nationalisms, anthropocentrism, sectarianism—anything that interferes with our greatness as human beings. And to connect anew to the sacredness of life.

A Pattern We Can Trust

All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.
Julian of Norwich, Showings, chapter 27

Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which allows faithful Christians to trust that, indeed, all will be well. I like to think of the resurrection as God’s way of telling us that God can take the worst thing in the world—the killing of the God-Human Jesus—and change it into the best thing: the redemption of the world.

To believe that Jesus was raised from the dead is actually not a leap of faith. Resurrection and renewal are, in fact, the universal and observable pattern of everything. We might just as well use non-religious terms like “springtime,” “regeneration,” “healing,” “forgiveness,” “life cycles,” “darkness,” and “light.” If incarnation is real, if material creation is inspirited, then resurrection in multitudinous forms is to be fully expected. Or to paraphrase a statement attributed to Albert Einstein, it is not that one thing is a miracle, but that the whole thing is a miracle!

If divine incarnation has any truth to it, then resurrection is a foregone conclusion, not a one-time anomaly in the body of Jesus, as our Western understanding of the resurrection felt it needed to prove—and then it couldn’t. The Risen Christ is not a one-time miracle but the revelation of a universal pattern that is hard to see in the short run.

Simply put, if death is not possible for the Christ, then it is not possible for anything that “shares in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). God is by definition eternal, and God is Love (1 John 4:16), which is also eternal (1 Corinthians 13:8), and this same Love has been planted in our hearts (Romans 5:5; 8:9) by the Spirit dwelling within us. Such fully Implanted Love cannot help but evolve and prove victorious, and our word for that final victory is “resurrection.” Peter states this rather directly: “By raising Jesus Christ from the dead, we have a sure hope and the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoiled or soiled or fade away. It is being kept for you in the heavens . . . and will be fully revealed at the end of time” (1 Peter 1:3–5).

My book The Universal Christ is about the Eternal Christ, who never dies—and who never dies in you! Resurrection is about the whole of creation, it is about history, it is about every human who has ever been conceived, sinned, suffered, and died, every animal that has lived and died a tortured death, every element that has changed from solid, to liquid, to ether, over great expanses of time. It is about you and it is about me. It is about everything. The “Christ journey” is indeed another name for every thing.

The Wisdom of the Passion

April 1st, 2021

CAC teacher Cynthia Bourgeault invites us to consider the meaning of the passion from a wisdom perspective, not as a spectator watching what Jesus did, but understanding what each of us is called to do: 

The passion is really the mystery of all mysteries, the heart of the Christian faith experience. By the word “passion” here we mean the events which end Jesus’s earthly life: his betrayal, trial, execution on a cross, and death. . . .

The spectacle of an innocent and good man destroyed by the powers of this world is an archetypal human experience. It elicits our deepest feelings of remorse and empathy (and if we’re honest, our own deepest shadows as well). . . . It’s been used to stir anger and scapegoating. It’s been used to fuel anti-Semitism, to induce personal guilt—“Christ died for your sins”—and to arouse devotion in a sentimental and even fanatical way.

From a wisdom point of view, what can we say about the passion? . . .  The key lies in . . .  reading Jesus’s life as a sacrament: a sacred mystery whose real purpose is not to arouse empathy but to create empowerment. In other words, Jesus is not particularly interested in increasing either your guilt or your devotion, but rather, in deepening your personal capacity to make the passage into unitive life. If you’re willing to work with that wager, the passion begins to make sense in a whole new way. . . .

The path [Jesus] did walk is precisely the one that would most fully unleash the transformative power of his teaching. It both modeled and consecrated the eye of the needle that each one of us must personally pass through in order to accomplish the “one thing necessary” here, according to his teaching: to die to self. I am not talking about literal crucifixion, of course, but I am talking about the literal laying down of our “life,” at least as we usually recognize it. Our only truly essential human task here, Jesus teaches, is to grow beyond the survival instincts of the animal brain and egoic operating system into the kenotic joy and generosity of full human personhood. . . .

What is the meaning of the passion? First of all, God wasn’t angry. Again: God wasn’t angry! Particularly in fundamentalist theology, you’ll often hear it said that God got so fed up with the sins and transgressions of Israel that he demanded a human sacrifice in atonement. But of course, this interpretation would turn God into a monster. How can Jesus, who is love, radiate and reflect a God who is primarily a monster? And how can Christians theoretically progressing on a path of love consent to live under such a reign of terror? No, we need to bury once and for all those fear-and-punishment scenarios that got programmed into so many of us during our childhood. There is no monster out there; only love waiting to set us free.