Editor's note:

Julian (13431413) is the most pop­u­lar of the Eng­lish mys­tics. She lived as a Bene­dictine nun in Nor­wich, beside the St. Julian Church, from which she most like­ly took her name. Lit­tle is known about Julian’s life, although she is men­tioned by her con­tem­po­rary, Margery Kempe. 

Julian’s book Rev­e­la­tions of Divine Love enti­tled her to become the first great female writer in the Eng­lish lan­guage. Despite her dis­claimers of being unskilled as an author, she wrote live­ly prose in a style all her own. She was well trained in the Bible as well as the teach­ings of the Church. 

Her the­ol­o­gy is based on her mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ences. She became seri­ous­ly ill at the age of thir­ty and in the midst of her suf­fer­ing prayed for a vision of Christ’s pas­sion. Once in a time of prayer Julian heard the words, I am the foun­da­tion of your pray­ing” — words that great­ly influ­enced her spir­i­tu­al life. She always point­ed to the good­ness and love of God, a light in a time of dark­ness for Julian, who lived in an age of social unrest and fear of the Black Plague. 

Joy is per­haps the keynote in her writ­ings. She penned the famous say­ing, All shall be well and all shall be well, and all man­ner of things shall be well.” Her writ­ings have been called the most per­fect fruit of lat­er medieval mys­ti­cism in Eng­land.” The fol­low­ing selec­tion shows both her intense desire and her sane rea­soning. While her rev­e­la­tions” may be hard for us today to iden­ti­fy with com­pletely, they con­tain sig­nif­i­cant insights from which we all can learn.

Notice that the end result of Julian’s expe­ri­ences is to be drawn into a deep under­standing of the good­ness of God. She, in fact, calls the expe­ri­ence of the good­ness of God the high­est form of prayer.” 

This is a hard real­i­ty for us mod­erns to enter into. We have been taught that the good life” resides in every­thing and any­thing but God. Dis­ci­ple­ship, the cross, obe­di­ence — these are hard­ly words that we asso­ciate until good­ness. And because we can­not see the good­ness of right­ness, we fail to see the good­ness of God. But per­haps, just per­haps, we can take a cue from Julian — and the psalmist — to taste and see that the Lord is good.”

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Devotional Classics

1. Still I Desired More 

In the year 1373, on May 13, God gave me a three-fold rev­e­la­tion. This was his gra­cious gift to me in response to my desire to know him more. 

The first was a deep rec­ol­lec­tion of his pas­sion. The sec­ond was a bod­i­ly sick­ness. The third was to have, of God’s gift, three wounds. 

As to the first, it seemed to me that I had some feel­ing for the Pas­sion of Christ, but still I desired to have more by the grace of God. My wish was to have been present with those who loved Christ and were with him at his pas­sion so that I, with my own eyes, might have seen the pas­sion which our Lord suf­fered for me, and so that I might have suf­fered with him as the oth­ers did who loved him. I nev­er desired any oth­er sight or rev­e­la­tion of God.

2. Purged by God’s Mercy 

As to the sec­ond grace, there came into my mind a desire of my will to have by Gods gift a bod­i­ly sick­ness. I wished that the ill­ness might be so severe that it seemed mor­tal. This was so that I might receive all the rites of the Church and to think that indeed I was about to die. 

I want­ed to expe­ri­ence every kind of pain, bod­i­ly and spir­i­tu­al, which I would have if I were to die — every fear and temp­ta­tion. I intend­ed this because I want­ed to be purged by God’s mer­cy and after­wards live more to his glo­ry because of that sickness. 

These two desires about the Pas­sion and the sick­ness which I desired from him were with a con­di­tion because it seemed to me that this was no ordi­nary kind of prayer. There­fore I prayed, Lord, you know what I want. If it is your will that I have it, or if it is not your will, do not be dis­pleased with my prayer, for I do not want any­thing that you do not want.” 

3. Three Wounds 

As to the third, by the grace of God and the teach­ing of the Church I con­ceived a great desire to receive three wounds in my life. They were: the wound of true con­trition; the wound of lov­ing com­pas­sion; and the wound of long­ing with my will for God. 

