A fresh and contemporary translation of one of the best loved and influential mystical texts of all time, The Showings of Julian of Norwich brings the message and spirituality of this 14th century mystic to 21st century readers.
Julian of Norwich, a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, was an English anchoress in East Anglia. At the age of 30, suffering from a severe illness and believing she was on her deathbed, Julian had a series of intense visions of Jesus, which she recorded and then expanded on later in her life.
Her message for today's readers is simply this:
- She reveals the feminine face of the Divine and reminds us to see
- All our failings are an opportunity to learn and grow; that they should be honored, but not dwelled upon.
- God's love has nothing to do with love and retribution and everything to do with love and compassion.
- In spite of all appearances, all is well.
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About the Author
Daughter of the counterculture, Mirabai Starr was born in New York in 1961 to secular Jewish parents. She has been an adjunct professor of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos since 1993. Mirabai speaks and teaches nationally and internationally on the wisdom of the mystics and contemplative practice.
Mirabai is also a critically acclaimed author and translator of sacred literature. She teaches and speaks widely on contemplative practice, interspiritual experience, and the transformational power of loss. Her works include Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross, The Interior Castle and The Book of My Life by Teresa of Avila and The Showings of Julian of Norwich, Mother of God Similar to Fire (in collaboration with iconographer, William Hart McNichols) and Contemplations, Prayers, and Living Wisdom (Sounds True). God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam positions her at the forefront of the emerging Interspiritual Movement.
Read an Excerpt
The Showings of Julian of Norwich
A New Translation
By Mirabai Starr
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Mirabai Starr
All rights reserved.
Sixteen Showings of Love
This is a revelation of love that Jesus Christ, our unending bliss, gave to me in sixteen showings.
The first showing revealed his crown of thorns. This showing described the Trinity in detail, as well as the Incarnation, and the essential unity between the human soul and the Divine. I received many beautiful revelations of love and teachings of boundless wisdom here. All the showings that followed are rooted and connected in this first one.
The second showing revealed the darkening of his lovely face, which symbolized his supreme passion.
The third showing revealed that our God—who is almighty and all-loving and the embodiment of wisdom—created all that exists and is the cause of everything that happens.
The fourth showing revealed the lashing of his tender body and the copious blood he shed.
The fifth showing revealed that the precious passion of Christ overcomes the spirit of evil.
The sixth showing revealed that our God rewards all his blessed servants with profound gratitude in the world to come.
The seventh showing revealed that both joy and suffering are bound up with the human experience. When we are illumined by grace and touched with well-being, we believe that our joy will never end. When the sadness and weariness of life descends on us, we are tempted to believe that this, too, is endless. But we take refuge in a deep inner knowing that just as God's love uplifts us in joy, it protects us in sorrow.
The eighth showing revealed the final sufferings of Christ and his cruel death.
The ninth showing revealed that the outcome of Christ's terrible passion and heartrending death is the pure delight that infuses the blessed Trinity. He wants us to take comfort in this and be happy with him, until the time comes when all things are made clear to us in heaven.
The tenth showing revealed that the heart of our Lord Jesus has been broken in two for love.
The eleventh showing was an exalted revelation of his blessed Mother.
The twelfth showing revealed that our Lord is the supreme source of all life.
The thirteenth showing revealed that our God wants us to deeply appreciate the magnificence of what he has done and truly cherish all that he has made, especially the excellence of human life—since he placed human beings in charge of all creation—and acknowledge the precious amends he made for our shortcomings. He transformed all our blame into everlasting honor. In this showing he said, "Behold! By the same power, wisdom, and goodness that I have done all this, I shall make well all that is not well. You will see this for yourself." He also revealed that he wants us to have faith in his holy community and not demand that he disclose all his secrets now, but trust that we will know whatever we need to know in this life.
The fourteenth showing revealed that God is the ground of all our seeking. Two great things are contained in this single truth: one is the perfection of prayer; the other is the importance of faith. In this way, our prayer becomes his joy, and the emptiness of our longing is filled with his goodness.
The fifteenth showing revealed that one day all our pain and sorrow will be lifted and his goodness will deliver us to a place where he will offer himself as our reward and we shall live with him in everlasting bliss.
The sixteenth showing revealed that the Creator, in the form of the blessed Trinity and contained within our redeemer, Christ Jesus, eternally dwells in our souls. From this place, he righteously rules over all things, rescuing and protecting us with his wisdom and power. For the sake of love, he prevents us from succumbing to the spirit of evil.CHAPTER 2
These showings were revealed on May 8, 1373, to a simple, unlearned creature, who had once asked for three gifts from God: one, participation in his passion; two, a life-threatening illness; and three, the grace of the triple-wound (contrition, compassion, and unbearable longing).
