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"All shall be well." Julian of Norwich

Is this true?

Photo by Zurna Creative on Unsplash

Julian of Norwich was born in 1341 in Norwich, England, 160 kms north-east of London. For most of her adult life she was an anchoress, which means she pledged herself to an ascetic and hermetic life of prayer and worship.

To become an anchoress, Julian attended a solemn ceremony attended by the bishop. With bowed head she listened to psalms selected from the Office of the Dead which were usually sung at funerals. Then she was taken to a cell built against an outside wall of St Julian’s Church, sprinkled with soil while she lay on a bier, then sealed inside what would be her home for at least the next fifty years.

One could almost call it a live burial.

Her cell didn’t have a door, only three windows. The most important one opened into the church so she could see the alter, join in divine services, and occasionally dispense godly wisdom to those who came to seek her advice. A second small window allowed her to receive meagre food rations and pass through her full chamber pot. The third window provided a source of light, although it was covered with translucent material so no details of everyday life going on in the town were clear to her, no faces distinguishable.

The decision to become an anchoress was probably influenced by the fact that when she was thirty years old she almost died. Close family members gathered by her bedside and the local curate was called. While accepting the last rites she underwent a series of sixteen visions about the crucifixion, came face-to-face with Jesus Christ and conversed with him.

Today we would call this a near-death experience (NDE).

Shortly after her NDE, she recorded a short version of her mystic experience in a manuscript titled Revelations of Divine Love. Twenty years later, incarcerated in her cell, she wrote an expanded version of the meaning of the sixteen visions.

Although Revelations of Divine Love contains thousands of words, the ones that have become famous are contained in the phrase:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

While undergoing her NDE, Julian took advantage of the situation and asked Christ a question you’ve probably asked yourself at least once in your life:

Why would a loving God allow sin (and thus suffering) to enter the world?

Julian of Norwich hardly dared ask it because it seemed rude, but the question burned within her, and, like most of us would — if given the opportunity — she blurted it out.

What was the answer?

. . . Jesus . . . said: “It behoved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Behoved is an Old English word that can be translated as inevitable, necessary, useful, or advantageous. All of these words work.

Why is there sin in the world?

Because it’s inevitable. (We’re not automatons. We make choices.)

Because it’s necessary and useful and advantageous. (That’s how we learn.)

The word sin is a short but heavily loaded word these days. Leaving religious connotations aside, I’ll define it here as falling short of perfection. It’s missing the mark. Being less than what one could be.

Let’s face it, a day seldom goes by in which we don’t sin at least once. It’s easy to fall short of perfection, miss the mark, be less than we could be.

Photo by Dušan Smetana on Unsplash

And yet, despite the regularity with which sin pops up every day all over the planet like a mob of meerkats on a fine summer’s day, we’re told that all shall be well.

We’re drawn to these words because they’re a comforting promise. They steady our nerves and calm our souls.

We’ve probably crooned these words to a child with freshly grazed knees. They’re what you say to a young man who didn’t make it into the university of his choice. It’s what one murmurs to an old woman at the graveside of someone she loved for more than sixty years:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

It’s what we whisper to ourselves so we don’t sink below the point of no return.

These words hold us while we stand still, unsure of the way forward.

They keep our heart company while we wait for an inkling to arise of what we must do now to make all things well after we’ve missed the mark.

I’m beginning to understand why this quote has travelled so persistently down through time to arrive intact on our current world’s doorstep.

I’m not Julian of Norwich. I’m just Marlane of Youngs Siding, reminding you of an important message from a love-filled mystic who lived in a cell with no door for more than fifty years:

No matter how often you miss the mark,

All shall be well,

And all shall be well,

And all manner of thing

Shall be well.

When we say these words we begin to fulfil them.

With love, Marlane

First published on Medium at:

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