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«Insights from the Revelations of Divine Love and the Contemplation to Attain Love Kerrie Hide Abstract: Religious conversion, following Bernard ...»

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There has been a marked re-discovery of the value of Julian’s insights for contemporary theology and spirituality in the past twenty years. See for example, Grace Jantzen. Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian (London: SPCK, 1987); Joan Nuth, Wisdom’s Daughter: The Theology of Julian of Norwich (New York: Crossroad, 1991); and Denise Nowakowski Baker, Julian of Norwich’s Showings: From Vision to Book (Princeton: Princeton AEJT 3 (August 2004) Hide / Insights from Revelations and Contemplation we have the potential to become one with God because of our original oneing in Christ where we are knit in a knot that is so subtle and mighty it is all oned into God (14:54.60Julian describes this as a rightful knitting and an endless oneing (14:53.23-24). It is right, it belongs to us, it is ours, and it is endless, eternal. The image of a Celtic knot comes to mind where threads knit together and intertwine in an enfolding circular motion centering on the point of inter-section. The threads are so closely interconnected that any movement or action will affect the whole. A knitted garment gives the same sense of threads being interlocked to create a whole. The image conveys a profound sense of intimacy, of union and communion in Christ, in the Trinity. And yet, it preserves the distinction between the divine and the human. Knitting and oneing evocatively describes how human beings are one with God, and are in a relationship of continually being made more fully one, knit in this knot, and oned in this oneing, and made holy in this holiness (14:54.63-64). Human beings are one, and yet in a dynamic, transforming, mutually selfgiving relationship of oneing, until we become, fully whole, fully one in the Trinity.

Julian’s concept of oneing is virtually untranslatable. Oned in Middle English means to be one, united, joined, blended or fused.17 Yet none of these words express the sense of this primordial inter-penetration of the divine and the human that preserves difference in identity. There is something mystical and indefinable about the union that oneing conveys.

Oneing occurs through the presence of the Holy Spirit, through sweet touchings of grace (14:52.62). The Spirit touches us, creating a desire in us to seek to be one with Christ.

Julian explains: Seeking is a true and gracious lasting will of the soul that ones and fastens us to the will of our Lord by the sweet silent working of the Holy Spirit (14:41.30-32). The Holy Spirit incites our desire for God, inspiring us to seek in prayer. This seeking ones and fastens us to the will of Christ. Thus oneing involves seeking, fastening, conforming our will to the will of Christ. Oneing continues the process of creation and recreation until the union we share with Christ in our original knot is complete. Although uniting is the usual translation for oneing, this seems ineffectual in comparison to oneing. Uniting does not adequately convey the indissolubility of our original oneing through Christ in the Trinity, or the dynamism of the love that is shared in the continuation of this oneing. Uniting does not convey the dynamic and all-encompassing nature of the intellectual, moral and religious conversion that draws the whole of our being into becoming beings in love in Christ.


Julian’s revelations explore how prayer ones the soul to God (14:43.2). Prayer creates a growing, deepening, maturing capacity to become beings in love, one in the being of God who is love. Prayer enables us to grow in awareness of our foundational experience of oneing and to co-operate with the working of the Holy Spirit in bringing this to completion.

Prayer ones the soul to God in the sense of bringing together and joining us with what we already are. Prayer brings about the experience of oneing of being knit in this knot, and University Press, 1994), who argues that Julian’s thought represents an important strand in the tradition and should hold a central place in Catholic theology.

16 All translations are my own, taken from the long text of A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, 2 vols., ed. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1978), hereafter, BSAJN. Vision number, chapter number followed by line numbers are referenced.

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles. Vol. 1 and 2, ed. Lesley Brown (Oxford:

Clarendon Press, 1993, 1998). See Kerrie Hide, Gifted Origins to Graced Fulfillment: The Soteriology of Julian of Norwich (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2001), ch. 3.

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oned in this oneing, and made holy in this holiness. Two of Julian’s descriptions of prayer, give us further insight into the conversion that oneing evokes.