I already believed that my devotion had given me a real sense of Christ's passion, yet I aspired (by the grace of God) to know it more deeply. I had this intense desire to go back in time and live with Mary Magdalene and with all Christ's other lovers. But, since this was not possible, I prayed instead for a vision that would give me some experience of the suffering of our Savior and of the compassion of his blessed Mother and of all his true lovers who witnessed his pain. I wanted to be one of them, to suffer alongside them. All I hoped for was to have a deeper awareness of Christ after this vision. I did not ask to be shown anything else beyond this until the time came that my soul left my body (I had faith that God's mercy would one day reveal everything).
The second gift came to my mind effortlessly: I freely wished for the grace of a serious illness. I wanted the disease to be so severe that I would believe I was dying and all the creatures who witnessed my suffering would think so too and would arrange for me to receive all the holy rites of the religious community. I had no desire for the comforts of earthly life. Rather, I yearned to fully experience all the discomfort of dying—physical and mental—with the accompanying terror and temptations of the spirits of evil. I wished to go to the brink of death, but not pass over. What I wanted was for this sickness to purify me, so that, by the grace of God, I would live more fully for his sake alone. Also, I was hoping it would prepare me for my real death, which I anticipated would soon be coming. I was ready to return to my God and Maker.
I suspected that these two desires—to share in Christ's passion and to endure a serious illness—were not exactly customary prayers, so I tempered my petitions like this: Lord, you know what I want. If it be thy will, please give it to me. If it be not thy will, Good Lord, please do not be displeased with me, for I want nothing except that thy will be done.
Unlike the first two prayers, my third wish was unconditional: to receive the triple-wound of a humble heart, kind compassion, and all-consuming longing for God. This third desire was so powerful that I left out the "if it be thy will" part. The first two prayers soon passed from my mind, while the third prayer perpetually burned in my heart.CHAPTER 3
As I Lay Dying
When I was thirty and a half years old, God sent me that illness I had asked for in my youth. For three days and three nights I lay in my bed, and on the fourth night I was given the last rites of Holy Church. No one expected me to live through the night, yet I lingered for another two days. I kept thinking I was about to die, and everyone who sat with me thought so also.
I was still young enough to be sad about dying. It's not that anything here on earth pleased me (it did not), or that I was afraid of pain (I trusted in his mercy). Rather, I would have liked to live longer simply so that I could have learned to love God better. I thought that if I had more time to practice loving God, I could take this knowledge with me into the bliss of the world to come. It suddenly seemed to me that my time here on earth had been so short in comparison to life everlasting that it hardly counted at all.
This made me think, Good Lord, could it be that my living is no longer to your glory?
The pain in my body, combined with my own common sense, led me to conclude that yes, my life was over. And so I assented with all the will of my heart to be completely aligned with God's will. I remained in this state until daybreak. By then my body was dead from the waist down. I couldn't feel a thing. The people who were with me propped my body up in bed, so that I could align my heart to God's will, and so that I could more easily think of him as my life ebbed away. Someone sent for the parish priest to be with me when I died. By the time he arrived, my eyes had rolled back in my head and I could no longer speak.
Sharing His Suffering
The priest placed a crucifix in front of my face and said, "I have brought the image of your savior. Gaze upon it and draw comfort from it."
I thought I was all right just the way I was—with my eyes turned upward toward heaven where I trusted I was heading—but I consented to force my eyes to rest on the crucifix and discovered that it was actually easier to endure looking straight ahead than up. That's when my sight began to fail. Everything grew dim, until the whole room was as dark as night. The only thing I could see was the cross, which was bathed in a rather ordinary light. I couldn't figure out how it was possible that only this single object was illuminated. Everything except the cross looked ugly to me, as if it were all tainted by demons.
After this, the upper part of my body began to die. Soon I had almost no feeling left. The worst part was my shortness of breath and the sense that my life was rapidly waning. By this time I was convinced that I was passing away. Suddenly all my pain vanished, and I was whole again. In fact, I felt better than I ever had before—especially in the center part of my body. This abrupt transformation astonished me. It seemed to me that it was the work of the Divine and not something natural. But, in spite of the all-pervading comfort I was feeling, I had no confidence that I would survive. I was not fully at ease, because my heart was set on being set free from this world.
All at once it came into my mind that this would be a good time to ask God for the second wound: that my body become a vessel for Christ's blessed passion. Remember? I had once wished that his pains could be my pains and that my heart would fill with compassion and then burn with longing for God. I thought that I was finally ready to receive the grace of the triple-wound I had asked for.
