Julian and the Calendar

Jan 4th, 2010 | By | Category: Spirituality

The first workday of the New Year, the time when the new calendar and diary really come into force,  and there was a ‘10’ registration van heading up the N7; someone with the confidence to buy a brand new vehicle in gloomy times.  Julian of Norwich’s words came to mind as we sat in the traffic jam at Newlands Cross. “All shall be well,” she said.  But what had she to cope with?

“Sin is behovely, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”, wrote Julian in the closing years of the 14th Century. It was an extraordinary statement of confidence from a woman whose childhood memories would have been filled with darkness. Julian was born around 1342, in 1347 the Black Death, a devastating disease swept through Europe. Estimates of how many died vary; it is believed that the pandemic killed between a third and two-thirds of the population of Europe between 1347 and 1351.

It is hard to imagine what terror the Black Death induced in the minds of those who survived. If millions of people, including family, friends and neighbours, could be swept away in such a short time, what might the future hold? In a time when literacy was rare, (and material to read even rarer), when rumours, stories and superstitions took a vice like grip on people’s lives, memories of the Black Death would have left everyone living in a state of constant uncertainty, the slightest infection would have brought fear and terror on a community.

To have questioned one’s faith, or to have questioned the Church, in such times, would have brought down the charge of heresy upon one’s head and the prospect of being burned at the stake, but there must have been questions in the hearts of many about why a loving and merciful God would visit such a plague upon his people. Julian would have surely grown up with questions even in her own family about the nature of the world in which they lived.

Julian’s response to the questions of the world is that faith must persist, even in the face of uncertainty. She would have agreed with what Saint Paul wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth,

“as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10

Paul was confident that even in death we live on.  It is with such faith that Julian was able to declare that “all shall be well”.

There are moments when a new Julian would be welcome; it would at least save wondering about the mood of the man in his new van.

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  1. I thought I remembered the lines you quote from Julian from another source. It sent me back to reread T.S. Eliot’s 4 Quartets where I found them. I hadn’t realised their origin. Eliot was writing in dark times as an air raid warden in WWII and speaks about the progress of the human spirit and finding hope within this crisis. Its beautifully written. I’m not sure about his belief that suffering is needed before new life can begin however. While I don’t always warm to the overt religiosity of this poem, I also like the lines:

    With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

    I have strong feeling however that these lines might also be from some earlier text.

  2. Perhaps there is nothing new under the sun and the inspiration came from elsewhere, but Eliot had his own unique way of putting things.

    My late grandmother lived in a part of Somerset called East Coker. I used to be disappointed her telephone exchange was West Coker – an East Coker telephone number would have made the place sound almost famous.

  3. The Eliot is very beautiful.

    David Cameron’s latest ‘buzz’ phrase is ‘We can’t go on like this’. I wonder if we, in economic terms, will go through all of this upheaval to end up where we started.

  4. ‘We can’t go on like this’ sounds like a line from a 1970s song by The Stylistics – perhaps in keeping with the desired image!

    If Ireland managed even to be back where things started, it would not be so bad.

  5. Taking a slightly different slant, I was always impressed by G K Chesterton’s view that “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly”.

    While it sounds counter-intuitive, what he really meant was “if a thing is worth doing it is surely worth having a bash at it even if you don’t get it 100% right first time round”.

    Didn’t he have a great gift for stating things concisely and provocatively, and wasn’t he right in this case?

    Do good, do right, and keep doing it.

  6. I must remember the quote. I put together a booklet for an Anglican diocese in Rwanda – it was a weekly prayer cycle and lectionary together with a telephone directory for all the pastors and staff of the diocese. It was far from perfect and it was pointed out to me that many of the pastors did not speak English, but I felt that something was better than nothing and it was very well received at the other end – done badly maybe, but, at, least done.

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