Julian of Norwich

From our service on January 3, 2021, a story of the inspiring life of Julian of Norwich, as recounted by Colin Mills.

Julian of Norwich

If you’ve lived through the past year, you know all too well the hardships of life in a pandemic. You’ve experienced the uncertainty, the isolation, the loneliness, and the frustration. You’ve seen the routines you once took for granted disrupted for months on end. You may have lost your job or struggled to make ends meet. You may have lost friends or loved ones to the awful disease, or suffered the ravages of illness yourself. COVID-19 has touched us all in some form or another.

In the midst of this difficult time, you may be longing for some reassurance. You may be longing to hear God’s voice telling you, “All shall be well.” If so, know that He shared that exact message with a woman who also survived a pandemic, isolation, and serious illness: Dame Julian of Norwich.

When Julian was a child growing up in Norwich, England, a pandemic swept through the town: the Black Death. The disease is believed to have killed over half of Norwich’s population, but Julian survived. Are she grew older, she prayed that God grant her “the mind of his passion, bodily sickness in youth, and three wounds — of contrition, of compassion, of will-full longing toward God.”

God answered her prayers in a way few of us would desire. At the age of thirty, she became seriously ill — so ill, in fact, that she was given the last rites. As she lay in her bed in anticipation of death, she received a series of visions of the Passion of Christ. Suddenly, she was free of pain and filled with joy. She made a full recovery from her illness, and lived for another 40 years.

Along with her visions, God shared with her these reassuring words: “I can make all things well; I will make all things well; I shall make all things well; and thou canst see for thyself that all manner of things shall be well and that despite any imaginable sin, suffering, or evil.”

Julian lived an ascetic life of seclusion as an anchorite in a cell attached to St. Julian’s church. (For those of us who have grown frustrated being largely confined to our homes for several months, imagine life as an anchorite!) During that time, she wrote of the visions she had received, and the messages the Lord shared with her.

As Julian wrote in her book Revelations of Divine Love: “’Love was his meaning. Who showed it thee? Love. What showed he thee? Love. Wherefore showed it he? For Love. Hold thee therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same.’ Thus it was I learned that Love was our Lord’s meaning.”

With the recent good news about the COVID-19 vaccines, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel for our pandemic. There’s reason to be hopeful that the time of lockdowns, of quarantine, and of social distancing will soon come to an end. But until it does, we can look back six centuries and take comfort in the reassuring visions of Julian of Norwich. And whenever we feel like we’re losing hope, we can remember the message that the Lord shared with her: “All shall be well.”

Watch this segment on video (starting at 4:47):