I did not desire any kind of physical vision or revelation from God. All I wanted was the kind of compassion that naturally flows into the soul in response to the suffering of our Lord, who for the sake of love agreed to incarnate as a mortal man. I wished to suffer along with him, inside my own human body, if God would only give me the grace to do so.CHAPTER 4
Encountering the Trinity
All of a sudden, I saw the red blood trickling down from under his garland of thorns. The blood flowed hot and fresh, just as abundantly as it had during the time of his passion when the actual thorns pressed into his blessed head. As I watched, I realized that it was Christ himself who was showing this vision to me—he who was both God and man, who suffered like this for me—and that he was revealing himself directly, without anyone or anything between us.
In the midst of this showing the blessed Trinity also revealed itself to me and filled my heart to overflowing with joy. I realized that this is what it will be like in the world to come, for all beings, and for all time. For the Trinity is God, and God is the Trinity. The Trinity is our creator and our sustainer, our Beloved forever and ever, our endless joy and bliss. I saw all this in the first revelation and in every showing after that. Whenever Christ appeared, I seemed to understand the blessed Trinity, as well.
"Benedicte domine!" I cried. "Blessed be the Lord!" I said, in a full voice, with reverence and intention, in awe and amazement. I was thoroughly astonished that he who is so great—so holy and majestic—would bother to mingle with such a homely creature as I. What I realized was that our Lord Jesus Christ, moved by loving compassion (and with the permission and protection of God), wanted to bolster me with his comfort so that I could face all my demons before I died. This sight of his blessed passion, combined with the revelation of the Godhead in my understanding, helped me to believe that I had the strength to overcome whatever spirits of evil and other supernatural temptations I might encounter.
Next, he brought our blessed Mother, Saint Mary, to my mind. I saw her spiritually, and also in form. She was very young—a simple, humble girl—barely older than a child. She appeared as the same size and age that she was in real life when she conceived the Christ Child. God showed me some of the wisdom and truth of her soul, and I understood the contemplative reverence with which she beheld her God and maker, the awe and wonder she experienced when she discovered that he had chosen her, a modest creature of his own creation, to be a vessel for the Divine.
From this place of wisdom and truth, fully aware of God's vastness and of her own littleness, both humbly and boldly, she responded to the angel Gabriel, "Behold! Here I am, the handmaiden of God."
In this showing I came to understand that she exceeds the grace and worth of all God's creatures. There is no one greater than Mary, except (in my opinion) the blessed humanity of Christ.CHAPTER 5
At the same time as I saw the bleeding head, our good Lord gave me a spiritual vision of his simple loving. I saw that he is everything that is good for us, everything that soothes and helps us. He is our clothing; he wraps himself around us, enfolding us in his love. His tender love is our shelter; he will never leave us.
Then he showed me a small thing, the size of a hazelnut, nestled in the palm of my hand. It was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eyes of my understanding and thought, What can this be? And the answer came to me: It is all that is created. I was amazed that it could continue to exist. It seemed to me to be so little that it was on the verge of dissolving into nothingness. And then these words entered my understanding: It lasts, and will last forever, because God loves it. Everything that is has its being through the love of God.
I saw three attributes of this small thing: the first is that God made it; the second is that he loves it; and the third that he sustains it. But what did I behold in that? Well, I saw the creator, the lover, and the sustainer. And I recognized that until I am completely one with him I shall never have deep rest nor full joy. No, not until I am so thoroughly joined to him that no created thing can come between my God and myself. Such a tiny object stood for all creation! I became aware that we should dismiss as nothing all that is created, so that we can we can fully receive and adore our uncreated God.
He Is Enough
This is the reason why our hearts and souls are not at perfect ease. We seek refuge in small things, but cannot find comfort there. We do not recognize our God who is all-powerful, all-wise, and all-good. He is our only true rest. And he wishes to be known. He wants us to rest in him. He is all that is, and he knows that anything less is not enough for us. This is why no soul can find peace until it empties itself of all forms. Only when the soul has willingly become nothing, out for love of him who is everything, can it find true rest.
Our Lord also showed me that it gives him great pleasure when a simple soul comes to him naked, open, and intimate. This is an expression of the love-longing awakened in the soul that has been touched by the Holy Spirit. I understood this when the following prayer came to me: God, through your goodness, give me yourself. You are enough for me. I cannot honor you by asking for anything less. When I do ask for less, I am never satisfied. Only in you do I have all.
These words praise the absolute goodness of God and are very dear to the soul. They come close to touching upon the truth of the divine will. God's goodness floods creation, infusing all of his blessed works, endlessly overflowing all that is, for he is everlastingness. He made us for himself alone. He restored us through his blessed passion. He sustains us always in his perfect love. And all this flows from his goodness.
Excerpted from The Showings of Julian of Norwich by Mirabai Starr. Copyright © 2013 Mirabai Starr. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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Table of Contents
A Note on the Translation,
PART I: REVELATION OF LOVE,
PART II: EVERY KIND OF THING SHALL BE WELL,
PART III: YOU WILL NOT BE OVERCOME,