Though I asked for the oth­er two con­di­tion­al­ly, I asked urgent­ly for this third with­out any con­di­tion. The two desires which I men­tioned first passed from my mind, but the third remained there continually. 

4. To Live to Love God Better 

When I was thir­ty years old, God sent me a bod­i­ly sick­ness in which I was con­fined to the bed for three days and nights. On the third night I received all the rites of the Church, and I did not expect to live until morning. 

After this I remained in bed for two more days, and on the sixth night I thought that I was on the point of death as did those who were with me. And yet, I felt a great reluc­tance to die, not because of any thing on earth which held me here or because of any fear or pain, for 1 trust­ed the mer­cy of God. But it was because 1 want­ed to live to love God bet­ter and longer so that I might through the grace of that liv­ing have more knowl­edge and love of God than I might have even in heaven! 

I real­ized that all the time that I had lived here was very litde and short in com­par­i­son with the bliss of eter­nal life in heav­en. I thought, Good Lord, can my liv­ing no longer be to your glo­ry?” With all the will of my heart I assent­ed to be whol­ly Gods. 

5. The Image of Your Savior 

I last­ed until the sev­enth day, and by then my body felt dead from the inside. My curate was sent for to be present at my death. Before he came into the room, my eyes were fixed upwards, and I could not speak. He set the Cross before my face and said, I have set the image of your Sav­ior before you; look at it and take com­fort from it.” 

It seemed to me that I was well, though my eyes were still fixed upwards, as it seemed to me that it was upwards to heav­en that I was going. Nev­er­the­less, I agreed to fix my eyes on the face of the Cru­ci­fix if I could. I did, but soon after my sight began to fail, and the room grew dark around me. As my eyes focused on the Cross, every­thing around it appeared ugly as if all around it were ter­ri­fy­ing demons. 

After this the upper part of my body began to die. I could not feel any­thing. My great­est pain was the short­ness of breath. I tru­ly believed that I was on the point of my death when sud­den­ly, at that moment, all the pain was tak­en away and I was well, as well as I had ever felt before. I felt uneasy, though, wish­ing that I would have been deliv­ered from this world to be with God, as my heart had longed for. 

6. Hot and Flow­ing Freely 

Then sud­den­ly it came into my mind that I ought to wish for that first grace, that my body might be filled with a rec­ol­lec­tion of Christ’s pas­sion. It seemed to me that I might also receive the wounds which I had been pray­ing for as well. Yet I nev­er asked for any kind of rev­e­la­tion or vision from God — I only want­ed to have the com­pas­sion I thought a lov­ing soul would have for Jesus by wit­ness­ing his suffering. 

It was at that moment that I saw red blood run­ning down from under the crown, hot and flow­ing freely, just as it must have been beneath the crown of thorns that pressed upon his head. I ful­ly per­ceived at that moment that it was Jesus, both God and man, who suf­fered for me, for I now knew it direct­ly with­out any­one telling me. 

In that same rev­e­la­tion, sud­den­ly the Trin­i­ty filled my heart full of the great­est joy, and I under­stood that it will feel like that in heav­en. For the Trin­i­ty is God; God is the Trin­i­ty. The Trin­i­ty is our mak­er, the Trin­i­ty is our pro­tec­tor, the Trin­ity is our ever­last­ing lover, the Trin­i­ty is our end­less joy and bliss, by our Lord Jesus Christ and in our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Where Jesus appears, the blessed Trin­i­ty is under­stood. I said, Blessed be the Lord!” in a loud voice. I was aston­ished that our God who is to be feared and revered would be so inti­mate with a sin­ful crea­ture such as I.

7. No Big­ger Than a Hazelnut 

At the same time as I saw this sight of the head bleed­ing, our good Lord showed a spir­i­tu­al sight of his famil­iar love. I saw that he is to us every­thing which is good and com­fort­ing for our help. He is our cloth­ing who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shel­ters us, sur­rounds us for his love which is so ten­der that he may nev­er desert us. And so in this sight I saw that he is every­thing which is good, as I understand. 

And in this he showed me some­thing small, no big­ger than a hazel­nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my under­stand­ing and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its lit­tle­ness, it would sud­denly have fall­en into noth­ing. And I was answered in my under­stand­ing: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus every­thing has being through the love of God. 

In this lit­tle thing I saw three prop­er­ties. The first is that God made it, the sec­ond is that God loves it, the third is that God pre­serves it. But what did I see in it? It is that God is the Cre­ator and the pro­tec­tor and the lover. For until I am sub­stantially unit­ed to him, I can nev­er have per­fect rest or true hap­pi­ness, until, that is, I am so attached to him that there can be no cre­at­ed thing between my God and me. 

And also our good Lord revealed that it is very great­ly pleas­ing to him that a sim­ple soul should come naked, open­ly and famil­iar­ly. And lov­ing­ly I pray to thee O’ God, by your good­ness give me your­self, for you are enough for me. 

And these words of the good­ness of God are very dear to the soul and very close to touch­ing our Lord s will, for his good­ness fills all his crea­tures and all his blessed works full and end­less­ly over­flows in them. For he is ever­last­ing­ness, and he made us only for him­self and restored us by his pre­cious Pas­sion and always pre­serves us in his blessed love; and all this is of his goodness. 

8. The High­est Form of Prayer 

This rev­e­la­tion was giv­en to my under­stand­ing to teach our souls wise­ly to adhere to the good­ness of God. At the same time, our habits of prayer were brought to my mind, and how, in our igno­rance of love, we are accus­tomed to use inter­me­di­aries in our prayers. It was then I saw that it brings more hon­or to God and more true delight if we faith­ful­ly pray to him for his good­ness than if we employ all the inter­mediaries in the world. Why? Because his good­ness is full and com­plete, and in it there is noth­ing lacking. 

We pray to God to know his pas­sion, death, and res­ur­rec­tion — which come from the good­ness of God. We pray to God for the strength that comes from his

Cross — which also comes from the good­ness of God. We pray to God with all the help of the saints who have gone before us — which, again, comes from the good­ness of God. All of the strength that may come through prayer comes from the good­ness of God, for he is the good­ness of everything. 

For the high­est form of prayer is to the good­ness of God. It comes down to us to meet our hum­blest needs. It gives life to our souls and makes them live and grow in grace and virtue. It is near in nature and swift in grace, for it is the same grace which our souls seek and always will. 

9. Immea­sur­able Love 

Just as our flesh is cov­ered by cloth­ing, and our blood is cov­ered by our flesh, so are we, soul and body, cov­ered and enclosed by the good­ness of God. Yet, the cloth­ing and the flesh will pass away, but the good­ness of God will always remain and will remain clos­er to us than our own flesh. 

God only desires that our soul cling to him with all of its strength, in particu­lar, that it clings to his good­ness. For of all of the things our minds can think about God, it is think­ing upon his good­ness that pleas­es him most and brings the most prof­it to our soul. 

For we are so pre­cious­ly loved by God that we can­not even com­pre­hend it. No cre­at­ed being can ever know how much and how sweet­ly and ten­der­ly God loves them. It is only with the help of his grace that we are able to per­se­vere in spir­i­tu­al con­tem­pla­tion with end­less won­der at his high, sur­pass­ing, immea­sur­able love which our Lord in his good­ness has for us. 

There­fore we may ask from our Lover to have all of him that we desire. For it is our nature to long for him, and it is his nature to long for us. In this life we can nev­er stop lov­ing him. 

I learned a great les­son of love in this blessed vision. For of all things, contem­plating and lov­ing the Cre­ator made my soul seem less in its own sight and filled it full with rev­er­ent fear and true meek­ness and with much love for my fel­low Christians.

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Excerpts tak­en from Devo­tion­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings for Indi­vid­u­als and Groups (Richard J. Fos­ter & James Bryan Smith, Edi­tors. Harper­Collins, 1993.)

Orig­i­nal­ly from Show­ings. (Trans­lat­ed by Edmund Colledge and James Walsh. New York: Paulist, 1978.)

Originally published December 1992