There's a great quote which has over the years given me great comfort, especially during difficult times and periods of 'trial' in my life.
The quote, as you may see. is attributed to a Christian mystic and theologian called Julian of Norwich and it wasn't until I actually moved to the 'Fair City' of Norwich in the county of Norfolk in England that I took the time to find out more about her.
Julian lived in the 14th century and resided for most of her life in the city, which has a history as a commercial centre as well as a place with a vibrant religious life.
So the story goes, it was when Julian - possibly not her real name although we don't really know much about her - was aged around 32 when she became seriously ill. It was the year 1373 and on her deathbed when she received a series of visions of Jesus, or what was described as "shewings" of the Passion of Christ - visions relating to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And actually it's on May 13th in 1373 that it's reckoned she received those visions which is why I'm thinking about this especially today.
Miraculously Julian recovered and wrote two versions of her experiences, one which we think was completed very soon after her illness and another written years later. The book was entitled Revelations of Divine Love. It contains a series of Christian devotions and thoughts.
Although she was probably religious before all this, it's thought the experiences eventually led Julian to become what is called an 'anchorite', or 'anchoress' living in permanent seclusion in a cell which was attached to a chapel known as St Julian's Church, Norwich.
Julian was not unique in her Christian calling and not the only person who chose this lifestyle. The anchorite was and is someone who withdraws from secular society to devote their life to intense prayer and the ascetic lifestyle where they choose a frugal life without possessions and 'sensual pleasures' in favour of spiritual pursuit and enlightenment.
This choice to separate from ordinary life is not just a Christian concept, we find it in many religions but in the case of Julian and other Christians, becoming an anchorite ... a kind of hermit who stays one place ... was about a focus on the Christian Eucharist as well as prayer and devotion. Often these people became considered a kind of living saint. The earliest anchorites are recorded in the 11th century but by the 13th century when Julian was living, it's reckoned there could have been as many as 200 anchorites in England alone. The anchoritic life is considered to be one of the earliest forms of Christian monasticism and in fact some still exist today ... in the Roman Catholic Church it's described as one of the "Other Forms of Consecrated Life".
Regardless of the fact that she was separate from society, Julian did make an impact. Although she apparently preferred to write anonymously even in her own lifetime she was influential. There are surviving records of four wills in which she was named and there's an account by another celebrated mystic called Margery Kempe who writes about the advice and counsel she received from Julian.
While Julian remained separate, her 'anchorage' was attached to the side of the chapel so she was still able to play a part in the life of the church - she could receive communion and hear Mass. By the time she died, sometime after 1416, she had been in her cell for about 25 years!
Although little known outside of Norwich and East Anglia in her lifetime and for many centuries, Julian of Norwich's Revelations, including her second 'Long Text' in which she revealed a few personal details as well, have fortunately been handed down to this generation. In the 17th century she became popular and loads of people translated her work. She did disappear from view for a while in the mid to late 19th century but was 're-discovered' in 1901 when a manuscript in the British Museum was transcribed and published with notes by an editor and translator called Grace Warrack.
Since then many more translations of Revelations of Divine Love (which is also known under other titles) have been produced and Julian is now very popular. Her spirituality and thoughts and reflections appear to ring true with 21st century seekers after truth.
Since 1980, Julian has been remembered in the Calendar of Saints in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on May 8th, and she is also commemorated on that day in the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the USA. While she has not been formally beatified or canonised in the Roman Catholic Church, she is venerated by Catholics as a holy woman of God, and is sometimes referred to as "Saint", "Blessed", or "Mother" Julian.. In the Roman Catholic tradition her feast day is today - May 13th. And if you visit the magnificent Anglican cathedral in Norwich, at the West Porch you'll find a statue of Julian created by the local sculptor David Holgate and commissioned to commemorate the new millennium.
There are many quotes from Julian of Norwich from her Revelations that have made it online but I still love this one more than others.
Julian chose a hard, prayerful and thoughtful life but she was still a human being, a woman, and it must have been tough at times. Detached from the world, sitting in a cold cell in the perishing Norfolk winter and sweltering in the summer. Not following her own will, but that of God.
Although I'm sure her resolve and faith were strong, she maybe at times did feel isolated and perhaps even, occasionally, wondered if she was spending her life usefully.
Most of us can recognise and perhaps empathise with those emotions.
So today I imagine Julian receiving this message and finding the comfort and peace and courage to move forward in life.
"In my folly, afore this time often I wondered why by the great foreseeing wisdom of God the beginning of sin was not letted: for then, methought, all should have been well. This stirring was much to be forsaken, but nevertheless mourning and sorrow I made therefor, without reason and discretion. But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said: It behoved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." (The Thirteenth Revelation, Chapter 27)