Today is the feast day of Julian of Norwich. I’m not a big “saint” fan (sports or religious) and I do not pray to any saints or ask that they intercede for me. But Julian is one who captured my imagination years ago. The Reverend Peter Holroyd (whom I invited to do a Lenten study on environmental spirituality in a church where I was serving about 20 years ago) handed each of us a hazelnut as we began. He shared that he always carried one in his pocket; a reminder that such a tiny thing has so much possibility and that we, too, are seeds of possibility. The hazelnut is often used as a symbol of Julian.
Born about 1343, the time in which Julian lived was one of upheaval: the Black Plague, the Hundred Years War, and the crisis of church authority due to a long papal schism. The people of Europe were full of anxiety and concerned about personal salvation. The yearning for a personal, experiential faith spawned a growth in Christian mysticism, including those who were not living in religious communities. Many mystical classics were written by lay people living as solitaries (recluses), sharing their experiences of the divine. Such was Julian. We do not know much about her, including her real name. The name Julian was given to her because St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England is where she lived and worked. Nearly dying as a child, she had visions (shewings) in which she experienced Jesus. Most of her writings are all that we know of her. You can read more about her (as well as some intergenerational activities to do regarding her) in my forthcoming book Faithful Celebrations: Making Time for God with the Saints coming in July 2019.
In one of her visions, Julian saw something very small, about the size of a hazelnut laying in the palm of her hand. “What can this be?” she asked. “It is all that is made,” is the answer. Julian worries: because it is so small, might not the hazelnut––a synecdoche of all creation––disappear or be obliterated? Again comes the reassuring answer: “It lasts and ever shall last because God loves it” (Julian 292). When I lead retreats I often conclude by handing out hazelnuts, to keep as a reminder that we are loved and can have a lasting impression on those with whom we minister with, whether they be children, youth, or adults.
[H]e wishes us to know that not only does he take heed of noble things and the greatest, but he also attends to little and small, to low and simple, as much to one as to the other. This is his meaning when he said, “All manner of things shall be well”; for he wants us to know that the least thing will not be forgotten….Revelations of divine love
Perhaps the line for which Julian is most remembered is her “all shall be well.” She reports our Lord as telling her, “I may make all things well; I can make all things well, and I will make all things well, and I shall make all things well; and you shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well.”
I have a necklace with a charm in the shape of a Möbius strip with the words “all shall be well” on it. I wear it frequently, and often find myself holding it between my fingers absentmindedly. Also called the twisted cylinder, it is a one-sided non-orientable surface with no limited boundaries and looks like an infinite loop. It is easily made by cutting a closed band into a single strip, giving one of the two ends thus produced a half twist, and then reattaching the two ends. It gives the appearance of a never-ending circle that has an inner and outer side. Its storytelling potential is clear: you travel around something, only to end up back where you started but disoriented. Up becomes down, in becomes out.
Writing Julian’s quote on a slip of paper and turning it into a Möbius strip, reminds us that God’s love never ends and is always with us.