The first passage we will consider describes oneing as an experience of diminishment, of being purged, of being detached. It evokes a sense of our frailty as human beings and of the ongoing struggle to yield into the hands of the beloved. This is an

example of the purgative stage in the process of conversion. Julian writes:

I saw two shades in our Lord’s meaning. One is desire for genuine prayer, another is the trust to seek wholeheartedly. Frequently our trust is not full, we are not sure that God hears us. We think of our unworthiness and we feel our nothingness; often ending up as barren and dry after our prayer as we were before. Folly is the cause of this feeling of failure that engenders weakness. Habitually, in prayer, I have felt so alone. And after all this our Lord suddenly brought to my mind, showing these words and saying: I am the ground of your seeking (14:41.3-11).

We can see in this revelation, that prayer is not always an easy, peaceful experience for Julian. Often she fells the loneliness of her aloneness. The passage conveys the tension between her desire for God, her desire for genuine prayer, her desire to be one with God, and her struggle to trust that this deepest desire for God is grounded in God’s desire for her. She reminds us of the importance of gently being present to resistance until we feel our nothingness, taste our aloneness, become empty so that we can be filled with God. She reminds us that to be dry and barren is a holy space. She wisely counsels us of the folly of judging ourselves with labels of failure. She advises that we trust our desire for God, follow its promptings and remain faithful in seeking God.

There is a marked turning point in the passage as, suddenly in the midst of what could end up in despair, Julian sees and hears the words of Jesus: I am the ground of your seeking. The purgative effects of dryness and barrenness lead Julian to an accurate knowledge of herself and a true understanding of God’s desire for her to be one with

Christ. Julian repeats Christ’s words to her:

...pray interly18 though you feel nothing, though you see nothing, yes and though you think you may never for in dryness and in barrenness, in sickness and in feebleness then is your prayer great pleasure to me, though it gives you little delight. And so all your living is prayer in my sight (14:41.43-47).

This depiction of feeling dry and barren, sick and feeble, captures the sense of the hiddenness of God, who actively works, oneing us to God’s self even when we do not realize it.

The passage describes how the experience of desolation teaches us to trust solely in God’s continual work of oneing in us. Julian teaches us how to see reality as God sees it, to know that we are knit and oned to God. She counsels us to patiently wait, and, in the folly of our inability to see divine love for what it is, not to do violence to ourselves in the fragility of our waiting. Subsequently, Julian comes to know at deeper and deeper levels that: God teaches us to pray and to firmly trust that we shall have the gift of prayer (12:43.6-7). She gives us confidence that no matter what our experience of prayer is, God is faithful in knitting us in this knot, and oneing us in this oneing, and making us holy in the holiness of divine love. The prayer of oneing is inherent to our nature.

The Sloane1 manuscript records inderly while the Paris records pray interly inwardly.There is a discrepancy amongst scholars as to where this means always or interiorly. See Rita Mary Bradley, Julian’s Way: A Practical Commentary on Julian of Norwich (London: Harper Collins, 1992), 40, who argues for the translation ‘from the heart.’ Colledge and Walsh, BSAJN, n.42, 464, dismiss the Paris record as the scribe’s caution in copying both the word in the text and a possible correction in the margin. I have left the Middle English word to capture the nuance of both, always and from the heart.

AEJT 3 (August 2004) Hide / Insights from Revelations and Contemplation Julian gives no instruction on a way of prayer, or formal steps or movements in contemplative prayer. She simply encourages us to fall in love through beholding, gazing lovingly, and holding in the heart the fruit of our gazing. Beholding is in essence an

experience of oneing. Julian shares her experience of beholding:

But when our courteous Lord shows himself by grace, to our soul, we have all that we desire, and in that time we leave aside the activity of prayer (experience contemplation) as all our intent and all our might is set wholly in the beholding of God.

