The Way of Julian Norwich: A Prayer Journey Through Lent, Sheila Upjohn. London: SPCK, 2020.
Summary: Six meditations on the writings of Julian of Norwich that redirect our focus from sin and judgement to the greatness of God’s love revealed in Christ’s incarnation and death.
Julian of Norwich chose a life of prayer and seclusion in a cell attached to St. Julian’s church in Norwich. At thirty, she nearly died, and during the time of her illness, experienced a series of “showings” of the Passion of Christ that were recorded in Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written in English by a woman.
Sheila Upjohn first read Revelations of Divine Love fifty years ago and is a founding member of Friends of Julian of Norwich. Out of her lifetime of reflecting on Julian, she offers this book consisting of an introduction to the life of Julian of Norwich and six meditations drawing upon the material from Revelations of Divine Love. This makes for an ideal guide to reflection during the six weeks of Lent for individuals or groups.
One of the themes running through these reflections is — surprise–Divine love. The first reflection is titled “Our Prayer Makes God Glad and Happy.” This drawn from Julian herself who wrote:
“Our prayer makes God glad and happy. He wants it and waits for it so that, by his grace, he can make us as like him in condition as we are by creation. This is his blessed will. . . He is avid for our prayers continually.”Julian of Norwich, Chapter 41 as cited in Upjohn, p. 6.
In the second reflection on the “Huge, High Wholeness of God” Upjohn shows us Julian’s adoration of the Trinity and concept of God as both Father and Mother to us. Then in the third, and perhaps to me, most striking reflection, she explores the idea of sin as “behovely.” Using the example of the exposure of David’s sin by Nathan and his repentance and casting of himself upon the mercy of God, Julian argues that sin is behovely, or behooves us, in that “it cleanses us and makes us know ourselves and ask forgiveness.” For Julian, the fear of God’s anger is in us and drives us to God who we find is not angry but good.
In the fourth reflection, Julian explains how this all could be so. Not only in Adam did we all fall, she also explains how the Son fell with us, becoming a servant, bearing our sin that we might be blameless. Julian’s vision of divine love does not obliterate an understanding of evil and temptation, which Upjohn explores in the fifth reflection on the temptation of Christ. The sixth and final reflection brings us to Good Friday and the different ways we see the cross, either in horror tinged by our own guilt or the wonder that through the cross, we belong to God:
“Then our good Lord Jesus Christ said: ‘Are you well paid by the way I suffered for you? I said: ‘Yes, Lord, I thank you. Yes, good Lord, blessed be your name.’ Then said Jesus our kind Lord: ‘If you are well paid, I am well paid, too. It is a joy, a happiness, an endless delight that ever I suffered my Passion for your sake. If I could have suffered more, I would have suffered more.’ For the Father is fully pleased with all the deeds that Jesus has done to win our salvation. Through this we are his, not just because he bought us — but also by the gracious gift of the Father. We are his joy, his reward, his glory and his crown by the generous gift of his Father.”Julian of Norwich, (Chapter 22) as cited in Upjohn, p. 78.
Upjohn not only introduces us to Julian, but to the God of divine love, moving our focus from ourselves, our fear, our guilt and our shame to the unfailing mercy of God, revealed in his son. The work is tastefully illustrated with artwork and photographs. Each reflection concludes with questions for discussion and directs the reader to stations of the cross and Julian’s reflections. The fourteen stations are included in the after matter as well as Margery Kempe’s account of her visit to Julian.
This is a wonderful compilation to familiarize one with Julian’s work that may be used at any time of the year as well as one in the ‘Prayer Journey Through Lent’ series published by SPCK. My suggestion would be to obtain a copy now to read and then use with several others during Lent next year. The combination of Julian’s writings and Upjohn’s thoughtful meditations offers rich material for reflection and prayer at Lent or throughout the year.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.