Have you ever been to England? I love to travel and don’t do enough of it. I must say, England is one of my favorite places. My college friend, Rachel (libertyandowain.blogspot.com), has lived in Cambridge for some time. She’d likely tell you that you’d rather not live in England. While that may be true, England remains one of my favorite places to travel for a few days, a week or even a summer. [Note that I have never been to England in the wintertime. I recognize this might significantly impact my impression.]
If you’ve been to England and you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been to London. And maybe you’ve been to Oxford, where I have family, or perhaps to Cambridge. London, of course, is a bustling metropolitan city. The winding alleys of cobblestone and the castle, of course, set it apart from Manhattan or Chicago or L.A. And the accents are downright charming, if you ask me. But all in all, setting aside Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, gorgeous cathedrals and the House of Parliament, London is a major city for modern times.
Now, if you wander from London on up the highways toward Oxford to the northwest or Cambridge to the north-northeast, you find exactly what you’d think you’d find — beautiful (sometimes wet & chilly) green and brown countryside, rolling hills, plenty of cows, and eventually, lovely university towns with more cobblestone and little village pubs and students and dons briskly walking between ancient buildings.
But what if you go a little further to the northeast? If you head straight northeast from London in the direction of Denmark, you’ll hit the North Sea. But 15 miles before the sea, in the heart of the County of Norfolk, you’ll find Norwich, the county seat. Norwich is set in the middle of flat, fertile farmland. Along the coast, fishing villages offer business opportunities, but in Norwich, life for the “North Folk” is mostly about agriculture and has been for centuries.
By all accounts, I share my birthday, November 8, with a little girl who was born in in 1342 A.D. She grew up in Norwich and we’re really not sure of her name. But when she was 30, in this cold, but fertile land plagued by the Black Death, where no one was certain that they would live to see 20, let alone 40 or 50, this young woman thought she was dying. On her presumed deathbed, she received spiritual visions that she recorded soon after having them. She gathered them into what is now called Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love. In a twist of irony and providence, the young woman lived for another 40 years or so. And 20 years after her original writings, she wrote again, reflecting more deeply on the visions.
The young woman lived as an anchoress, one who has chosen to withdraw from the secular to live a life of contemplative prayer. She lived her adult lifein a small room attached to a church, the Church of St. Julian. And so, our otherwise nameless young woman is granted a name, St. Julian of Norwich.
St. Julian is known as one of the greatest English mystics. Her writings, it is commonly agreed, are the first book written by a woman in the English language. In a time of turmoil, sadness and death, St. Julian wrote of hope for life and salvation. St. Julian’s optimistic theology spoke of God’s love and of joy in living. And the quote, for which she is most famous, draws us into her visions:
“All shall be well; and all shall be well; and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Sitting here in my suburban American life, I reflect upon the wisdom of a woman who thought her living was over. And even so, “all shall be well.”