Homily for clergy and senior wardens Zoom Morning Prayer
Feast of Julian of Norwich, transferred
by Carrie Graves
In late March, on the second Sunday of the Pandemic, Adrien Dawson, preaching from our cathedral, noted that it seems we have been called at this time to live the cloistered life.
In his Easter Vigil sermon, Bishop Ihloff noted that on the cross, Jesus’ ultimate cause of death was asphyxiation, a condition that is killing us by the thousands through the coronavirus.
Both of these observations connect us to St. Julian of Norwich, whom we celebrate today. Julian was an anchorite who lived in a cell off St. Julian’s church in England, isolated but for a small window through which she could receive food and offer guidance as a spiritual counselor. I envision her window almost like Lucy van Pelt’s booth in the Snoopy cartoons except Julian didn’t charge 5 cents…
Julian’s time in the 14th century was filled with famine and poverty, but also plague. She lived in a world where pandemic was ravishing the people of Europe. There was great pain, but Julian, believed to be the first woman to write a book in English that survived, offered the world nothing but hope despite her own terrible illness.
Julian’s great revelations came out this great illness that she asked God to bring upon her that she might truly know the suffering of Jesus. He did and she did. She was so very ill that she nearly died but in her weakness and pain, she had visions of Christ on the cross, deeply understood his suffering, and most importantly, came to know the profundity of God’s love…
During this pandemic many of us are isolated but for these small Zoom windows that give us relationship and connection with the wider world and through which we can counsel each other. We are suffering from asphyxiation, not able to breathe out of fear, anxiety or literal illness from this virus. How are we to navigate that? How can we, like Julian, know the depth of God’s love in this time?
I am one of those people who has always had a desire to live in a monastery. I think I must have lived in one in another life or find them to be places of comfort, refuge, learning, strength, creativity and beauty. Just a few days ago I changed my Facebook profile picture to one of me sitting in a reconstructed 13th century cloister from Europe at the Cloisters museum in New York City in the year 2000. I was 28 years old and three years away from a spiritual crisis that would lead to where I am today, sitting here with you, where I am meant to be. Interestingly, my colleague Eve commented on that photo that I looked like a nun! I couldn’t believe it. You cannot see that I am in a cloister in the picture.
I wear a now beat-up silver spinning prayer ring every day that repeats Julian’s most famous revelation… All shall be well and all shall be well….
Julian is my favorite mystic. I was born a very anxious person and continue to struggle with anxiety if I don’t take care of myself. I have been on a serious spiritual journey for the past 17 years. The great mystics, through their writings and by having their voices come through other teachers, have eased my way and brought me great comfort. They have changed me, especially Julian. I truly, with all of my heart believe that all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. That phrase might not bring most comfort in the moment, but for me, when I reflect on the deeper meaning outside of the space time continuum —- that all shall be well — in God’s time, I cannot doubt. This does not mean to me that life will not be scary and that terrible things won’t happen but that all will be redeemed and that truly, nothing can separate us from the love of God, not pandemics or wars or vicious storms, not a lack of toilet paper or the fear of a scarcity of meat.
These things also cannot separate us from our dreams, which for me are one of our most powerful telephone lines to God. Some of you know that I practice Jungian dream work (as in the great psychologist Carl Jung). I gather my work under a little umbrella called Creative Monastery, a name that came to me in a dream. Dream work has been the most important component of my spiritual journey. I know that many of us are having particularly vivid and powerful dreams right now and it makes complete sense. The creator is calling us to wholeness every night, whether we remember our dreams or not. But pay attention. God is calling. You, like Julian, are receiving revelations and all dreams, even the ugliest, come in the service of divine healing and wholeness. God is working through us, together, through our dreams, to heal us.
All of this leads me to believe that this is indeed the time to embrace the cloistered life. It has looked different in the late 20th and the 21st centuries. The concept of the monk in the world or the mystic without a monastery has grasped me firmly these past 17 years. We don’t literally have to be cloistered to hold the world up in prayer, to serve the poor, to receive or offer spiritual counseling or to discern in partnership with God what this time of pandemic means and what if offers the world. But… Now that we are cloistered, how can we use this time to commit to that life, to that prayer that holds up the world to listening to God in our dreams, to being open to revelation and to knowing in our hearts that all shall be well? When we do this, when we view our circumstances as an opportunity to serve God in new ways, rather than wishing things were different, we heal and offered our more whole selves in service to the healing of the world. Amen.