Sunday, May 8, 2011

Julian of Norwich, Mother's Day, and the Female Face of God

Today is one of those days I'm glad that I don't have to preach.  For one thing, I just got back from Synod Assembly, and before that from the Create in Me retreat, and I'm just feeling wrung out.  But if I needed to preach, I could rise to the occasion.

No, the reason I wouldn't want to preach is that there's too much good stuff converging on this day.  Would I preach on the road to Emmaus?  Mother's Day presents its own challenges, and I've definitely seen ways that I wouldn't do it, with a mostly secular focus on moms and how hard a job they have and what great sacrifices they make--no, if I want that kind of treacle, I'll hang out in the card shop.  It would be irresistible to tie Mother's Day into the matriarch of the Bible or perhaps, Mary the mother of Jesus--although preaching a sermon that focuses on Mary might be risky for a Lutheran outside of Advent--but all the more reason to do it!  Today is also the feast day of Julian of Norwich in the Anglican and the Lutheran church.

Ah, Julian of Norwich!  What an amazing woman she was.  She was a 14th century anchoress, a woman who lived in a small cell attached to a cathedral, in almost complete isolation, spending her time in contemplation.  She had a series of visions, which she wrote down, and spent her life elaborating upon.  She is likely the first woman to write a book-length work in English.

And what a book it is, what visions she had.  She wrote about Christ as a mother--what a bold move!  After all, Christ is the only one of the Trinity with a definite gender.  She also stressed God is both mother and father.  Her visions showed her that God is love and compassion, an important message during the time of the Black Death.

She is probably most famous for this quote,  "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," which she claimed that God said to her.  It certainly sounds like the God that I know too.

Although she was a medival mystic, her work seems fresh and current, even these many centuries later.  How many writers can make such a claim?

For a great essay on Julian of Norwich, head to this Living Lutheran post.  Clint Schnekloth does a great job of explaining mysticism and the importance of Julian of Norwich:  "It’s hard to underestimate how wacky Julian may have seemed to her neighbors and peers, or even to herself. Especially, perhaps, her hope that all would be saved, in the process reconceptualizing precisely how it is that God saves and how we participate in Christ’s suffering work."

If you came to my blog hoping that you'd find a Mother's Day meditation, you could go to my Living Lutheran post, where I talk about Biblical matriarchs and about the images we use to help us understand God.  Here's my favorite quote from the piece:  "At Lutheridge’s 2011 Create in Me retreat, Nancy Hess reminded us of a fascinating observation from Lyn M. Bechtel’s essay in A Feminist Companion to Genesis: “Cheryl Exum, in studying the concept of ‘mother in Israel’ in Genesis, Exodus and Judges, has observed, ‘A striking paradox emerges in these stories of mothers: Whereas the important events in Israelite tradition are experienced by men, they are often set in motion and determined by women.’”"

And for those of you hoping for a poem, here's one.  I wrote it years ago, during a hectic time, when I drove across 3 counties, from adjunct job to adjunct job. After I taught a session on Julian of Norwich, I sat in the car, yearning for contemplation, and wondering what a modern anchoress would look like. And thus, emerged this poem (which later appeared in my first chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard):

My Habit, My Hairshirt

A modern day anchoress, I commit
myself to my car. In my moving cell,
I sing constantly and pray without ceasing.

I dedicate myself to our modern religion
of hectic pace. I rush from one location to another,
showing my devotion in twelve hour increments.

No time for contemplation, the anathema
to the modern ascetic. I flog
myself with my cell phone and briefcase.
Occasionally, a heretical urge lures
me, a siren song urging me to slow down,
tempting me to tame my frantic schedule.

But no Gnostic visions for me. I race
through another week in the grip of my Daytimer,
my habit, my hairshirt.

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