When Do We Get To Do The Hazelnuts? A Review of Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.

 

When Do We Get To Do The Hazelnuts? A review of Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich  

The above photo was taken no more than thirty paces from one of the most remarkable sites of pilgrimage in the whole of the British Isles. The Julian Shrine, the site of the cell where Dame Julian of Norwich lived out her life as an anchoress, and wrote Revelations of Divine Love, is situated in an area of Norwich that was formerly known as the red-light district. Due to the advent of mobile phones, the girls no longer wander up and down, but there are plenty of unsavoury characters around, as well as a good deal of graffiti.

And yet, the small church of St Julian and the reconstructed shrine attached to it shine with a light that is not visible to the naked untrained eye. The retreat house where I spent a few days last month is a haven of peace and home-like tranquillity. The church was bombed more or less flat during the last war and the cell itself was destroyed during the Reformation, so that if you want to be pedantic about it, nothing is as it was. But what is? The essence and the atmosphere have remained.

We know little about Julian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_of_Norwich) herself, not even her original name, other than that she was born around 1342 and died some time between 1416 and 1430, and at the age of thirty and a half years suffered a life threatening illness. Indeed, her family thought her to be dying and she received the last rites. But during this serious illness, she was shown visions that changed her utterly, and her miraculous recovery led her to chose a life of contemplation and devotion to prayer. She wrote two versions of her visionary experience: the short form, written in the immediate aftermath and a longer, more complete version some twenty years later, having spent those years in prayer and meditation to try and understand what she had been shown.

The resulting books have been considered spiritual classics ever since, studied and loved and returned to by generation after generation of seekers. She was the first woman(that we know of) to write a book in English and since the advent of the printing press her works have never been out of print. The chances are that she never knew in her life time how successful her works would become; she may never have even seen her book except as her own handwritten version. There is some uncertainty to whether she did in fact perform the act of writing it or whether like Margery Kemp(a mystic contemporary to Mother Julian, and whom she met to give counsel to) she dictated to a scribe since Julian claimed to be illiterate. However, scholars believe that by this she means she did not read and write fluently in Latin. The vernacular was not considered worthy of any great works.

The time that Julian lived in were troubled, though I can think of few times in English history that have not been so, and life was hard for most people. Wars raged, and a great deal of uncertainty about the future meant that many worried constantly about how life would be. Not so very different from today, in fact. I could draw parallels with events of the moment but I will not. Suffice it to say that while Julian lived, the world was not so very different from how it is now, technology notwithstanding.

Her words have brought great comfort to many souls who are troubled by life and their place in it:

Because of our good Lord’s tender love to all those who shall be saved, he quickly comforts them, saying, ‘The cause of all this pain is sin. But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ These words were said so kindly and without a hint of blame to me or to any who shall be saved. So how unjust it would be for me to blame God for allowing my sin when he does not blame me for falling into it. In these words I saw the deep, high mystery of God which he will show to us in heaven. Then we shall understand why he allowed sin to be. And in knowing this we shall have endless joy in God.The saints in heaven turn their will away from everything except what God would have them know… And this should be our will, too

 

I can hear you ask, what about the hazelnuts?

Well, I wish to end with one of the strangest examples of synchronicity I have seen in a long time. On my first morning of retreat, I headed out to find some lunch, and took a short cut down St Julian’s Alley, to come out at the Dragon Hall, a vestige of medieval Norwich that the bombs failed to flatten but before I got more than thirty paces from the church, I saw the graffiti and was so struck by it that I had to take a picture. You see, part of Julian’s vision involved a small thing like a hazelnut:

“In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it
was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and
thought “What may this be?” And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is
made.” I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have
sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my
understanding: “It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.”
— Julian of Norwich

 

For me, this last piece of coincidence brings great comfort. To find idly scribbled words that unconsciously reflect one of the most treasured books of Christian literature on a half ruined building not many yards away from the source of those original words is to me a sign that we cannot know where our words will go and what they will do. Dame Julian can never have known in her lifetime the power her words would have and how long they would endure: endure beyond her own flesh, the established church of her time, beyond the stones of the cell and those of the church she worshipped at.

