Julian of Norwich was a fourteenth-century anchoress who lived in England during the Crusades and the Black Plague in Europe. At the age of thirty, she received sixteen revelations from God and then spent the rest of her life getting them down on paper. She lived in a small anchorage that was attached to a corner of the ancient stone church. One window of the anchorage opened into the church, so she could take the sacraments, and the other window opened out into the world, so people could come to her for spiritual direction. More than anyone else, Julian became Betty’s spiritual directer and intimate friend.
One morning during prayer, Betty asked, “Lord, I’ve got these two weeks, and there’s nobody here. What do You want me to do with the time?” She walked over to her bookshelf trying to discern as best she could which book He wanted her to take with her to the mountain that day.
One of the books my sister mailed me was Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich, but I hadn’t read it because the title sounded a little spooky to me. The Holy Spirit seemed to be pressing me to take Julian’s book, which was her personal account of experiencing God in sixteen ‘showings’ she had been given. So I made the choice to trust that and put the book in my rucksack and headed to the mountain.
It has been said that when the student is ready, the teacher will come, and now Betty was ready. She had spent countless hours sitting in what she called her meadow, the beautiful, open, grassy space on top of Rock Mountain. After the long climb up, it is a wonderful respite spot, but it is also right on the beaten path. There are always hikers passing through, so she began to look for a place where she could be alone and read out loud.
As she walked along, trying to discern from God where to go, she turned off the trail about halfway down the south face of the mountain. She passed through a brushy patch of rhododendrons and came out onto a broad, flat rock with a magnificent view of the valley and neighboring mountain. There was an old white pine tree that had been struck by lightning still clinging to the rock. The branches hung low and provided shade for the hot summer days. That day the air was warm and clear and there was a light breeze, so she sat down in the soft pine needles that cushioned the rock, opened Julian’s book, and began to read out loud. She read it repeatedly, trusting God to interpret its essence to her. She returned to that hidden place over and over again. The more she returned, the more God taught her through Julian, and the more precious her relationship with her saintly friend became. She loved her little hideaway and it became very sacred to her. Later she named it Julian’s Rock.
Each time I approached Julian’s Rock, I would visualize myself coming to her little window to talk with her and glean her wisdom. Summer after summer, day after day, I returned to Julian’s Rock and read everything I could about her. 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. With a knowing beyond knowing, she grasped that He would do no less for her: He created her, He loved her, and He would care for her. From Julian, I learned that every circumstance in my life would work together for good whether it felt good or not. God said to her, ‘I may make all things well, I can make all things well, I will make all things well, and I shall make all things well. And you yourself shall see that all manner of things shall be well.’
Julian’s descriptions of Christ as He was dying on the cross were intensely vivid. In one of the showings, she heard Jesus tenderly saying to her, ‘Julian, have I died enough for you? If I could suffer more for you, I would.’ Her revelations taught me to see that everything is the voice of Love, even unspeakable pain. Pain got my attention, brought me to the end of myself, and led me home to God. Without the pain, I would never have been pressed to engage in this spiritual journey that finally led to such joy and gratitude. Our Father tenderly loves me. He is in control of my reality, so my reality, however it may look to me, is always good. Whatever is, is good. There is a huge freedom in understanding that. As Julian so sweetly summed it up, ‘Then we can do no more than look at Him rejoicing, with a noble, powerful desire to be entirely made one with Him—to be centered in His dwelling, rejoicing in His loving and delighting in His goodness.’ Julian taught me that. She was very real to me. She was my mentor. She still is.
I probably spent three summers reading, pondering, and rereading Julian’s book before I began to really grasp it. I would take one chapter or even a sentence or phrase, and read it over and over, trying to discern what it might mean. If I had read Julian any earlier in my journey, I don’t think I could have understood her. It took all the preparation of Scripture study and reading the great evangelical writers to bring me to that place. As I studied the Gospels, and now as I pondered Julian’s revelations, it so spoke to me that these people were just ordinary people like me, struggling and suffering and seeking and searching, yet they had been given the gift of the experiential knowledge of Christ, so perhaps I could be given that gift, too.
The Presence I felt at Julian’s Rock deepened my experience of the mystery and the beauty and the wonder of God. So summer after summer after summer, I returned to that place. As I returned again and again, these truths came alive to me. It’s so important to establish physical places in our lives where we have experienced the Presence. These places become sacred, and we return there to ask God to intensify our desire for Him.
Jesus picked a beautiful place to pray the night before He was handed over to His passion. I think, after reflecting on this, that Jesus had been to the Garden of Gethsemane many, many times for prayer. I went to the Garden when I traveled in the Holy Land. It is a beautiful olive grove with old trees gnarled with age. It is a sacred place where the intensity of the Presence of the Father is still very, very real. My own sacred place was a pretty easy climb for me when I was younger, but I am no longer able to go there. I’m deeply grateful, though, that God has given me the precious gift of memory because I can always go to Julian’s Rock in my mind and feel His sweet Presence there. So I close my eyes now and I am there—right there.