Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Julian of Norwich as Guide for Older Life

May 8 is the feast day of Julian of Norwich in the Anglican and the Lutheran church; in the Catholic church, it's May 13.  Is Julian of Norwich as famous now as Hildegard of Bingen or Ireland's St. Brigid?  Are any of these women more widely known now than they were in grad school when I first started searching for the females that had been left out of a variety of narratives?  I have no idea.  They are more widely known in the subcultures to which I belong, but in the wider world?

In those early days (the late 80's) of discovering female voices that had been left out of literature anthologies, I most treasured Julian of Norwich for her writing.  In later years, the theology of her writing fascinated me--so many centuries before any blooming of anything that could be called feminist, here was a woman writing about a feminine face of God.

Now, as I head into the second half of my life, Julian of Norwich calls to me in a different way.  For me, the last few years can be seen through a lens of loss:  my best friend from high school died a horrible cancer death, the arthritis in my feet has gotten worse, and then there was Hurricane Irma.  Why would Julian of Norwich speak to me in this new way?

I think of her, alone in her cell, all of her focus shrunk into so small a space.  I think of her as a model of living more with less.  So, I may never hike the Appalachian Trail in one long trek, but that doesn't mean that my life needs to come to a halt.  I may come to a point where I'm living in one room, but that might be a room that is more full than any of my previous homes.

When I've thought about my older age, I've assumed that I would create communities the same way I've always attempted.  I've thought about the Hildegards and the Brigids and their nunneries--I've always wanted (or thought I did) a community like that one.

Of course, having lived in smaller communities, I realize how much work goes into making that kind of community--but the rewards can be so amazing.

As my friends and family have had health crises, it has occurred to me that I may outlast my friends.  There may be no one to follow me to the commune.  What then?

I used to write to my friend with cancer:  "When we are little old ladies, rocking on the porch, we'll look back on this time . . ." and then I'd fill in with various visions.  When she died, I thought, well, I might be rocking on that porch all by myself.

Instead of that lonely vision, I'm going to train myself to think of Julian of Norwich.  Many of us may spend our later years not in some kind of community, but all alone, in our various houses and apartments.  While some isolation will occur, perhaps it can be a time of creativity, a time to focus that many of us won't have had before.

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