This brings me hope that truth and beauty and goodness have the power to endure beyond the troubles of their times and continue to affect people long after their creators have passed away and their names and true identities are lost in the mists of time.

 

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves- concerning oracles

 

 

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves

I have taken the title of this post from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins though the content of the poem is actually not relevant to this post. The photo shows the leaves laid out on my dining room table this afternoon, drying so that they can be used during the prayers at church tomorrow, and because my winter tablecloth also sports leaves as its theme, I took some photos and it set in motion some thoughts.

Recently I had occasion to question whether my life might have taken radically different directions at various critical points and it made me ask why I made certain decisions. It’s seldom easy to see which way you should go when you stand at a crossroads; you often have no idea of where you want to go. Those who have had a game plan all along sometimes find themselves stymied when they find themselves at such points, because not one of the possible directions currently revealed resembles where they thought they wanted to go. For those of us(like me) who bumble along and take what comes, it is just as difficult. I don’t believe that we automatically will get where we were meant to go, but I do feel sure that certain things, certain themes or people or places are part of our life itinerary, and at some stage we meet with them. So you might say any direction will take you where you need to go. I’m not convinced. You’ll never know where the journey you didn’t make would have taken you.

There have been plenty of occasions where I have been given choices to make, many of them in effect Hobson’s choices, and I have found that even after long rational thought and study of the options, I still have no awareness of which is the course I should follow. In many cases, there has been insufficient information to make an informed choice. For example, in deciding which hall of residence I wanted to live at during my first year at university, I read through the brochure, was none the wiser and picked Rathbone Hall solely on the basis that a favourite Sherlock Holmes actor was called Basil Rathbone. It was far from an important decision, but others seemed to regard it as such.

But when it comes to deeper choices, my advice is always to follow what your heart tells you. We all have very fine instincts, usually hidden deep within our civilised souls, and often these still small voices of wisdom are drowned out by rational, logical thought, or by prejudice or other things. I have made certain decisions that to others looked insane. I remember the utter horror of an American student I knew at university when I told her I was getting married six weeks after graduating. At that stage, neither my intended nor I had a job or a home or really anything much, but by the time the wedding day came, he had a decent job, we’d got a home to go to and a future to look forward to. That was 23 years ago.

There are times when even the still small voice cannot help us; it is silent and that silence is deafening. You simply don’t know what to do or where to turn. It’s frightening.

This is where the Sibyl’s Leaves come in.

The Sibyl had a collection of leaves each having a single word or letter written upon it; the leaves were thrown into the air and allowed to land and each leaf with a word on the upside was collected and the Sibyl would read a message through whatever words were there. Of course, no one knows what words were written but you may imagine. As oracles go, it’s not as icky as some; reading entrails has always struck me as rather a strange one, possibly only foretelling a chicken dinner for the priest.

How oracles work is another matter, but my belief is that they do indeed work. Some feel they are a way for the gods, or spirits or angels or whatever to speak to us and still more believe that they work by accessing our deep subconscious by means of archetypical symbols and so on. Personally,I’m working on the assumption that any/all of the above are valid until I get evidence to the contrary. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’ve worked with Tarot for many years, as well as other oracle systems, both regular ones like runes and other ones that are less well known. I could never get the hang of the I-Ching and gave my set away to a friend; my head became fuzzy and baffled by it. None of these things is really about predicting the future, though sometimes it can seem like it. To some degree this is because a skilled reader of an oracle is accessing a very complex set of probabilities that make picking the winner of the Grand National look like child’s play; there are too many factors at play to really hope for accuracy. It’s about(putting it very simplistically) saying if you do X, then Y will happen, but only if you do Z first. It doesn’t take into account the infinite other factors that are at work.

