Reflections by Jerry Webber

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

All Mercy, All the Time

In his merciful way, our good Lord always leads us as long as we inhabit this impermanent life. I saw no anger other than humanity’s, and God forgives us that. . . . The ground of mercy is love, and the ministry of mercy is to preserve us in love. For mercy works in love, with generosity, compassion, and sweetness. And mercy labors within us, preserving us, and converting everything to the good. Through love, mercy allows us to fail, at least in part, and to the extent that we fail, we fall. To the extent that we fall, we die. For we die without fail when we no longer see and feel God, who is life. Our failure is frightful, our falling inglorious, our dying wretched. Yet never does love’s compassionate eye turn from us, nor does the operation of mercy cease.
(Julian of Norwich, All Will Be Well: 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher, Ave Maria Press)

Last Thursday, May 8, was the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich. I’ve long been drawn to Julian for several reasons, not the least of which is my close friend, Peter of Norwich, who grew up in Julian’s English city. She is most famous – besides residing in the city of Peter of Norwich – as the recipient and conveyor of 14 visions, given to her by God, and called “shewings” (showings or revelations).

The showings are known as “revelations of Divine love.” And so they are. This year, I have been struck most by Julian’s capacity to see deep into the heart of God, and to find there all love, all the time. She writes about God’s mercy and compassion, God’s tenderness and kinship with us. In fact, she says at one point that if there is any anger or malice present, they come from humans. God is all mercy.

It is important to note that she did this in an era of plague and death, war among nations, and sharp divisions within the Church. In other words, during a season in which most people were drawing lines, labeling some as comrades and others as enemies, and attributing the devastation of the days to God’s wrathful vengeance, Julian saw that God was only mercy, tenderness, and sweetness.

Further, Julian reports these things in a way that few male mystics can, or do. Historically, male writers made magisterial pronouncements about God, drew lines to delineate the outsiders from the insiders, speaking of holiness, godliness, and righteousness as something earned, a status symbol of the moral life.

[Francis of Assisi is the notable male exception to this bias. He is more closely associated with the female mystics in his heart of tender compassion. It is evidenced, not only in his relationships with people, but also in his connection to the created world. He tenderly accepted what seemed outrageous, even vile, in the created world (the wolf at Gubbio, for example, and the leper on the road).]

Julian didn’t witness to a God who made decrees or a God who was busily angry with humans for their failings.

This is the great act intended by our Lord God from eternity, treasured and hidden in his heart, known only to himself. By this act he will make all things well. For just as the blessed Trinity made everything from nothing,
just so will the same Trinity make everything wrong to be well. And I was overcome with wonder at this: our faith is grounded in God’s word, and whoever believes in that word will be preserved completely. Now holy doctrine tells us that many creatures will be damned. And if this is true, it seemed impossible to me that everything should be well, as our Lord had shown me by revelation. And in regard to this I had no other answer but this: “What is impossible for you is not impossible for me. I shall honor my word in everything, and I shall make everything well.” So I was instructed by God’s grace to hold steadfastly to the faith, and, at the same time, to believe firmly that everything will turn out for the best. For this is the great action that our Lord will accomplish, and in this action he will keep his word entirely. And what is not well shall be made well.

(Julian of Norwich, All Will Be Well: 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher, Ave Maria Press)

Remarkable! This one woman, much given to sickness, who lived in a small room at the base of the church in Norwich, stood against the official doctrine of the entire Church, speaking for a way of love, mercy, and tenderness, rather than judgment, self-vindication, and works righteousness.

In modern times, I hear echoes of Julian in someone like Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who has invested his life in inner city Los Angeles among street gangs. Boyle doesn’t carry a message of judgment to the homies who are gangbanging in the barrios of LA. He simply lives among them in tenderness and kinship, mercifully offering second, ninth, and twenty-seventh chances to those who feel like failures.

This is the kind of mercy and tenderness to which I aspire. It’s both what I want to convey from my life, and it’s what I want to experience within myself. But as my Mercy Street friend Gregg says often, “If this is what I so desperately want, why do I continually choose to live in some other reality, governed by fear and anger, judgment and worthiness?”

We are blessed through mercy and grace. . . . So Jesus is our mother. We owe him our very being for this motherhood and all the delightful protection that follows after. For as surely as God is father, so surely is God also mother. He shows this in all, but particularly in these sweet words: “I am the strength and goodness of the father, I am the wisdom of the mother, I am light, grace, and lovely love, I am Trinity and unity; I am the innate goodness of every creature, I draw you toward love, I endow you with longing; I am the endless completion of all desiring.” So Jesus is our true mother by nature because he has created us. He is also our mother by grace, for he took our created nature upon himself. All the lovely deeds and tender services of motherhood may be seen in him.
(Julian of Norwich, All Will Be Well: 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher, Ave Maria Press)

No comments: