For someone about whose life so little is known, Julian of
Norwich (1342-ca. 1416) is revered for her writings alone. Her book Revelations of Divine Love (ca. 1395) is
the first known English-language book to have been written by a woman. She is
venerated in the Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic traditions.
Born in Norfolk, Julian was an anchoress, from the ancient Greek for “one who retires from the
world.” Unlike a member of a monastic community, as an anchoress, Julian lived
alone in a cell attached to a parish church where she practiced a life of
Eucharistic-focused intense prayer.
As a mystic, Julian
sought to live her life by becoming one with God. Mysticism refers to the
liturgical, spiritual, biblical and contemplative dimensions of early and
As a theologian, even living in a tumultuous time, Julian
dared to liken God’s love to that of a father and a mother. According to
Julian, God is both our father and our mother, an idea developed by Bernard of
Clairvaux (1090-1153) and other theologians from the 12th century
These theologians likened God’s love to a mother’s love
based upon a theme found in the biblical prophets: “Can a woman forget her nursing-child, or
show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will
not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)
As Christians have
struggled for centuries to explain the mystery of the Trinity (at which we will
never succeed, by the way), Trinity Sunday (May 22) is probably a perfect
occasion upon which to explore masculine and feminine aspects of God. Julian’s
important text, “As truly as God is our Father,” is this Sunday’s anthem text
as set to music by the 20th-century British composer William Mathias
Anglophile that I
am, I dutifully report that this significant choral anthem was commissioned by
the Friends of St. Paul’s Cathedral (London) for their annual festival and
first sung on 30 June 1987 in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen
Mother, patron of the Friends.
It is, indeed, an
incredible text, one worth reading as verse:
As truly as God is our Father,
so just as truly is he our Mother.
In our Father, God Almighty, we have our
in our merciful Mother we are remade and
Our fragmented lives are knit together.
And by giving and yielding ourselves,
through grace, to the Holy Spirit
we are made whole.
It is I, the strength and goodness of
It is I, the wisdom of Motherhood.
It is I, the light and grace of holy love.
It is I, the Trinity,
It is I, the Unity.
I am the sovereign goodness in all things.
It is I who teach you to love.
It is I who teach you to desire.
It is I who am the reward of all true
All shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.