It seems strange to be writing about my first 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, after leading the Friends of Julian of Norwich Lenten Bookgroup this year, but nevertheless, here I am doing just that. I have been organising with the trustees of The Friends of Julian of Norwich how we intend to continue the journey, since several people who attended the lenten course requested more. The format of Continuing the Journey will be more as I made the journey myself the first time, taking a week to pray with the material for each day of Lisa Dahill’s book, just like the 19th Annotation of The Spiritual Exercises. The Zoom meetings for Continuing the Journey will be on the third Wednesday of the month, starting in September, so watch out for more details here and especially on the Friends of Julian of Norwich website and newsletters.
Day 4 of the 40 Day Journey continues the contemplation the hazelnut:
The first is that God made it, the second is that He loves it, and the third is that God preserves it.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
And Julian asks:
But what is that to me?40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
For me, the phrases that stood out when I first prayed with this material were:
…God is the lover…there can be no created thing between my God and me…He has made me for this…40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
The first phrase connected me immediately to the Song of Songs. This particular book from scripture was the focus for my prayer on retreat in the summer before I started my Spiritual Direction course. It had a profound impact on my life, and my active engagement with the book lasted for a least two years. I’m still not done with it yet, but suffice to say it was the trip switch for a great deal of upheaval in my life. The Song of Songs is a love poem which can be understood as the relationship between God and the Church, or the relationship between God and the individual soul. To pull this phrase from Julian’s writings here connected me to God’s desire for me and my desire and longing for God. It became more personal and more intimate:
God is my lover.
The “no created thing” became “nothing” and I wanted nothing to get in the way. I wanted to let go of every inordinate desire I had and I started to name them, to recognise the habits and behaviours that dissipated my spiritual energy. As I imagined God pulling me closer to Him, I could feel that His desire for me was irresistible and I asked Him to help me remove or overcome all those things that get in the way. To know deeply that He has made me to love Him and to be loved by Him – this outpouring and knowing was the grace of this prayer for me.
… have not God’s rest in their hearts and souls;…and in which there is no rest…40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
With the inordinate desires that swam before my eyes like a conveyor belt in “The Generation Game”, it resonated with how Julian described the effect of the “wordly business”:
It was all about my tendency to overwork, and I have written about that before. It is very interesting to read about this now that I am living with ME/CFS! The drive to work, to have a career and to be successful in it, the drive to perfectionism – in this prayer on Day 4 of the journey I recognised how these things were getting in the way of my being close to God. And yet, at the same time, in response to one of the questions to ponder that Lisa Dahill asks I wrote:
Both wordly investment and allegience to God can be lived simultaneously – and the balance is prayer.
The questions to ask ourselves regarding our work, and our relationships, to my mind are:
Am I doing the work that God wants me to do?
Am I loving well those I am in relationship with?
On pondering the meaning of “substantially united to God”, I noted:
To be substantially united to God is a grace given by Him. We might orientate our lives so that we connect with Him as much as possible but He is the one who gathers us up into Himself in that eternal moment.
It reminds me of something that struck me years ago when I read “The Cloud of Unknowing“:
For were the soul not strengthened by its good endeavours, it would be unable to stand the pain that the awareness of its own existence brings.The Cloud of Unkowing
The grace of this prayer knocked me to the floor and it was only the first prayer with day 4.
My second day praying with the material started with the last four words of the passage given and then moved onto the psalm fragment (Psalm 46:9-10):
…He is true rest.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
Be still and know…that I am God.Psalm 46:10
St. Ignatius invites use to converse with God “as one friend speaks to another” and the conversation with God at this point in my prayer was intimate and loving.
I am your rest.
You are my rest.
I am the God that heals you.
I am the one to make the wars to cease within you, the one who burns the shields with fire.
You are my love, my treasure. In all of creation I love you more.
When I asked how that could be, His response was:
You are precious to me, you are my treasure.
St. Augustine has said:
God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.St. Augustine
Julian’s revelations about the hazelnut made me feel just as St. Augstine describes. I was warm and surrounded by light, and the people I love most in the world were also surrounded by light. We were protected and safe. I visualised myself as Leviathon, God’s own creature, another image of myself from another retreat.
I imagined myself flowing easily from fire to water and back to fire again, without any conflict between the two, or restriction in the movement from one to the other. For me, these represent the active and contemplative sides of my personality – how appropriate to be writing this in the 16th week of cycle C in the Lectionary, where the gospel reading is about Martha and Mary! I first sought out a Spiritual Director because these aspects of myself were in conflict. In the earlier stages of my deepening journey, I believed that the purpose was to live with them in balance. This mandala was my realisation that integrity was not about getting the balance, but in being able to flow from one to the other without resistance. I guess it is the living simultaneously worldy investment and allegience to God.
Overwork and the drive to get things sorted “once and for all” is a place where I need to be open to the healing, restorative love of God. The sense of not being able to get it all done (in time) creates a sense of panic in me, and of not being good enough.
How poignant it is for me to read those words now. Even then, the other part was also there:
I experience God as my true rest when I consciously spend time in contemplative prayer -then my head slows down and the war within me ceases.
I share the desire with Julian for there to be nothing between my God and me. The deepest desire of my soul is to have the freedom to be who He would have me be. I find myself reading back through my prayer journal now and being inspired again by the graces I received then.