Some times the good faeries are listening when I come up with ideas. I visualised this scenario a few years back and look what some clever clogs did. Made me laugh till my sides hurt.
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:
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.
How did you get here? I mean, both in terms of HERE as in this blog and HERE as in this life. Please watch the youtube video below and return to this post:
I really enjoyed this little film, and found myself caught up in the story, but it made me think about a couple of things.
First, how did I get here? In the first instance of existence, I am here because my father knocked my mother down on a hockey pitch some time in the 50s, noticed each other(as you do when you collide) and things went from there. Here, as in my current geographical location, through a very complex series of events and near misses, and a million other Vivs in a million other locations in the multiverse went elsewhere. (If you meet one, can you ask her where I left my paperback copy of The Four Quartets; it seems to have fallen between universes…or behind the sofa or something? Thanks!)
But here on a blog? That’s down to stepping back from my previous activities and taking a break and seeing what filled the vaccuum. I found my way to the blog world almost by accident. I say “almost” because I don’t really believe in accidents; I believe more in synchronicity. How did I meet you, my various readers? Some I met through the blogs or websites of others, some I stumbled upon. Some stumbled upon me. However we met, I am truly grateful, because the odds AGAINST us meeting are much greater than the odds on meeting at all.
Like the letter eaten by a goat, so many things could so easily have gone astray. You might have followed a different link and ended somewhere else entirely. I know I met Mark through Stories without Words, which is now shutting down. Shiona I met through J…and so it goes on.
But the more I think about it, the more I feel that those who are meant to meet will meet, even if they miss each other several times on the way. My husband and I met through various circumstances, but neither of us had intended to be at the university we actually met at. If not then, somewhere else, a year or maybe more later.
Like moths to a flame in a dark wood, we are drawn to those who share our light and life and we will find each other. Some day, if not today, then one day, we meet our kindred spirits and soul mates.
Thank you all.
I walk along our stretch of beach a couple of times a week and have done in all weathers for the last three years. It’s never the same twice, and that’s why I love it. There’s hardly anyone there, often utterly deserted, or with a few fishermen with lines out to sea. Dogwalkers are often the only people you see and as the weather deepens into winter, only the really hardy venture out. The wind comes in off the North Sea tasting of Siberia and the waves are wild and high, even when there’s no storm.
It’s interesting to see what washes up or is thrown up but anything edible, from stranded fish to discarded sandwiches the fishermen leave behind is gobbled up by the ravening hordes of sea birds that patrol the shoreline incessantly. I’ve been seeking to find a photograph of a fish out of water, to illustrate a novel I wrote a few years ago but in the three years I’ve been here, I have never come across a stranded and unmutilated fish. Apart from a few pipefish, which hardly look like fish at all, I’ve never seen a fish lying on the shore. I’ve found lobsters, and crabs and even a young seal but never an intact fish. Of course, I could always have found a photo somewhere, but that didn’t feel right.
Today in sunshine and brisk winds, I reached the shore and after few moments, I saw it. About six or eight inches long, black eyes staring sightlessly up at me, this discard from the fisherman nearby, lay a silvery fish. Cursing that for once I had forgotten my camera, I whipped out my phone and took a snap with that and as I bent closer, the lower jaw of the fish moved and I knew it wasn’t dead at all. I picked it up and put in carefully back in the sea and when nothing floated belly-up in the surf, I realised I had found it in time and it had swam away.
We use the term Fish Out Of Water when we mean we are out of our element, out of our true and natural setting and feeling uncomfortable about it. The truth of it is that a fish out of water is very soon a dead fish. Today, with so many things whirling round my mind, I had a sign that not only was I to be returned to my natural element and be revived but also that some of my plans are heading in the right direction. I can’t explain any more than this because there are so many other factors involved but this incident felt so very numinous and powerful beyond measure.
I think the fish might be quite pleased too….
We all know the concept of serendipity- the happy accident, the coming together of plans and so on in a harmonious way.
Well, I have a talent for the complete opposite. I’d like to coin a phrase for it but the best I can come up with is negative serendipity.
Let me give you a f’r instance. About two years ago I was in a pub in Colchester, having done a tour and had adjourned with colleagues for lunch. I was standing at the bar waiting to give our orders for food and drink and since it was quite busy, I started chatting with the two guys propping up the bar. One of the beers available that day was called Nelson’s Revenge and I mused aloud about whether that was what the sailors got when they drank the brandy that had been used to preserve the body when it was shipped home after Trafalgar. “Mind you,” I said carelessly. “There wasn’t a lot of him to ship back anyway so it was presumably a small barrel.” The guy closest to me gave me a nasty look and I wondered what I’d said. I thought maybe he was a big fan of Nelson and I was being less than respectful.
But then my tray of drinks appeared, and as I turned to go, the guy I had been chatting with also turned, my way this time and I nearly dropped my tray when I saw he had only one eye and only one arm. He’d had his good side showing to me all the time we’d chatted.
I scuttled back to my table, crimson with confusion and shame and told them what had happened.
I mean, what are the chances of that happening? I don’t think it can be calculated. I could give you example after example of my ineptness, my appalling talent for negative serendipity, but you’d think I was making them all up.
Maybe I should just stop talking. I only open my mouth these days to change feet.