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