The Marvelous Melody

Revelation of Love

I saw the Lord take no place of honor in his house, rather I saw him rule royally there, filling it full of joy and mirth. He himself presided by endlessly gladdening and entertaining his very close friends with every warmth and courtesy, with a marvelous melody of endless love in his own fair blessed face. For it is to see the glorious Godhead in this way, face to face, that fills the very heavens with such joy and bliss.

Revelation of Love, chapter 14

It’s no secret that I adore Julian of Norwich, and one of the reasons I’m so fond of her is that the more I read of her, the more I am blessed and nurtured by what she has to say — and the more convinced I become that we need her message now more than ever before. I suppose some readers might get impatient with Julian, in that hers is essentially a private spirituality concerning personal revelation and the nurturing of one’s own individual love of God, with nary a thought to such issues as the social or economic implications of the Gospel, or how the good news can make a difference in the way we relate to one another, whether publicly (in our civic life) or privately (in our family life).

Of course, in Julian’s defense, much of the “social” implication of her life and work lies not in what she said, but in the mere fact that she said it: as a woman in fourteenth century England, writing a book was itself a courageous, political act. Even beyond that, her fearlessness in articulating a theology anchored not in legal imagery of dispute and punishment, but in more familial, domestic imagery of love, relationship, courtesy, and even (as in the brief quote above) conviviality, has its own social as well as private implications. While Julian was not an “activist” in the sense that so many Christians find important to their spiritual practice today, the kind of theology she articulates is a kind that creates a way of seeing, thinking and loving in which working for positive social as well as personal change becomes both more possible and more desirable. Put another way: if we take Julian’s thinking to its logical conclusion, the “marvelous melody” of love will not just be something that pious Christians enjoy in a “me & God” cocoon, but will be shared lavishly and freely with everyone — for everyone is invited to the party.

What Has Not Yet Been Revealed
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Mark

    You’re absolutely right, Carl. Julian’s message of God’s unconditional love, mercy, and grace is needed now more than ever. Don’t hold your breath for her to be canonized any time soon, however. It’s a travesty to be sure, but in the current zeitgeist of the Roman Catholic Church, Julian is not going to be on anyone’s short list for sainthood – except mine, but I don’t get to vote.

    • Carl McColman

      That’s interesting you would bring up the question of canonization — I look at this very question in my next Patheos column, about a different great female medieval mystic, Hildegard of Bingen. I’ve always assumed that Julian will never be canonized since, among other things, we don’t even know her real name!

  • Mark

    True, we may not know Julian’s real name, but that’s a minor point when you consider the fact that the Church once canonized a totally fictitious person – St. Christopher.