While not new terms, discipleship and spiritual renewal are having a resurgence across denominational circles. And it is often misunderstood in terms of a “movement.”
For some, “renewal” implies a new revivalism, while for others it is simply synonymous with a particular expression of renewal such as the Charismatic Movement, Cursillo, or Tres Dias of many years ago (and in some circles continues). There are those who perceive in the emphasis on “renewal” as self-indulgent flight into personal interiority by well-off churchgoers unwilling to confront the many pressing social and political problems that surround us.
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.