I was looking in my library for good comforting words to offer to a friend who is ill, and finding that most words of Christian comfort are over-concerned with the reputation of God and not enough with human trouble, when I picked up a book which I had neglected for too long, The “Showings” or “Revelations” of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century anchorite (hermit) in the Church of St. Julian in that city.

I had to study her book for my degree in English language and literature, but found that she, as a mere woman and Roman Catholic, was ignored in my subsequent theological study. She has become more prominent of late due to the rise of feminist theology, and to the fashion for spirituality, rightly so, because she is one of the great minds and spirits of the Christian tradition. As she wrote in Middle English, I have translated here a passage for my friend regarding prayer.

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After this our Lord showed me truth about prayer, in which showing I saw two topics in our Lord’s communication: rightful prayer and surer trust. (For still many times our trust is not full, for we are not sure that God hears us, as we imagine, due to our unworthiness, for we feel we are absolute zero. So often we are as barren and dry after our prayers as we were before.  Our daft feelings are therefore the cause of our weakness, as I have felt them myself.)

Our Lord brought all this suddenly to mind, when he showed me these words and said, “I am the ground of your asking: firstly, it is my will that you shall have it; secondly I make you desire it; then I make you ask for it, and you do seek it. How then should it be that you do not  get what you seek?

In these four reasons our Lord showed a mighty comfort, as may be seen if we examine the same words.

In the third reason, where he says, and you do seek it, there he shows what great delight and everlasting reward he will give us for our seeking. And in the fourth reason, where he says, How then should it be that you should not get it?  this is said as if it were impossible, since it is completely impossible that we should seek mercy  and grace and not have it. Indeed, everything that our good Lord makes us seek, he himself has designed for us from before creation. Here we can see that our asking is not the cause of the goodness and grace he does to us, but only his his own goodness, a fact he showed truly in those sweet words that he said, “I am the ground.” And the good Lord wants this to be known by his lovers on earth, so that the more we know, the more we shall ask, if we understand this wisely, as our Lord intends.

Asking is a true, gracious and enduring will of the soul, united and fastened to the will of our Lord by the sweet secret working of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord himself, he is the first receiver of our prayer in my view, and he accepts it very thankfully. As he enjoys it so much, he sends it up above and places it in a treasury where it shall never perish. It is there before God with all his holy saints, continually received, forwarding our needs. And when we enter into our eternal happiness it will be given back to us as a small instance of joy, with endless, dignifying thanks from him.

Our Lord is very glad and merry about our prayer, and he looks for it, and means to have it. With his grace he makes us like himself, as much in our present condition as we are in nature, for that is his blessed will. For he tells us, “Pray seriously, pray inwardly. Although it seems unpleasing to you, still it is profitable enough, even if you feel nothing. Pray seriously, pray inwardly, even if you feel nothing, even if you see nothing, yes, even if you think you cannot pray. For in dryness and barrenness, in sickness and feebleness, then your prayer is most pleasant to me although it seems unpleasant to you. And so are all your living prayers in my sight.”

So, in respect of the reward and endless gratitude that he will give us, he is covetous to have us praying continually in his sight. God accepts the goodwill and trouble of his servants, however we feel. Therefore it pleases him that we work in prayer and good living by his helping grace, always reasoning with good judgement, as we direct all our faculties to him, until we possess in complete joy the One we seek, namely Jesus.

Showing 14, chapter 41 of The Showings of Julian of Norwich

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This seems so good to me that I will provide some more tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This might be the last of my 10 commandments for would- be followers of Jesus, and it’s certainly got plenty of evidence to back it. Jesus was scathing about those who wanted to support him but could not leave their comforts behind, even if these included attendance at family funerals. “Let the dead bury the dead” he said, scandalously, reserving particular scorn for people who tried out discipleship but gave up, likening them to crofters who only managed to plough half a field.

In fact he was up front with his warnings, asking people to pick up their crosses and follow him.  The Pythons parodied this utterance memorably in the Life of Brian. But he was  was not suggesting mass crucifixion, or even as some believers think, that we all have our crosses to bear, but rather that his followers might have to oppose the Imperial power to the peril of their lives. Jewish jihadis made this choice, but Jesus was asking it from peaceable people.

“Foxes have holes, the birds of the air their nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” He couldn’t have made it plainer that he was not promising comfort.

There is a radical edge to Jesus’ ministry: in the name of God’s kingdom he was opposed to the way of the world, not out of asceticism – he liked eating and drinking- but out of passionate opposition to its injustice and hypocrisy. He did not teach people to bear with the world’s wrongs, but to fight them with truth and lovingkindness.

It’s helpful to compare Jesus to his great disciple, St Francis, who was similarly brusque to any brother or sister who looked for a comfortable life. But Francis was an ascetic; he loved poverty and the spirit; hated riches and the body. There is something almost unhealthy and pathological, in Francis’ dislike of comfort. Jesus, however, loved people, companionship, and the welcoming table, but accepted  that his mission would mean deprivation of these good things.

A liking for comfort is not contrary to the example of Jesus; thinking you are entitled to it, is.

 

This is a tough one for me, as all the worst things I’ve done have been products of arrogance, of times when I was feeling well-appreciated and could do no wrong. But I did wrong through misusing the power I had over others. Looking back I burn with shame at the memory of what I did or said.

So I have no difficulty in accepting Jesus’ frequent warnings against arrogance, especially his put-downs of pharisees and even of his own disciples. In his teaching about charity he criticised those who drew attention to their own goodness, urging that they should not be conscious of their kindness: “don’t let your left hand know what your right is doing!” That surely cuts off any self- congratulation. His prohibition against judging others is primarily an attack on the arrogance which allows one sinner to castigate the sins of others. And his response to the desire of some of his disciples to lord it over others, goes to the root of the problem: “The rulers of the gentile nations lord it over their people, but it is not so amongst you. If anyone wants to be great he must be the willing slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” God’s “Humane Ruler” (Son of Man) with whom Jesus identified, was a slave not a tyrant.

Jesus’ persistent advocacy of the importance of children and of the kind of adults he called “little ones” ran counter to the taken-for-granted hierarchies of his society, and of too many branches of his church today, where unchecked power has led to the abuse of children and vulnerable adults. This example points to the link between arrogance and power. An arrogant person who has no power at all is a joke. But arrogance is usually a perception that you do have power in relation to another person and that it can be exercised to your advantage. Even in trivial matters you can feel a savage pleasure in doing so.

The arrogant of the earth are already busy deciding how the ever- scarcer resources of a warming planet can be used to secure their own life-style and privilege. We should not be fooled by the fact that some of them deny climate change. That’s for public consumption. They have already worked out whose territories and resources they will plunder when push comes to shove. Their arrogance must be constantly exposed and challenged.

Even more vital for the future of humanity however will be the example of those who have learned from Jesus or any other teacher, how to number themselves with the little ones and to serve the common good. There is an entirely erroneous view that humility entails ineffectiveness. The protests in Hong Kong at present by large numbers of ordinary people refusing to kow-tow to power while working together for the common good, are nothing if not effective; as was the humility of great leaders like Nelson Mandela or Luther King; as was the witness of a certain carpenter from Nazareth, who said, “Whoever welcomes this child welcomes me and the One Who Sent Me.”