Friday, July 8, 2011

Julian of Norwich Showings

Julian of Norwich Showings by Julian of Norwich is a spiritual classic written by a 14th century mystic in which she shares sixteen “shewings” she has from God.  She is most famous for her emphasis of God as Mother, several lovely metaphors (including how all of creation is but a hazelnut in the palm of the creator’s hand), and for the often quoted phrase “All shall be well and every manner of thing shall be well.”

I’ve read this book before because I wrote a paper on it for a medieval literature course on the Platonic influence evidenced in the mystical experience of Julian of Norwich.  (For the curious, I received an A for the paper and submitted it to a scholarship competition which I won and received a $1,000 stipend to pay for my education.  I used that money to pay bills.)

The book is divided into three parts.  The first is a very long introduction in which the editor expounds upon the two versions of Julian’s writings: the short and long text.  The introduction is followed by the short and then the long version. Frankly, I think most readers would benefit from just reading Julian’s own words and then reading the introduction.  Draw your own inspiration or conclusions about the text before inviting another voice to give it meaning.  Or read at least the short text before reading the long one.  (Actually, it is also interesting to read the short text and  long text parallel to one another:  short version of the first “shewing” and then the long version of the same showing, after Julian of Norwich had spent time meditating upon her experience fleshing out the details and offering her own interpretation of the experience.

Much of her writing is organized in typical hierarchal patterns, a rhetorical device common to medieval literature so things are often listed in numeric order or reiterated in a cantatory manner.  Because she is a woman, she also apologizes frequently for her “unlettered” abilities, sharing her humility in a near ecstasy.  There is even a passage in which she blames the Jews for the crucifixion of Christ, a typical belief I profoundly anti-Semitic belief in medieval England.

I enjoyed the text almost as much as I did my marginal notes.  Underlined passages I obviously meant to use for my paper highlight especially the visions that included discussions of the Motherhood of God, Mary, and Jesus as Mother.  Obviously, I changed the theme of my final paper but I hadn’t realized how much work I’d already done towards my initial paper idea.  There are also citations I put in the margin of Bible verses, chapter and verse suggesting relationship between what Julian says and what the Bible says. 

I would like to type out everything I highlighted and noted the first few times I wrote it, along with the Biblical references I added but I don’t have the time to do it right now and I’m not sure that it would matter.  The poor book I have is falling apart so I’m going to throw it away after I do record a few of the quotes I highlighted this time.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in women mystics, Christianity, or medieval literature. I hope Saila will someday read it, if she hasn’t done so already.  I thought I would buy a new copy to send to my mother but after reading it this time I don’t think I shall.  Instead, if I can dig it up, I’ll send her a copy of the paper that earned me that scholarship.

As an aside, the day I finished reading it this time, I was sorting through a box and I came upon a folder I thought I had lost in a flood that damaged things I had stored in a closet in my old apartment.  In the early weeks of the medieval literature course I went to a one day seminar on Julian of Norwich, complete with breakout workshops and such.  My friend Beth, the same one who also gave me this book to begin with, and I both participated but we chose different workshops, mostly because I was looking for intellectual content that might help me with my paper and she was looking for a more experiential outcome, participating in a labyrinth walk and listening to a lecture on Julian’s writings and their influence on such writers as Annie Dillard and T S Eliot.  I filed the folder away without looking at it because I was trying to organize things and once I allow myself to be distracted by resources I’ve rediscovered, I can easily lose hours of progress to intellectual distractions.

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