And this is a high, unknowable prayer, as I see it. For the reason why we pray is to be oned into the sight and beholding of God, marvelously enjoying with reverent fear, and such great sweetness and delight that we can only pray as God stirs us at the time (14:43.18-26).

Ultimately we exist within a relationship of oneing. As we become more and more aware and sensitive to the experience of oneing that grounds us, we feel the urge to leave aside active prayer, to become more empty and passive, and focus all our intent and might on God. Intent from Old French entent, and the Latin, intentus is a much stronger word in Middle English than the translation conveys. There is a sense of stretching out, being concentrated, engrossed, firmly resolved with an act of the will moved by the desire of love and directed by reason.19 Might is equally powerful suggesting that we engage our active powers of thinking and feeling and utilizing all our bodily strength to give nothing less than all that we are.20 This does not mean human effort, however, but rather the single mindedness that desire for God incites. All our intent and all our might speaks of total surrender, complete emptiness, an emptiness that prepares us for the gift of the prayer of unknowing. Julian reminds us of being prepared to let go of ways of prayer and to allow God to teach us to pray by listening to God’s stirring, and simply beholding. Julian

describes the fruit of our conversion through oneing:

And then, when we can do no more but behold God, and enjoy, with the mightiest desire to be all oned into God, and intend to God’s motion, and enjoy in God’s loving and delight in God’s goodness. And thus shall we with God’s sweet grace and our own meek continual prayer come into God now in this life by many inner touchings of sweet spiritual sight and feelings, measured to us as our simplicity may bear it. And this occurs and will occur by the grace of the Holy Spirit until we die still longing for love.

And then we shall all come into our Lord, our self clearly knowing and God fulsomely having and will be endlessly all hidden in God, truly seeing and fully feeling, and spiritually hearing, delectably smelling, sweetly swallowing, and there we shall see God face to face homely and fully (14:43.41-54).

Julian’s words inspire in us hope that we can, with God’s sweet grace and our own continual prayer come into God now in this life by many inner touchings of sweet spiritual sight and feelings, measured to us as our simplicity may bear it. We can experience religious conversion, falling in love in a way that is total and permanent self-surrender without conditions, qualifications, or reservations. We can co-operate with the presence of divine love in our lives and become beings I love.


I now invite you to see how the movement of the Spiritual Exercises has the same sense of drawing us to fall in love and become beings in love, who experience deeper and more complete oneing. Beginning with the Principle and Foundation (Ex 23) that focuses on our New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1389.

New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1771.

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grounding love in God, through to the purgative week one (Ex 24-99), the illuminative weeks two (Ex 101-189) and three (Ex 190-209), and the unitive week four (Ex 218-229) the Exercises reach a climax in the Contemplation to Attain Love (Ex 230-237). The movement engenders deeper and deeper silence and engagement with the life of Christ that evolves into intensify union or oneing. In summary, the conversion experience of the first week is to meditate on the scriptures, to initiate an examination of conscience and discover a way of conversation (a colloquy) with the Beloved that can evolve during the retreat, and thus during our lives.21 Prayer in the second and third weeks flows into contemplation, in the sense of actively, and then more passively, engaging our senses and affectivity to unite us more and more deeply with the experience of Christ. In the fourth week there is a deepening ability to dwell in a concentrated silence and stillness in union with the Crucified and risen Christ. Mental activity subsides and we come to hold and be held, to rest in the one who is absolute love. During this week, or at the end of the week,22 the exercises reach a climax and prepare us for living our future lives as beings in love in the contemplation to attain love (Contemplatio ad Amorem Obtinendum) (Ex 230-237). The contemplation grounds us in the being of God who is love and reinforces our choice to make love the centre of our lives so that we may become beings in love. It heightens our sensitivity to and awareness of God in all things and all things in God.23 It is, as Ivens says, a pedagogy of love.24 It gathers up all our experiences of the paschal mystery that the exercises create room for, bringing to a climax our experience of dwelling in love, continuously being permeated in love and living in love.

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