David Holgate. Julian of Norwich. Anglican Cathedral, Norwich, England
Jesus’ admonition, “Be not afraid.”, does not mean that we cannot have fear. We all have fear, but we do not have to lead from a place of fear. Fear forecloses our potential to realize the fullness of all God longs to give us. If we will simply make our fears known to God and then do the inner work of naming, claiming and taming them, even our fears will be used for good and bring us to God. Betty learned this from her spiritual friend and mentor, Julian of Norwich.
Dame Julian of Norwich was a fourteenth-century Christian mystic who lived through history’s most fearsome and catastrophic pandemic—The Black Plague. Fifty million people died in Europe; half of the population. In the midst of that horror, she was given a series of sixteen revelations by God and then spent the rest of her life writing them down in the enduring classic, Revelations of Divine Love. It is the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman and marked by the depth of its theology, the breadth of its compassion, and the unrivaled beauty of its language. Julian’s humble vision continues to inspire and encourage us today with the promise that in the midst of our own sorrow and suffering, God’s compassion and great love is always flowing towards us, and that “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
Summer after summer, day after day, I read everything I could about Julian. I was deeply impressed by her simplicity and her tender and intimate relationship with the Beloved. With sweet humility, she would always preface the things she wrote about God with ‘As I understand it,’ and she would refer to Him as ‘our courteous Lord.’ While pondering a tiny hazelnut in her hand, Julian experienced a profound yet simple awareness: God created this, God loved this, and God will care for it. From Julian, I learned that every circumstance in my life would work together for good whether it felt good or not.Betty Skinner in The Hidden Life Awakened pg 194
Julian writes of four kinds of fear that lead us into God, Who is Love. That fear and love belong together may be difficult for us to grasp, but Julian assures us that it must be this way. “Love and fear are siblings rooted in us by the goodness of our Maker. Reverent fear pertains to the lordship and fatherhood of God as love pertains to the goodness of God.”
The first kind of fear she describes is simple fright. The second is fear of pain; the lingering fear of someone or something with the power to hurt us that streams from deep wounds we received growing up and that strongly influences the way we perceive God. Until we shed this fear of a vindictive God, we will have difficulty seeing Him as Divine Lover Whose love heals and casts out fear. The third kind of fear is what Julian calls doubtful fear. It comes when we begin to see God’s goodness and our own darkness and wonder how we can ever measure up. If left unchecked, it can lead to despair. But, says Julian, “God wants to have it turned into love through true knowledge of Love.” When we begin to receive God’s loving response to our fright, pain and despair, we can begin to grow into Julian’s fourth kind of fear: reverent fear. Reverent fear draws us into the sacred Presence of God Who softens all other fear through the sweetness of His Love.
It is well to remember that we all have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places, too, of faith, trust, and love that we must learn to listen to. Everything is the voice of Love, even unspeakable pain. Prayerfully, might we approach our lives with reverent fear, trusting that this will bring us to the sweetness of God’s love, fearful only of one thing: that we might miss His unspeakable goodness.
Be Not Afraid.
To watch Betty talk more about Julian, click on this video page link.