However using an oracle system for yourself is a very good way of accessing and reawakening your own inner voices of wisdom. Tarot in particular is filled with mystical images and archetypes and with a set that suits your character you can find a great deal of hidden knowledge about your own self that can sometimes make deciding between one path in life and another a great deal simpler.

Of course, you might say you might as well just toss a coin, forgetting that throwing a coin is one of the oldest and simplest oracles in the world. There are times when the logical and rational have nothing more to offer, or their advice is somehow counter to what your instincts tell you.

Trust your instincts; they’ve been getting people out of trouble for a lot longer than Google.

Iridescence

Many years ago a good friend gave me a set of Chinese Health Balls, which are metal spheres with a sort of bell inside that you roll around in your hand, and sort of gently juggle them, the aim being to avoid clashing them together and also to massage various meridian points on the hands. They come in assorted sizes and designs, some being plain shiny metal balls, some are exquisitely decorated with cloisonne enamel-work.

My set were fairly plain as they go but they had an iridescent finish to them, like very solid soap bubbles.

“I wasn’t sure at first,” my friend said, “which to get you, but then I saw these ones and thought they were perfect. You have an iridescent aura.”

I guess you can gauge the sort of friends I have by that remark.

I didn’t really think anything more of that comment, except when I play with the balls, until the other day when I was waiting at the deli counter of a local supermarket and the assisant’s perfume was wafting over to me and I commented on it.

“Can I smell White Musk?” I asked.

“Ooh yes,” she said. “That’s all I ever wear for perfume.”  

We chatted a bit and I went off to finish the shopping, musing on this and other things. It came to me that I have never been able to settle on a single signature fragrance, and have a “wardrobe” of perfumes, to suit different moods and occasions and I quite simply could not say, this one or that one is my all time favourite. Many women find a fragrance and stick to it, defining themselves by it and even finding conflict if someone else close to them wears the same fragrance. They speak of being “faithful” to Chanel no 5 or some other fragrance, and may never change unless for some reason their favourite ceases to be made.

I recently had to fill in some interview questions and found some of them very diffcult to answer. “What is your favourite colour? What is your favourite thing to eat for breakfast?” It’s never the same and I can’t even pin down one for the sake of brevity.

I think it’s the same for me for so many matters. There is no one answer, now and for all time, for so many questions. I’m in flux, in transit constantly, changing, changing, changing. I suspect this may be why my friend perceived my energy field as being iridescent, that shifting and blending of the colours of the spectrum, moving constantly and never being fixed. If you have ever watched a soap bubble blown by a child, you will see the colours swirl and change and move, right up until a certain point where for one millisecond they become still: and then the bubble pops.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not indecisive at all. But I am changeable in so many ways; my tastes, my choices, my likes and dislikes, my beliefs and my doctrines. I am never truly still and this is a part of my journey. Maybe I will never be still. I don’t know.

Part of the traumatic part of “awakening” is the fact that the journey one begins then has no final end point and for many this becomes too much and they stop searching and looking for more answers. Today, this answer is the right one but will it be tomorrow? Probably not. I find it hard with others who have begun well on their journey and have chosen to reach a point of stasis where they chose to go no further and believe they have reached nirvana(or whatever phrase you chose) and deny that there may be further to go or more to discover. I find it hard not because they have chosen to stop and go no further but rather the condemnation they can so easily show to those who carry on, the condemnation and the distrust and the labelling. It’s quite common among religious faiths to reach a point where you wish to go no further along the road; beyond that point, the dragons are loose and waiting. But instead of accepting that others must go on and seek and even fight those dragons, those who have stopped seek to make demons of those who go on. This is what mystics and visionaries of all faiths have faced for millenia.

I can’t pretend that being the way I am makes me happy. Sometimes it makes me more miserable than anyone who doesn’t know me can imagine. But that said, trying to nail me down and make me stay the same colour, stay in the same place, like the same things, do the same things is about as sensible as trying to trap a bubble floating through the summer air and is likely to have the same effect:

>>>>POP!<<<<<