Let me read to you what I learned:

At the same time that I saw the head [Christ’s] 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.

–Julian of Norwich

This passage was our Theological Reflection in EFM last night. I’ll be the first to tell you that Julian of Norwich is a little hard for me to follow sometimes. Most of us only know her from the often repeated prayer, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” but in my most cynical moments I admit I have thought, “Yeah, it’s easy to say “all shall be well” when you are an anchoress and never leave the house.”

I have also thought in my more cynical moments that being mentally ill in medieval times got you a better deal if you happened to have religious visions and revelations, and you also happened to be within walking distance of a monastery. Julian fills me with wonder sometimes. Was she agoraphobic? Her most famous visions came with physical illness, when she was sick enough to be on her deathbed. I’ve had hallucinations with a 104 degree fever; I don’t find this unbelievable at all. But mine were not anything to write home about. Hers changed her life in many ways. They became the root of her desire to be a mystic, and in those days, society had room for mystics. People knew so little of the world around them or how it works.

But then the other side of my brain muses at times that, in a way, it’s too bad we don’t have room for a few mystics here and there. Maybe in their own ways, the medieval mystics were able to be productive in a way that worked for their time. People were more or less okay with supporting the lives of mystics and anchorites/anchoresses in a monastic setting. Nowadays, I don’t think being a mystic is going to qualify you for disability.

What looking at the great mystics DOES do, though, is give us room to take the time to get in touch with our own mystic. By reading what these historical figures dreamed and visualized, it can jump start our own spiritual imaginations when we have the time to simply sit and contemplate for a bit.

What struck me in this passage was the tail end of it as she was contemplating that little hazelnut in the palm of her hand…”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.”

It’s only human to contemplate our own existence, but contemplating simultaneously our small-ness and our immortality is a tough dichotomy. Our nature is to desire making our place in the universe “bigger”–accumulating wealth and things, prestige in our community, promotion to a bigger and better-paying job, a nice retirement package. We tend not to like the notion that we are very small–almost insignificant–in the presence of the realm of the Almighty.

But this is only because in this world, the messages we receive about “insignificant” are designed to put down, to diminish, to belittle. “Insignificant yet immortal” is not on our radar screen, simply because we experience death in so many ways while in our mortal coil. It doesn’t seem possible to be immortal, at least by the rules of the game on this planet.

Yet, when I read that passage over and over, I felt a wave of calm wash over me as I would get to the line, “It lasts and always will.” Something calming, reassuring, and totally incongruent to thoughts of Christ’s passion and my own death emerged from deep inside of me. I think we tend to forget about our own embedded slice of the Incarnation, and it tends not to speak to us unless absolutely necessary.

We can’t possibly understand a love that is immortal, because we can’t even understand what “mortal” really is. Our brain cannot wrap itself around ourselves as dead. All thoughts of life beyond death are projections of what life is like for us now. All we are capable of understanding about immortality right now is the feeling we get from the biochemical rush of endorphins as we read or write things that resonate with our own incarnation. If only we, in our busy “normal” lives, could accept it and believe in it as much as a quirky anchoress could, what changes might evolve as a result!