Today is one of two possible days for the anniversary of Julian of Norwich’s visions, which took place either on May 8 or May 13, 1373. So of course, today I want to share with you one of the many gems to be found in her writing.
God is the ground of our praying. Arising from this, we are shown true prayer and steady trust and God wants us to be generous in both alike.
— Mother Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love,
This little snippet from the first chapter of Julian of Norwich’s book of showings struck me as so powerful in its implications that at first I had to wonder if it was even a literal translation, or just a paraphrase. Sometimes editors take liberties when rendering ancient texts into the language of today. So I turned to the Watkins/Jenkins edition of The Writings of Julian of Norwich in Middle English, and found the passage I quoted above in Julian’s own voice:
God is ground of our beseking. Heerin was seen two fair properties: that one is rightful prayer, that other is seker trust, which he will both be alike large.
Watkins’ and Jenkins’ annotations point out that “seker” means “certain” while “alike large” means “be equally generous.” So it may not be a literal rendition, but it seems accurate enough. And what a wondrous statement it is! Julian, the fourteenth century visionary, reports that God wants us to be generous in our prayer and generous in our trust. Hold nothing back! Share all your anxieties and worries with the Divine Mystery — and then let them go.
So do the two go hand in hand? I think so. If I can more fully and freely give myself to God in prayer, I am liberated to more fully and freely trust God, even when worldly circumstances might suggest that such trust is hardly useful at all. Trusting in God is hardly a magic ticket to ease and happiness — my family and I watched the movie Soul Surfer the other night, about a young devout Christian named Bethany Hamilton from Hawaii, whose two great loves are God — and surfing. She and her family had been praying that God’s will be done in her life, only to have a horrifying tragedy ensue: one October morning when she was 13, a shark came along and made a meal out of one of her arms. At this point skeptics will cry “See! Life is absurd!” while true believers will emphasize the rest of the story, of how less than two years later Hamilton won a national surfing competition with only one arm and went on to become a professional surfer — and an evangelist who travels internationally. See the deal? God can give us something far beyond anything we can imagine, but that doesn’t mean we get to avoid the suffering and pain that is a part of every life. In fact, sometimes it is through that very suffering that miracles happen.
How can we trust life, and God, in the face of apparent absurdity, unspeakable tragedy, or just normal circumstances where life seems so hard, and hope in such short supply? I believe Julian’s insight provides us with a meaningful answer. Be generous in prayer, both the vocal and the contemplative varieties. Be transparent before the Divine Mystery. Befriend God’s presence in your life through word and silence, and then learn to trust. I think trust is a spiritual “muscle” — if we use it, it gets bigger and stronger, but if we’re lazy with it, it atrophies. It’s our choice. We just have to remember that we might be called to trust even through the most harrowing of circumstances —but if Christ can trust on the cross, and a young surfer girl can trust losing a limb, cannot you and I do the same?